The Spirit empowers us to speak.

by K.W. Leslie, 07 June

Mk 13.9-10, Mt 10.17-20, Lk 21.12-15.

When Jesus warned his students about the coming tribulation in his Olivet Discourse, he told ’em he (or the Holy Spirit, depending on the gospel) would have their back when it came time to testify before kings and leaders. He put it this way.

Mark 13.9-11 KWL
9 Now look at you yourselves. They’ll turn you in to the Senate. They’ll cane you in synagogues.
They’ll stand you before leaders and kings because of me, to witness to them.
10 You have to first declare the gospel to all the gentiles.
11 When they turn you in, don’t premeditate what you might say:
Instead whatever’s given you at that hour, say it, for you aren’t speaking; the Holy Spirit is.”
Matthew 10.17-20 KWL
17 “Watch out for the people: They’ll turn you in to the Senate and their synagogues. They’ll flog you.
18 They’ll take you to leaders and kings because of me, to testify to them and the gentiles.
19 When they turn you in, don’t worry about what you might say at the time you give a defense:
20 It isn’t you speaking, but your Father’s Spirit in you speaking.
Luke 21.12-15 KWL
12 “Before all these signs they’ll lay their hands on you and persecute,
turning you in to synagogues and prisons,
dragging you before kings and leaders, because of my name:
13 This will become your chance to testify!
14 So make up your minds to not pre-prepare your defense:
15 I’ll give you a mouth and wisdom which they can’t withstand,
which contradicts everything brought in opposition to you.”

Jesus is speaking of when we’re put on trial—or not, ’cause if you weren’t a citizen, Romans didn’t bother with due process, and a lot of countries behave the same way. (Too often Americans don’t either. We don’t always recall that rights aren’t granted by our Constitution but by our Creator—so due process isn’t an American right but a human right.) If given the chance to defend ourselves, or simply speak for ourselves, don’t have a premeditated, canned answer. Speak off the cuff. It’ll sound authentic… for it’ll be authentic. And he and the Holy Spirit will help.

Now this was considered a risky idea in Jesus’s day, and in the Roman Empire. Because if you were a politician or attorney back then, you were expected to know the art of public speaking; in other words classical forensic rhetoric. It was expected of every public speaker, especially if you were in government. If you had to stand before a court, a senate, a praetor, an emperor, or the general public, you had to know and follow Roman standard expectations for public speaking. If you didn’t, and spoke for yourself instead of hiring someone else to do it for you, you were considered uneducated, amateurish, stupid, and not to be taken seriously or listened to.

The rules of rhetoric.

Aristotle of Athens taught there were three things every public speaker oughta have.

CREDIBILITY (Greek ἔθος/éthos, “[good] habits”). Speakers gotta sound like they know what they’re doing. They have to have practiced in front of enough crowds to where they’re comfortable in speaking. This’d help them come across as sincere, knowledgeable, confident, trustworthy—in short, believable. ’Cause if the listeners don’t believe you, there’s no point in speaking.

If you aren’t actually sincere, knowledgeable, confident, or trustworthy, you gotta fake these things—although Aristotle preferred you actually have a good character, instead of faking one. (Word will get out, y’know.)

So speakers had to prove they knew what they were talking about. And y’notice the folks who gave their testimonies in the bible, tended to talk somewhat knowledgeably about their subjects. Stephen’s big long speech about Israeli history, given during his trial, tends to strike people as unnecessary, but it absolutely wasn’t: It was so the Judean senate would recognize Stephen knew his bible. So when Stephen came to his conclusions—that God didn’t need a temple, plus the senate had assassinated their Messiah—these conclusions couldn’t be dismissed as if they came from some babbling moron. It’s no wonder they wanted him dead.

PASSION (πάθος/páthos). Speakers have to be passionate about their causes. They gotta connect with the audience, and evoke strong emotion in their listeners.

Yes, to manipulate them. ’Cause if your logic and reasoning isn’t strong enough to make your case, you can at least gain the audience’s sympathy, and maybe tip a ruling towards your favor. So tell a heartwarming story. Tell a joke. Use puns. Exaggerate. Shout a little. Cry a little. Pause dramatically. Shock ’em with the unexpected.

Nowadays we consider emotional manipulation, in public speaking, to be wrong. Logic, not emotion, should rule the day. And to a large degree the ancient Greeks and Romans agreed. But the reality is, we humans are emotional creatures, and a lot of us do let our emotions rule. So rhetoricians figured it’d be stupid to ignore this tactic. They taught their students to do it… so everybody did it. Audiences even expected speakers to do it: It wasn’t considered a good speech unless it tugged your heartstrings a little.

So this is what Paul did in his own trials: Spoke of his past as a prosecutor. Spoke of his dramatic conversion. Spoke of his new zeal for the gospel and God’s kingdom. Then took a shot at evangelizing his hearers—as Agrippa Herod realized, and Paul totally admitted.

LOGIC (λόγος/lóghos, “message”). By lóghos Aristotle meant a well-reasoned message, explained with a little inductive or deductive reasoning.

Inductive thinking takes common knowledge (whether there’s any truth to it or not, which is the usual flaw with inductive reasoning) and try to base our conclusions on it. Deductive takes a statement, finds exceptions to it (“If my client were poor he’d rob a bank, but he’s not poor”), and whittles away at the statement till you can’t help but reject it. Rhetoricians shrewdly advised their students to not finish their chain of reasoning (“…therefore he didn’t rob that bank!”), because the audience usually had enough sense to figure that part out… plus they felt clever for doing so, and making ’em feel good keeps ’em on your side.

We see the apostles practice inductive logic by quoting bible, which their listeners trusted, and drawing conclusions from it. As for deductive logic, this appears far more often in the apostles’ letters than their speeches, but we see it pretty clearly in Peter and John’s defense:

Acts 4.19-20 KWL
19 In reply Simon Peter and John told them, “Decide, by God, if it’s right to heed you or God:
20 We can’t not talk about what we saw and heard.”

Supernatural public speaking.

Paul had been to academy, the ancient equivalent of university, studying under Rabban Gamaliel the Elder. Jesus’s students, particularly the Twelve, had not. They’d only been to synagogue. (Though their rabbi was Jesus of Nazareth, which counts for an awful lot!) So while Paul definitely received training in rhetoric, as other accounts of Gamaliel make clear, it wasn’t something you’d expect to find in synagogue lessons. Jesus was an out-of-the-ordinary teacher, so he might’ve taught basic rhetoric to his students… or they might’ve picked up some of it by listening to him speak.

Either way, it startled the Judean senators when they saw Peter and John’s παρρησίαν/parrisían, “speaking ability” (KJV “boldness”). These guys were comfortable with public speaking. Yet they had no rhetorical training the senators were familiar with; they’d never been to academy; they only studied under Jesus. Either Jesus slipped ’em some advanced subjects, or (which Jesus makes clear in the Olivet Discourse) they’d been gifted by the Holy Spirit.

’Cause God can do that. When we have the ability to hear the Spirit—and we do!—and we practice listening to him, he tells us what to say. No, he won’t take over our lips and work us like a ventriloquist’s dummy. He simply tells us what to say, and it ends up being just the right thing. It’s supernaturally good.

Is it therefore guaranteed the Spirit will get us an acquittal? Absolutely not. Stephen got killed. Eventually Peter got killed. Eventually John got exiled; eloquent or not, he didn’t talk his way out of it. The Twelve were martyred, all proclaiming Jesus till the end.

Jesus doesn’t promise any pretribulation rapture. He only promises those who endure to the end will be saved. Mt 24.13 We might not convince anyone. Might get killed. But despite our death, Jesus is resurrection and life. We may die, but thanks to Jesus, we’ll live. Trust him.

And if you ever find yourself in circumstances where you gotta defend yourself under pressure, trust the Holy Spirit. He may not give us an instant crash course in Aristotelian rhetoric. But he’ll still tell us just what we need to say.