Saturday, June 16, 2018

The "Johannine Pentecost"

22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit (Jn 20:22).

1. Lydia McGrew has been conducting a series on the historicity of John's Gospel:

2. I'd like to focus on one particular issue. Scholar routinely label Jn 20:19-22 the "Johannine Pentecost". The question is how the incident in Jn 20:19-22 relates to the account of Pentecost in Acts 2. Obviously, these two accounts don't bear much resemblance to each other. So the question is whether these are two actual, separate events that happened at different times, or whether the Johannine narrator took historical liberties to craft an incident that never actually happened, but is a theological equivalent to the Lukan Pentecost. 

3. There are two issues: how does this incident relate to the rest of John's Gospel, and how does it relate to Acts 2, if at all?

i) Beginning with the first question, is this an anomalous incident in John's Gospel? Commentators often draw attention to the divine creative/recreative breathing motif in Gen 2:7 (LXX) and Ezk 37:9 (LXX). Assuming that's right, an allusion to Jesus as the Creator God in Jn 20:22 forms an inclusio, which circles back to the Prologue (Jn 1:1-4).

Likewise, an allusion to Ezekiel is consistent with other such allusions. For instance, commentators often think Ezk 36:25-27 supplies the primary background for Jn 3:5–as well as Ezk 34:15-16,23 for Jn 10. Likewise, Jesus as the new temple (Jn 2:19-22) may evoke Ezk 40-48. 

ii) In addition, this incident reconnects with the promise of the Spirit in the Upper Room Discourse:

16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever (Jn 14:16).

26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name... (Jn 14:26).

26 “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me (Jn 15:26).

7 Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: 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 (Jn 16:7).

The Spirit comes from the Father through the Son. The Son mediates the Spirit, because the Spirit is sent in Jesus name, at the Son's behest. 

So the action in Jn 20:22 is another way of indicating that Jesus is the source of the Spirit (economically speaking). The Spirit cannot be received apart from the Son. One must go through the Son to receive the Spirit. The Spirit is indirectly from the Father, and directly from the Son. The Son will send the Spirit in his place to take his place. 

That the Father sends the Spirit demonstrates the authority of the Father. That the Father defers to the Son demonstrates the authority of the Son.

iii) The difference between the promise in the Upper Room and the post-Resurrection gesture is the difference between saying and showing. In the Upper Room, Jesus says what will happen. After the Resurrection, Jesus illustrates what will happen. 

That's a good communication style. Say something, then give a graphic sign or example of what you mean. Verbal and nonverbal communication reinforce each other.

iv) On this analysis, Jn 20:19-23 is firmly integrated into the overall Johannine narrative. There's no reason to think it didn't happen, as described–unless you regard the genre of John's Gospel as pious fiction. 

v) And how does that relate to Acts 2? I view the action in Jn 20:22 is an enacted parable. A symbolic, proleptic action. I tend to doubt they received the Spirit at that moment. I think there's likely a suspenseful, delayed effect. 

vi) There's some interplay between the few and the many in Acts 2. The Spirit falls upon the Eleven. However, the Eleven are a kind of synecdoche inasmuch as the gift of the Spirit is not confined to the Eleven. Rather, that's common property of converts. That's already clear on the same occasion, in Peter's sermon (Acts 2:16-18,38-39). And that's illustrated throughout the Book of Acts. 

vii) So there's no inconsistency between these two accounts. There's not even a prima facie point of tension. 


  1. Like a drumbeat throughout the gospel of John it anticipates the glorious and wonderful future reality of the sending and reception of the Holy Spirit (e.g. John 7:39; 14:17, 26; 15:26; 16:13; 3:5-8; 6:63 ). Yet, at the end of the book when Jesus imparts the Holy Spirit (John 20:22) it seems SO VERY VERY anticlimactic. I suspect that's because the authors of the Gospel were themselves aware of the Lukan account in Acts of the reception of the Holy Spirit and expected their readers to have been familiar with it as well. There was no need to recount what was already recorded in writing in Luke/Acts. What's recorded in John 20 is a brief synopsis of an encounter with the risen Lord. Possibly multiple encounters condensed into one account.

    Also, Jesus breathing on them to receive the Holy Spirit was probably anticipatory of their full reception of the Spirit as described in Acts. It's not uncommon for God to give something in anticipatory ways. Think of how God changed Abram's name to Abraham (the father of many nations) BEFORE he had any actual children. Jesus taught us to believe that we have received what we've asked for in prayer BEFORE it has arrived (Mark 11:24; 21:22). Jesus, in the gospel of John, thanks the Father for already hearing His prayer for the resurrection of Lazarus BEFORE he was actually raised (John 11:41-42). That's right after the Lord tells Martha "Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?" [i.e. in the previous verse, John 11:40]. Or think of how YHVH tells Joshua that He has given the land to him, as well as delivered the peoples in the land into Joshua's hand BEFORE it had actually taken place. Jesus breathing on them was His giving the Holy Spirit in principle to them, with the actual real fulfillment being described in Acts chapter 2.

    The Gospel of John was probably written in the 90s CE, and so it's HIGHLY unlikely that John (and possible co-authors) were ignorant of Acts 2. It's also unlikely that the Pauline/Lukan and Johannine communities were isolated and/or cut off from each other. There had to have been theological cross pollination by the end of the 1st century, even assuming skeptical views of the origin, growth and developments of various Christian sects. Yet, John isn't written in attempt to correct or override or replace the Synoptics. Nor does it claim to reveal the the true secret gnostic teachings of Jesus in opposition to the Synoptics. The Pauline/Lukan community was especially missions minded, and so would have distributed copies of Luke/Acts widely by the time of the 90s.

    1. typo correction:
      (Mark 11:24; 21:22) = (Mark 11:24; Matt. 21:22)

    2. There are many examples in the OT and NT where God gives things or does things in principle before it fully arrives, takes place or is recognized/seen as having taken place. A famous example is Jesus' cursing of the fig tree. But even in the gospel of John (which we're addressing) Jesus instructs servants to fill some stone water jars with water and bring some of it to the master of the feast as if the water was already wine (John 2). Or think of Jesus telling the blind man to wash the mud out of his eyes at the pool of Siloam (John 9). Or telling the nobleman whose son was sick to go home because he was made well (John 4). He gives these instructions as if the miracles had already happened when it's not clear it actually had happened or when it's not clear the exact timing when it eventually did happen. Something similar I think is going on in John 20:22 when Jesus breathes on them and tells them to receive the Holy Spirit. As the God-man (theanthropos), He issues the decree in authoritative faith and its fulfillment is recorded in Acts 2.

  2. Those who argue that the breathing in John 20 fulfills Jesus' promises in the Farewell Discourse don't to my mind deal at all satisfactorily with Jesus' explicit statements prior to his death that the Comforter will not come unless he "goes away" and "sends" him. Viewed in the light of our knowledge (and the knowledge of the author and original audience) of Jesus' ascension, it seems that the "going away" in that case refers to the ascension, not to Jesus' death, and to his sending the Holy Spirit *from heaven* when he is no longer on earth. The word "send" fits with this as well. Hence John 20:22 doesn't fit as a fulfillment of those promises.

  3. Very good Steve
    The relationship of the John chapter 20 passage with Acts 2 , seems to me to be saying “get ready to receive the Spirit,”
    you’re right it doesn’t say they received the Spirit at that point in time.
    Jesus is preparing them to receive the Spirit in Acts 2,
    Jesus breathing on them shows that everyone received the Spirit through Christ you were right that they did not receive the spirit yet in John 20 but Jesus did breathe on them and was implying that the power they need for fulfilling John‘s version of the great commission “just as the Father sent me, so also in the same way I am sending you .”
    All of that is a preparation for the same teaching and ask chapter 2 .