Was the Holy Spirit really given in John 20:22?


by Shawn Brasseaux

Did God the Father really pour out His Spirit on Israel’s little flock in John 20:22? Or, did He pour out His Spirit in Acts chapter 2? While it is often a conundrum to theologians and Bible readers, we trust that the Word of God will speak for itself and interpret itself, thereby eliminating any confusion we have. Secular education and denominational doctrine can cloud even the simplest passage, but we can avoid such perplexity by simply leaving the Bible text alone and just believing it!

In His post-resurrection commission of John’s Gospel (chapter 20): “[21] Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. [22] And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: [23] Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.” (By the way, this is a favorite Bible passage of the Roman Catholic Church. It is needed to bolster the “Sacrament of Reconciliation,” the dogma that assumes priests have been granted God’s permission to hear confessions of sins and have been given God’s power to grant the sinners absolution!)

The Berean Bible student knows that Father God poured out the Holy Ghost on Israel’s believing remnant in Acts chapter 2, the day of Pentecost. We know that the Holy Ghost was not actually given in John 20:21-23 because of what the Lord Jesus Himself said in John 7:39: “(But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified).” When was Jesus Christ glorified? Was it in John 20:21-23? Certainly not. According to the Bible, the Holy Spirit was given only after Jesus was glorified in Heaven at the Father’s right hand.

Notice what the Apostle Peter preached to Israel on the day of Pentecost. Acts chapter 2: “[32] This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses. [33] Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear. [34] For David is not ascended into the heavens: but he saith himself [Psalm 110:1], The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, [35] Until I make thy foes thy footstool. [36] Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made the same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.”

So, why did Jesus say in John 20:22-23, “Receive ye the Holy Ghost: Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.”? He was explaining to these disciples how He would equip them to fulfill that commission in His absence. They were failing men, sinful men, and yet they were commanded to preach God’s Word and do God’s work. How would they ever remit and retain sins as Jesus said in John chapter 20? How would they ever be able to perform all those miracles of Mark chapter 16? How would they preach to and teach all nations everything that Jesus taught them for three years, as instructed in Matthew chapter 28? How would they ever manage to preach repentance to Jerusalem first and then to all the world as commanded in Luke chapter 24 and Acts chapter 1? It would be by the power of the Holy Spirit, the Person who would come on them in Acts chapter 2!

Remember, Jews from every nation under heaven had gathered in Jerusalem in Acts chapter 2 to celebrate the feast of Pentecost. In order to evangelize these lost Jews, the apostles had to preach in human languages they had never formally learned. This problem was solved by the gift of tongues brought on by the Holy Ghost (Acts 2:1-11). The Holy Ghost also brought Jesus’ teachings to the apostles’ memories. After all, Jesus had told them: “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance whatsoever I have said unto you” (John 14:26; cf. John 14:16-18, John 15:26,27, and John 16:7). Furthermore, the Holy Ghost empowered the apostles to perform miracles, signs, and wonders (Luke 24:49; Mark 16:17-20).


No, the Holy Spirit was not actually given in John 20:22. Jesus Christ had not yet been glorified in the third heaven (John 7:39; Acts 2:33). John chapter 20 was simply a preview of the power that Israel’s apostles would have when the Holy Spirit would come several days later in Acts chapter 2. The Holy Ghost would enable them to continue doing the work that Jesus Christ had begun in His earthly ministry. Jesus spoke those words about the Holy Ghost in John 20:22 in order to show His apostles how He would equip them to do what He wanted them to do in verse 23. He wanted them to be His representatives on Earth while He was away in heaven, and the Holy Spirit would empower them to do it.

An interesting side-note…. The Bible says, “[Jesus] breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost” (John 20:22). Breathing in the Bible is the idea of speaking forth words. The Greek word translated “Ghost” (or “Spirit”) is pneuma, which is also rendered, “air” or “breath,” in other places. It would be by the power of the Holy Ghost that Israel’s apostles and little flock would speak forth God’s Word. Throughout the Bible, the Holy Spirit is associated with the communication of God’s Word (for example, 1 Peter 1:10-11 and 2 Peter 1:21). Jesus “breathed on them” is literally associated with the Holy Ghost.

Also see:
» Is the Holy Spirit a Person or a force?
» Have I blasphemed against the Holy Ghost?
» What does it mean to be “filled with the Holy Ghost?” (COMING SOON!)