Saturday, February 18, 2012

Mark 3:22-30

And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, "He is possessed by Beelzebul," and "by the prince of demons he casts out the demons." 
And he called them to him and said to them in parables, "How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end. 
But no one can enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house.
"Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin"-- for they were saying, "He has an unclean spirit."  
(Mark 3:22-30)

This is an interesting section. To begin, we have this "Beelzebul" character that the scribes are talking about, then after that we have Jesus speaking in parables about Satan and a strongman, and finally we have this matter of "blasphemies against the Holy Spirit".


Beelzebul

I should mention that I read just about everything I could find about this "Beelzebul" guy, and there is a surprisingly good bit of information available. However, most of these sources discuss the where the word came from and a bunch of historical instances where the name has been used, how it's been altered over the years, etc. There are a lot of explanations as to whom exactly the scribes were speaking about, if the name has been corrupted over the years, and so on. I can't go into everything, and most of it isn't really necessary to understanding this section anyway.

Now, don't misunderstand me, while I do not think it necessary for understanding this passage, I do find great interest in researching all of those explanations and trying to make sense of it. I just enjoy that kind of thing... always have.

In the study that I was able to do with the time I had available, I think the connection between "Beelzebul" and the "Baal" deities of the Old Testament is undeniable. The "Baal" gods had a significant influence on the development of the Israelite culture, and using names like "Beelzebul" could possibly have been akin to our referring to someone as "the devil", when we don't necessarily mean that the person is actually Satan, but just want to express our thoughts on their actions or words, to make the other person understand how much we dislike them.

Some interesting facts about Beelzebul:
  1. Most commentaries point out that the overwhelming number of Greek manuscripts have Βεελζεβοὺλ (Beelzebul), not Beelzebub.
  2. 2 Kings speaks of a Baal-zebub; the Hebrew word being: בַּעַל־זְבוּב
    • Now Ahaziah fell through the lattice in his upper chamber in Samaria, and lay sick; so he sent messengers, telling them, "Go, inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron, whether I shall recover from this sickness." (2 Kings 1:2)
  3. The KJV says Beelzebub in Mark 3:22 (really close to that 2 Kings reference); the Hebrew New Testament has בַּעַל-זְבוּל (lord of flies) in that verse
    • According to Keil and Delitzsch's Commentary on the Old Testament, the name Beelzebub was altered to Βεελζεβούλ, i.e., probably lord of the (heavenly) dwelling. Then, even later, they changed בַּעַל-זְבוּל (lord of flies)  to בַּעַל-זֶבֶל (lord of dung) to express in the most intense form their abomination of idolatry.
  4. Some translate it as "the lord of the dwelling" and they like to suggest that this is a play on words of "the master of the house", a reference that Jesus makes to Himself in Matthew 10
    • It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household. (Matthew 10:25)
  5. Perhaps some of the more interesting suggestions come from John Lightfoot, insights that he gleaned from a study of the Talmud and other Rabbinical writings. 
    • The one that I had never even heard of involved accusations against Jesus that He practiced "magical witchcrafts" that were learned in and smuggled out of Egypt.
It seems apparent that whatever exactly they meant by the name, they were not meaning it as a compliment. The contextual perception is that they were seeking to discredit and call into question the legitimacy of the miracles that everyone was witnessing Jesus performing.

In this case, context gives us so much. The second phrase that Mark records them as saying, "by the prince of demons he casts out the demons", leads me to deduce their meaning. By suggesting that Jesus was doing these exorcisms by the power of the "prince of demons", they allude to their intended meaning of the name Beelzebul. Then, Jesus explains it further, "How can Satan cast our Satan." See? Why is there so much confusion about this? Obviously Jesus would no how that word was used and the intended meaning, and He tells us here.

Satan and the strongman

This is the first mention of parables that I've seen in Mark. Jesus tells these parables to the scribes that were saying these horrible things against Him.
παραβολαῖς ( parabolais ) : I studied what a "parable" is because I've always just thought it was a story. It turns out it's a little more than that. 
[I have included the image to the left that shows the definition from a Greek lexicon. Notice the different parts of the definition and the picture they paint of the whole meaning.
Basically, Jesus spoke in parables to explain spiritual truths by laying them alongside more familiar truths. A parable is like an analogy, and not to be confused with a fable or allegory.

One commentator explains the difference between parables, fables, and allegories.
"There are parables in the Old Testament, in the Talmud [a collection of rules and stories used by teachers to help the people understand the Law], in sermons in all ages. But no one has spoken such parables as these of Jesus. They hold the mirror up to nature and, as all illustrations should do, throw light on the truth presented. The fable puts things as they are not in nature, Aesop's Fables, for instance. The parable may not be actual fact, but it could be so. It is harmony with the nature of the case. The allegory is a speaking parable that is self-explanatory all along like Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. All allegories are parables, but not all parables are allegories. As a rule the parables of Jesus illustrate one main point and the details are more or less incidental, though sometimes Jesus himself explains these. When he does not do so, we should be slow to interpret the minor details. Much heresy has come from fantastic interpretations of the parables." (A.T. Robertson)
Alright, so a parable lays a known truth alongside, or parallel with, a new concept, in order to better explain it to the hearer. That's exactly what we see Jesus doing here. He poses the concept proposed by the scribes in the form of a rhetorical question, "How can Satan cast out Satan?" (I have to say that this really seems like Proverbs 26:5 playing out here.) He then lays that alongside a another truth with which they would be undeniably familiar, actually saying it in three slightly different ways:

  • If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 
  • And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 
  • And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end.

This is apparently supposed to teach us something, leading us to compare what we already understand from the everyday world with this new teaching about Satan and his kingdom. Consider if the current President of the United States and his staff were to build and support a revolution against their own administration. What could they hope to accomplish by such a scheme? Essentially they would be fostering a civil war, and the enemies of the U.S. would not need to do anything but wait for this country to bring itself to an end. 

I'm sure the Jews would have understood the insanity of a kingdom ruler fostering an insurgency against his own rule. This illustration highlighted the logical inconsistency of the scribes accusation. And yet there is nothing in this passage that suggests that any of the scribes were persuaded by this line of reasoning to the point of admitting their error, though they could not escape an internal heart response, and most likely were further condemned in their position (John 9:39-41).

Jesus' parable not only tells us why it makes no sense to think that Satan would be undermining his own efforts, but He teaches us a truth about the nature of Satan and those in league with him: that Satan is the ruler of a kingdom (Ephesians 2:2, 6:12) and he has an agenda (1 Peter 5:8), otherwise the parallels to a kingdom and it's coming to an end would be irrelevant.  

Then there is this "strong man" about which Jesus speaks. This flows right out of the divided kingdom parable, and has to be related. In the divided kingdom parable, Jesus approached it from the negative viewpoint, applying what the scribes said to show the logical inconsistency. Now, He seems to be coming from a positive viewpoint, contrasting the previous premise (Satan is fighting against himself) to suggest that in fact it is not Satan tearing down his own work, but the One stronger than him that is doing it. Spelling it out for myself, I think this is Jesus saying that God is stronger than Satan, and God is plundering Satan's house.

An eternal sin

"Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin"-- for they were saying, "He has an unclean spirit."
The parallel passage in Matthew lays this out differently:
"Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come."
What's being said here? The Holy Spirit is God. Jesus (the Son of Man) is God. What then is the difference between "blasphemy against the Spirit" and "blasphemy against the Son"? Does this suggest that the Son is less than the Spirit? That it would be a greater sin to blaspheme the Spirit than to blaspheme the Son?


What do I know about the Holy Spirit?  I know that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and He bears witness about Christ (John 15:26).  The Spirit is sent into the world to convict:
And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. (John 16:8-11)
Also we read that He will guide us into all truth and glorify Christ:
When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16:13-14)
What is the takeaway of this teaching? As I understand it, before one comes to know Jesus as their Lord and Savior they may speak evil against Him. The Person of Christ becomes known to you through the work of the Holy Spirit. It is through the Spirit that one is guided to this truth. The Spirit convicts you of your sinful condition. Willful rejection of these works of the Spirit leaves one with no other recourse.

In the context of those attributing the miracles they witnessed Jesus performing, once they rejected the obvious work of God's Holy Spirit, they had set themselves against God once and for all. Historically, Israel had rejected the Father, they were soon to reject His Son by calling for His death by crucifixion, and they would then reject the work of the apostles after Pentecost. What would be left for them? What is left for anyone that willfully rejects the known works of God, the Spirit, and the Son?