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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [1]

BREATHING. —On the evening of the Resurrection, the Lord appeared to the disciples, gave them the commission ‘As my Father, etc.,’ ‘and when he had said this, he breathed on them (ἐνεφύσησε), and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost (Λάβετε Πνεῦμα Ἅγιον). Whose soever sins … retained,’  John 20:21 f. The word ἐμφυσάω is that employed by LXX Septuagint to translate נִפח in  Genesis 2:7,  Ezekiel 37:9. As Westcott observes, ‘the same image which was used to describe the communication of the natural life [at the Creation] is here used to express the communication of the new, spiritual life of recreated humanity.’ The figure of human life depending on the breath of God is frequent in the Bible; besides above passages, see  Job 12:10;  Job 33:4,  Psalms 33:6,  Isaiah 42:5,  Daniel 5:23,  Acts 17:25. In the following the breath of God is synonymous with the manifestation of His power:  2 Samuel 22:16,  Job 37:10;  Job 41:21,  Isaiah 11:4. Both ideas seem to underlie our Lord’s action. The Church was now receiving its commission, and the efficacy and reality of the commission must depend upon the indwelling in the Church of the same Spirit as was in Christ Himself. ‘Alike the mission of the Church and its authority to forgive or retain sins are connected with a personal qualification, “Take ye the Holy Ghost” ’ (Edersheim, ii. 644). The work was not new, but was that already received from the Father by the Son and now handed on to that Church which was to be Christ’s body on earth. He had compared the action of the Spirit to breath ( John 3:8). ‘By breathing on them He signified that the Holy Ghost was the Spirit not of the Father alone but likewise His own’ (Aug. St. John , translation 121).

Considerable difference of opinion exists as to whether the act of breathing, with the authority to retain or forgive sin, was bestowed upon the Apostles only or on others besides. Those who limit it to the Apostles urge that ‘disciples’ is always in the later chapters of St. John used to signify Apostles; and that, even if others were present, the analogy of  Matthew 28:16 and  Mark 16:14-18 implies that the breathing and commission were limited to the Apostles. They would then see in the act a formal ministerial ordination.* [Note: Stanley (Christ. Inst. p. 192) states that ‘in the Abyssinian and Alexandrian Church ordination was, and still is, by breathing.’] On the other hand, Westcott and many others, comparing  Luke 24:23, see no reason whatever for limiting the act and commission to Apostles. Even of the Eleven we know that Thomas at least was absent ( John 20:24). The commission was one given to the Christian society as a body: in it in its corporate capacity would dwell the Holy Ghost, and the authority of retaining or forgiving sins.

Literature.—The Commentaries on St. John  ; Westcott, Revelation of Risen Lord , p. 81; Edersheim, Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah , ii. 644; Gore, Christian Ministry , p. 229; Stanley, Christian Institutions , p. 192.

J. B. Bristow.

Webster's Dictionary [2]

(1): (p. pr. & vb. n.) of Breathe

(2): (n.) Utterance; communication or publicity by words.

(3): (n.) Stop; pause; delay.

(4): (n.) Respiration; the act of inhaling and exhaling air.

(5): (n.) Air in gentle motion.

(6): (n.) Any gentle influence or operation; inspiration; as, the breathings of the Spirit.

(7): (n.) Aspiration; secret prayer.

(8): (n.) Exercising; promotion of respiration.

(9): (n.) Breathing place; vent.

(10): (n.) A mark to indicate aspiration or its absence. See Rough breathing, Smooth breathing, below.

(11): (n.) Also, in a wider sense, the sound caused by the friction of the outgoing breath in the throat, mouth, etc., when the glottis is wide open; aspiration; the sound expressed by the letter h.

King James Dictionary [3]

BRE'ATHING, ppr. Respiring living uttering.

1. Exhibiting to the life as breathing paint.

BRE'ATHING, n. Respiration the act of inhaling and exhaling air.

1. Aspiration secret prayer. 2. Breathing-place vent. 3. Accent aspiration.


1. A vent.