The Father, the Son, and a thousand year old debate on the Holy Spirit. Studying John 15:26

Throughout the gospel of John, Jesus refers to having been sent by the Father. 

But who sends the Holy Spirit? 

In John 15:26, Jesus says: “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.

Helper comes from the Greek word “paraclete.” That word gets translated in different ways in different Bibles. Helper, advocate, counselor, comforter. 

And really what that shows is that it’s such a broad idea that it’s hard to condense down into one simple word. Because indeed the Holy Spirit does all of those things. 

Jesus says that the helper will bear witness about him. Jesus is highlighting that the Holy Spirit teaches about Jesus, bears witness to Jesus, testifies to the truth of Jesus. 

Jesus says: whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. 

Theology – helper 

That is quite the theological statement. 

Jesus says in this verse whom I will send to you, but then he adds from the Father. 

That leads to an important theological question. Who sends the Spirit? 

Perhaps you’ve never even thought about that. To approach that question, I need to take a moment and give a brief history lesson, because the answer to that question was part of a major theological debate almost 1,000 years ago. 

The Great Schism

In 1054, there were no independent churches or Bible churches. You didn’t have the Apostolic church. Protestantism was nearly 500 years away. 

Virtually all of Christendom fell into one of two camps. East and west. You had the Eastern Orthodox Church in the east and you had the Roman Catholic Church in the west. 

There were some outliers, but those two movements were definitely the biggest. They were coke and pepsi. The east and west churches had open communion with each other, but that all changed in 1054 when they split in a rift that has never been fully repaired. 

There were several reasons, but one of the major issues and one that is related to our passage today was the question of who sent the Spirit. The Eastern Orthodox Church believed that God sends the Son and that God also sends the Spirit. 

The Catholic view – which is also essentially the universal view within Protestantism is that God sends the Son but that the Father and the Son send the Spirit. 

Another key verse in the discussion is in the following chapter. John 16:7, when Jesus says: 

I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. 

I affirm the view that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. 

You might ask “why does that matter?” Most importantly, it matters because we’re talking about what the Bible teaches. These complicated theological issues might seem boring or abstract but they matter. The Trinity is a significant part of what makes Christianity different from any other religion. 

And the reason why this particular issue matters: the reason why it matters that the Spirit comes from the Father and the Son and not just from the Father is that if the Spirit is from God, then it would seem that the Father can be accessed via the Spirit apart from the Son. 

If the Spirit is only from God alone, then, why do you need Jesus? 

I’m not saying Eastern Orthodox people believe that but it is a danger of a theology where the Spirit does not proceed from Christ. 

Also if Christ in heaven, ruling and reigning with God, and the Spirit is empowering and edifying the church, how are Jesus and the Spirit relating to each other? 

The Father and the Spirit are both active in the ministry of Jesus. The Father sends the Son. And the Spirit was with Jesus during his earthly ministry. 

Mark 1:10-11: when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” 

All three persons of the Trinity are working in the ministry of Jesus. And all three persons of the Trinity are working in the church. The Spirit comes from the Father and from the Son. 

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