Did the disciples recieve the Holy Spirit in John 20:22 or Acts 2 (and what about Matthew 9?)?


After mass this Sunday I was confused. Really confused. We hear two separate accounts of the disciples receiving the Holy Spirit. And then there is the account in Mathew of receiving power.

John 20:22

22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.

Acts 2:1-13

The Holy Spirit Comes at Pentecost

2 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues[a] as the Spirit enabled them.

Matthew 10:1 ►
And when he had called to him his twelve disciples, he gave them power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease.

So my question is: "What is going on in John 20 when Jesus breathed on the disciples and told them to receive the Holy Spirit? Prior to this event, Jesus told them He could not send the Holy Spirit to them until after He returned to His Father. Then after this event He told them to wait in Jerusalem for the arrival of the Holy Spirit. So what happened in John 20, how do we explain this, especially since it seems powers were given to the disciples in events like those described in Mathew 10?"

Im confused on this! Help! :slight_smile: What is the Catholic understanding of this, or the understanding in general???


Pentecost is when the entire Church received the Holy Spirit. In John 20, Jesus ‘ordains’ the apostles only, giving them the faculty to absolve sins.

Notice that, in Acts 1:15, we see that there are 120 who are gathered together. To this group, then, the Holy Spirit comes at Pentecost. In Acts 2, we see that the gifts of the Holy Spirit enable the Apostles (and, in particular, Peter) to preach. But, it’s not the case that only the Apostles received the Holy Spirit that day.

Does that help?


It does help. Thank you.

So what you mean is that particular gift of the absolution of sins was reserved for the intimate group of the Apostles, and the wider full gifts of preaching was given to many (120)? right?

From my limited research, many have stated that John 20, outside of the part about sins, our Lord “breathing” upon the disciples is both a symbolic (with reference to the OT) invitation to “receive ye the Holy Spirit” at Pentacost AND a declaration that the Holy Spirit would and does flow from our Lord directly.

So it was a promise in earnest to receive the Holy Spirit. Can this be true? It seems this way to me since John states elsewhere that the Holy Spirit would only descend after our Lord was fully glorified?


Do you think it’s possible the Apostles received the Holy Spirit, as in John, but on Pentecost, they were able to ACT on the power of the Holy Spirit, much like we receive the Holy Spirit in Baptism, but are FILLED with the Holy Spirit at Confirmation.


Further, is this true or not?

Looking at the disciples’ moment in John 21, this occurs prior to Pentecost, so we must understand that moment as the Lord Spirit’s coming upon the disciples as an anointing for the events that would follow. The Lord was providing them with a visible symbol (i.e. the Lord’s breath) to show them they had received power from God (including the ability to forgive sins). (In Hebrew, the word for “spirit” and “breath” are nearly identical). This anointing was not a substitute for the permanent indwelling of the Spirit, which was yet to come for these disciples.

Later in Acts 2, the disciples received the indwelling of the Spirit, which was a permanent seal of their faith.

Is this correct from a Catholic perspective or general biblical understanding?


Almost: yes, absolution is reserved to the apostles in John 20; in Acts 2, although we see all the people upon whom the Spirit descended speaking in tongues, the only preaching we see is when “Peter stood up with the Eleven” and Peter begins to preach.

From my limited research, many have stated that John 20, outside of the part about sins, our Lord “breathing” upon the disciples is both a symbolic (with reference to the OT) invitation to “receive ye the Holy Spirit” at Pentacost AND a declaration that the Holy Spirit would and does flow from our Lord directly.

There is that flavor to the text of John 20; however, we would say that the apostles did receive the Spirit in John 20, not just that they were invited to do so. From a Reformation perspective, though, in which there’s not the admission that the apostles comprise a priesthood and an authoritative body, there’s a stronger desire to interpret John 20 as if it were only an invitation…

So it was a promise in earnest to receive the Holy Spirit. Can this be true? It seems this way to me since John states elsewhere that the Holy Spirit would only descend after our Lord was fully glorified?

The Holy Spirit would only appear to the Church once Jesus had ascended. Any other interpretation would say that Jesus was lying (or, at the very least, ineffective) if, by saying “receive the Holy Spirit” he really meant “don’t receive the Holy Spirit just yet”… :shrug:



So my understanding that the full Holy Spirit DID NOT descend in COMPLETE power in John 20… is correct? Because elsewhere in John it says that the Holy Spirit would not descend until Pentecost - therefore the Holy Spirit only descended in power AFTER the ascension, right?

By the way I fully support the priests ability to forgive sins, i’m just wondering on the Holy Spirit decent… since elsewhere in scripture it says the Holy Spirit will NOT descend UNTIL our lord has ascended.
Se my confusion?** Thoughts on that?


Well, it’s not that the Holy Spirit “could not descend” while Jesus was on earth – after all, the “Spirit of God descend[ed] like a dove” on Jesus at His baptism (see Mt 3).

So, it would seem that the force of Jesus’ characterization about the timing of the descent of the Holy Spirit has less to do with a limitation on the Holy Spirit, and more to do with the initiation as the Spirit’s role as advocate and protector of the Church.


I see… but my simple mind needs more understanding though… :o

So in John we see a “part” for lack of a better word of the Holy Spirit authorizing the forgiveness of sins. Then we see a forceful descent on a larger group to forcefully embolden those assembled to preach to the world and not be affraid, since our Lord was no longer with them.

i.e., John refers to our Lord saying to a SELECT group of disciples that the Holy Spirit within them (which is our Lord) would always be with them to forgive and bind sins?

And the account of Pentacost is an account of the Holy Spirit descending to enable people to speak different languages and preach the gospel?

Forgive me, im still not clear on this… :frowning:


I found this:

Aquinas Study Bible

2:4 they were all filled with the Holy Spirit: Before the Passion the Holy Spirit was given to the Apostles for the grace of doctrine and healing; after the Resurrection Jesus breathed the Spirit upon them and said: . . . . **On Pentecost **Accept the Holy Spirit, whose sins you shall forgive, are forgiven them etc… the Spirit was sent from Heaven, so that those who were to be divided on the morrow would accept the knowledge of tongues, lest they be in need of interpreters as they went forth throughout the world. (Nicholas of Lyra)speak with divers tongues: The Galilean Peter or Andrew spoke Persian or Median. John and the rest of the Apostles spoke every tongue to those of Gentile extraction; The Holy Spirit taught them many languages at once, languages which in all their life they never knew. This is in truth vast wisdom, this is power divine. What a contrast of their long ignorance in time past to their sudden, complete and varied and unaccustomed exercise of these languages! (St. Cyril of Jerusalem Cat Lect) To sow the seeds of heavenly doctrine throughout peoples of every language required tongues imbued with heavenly doctrine and aflame with the fire of evangelical love. This was, therefore, the primary sign of evangelical faith, the sign the Lord had promised to them, saying, “They shall speak in new tongues.”(Mk 16:17) (Erasmus)

This explanation falls within the promise of the Holy Spirit for John 20, does it not? Nevertheless it was a promise ONLY to them specifically to forgive sins, not the whole group on Pentacost, since (from my research) the Apostles did not begin to forgive sins etc. until after Pentacost itself, correct??

Is this understanding correct?

Anyone have any thoughts?


I found this on this website:

" On Pentecost the Apostles received a strengthening of the sanctifying gifts of the Holy Spirit that they already possessed, and they also received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, i.e. they received the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit that enabled the Apostles to evangelize the world and build up the Body of Christ. "

This makes sense to me - the “gift of forgiving sins” was given in John 20.

This (above quote) makes sense right?


Anyone else have any thoughts? I know you guys have helped me out in the past tremendously.


I would think John 20:22 was akin to ordination, as others have stated, and the descent of the Holy Spirit in the Acts was akin to confirmation. We receive the Holy Spirit in different ways at different times even now with the sacraments. The Holy Spirit enters our souls at baptism, but we are sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit at confirmation. At ordination, a deacon / priest receives the Holy Spirit in another unique manner.


Thank you so much for your response.

So John 20:22 is a specific “gift” of the Holy Spirit, and in Acts it is a general out-pouring to boldly start the Church? And one does not necessarily prevent or rule out, or impact the other?

Is this how we as Catholics are called to understand it?


Anyone else have any input? I’d appreciate it! :slight_smile:



i guess my question was answered :slight_smile:

nobody else have any thoughts?


let’s also not forget that the Holy Spirit descended on Mary as Jesus was “conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit”…so in actual fact, the Holy Spirit DID descend prior to Jesus even being born…


Very true.

So I guess the distinction is that the Holy Spirit was poured out in force on Pentacost (on 120) to enable the church to preach the gospel, and in John the Holy Spirit descended on a few to ordain for the forgiveness of sins?


I guess I wouldn’t characterize the Pentecost experience as “in force”, as if the action of the Holy Spirit at other times wasn’t “in force”; but, yeah, your summary is how I see it…


Thank you Georgia, you’ve been helpful! God bless.

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