|Dr. Couch, what is going on in John 20:22-23? Can you help?|
ANSWER: The passage reads: Christ "breathed on them, and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.'"
This passage has two parts. (1) The breathing on them of the Holy Spirit. "Receive" is an Aorist Active Imperative (or command). It is the common Greek word "lambano." No time frame is given in the verse. I take it that it is speaking about the future, at Pentecost, when the Spirit will enter the believers as prophesied. However these men, the disciples, will indeed have a distinct ministry above and beyond what the average layman will have. The disciples are called to be the leaders of the church. What they do and say will have special implications.
There are many places in the Bible where something is said that sounds like it is going to take place right then, at that moment, but in reality, it has to do with something that will happen at some point in the future. I think that is the case here. We have no indication that right then, at that time, they got the Holy Spirit, though we know they did in Acts 2. Christ said to His disciples just before His ascension: "You shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now" (v. 5).
The word "received" ("lambano") along with the Holy Spirit, is used eight times in the NT. This would indicate that my view is correct.
Then there is the issue of (2) The forgiveness of sins by the disciples (v. 23). The verse ties into Matthew 16:16-20. Peter was given the authority to judge the sins of Israel in this Matthew passage. It is too extensive to deal with this issue here but to simply say, that in the John 20 passage the disciples had to a limited degree the ability to judge as well as Peter. When it says "the sins have been forgive" (v. 23) it is stated so with a Perfect Tense, which means that this forgiveness was already accomplished in the past by the Lord, but simply brought forward by the disciples. In the NAS it is translated correctly: "The sins HAVE BEEN (in the past) forgiven."
I hope this helps. Thanks for asking.
Dr. Mal Couch (6-10)