Take the 2-minute tour ×
Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for professors, theologians, and those interested in exegetical analysis of biblical texts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

After the resurrection in John's gospel, Jesus appears to the disciples and in John 20:22 he breathes on them and says, "Receive the Holy Spirit." What is happening here? Is Jesus giving them the Holy Spirit by breathing on them?

Edit: Maybe this goes a ways towards answering the question, but one of the reasons I'm questioning what's happening here is that connecting John 7:39, John 17:5, and John 20:17 (and others) it seems like in John that the Spirit's coming is connected with Jesus' ascending to the Father.

share|improve this question
    
When Pentecost occurred, believers were united with Jesus Christ--that is, they were baptized into his eternal life. When the disciples received the Holy Spirit in John 20:22, they were not baptized into the Body of Christ, but filled with the Holy Spirit in the same way that John the Baptist was filled with the Spirit. There are other examples of such "enduement" in the Old Testament (e.g., Samson, Elijah, Saul, David, Solomon, etc), upon whom the Spirit came. Pentecost was the turning point when these disciples and others were ontologically baptized into the eternal life of Jesus Christ. –  Joseph Jan 19 '13 at 2:31

4 Answers 4

up vote 11 down vote accepted
+50

Short Answer: There is strong evidence from Scripture that they actually received the Spirit at Pentecost, and that what we see in John 20:22 was Jesus giving them a visual illustration and command in preparation for that event.

The Controversy

For reference, here is the statement in question:

He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit." -John 20:22

The question is, why did Jesus say this? There are two main views:

  • A) Jesus said, "Receive the Holy Spirit" because He was actually imparting the Holy Spirit at this time, and wanted them to understand what was happening. The "breathing" was to illustrate the giving of Spiritual life, and would be familiar imagery from their knowledge of Genesis 2:7.

  • B) Jesus blew on them to illustrate1 to His disciples that He and the Spirit were one, and that the Spirit would come forth from Him. He then commanded them in advance to "Receive the Holy Spirit" because it was almost time for Him to go to the Father and for the Spirit to come, and He wouldn't be with them to explain it when it happened.

1: Note that the Greek word for Spirit (πνεῦμα) is the same Greek word for wind, and for breath.

The Debate

The A group would say to the B group:

  • Jesus said, "Receive the Holy Spirit." Clearly that means they received the Holy Spirit.

  • The Spirit was to be given after Jesus was glorified, and He was glorified through His crucifiction and resurrection

The B group would say to the A group:

Obviously it is not clear from this passage alone when the Holy Spirit was given. We need to interpret the unclear passages of Scripture in light of what we know from the more clear passages of Scripture.

The Context of Scripture

The event in Acts 2 is referred to in Scripture as the promise of the Father, the baptism in the Spirit, the Holy Spirit coming upon them, receiving the power to be His witnesses, and being filled with the Holy Spirit.

1) Jesus told His disciples:

I am going to Him who sent Me ... it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. -John 16:5-7

This passage indicates (A) that Jesus had to go to the Father in order for the Spirit to come, and (B) that Jesus would "send" the Spirit after He went. Jesus went to the Father in Acts 1:9-11.

  • The A group might argue that Jesus could have gone to the Father between His crucifiction and John 20, but John 20:17 seems to say otherwise.

  • I suppose the A group could try to explain the passage by arguing that the Spirit came according to the Father's foreknowledge that Jesus would go to the Father, but that would throw a wrench in the entire discussion by invalidating the Biblical chronology altogether!

The most obvious solution is that Jesus went to the Father in Acts 1, and the Spirit was sent in Acts 2.

2) John 15:26-27 indicates that the coming of the Spirit would result in them being witnesses. This happened at Pentecost. (See Acts 1:4 and Acts 1:8.)

3) John 16:7-11 indicates that the coming of the Spirit would result in the conviction of the world. This happened at Pentecost. (See Acts 1:4 and Acts 2:14-41.)


See here for a long list of further evidence in support of this interpretation.

share|improve this answer

Genesis reference

The W. Hall Harris commentary on the issues says this:

The use of the verb ejnefuvshsen to describe the action of Jesus here recalls Gen 2:7 in the LXX, where “the LORD God formed man out of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” This time, however, it is Jesus who is breathing the breath/Spirit of eternal life, life from above, into his disciples.

The idea presented in this commentary is not that it's the Holy Spirit, but rather the breath or spirit of eternal life. Just like God breathed life into man in Genesis 2:7, so Jesus breathed eternal life into man there in John 20:22.

Ezekiel allusion

The Harris commentary goes further, saying that it also evokes the imagery of Ezekiel 37:1-14 and the valley of dry bones. In particular, it seems to evoke this passage:

Ezekiel 37:9-10
9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army

Eternal Life

It's very clear here that Jesus was giving the Holy Spirit:

John 20:22 (NIV)
And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.

It seems most likely that this breathing was Jesus giving them eternal life in the form of the Holy Spirit. This can be seen in the Genesis parallel as well as the allusion to Ezekiel.

This is further supported by the reference that made earlier in John:

John 7:38-39 (NIV)Emphasis added
38 "Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them." 39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.

However, at this point in John 20, Jesus had been crucified (ie glorified (John 12:23)).

So, the Holy spirit was clearly being given here.

Reconciliation with Pentecost

We can see in Acts 2 the Holy Spirit giving power to speak in tongues at the day of Pentecost. Many presume that this when the Holy Spirit was given to humans.

The Harris commentary argues that the eternal life of the Holy Spirit was given in John 20 and the power of the Holy Spirit was given in Acts 2.

I personally think that John 20 is clear that the Holy Spirit was given at that point. While the manifestation of power was not given until Acts 2, that does not exclude the idea that the Holy Spirit had already been given.

Summary

John 20:22 was the point, post-resurrection (ie post-glorification), when the disicples received the Holy Spirit. This is the point at which they received eternal life through the Holy Spirit. And Acts 2 was the first manifestation of the power of the Holy Spirit.

share|improve this answer

As far as I have understood, this is a parallell to the Genesis creation narrative, where God gives Adam life by breathing into his nostrils the breath of life (Gen 2,7). I guess this should be read in the light of the promise in e.g. Ezekiel 11,19 and a response to the prayer in Ps. 51,12.

I don't think this verse should be seen separate from the next, which concerns the power to bind and to loose, and thus is connected with Jesus' word to Peter. I believe that "what happens here" is something different from what happens et pentecost, where everybody receives this spirit: this is something exclusive for Jesus' inner circle, the apostles.

share|improve this answer
    
Welcome to BibleHermeneutics.SE! –  Richard Oct 12 '11 at 19:18
    
:-) Thanks, man! It's been so many years since I exercised in this ballpark, so to speak. –  norwebian Oct 20 '11 at 12:45

Addendum:

The Ezekiel allusion is good. After he spoke to the bones they came to life but "there was no breath in them" v.8. even though he said he would put breath in them. This tells us that the breath he put in them was expended in giving life to the flesh.

So he commanded the wind, after which they had breath.

Receiving the Holy Spirit was a two-step process. 1 They were brought to life when Jesus breathed upon them (by the Spirit of Christ)[2] and then they received the breathe at Pentecost.

Jesus expended his breath (life) upon the cross to give us life. The gift of the Holy Spirit came after.

Just as in the Trinity, there are three Spirits which are one(The Spirit of God, The Spirit of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit). They may be referred to interchangeably in the same manner as the Trinity when referring to God, or distinctively when speaking of one of the persons of the Trinity.


Refs

[1]

My answer on how the bread and the word are related supports the two-stage receiving of the Spirit. Just as man does not live by bread (the cross) alone, we live by every word. The cross is where the Spirit of Christ makes us born again, so that we may see the kingdom of heaven. His spirit is expended in giving us life. The Holy Spirit is given so that we may walk in that new life.

[2]

Php 1:19 For I know that this shall turn to my salvation through your prayer, and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ,

share|improve this answer
    
Hmm... The Spirit of the Holy Spirit seems like an odd concept. Do you have any reference for that? I don't remember any Bible text that phrases it like that... –  Jon Ericson Jun 30 '12 at 19:54
    
"The Spirit of the Holy Spirit " where do you get that? –  Bob Jones Jun 30 '12 at 20:03
    
I'm confused by what you mean by "three Spirits". –  Jon Ericson Jun 30 '12 at 22:23
    
I don't know how to make it clearer. I enumerated them:The Spirit of God, The Spirit of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. You can find all three used in the NT. They are just another expression of the Trinity. –  Bob Jones Jun 30 '12 at 22:33
    
I suppose that considering them redundant terms is not a bad thing, since they are all one God. But it loses some of the depth of meaning when we blur distinctions that are made between Father, Son and Holy Ghost. –  Bob Jones Jun 30 '12 at 22:41

protected by Dan Feb 17 at 1:07

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality answers, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site.

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.