Monday, October 29, 2012

Mark 3:22–30

Mark 3:22–30 (ESV): Blasphemy Against the Holy Spirit

Synopsis

Over on the sidebar of this blog there’s a little blurb talking about the fact that I’m just a layperson, not by any means a biblical scholar. I put that there because of passages like this one. This is probably considered a pretty controversial passage*, and I’d hate for people to put more weight on my words than is warranted. Hopefully this post will help people to think about the topic, even if they come to different conclusions than I did. (*When I say that this passage is “controversial,” all I mean is that there is probably wide disagreement about what Jesus means by “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit,” not that there are Church divisions caused by this post or anything along those lines.)

So, with that said, let’s jump into it!

Oh, no, one last point: I think it’s interesting that I’m posting on this passage today, since my Pastor preached on Luke 11:14–26 (ESV) recently, which is a parallel passage. I’m hoping he doesn’t read this blog, or else he may be looking to see how much I absorbed…

There. Now we can begin.

In this passage some religious teachers accuse Jesus of being possessed by Beelzebul (some translations might have this written as Beelzebub), and claiming that the only reason Jesus can cast out demons is by the power of the “prince of demons” (i.e. Satan). Jesus responds by asking them how Satan can cast himself out, and gives a famous quote:

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. (verses 24–27 (ESV))
And finally Jesus ends with the part that I find the least accessible, as a layperson:

“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.” (verses 28–30 (ESV))
More on this below.

Thoughts

In the ESV version of this passage the religious teachers accuse Jesus of being possessed by Beelzebul, while some other translations (e.g. the KJV and NKJV) instead use the name Beelzebub with which some people might be more familiar (since we’re remembering it from the KJV days). The names came from a Philistine god named Ba’al Zebul, which means “Ba’al is exalted” or “Master of the High Places.” The Hebrews, in derision of this “god,” gave it the name Ba’al Zebub; “Zebub” means “flies,” so Ba’al Zebub is “Lord of the Flies.” I have also heard told that “Lord of the Flies” might be a more polite way of putting it; we all know where flies tend to congregate, and there are those who say that Ba’al Zebul is actually more akin to “Lord of Dung” (or perhaps a less polite word for dung—you know the one I mean). In any event, in Greek Ba’al Zebul became Beelzebul and Ba’al Zebub became Beelzebub. As for why some translations chose to use Beelzebub and others chose to use Beelzebul, my “research” didn’t turn anything up. What it did turn up, though, is that over time these names began to be applied to Satan, which is how they seem to be used in this passage. Actually, even the name “Satan” only gradually began to be applied to him as a proper name; it was originally simply a type of being—there are angels and there are satans—but eventually the proper name Satan began to be used for the “main” or “head” satan.

Jesus’ comment about entering a strong man’s house and plundering it is intended to show that he has power over Satan; that no matter how strong Satan may be, Jesus is able to overpower him. This, and the point about having a divided kingdom, are simply intended to show people that they haven’t really thought things through, when they accuse Jesus of being possessed by Satan, or of colluding with him. The idea doesn’t make sense.

And finally there is the “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” passage, which I did actually talk about when I posted about Matthew 12:22–32. (I also talked about the Beelzebub/Beelzebul thing, but I think what I’ve put in this post is probably more detailed.) This passage has the power not just to confuse but to outright scare; Jesus talks here about a sin that is unforgivable. That has probably caused a lot of fear in a lot of Christians over the millenia with the worry of, “what if I’ve committed that sin, and God won’t forgive me for it?” I don’t blame people for having that kind of worry—we are talking about life and death here!—but at the same time it seems pretty inconsistent with the rest of the New Testament. If that were the case, the story of the New Testament would be that we are all sinners who need to be saved by Grace, but that the Son of God came and lived a sinless life and died to take away our sins, and once you belong to Him you can never be snatched away—unless you commit this one particular sin, and then you’re out and can’t get back in. Oh, and it’s not really 100% clear what that one unforgivable sin is, because “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” isn’t 100% clear. Does that sound right to you?

There is a situation in which your sins will not be forgiven, though. If you aren’t covered by the blood of the Lamb, if you aren’t born again, if you aren’t a child of God, whatever way you want to phrase it… if you aren’t saved, what that really boils down to is that your sins are not forgiven. Maybe you don’t think of that as “blasphemy against the Spirit,” frankly I don’t typically think of it in those words either, but the fact is that if your sins aren’t forgiven, they’re not forgiven—it needs to be fixed. Don’t fixate on the particular sins that have been committed; everyone who has ever lived (except for the Son of God) has committed countless sins that deserve punishment. Fixate on the One who can forgive you for those sins.
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