Monday, October 29, 2012

Mark 3:22–30

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


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.


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.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Mark 3:13–21

Mark 3:13–21 (ESV): The Twelve Apostles


In this passage Jesus goes up onto a mountain (I’m not sure which mountain, but it probably doesn’t matter), to appoint the twelve apostles, “so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons” (verses 14–15 (ESV)). These are the twelve men he appointed:

  • Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter)
  • James the son of Zebedee, and
  • John the brother of James
    • He gave James and John the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder
  • Andrew
  • Philip
  • Bartholomew
  • Matthew
  • Thomas
  • James the son of Alphaeus
  • Thaddaeus
  • Simon the Zealot
  • Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him
That list is mostly quoted but partially paraphrased from verses 14–19 (ESV).

After this Jesus goes back home, but the crowd gathers around him once more, and it’s so bad that he can’t even eat. His family hears about it and go out to seize him, thinking that he’s out of his mind.


It’s interesting to me that I don’t know a single thing about some of the twelve apostles except that they were on this list. Bartholomew, for example, or Thaddaeus; the Bible doesn’t say anything about these two men, aside from putting them on this list. And yet they were two of the founders upon which the Church was built; they will be sitting with Jesus in Glory, ruling with Him. I have no doubt that they were right there along with Peter and James and John and Paul in founding the Church, Jesus chose them for specifically that reason, yet God chose not to tell us anything about them except that they were apostles. And we should remember that this is not a bad thing—it’s not that these men didn’t do anything to be counted worthy of more mention in the Bible. Quite the contrary, the Bible prompts us to do good works without being seen and getting our reward on this earth; it could very well be that some of the lesser known apostles have received a greater reward than the more well known ones. I don’t feel confident enough to say that it must be so, but I surely wouldn’t be surprised if it is so.

Aside from that, I find it interesting that we are told that the crowd around Jesus is so bad that he can’t even eat. Is this because He is too busy healing people? Or teaching? Or both? We don’t know. But we know that he can’t even take time out to satisfy his own basis human needs, and have food.

And the third thing I find interesting is that the large crowds prompt Jesus’ family to think that he’s out of his mind. You would think that it would prompt Jesus’ family to think that the crowds are out of their mind, but they focus on Jesus. We know that some of Jesus’ family later became believers; I don’t know if they were among the family members in this passage who are believing he is out of his mind. It’s quite possible they are; I’m sure there were times when His ministry was strange enough to their eyes that they would have had these and worse thoughts. We don’t always understand everything all at once; sometimes we only get things piece by piece.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Mark 3:7–12

Mark 3:7–12 (ESV): A Great Crowd Follows Jesus


This is a less complex passage than most of the passages we usually look at. Jesus and his disciples “withdraw” to the sea, but a great crowd of people follows them there because they’ve heard all that he has been doing. I say “but” because the implication I’m getting is that what Jesus is “withdrawing” from is the crowds; if so, God the Father has other plans for Jesus.

Jesus has his disciples get a boat for him so that the crowd doesn’t crush him. This is a valid concern, we are told, because Jesus has been healing so many people and casting out so many unclean spirits that the crowd is pressing in on him. We are also told that when the unclean spirits are coming out of people they are crying out that Jesus is the Son of God, but Jesus is strictly ordering them not to make him known.


Verses 7 and 8 (ESV) tell us that the crowd following Jesus is from “Galilee and Judea and Jerusalem and Idumea and from beyond the Jordan and from around Tyre and Sidon.” In other words, as the ESV Study Bible points out:

Despite serious opposition, Jesus is now known in Galilee, in Judea (including Jerusalem) and Idumea (to the south), in the area beyond the Jordan (to the east …), and in Tyre and Sidon (to the north). All of these regions had belonged to Israel during the time of the judges, and descendants of the 12 tribes have now resettled in these regions following the Babylonian exile.
So Jesus has people coming from all over to see him.

I was confused, earlier in my Christian life, as to why Jesus would so often silence the unclean spirits; they are telling people that Jesus is the Son of God, wouldn’t that be a good thing? It wasn’t until later that it occurred to me (or was pointed out) that it’s about timing; Jesus is not yet ready, at this point, to be crucified, so he doesn’t want the unclean spirits (or anyone else) getting Him crucified before He is ready for it. The ESV Study Bible points out another thing that maybe should have been obvious to me, but didn’t occur to me until they said it: The unclean spirits might have known that it wasn’t time for Jesus to reveal Himself—and therefore, they were trying to mess up his timetable. In other words, they’re trying to actively work against Jesus by telling people who He is. If that’s true (and it seems plausible to me), it’s a real mind-bender: trying to work against the Son of God by proclaiming him to people.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Mark 3:1–6

Mark 3:1–6 (ESV): A Man with a Withered Hand


In this passage Jesus goes into the Jewish synagogue where there happens to be a man with a “withered hand.” The Pharisees obviously know about this man, as well as knowing Jesus’ reputation, so they watch to see if Jesus will heal the man on the Sabbath. Specifically, they watch him “so that they might accuse him” (verse 2 (ESV)).

Jesus, of course, knows what’s up and decides to use this as a teaching moment. He has the man come to him, and then asks the Pharisees, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” (verse 4 (ESV)). They don’t answer him, however, they just stay silent, which angers him. Without even touching the man (that we are told) he asks him to stretch out his hand, and when the man does the hand is healed.

At this point we are not told of any further interaction between Jesus and the Pharisees; they simply immediately run out to hold counsel with Herod’s people on how they might destroy Jesus.


I’m sure I’ve said this before, but there is a certain point of view from which I sympathize with part of what the Pharisees are trying to do: The Messiah would never sin, so if healing on the Sabbath is a sin then doing so would be an obvious proof that Jesus was not the Messiah. And that last part is true: if healing on the Sabbath had been a sin Jesus never would have done it. If Jesus had ever committed a sin, whether breaking the Sabbath or stealing or something else, it would have proven that He wasn’t the Messiah.

The problem is obviously with the first part of the logical construct: healing on the Sabbath wasn’t a sin. This is a case where the Pharisees have constructed their own rules around God’s Law and taken their rules to be more important than the underlying Law itself; in this case, they care more about strict legalism than they do about a human being. (Their laws are sometimes inconsistent; in other places Jesus points these inconsistencies out to them. For some reason, however, the Pharisees never seem to appreciate his help on the matter…)

I do find it interesting, however, that when Jesus calls them out specifically on this issue that they have no answer for him.

And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. (verses 4–5 (ESV))
Is this because they have no good answer for him and they know it? Do they know that they’re just dogmatically clinging to this rule of theirs, realizing that they won’t be able to argue the point properly with Jesus—that they don’t have a leg to stand on? For some reason I’m reminded of Jesus’ message to the church of Laodicea, where He rebukes them for being lukewarm—neither hot nor cold (Revelation 3:14–22 (ESV), especially 15–16 (ESV)). It makes me wonder if Jesus would have been less angry if the Pharisees had actually argued with him on the point, even though they were wrong. Perhaps if they’d had the argument with him, though, he could have made his point? No, probably not.

Anyway, as we see from the story they didn’t. They didn’t say anything as far as we’re told; they just ran straight out to Herod’s people to conspire about “destroying” Jesus. Herod, by the way, is the Jewish King who’s been put in place by the Romans; he doesn’t have a lot of real power, but he has some autonomy to rule the Jewish people. In going to him the Pharisees aren’t making a religious move, they’re making a political one: they are hoping to convince Herod that Jesus is going to be a threat to civic order, which will make the Romans get angry and step in to deal with the situation. This is a ploy the Pharisees try on a number of occasions: if they can show that Jesus isn’t loyal to the Romans then the Romans can deal with him; if they can convince Herod that Jesus is a threat to civil order then maybe Herod can deal with him. If they can’t get rid of him one way, they’ll try another.

Finally, we notice from this passage that anger, in and of itself, is not a sin. Jesus gets angry with the Pharisees in this passage, and grieves at their hardness of heart. Why is He angry with them? Is it because they don’t understand? I don’t think so; compare this with his interaction with Nicodemus in John 3:1–21 (ESV); he’s not happy with Nicodemus (“Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?”), but neither does he seem to be angry at him. Here, though, he is angry with the Pharisees. The difference is that phrase “hardness of heart” which we see in this passage: “And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, …” Nicodemus didn’t understand, and Jesus found that somewhat bothersome—he should have known better as one of the Jews’ leaders—but in this case the Pharisees are being purposely stubborn. It’s not that they don’t understand, it’s that they won’t understand. These are not stupid men; they could have looked into the Scriptures and seen Jesus’ point, but they had no interest in doing so. They were invested in their own system, and had no interest in looking past that, to consider what God really required of them.

The dangerous question, of course, is whether we do the same thing in modern times. (I mean dangerous only to our own egos; it’s actually a necessary question, even though we’d hope that the answer is no.) Are there any aspects of the Christian “religion” or Christian “culture” that we cling to, regardless of what the Scriptures tell us? Any example I can think of would be contrived; maybe the best I can do is, what if a friend needed help and you told them you couldn’t because you have to go to a church event? (A little too “on the nose,” maybe.) Or maybe a friend needs some extra money, but you can’t give it to them because you want to donate that money for the church potluck instead? Or you want to witness to a Muslim friend but your North American (including Christian) friends don’t want you associating with Muslims in any way shape or form?

I don’t know; the problem is that cultural issues are hard to discern—if there are issues where our culture gets in the way of doing what God wants I might not realize it from being blinded by my own cultural biases. It should be a matter of prayer for us, though, and if there are instances where our church culture diverges from the Word, we need to go against the grain—even within our own Christian sub-culture.