INHALING THE SPIRIT
"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 inbreathing. 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.<1> (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 re-
ceive, 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 will-
fully 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
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 trans-
lated 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
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 the disciples came "to him" <Jesus> and
second, he is expected to know that the Lord 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
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 trans-
lates 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, indica-
tive, 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
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 Septua-
gint. 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 under-
standing the meaning of this word. Liddell-Scott's A Greek-Eng-
lish 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
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, follow-
ing 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 mecha-
nistic 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.
3. Ibid. Wierwille does not go into detail concerning the mean-
ing 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.
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
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 por-
tion 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 diversi-
fied 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 sen-
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 Pub-
lishing 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 transla-
tion of the Old Testament). In Wisdom 11:18 it is used to de-
scribe wild beasts that breathe out (phusontas) a fiery vapour.
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 <Nop-
aach>, 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, Multipurpose Tools for Bible Study, Third
edition. (St. Louis; Concordia Publishing House, 1970), pp. 63-
17. Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, A Greek-English
Lexicon, 9th edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1940), pg.
18. William F. Arndt, F. Wilbur Gengrich, Frederic W. Danker, A
Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Chris-
tian 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 testa-
ments und der ubrigen urchristlichen Literatur. (Chicago: The
University of Chicago Press, 1979), pg. 258.
19. Joseph Henry Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon Of The New Testa-
ment. 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. Translat-
ed 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.
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