Speaking In The Spirit: Studies in Mark, Pt. 54

One of the most intriguing verses of all of Mark’s Gospel is tucked away in chapter 12. In verse 36, Jesus makes the comment that King David, in Psalm 110.1, spoke “in the Holy Spirit”. Of course, Psalm 110 makes no comment that David is speaking in the Spirit. Just as well, it offers no definition on what is meant by “speaking in the Spirit” here. (Certainly, it is not referring to glossalalia or tongue speaking!)

To understand what Jesus means here, we first have to understand Mark’s view of Jesus’ relationship with the Spirit. In chapter one, what some consider to be a prologue, the Spirit enters “into” Jesus when He arises from the waters of baptism. Just before this, John the Baptizer said that the same would happen to Jesus’ followers (e.g. He would baptize them in the Spirit). So, Jesus gets Spirit-filled and this endows Him with the authority of God the Father (1.27) and the power of God the Spirit (1.21-8).

In 3.1, the religious and political leaders from Jerusalem accuse Jesus of driving out demons by the power of Beelzebul. Jesus accuses them of blaspheming the Holy Spirit when they do this. I should digress here and note that there is a difference between denying the Holy Spirit and blaspheming the Holy Spirit. Denying the Spirit is closer to what we find being spoken of in the Johannine epistles. Blaspheming the Spirit, as is done here in Mk., is connecting He who is Holy (the Spirit) to that which is vain or unholy (Beelzebul/demons). On a smaller scale, that’s what blasphemy is: attaching something holy to something vain (and thereby rendering that which is holy, unholy).

So, in chapters 1-3 of Mk., we see that Jesus is filled with the Spirit, empowered by the Spirit (to defeat satan), endowed with power and authority and intimately connected to the Holy Spirit—not vain spirits, such as demons! In chapter 12, when Jesus is arguing with the Sadducees about resurrection, He accuses them of knowing neither the Scriptures or the “power of God”. Hooker is surely right here that the phrase “power of God” is synonymous with “Holy Spirit”. So, the Sadducees neither know the Scriptures or the Holy Spirit. If they had known the Holy Spirit, according to Jesus, their understanding and interpretation of the Scriptures would be correct.

Now, don’t take that last sentence wrongly. What I mean when I say that is, if they knew the Holy Spirit, they would be able to understand who the Messiah is and what His role is. According to Jesus, the Messiah, the role is to return and raise His own from the grave. It is critical to grasp that point. Therefore, in Mk. 12.36, Jesus is saying that David was full of the Spirit because he made a credible statement about the Messiah: Though the Messiah will be of David’s house, He will be greater than David. So, for Jesus in Mark’s Gospel, speaking “in the Spirit” entails speaking a truthful word about the Messiah—perhaps even a Scriptural word (OT of course).

This is critical for understanding what Jesus says in Mk. 13.10-11: “And the Good News must first be preached to all nations. Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given to you at the time, for you will be speaking in the Holy Spirit.” Notice that the Good News/Gospel and speaking in the Spirit are connected here. What Jesus means in this statement is that when His disciples are standing before the courts, the Spirit will enable them to speak a true, credible word about the Messiah. Moreover, they will be enabled to do this via the Holy Spirit—just like David did. (*Note: This may be why the disciples have so much trouble understanding Jesus and His teachings--they don't have the Spirit "in" them yet. Instead, we see Jesus saying things like "get behind me satan" to Peter.)

Further, notice that in chapter 14 when Jesus is on trial, He is asked numerous questions about the people’s testimonies not adding up. He never answers those questions; He remains silent. The only time He speaks is when He is asked a question about His messianic identity. The reader is meant to take this as Jesus being enabled by the Spirit to speak such truth about the Messiah.

So, from a practical standpoint today, do not read verses like Mk. 13.10-11 as if God will give you words to say when you’re in court for any old reason or like He will just give you words whenever. Jesus’ point is that when you need to say something befitting of the Messiah, the Spirit will provide such words. This is evidence that you have the Spirit working in your life. Just as well, we shouldn’t try to prooftext Mk. 12.36 as a passage that allows us to build a doctrine of inerrancy. The point is not that the OT is inerrant. The point is that in Psalm 110, David was inspired by the Spirit to make a true assertion about the Messiah. Therefore, in the end, speaking in the Spirit according to Mark’s Gospel (and the Jesus in Mark’s Gospel) means something different than what Paul has in mind in 1 Corinthians. What it means is speaking an accurate and honest word about Jesus the Messiah!

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