John's Gospel

The Way It Happened

John 19:30, Good Friday: Jesus Gives Up the Ghost

When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.

//This quaint phrase is the King James Version’s way of saying Jesus died. But there is much more behind this verse than one might first think.

A literal reading seems to say merely that Jesus relinquished his spirit. The original Greek, however, doesn’t quite say this. It says Jesus “handed over a spirit.”

Why is this slight difference significant? Because while “giving up the spirit” is today recognized as a euphemism for death, at the time of the Bible’s writing, the expression was used nowhere else in scripture or even secular Greek to refer to death. I believe we need to recognize this phrase in context for what John’s Gospel truly meant and the uniqueness of this particular death: not merely that Jesus died but that something escaped from his body as he died. John’s emphasis here is almost as if the Spirit were visible, as if he spied it escaping, in the same manner that John watched its arrival as a dove. Recall the words of John 7:39:

By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not yet been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.

Now glorified on the cross, the Spirit is released, soon to be given to the world.

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