“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
Translation: "I have yet many things to say to you, but you are not able to bear (them) now. When that one, the Spirit of truth might come, he will lead you in the way of all truth, for he will not speak from himself, but as he hears, he will speak, and he will report back to you the things that are coming. That one will glorify me because he will take what is mine and report back to you. All things that the Father has are mine. Because of this, I said that he will take what is mine and he will report back to you."
Background and situation: The lection is four verses taken from the farewell discourses (chaps. 14-17) of the fourth gospel.
Way and truth: "There's more," says Jesus. "I have more to say to you." The disciples, however, are not able to "bear" (bastasein) the other things Jesus has to say.
The author again draws attention to the parakletos--the Advocate, now named "the Spirit of truth"--who will lead the disciples into "all truth." The parakletos is an extension of Jesus himself. As Jesus was "full of...truth" (1:14)--as Jesus is the truth (14:6)--so the "Spirit of truth" will lead the disciples "in all truth."
One notes the use of hodegeo--"lead the way." The word is formed from hodos--"way"--and ago--"lead." Hodos is an important word in the fourth gospel, and, indeed, the synoptics as well. For the earliest Christians, living the faith meant following Jesus on on the "way," the specific content of which was the example of Jesus. In fact, the earliest Christians were known not as "Christians" but as "followers of the way." As Jesus is the "truth," he is also the "way" (14:6).
That the Spirit leads people on that particular "way" underlines yet again the close connection between Jesus and the Spirit. Jesus is assuring the disciples that, when he leaves, he will leave them in the trustworthy hands of the parakletos. The parakletos will not invent anything--"he will not speak from himself"--but will be the faithful conduit between them and Jesus--"as he hears, he will speak."
The parakletos "will report back" (anangello) "the things that are coming." Most translations do not capture the sense of anangello. The word is formed from angello--"message" or "news"--to which is added the prefix ana, which has several possible meanings, but has the general locational sense of "up." In this case, we might understand it to mean "forward" or even "beyond."
Anangello, then, has to do with "reporting back" or "sending news back." (KJV has "show." NIV has "tell." NASB has "disclose." NRSV has "declare.") These translations seem to assume that the Spirit knows the future, but they don't say it quite as clearly as "report back." "Report back" means the Spirit has been there--or, we today, having been instructed in trinitarian theology, might say that the Spirit is present in all times and places, including the future.
Three things are said to be "reported back" in this brief passage--the things that are coming, and (twice) what belongs to Jesus.
These things that are coming refer to the crucifixion and resurrection. If there is anxiety about the future, about "things that are coming," the message to the disciples is to be assured that, through the cross and resurrection, the future is in the hands of Jesus.
As to what belongs to Jesus, "all things" are his because "all things that the Father has" are now his (16:15). Indeed, in 12:57, Jesus had said that his "lifting up" would draw all to him. This "will glorify" Jesus because the parakletos will take what belongs to Jesus--the "all" he will have drawn to him on the cross--and will "report back" to the disciples.
Maturity: Jesus had said that it is to the disciples advantage that he go away. If he did not, then the Advocate would not come (16:7). Psychologically speaking, as long as Jesus is physically present, the disciples, or any followers of Jesus, may be tempted to project their own psychological center--their own "ego"--onto him.
Such psychological phenomenon is certainly not unknown among followers of charismatic personalities. The temptation to give over one's own autonomy to the "leader" is great. (In therapy, this may be called "transference.")
This kind of projection, however, is idolatry. The Christian faith is not about psychological immaturity, and especially not co-dependence. Rather, following Jesus is about maturity and growing into a fully-functioning and autonomous person. The Spirit leads and aids this growth.
Trinity: This brief lection for Holy Trinity Sunday was apparently chosen for its reference to all three of the members of the trinity. It may indeed have been the intention of the author to explore some aspects of the relationships of the Father and the Son and the Spirit. Later formalized trinitarian dogma, however, would likely have struck the author of the fourth gospel as a complete mystery.
The trinitarian controversies occupied some of the best minds of the fourth and fifth centuries. The theologians of the period were divided into two main camps: (1) the "Nicene party," i.e. those who supported the Nicene Creed (AD 325) and its formulation of co-equality between the Father, Son, and Spirit, and (2) the "subordinationist party," which argued that while Jesus was divine in some sense, he was also "subordinate" in some way to the Father.
The debate was vigorous, intense, loud, and not always characterized by the most civil of behavior. (See Athanaius, saint.) The debate was also, unfortunately, short-circuited by the Emperor Theodosius in AD 380 who decreed that, from then on, the only acceptable theology belonged to the "Nicene party." Writings and arguments of the "subordinationist party" were suppressed. (The contentious atmosphere in Christianity is named by some as one of the reasons for the success of Islam in the 7th century.)
In my view, the right theological decision was made, but for the wrong reasons and with the wrong tactics. If the price of "correct theology" is the suppression of contending views, then that price is not worth paying. Better "free errors" than "coerced orthodoxy."
That said, the trinity expresses some true things, such as: (1) God's interior life is one of relationship. God is not a passionless above-it-all monad. God is relentlessly and integrally relational, (2) God is not a heirarch. God the Father is not at the top of the heap, while Jesus is some kind of "junior god" a notch or two down. It is not, as the recurring quip puts it, "Daddy, Junior, and the Spook," each one somehow "lesser" than the one that preceded it. The trinity is not top-down, but co-equal.
(3) The trinity is not static. The early Greek Christians used the word perichoresis--"dancing around"--to describe the interior life of Father, Son, and Spirit. Perichoresis is a term of movement, dynamism, and color. The interior life of God is not boring, but creative, not plain, but textured, not still, but fleet.
Image: Retablo of the Holy Trinity, Alcario Otero.