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John 20:22

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August 24th, 2013 | Filed Under: Author, John 20:22, Mitch Kuhn, Topical Studies0 Comments | Author:

John 20:22 is very confusing to many. The English translation makes it seem like the disciples receive the Spirit before Pentecost. The sum of God’s word reveals that this Spirit was not given at this time. This is confirmed in the proper understanding of the Greek verb for “receive” in this verse.

Joh 20:22 NKJV And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, Receive the Holy Spirit.

First let’s look at the sum of the Word to see clearly that the Holy Spirit was not given until Pentecost.
Earlier in the book of John, it is said that he must “go away” for the Helper to come. In John 20:22, Christ has not yet ascended, since he was still with the disciples.

Joh 16:7 NKJV 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 depart, I will send Him to you.

In Luke and Acts, it says that the disciples were to wait in Jerusalem until they were given the Holy Spirit, which is called the power from on high and the promise of the father.

Luk 24:49 NKJV Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry (wait) in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high.”

Act 1:4 And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from
Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said,
“you heard from me;

Act 1:5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy
Spirit not many days from now.”

Act 1:8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come
upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and
Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
Act 1:9 And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he
was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.

It is not until Act 2 that the Spirit comes on Pentecost.

Act 2:1 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one
Act 2:2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty
rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.
Act 2:3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each
one of them.
Act 2:4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in
other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

Now let’s examine John 20:22 and see how the English translation is misleading.
Joh 20:22 NKJV And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, Receive the Holy Spirit.
The English translation leads us to believe that he breathed on them and they thus received the Holy Spirit, because he gave them a command and it sounds like present tense to us.
The verb in Greek for “receive” is actually in the Aorist. This tense has not direct English equivalent.


The aorist tense is characterized by its emphasis on punctiliar
action; that is, the concept of the verb is considered without
regard for past, present, or future time. There is no
direct or clear English equivalent for this tense, though it is
generally rendered as a simple past tense in most translations.

— Strong’s TVM
This tense is especially confusing, because every English verb has a sense of time, past, present or future. If we say “go home” we mean now, if we say “you will go home”, that is future. The Aorist makes no comment on time, so we have to look to the context to figure out when this particular action is to take place.

Here are some examples from John 20.
The Greek word for “thrust” below is in the Aorist tense, but the context makes it clear that it is happening in the present.

Joh 20:27 NKJV Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust (Aorist) it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.
Joh 20:28 NKJV And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!”

When a Greek writer wanted to be clear that an action is present without relying on context there is a different tense that indicates present commands. Here are some examples.

Joh 20:17 Jesus saith unto her, Touch (present imperative) me
not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my
brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your
Father; and to my God, and your God.

Notice that in both cases the action takes place immediately. Thomas thrust
his hand into Christ’s side and Mary did not touch him at that moment. John

20:22 is very different because the command Christ gives, is not followed
right away. The next thing that happens is the story of Thomas in verse 27.

Joh 20:22 And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and
said to them, Receive the Holy Spirit.
Joh 20:23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them;
if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

The disciples did not in that moment go out and start forgiving sins. We already saw from the sum of the Word that this is a command to be fulfilled after the Spirit comes on Pentecost.
If you want to verify these verb tenses yourself you can download the e-sword module below.

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