I always tried to visualize the moment when, after Resurrection, Jesus gave Holy Spirit to Apostles:

So Jesus said to them again, "Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send 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 any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." (John 20:21-23, NKJV)

Is the term 'to breath (to give Spirit)' or other to explain how can it be understood? Did Jesus just made a loud voice of a breathe faced towards Apostles? Do people of our times that live in the Spirit make that gestures? In the only moment I recall that gesture (or act of breathing so to speak) with purpose of blessing.

In Genesis we read:

And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. (Genesis 2:7, NKJV)

but this can't be really easy to imagine.

These moments when 'spiritual world' crosses with human, common gestures are so special and make me wonder.

  • 1
    Spirit is often translated as wind or breath and even more so, hovering over the water. GEN 1:2 These things all tie into the Physical and spiritual realities of how God makes the Spiritual gifts he gives us perceptable to our human physical natures.
    – Marc
    Commented May 27, 2015 at 11:17
  • We ARE dust (atoms), bound together by mystical forces (electromagnetism, strong force, gravity etc.). The breathing is through the nose because that is the nose's only function, whereas the mouth has multiple functions.
    – Simon H
    Commented Jul 24, 2017 at 16:19
  • 1
    This question would work better on BHSE where it would be a duplicate of hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/q/241/11555
    – 007
    Commented Jan 16, 2018 at 2:00

10 Answers 10


What means that “(Jesus) breathed on them” in John 20,22

John 20:20-22 And when he had so said, he shewed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord. Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost:

This is the first instance where believers in Jesus receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Those who trusted in God in the Old Testament would occasionally receive the Holy Spirit to prophesy or some other specific task. However, the indwelling Spirit was intended for those who receive their new life in Christ.

Hebrews 11:39-40 And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.

John 5:24 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.

Jesus told his disciples that they would also receive a "baptism" of the Holy Spirit.

Acts 1:4-5 And, being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me. For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.

This was an additional dispensation of the Holy Spirit that was prophesied by Joel and was to be a sign as well as a means of establishing the Kingdom.

Acts 2:16-17 But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel;
And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams:

The idea that the Holy Spirit was given in two steps is not accepted by everyone. However I think we can see that the Holy Spirit was given a second time by the laying on of hands of those who had already professed their faith and been baptized constitutes a second reception of the Holy Spirit.

Acts 8:14-17 Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost: (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.) Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost.

As I understand the Bible, the second reception of the Holy Spirit was consistent with the immanency of the Kingdom of God. Since Israel was not even provoked by jealousy, and did not receive this kingdom offer, today we are left with just the indwelling Holy Spirit as proof of our new life in Jesus.

2 Corinthians 1:21-22 Now he which stablisheth us with you in Christ, and hath anointed us, is God; Who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts.

When a faithful remnant of Israel does finally receive the kingdom, we shall once again see the reception of the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands resume.

  • This seems to be a very specific belief of some Christians about the status and purpose of the Holy Spirit and His gifts. It would be much improved if it identified a Christian group or denomination with this view, and ideally could cite a respected source from that tradition.
    – Bit Chaser
    Commented Jun 24, 2019 at 21:20

Why does Jesus give them the Holy Ghost?

Jesus breaths the Holy Ghost, as it were, into His Apostles, giving them the priestly ministry of forgiving sins by the same means He does: He says, "as the Father has sent Me, so also I am sending you," (in the same capacity, and with the same authority and mission) in reference to the ministry of forgiveness of sins, for which reasons He says, giving the reason they shall be able to forgive sins as Himself, "Recieve ye the Holy Ghost: whose sins you shall forgive, they shall be forgiven; whose sins you shall hold bound, they shall be kept bound."

This isn't a divinely condoned super-grudge. It is the priestly sacrament of confession (one can't discern between sins forgiven and ones which ought not to be without hearing those sins).

This helps us to understand the curious statement in the Gospel:

Matthew 9:1-8

And entering into a boat, he passed over the water and came into his own city. 2 And behold they brought to him one sick of the palsy lying in a bed. And Jesus, seeing their faith, said to the man sick of the palsy: Be of good heart, son, thy sins are forgiven thee. 3 And behold some of the scribes said within themselves: He blasphemeth. 4 And Jesus seeing their thoughts, said: Why do you think evil in your hearts? 5 Whether is easier, to say, Thy sins are forgiven thee: or to say, Arise, and walk? 6 But that you may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (then said he to the man sick of palsy,) Arise, take up thy bed, and go into thy house. 7 And he arose, and went into his house. 8 And the multitude seeing it, feared, and glorified God who gave such power to men.

The comment by Matthew is parenthetical, and his own, and is retrospective of the priestly mission given His Apostles, mere men—not anything the Jews said.

God, that is, Jesus, gave "such power to men," that is the power of granting absolution: "Son, thy sins are forgiven thee." Not by his own power or authority, but "by the Spirit of God" (Mt 12:28; Jn 20:22-23).

What does it mean He breatted the Holy Ghost upon them?

I suggest to you that Genesis 2:7 is referring to the Spirit of God by the term 'breath of life'), and not the breath, as we simply understand it, of life (interestingly, the word in both Hebrew and Greek for 'spirit' is that same of 'breath,' when an explicit word for 'breath' is not used—typologically, therefore, they are interchangeable).

For in Genesis 4:3 we read that "[God's] Spirit will not remain with[in] man forever: for he is mere flesh; and his days shall be [at most] a hundred and twenty years." That is, no doubt, the same Spirit He breathed into man at the beginning, "making him alive" (). (Hence the Nicaean-Constantinopolian credal statement, "the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of life").

Undoubtedly, St. John is retaining this same imagery as is found in Genesis (as he does even in the opening verse of his Gospel) of God breathing His life-giving Breath into a creature, empowering him to 'live and have being' (Acts 17:28). His Gospel shows most clearly the divinity of Christ, and so this is probably just another one of the devices used by the writer to give nuance to the events of which he is making record, in order to call to mind precisely these things.

Speculation can buy us only more speculation, unfortunately, when it comes to imagining just how the scenes described in Sacred Scripture played out.

  • Do you think the purpose of the Spirit as youve said is for a priestly menistry is needed for all the people in the Upper Room to become well disposed in receiving the Gifts of Anointing?Also 3 thousand were added in that day, so your answer is good as the Apostles willl handle confession later for new converts. Commented Feb 10, 2019 at 9:31
  • What God gives command to do, He gives also the means. So when He gives the ministry, He gives the authority and the power, and yes, the courage and fortitude to fulfill their mission. But He did not give anyone but the Apostles the power to forgive sins. From the context of chapter 20, it seems that only the Apostles are meant by 'disciples.' And Pentecost no more gave non-Apostles the authority or power to forgive sins than the gift of the Spirit poured out on Gentiles in the form of speaking foreign tongues meant they also had this priestly ministry. Commented Feb 10, 2019 at 15:55

Eph 1:12 Apostle Paul says that the Believer is sealed with the holy spirit of promise.
In Acts 1, Jesus told the disciples that they would receive the Holy Ghost with power. Power to witness.
In Jonn 20:22, when Jesus breathed on the disciples they received the seal of eternal life now that Jesus had died for their sins. On the day of Pentecost they would receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit, This is the Holy Spirit with power. The first was a seal that all Believers received when they accept Christ as Savior.


The spirit that you receive is GOD himself sent in JESUS name.. You have forgotten that GOD himself is a SPIRIT. In Pauls letters you often read him say do you not know the spirit of GOD is in you..Here's the breakdown..

  • 1st If GOD is a spirit. As JESUS told the Samaritan woman at the well.

  • 2nd If JESUS Said in John 20:21 Peace be with you & as the FATHER has sent me I ALSO send you.. Breathing on him he said "RECEIVE THE HOLY SPIRIT" before pentecost.

  • 3rd & JESUS himself is GOD in the flesh & has GODS spirit in him. Then we should purport that You..

Repent of your sins and believe that JESUS died for you and The creator raised him from the dead & Get immersed in water and ASK that you receive him with laying of hands. You will receive the HOLY GHOST.

  • Welcome to Christianity.SE! Please be sure to take the tour, and find out how we differ from other sites. Unfortunately, your answer doesn't seem to address the OP's question, which is about how can one interpret a particular verb in a particular verse in the Gospel. The fact that God is spirit is not really contested a lot, but that fact does not help to determine which action the Incarnated Jesus performed at that time.
    – Wtrmute
    Commented Jul 24, 2017 at 13:49

John 20:21, 22

Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost.

At this point, the disciples are born again. Although they were already following Jesus, they were not yet regenerated because He had not yet died for their sins. But here Jesus breathes on them—reminiscent of Genesis 2:7, when God breathed life into Adam’s nostrils and he became a living soul.

In other words, the One who sent forth His Spirit to create the universe and breathe life into the physical world, also breathed on His disciples and endowed them with spiritual life (John 20:22). He laid the foundation of the church, and thus the church age, all the way back with the very first prophet, and continuing up through the apostles (Ephesians 2:20). He has set limits on the activities of the raging sea of humanity, and He regulates how and when those waves rush against His church.

  • Welcome to Christianity.SE. For a quick overview, please take the Site Tour. For more on what this site is all about, see: How we are different than other sites. Does your answer represent the view of a particular group or denomination of Christians? If so, please link to some materials that support what you're saying. See: What makes a good supported answer? In general, personal views and opinions aren't on-topic here. Commented Jan 15, 2018 at 21:01

“Breathed on them” seems to me an idiomatic phrase with a simple meaning such as “embraced” or “hugged”. The event occurs following the comment “Peace be with you”. Why is it necessarily more complicated than a sign of affection?


There is 1 vital part that is overlooked in this story: Thomas wasn't there. So the question remains - if Jesus was truly doing something of such high significance would he have not waited or even came when Thomas was present?

This was an event that foreshadowed what was to come on the day of Pentecost. It was him demonstrating how they were going to receive it and what the significance of it was (Genesis 2). This is why Peter said in Acts 2:38, you can receive what we have just received.


@Susan, Your tying Genesis with John is exactly on the money. When GOD first did this in Genesis :

And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the >breath of life; and man became a living being. (Genesis 2:7, NKJV)

He was breathing nepesh (this is the exact Hebrew work - our closest translation of this word does mean "Spirit" . When Jesus did this in John:

So Jesus said to them again, "Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send 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 any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are >retained." (John 20:21-23, NKJV)

He was doin what his father did. His father gave us life by breathing nepesh into us, JESUS gave new life by , again , breathing nepesh into his disciples. ("Unless a man be born again ...."


so what does it mean? Well verse 22 and 23 should help clarify what it meant when Jesus blew his breath onto his Disciples. Basically to clarify John 20:22, Jesus is giving his Disciples the Holy Spirit and just like how the Father sent Jesus, he will send his Disciples and then he followed up by saying "If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." Which meant that he was giving his Disciples the authority to forgive sins and restrain sins through the Holy Spirit. which also relates back to when Jesus said "As the Father has sent Me, I also send you." Jesus came to forgive sins and was sent by the Father so just like the father has sent him to the world to forgive sins, he's sending his Disiples out to go and forgive sins through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the Father (Evidence is in 1 Corinthians 2:11-2:12 when Apostle Paul said "For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God." which is basically stating that the Holy spirit Is God because it knows the thoughts of God just like how you know your own thoughts because your spirit is your mind and a synonym for Spirit is Mind which again is you and who you are as a being not just a human being but as a Spirit being.) I am just elaborating it and breaking it down to its core so it is easier to understand .so going back to what i was saying, Jesus has given his Disciples the Spirit of the Father(which is the Holy Spirit) to forgive man's sins. But remember Jesus is now the only Redeemer do not get this confused. Even though Jesus did give the Spirit to his Disciples to forgive sins, that doesn't mean that if you have the Holy Spirit in your life (which is only given to us through faith in receiving Jesus as our Lord and Savior) you can forgive or "clean" someone else from their sins remember that when Jesus gave the Spirit to his Disciples, it was clearly before Jesus had died on the cross for the sins of the world. So please don't go around and believe you have the authority to clean someone else's sin since you have the Holy Spirit in your life. that is not the case, the fact of the matter is that once Jesus died, he cleansed the world from sin so now we can only be cleansed through the blood of Jesus since now he has died on the cross for the world. So it is only through Jesus's blood can we be cleansed from our sins. before Jesus died, the Holy Spirit which again, is the Father, was the only way you can be cleansed from your sins but now since Jesus is the sacrifice we are only cleansed through his blood. it is the only way to be forgiven from your sins now because he died for the sins of the world. I hope this clarify what it meant if it didnt try reading it agian by pieces and digest it and if it still is a little confusing i will try my best to elaborate on it some more. God Bless and have a great day

  • 2
    This is kind of hard to read without paragraph breaks. Can you edit in some formatting please?
    – user3961
    Commented Jun 11, 2015 at 5:44

To answer this question we need to consider a few Biblical facts:

  1. The Day of Pentecost.
  2. "The Holy Spirit will remind you everything I (Jesus) have said."

Understanding that the apostles received the Holy Spirit on the day of the Pentecost, crosses out the idea that Jesus gave them Holy Spirit before then by breathing onto them.

But it still leaves the question, what was it all about?

And by reading several chapters at once, and by asking Jesus to tell (remind) us about that conversation that Jesus had in that secret gathering, we get an answer.

And the answer is: Jesus was trying to explain to the apostles about the next step.

He has already died for our salvation. He has resurrected, according to the scriptures. He will now be going up to heaven, and now the apostles are going to be left on this earth to continue his works, and he promised to send them the Holy Spirit. They did not understand how the Spirit would come or how they were supposed to accept him, so they wondered and asked Jesus about it. And by breathing on them, or by blowing the air out of himself he said to them: "This is how it will be."

  • Welcome to the site. We are glad you decided to participate. Here are some meta posts about this site to help you learn how we do it here: What Christianity.StackExchange is (and more importantly, what it isn't) and How we are different than other sites Please also take the tour and see the help center. I hope to see you post again soon. Please also keep in mind that I and other users are willing to help you, so ask us anything if you need help.
    – user3961
    Commented Jun 25, 2015 at 3:00
  • I don't really see an answer in this post. Maybe you can spell it out a bit better. The part about Jesus "explaining the next step". Where do you get that from?
    – user3961
    Commented Jun 25, 2015 at 3:02

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