Sunday, May 19, 2013

Pentecost and John 16:10

We celebrated Pentecost at my church this morning.  We sang songs about the liberating, creative, convicting, and yet gentle Spirit of God.  I especially liked one of the songs that we sang, "Spirit", which went into the Holy Spirit's activity from creation through Sinai, all the way to Acts 2.

We were reading John 16:7-14, which is about the Comforter, the Holy Spirit.  I'd like to highlight vv 8-11 in the King James Version:

"(8) And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment:  (9) Of sin, because they believe not on me;  (10) Of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more; (11) Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged."

I think that I understand v 9: the Holy Spirit convicts people of the sin of not believing in Christ.  And I can somewhat understand v 11: the Holy Spirit is informing people that the prince of this world is judged.  But I don't quite get v 10: what does the Holy Spirit convicting people of righteousness have to do with Jesus going to his Father?  Let's check some commentaries!

One point that John Gill makes is that Jesus' ascension to heaven and subsequent sending of the Holy Spirit vindicated his own (meaning Jesus') righteousness against those who accused him of unrighteousness.  Other Christian commentaries offer similar thoughts.

The Nelson Study Bible states: "of righteousness: After Christ’s departure the Holy Spirit would convict the world of the nature of righteousness and the need for righteousness. Jesus’ work on the Cross was completely righteous. This is demonstrated by the Father’s emptying of the tomb, signifying His satisfaction with the righteous payment and His acceptance of Christ into His presence."  In this view, Jesus' ascension affirms the righteousness of what Jesus did on the cross, as well as God's recognition of Jesus' saving work for the saints.

John MacArthur states in his MacArthur Study Bible: "righteousness. The Holy Spirit’s purpose here is to shatter the pretensions of self-righteousness (hypocrisy), exposing the darkness of the heart (3:19–21; 7:7; 15:22, 24). While Jesus was on the earth, He performed this task especially toward the shallowness and emptiness of Judaism that had degenerated into legalistic modes without life-giving reality (e.g., 2:13–22; 5:10–16; 7:24; Is. 64:5, 6). With Jesus gone to the Father, the Holy Spirit continues His convicting role."  I don't particularly care for MacArthur's characterization of Judaism here, but I can see his overall point about the meaning of John 16:10: the Holy Spirit is carrying on Jesus' work of convicting the world of righteousness, now that Jesus has ascended to heaven and is no longer physically on earth to do his convicting work.

Which of these interpretations do I prefer?  Well, I'd like to interpret John 16:10 in light of themes within John's Gospel itself.  I'm hesitant to interpret it in reference to the doctrine of the substitutionary atonement, for I'm not certain that this doctrine is in John's Gospel.  I'm open to correction on this, but Jesus in John 12:32 seems to posit a moral-influence view of the atonement: Jesus, in being lifted up on the cross, draws people to him, perhaps through his demonstration of love. 

But I'm open to some of the other interpretations of John 16:10: the Holy Spirit continues Jesus' work of convicting the world now that Jesus is in heaven, or the Holy Spirit affirms that Jesus' righteousness was affirmed by Jesus' ascent into heaven.


  1. Hi James - I once wrote a little story on this verse. I don't like 'explanations' especially those whose authors want only to prove a point they have in their minds without even reading the text at hand. But Psalm 51 with its threefold recurrence of righteousness is a good 'explanation' of David's sin-offering by God as there is.

    Here's a snippet of the story (written c 2000-2004): My main character Gaius (Greek) is writing to Titus (raised by the Vetti in Pompeii before the eruption of Vesuvius...)

    Dear Titus ...

    John ... first explained this to me. Unfortunately, I remember his teaching only vaguely and think that I may only remember it to the extent that it serves my own convenience.

    What a terrible thought. Here I thought I knew something and I dare not try to explain it for fear that I am misleading you. Here is what he wrote:

    when the Spirit is come to you, he will show the world how wrong it was about sin, and about righteousness, and about judgment. About sin, proved because they refused to believe in me; about righteousness, because I go to my Father, and you see me no more; about judgment, because the prince of this world is judged.

    That is what John wrote and what I remembered for you and I do not know why I have remembered it. There is much more, but this is the word that spoke to me as I thought about you afar off.

    I can explain some words. He called the Spirit paraclete. In Latin, this would be advocate, or builder – one who strengthens us. Such words must seem almost meaningless. Someone said to me once that my letters were good grammar but they could not understand their meaning.

    I will try to explain more: the world, and I include you and me, does not understand why Jesus was crucified. The world does not believe. But when the Spirit comes to you, that coming will show you three things were true.

    First, that God is love, but we, beloved, could not accept the love or the lover. This is the truth about sin. You don’t know love until the Spirit informs you. What a difficulty! You don’t believe so you don’t know. But how will you know since you must believe to know?

    Secondly, that love is vindicated even when it is rejected. Why would we be happy that we see him no more? Because the presence of the Spirit changes everything. We know in this case that there is a new thing in the world and we are changed by it. This is the truth about right and wrong.

    That brings me to the third point, that how we judge in the world is changed. We see him no more, but we know him through the same power that raised him from the dead. By this, we know that we are not condemned, but accepted. This is the truth about judgment.


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