John 20:21 Then Jesus said to them again, “Peace be to you. Just as the Father has sent me, I will also send you.” 22 After saying this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit! If you forgive anyone’s sins, they have been forgiven. If you hold in place anyone’s sins, they have been held in place. (My Translation)
There are several interesting moments in this passage. The first one is the word-play on “send” that occurs in verse 21. The first word is ἀποστέλλω (apostellō) and the second one is πέμπω (pempō). There is no significant difference in meaning. In fact, John’s Gospel is riddled with word-plays throughout. It is his style, in my opinion, to make his written Gospel memorable.
The second feature is the direct allusion to Genesis 2:7. If one looks at the passage in the LXX (the Septuagint, the OT in Greek), one will see that the very same verb, in the very same tense was used for “to breath on”. Let me demonstrate that.
22 καὶ τοῦτο εἰπὼν ἐνεφύσησεν καὶ λέγει αὐτοῖς· λάβετε πνεῦμα ἅγιον·
22 After saying this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit!
Gen. 2:7 καὶ ἔπλασεν ὁ θεὸς τὸν ἄνθρωπον χοῦν ἀπὸ τῆς γῆς καὶ ἐνεφύσησεν εἰς τὸ πρόσωπον αὐτοῦ πνοὴν ζωῆς, καὶ ἐγένετο ὁ ἄνθρωπος εἰς ψυχὴν ζῶσαν. LXX
Gen. 2:7 God formed man, dust from of the earth, and breathed on/into his face a breath of life, and the man became a living being. LXX (My Translation)
The third feature has to do with what was breathed on Adam and what was breathed on the disciples. In Genesis, God breathed “a breath of life”, while in John, Jesus breathed on the disciples “the Holy Spirit”. There is a cognate relationship between “breath” and “Spirit”. Both words are cognate nouns from the verb πνέω (pneō). You can see how the roots of the words are the same.
Also, πνεῦμα (pneuma) can also mean “breath”, “wind”, or “spirit”.
So, in Genesis, God formed man and put life into him so that he would become “alive” (a living being), but in John, Jesus breaths on people who are already “living beings” with the Holy Spirit (breath) and they become “immortal” and received “eternal life”. “Point A”, mankind lives, “Point B”, mankind not only lives, but lives forever.
The last feature of the passage is the disciples receiving what is the equivalent to “binding and loosing” in Matthew 16:19 and Matthew 18:18. Here, if the disciples “forgive sin”, those peoples’ sins “have been forgiven”, which is in the perfect tense. In Greek, the perfect tense indicates an action that has occurred in the past, but the effects of that action are still felt at the present time. It is the same with the last phrase; “If you hold in place anyone’s sins, they have been held in place.”
It is interesting to consider that what the Apostles “will do” has “already been done”. If they forgive sins, God has already forgiven them. It puts into prospective who is really “the prime mover and shaker”.