johannine pentecost

John 20:19-31, the Johannine Pentecost

On the Sunday after Easter, the church reads John 20:19-31, which is sometimes referred to as the Johannine Pentecost. In this passage, Jesus is wandering about in a state of immateriality. He drifts through closed doors and astounds the disciples. Then — as if to hammer home the point that he’s really alive and breathing — he exhales on them. It’s a dramatic text we often skip in our hurry to get to the much-maligned disciple named Thomas. But what a scene it makes!

Below I set forth the scenes as I see them unfolding, and a few questions. I hope it will be helpful fodder for others.


TIME: The first day of the week, evening.
SETTING: Behind locked doors at an undisclosed location.
ON STAGE: Disciples minus Thomas the Twin

Enter: Jesus.
Line: Jesus: Peace be with you.
Action: Jesus: Display hands and side.
Reaction: Disciples: 🙂
Line: Jesus: Repeat first line. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.
Action: Jesus: Long expulsion of breath.
Line: Jesus: If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.
Reaction: Disciples: ??
Exit: Jesus


1. What are the key differences between this Johannine Pentecost and the more commonly-preached Pentecost story in Acts 2? Consider timing, setting, main characters, sequence of action.

2. Consider the door, both its reality and its symbolism. How does Jesus — who refers to himself as the Door or the Gate in John 10:9 — function in this scene? What is the door between? What is the door position? How is this similar or different to the door in the other Pentecost story?

3. How might the breath of Jesus sound? Is it a solo voice? How does this contrast to the cacophany of voices in Acts 2? What are the implications?

4. The word Spirit is important to the writer of John’s gospel. The other gospels primarily use the word pneuma, which means Breath or Spirit. The writer uses pneuma but also paraclete, which means Helper, Advocate, Comforter, or Intercessor, and is translated as one who appears in another’s behalf.

John 14:16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate (paraclete) to be with you forever. (see also John 14:26, 16:7, all paraclete)
John 20:22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, Receive the Holy Spirit (pneuma).


TIME: Immediately following Scene 1.

Enter: Thomas the Twin.
Line: Disciples: We have seen the Lord.
Line: Thomas: Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.


TIME: One week later (the first day of the week, evening).
ON STAGE: Disciples including Thomas the Twin.

Enter: Jesus.
Line: Jesus: Peace be with you.
Action: Jesus: Display hands and side.
Line: Jesus: (to Thomas) Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.
Reaction: Thomas: !!
Line: Thomas: My Lord and my God!
Line: Jesus: Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.
Exit: Jesus

SCENE 4: EPILOGUE: in which the writer sets forth his purpose

These are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.


1. Believing is a central idea in the scenes with Thomas, and in the epilogue. Believing is always a verb, never a noun in the gospel of John. What are the implications of this linguistic fact?

2. We tend to refer to him as Doubting Thomas but the Greek is apistoi meaning “unbelieving.” What does this mean? Check John 11:16 to remember Thomas former testimony of belief and devotion. How can belief and unbelief coexist within the same person?

3. Can we believe our eyes? Our culture tends to see Science and Faith in opposition. How does the activity of believing factor into this debate?

NOTE: I originally wrote this for a lectionary study called Question the Text which is defunct.


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