Greek: παράκλητος (paraklētos)
English: Advocate, Helper, Counselor
by Jonathan W. Bryant, PhD, Senior Editor, Tyndale Bibles
Sometimes when a word is being translated from one language to another, it can be difficult to find a direct correspondence in a single word. In such cases, the word in the source language (e.g., ancient Greek) carries a meaning known to that audience but for which the target language (e.g., English) doesn’t have an equivalent word. The concept may be present in the target language, but to adequately put the ancient concept into words requires more explanation than a single word can give.
The Greek word paraklētos (pronounced pah-RAH-klay-tahs) provides one such example. This noun (which appears in John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7; 1 John 2:1) is related to the frequently used verb parakaleō, which at its core means “to call to one’s side.” This “calling” can be for various purposes (e.g., encouragement, an appeal or entreaty, exhortation, or comfort), so the verb can be rendered in various ways in the New Testament, depending on the context. The noun paraklētos similarly means something to the effect of “one who is called to the side of another to provide aid.” To translate this meaning into a single English word proves difficult.
A further complication that emerges in translating paraklētos is that, as a reference to the Holy Spirit, it has been treated as a title (some simply prefer to use the transliterated term Paraclete). Modern English translations have thus generally attempted to render paraklētos with a singular, titular term in English. But note the variation of terms used among popular English translations in, for example, John 14:26:
- NIV: And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—
- NLT: And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you.
- ESV: And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever,
- KJV: And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever;
- NKJV: And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever—
- CSB: And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever.
- NRSV: And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.
- NASB: I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, so that He may be with you forever;
The NLT translators opted for the English term advocate, as a general way of referring to someone who is “called to come alongside.” While advocate may sound like an attorney for some readers, other terms like comforter or helper can narrow the sense to coming alongside simply for encouragement or material aid. Similarly, counselor carries for many the sense of either verbal advice or a therapeutic connotation. The overarching notion of “coming alongside another to provide aid” can involve numerous purposes, so any singular-word rendering is likely to leave readers with an understanding of the Holy Spirit that is at least somewhat incomplete. As a way of accounting for this, the NLT translators opted to include a footnote that provides multiple alternative options for translating paraklētos, along with noting the transliterated Greek term Paraclete. See, for example, the NLT rendering of John 14:16 along with the textual footnote:
“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate,* who will never leave you.”
14:16 Or Comforter, or Encourager, or Counselor. Greek reads Paraclete; also in 14:26.
This textual note (which also appears at John 15:26; 16:7) acknowledges the complexity of rendering this Greek term with a single English term and allows the reader to see a fuller picture of what may be involved in the Holy Spirit’s work as described by John.
May we recognize in our own lives the presence and work of the Holy Spirit—the One Who Has Come Alongside Us. Jesus has not left us alone but has sent his Spirit to dwell in us.