John 16:12-15 – The Spirit will speak on behalf of the Son?

Jason Dulle

John 16:12-15  “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. For he will not speak on his own authority, but will speak whatever he hears, and will tell you what is to come. 14 He will glorify me, because he will receive from me what is mine and will tell it to you. 15 Everything that the Father has is mine; that is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what is mine and will tell it to you.” (NET)

This passage is often used by Trinitarians as evidence that the Spirit is a distinct divine person from the Son.  Indeed, on its face, this is what the text seems to imply.  If Jesus and the Holy Spirit are the same person as Oneness theology maintains, why is the Holy Spirit portrayed as passing on information from Jesus?  Why would there be a two-step process in communicating this revelation to believers (Jesus > Spirit > believers) if Jesus and the Holy Spirit are the same person?  How could Jesus be the active agent and the Holy Spirit be the passive agent (“not speak of His own authority”) if Jesus and the Holy Spirit are, in reality, the self-same agent?  How could it be that the Holy Spirit will glorify Jesus if Jesus is the Holy Spirit?  If the Holy Spirit is being portrayed as personally distinct from Jesus, Oneness theology is undermined.

Parallel to the Father-Son relationship

A key observation that needs to be made regarding this passage is that Jesus speaks of His then-future relationship to the Spirit in a way that’s reminiscent to how he described His then-present relationship to the Father.  For example, Jesus said that He spoke nothing on His own authority, but only what the Father told Him to speak (John 12:49-50).  While Jesus was presently the mouthpiece of the Father, Jesus was informing His disciples that in the near-future the Spirit would be the mouthpiece of Jesus. 

This parallel between the Father and Son and between the Son and the Spirit suggests that the way we understand the one relationship may inform the way we understand the other.  The way we explain how Jesus, though identical in person to the Father, could not speak anything on His own authority or initiative – but only what was first revealed to Him by the Father – is the same way we can explain how the Holy Spirit, though identical in person to Jesus, would not speak anything of His own authority – but only what He was authorized to speak by Jesus. 

Explaining the Father-Son relationship

There are many texts that describe Jesus’ relationship to the Father in ways that suggest Jesus is personally distinct from the Father.  Jesus often spoke of the Father as if the Father were someone other than Himself.  At other times Jesus prays to the Father, implying a distinction between the mind of the Father and the mind of Jesus.  In other instances a distinction is made between the activity of the Father and the activity of the Son (the Father is doing X, while Jesus is doing Y).  For example, the Father testified about Jesus when He spoke from heaven during Jesus' baptism and transfiguration.  Jesus wasn't testifying about Himself.  He was sitting there silently in the water.  "Someone" else was testifying about Him.  And similar to how Jesus describes the future role of the Spirit, the Father wasn’t saying something about Himself, but rather saying something about Jesus.  Indeed, Jesus even considered the Father’s testimony to be a second testimony in addition to His own: “It is also written in your law, that the testimony of two men is true. I am one that bears witness of myself, and the Father that sent me bears witness of me.” (Jn 8:17-18)  How can we explain this from a Oneness perspective?

In the incarnation, God brought human nature into union with His divine person.  God Himself came to personally exist and function as man via the attributes inherent to that human nature.  Though God had become man, He retained His divine nature, and thus continued to exist and function as God beyond the incarnation.  After the incarnation, then, we have a single divine person existing and functioning in two distinct ways simultaneously: as man via His human nature (Jesus/Son), and as God via His divine nature (Father).

If Jesus and the Father are identical in person, why did Jesus speak of the Father as if the Father was someone other than Himself?  Why did Jesus claim to be inferior to the Father, and communicate with the Father?  It’s because when God assumed a human existence, He chose to limit Himself to the functional confines of that existence.  Jesus – though God by personal identity – functioned as an ordinary human being at all times and in every way, including cognitively.  In Christ, God was truly conscious of Himself as a man.  He thought like a man and was aware of Himself as man.  But God also continued to exist beyond the incarnation, and in that cosmic mode of existence He continued to be conscious of Himself as God.  We have then, a very unique situation in which one person not only exists in two distinct ways, but is also conscious of Himself in two distinct ways…simultaneously.  This cognitive and experiential distinction between God’s cosmic and human modes of existence necessitates that Jesus think of and speak of/to the Father as if the Father were “other,” even though Jesus’ person is identical to the Father.

Explaining the Son-Spirit relationship

How does this relate to Jesus’ relationship to the Holy Spirit?  Since the incarnation is permanent, even after Jesus’ resurrection the distinction between God’s cosmic and human modes of existence remained.  Since we understand the Holy Spirit to be identical in person to the Father (a term used to speak of God’s activity among creation), we would expect for Scripture to distinguish Jesus from the Holy Spirit just as it distinguishes Jesus from the Father.  Just as there is a modal and cognitive distinction between the Father and Son, there is a modal and cognitive distinction between the Son and Spirit.

The only difference in Jesus’ pre-resurrection relationship to the Father as compared to His post-resurrection relationship to the Holy Spirit is the directional flow of revelation.  Prior to the resurrection and exaltation of Christ Jesus acted as the mouthpiece of the Father, but after the resurrection the Holy Spirit will act as the mouthpiece of Jesus.  In the same way that Jesus gave witness to and glorified the Father prior to the resurrection, the Spirit would give witness to and glorify Jesus after the resurrection.  This role-reversal between God’s cosmic and human modes of existence appears to be a direct result of Jesus’ glorification, exaltation, and ascension.  Since Jesus would no longer be present on Earth to convey the will of the Father, there is a practical need for the Spirit to convey the information to believers.  And since Jesus is now exalted in glory, He is in a position to reveal information.


We do not need to understand John 16:12-15 as implying a personal distinction between Jesus and the Holy Spirit.  There is a distinction between the activity of Jesus and the activity of the Spirit, but it’s the same kind of distinction we see between Jesus and the Father.  That distinction can be explained in terms of the incarnation without any need to invoke additional divine persons. 

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