When was the Holy Spirit given?

In the gospel of John, the Holy Spirit was breathed upon Christ’s disciples by Him on the day of His resurrection in Jerusalem.

However, in the gospel of Luke and in Acts, we see the Holy Spirit came upon with a sound from heaven on the day of Pentecost, after Christ had ascended. In this post, we will investigate which event is correct.

Gospel of John vs Gospel of Luke and Acts

John 20:19-22 Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you. When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 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.

John in his gospel wrote that Jesus, on the day of His resurrection, appeared to His eleven disciples and breathed the Holy Spirit upon them. The above passage also contradict the core message of Christ on forgiveness from all the gospels.

Luke 24:36-40 Now as they said these things, Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them, and said to them, “Peace to you.” But they were terrified and frightened, and supposed they had seen a spirit. And He said to them, “Why are you troubled? And why do doubts arise in your hearts? Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.” When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet. …. (49) “Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high.”

Acts 2:1-4 When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.

Luke in his gospel wrote that Jesus instructs His eleven disciples to wait in Jerusalem to receive the Holy Spirit which got fulfilled on the day of Pentecost. The problem here is, both events cannot be harmonised. If the Holy Spirit was given on the day of Christ’s resurrection, then the event on the day of Pentecost didn’t happen.

Inconsistency in gospel of John

One of the approach to identify which is correct is to test if the event is consistent within the same book. For instance, if Jesus was to breath the Holy Spirit on the day of His resurrection and not later, then every earlier message of Jesus must be consistent with what John writes.

John 16:7 But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.

Unfortunately, what Jesus spoke earlier in the same gospel of John doesn’t agree with what Jesus did on the day of His resurrection regarding how the Holy Spirit was given to His disciples. Jesus before His crucifixion clearly said that He must go for the Holy Spirit to come to them. This means, He must ascend to the Father before the Holy Spirit can be given to His disciples.

Hence, the details of the event of what happened during the first meeting between the resurrected Jesus Christ and His disciples as recollected by John was clearly wrong. We are not to blame John for he was an old man probably in his nineties, recollected and wrote the event of that happened several decades ago based on the best of his memory. Thus we can conclude that the Holy Spirit was given on the day of Pentecost as in Luke/Acts and not on the day of resurrection as in the gospel of John.