Pentecost as Connectedness and Distributive Justice, Part 2

Pentecost as Connectedness and Distributive Justice, Part 2 May 15, 2024


As we continue our reading of stories our the powering out of the Spirit on the early Jesus movement, why do these passages give a different time for when Jesus gave the Holy Spirit to the apostles? There were power struggles in the early church when John’s gospel was written. The narrative that God poured out the Holy Spirit in Jerusalem on those gathered there supported the authority and claims of the Jesus community that honored the apostleship of Peter and James. A gospel that instead stated the Holy Spirit was given to apostles in John 20 by Jesus while he had briefly returned to them post resurrection gave validity to those Jesus communities that honored the apostleship of John, Mary Magdalene, and Thomas alongside Peter and James (though James is not mentioned in the closing chapters of John’s gospel).

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(Read this series from its beginning here.)

Let’s remember that those in the Jesus community of that time did not all have access to the four gospels in a neatly packaged, leather-bound volume like we do today. All four of these gospels may have been known by various communities (Irenaeus later groups the four we have together in his writings), but different communities cherished different gospels. From their own oral traditions, the Johannine community produced and cherished their version of the Jesus story, and today we refer to it as the gospel of John.

In John, the Spirit is referred to as “another advocate.”

“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever.” (John 14:16, emphasis added)

An advocate is someone who comes alongside someone and pleads their cause with them. Within the Johannine community’s sacred texts Jesus was the advocate with “the Father.”

“My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 2:1-2)

So in the gospel of John, the spirit was another advocate. The spirit was not an advocate in relation to our sins as a propitiation with God like Jesus (regardless of how we interpret the meaning of those terms today), the Spirit was more an advocate for the community as they related to the larger world.

In John’s narrative, Jewish Jesus followers were being expelled from their synagogues for being Jesus followers. While for John’s community this may be more about their more gnostic way of interpreting Jesus rather than simply being associated with Jesus, this still tracks with how the spirit as an advocate in this context is written of in the other canonical gospels:

“When they bring you to trial and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say; but say whatever is given you at that time, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 13:11)

“When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” (Matthew 10:19-20)

“So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.” (Luke 21:14-15)

“When they bring you before the synagogues, the rulers, and the authorities, do not worry about how you are to defend yourselves or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that very hour what you ought to say.” (Luke 12:11-12)

In John, the Spirit would remind the Johannine community of what Jesus taught and also reveal further truths that the historical Jesus did not necessarily teach: 

“But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (John 14:26, emphasis added.)

“When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me.” (John 15:26, emphasis added.)

“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 . . . I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” (John 16:7,12-13)

I’m interested in this last role of the Spirit, because it permits the Johannine community to be a Jesus-following community while building in ways the historical Jesus may not have intended. This laid the foundation for the battle that would soon emerge in the church in defining and defending orthodox beliefs about Jesus from the unorthodox.

Where do these battles leave us today?

One of the fruits of the Spirit (to borrow Paul’s language) in the synoptic gospels and Acts is the restoration of social justice. It is this connection that we will explore, next.

(Read Part 3)


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About Herb Montgomery
Herb Montgomery, director of Renewed Heart Ministries, is an author and adult religious re-educator helping Christians explore the intersection of their faith with love, compassion, action, and societal justice. You can read more about the author here.

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