As Bro. John Launchbury detailsin his extended article on “The Present Work of Christ,” translator bias has clouded the right meaning of this passage. A glaring example is the NIV rendering: “We have one who speaks to the Father in our defense – Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” (Similar interpretive renderings are given in the Good News Bible: “we have someone who pleads with the Father on our behalf;” and the Living Bible: “there is Someone to plead for you before the Father.”)
No Bible justification for translation
Clearly what the NIV (and the other) translators had in mind was a court scene, with us as the accused, God as the angry accuser, and Christ as our defender appealing to the Father on our behalf. The Greek word they felt conveyed this scene is parakletos which is rendered “advocate” in the King James Version and “one who speaks in our defense” in the NIV. While parakletos does carry this sense of a legal advocate in some non-biblical writings, it never conveys such a court scene in scripture.
The exact word is only used elsewhere by the apostle John (John 14:16,26; 15:26; 16:7), where it is rendered “Comforter” (KJV), or “Counselor” (RSV, NIV). Each of the four uses is referring to the help Father and Son provided the apostles through the holy spirit, and from which we greatly benefit in their recorded words. The associated words (parakaleo and paraklesis) are used more broadly, but never in the context of a court scene and certainly never in the sense of the exalted Lord Jesus pleading to the Father for us. In fact, such an idea runs directly counter to the biblical depiction of the Father being the great comforter and the source of all mercies.
A God of merciful kindness
As we know from God’s dealings with Israel and the faithful of old, He is not an angry god looking to condemn His people. Far from it for, “In the multitude of my thoughts within me thy comforts delight my soul” (Psa. 94:19).
The Psalms are full of such depictions of a Father who delights to show mercy and who is full of empathy for our troubles: “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him. For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust…As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us” (Psa. 103:13,14,12).
His ultimate act of lovingkindness was, of course, in providing His only begotten Son, the Messiah, to be the deliverer of Israel, and of all others who would come to God by him. As John himself says later in his epistle: “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation [atoning sacrifice, RSV, NIV] for our sins” (I John 4:10). By this means, the Father proves Himself the very definition of love: “He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love” (v. 8). It is thus perfectly clear when John says that Jesus Christ is “the propitiation for our sins: and not for our’s only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (I John 1:2), he does not have in mind a court scene where Jesus is trying to defuse the anger of God. God, Himself, had provided the atonement as the greatest possible assurance that the Father, Himself, loves us (John 16:27).
The “comforter” passages
Even a cursory reading of John 14-16 (where the other parakletos passages are found) reveals the inseparable linking of the Father and the Son in the work of salvation. There is absolutely no idea at all of the Father and Son being on opposite sides of an issue or of the Son defending us from the Father. They are working together in perfect harmony, in the unison of divine love to help us to be saved.
Both answer prayer: “Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do…I will do it” (14:13-14). “That whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you” (15:16). “Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you” (16:23). (When we pray to the Father in the name of the Son, we are thus recognizing their mutual involvement in answering prayer.)
Both give the Holy Spirit: “I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter…” (14:16, which prayer is found in John 17); “But the Comforter, which is the holy spirit, whom the Father will send in my name…” (14:26) “But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father…” (15:26); “If I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you” (16:7).
Both love the obedient: “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him.” (14:21).
Both dwell with the believer: “If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him” (14:23).
Is this a confusion of language and ideas? Decidedly not. Clearly the Father and Son are inexorably linked in the work of salvation: “Believe me that I am in the Father , and the Father in me” (14:11); “[the comforter] shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you. All things that the Father hath are mine: therefore said I, that he shall take of mine, and shall shew it unto you.” (16:14-16).
The Father and the Son are thus interchangeable in their actions because they have exactly the same priorities, standards and objectives. One is not our accuser while the other is our defender. Both are wholly together in seeking the salvation of those who will draw nigh unto them in faith.
The words of Paul
We should also note the apostle Paul’s use of the words associated with parakletos. In Romans 15:5, Paul prays, “Now the God of patience and consolation (paraklesis) grant you to be likeminded one toward another…” Our God is one who sets us the example, not of stern justice, but of the patient and comforting attitude that we should show to one another.
In II Corinthians 1:3, Paul again prays, “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and God of all comfort (paraklesis); Who comforteth (parakaleo) us in all our tribulation…” Mercy originates with God for He is the “Father” of mercy and “all” comfort flows from Him.
Again in prayer, the apostle brings together the Father and the Son as having exactly the same love and concern for us: “Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God, even our Father, which hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation (paraklesis) and good hope through grace, comfort (parakaleo) your hearts, and stablish you in every good word and work” (II Thess. 2:16-17). Here is exactly the same idea that is woven throughout John 14-16 – the Father and the Son are working in total harmony for our salvation.
When thus reflecting on the words of the prophets and apostles, we wonder from where the teaching ever came that Christ defends us against God in the court of divine justice. It clearly doesn’t come from scripture. The divine revelation is clear: When the Son was exalted to the Father’s right hand, being given all power in heaven and earth (Matt. 28:18), he joined the Father in the great work of saving us from our troubles and our sins.
In looking for the source of the misquote in I John 2, we commend to your attention the following comments in Bro. John Launchbury’s article and those by Bro. Alan Eyre under the Communications section.