Sunday Morning Greek Blog

May 17, 2023

Life in the Spirit (John 14:15–21)

Message preached on Sixth Sunday of Easter 2023 (May 14) at Mt. View Presbyterian Church. I added some technical details about the text for the blog article that I did not cover in my sermon.

Acts 17 is perhaps the most significant event we have recorded from the life of Paul in terms of his ministry. No, that chapter doesn’t recount any of his appearances before Roman rulers in defense of his faith and ministry. Rather, Paul attends a meeting of philosophers at a place called the Areopagus in Athens. It is safe to say that the Areopagus represented the “melting pot,” as it were, of worldviews and ideas on the meaning of life and purpose of humankind. Two of the more prominent philosophies mentioned in Acts 17 are Epicureanism, which originally focused on pursuing happiness, and Stoicism, which originally focused on living according to nature and suppressing one’s desires. Now I say “originally,” because by Paul’s time, Epicureanism had become more focused on sensuality than happiness, and Stoicism had just made its adherents prideful.

But we also learn from Acts 17 that most of the Roman gods and goddesses, or at least the Roman versions of the ancient Greek gods and goddesses, were still quite popular still in the day, so much so that Paul comments on and is distressed by the number of idols and other symbols of pagan worship that fill the city. Apparently, the Athenians were even afraid of leaving out a forgotten deity, so they had a statue with the inscription: “to an unknown god” (Acts 17:23).

Paul would use that statue as an object lesson to introduce these philosophers to a God they knew virtually nothing about: the God of the Jews, Yahweh, the Lord of Hosts, the One True God. Paul spoke of the resurrection of Jesus, a truly foreign concept to them. He spoke of the Creator God who “does not live in temples built by human hands.” Paul’s message certainly stirred the philosophical pot of thought in Athens, as a several who’d heard him at that meeting wanted more information from him, and an even smaller group actually started following Paul.

In our gospel passage today, Jesus stirs the pot in his own way by talking about someone called “The Advocate.” Sounds like a John Grisham or James Patterson title, right? Jesus introduces his disciples to a familiar concept with an unfamiliar application: the concept of the Holy Spirit guiding each of us, not just the prophets. Let’s take a closer look at the passage, beginning in John 14:15.

Our reading printed in the bulletin is from the New Revised Standard Version. Depending on which version you read, you may see a few different English words in your translation, so I want to help clear that up a bit. These differences by themselves don’t mean that any one version is better than another. Translation committees often will have a certain audience in mind or a certain writing style or worldview that governs the words they choose, especially to translate complex concepts from the source language into English.

Verse 15 says: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Sounds pretty straightforward, right? It seems that the last part of the sentence naturally follows from the first part. “If you love your kids, you’ll give them attention.” “If you love your mom, you’ll buy her flowers occasionally.” You get the idea, right? But if you were to read it in New International or King James Version, it sounds more like a command: “If you love me, keep my commands.” I won’t bore you with the technical details of why there is such a difference, but the end result is the same in Jesus’s mind: he wants us to obey his commandments. I do prefer the NRSV translation in our bulletin, because it’s closer to what the original language says, and it sounds less authoritarian.

[For my blog readers, I will give you some of the technical details here. First, verse 15 is a third-class conditional sentence. That means, according to Daniel Wallace in Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (GGBB)[1], that often, “the condition [is] uncertain of fulfillment, but still likely” (emphasis in original). The third-class condition can take any mood-tense combination in the apodosis (the last part of an “if-then” or conditional statement), and therein lies the second technicality. There are three variant spellings of the verb in the phrase in question. The chosen reading is the future tense form of τηρέω (tēreō, “I keep”), τηρήσετε (“you will keep”), being found in its most prominent witness B. The Aleph (א) witness has τηρήσητε aorist subjunctive (“you would keep my commands”). The witnesses A and D have τηρήσατε imperative (“keep my commands”). Notice, for all three variants, there is a difference in spelling of one vowel, which could have easily been confused in a scriptorium where the copy was read aloud for scribes to transcribe. Metzger says the editorial committee for the UBS text felt the future tense reading best fit the context.[2]]

Verse 16 is where you really start seeing the different ways the description of the Holy Spirit is translated. In our text today, Jesus says “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate [capital A], to be with you forever.” The current version of the NIV, which was updated in 2011, has “another advocate [lower case A] to help you and be with you.” So the NIV uses a phrase to translate the word to uncover a bit of the meaning behind what the role of the advocate is. Notice that the NIV doesn’t interpret it as a title like our current text in this verse, but later in the chapter, they do treat it as a title. Some other translations of this word you might see are “Comforter” (KJV); “Counselor” (older version of the NIV); or “Helper” (ESV, NASB).

If you’ve been in the church for a while, you’ve probably heard the Greek term that is behind these English translations: paraclete. The word is not used in the Greek version of the Old Testament, so we can’t make a connection to the “Wonderful Counselor” in Isaiah 9. In ancient Greece, it carried the idea of a helper or assistant in a court of law. John is the only NT writer who uses the word. He uses it of Jesus in 1 John 2:1–2 to speak of Jesus’s role in advocating for us before the Father: “If anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins[3]

But the Holy Spirit’s role as the Advocate in our lives is different than that of Jesus’s role before the Father. It opens the door to a new concept: that God’s Holy Spirit would soon be available to all his disciples, and indeed to all believers, once Jesus ascended to Heaven, not just to a select few as in the Old Testament. We see that in the promise of the prophet Joel that Peter cites in his sermon on the Day of Pentecost.

The Holy Spirit’s role really does seem to be best described by the word Advocate. The NIV I think does the best job of explaining the role when the translators added “to help you” as a gloss to “advocate.” The Holy Spirit’s role is twofold: First, he is the living representative of Christ and God in us. Verse 17 says “You know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” In verse 18, Jesus says, “I will not leave you as orphans.” The Holy Spirit’s presence will be a constant reminder that God loves us, just as he loves his one and only son. And it’s because of that love, as John indicates in vs. 15 above and reemphasizes in vs. 21. John also closes out this short section by saying Jesus will show himself to his disciples through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

Beyond our passage, we see in 14:26 that our Advocate comes in the name of Jesus “will teach us all things and will remind us of everything [Jesus] said to us.” In saying this, Jesus also says he’ll leave us with peace and assurance that he will come and ultimately rescue us from the evil one himself.

The Holy Spirit’s first role, then, is ultimately to help us mature in our faith. As we spoke about a couple weeks ago when we looked at the “I am the door” passage, Jesus’s sheep know his voice. The Holy Spirit IS the voice of Jesus, the good shepherd, in our lives. The more we love God and Jesus, the more we will come to recognize the Holy Spirit’s voice speaking into our lives.

The second role of the Holy Spirit is to testify about Jesus through us, John 15:26–27. As we begin and continue to grow in our understanding of what life in the Holy Spirit means, we begin to recognize when the Holy Spirit is prompting us to act and to testify about who Jesus is. People will challenge us, and indeed are challenging us today, about our faith in God. According to Jesus in John 16, these challenges to our faith are not new and should not surprise us when they happen. Jesus reminds his disciples in John 16:7–11:

But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; 10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; 11 and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.[4]

John goes on to say that when persecution starts to come our way, the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, will guide us into all truth. We won’t have to worry about what we’ll say, because the Holy Spirit will be directing us straight from the heavenly throne.

How does this look in real life? I want to close by giving an example from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Five times in that letter, Paul emphasizes that believers on earth have a connection to “the heavenly realms.” In 1:3, Paul says we, that is, the corporate body of Christ, together, have been “blessed in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” This comes from the power of the Holy Spirit dwelling in us. I want to emphasize that this a corporate gift, that is, no one person has every spiritual blessing, but as a body of believers, in the aggregate, we have on earth everything God wants us to have to carry out the ministries he’s called us to.

We learn toward the end of chapter 1 that the heavenly realms are where Christ is seated at the right hand of God, and all things have been placed under the rule and authority of Christ for benefit of the body of Christ. A few verses later, in 2:6, we find out that when Christ calls us and saves us, we too already have the blessing of being raised up and seated with Christ “in the heavenly realms.” It is from that vantage point, our souls connected to heaven, and our feet touching the ground, that we can “do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

In chapter 3 vs. 10, Paul reveals that God’s intent was that as the corporate body of Christ, the church, “the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms.” Without getting too involved in the concept of spiritual warfare, this speaks to our role of testifying about Jesus to the world as we saw in John 14–16 above. That is our purpose: to speak forth the word of God in both action and deed. In the first three chapters of Ephesians, Paul affirms who we are in Christ and what our exalted position is before him. In the last three chapters of Ephesians, he gives several examples of what it means to live in the heavenly realms, culminating with chapter 6 about putting on the armor of God, where we find his final reference to the heavenly realms:

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then…”[5]

Paul goes on to describe the armor of God, for that is what it truly is. If you were to look up the references to each of the pieces of armor mentioned in the Old Testament, you would find that every one is mentioned in the context of God wearing it or wielding it. That armor isn’t a cheap imitation or a mass-produced copy. It’s the protection and strength of God himself. That’s what Jesus was affirming for us by speaking of our Advocate, the Holy Spirit, coming to dwell within us to teach us, empower us, and embolden us to speak his word.

It seems like the days of evil are fast encroaching on us. Don’t get left behind. Believe in Jesus if you don’t already. Commit yourself to loving him and receive the strength and power of the Advocate for our souls, the Holy Spirit. Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus! Amen!

[1] Wallace, Daniel B. 1996. Greek Grammar beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan (Logos version).

[2] Metzger, Bruce M. 1971/1975 (corrected). A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament. Stuttgart: United Bible Societies.

[3] 1 John 2:1–2. The New International Version. 2011. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[4] John 16:7–11. The New International Version. 2011. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[5] Ephesians 6:10–14a. The New International Version. 2011. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

December 14, 2011

The Johannine Comma (1 John 5:7–8) and the Reliability of Modern Greek Texts

Filed under: 1 John,Authorship,Biblical Studies,Greek,New Testament,Textual Criticism — Scott Stocking @ 7:29 pm

Note: Some of the information herein is taken from Bruce Manning Metzger, The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration (2nd ed., New York: Oxford, 1968) pp. 95–106, 209–10.


One of the most fascinating things to me about the history of the transmission of the New Testament is the diligent scientific method developed by scholars to judge not only the quality of a particular manuscript (MS, plural MSS), but also to trace the historical influences on and predecessors to a MS. With over 5000 MSS of the Greek NT (in whole or in part), it was inevitable that scholars would develop a system for classifying and dating them. The process is called textual criticism, but don’t be turned off by the word criticism. Don’t think of this as negative assessment (e.g. “Her criticism was insulting”), but as scholarly judgment (e.g., “Her initial critique provided valuable insight”).

The modern Greek texts like the United Bible Society’s 4th edition and the Nestle-Aland 27th edition are sometimes called critical texts, because they weigh the value and quality of all MSS and make a judgment when MSS conflict about what the original text was. When MSS have different text in the same chapter and verse, these differences are called variants, or variant readings, (sometimes abbreviated v.l. for Latin varia lectio), or spurious. The science is not exact (there are four levels of certainty with which they weigh variants), but we can be fairly certain that modern critical texts are extremely accurate descendants of the autographs, the versions originally penned by the biblical authors.

The Johannine Comma

One familiar passage that exemplifies the importance of textual criticism is 1 John 5:7–8, known also as the Johannine Comma or Comma Johanneum. If you grew up reading the King James Version (or its various successors), you may know the passage as:

7 For there are three that bear record [in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. 8 And there are three that bear witness in earth], the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one (1769 Authorized Version, italics mine).

Stephens 1551 version of the Greek text, the primary text of the 1611 King James and a predecessor to the Elzevir (official) textus
receptus of 1633 (more about that later), has the following Greek text (italics mine):

7 οτι τρεις εισιν οι μαρτυρουντες [εν τω ουρανω ο πατηρ ο λογος και το αγιον πνευμα και ουτοι οι τρεις εν εισιν

8 και τρεις εισιν οι μαρτυρουντες εν τη γη]
το πνευμα και το υδωρ και το αιμα και οι τρεις εις το εν εισιν

But most modern English translation reject the outright statement of the trinity here, because there are no early Greek MSS (sometimes called witnesses) that have the phrase represented in brackets and italics. In fact, the earliest witness to the spurious passage is not even a biblical text. It is found in a fourth-century treatise, and it is believed to have been a commentary on the shorter passage, by way of analogy, that somehow made its way into the text. The earliest biblical text inclusion of the passage is an eighth-century copy of the Latin Vulgate, that is, it’s not even Greek.

When Erasmus was preparing his Greek text in the early sixteenth century, which would eventually lay the foundation for the Stephens text, he was not going to include the variant reading in 1 John 5:7–8 (and didn’t in his first two editions), because he could find no Greek texts that had the reading. However, according to the history Metzger relates, Erasmus promised to include the passage if a Greek text could be found that had the variant reading. Sure enough, one was “produced” for him, but Erasmus suspected it was a forged copy. (In fact, no Greek text prior to the fourteenth century has the variant.) True to his word, he included the variant passage, but with numerous footnotes and disclaimers questioning the authenticity of the passage. Nonetheless, it survived into the Stephens text and the textus receptus, and it was included in most Greek texts up to the late 19th century until modern-day critical texts began to gain prominence. Even though the stewards of the King James tradition know the passage is not original, they still to this day include the words in the main text in the New King James Version.

How Do Scholars Decide which Variant Reading Is the Best?

I may have mentioned the premises for textual criticism before in my blog, but they bear repeating, especially for my new blog readers. Scholars look at two types of evidence when examining the quality and accuracy of a MS—external and internal.

External Evidence

One piece of external evidence includes the date of the MS and the style of writing it uses. MSS that use lower case letters (minuscules) are thought to be more reliable than those that use all capital letters (uncials), even if the latter is older. MSS are also classified by geographical distribution. Without going into too much detail, there are three main “families” of MSS based on this distribution: Byzantine, Western, and Alexandrian. The Alexandrian family of MSS is generally considered to be the most reliable, and includes the fourth-century Aleph (א) text discovered at St. Catherine’s Monastery on Mt. Sinai and the fourth-century Vaticanus (B) text.

One final piece of external evidence is that the relationships of the MSS to one another can often be traced as well. Some scholars count the number of variant readings and simply select the reading with the most “votes” among the witnesses. This results in what some call the “Majority Text.” The problem with this is that later MSS tend to be more common, and they are copies of copies. Consider the following analogy. Which would you consider more accurate: a handwritten reproduction of the Declaration of Independence by someone for whom English is a first language, or twenty copies made by those for whom English is not their first language who only hear the Declaration of Independence and write down what they hear? That is essentially the difference between how ancient scrolls were copied. Some were reproduced by careful editors, while others were mass produced by those who only knew the correspondence of sounds to letters. In the latter case, often only one copy of the text was available to read, so there was not much double-checking of the scribes’ work.

With respect to the Johannine Comma, the external evidence is pretty clear that the passage was never part of the original text penned by the apostle. But internal evidence is also weighed in deciding on the authenticity of a variant, so I turn now to that.

Internal Evidence

The evaluation of internal evidence takes two forms, that which relates to the words on the page (transcriptional) and that which relates to the broader contexts in which the text is found (intrinsic). The latter concern, context, is something that every Bible college student learns early on. Those of us who teach hermeneutics often joke with our students that if we call on them in their lifestyle-induced, classroom slumber to answer a question, they have a 50 percent chance of being right if they answer “Context!” In addition to the immediate context of the passage and the larger context of the book or the author’s collection of writings, historical considerations such as the Aramaic background of Jesus’ teaching and the influence of the Christian community on the transmission of the text play a role in the decision to accept or reject a variant.

Transcriptional considerations can be just as tricky, especially when some seem on the surface to contradict each other. Scribes had a tendency to simplify difficult passages by adding or changing words, so on the one hand, the most difficult reading of a passage is preferred as the original, while on the other hand, the shorter passage is preferred on the assumption that the longer passage contains more explanation. Especially relevant to the Gospels is another tendency of the scribe to consciously or unconsciously bring parallel passages into harmony. The scribe may be familiar with Luke’s version of a parable, so when he comes to that parable in Matthew, he assumes it needs to be corrected, so he “fixes” the text. But this involves much speculation, so the passage that has a greater verbal difference with parallels is preferred. Occasionally, a scribe may have inadvertently skipped a line based on seeing similar words or endings in successive lines of a Greek text. If you’re a wordsmith, this phenomenon is called homoioteleuton (also homeoteleuton, lit. “similar ending”) or parablepsis (lit. “see alongside”). Homoioarchton happens when text is skipped because of words with similar beginnings. We’ve all done those things when reading, so it shouldn’t surprise us that it happened with ancient texts.

Again, returning to the Johannine Comma, we see that the shorter passage is indeed preferred, and there is sufficient evidence to suggest that the longer variant was indeed an attempt by a scribe to explain or allegorize a passage that was, perhaps, a little more difficult to comprehend. One final note: if you look at a copy of a United Bible Society Greek NT, you will see that the critical apparatus (essentially the catalog of where all the variants are found) weighs the certainty with which the Greek NT committee felt they had restored the original text. The shorter reading of 1 John 5:7–8 gets an A, because the committee was certain the original text had been restored. By contrast, the choice between “weigh anchor” (περιελόντες) and “circle around” (περιελθόντες) in Acts 28:13, a difference of one letter, gets the worst grade, D.


And so concludes my brief foray into the world of textual criticism. I hope you found it fascinating to discover that scholars have taken great care throughout history to maintain the integrity of God’s word, especially the New Testament. Talking about how the Jews preserved the Hebrew text is another blog post of its own.

I started in Revelation this week, so I’m in the home stretch of finishing up my read-through of the Greek NT. I’m toying with reading through the Hebrew Bible, but I may have to give myself three years to do that, and I’m not sure that would be the most profitable for me. I have been boning up on my Hebrew vocabulary, so it’s still a possibility, but I might return to my first-year Hebrew textbook and read through Esther to refresh and sharpen my Hebrew before tackling the whole OT. My other idea is to read through the Greek NT again, focusing a little more on vocabulary development personally and writing on topics I didn’t cover this year.

As always, if you have a topic you’d like to see me cover, don’t hesitate to ask. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all of you. Peace on earth and good will to all humanity.

Scott Stocking

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