Counselor, Comforter, Keeper?
One exegetical consideration upon which I have never truly been settled is that which concerns the meaning of the word παράκλητος (Paraklete)--as it appears in such places in Scripture as 1 John 2:1 and John 14:16. The list of translation options from which we may choose includes such glosses as Comforter, Counsellor, Advocate, Helper, Keeper and Encourager. I have long been undecided to how to come to a settle opinion about the proper gloss. On the surface, all of these translations have their merit. However, we will only ever determine the meaning of the word based on the context in which it appears in Scripture.
Needless to say, I was delighted to find a treatment of the meaning of this word in Geehardus Vos' Reformed Dogmatics. Vos gave the word two individual meanings, based on its respective exegetical contexts. The first is that which is tied to the teaching of 1 John 2:1. Vos wrote:
"[Jesus] is called our Substitute or Advocate. He is α παράκλητος, Paraclete (1 John 2:1). One should note that the word paraclete is used in a double sense in the New Testament. It is originally a passive form and means 'someone who is called to help'--that is, an advocate. Since, however, an advocate can also take the place of someone whom he helps, the word at the same time also takes on the meaning of "substitute." It is so used of Christ in the passage just cited (1 John 2:1): 'And if anyone sins, we have an advocate (a substituting intercessor) with the Father.' This is the first meaning."1
The second meaning Vos gave the word is associated with Jesus teaching about himself and the Spirit--the other παράκλητος--in John 14. He explained:
"The word is taken in a somewhat different sense when Christ calls Himself 'Paraclete' for believers and promises them the Spirit as another Paraclete (John 14:16): 'And I will pray to the Father, and He will give you another Paraclete, that He may be with you forever.' Here the Paraclete is 'counsel-giving advocate.' The Holy Spirit, too, is now called a paraclete in this sense, especially because He fills the place of Christ with believers now that Christ has departed. Of course, the principal work of the Holy Spirit as Paraclete is to bring comfort, but the translation of the word itself as 'Comforter,' however common, appears to be incorrect and cannot be justified. Παρακαλεῖν does mean 'encourage,' 'comfort,' but παράκλητος is a passive, not an active, form. The explanation that most presently give it and that is supported by this active form, namely, 'counselor,' is also that of Augustine, Calvin, Beza, Lampe, and many others. The concept 'comforter' is too narrow."2
While this may not settle the question for everyone, it certainly provides a plausible conclusion based on a careful consideration of the unique biblical contexts in which the Holy Spirit has employed the word παράκλητος; and, that is the heart of all true exegetical labor.1. Geerhardus Vos (2012-2016). Reformed Dogmatics. (R. B. Gaffin, Ed., A. Godbehere, R. van Ijken, D. van der Kraan, H. Boonstra, J. Pater, A. Janssen, ... K. Batteau, Trans.) (Vol. 3, pp. 168). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.