INHALING THE SPIRIT or "What Was That Sound?"

by Douglas V. Morton

The Way International strives to teach of its members how they may "receive the holy spirit into manifestation" the act of believing and in-breathing. Victor Paul Wierwille, The Way's late founder, taught that opening one's mouth and breathing in deeply is an act of belief that God honors by bestowing the Holy Spirit upon the believer. (Literature from The Way International always refers to the Holy Spirit in all lower-case letters. Most Christian literature capitalizes Holy Spirit because the Holy Spirit is deity.)

New converts are taught a four-point method to help them receive, in a way they can sense, the Holy Spirit. First, the convert is told to become quiet and relaxed. Next, the convert is told to rest his head back "and breathe in deeply." (2) He is told that the "word 'inspiration' also means 'in-breathing."(3) The third step requires the convert to pray:

"Father, I now receive the holy spirit, the power from on high, which you made available through Jesus Christ."(4) Finally, the convert is told to willfully move his lips, tongue and throat, making the sounds that are considered to be "Speaking-In-Tongues." The person doing this is told he is forming words that the spirit wants him to speak.(5)

Michael Gudorf, a writer for The Way International, says that one of the main reasons why born-again Christians are ignorant of the importance of speaking in tongues shortly after the new birth is that they have "a wrong interpretation of John 20:22."(6) Gudorf contends that the verse has been misunderstood because it has been mistranslated in most English texts.(7) He also believes that if the true meaning of John 20:22 is balanced with the remoter context of Genesis 2:7 and Acts 2:1-4, the student of scripture would be able to rightly divide and understand how this all relates to speaking in tongues.(8)

Traditional Christian scholarship has almost unanimously translated John 20:22 similarly to the way it is recorded in the King James Version. (9) The KJV is as follows:

And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, "Receive ye the Holy Ghost."

The Way contests this translation and offers one it believes is more accurate. The difference between The Way's version and the traditional one can be seen by taking a look at Wierwille's elaboration on this verse in his book Receiving the Holy Spirit Today.

And when he had said this, he breathed on (en, in; He breathed in) them, (delete), and saith unto them, "Receive (lambano) ye the Holy Ghost (pneuma hagion)."(10)

Scholars will not contest Wierwille's argument that the word "them" is not a part of the original text. The attestation of manuscripts using this word is very weak indeed.(11) However, just because the word is not present in the Greek text does not mean that we can not read it in our English text. What one needs to remember is that the reader of the Greek text is expected to supply the word "them" to the text when reading it. This is not uncommon in scripture and is known as ellipsis - when a word or words are omitted but are supposed to be supplied by the reader. (12) In Mark 6:5 the word (etherapeusen), meaning "he healed," is used without a direct object. The reader is expected to supply the word "them" (those who were sick) to the text. Matthew 8:25 tells the story of the disciples and Jesus on the stormy sea. The text says the disciples "having come (to him; i.e. Jesus) they awoke him saying, 'Lord, Save.'" The reader is expected to insert two missing words in the text. First, he is expected to know that thedisciples came "to him" (Jesus) and second, he is expected to know that theLord was to save "us" (the disciples). These are just two texts where one can see the use of a implied words. An in-depth study of the Old and New Testaments will reveal many more instances where ellipses were used. (13)

It should be no problem for the reader to insert the word "them" into the text of John 20:22, even though it is not present in the Greek text. Wierwille's deletion of this word is unfounded and unwarranted. The only reason Wierwille omits the word is because it helps support his translation of the Greek word enephusasen (meaning, "he breathed") in this verse.

Wierwille's translation of the Greek verb (enephusasen) is important in his misinterpretation of the text. Wierwille translates this Greek verb as "he breathed in." He seems to believe that by placing the word "en" (Greek preposition meaning "in") as a prefix to the Greek word phusao (meaning: "to puff")(14) that it must mean a type of inhaling on Jesus' part. According to Wierwille, Jesus was showing his disciples what they were to do on the day of Pentecost. Jesus' 'breathing in' was a type of demonstration that showed them what they were to do at the proper moment. They were to "breathe in heavily."(15)

Can the word enephusasen be translated as "to breathe in" or "inhale"? Wierwille would certainly have the reader believe so. However, the evidence does not support this translation. The New Testament can offer no help because it is found only in John 20:22. The verb used in this text is an aorist, active, indicative, third-person, singular form of the Greek word emphusao. While it is not used in any other place in the New Testament, it is used 11 times in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament.(16)

In each case, the word carries with it the meaning of "to blow upon" and not "to breathe in" or "inhale". The classic example of the use of this word is recorded in Genesis 2:7 in the Septuagint. God formed man from the dust of the ground and "breathed upon (enephusesen) his face the breath of life."

A quick glance at various Greek lexicons also helps in understanding the meaning of this word. Liddell-Scott's A Greek-English Lexicon gives the basic meaning of the word as "blow in". (17) Bauer, Arndt, Ginrich and Danker's A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature gives the meaning of the word as "breathe on". (18) Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament gives the meaning as "to blow" or "breathe on". (19) Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament gives the meaning as "to breathe upon" or "over".(20) Even E.W. Bullinger's Lexicon, which is used by The Way, gives the meaning of the word as "to breathe upon, blow upon."(21)

The unanimous evidence, therefore, shows that the word means to "blow upon" or "breathe upon." Jesus was not inhaling in John 20:22. He was not showing his disciples what they were to do on the day of Pentecost. He actually breathed upon them and said "receive the Holy Spirit." When Pentecost came, the loud sound heard by the people was not the disciples breathing hard, following the example of Jesus, but the Spirit of God coming upon them.

In light of the above evidence, Wierwille's teaching of "in-breathing" to receive the Holy Spirit is meaningless. Nowhere does scripture indicate that we receive spiritual power through breathing in, even if it is connected with believing. The Apostle Paul writes concerning receiving the Spirit:

"Did you receive (lambano) the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard?"

The Holy Spirit is received by hearing the message of the Gospel and believing it. Any other way is considered "a work of the law" and against the Gospel. The validity of speaking in tongues is not being questioned here. What is being questioned and rejected is Wierwille's mechanistic and unscriptural teaching concerning receiving the Spirit and speaking in tongues. The Way is certainly not a group from which one would want to learn about this special gift or ability. Its inability to understand this phenomena of scripture makes it a poor instructor in this and other teachings.


1. Victor Paul Wierwille, Receiving the Holy Spirit Today. (New Knoxville, Ohio: American Christian Press, 1982, pg. 42.

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid. Wierwille does not go into detail concerning the meaning of the word "inspiration," nor does he give any biblical support for his translation. The word "inspiration" is not used in the New Testament except in II Timothy 3:16. In this verse Paul is telling his readers that "All scripture is inspired by God." The English words "inspired by God" are one word in the Greek: (Theopneustos). The word is derived from (Theos), which means "God," and probably from (pheo), which means "to breathe or blow." When combined, these two words set forth the idea that the scriptures are God-breathed, meaning that God is their author. God did not "inhale" or "breathe into Himself." Rather, He breathed into scripture its authority. Wierwille does not use the word correctly in his teaching on speaking in tongues.

4. Op. cit., pg. 43. 5. Op. cit., pg. 43.

6. Michael Gudorf, "Speaking in Tongues and Breathing," The Way Magazine September/October 1982, pg. 17.

7. Ibid. 8. Ibid.

9. Most scholars today, working from more ancient and accurate Greek Manuscripts than those used by the translators of the King James Version, have concluded that the word "them," which is the translation of the Greek word (autois), is not a part of the original text.

10. Wierwille, Receiving The Holy Spirit Today, pg. 43.

11. The word is found only in Tatian's Disstessaron (ca. A.D.160), Codex Bezae (a fifth- or sixth-century Greek manuscript containing the four Gospels, Acts and a small fragment of III John) and an Old Syriac version of the four Gospels dating back to the 5th century A.D. Each of these manuscripts are basically western in style, thus limiting their influence to a small portion of the early Church. It would not be unreasonable to assume that they all stem from one common manuscript source.On the other hand, the large majority of texts, scattered over diversified locations of the Mediterranean world, attest to the fact that these words were not in the original. Why were they placed in the texts? Possibly a scribe wanted to smooth out the sentence.

12. E.W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech Used in the Bible (London; Messrs. Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1898; reprint ed., Grand Rapids: Baker Book house, 1968), pg. 1. See also A. Berkeley Mickelsen, Interpreting The Bible (Grand Rapids; William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1963), pp. 189-190.

13. II Samuel 6:6; I Chronicles 16:7; Psalm 53:9; John 15:6; Acts 13:29; 2 Corinthians 11:20; Philippians 3:13.

14. The word (phusao) is an earlier rendering of the later Greek word (phusioo) which is used seven times in the New Testament with the meaning "to puff up" in the sense of vanity. See I Corinthians 4:6,18,19; 5:2; 8:1; 13:4 and Colossians 2:18. (Phusao) is used four times in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament). In Wisdom 11:18 it is used to describe wild beasts that breathe out (phusontas) a fiery vapor. In Sirach 28:12 the word is used to describe how one gets a spark to burn. This is done when one blows (phusasas) on it. Sirach 43:4 describes the man "blowing (phusasas) a furnace" as being "in works of heat." Manuscript V uses the word phusson while manuscript B and S use phulasson. Manuscripts A, S2 and R use the rendering phuson. Isaiah 54:16 speaks about the smith "blowing (phuson) a charcoal fire." The Hebrew text uses the word (Nopaach), which means to blow forcefully." When this word (phusao) is combined with the preposition (en) it means "to blow into something" or "to blow upon something." It does not mean to "inhale" or "breathe in."

15. Receiving the Holy Spirit Today, pg. 62.

16. For more information on the Septuagint, see Ralph W. Klein's Textual Criticism of the Old Testament: From the Septuagint to Qumrah (Philadelphia; Fortress Press, 1974), pp. 1-6. See also Frederick W. Danker, MultipurposeTools for Bible Study, Third edition. (St. Louis; Concordia Publishing House, 1970), pp. 63-95.

17. Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, 9th edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1940), pg. 551.

18. William F. Arndt, F. Wilbur Gengrich, Frederic W. Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, Second edition, a translation and adaptation of the fourth revised and augmented edition of Walter Bauer's Griechish-Deutsches Worterbuch zu den Schriften des Neuen testaments und der ubrigen urchristlichen Literatur. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1979), pg. 258.

19. Joseph Henry Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon Of The New Testament. Translated and revised and enlarged from Grimm Willie's Clavis "Novi Testament" (Grand Rapids; Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), pg. 209.

20. Ethelbert Stauffer, (emphusao) in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Volume II. Edited by Gerhard Kittel. Translated by Geoffrey W. Bromiley from Theologisches Worterbuch zum Neuen Testament, Zeiter Band (Grand Rapids; Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1964. pg. 536.

21. Ethelbert W. Bullinger, A Critical Lexicon and Concordance to the English and Greek New Testaments (London: Samuel Bagster and Sons Limited; special printing: Zondervan Publishing House, 1979), pg. 113.

(c) 1989 - PFO. All rights reserved by Personal Freedom Outreach.

Back to "Biblical Research & Teaching" Menu