John’s Place in the Development of Early Christian Pneumatology

By Robert Menzies

John 20:22 has held a special place in the hearts and theology of many Pentecostals. Pentecostals have traditionally pointed to this text in order to support their contention that there is a baptism in the Spirit subsequent to conversion. The pattern appeared very straight-forward: John 20:22 records a pre-ascension bestowal of the Spirit which grants the disciples spiritual life; Acts 2:4 describes a post-ascension baptism of the Spirit which empowers the disciples for bold and effective witness. For many, the conclusion was inescapable: John 20:22 indicates that the Pentecostal gift represents a second bestowal of the Spirit, distinct from conversion.

It must be acknowledged that these arguments have not found acceptance in the wider church world. The reasons for rejecting this perspective were stated forcefully by James Dunn over thirty years ago. Dunn effectively argued that it was illegitimate to assimilate uncritically material from Luke and John in this manner, especially when Luke shows no awareness of a reception of the Spirit prior to Pentecost. We should not “treat the NT (and even the Bible) as a homogeneous whole, from any part of which texts can be drawn on a chosen subject and fitted into a framework and system which is often basically extra-biblical.”1  Rather, Dunn asserted, we should treat each biblical author separately, carefully outlining their theological perspectives; only then are we in a position to integrate texts and insights from the various authors.

Dunn’s critique of the Pentecostal reading of John 20:22 was widely accepted. Thus, while some within the Pentecostal community still advocate this position, it has been rejected by virtually all students of the Bible outside, and many within, the Pentecostal tradition. It would appear that if we Pentecostals are going to find support for our distinctive understanding of baptism in the Spirit, we must do it without any help from the Gospel of John.

However, appearances can be deceptive and I believe this judgment is premature. Although the traditional Pentecostal approach to John 20:22 is clearly inadequate, I would like to suggest that John’s pneumatology does indeed offer strong for support for a Pentecostal reading of the relevant NT texts. John’s contribution becomes apparent when we recognize his place in the development of early Christian pneumatology. So, I will begin by outlining my understanding of the manner in which early Christian pneumatology developed and then highlight John’s unique place within this process of development.

1. The Development of Early Christian Pneumatology

It is often assumed that from the very earliest days, the early church had a unified and highly developed pneumatology.2 Paul, after all, writing from an early stage, offers a rich and full account of the Spirit’s work. And Paul, many would suggest, is simply handing on what was already commonly known and accepted in all of the churches. The Spirit was from the earliest days understood to be a soteriological agent, the source of cleansing (1 Cor. 6:11; Rom. 15:16), righteousness (Gal. 5:5 Rom. 8:1-17; Gal. 5:16-26), intimate fellowship with (Gal. 4:6; Rom. 8:14-17) and knowledge of God (1 Cor. 2:6-16; 2 Cor. 3:3-18), and ultimately, eternal life through the resurrection (Rom. 8:11; 1 Cor. 15:42-49; Gal. 6:8).

There are good reasons, however, to question this reading of the NT data. I have argued elsewhere that a thorough study of Luke-Acts and the Pauline literature reveals that there was a process of development in the early church’s understanding of the Spirit’s work. This, of course, is not a novel thesis and many scholars from Hermann Gunkel to Gonzalo Haya-Prats have reached similar conclusions.3 My own study of the evidence, particularly in Luke-Acts,4 led me to the following conclusions: Paul was the first Christian to attribute soteriological functions to the Spirit and his distinctive insights did not impact the non-Pauline sectors of the early church until after the writing of Luke-Acts (approximately 70 A.D.). This conclusion is substantiated by the limited character of the pneumatology of the synoptic gospels and Acts.

Luke-Acts, with its wealth of material on the Spirit spanning both the ministry of Jesus and the beginnings of the early church, is especially important in this regard. I have argued that Luke consistently portrays the gift of the Spirit as a prophetic endowment which enables its recipient to fulfill a divinely ordained task. Whether it be John in his mother’s womb, Jesus at the Jordan, or the disciples at Pentecost, the Spirit comes upon them all as the source of prophetic inspiration, granting special insight and inspiring speech. Thus Luke (like Matthew and Mark) does not present reception of the Spirit as necessary for one to enter into and remain with the community of salvation. In Luke’s perspective, the disciples receive the Spirit, not as the source of cleansing and a new ability to keep the law, nor as the essential bond by which they are linked to God; rather, the disciples receive the Spirit as a prophetic donum superadditum which enables them to participate effectively in the missionary enterprise of the church.

I have also observed that the traditions of the primitive church utilized by Paul fail to attribute soteriological functions to the Spirit.5 This observation, coupled with my analysis of Luke-Acts as described above, led me to conclude that the pneumatology of the early church was not as homogeneous as many have assumed. On the contrary, the evidence suggests that at least two distinct pneumatological perspectives co-existed: the ‘prophetic’ pneuma-tology of the primitive church (reflected in the synoptic gospels and Acts) and the ‘soteriological’ pneumatology of Paul. As noted above, it was not until after the writing of Luke-Acts (around 70 A.D.) that Paul’s larger, fuller perspective began to impact wider, non-Pauline sectors of the church.

This reconstruction of the manner in which early Christian pneumatology took shape raises an interesting question: Where shall we place John’s Gospel in this process of development? To this question we now turn.

2. The Johannine Synthesis

We begin our inquiry into the nature of John’s contribution to the development of early Christian pneumatology by noting several facts. First, it is widely accepted that the Gospel of John was written in the last decade of the first century AD (the 90s), significantly later than Paul’s epistles (roughly 48-64 AD) and Luke-Acts (70 AD). Secondly, we may observe that John not only writes from this later date, he also provides more theological interpretation than the synoptic gospels as he relates the story of Jesus.6 Thirdly, John has clearly absorbed the pneumatological insights of both Paul7 and the non-Pauline primitive church and he presents his gospel from this broader theological perspective.8 This explains, at least partially, why the Spirit features more prominently in John than the other gospels. It also explains, I would add, why John (unlike the synoptic gospels) presents the Spirit, not simply as the impulse of prophetic inspiration, but also as a soteriological agent.

If these observations and our reconstruction outlined above are correct, it would appear that the Gospel of John represents a synthesis of the pneumatology of the primitive, non-Pauline church and that of Paul. Indeed, we shall argue that this is precisely the case. Furthermore, we shall argue that John’s pneumatological synthesis validates our reconstruction of the development of early Christian pneumatology as outlined above and that it offers insight into how the prophetic and soteriological pneumatologies were integrated in the early church. Let us begin by looking at the various pneumatological strands in John’s Gospel.

2.1 The Life-Giving Spirit

John describes the Spirit as the source of spiritual life in four key texts in the early part of this gospel: 3:5-8; 4:23-24; 6:63; and 7:37-39. Our purpose here is not to offer a detailed study of each of these passages; rather, we shall simply note that these passages, in a manner similar to Paul, attribute soteriological functions to the Spirit. John 3:5-8 illustrates the point well.

Jesus’ reference to a birth of “water and the Spirit” (3:5) has generated numerous interpretations. But Max Turner correctly notes that the grammatical structure (a single preposition governors the two nouns connected by kai) indicates that the phrase does not speak of two, distinct births; rather, the phrase “born of water and the Spirit” describes a single birth accomplished through a combination of water and Spirit.9 This fact narrows the possible interpretations considerably by ruling out interpretations which feature two distinct, births (e.g., water signifying physical birth; spirit, spiritual birth). In view of Jesus’ rebuke of Nicodemus in vs. 10, “You are Israel’s teacher…and you do not understand these things?,” it is evident that we should look to the Old Testament for insight into the text. Most scholars see Ezekiel 36:25-27, with its collocation of water and Spirit, as forming the backdrop for Jesus words:10

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. (Ezek. 36: 25-27).11

Ezekiel 36:25-27, which associates water, cleansing, and a new heart for God with the Spirit, suggests that we should also interpret the collocation of water and Spirit in John 3:5 as a reference to the cleansing, transforming activity of the Spirit of God.12 This judgment finds confirmation in John 7:37-39 (see also John 4:10-14), a passage which establishes that, in John’s perspective, “living water” is a metaphor for the life-giving work of the Spirit.

The reference to a birth of “water and the Spirit” (3:5) then clarifies further Jesus declaration to Nicodemus, “I tell you the truth, unless a man is born from above, he cannot see the Kingdom of God.” (John 3:3).13 Jesus affirms that spiritual life, which only comes from God (above), is necessary for entrance into the Kingdom of God, and that this life is generated in the believer through the Holy Spirit (3:5). We conclude that John, drawing upon Ezekiel 36:25-27, presents the Spirit as a soteriological agent in John 3:5.14

John 3:5 sets the stage for the other key Spirit-passages in the early portion of the Gospel of John. John 6:63, “The Spirit gives life,” and John 7:37-39, which identifies “living water” with the Spirit, also describe the Spirit as the source of spiritual life. John 4:23-24 is a bit more cryptic, yet here again it would seem that the Spirit is presented as a soteriological agent. In view of the larger context of John’s Gospel and the collocation of Spirit and truth in this specific text, John 4:23-24 probably refers to the Spirit as the agent who reveals Jesus’ true identity and the significance of the cross to the “true worshipers.” In each of these four passages (3:5-8; 4:23-24; 6:63; and 7:37-39), then, John emphasizes the Spirit’s role as the source of spiritual life.

2.2 The Paraclete

In the latter part of John’s gospel in the midst of Jesus’ farewell discourse, we find three texts which speak of the Holy Spirit as the Paraclete (John 14:16-26; 15:26-27; 16:7-15). The term Paraclete, introduced here in the gospel for the first time and applied consistently to the Spirit in each of these texts (14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7), suggests that John has something special in mind. Clearly here the Spirit is described in a unique way. Could it be that with this new title John designates a new and distinctive dimension of the Spirit’s work? Let us examine the evidence.

A review of the Greek literature reveals that the term parakletos refers to “one called alongside,” an advocate, who offers counsel and assistance in a court or dispute.15 This meaning accords well with the manner in which the term is used in 1 John 2:1, the only other place the term occurs in the NT outside of John’s gospel. In spite of this evidence, many have felt that the functions attributed to the Paraclete in John 14-16 are not consistent with this forensic setting and the associated sense of “advocate.” Other explanations of the term have been put forward, including “comforter,” “exhorter,” and “helper.” Yet, as Anthony Billington observes, “the vast majority of the studies drive us back to a primary forensic context” for the term.16

Billington, citing several recent studies, notes that throughout his gospel John features a trial motif. This motif is accentuated by the use of courtroom terminology, especially the term “witness”.17 It is also advanced by the discourses within the gospel, where various parties question and interrogate one another and their explanations. The trial motif carries over into Jesus’ farewell discourse, which forms the context for the Paraclete sayings. In John 14-16, then, Jesus reassures the disciples that, in spite of his imminent departure, they will not be left alone. Jesus will send the Paraclete, another advocate, who will aid them in the cosmic trial already underway between Jesus and the unbelieving world.18 Let us examine how the Paraclete functions as an advocate in this cosmic trial.

The forensic functions of the Paraclete are clearly evident in John 15:26-27 and 16:5-16. In John 15:26-27 we read:

When the Paraclete comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me; but you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.

This passage appears in a setting which highlights the world’s rejection of Jesus and his disciples: “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also” (John 15:21). The world’s rejection of Christ, even in the face of his words (15:22) and deeds (15:24), establishes its guilt. The repeated references to conflict, guilt, and witness establish the forensic character of the passage.

The specific function ascribed to the Paraclete is that of a witness. He will testify concerning Christ (15:26).19 This can only mean that he will seek to persuade the world that it unjustly rejected and crucified Jesus, who is in reality the Son of God, God’s agent of salvation. This theme is developed more fully in John 16:8-11:

When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.

Although this passage contains numerous exegetical difficulties, the essential meaning is relatively clear. The Paraclete will press home his case against the world: first, that its rejection (unbelief) of Christ is the essence of its sin; secondly, that although the world crucified Jesus as a criminal, his death, resurrection, and exaltation vindicate him as the Righteous One; thirdly, Jesus’ vindication establishes that those who oppose him already stand condemned.20 The Paraclete, then, will bear witness against the world.

It is important to note, however, that the Spirit as the Paraclete will do this, “not by some inward testimony in the hearts of the people of the world, but by the outward testimony of words spoken by Jesus’ disciples in the course of their mission.”21 The Paraclete is given to the disciples to be their advocate, that is to support their witness to the world.22 This is also the point of John 15:26-27: “he [the Paraclete] will testify about me; but you [the disciples] also must testify.”23 Note the following verses, John 16:1-4, which emphasize that the Paraclete’s role is to enable the disciples to stand firm in the face of persecution and, in this setting, to testify boldly about Jesus.24

The fact that the Paraclete comes to encourage and enable the witness of the disciples is further highlighted in John 14:16-26 and 16:12-15. In John 14:16 we read that Jesus will send “another Paraclete” to assist the disciples. This indicates that Jesus during his earthly ministry has served as a Paraclete. In view of the trial motif running throughout John’s Gospel, Billington correctly stresses that the work of the Spirit and Jesus at this point are one and the same: to confront a hostile world.25 This is precisely why the disciples will not be orphans (14:18). Left on their own, they would be helpless, unable to prosecute their case against the world. But with the Spirit as their advocate, they will not be alone. Indeed, the Spirit as Paraclete will teach them “all things” and remind them of everything Jesus had said (14:26). So also John 16:12-15 declares that the Paraclete] will guide the disciples “into all truth.”26 In this forensic context, these words take on a specific meaning. The Spirit will help the disciples recall and understand important aspects of Jesus’ teaching so that they may press home their case against the world (i.e., witness effectively).27

It is important at this juncture to note the similarities and differences between the functions of the Spirit as Paraclete in John 14-16 and the life-giving Spirit in John 3-7. Although both the Paraclete and life-giving Spirit convey wisdom, the nature and purpose of this wisdom is quite distinct. The life-giving Spirit enables its recipients to grasp the significance of the cross and Jesus’ true identity. The Paraclete, on the other hand, given to disciples in order to assist their witness, offers charismatic wisdom by enabling the disciples to recall and understand the teaching of Jesus. The purpose of the Paraclete is not to grant the disciples that wisdom which is essential for right relationship with God (i.e., spiritual life). Rather, the Paraclete grants a special kind of wisdom; it is wisdom which is directed toward the unbelieving world in the form of witness.

In short, we have argued that the trial context of John’s Gospel in general and, more specifically, the forensic terminology in the Paraclete passages, call us to recognize the Paraclete’s distinctive role and function. He comes to the disciples as their advocate, one who assists them in presenting the case of Christ against the world. He accomplishes this task by encouraging and enabling bold witness in the face of opposition and persecution. Although the Paraclete grants wisdom – he helps the disciples recall and understand the teaching of Jesus – this wisdom is ultimately directed toward the world. Thus, it is charismatic rather than soteriological (i.e., essential for right relationship with God) in nature and should be distinguished from the life-giving wisdom imparted by the Spirit in John 3-7.

This conclusion, particularly that John distinguishes between the functions of the Spirit as the Paraclete and those of the life-giving Spirit in John 3-7, is supported by John 20:22.

2.3 John 20:22

John 20:22 describes a pre-ascension bestowal of the Spirit with these words: “And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’.” This text raises problems for those who have attempted to understand Pentecost as the climax of conversion, the moment when the disciples were regenerated by the power of the Spirit. How does one relate John 20:22, with its pre-ascension bestowal of the Spirit, to Pentecost? Some have sought to deny that an impartation of the Spirit was actually given.28 The text is said to describe a purely symbolic act which anticipates Pentecost. This view has been largely rejected by contemporary scholars as a forced attempt to reconcile John’s narrative with Acts.29 Others have suggested that this event is, for John, his equivalent to Pentecost.30 On this view John is not overly concerned with chronology and it is best to let John be John. The weakness of this view lies in the fact that it is virtually certain that John and his audience would have known of Pentecost. Why would John present a picture of Pentecost that would raise many questions and lead to confusion? I believe there is a better way to understand this passage, one that places it within the framework of John’s larger narrative.

To be begin with, we must recognize that this passage describes the disciples reception of the life-giving Spirit. The verb John uses, enephusesen, which is translated “he breathed,” is exceptionally rare. This verb, however, is found in Genesis 2:7 where it describes God’s breathing into Adam the breath of life.31 This careful use of language would undoubtedly remind John’s readers of the creation account. The point of the parallel could not be missed. Just as God breathed into Adam the breath of life, so also Jesus now breathes into the disciples the Spirit of new creation. The imperative, “Receive the Holy Spirit,” in this context would naturally be understood to signify that the life-giving Spirit was actually imparted.

One might argue that the context of John 20:21-23, particularly the sending formula (“As the Father hath sent me, I am sending you”), points beyond the regenerating work of the Spirit to an empowering for witness. However, in view of the allusion to Gen. 2:7, it is certainly better to see here a bestowal of the Spirit of new creation, which was the necessary condition for reception of Pentecostal power. Since John does not describe the bestowal of the Pentecostal gift, here with the contextual markers, he points toward its future coming.32 This judgment is supported by the lack of any Paraclete activity, at least with reference to the disicples, in the passages which immediately follow. As Turner notes, far from offering bold and dynamic witness, the disciples “fail to convince Thomas, let alone ‘the world’.” 33

We have already noted that John 7:37-39 anticipates a bestowal of the life-giving Spirit to the disciples. There are a number of reasons to view this event (20:22) as the fulfillment of the promise of the life-giving Spirit in John 7:39 and not the fulfillment of the promise of the Paraclete. First, there is the linguistic evidence. John 7:39 speaks of the disciples “receiving” the Spirit. In John 20:22, Jesus uses the same verb to form his imperative: “Receive the Holy Spirit.” The verbal parallels here may be contrasted with the general tendency to identify the Paraclete as a gift which issues from the Father. Whereas in John 20:22 Jesus breathes upon the disciples and bestows the Spirit; the Paraclete is a gift the Father gives (14:16) and the one whom the Father will send in Jesus’ name (14:26). Alternatively, Jesus says that he will send the Paraclete (16:7) and he will send the Paraclete “from the Father” (15:26). Jesus also notes that the Paraclete (now, the Spirit of truth) “goes out from the Father” (15:26). Although admittedly the picture is not entirely clear, the descriptions of the Father’s sending or giving of the Paraclete do not fit well with a fulfillment in John 20:22.

Second and more decisive is the matter of timing. John 7:39 indicates that the life-giving Spirit “had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.” Since for John Jesus’ glorification generally refers to the death and the resurrection of Jesus,34 this promise accords well with the post-resurrection (pre-ascension) fulfillment in John 20:22. The Paraclete promises, however, indicate that the Paraclete will come, indeed can come, only after Jesus has ascended to the Father. This is stated most clearly in John 16:7: “But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you” (cf. 14:18-19; 16:7). These temporal markers indicate that in John’s view, the life-giving Spirit is received by the disciples in John 20:22 and that this bestowal of the Spirit cannot be equated with the sending of the Paraclete. The Paraclete can come only after Jesus ascends to the Father.

Thirdly, our judgment is supported by the distinctive functions attributed to the life-giving Spirit of John 3-7 and the Paraclete of John 14-16. We have already noted that the Spirit in John 3-7 comes as the source of regeneration. By way of contrast, the Paraclete comes to the disciples in order to enable their testimony on behalf of Christ.

Together, these points indicate that John 20:22 records a pre-ascension bestowal of the life-giving Spirit. The evidence also suggests that, from John’s perspective, John 20:22 represents the fulfillment of the promise of John 7:37-39. Yet this gift of the Spirit should be distinguished from the Paraclete passages, which ascribe different functions to the Spirit and which find their fulfillment at Pentecost.

3. John and the Development of Early Christian Pneumatology

It is perhaps worth noting that, up to this point, our conclusions are very similar to those of James Dunn. Dunn also argues that John 20:22 is a fulfillment of the Spirit promises in John 3-7 and that this bestowal of the Spirit should be distinguished from the promise of the Paraclete, which is fulfilled at Pentecost.35 This position, of course, is not unique to Dunn.36 Others, such as Max Turner, also argue that John had in mind two bestowals of the Spirit: one at John 20:22; and one at Pentecost. Nevertheless, both Dunn and Turner stress the theological unity of these bestowals of the Spirit, suggesting that both bestowals are of the same character.37 Yet this understanding of John raises a number of questions.

We may begin by asking, if John actually viewed both bestowals of the Spirit (John 20:22 and Pentecost) as representing essentially one theological impartation of the Spirit, why does he separate them chronologically? Dunn and Turner cannot provide a clear rationale for John’s narrative at this point. This is especially the case since both view the two receptions of the Spirit as functioning in essentially the same manner. Dunn suggests that John distinguishes between the two gifts because they represents distinctive milestones in salvation-history: “what we now call full Christian experience was possible only after the ascension and Pentecost.”38 Undoubtedly, in John’s perspective, the Paraclete could not come until after Pentecost. Yet how was it distinct from the bestowal recorded in John 20:22? Dunn’s reference to “full Christian experience” suggests that Pentecost represents something more, something different. However, in view of the regeneration language in John 20:22, Dunn is unable to articulate what this “more” actually is. The same may be said of Turner, who states emphatically that we cannot distinguish between the functions of the Spirit imparted to the disciples in John 20:22 and those of the Paraclete.39 So, we are still left with the fundamental question unanswered: why would John speak of two experiences of regeneration by the Spirit? Put another way, if the Pentecostal gift is indeed the climax of conversion-initiation, why detail another bestowal of the Spirit that functions in essentially the same way?

This question becomes all the more acute when we remember that John did not have to record the John 20:22 bestowal of the Spirit; none of the other gospel-writers do, why does he? Surely John, writing in the 90’s, would have recognized the confusion an account of a pre-Pentecostal bestowal of the life-giving Spirit would cause? What is now clear is that traditional accounts of the development of early Christian pneumatology, particularly those that stress the homogeneity of Luke and Paul, are simply unable to explain in an intelligible manner John’s narrative.

The answer to this riddle is, however, easily explained if we place John within the process of the development of early Christian pneumatology outlined above. If Paul was indeed the first Christian to articulate the soteriological aspects of the Spirit’s work and his broader perspective did not impact the more limited, prophetic pneumatology of the non-Pauline church until after the writing of the synoptic gospels and Acts, then we can see John as providing a later synthesis of these two pneumatological strands. Clearly John is aware of Paul’s larger perspective, as is obvious by John’s references to the life-giving Spirit (John 3-7). This being the case, it is only natural that John would seek to answer a question not addressed in the synoptic gospels: When did the disciples receive the Spirit as a regenerating force (the Pauline gift of the Spirit)? Since the synoptic gospels and Acts represent an early stage in the early church’s developing awareness of the Spirit’s work and know the Spirit only as the source of prophetic inspiration (e.g., the Pentecostal gift of Acts 2), they would not have pondered this question. But after Paul’s insights had become more widely known, then the question and the need to address it would have arisen. In the 90’s, John writes his gospel from this larger pneumatological perspective, and so he seeks to answer this critical question. His answer is straightforward: John 20:22 marks the moment when the disciples received the life-giving Spirit; this experience is distinct from the later bestowal of the Paraclete (= the Pentecostal gift), which enables the disciples to bear witness for Christ. John then offers a synthesis: a later perspective on the life of Jesus, informed by Paul’s richer pneumatology – one which, in contrast to Luke, identifies the Spirit as the source of new life and tells us when the disciples actually experienced the regenerating power of the Spirit.

The implications of this reconstruction for Pentecostal theology are apparent. Dunn correctly notes that John’s account does not provide proof for a normative two-stage pattern of reception of the Spirit. John explicitly states that the bestowal of the Spirit is linked to key events in redemptive history: the life-giving Spirit comes after the cross and resurrection (cf. John 7:39); the Paraclete is sent after Jesus ascends to the Father. While John’s narrative does not rule out the possibility of a two-stage bestowal of the Spirit after Pentecost, it does not affirm that this must be the case. Yet, John does validate two points of importance for Pentecostals. First, John affirms that the Spirit of new creation (John 20:22) and the Pentecostal gift are received in two, theologically distinct experiences. This is the clear implication of John’s narrative, which separates these experiences chronologically and which ascribes different functions to them. This means that John’s account lends support for the distinction Luke draws between conversion and reception of the the Pentecostal gift of the Spirit. A holistic biblical theology of the Spirit will affirm, then, that the Pentecostal gift, universally promised to every believer, is theologically (if not always chronologically) distinct from the experience of regeneration. Second, John’s narrative also validates our reconstruction of the development of the early Christian pneumatology. John 20:22, in particular, only makes sense if we see John seeking to address questions that would naturally have been voiced as Paul’s broader, soteriological perspective became more widely known. The traditional perspective, which stresses the homogeneity of early Christian pneumatology, simply cannot account for John’s unique presentation.


We have argued that John, writing in the 90s and fully aware of the prophetic pneumatology of the synoptic gospels and Acts as well as Paul’s broader perspective, provides a striking synthesis. His synthesis affirms that the Spirit comes as a regenerating force (John 20:22) and that, in a theologically distinct experience (the Paraclete), the Spirit is also received as the power which enables the disciples to bear witness for Christ. John’s perspective, then, challenges reconstructions of early Christian pneumatology which do not allow for diversity and development. His pneumatology also calls into question traditional interpretations of the Pentecostal gift of the Spirit. As John’s paradigm for Pentecost, the Paraclete comes to the disciples as their advocate, one who assists them in presenting the case of Christ against the unbelieving world.


  1. James D.G. Dunn, Baptism in the Holy Spirit (SCM Press, 1970), 39. Return to text.
  2. See my review of the literature in Robert P. Menzies, The Development of Early Christian Pneumatology with special reference to Luke-Acts (JSNTSS 54; Sheffield, JSOT Press, 1991), 28-47. Return to text.
  3. Hermann Gunkel, The Influence of the Holy Spirit: the Popular View of the Apostolic Age and the Teaching of the Apostle Paul (trans. R.A. Harrisville and P.A. Quanbeck II; Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1979; German Original, 1888); Gonzalo Haya-Prats, L’Esprit force de l’église. Sa nature et son activité d’ après les Actes des Apôtres (trans. J. Romero; LD, 81; Paris, Cerf, 1975); see also the sources cited in Menzies, Development, 18-28. Return to text.
  4. See Robert P. Menzies, Development and the slightly revised version, Empowered for Witness: The Spirit in Luke-Acts (JPTSS 6; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1994). See also William W. Menzies and Robert P. Menzies, Spirit and Power: Foundations of Pentecostal Experience (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000). Return to text.
  5. Menzies, Development, 282-315. Return to text.
  6. George Ladd speaks from many when he concludes that “John reflects a larger measure of theological interpretation than do the Synoptics” (G. Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament [edited by Donald A. Hagner; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993 revised edition), 257. Return to text.
  7. U. Schnelle argues that the Pauline tradition reached John’s school through oral tradition and that this transmission of tradition reflects a dominant geographical environment, probably Ephesus. See U. Schnelle, “Paulus und Johannes,” Evangelische Theologie 47 (1987), 212-28. Return to text.
  8. John’s parenthetical comment in John 7:39 illustrates this fact and may offer insight into John’s method. Return to text.
  9. Max Turner, The Holy Spirit and Spiritual Gifts in the New Testament Church and Today (Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson, 1998 revised edition), 68. Return to text.
  10. See for example Raymond Brown, The Gospel According to John Vol. 1 (The Anchor Bible 29; Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Co, Inc., 1966), 140; J. Ramsey Michaels, John (NIBC 4; Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson, 1989), 61; Bruce Milne, The Message of John (BST; Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1993), 76; and Linda Belleville, “‘Born of Water and Spirit’: John 3:5,” Trinity Journal 1 (1980), 125-41. Return to text.
  11. All quotations from the Bible are taken from the NIV unless noted otherwise. Return to text.
  12. The association of water and Spirit in John 7:37-39 lends further support to this judgment. Return to text.
  13. There term, anothen (John 3:3), can mean “again” or “from above.”  Here both meanings are probably in view.  For this reason, I have followed the variant reading of the NIV, “born from above,” in this translation. Return to text.
  14. It is interesting to note that Ez. 36:26 and perhaps Ez. 37:14 form the backdrop for Paul’s references to the Spirit as source of new covenant existence in 2 Cor. 3:1-6.  Luke, on the other hand, does not draw upon Ex. 36:25-26 to elucidate the work of the Spirit. Return to text.
  15. J. Behm, in his study of the term Paraclete, concludes: “Thus the history of the term in the whole sphere of known Greek and Hellenistic usage outside the NT yields the clear picture of a legal advisor or helper or advocate in the relevant court” (J. Behm, “paraklntos,” in TDNT, Vol. V, 803). Return to text.
  16. Anthony Billington, “The Paraclete and Mission in the Fourth Gospel,” 94 in Mission and Meaning: Essays Presented to Peter Cotterell, ed. A. Billington, T. Lane, and M. Turner (Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 1995), 90-115. Note also the conclusion of G. Burge: “This context of juridical trial and persecution presents us with the most likely catalyst for John’s introduction of the term ho parakletos” (Burge, The Anointed Community: The Holy Spirit in the Johannine Community [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987], 205). Return to text.
  17. Of the over 200 occurrences in the NT of martus (“witness”) and its cognates, approximately 40% are found in the Johannine literature (John, 1-3 John, and Revelation). More specifically, marturew (“testify”) occurs 76 times in the NT and 33 times in the Gospel of John. The term marturia (“testimony”) occurs 37 times in the NT and 14 times in the Gospel of John. Return to text.
  18. Billington, “Paraclete and Mission,” 100; for the trial motif see 95-101. Return to text.
  19. Rev. 19:10, “For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” forms a striking parallel to John 15:26. Return to text.
  20. Cf. John 12:30-32. See Turner, The Holy Spirit and Spiritual Gifts, 87. Return to text.
  21. J. Ramsey Michaels, John, 282. Return to text.
  22. See also Turner, The Holy Spirit and Spiritual Gifts, 87. Return to text.
  23. Billington, p. 109: “The Paraclete’s work is not independent of their witness. John does not teach a witness by the Spirit that is not also a witness through the believing community.” Return to text.
  24. J. Ramsey Michaels, John, 277. Return to text.
  25. Billington, “Paraclete and Mission,” 109-110. Return to text.
  26. John 16:13-15 also suggests that the Paraclete will guide the church in its mission (“tell you what is yet to come”). The stress on the authority of Jesus is very similar to what we find in Mt. 28:18. Return to text.
  27. In view of the forensic setting, “all things” (14:26) and “all truth” (16:13) probably refer to all that the disciples will need to know in order to prosecute their case against the world. The conceptual parallels with Lk 12:11-12 are striking. Return to text.
  28. See for example D. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1991), 649-652 and J.I. Packer, Keep in Step with the Spirit (Old Tappan, N.J.: Fleming H. Revell, 1984), 87-88. Return to text.
  29. Thus, most scholars see this as an actual bestowal of the Spirit. See for example J. Dunn, Baptism, 178 and M. Turner, The Holy Spirit and Spiritual Gifts, 91-92. Return to text.
  30. See for example R. Brown, The Gospel According to John Vol. 2, 1022-4, 1036-45 and George T. Montague, The Holy Spirit: Growth of a Biblical Tradition (New York: Paulist Press, 1976), 363. Return to text.
  31. The verb is also found in Wisdom 15:11, which is essentially a citation of Gen. 2:7, and in Ez. 37:9, which refers to God’s breathing into the dry bones of Israel the breath of life. The Ez. 37:9 reference is important in that here, too, we see the verb associated with the creation of new life. Return to text.
  32. B.F. Westcott, The Gospel According to St. John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1954), 295: Westcott describes the bestowal of the Spirit in John 20:22 as “the necessary condition for the descent of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost.” Return to text.
  33. Turner, The Holy Spirit and Spiritual Gifts, 95. Return to text.
  34. The term doxazw occurs 23 times in John’s Gospel. When John speaks of the glorification of Jesus, he often has in mind Jesus’ death on the cross (12:23; 12:27-28; 13:31-32; 17:1). In John 12:16 Jesus’ glorification most likely refers to the death and resurrection of Jesus, and this is probably the case in John 7:39 as well. For a similar assessment of John 7:39 see G.R. Beasley-Murray, John Vol. 1 (WBC 36; Waco: Word, 1987), 117. Return to text.
  35. Dunn, Baptism, 176-182. Return to text.
  36. See for example B.F. Westcott, John, 295 and Howard Ervin, Spirit Baptism: A Biblical Investigation (Peabody: Mass.: Hendrickson, 1987), 14-21. Return to text.
  37. Dunn, Baptism, 181-82 and Turner, The Holy Spirit and Spiritual Gifts, 99-100. Return to text.
  38. Dunn, Baptism, 181. Return to text.
  39. Turner, The Holy Spirit and Spiritual Gifts, 100-101. Turner suggests that the Paraclete comes “as the means of [Jesus’] continued presence with the disciples” and as “one who…illumines the Christ-event” (p. 100). Yet Turner also attributes these functions to the life-giving Spirit of John 3-7. Return to text.

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