The Holy Spirit is referred to as the “Comforter” (KJV, ASV), the “Helper” (NASB, NKJV, McCord’s, ESV), the “Advocate” (Estes’ Better Version), or the “Counselor” (NIV, note: I do not recommend this version) four times [(John 14:16; 14:26; 15:26; 16:7). This same original word is used of Jesus once (1 John 2:1). It is there translated “Advocate” (KJV, ASV, NASB, NKJV, Estes’, ESV)]. What is intended? In what way would the Holy Spirit function as the Helper?
Let’s consider what the original word, parakletos. Here is what lexicons say: (1) Vine’s, “lit. ‘called to one’s side,’ i.e. to one’s aid… It was used in a court of justice to denote a legal assistant, counsel for the defense, an advocate; then, generally, one who pleads another’s cause… In the widest sense, it signified a ‘succorer, comforter.’ Christ was this to His disciples, by implication of His word ‘another’ (allos, ‘another of the same sort,’ not heteros, ‘different’) ‘Comforter’ when speaking of the Holy Spirit.” (2) Thayer, “prop. summoned, called to one’s side, esp. called to one’s aid; hence… one who pleads another’s cause before a judge, a pleader, counsel for defense, legal assistant; an advocate… one who pleads another’s cause with one, an intercessor… in the widest sense, a helper, succorer, aider, assistant; so the Holy Spirit destined to take the place of Christ with the apostles (after his ascension to the Father), to lead them to a deeper knowledge of gospel truth…”
The Holy Spirit is only referred to as the “Helper” in John 14 – 16. The setting of John 14 – 16 is private. Jesus is privately addressing the apostles. “These chapters form a unit. In these three chapters are some special promises to the apostles. A failure to keep this in mind in the study of these chapter leads to endless confusion and misunderstanding of the Holy Spirit. When the promises of the Holy Spirit are applied to Christians in general, it is a complete misapplication of the promises” (Franklin Camp, The Work of the Holy Spirit in Redemption, p. 119).
The setting: Jesus was soon to return to the Father (John 13:33, 36; 14:3, 5-6). The apostles were to remain on earth (John 13:36). They still had work to do (John 14:12). They were being commissioned to carry the gospel into all the world (Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:15; Luke 24:47). They would testify of Jesus (John 15:27).
How could they do this? How would they accurately present what Jesus did and said? Moreover, Jesus had not taught them all that they needed to know. There were so many things that they did not know or fully understand. How would they be able to do this work?
Jesus would not leave them as helpless orphans (John 14:18). Another Helper would be provided. (1) He would teach them all things (John 14:26), guiding them into all truth (John 16:12-13). (2) He would cause them to have an accurate memory of Jesus and His teaching (John 14:26; 15:26-27). The inspiration of the apostles is the context.
The word, parakletos, as we’ve pointed out, was used of a defense attorney (cf. 1 John 2:1). The Holy Spirit would help the apostles before men. “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise a serpents and harmless as doves. But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to councils and scourge you in their synagogues. You will be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. But when they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you should speak. For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of you Father who speaks in you” (Mathew 10:16-20).
What About Us?
While it is true that we, today, receive “comfort” (though a different word) from the Scriptures (Romans 15:4; 1 Thessalonians 4:18), and while it is true that we get “comfort” (though a different word) through Christian fellowship (2 Corinthians 7:6, 13; 1 Thessalonians 4:18; 5:11, 14), the “Comforter” (KJV) spoken of in John 14-16 refers to the Holy Spirit’s helping of the apostles, inspiring them. Only in this context is the Holy Spirit said to be the “Comforter” (KJV), or the “Helper” (NKJV).