Thursday, June 17, 2010

Matthew 12:22–32

Matthew 12:22–32 (ESV) : Blasphemy Against the Holy Spirit


In this passage a man who is oppressed by a demon is brought to Jesus, who heals him. (The man had been blind and mute, and after his healing is able to speak and see; Christians can see the symbolism in that.) The people are amazed by this, and start to ask if Jesus might be the Son of David—i.e. the Messiah.

The Pharisees, as you can imagine, do not think so. In fact, they claim that Jesus is only able to cast out demons because he’s in league with demons himself:

But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” (verse 24 (ESV) )

Jesus knows their thoughts, however, and this doesn’t make much sense to him. He refutes it on a number of points:
  1. “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand” (verse 25b (ESV) ). (Yes, Americans, this was first said by Jesus, not Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln was quoting Jesus.) Jesus’ point is that if Satan is casting out Satan, then he’s divided against himself—how will his kingdom stand?
  2. Jesus also points out that some of the other Jews are also casting out demons; if the Pharisees think that Jesus is only able to cast out demons with the help of Beelzebul, then how are the other Jews doing it?
  3. As a rhetorical question, Jesus asks how you can enter a strong man’s house and plunder it, unless you bind up the strong man, first? The obvious conclusion is that if Jesus is able to cast out these demons, he must have control over them (and Satan) to do it. He must be doing it in the power of God.
Jesus ends the passage by saying:

Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. 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. (verses 30–32 (ESV) )


I did a little research on the name “Beelzebul” (written instead as “Beelzebub” in some translations, although modern translator seems to think that “Beelzebul” is more accurate). I found the following:

(Gr. form Beel’zebul), the name given to Satan, and found only in the New Testament (Matt. 10:25; 12:24, 27; Mark 3:22). It is probably the same as Baalzebub (q.v.), the god of Ekron, meaning “the lord of flies,” or, as others think, “the lord of dung,” or “the dung-god.” (from Easton’s 1897 Bible Dictionary)

Based on the context of this passage, though, we can take it to be synonymous with Satan. The Pharisees are obviously claiming that Jesus is in league with Satan, and that’s where he’s getting his power. Which isn’t just to downplay his miracles; this is a serious accusation, that, according to Jewish law, could be a basis for stoning Jesus. (The ESV Study Bible mentions that this view of Jesus as a sorcerer was common among Jews into the early centuries of Christianity.)

The main point in this passage is that Jesus is saying it doesn’t make sense to claim that he’s driving out demons by some kind of demonic power. So, if he’s not doing it by the power of Satan, how is he doing it? It must be by the power of God—and therefore, the Pharisees should pay attention!

When I was a new Christian, and first read verse 30 (ESV) , I found it very jarring: “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” I’ll be honest with you, I simply didn’t believe it at first. Surely there must be some middle ground, isn’t there? Jesus seems to be saying that you’re either his follower or his enemy—but surely it must be possible to be neutral about him, isn’t it? This made so little sense to me at the time that, as stated, I actually disbelieved my Lord and Saviour, and thought he was wrong on this one. Obviously I’ve come to my senses; I came to Christianity a bit late in life (I was 15–17 or so), so I had some unlearning to do, as I was learning. If you, like the younger me, don’t “get” this verse, it is true. There isn’t any middle ground, when it comes to Jesus. You’re either his disciple, or you’re his enemy. In the end, you will bow your knee to him: either out of love and worship, or because you’re forced to acknowledge him as Lord, before going to your final destination. Simply by believing that you’re your own master—not God, but you—you are in rebellion against Him, and under his wrath—you’re His enemy. So that doesn’t leave any room for being neutral.

Interestingly, Jesus takes it even further, and says, “whoever does not gather with me scatters.” Even if you think you’re being neutral about Jesus, and aren’t specifically trying to lure people away from Him, if you’re teaching other philosophies you’re still doing harm, and leading people astray from the one true Gospel.

Regarding verses 31–32 (ESV) , this is a passage that I’ve found confusing, but I found the ESV Study Bible notes to be helpful; here’s their note on verses 31–32:

blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. The sin is attributing to Satan what is accomplished by the power of God, and doing this through the flagrant, willful, and persistent rejection of God and his commands. This sin is committed today only by unbelievers who deliberately and unchangeably reject the ministry of the Holy Spirit in calling them to salvation.

They also mentioned an even longer note on a parallel passage in Luke 12:10 (ESV) :

Speaks a word against … will be forgiven versus blasphemes against … will not be forgiven. Jesus closes this occasion of teaching his disciples (v. 1 (ESV) ) with one of the most enigmatic, debated, and misunderstood sayings of his ministry. Key to understanding this passage is the distinction Jesus makes between, on one hand, the extreme case of blasphemy against “the Holy Spirit” and, on the other hand, the lesser case of speaking in an dishonorable way against “the Son of Man.” One who asks to be forgiven for disrespectful words hastily spoken against Jesus (the Son of Man) will be forgiven. (Note, e.g., Peter’s rejection of Jesus [see 22:54–62 (ESV) ] and his subsequent restoration [John 21:15–19 (ESV) ].) But blasphemy against the Holy Spirit—that is, the persistent and unrepentant resistance against the work of the Holy Spirit and his message concerning Jesus (cf. Acts 7:51 (ESV) )—this, Jesus says, will not be forgiven. The person who persists in hardening his heart against God, against the work of the Holy Spirit, and against the provision of Christ as Savior, is outside the reach of God’s provision for forgiveness and salvation. Christians often worry that they have committed this sin, but such a concern is itself evidence of an openness to the work of the Spirit.

It’s lazy to simply quote the ESV Study Bible notes, instead of putting my own thoughts, but I quickly realized that all I was doing was summarizing what they put anyway.
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