“When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.”
– Luke 1:41 NIV
When the angel Gabriel told Mary that she, though a virgin, would bear a child, she wondered how this could happen. The angel told her it would happen by the power of the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35) then encouraged her with news about her relative Elizabeth. Elizabeth was barren, but she became pregnant with John the Baptist and was in her sixth month. The angel declared (Luke 1:37), “For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then the angel departed.
After the angel left, Mary went with haste to the home of Zacharias and Elizabeth. Their home was in a city in Judah. When Mary entered the house, Elizabeth heard her greeting. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, “the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.” NASU
Here, the verb “was filled” is a translation of the aorist verb eplesthe. This is the third person singular passive form of pimplemi. This aorist verb, says Lenski (p. 78), simply states the historical fact that she was filled with the Spirit. The context suggests that Elizabeth was filled for this particular occasion.
John and the Spirit
The angel Gabriel had told Zacharias six months earlier that John would “be filled with the Holy Spirit, while yet [eti ek] in his mother’s womb.” The Greek words also may mean from conception or from birth. However, I concur with the translation of the NASU, “while yet in his mother’s womb.”
When Elizabeth was filled with the Spirit, John felt the impact and leaped in her womb. We can safely conclude that John, too, was filled with the Spirit at this time. John, the unborn child, felt the impact of the Spirit and leaped. We, therefore, cannot maintain that spiritual effects can be felt only when the mind is already developed.
Elizabeth and the Spirit
Upon being filled with the Spirit, Elizabeth immediately delivered a message inspired by the Spirit. In this message she called Mary the “mother of our Lord.” Luke does not tell us how Elizabeth knew this. This knowledge went far beyond anything the angel Gabriel had told Zacharias six months earlier. Unless Mary told Elizabeth the news during her greeting, the information did not come from Mary. The impression we have from the text is that the Spirit revealed the information to Elizabeth. According to Luke:
“In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her“
– Luke 1:42-45, NIV
Clearly, Elizabeth’s message was inspired by the Spirit. Luke does not specially say it was a prophetic message, but it fits within the scope of prophecy. Later, in Luke 1:67, Luke does specifically say that Zacharias “was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied.”
In the Old Testament, the Spirit and prophecy were frequently connected. Indeed, the Spirit became known as the “Spirit of prophecy.” Most of the time, the prophetic messages were messages from God man. However, on occasion the prophetic messages took the form of praise to God. In the gospel of Luke, the Spirit fulfills a similar role. Luke often connects the Spirit with inspired speech and revelation.
Robert P. Menzies. Empowered for Witness: The Spirit in Luke-Acts. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1991.
Marshall, I.Howard. The Gospel of Luke. Exeter: The Paternoster Press, 1978.
Copyright 2000 © George M. Flattery