Thought for the Week: Love and truth

Elaine Miles reflects on language

Take heed, dear Friends, to the promptings of love and truth in your hearts. Trust them as the leadings of God whose Light shows us our darkness and brings us to new life.

- Advices & queries 1.02

We all treasure the words of our first Advice, and in fact they seem to me to be much nearer the Greek of John 14:15-18 than either the authorised (King James) version of the Bible or the New English Bible.

The King James version tells us that Jesus said to his disciples (John 14) that he would pray to the Father ‘and he shall send you another Comforter’, and the New English Bible says that he would ask the Father ‘and he will give you another to be your Advocate’. However, there is no capital letter in the Greek, and both translations seem to fail to express the sense of the original.

The Greek word paracletos meant a legal assistant who would help you to get it right on a point of law. That does not seem to be the same thing as a comforter, which we nowadays think of as someone who consoles you; originally, however, ‘comfort’ had the legal sense of strengthening your legal case, valid when the authorised version was written, but now out of date.

The word ‘Advocate’ is ambiguous, because although it can mean ‘one who gives you the legal information you need’, it can, alternatively, mean ‘one who speaks for you’ – besides being a rather ugly and unfamiliar English word. The word ‘prompt’, however, seems to give just the right sense; moreover, the ‘prompter’ turns out to be the Spirit of truth, which sounds very Quakerly, and John goes on in 14:17: ‘but you know him, because he dwells with you and [shall be] in you’.

Of course, early Friends knew their Bible so well that the wording they used constantly echoes Biblical language.

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