Whenever I wake in the night the radio is quietly broadcasting the World Service of the BBC. I was intrigued recently by a programme about the benefits to one’s health of deep and steady breathing. The medical experts reckoned that some people who suffer from an assortment of conditions of ill-health could improve their well-being by learning to breathe slowly and thoroughly. That would increase the blood flow from the top of their scalp to the tips of their toes. And listeners were reminded that panic and pain can induce shallow inhaling and exhaling of the air, and lead to a meager intake of oxygen into the lungs.
Before I dosed off again I recalled the very simple biblical description of Adam’s creation, starting as a prone body moulded from ‘the dust of the ground’, resembling a potter’s doll. It was only after God ‘breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils’ that ‘the man became a living person’ (Genesis 2:7, all references from the New Living Translation unless otherwise stated).
Similarly, the origin of the church of Christ, the corporate ‘Second Adam’, came about after the risen Jesus breathed on his disciples to prepare them for his departure and his subsequent outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon them on that memorable day of Pentecost when they would be filled with the One Who is Himself the very atmospheric air of heaven! (See John 20:22).
Just after I wrote that long sentence I looked up John 20:22 in The Passion Translation (TPT). Two footnotes there confirmed my thinking about the church’s inauguration as the Second Adam.
‘The Greek word used here does not appear elsewhere in the New Testament, however, it is the same word found in the Septuagint [= the Greek Version of the Old Testament] for God “breathed” into Adam’s nostrils the breath of life (Genesis 2:7). The beginning of a new creation life came from the breath of Jesus. The mighty wind of Acts 2 was for power, the breath Jesus breathed into his disciples in this verse was life.’
The second footnote is a comment on the unique wording in John 20:22, which reads in the TPT text: ‘Then, taking a deep breath, he blew on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit”. . .’ This note points out that a literal rendering of that Greek text could also be: ‘accept the Sacred Breath.’
Did anyone else, other than God, ever breathe life into someone?
I ask this question because I thought that Elisha had done just that to the dead body of the young son of his hostess in Shunem who had died of sunstroke. I had assumed he performed what we would refer to as mouth to mouth ressusitation.But, in fact, we are told that the man of God ‘lay down on the child’s body, placing his mouth on the child’s mouth, his eyes on the child’s eyes, and his hands on the child’s hands. And as he stretched out on him, the child’s body began to grow warm again!’ Then he ‘got up’ and ‘walked back and forth across the room once’ before he ‘stretched himself out again on the child … this time the boy sneezed seven times and opened his eyes’ (2 Kings 4:34-35). However, the narrative does not tell us that Elisha blew his breath into the mouth of the dead child; he simply stretched himself upon the inert body. So, it would be safe for us to conclude that breathing spiritual life into individuals is a divine prerogative and that this only ever occurred on those two historic occasions – namely, the creation of the earthly Adam, and the enlivening of the corporate heavenly Adam.
Even in Ezekiel’s prophetic vision of ‘a valley filled with . . . completely dried out . . . bones . . . scattered everywhere across . . . the valley floor’ (Ezekiel 37:1-2), it was the ‘breath . . . from the four winds’ that God breathed ‘into the [newly-formed] dead bodies [that caused them to come] to live [so they] stood up on their feet – a great army’ (37:9-10). Evidently this too was an act of God.
The return of Christ
Of course, the ultimate life-bestowing breathing by God will be when Jesus comes back from glory at the end of this age. When our Lord returns in triumph he surely will breathe out exclamations of his universal victory in ‘a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God’ (1 Thessalonians 4:16). But, of course, our bodies of resurrection will not need to breathe to get blood from tip to toe! After all, Jesus’ body was ‘flesh and bones’ and not ‘flesh and blood’ (see Luke 24:39).
But in the meantime, Paul concludes, we should ‘thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ’ even now in these our current vulnerable bodies. So we can still ‘be strong and immovable’ and always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for [we] know that nothing [we] do for the Lord is ever useless’ (15:57-58).