(Mis)Givings of the Holy Spirit
To the average evangelical, uncritical reader, John 20.19-23 seems pretty straightforward.
On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.’
In this passage, the resurrected Lord appears to his followers. He proves to them it is him, and they are glad. He then speaks of sending them out to continue on his ministry, and breathes on them, commanding them to receive the Holy Spirit who, it is perceived, proceeds from him. These ones then receive the authority to carry out the functions of the New Testament church.
Beyond what has been said, however, commentators do not agree on much of what is being spoken in these verses. To say that there are disputed points in the interpretation of this text would be quite an understatement. Expositors ask, Why is Pneuma Hagion anarthrous? Is the Paraclete the same as the Pneuma Hagion? How is this giving of the Spirit to be reconciled with Acts 2? Is it even legitimate to attempt to harmonize them?
Of course, how one answers all of these questions plays a role in the determining of his New Testament pneumatology. To the end of developing the beginnings of a biblical pneumatology, this paper will seek to examine the three main interpretive options for reconciling John 20.22 with the Lukan giving of the Spirit in Acts 2. Each main option will be given a section of the paper and then some conclusions will be drawn. Within each broad heading there are several schools of thought. They will be explored under italicized headings.
Option I: Two Different Givings of the Holy Spirit
A. Sprinkle First, Fullness Later
This first view was made popular by John Calvin, among others. Calvin held that the account of the giving of the Holy Spirit in John could be reconciled with the account in Acts by simply seeing the giving in John as a “sprinkling,” with the downpour still to come.
The Spirit was given to the Apostles on this occasion in such a manner, that they were only sprinkled by his grace, but were not filled with full power; for when the Spirit appeared on them in tongues of fire, (Acts ii. 3,) they were entirely renewed.
He argued that in their gifting, the Holy Spirit does not furnish them “with necessary gifts for present use, but that he appoints them to be the organs of his Spirit for the future.” This is reconcilable not only with Acts, then, but also with Luke’s record of Jesus’ command for the disciples to wait in Jerusalem (Luke 24.49).
Hengstenberg argued similarly, that the receiving of the Spirit is grace necessary for the intermediate stage between accepting the reality of Jesus’ resurrection and the full establishment of the Church at Pentecost. Godet also posited since Jesus had not yet received his fully glorified resurrection body, so he raises the disciples to the intermediate stage of gifting appropriate for his glorification. Only once Jesus is ultimately glorified will the disciples receive the full measure of the Spirit.
B. Full Holy Spirit, not Full Paraclete
Both Dodd and Schnackenburg hold that there is a difference in the Spirit given to the church and that given to the disciples for the continued ministry of Christ and that this distinction helps us to understand John 20.22. Dodd goes to great length to describe the differences between Pneuma and Paraclete in John’s gospel, noting that generally speaking, Pneuma refers to Deity whereas Paraclete refers specifically to the third person of the Trinity. The meaning of Pneuma in other NT passages should not be imposed here; in fact, Pneuma Hagion is most likely used only because here John is relying on his source. This makes perfect sense to Schnackenburg and explains the “lack of a connection to the Paraclete or ‘Spirit of Truth’, without our having to resolve the disputed relationship between the promise of the Spirit in the farewell discourses and this Easter bestowal of the Spirit.”
Rather than viewing the Lukan Pentecost as the norm, Schnackenburg insists that it is the exceptional event, and that “John’s Pentecost” is “the definitive bestowal of the Spirit on all believers.” Since the function of the Paraclete, however, is to take over the ministry of Christ, after his departure, some of these promises are fulfilled at different times and ways for the apostles and are not in view in 20.22 (or Acts 2). The promise of the Spirit to all believers is fulfilled in the parallel accounts of John 20 and Acts 2, but the promises of the Paraclete are fulfilled to the apostles in other givings not recorded.
C. Saving vs. Equipping
This view aims to reconcile John with Acts by arguing that the Spirit is given once for salvation and on the other occasion for ministry. Ironically, there are those who argue the opposite perspectives within this camp. Of those who argue that John 20 is referring to an equipping for ministry are F.F. Bruce and Herman Ridderbos. According to Ridderbos, “The giving of the Spirit is therefore to be understood as Jesus’ equipping of the disciples for the work assigned to them.” He concedes that there is nothing in this gospel to indicate a later outpouring of the Spirit on the church as a whole,
but in view of the entire context it is hard to deny that the bestowal of the Spirit referred to here is related particularly to the equipping of Jesus’ disciples for their task as continuers of Jesus’ work and must therefore be distinguished from the outpouring of the Spirit on ‘all flesh’ without distinction that was to take place at Pentecost.
Likewise, Bruce notes that the “Son’s mission in the world is entrusted to them, since he is returning to the Father; but as the Son had received the Spirit in unrestricted fullness for the discharge of his own mission (John 1:32-34; 3:34), so now they receive the Spirit for the discharge of theirs.” He then says that since the Son has been glorified, now the time for the imparting of the Spirit for ministry is come.
Some scholars as far back as John Chrysostom (c.347-407 ad) have argued this case the other way around, insisting that the Spirit has come for salvation in John 20 and for the purposes of equipping for ministry in Acts 2. More recently, Westcott has argued this as well. In reference to the giving of the Spirit in John 20, he said, “By this he first quickened them,” and then of Acts 2, “and then, according to His promise, the Paraclete to be with them, and to supply all power for the exercise of their different functions.”
Likewise, Pink argues at great length that the disciples were clearly regenerate before the end of the gospel accounts.
We have been accustomed to look upon the change which is so apparent in the apostles as dating from the day of pentecost, but the great change had occurred before then. Read the closing chapter of each Gospel and the first of Acts, and the proofs of this are conclusive. Their irresolution, their unbelief, their misapprehensions, were all gone.
D. Problems with These Views
Carson is quick (and right) to point out that although these views do offer some sort of reconciling between John 20 and Acts 2, they all fail to satisfy. Firstly, while it is appropriate indeed to take into account what Acts 2 has to say about the coming of the Holy Spirit, these interpretations “sound as if they are hostage to Acts 2.” In other words, these interpretations would not be developed, nor could they be defended if Acts 2 were non-existent.
A second difficulty with these views is that in John’s gospel the giving of the Spirit is tied to Jesus’ return to his Father. If it is thus determined that the Spirit must be given twice, this necessarily means that Jesus must somehow return to the Father twice—a notion so groundless it is not worth consideration. Thirdly, Carson points out that it is not very realistic to propose such superficial boundaries on the coming of the Holy Spirit (i.e. “power for ministry” vs. “power for life”, etc.).
Option II: John’s Version of Luke’s Pentecost
Those holding to this interpretive school insist that not only are John and Luke’s accounts both referring to the coming of the Spirit, it is probable that one (if not both) are ahistorical and asking how to harmonize the accounts is an illegitimate question altogether. Brown chides such attempts:
It is bad methodology to harmonize John and Acts by assuming that one treats of an earlier giving of the Spirit and the other of a later giving. There is no evidence that the author of either work was aware of or making allowance for the other’s approach to the question. And so we may hold that functionally each is describing the same event; the one gift of the Spirit to his followers by the risen and ascended Lord.
He then goes on to show that either John (as with the dating of Jesus’ first appearance to his disciples) or Luke (on account of his Sinai / covenant / new law motif)—or both—could very well have fixed a new date for the giving of the Spirit.
Barrett also concludes that “It does not seem possible to harmonize this account of a special bestowing of the Spirit with that contained in Acts 2; after his event there could be no more waiting (Luke 24.48f.; Acts 1.4f.); the church could not be more fully equipped for its mission.” He explains the difference in accounts this way:
The existence of divergent traditions of the constitutive gift of the Spirit is not surprising; it is probable that to the first Christians the resurrection of Jesus and his appearances to them, his exaltation (however that was understood), and the gift of the Spirit, appeared as one experience, which only later came to be described in separate elements and incidents.
Each account then, both John’s and Luke’s, is likely a reconstruction of general events which took place sometime around the death, resurrection and ascension of Christ, according to primitive Christian tradition. Each writer uses the motif he finds appropriate to develop his theological agenda.
B. Reconcilable—Historical with Different Theological Agendas
A more conservative take on the position stated above concludes that there is indeed some historical factuality behind the single giving of the Spirit event recorded both in John 20 and Acts 2, though it is obscured by each writer’s theological emphases. This is found to be “the most frequently espoused view today” and was promoted in the 1970’s by J.H. Bernard. According to this interpretation, as it was promised in 7.37-39 that Christ’s glorification is necessarily tied to the sending of the Spirit, so John keeps the two inextricably linked in his death / resurrection account in John 20. “For Jn., the action and the words of Jesus here are in complete fulfilment of the promise of the Paraclete. … There is nothing in the Fourth Gospel inconsistent with the story of the Pentecostal effusion,” but for John the resurrection day was the crucial day, not Pentecost, as per Luke. So, Beasley-Murray:
My own conclusion is that the Fourth Evangelist, in his narrative of the resurrection in John 20, was above all concerned to show that the Risen Lord fulfilled his promise of bestowing the Holy Spirit on his church. It happened, fully and decisively, without any need of amplification at a later date. From this point of view John’s narrative can rightly be described as ‘the Johannine Pentecost.’
In his view this does not in any way compromise the authority of the texts: “Both John and Luke were informed theologians, and their accounts of the sending of the Spirit should be judged accordingly.”
John is not recording in vv 19-23 something that took place in five minutes on the first Easter Sunday evening. In briefest compass he summarizes the acts of the risen Lord, bringing together sayings and happenings uttered and performed in the Easter period. The gift of the Spirit could have been at any time within the Easter period. … It is important to note that both John and Luke are capable of accommodating chronology to theology when it seems right to do so.”
Then he cites John’s movement of the temple cleansing to chapter 2 as an example of him doing just such a thing. Since John only wrote one volume, whereas Luke has two, it was necessary for John to include all Easter-related events closer together for practical as well as theological reasons.
Even more recently, Gerald L. Borchert has argued along these lines. Like Beasley-Murray, Borchert argues from John’s placement of the Temple cleansing and the “resurrection perspective throughout the Gospel” that “the evangelist views the life of Jesus as a whole. Therefore, chronological sequences are not of primary concern.” The author also uses the examples from early on in John’s gospel of his non-sequential use of the phrase “the next day” three times (1.29, 35, 43) immediately before stating “on the third day” (2.1) to show that even when time markers are used in John’s gospel, they are still intended to have more theological than chronological impact. Since “John viewed the resurrection, the gift of the Spirit, and the ascension of Jesus as a unified event” it would be almost impossible for him to set the giving of the Spirit in any different context in his gospel.
Thus it is concluded that just as Luke had his theological reasons for placing the giving of the Spirit where he did,so John is every bit as justified in placing the same event-tradition in his own theological context.
Option III: The Predictive Pronouncement
Those who hold to this interpretive option seem to be of a more uniform approach and may all fit under this one heading. The position has historical precedent, but more recently has been developed and defended at length by Carson, and also by Köstenberger, Ferguson, Tenney, and Grudem.
Köstenberger describes the giving and reception of the Spirit in John 20.22 by saying that “the present reference represents a symbolic promise of the soon-to-be-given gift of the Spirit, not the actual giving of it fifty days later at Pentecost.” He further notes that the “disciples’ behavior subsequent to the present incident would also be rather puzzling had they already received the Spirit.” For instance, they keep the doors locked for fear of the Jews in 20.26, just as in 20.19 and 20.22 and they shortly decide to make a return to fishing in 21.3. Some have argued that Peter now makes his triple confession of love, which clearly indicates the heart-change, but Köstenberger acknowledges that this does not indicate true reception of the Spirit anymore than his commitment to lay down his life for Jesus in 13.37.
Grudem contends for this view not only from the following context, but also from the immediately preceding context. In the preceding verse, Jesus told them something in the present tense that would not actually be carried out until Pentecost (“I send you out”). If such is the case in the immediate context, why would it be deemed illegitimate to see it with “Receive the Holy Spirit” in the following verse?
Ferguson argues from the context of the preceding pericope: As many commentators note, “within the Johannine framework, the coming of the Spirit is dependent on Christ’s ascension and exaltation (Jn. 14:16-17; 16:7).” The element missed by most commentators, however, is that in the pericope immediately prior to the giving of the Spirit, Jesus tells Mary (on the same day!) that he has not yet ascended. “It would be a remarkable inconsistency in John’s thinking if he were, in the same chapter, to portray the events of that evening as the promised sending of the Spirit.” Ferguson also argues for the symbolic nature of Jesus’ statement on the basis that (1) Jesus’ breathing makes him the equivalent of Paul’s second Adam and the “life-giving Spirit” (noting the verbal parallel to Gen. 2.7 and Ezek. 37.9) and (2) the emphasis in this pericope is on their ministry and their authority to continue on in his place forgiving sins, not the coming of the Spirit for all people to share.
As noted above, however, the two most compelling arguments for this position are presented by Carson. The first is linguistic. Most modern translations translate enephysēsen as “breathed into” or “breathed on,” but this is unwarranted in this verse since the verb “has no auxiliary structure, not even a direct object.” To translate the verb “breathed into” and to speak of the event as “insufflation” begs the question; if the words “Receive the Spirit” did not follow, the verb would not be translated as it has been. The second argument is that of the concept of the imminent present in John’s gospel. Ever since the account of the Greeks approaching Jesus (John 12.20ff), he could speak of his hour as having “arrived” (12.23, 31; 13.31; 17.1, 5). Likewise, Jesus’ high priestly prayer includes present imperatives: “And now, Father, glorify me in your presence…” (17.5). Again, John 13.31: “Now is the Son of Man glorified…”. The grammatical and textual arguments put forward by Carson in favour of this position are seemingly insurmountable and no one has yet sufficiently countered them.
The benefits of holding this final position are legion. One is that it simplifies our pneumatology. No longer are we required to make distinctions between the Paraclete and the Pneuma Hagion. We do not have to sort out which Paraclete promises were applicable only to the apostles (fulfilled at a later date) and which were for the church (developed in either John 20 or Acts 2). With this understanding of John 20 as a Christ’s personal, relational prophecy of the imminent giving of the Holy Spirit, we are free to allow the Holy Spirit to define himself in Acts 2 (free of cumbersome limitations imposed by John 20) and throughout the rest of the New Testament.
Not only is this understanding good for freeing up our pneumatology, but also for defending our doctrines of inerrancy and canonicity. As Carson points out, Beasley-Murray’s interpretation has a high cost: he cannot allow John 21 to stand. This interpretation allows us to do sound exegesis in each of the texts (John 20 and Acts 2) completely independent of each other, and we are not forced to question the limits of biblical-writers’ craftiness with and manipulation of the original events recorded in the texts. To be sure, this is a satisfactory position on all counts.
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John Murray, 1896.
 Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 E.W. Hengstenberg, Commentary on the Gospel of St. John, v.2 (Minneapolis: Klock & Klock, 1980). “It could not be otherwise than that their conviction of the Lord’s resurrection should be a great turning-point in the life of the Apostle, and that with this crisis they would receive an advanced susceptibility, and a concurrent enlargement of the influence of the Spirit. What they now received was the preliminary and condition of what they were to receive at Pentecost” (456).
 C.H. Dodd, Historical Tradition in the Fourth Gospel (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 144, n.1; and The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), esp. 222-227.
 “The concept of the Spirit here differs markedly from the highly personal concept of the Paraclete which is this evangelist’s most distinctive contribution to pneumatology, and from this it might be argued that he is here using a form which had come down to him” (Historical Tradition, 144, n.1).
 It is perhaps worth noting here that Leon Morris (The Gospel according to John [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971], 846-847, esp. n.56) holds a slight variant of this position. It is indeed a multiple-stage view of the coming of the Spirit, but more than what has thus far been outlined. Morris posits that since the gifts of the Spirit are many and diverse, yet testify to the existence of one Spirit, and just as the Spirit’s coming is described in many ways in John 14-16, so the Spirit can come in many ways to his people. Thus the Spirit is given differently in John 20 than in Acts 2. Nor should he be limited to being given in these two ways or times alone.
 Cf. George R. Beasley-Murray, John (Waco: Word, 1987): “If the Spirit is bestowed, the Paraclete has come. The gift of the Spirit is made to the disciples in the context of the handing to them of the commission; the Paraclete was promised to enable them to fulfill it; accordingly the Spirit who is given is the Paraclete” (382).
 It has even been hypothesized that part of the motivating factor in John’s description of the giving of the Spirit (i.e. being directly breathed out by Jesus himself) is to polemicize against those who dissociate the Son and the sending of the Spirit (Borchert, John, 309).
 Though perhaps not all positive. The somewhat infamous Theodore of Mopsuestia (350-428 ad) popularized this view which was subsequently deemed heretical at the fifth ecumenical council of Constantinople (553 ad). This has, in fact, worked against this view even getting a hearing in many commentaries. Beasley-Murray, for example, simply states that this view is illegitimate, citing the council’s decision, and gives the position no further consideration (John, 381). Even though this is irresponsible scholarship, it is unfortunately typical of the treatment this interpretation receives.
 Ibid., 575. Cf. Carson, John, 653: “When Thomas comes to faith, it is not because of the promised witness of the Spirit (15:26-27), but because he sees the risen Jesus for himself.” Again, in 21.20-22, they are still “playing ‘let’s-compare-service-record’ games.”