May 16: Mark 3:28-29 par (continued)

Mark 3:28-29; Matthew 12:31-32; Luke 12:10 (continued)

In the previous day’s note, I examined the saying of Jesus regarding the “sin/blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” in the Synoptic Tradition. Mark’s version includes an explanation of the saying (Mk 3:30), but it is necessary to look a bit closer at just how Matthew and Luke understood the saying—this I will do in today’s note.

Matthew includes the ‘Markan’ form of the saying, and also preserves the same narrative context. If one accepts the critical theory that the Gospel writer knew and made use of Mark, then it is surely significant that he did not include the explanation of Mk 3:30:

“(This was in) that [i.e. because] they said, ‘He has/holds and unclean spirit’.”

In Matthew’s account, certain Pharisees (in Mark they are referred to as “Scribes…from Jerusalem”), in response to Jesus’ healing/exorcism miracles, declare:

“This (man) does not cast out the daimons if not in [i.e. except by] ‘Baal-zebûl’ Chief of the daimons!” (Matt 12:24)

This differs slightly from Mark’s account, where the Scribes declare:

“He has/holds ‘Baal-zebûl'” and “(It is) in [i.e. by] the Chief of the daimons (that) he casts out the daimons!”

Matthew does not include the specific claim that Jesus has (lit. holds) the power of “Baal-zebul” (on this name, cf. “Did You Know?” below). The focus has shifted away from Jesus’ own person, and instead the emphasis is on the source of Jesus’ power to work healing miracles. The key interpretive verse for the passage is Matt 12:28, a saying added, it would seem, to the Synoptic/Markan narrative from the so-called “Q” material (par in Luke 11:20), which will be discussed below.

As I pointed out in yesterday’s note, Luke contains a different form of the Holy Spirit saying, corresponding to Matt 12:32 (“Q”) rather than Mark 3:28-29 / Matt 12:31. The narrative setting (Lk 12:8-12) is also very different. Actually, it would seem that the Lukan context involves a sequence of (originally separate) sayings that have been appended together, being joined by thematic or “catchword” bonding (indicated by the bold/italicized portions):

    • Lk 12:8-9—”Every one who gives account as one [i.e. confesses/confirms] in me in front of men, even (so) the Son of Man will give account as one in him in front of the Messengers of God; but the (one) denying/contradicting me in the sight of men, will be denied/contradicted in the sight of the Messengers of God.”
    • Lk 12:10—”Every one who will utter an (evil) word/account unto the Son of Man, it will be released [i.e. forgiven] for him; but for the (one) giving insult unto the holy Spirit, it will not be released.”
    • Lk 12:11-12—”When they carry [i.e. bring] you in upon the(ir) gatherings together {synagogues} and the(ir) chiefs and the(ir) authorities, you should not be concerned (as to) how or (by) what you should give account for (yourselves), or what you should say—for the holy Spirit will teach you in that hour the (thing)s it is necessary (for you) to say.”

There is an important two-fold aspect to the sayings which bracket verse 10:

    • Publicly confessing (or denying) Jesus, the “Son of Man” (vv. 8-9)
    • The witness of believers being inspired by the Spirit (vv. 11-12)

This, I believe, informs the Lukan understanding of the saying in verse 10; I would summarize the interpretation as follows:

    • The person who speaks an evil (i.e. false, slanderous, mocking/derisive, etc) word or account to the Son of Man may be forgiven—this refers essentially to Jesus in the context of his earthly ministry, specifically his Passion/suffering (cf. Lk 22:54-62, 63-65; 23:2, 5, 10-11, 35-37, 39, etc).
    • The person who insults the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven—this refers primarily to the Spirit-inspired witness regarding the person and work of Jesus, i.e. the Gospel.

Matthew 12:28; Luke 11:20

Turning back to Matthew’s version, it is necessary to consider the “Q” saying in 12:28 (along with its Lukan parallel). At the position between Mk 3:26 and 27 in the core Synoptic narrative, Matthew and Luke include the following (I use Matthew as the reference point, with the material corresponding to Mk 3:26-27 in italics):

“…if the Satan casts out Satan, he is separated/divided upon himself—how then will his kingdom stand?” (Matt 12:26 [Mk 3:26])

“And if I cast out the daimons in (the power of) ‘Baal-zebûl’, your sons—in what (power) do they cast (daimons) out? Through this(, then,) they will be your judges.” (Matt 12:27)

“But if I cast out the daimons in (the power of) the Spirit of God, then (surely) the kingdom of God has come first/already/suddenly [e&fqasen] upon you!” (Matt 12:28)

Or how is any(one) able to come into the house of the strong and seize his tools/vessels, if he does not first bind the strong (one)…?” (Matt 12:29 [Mk 3:27])

In many ways vv. 27-28 appear to be intrusive, inserted into the context of vv. 26, 29 (Mk 3:26-27); however, as we find the exact same sequence in Luke 11:18-21, the matter is far from clear. Also uncertain (and much disputed) is the precise force and meaning of the verb fqa/nw, which can be rendered here a number of ways:

    • “…has come suddenly/unexpectedly upon you”
    • “…has already come upon you”
    • “…has come near to you” [similar to the use of e)ggi/zw in Mk 1:15 etc]
    • “…has actually arrived for you”
    • “…has first come upon you [i.e. Jesus’ opponents, by way of Judgment?]”
    • “…has overcome/overtaken you”

The second option above probably best captures the meaning.

Luke 11:19-20 is virtually identical with Matt 12:27-28, the major difference being that in Luke it reads “finger [da/ktulo$] of God” rather than “Spirit of God”. Most likely, Luke has the more original form of the saying, with “Spirit of God” best understood as an interpretive gloss for the anthropomorphic idiom “finger of God” (cf. Exod 8:19, also Ex 31:18 / Deut 9:10). Jesus admits that other healers may perform certain kinds of exorcism—indeed, according to the ancient worldview, illness and disease was often seen as the result of angry/malevolent deities or spirits at work; healing acts and rites typically involved some form of ‘exorcism’. However, Jesus effectively claims that his healing acts (miracles) are performed through the power (i.e. the ‘finger’/Spirit) of God. To assert that it is the work of evil forces (the daimons/demons) themselves would be an insult to God’s holy Spirit.

Conclusion

It is possible to offer at least a basic interpretive summary of the Holy Spirit saying in each of its three Gospel settings:

Mark 3:28-29—The insult to the Holy Spirit is explained (v. 30) in terms of Jesus’ opponents claiming that he himself had (control of) an unclean spirit or daimon (“demon”).

Matthew 12:31-32—The explanation is similar to that in Mark, but it no longer emphasizes an insult to Jesus’ own person:

    • The claim by the Scribes/Pharisees that Jesus “has/holds Baal-zebûl” (Mk 3:22a) is not included
    • The variant/parallel “Q” saying involving the “Son of Man” (v. 32 / Lk 12:10) has been added to the ‘Markan’ version
    • The explanation of Mark 3:30 is not included

Rather, as discussed above, the issue involves the source of Jesus’ healing power and authority over the daimons and disease. To say that it comes from the Devil (“Baal-zebul”) or daimons themselves insults the very Spirit of God.

Luke 12:10—According to the Lukan context (Lk 12:8-12), the insult to the Holy Spirit is related to evil speaking and opposition to the Spirit-inspired testimony (of believers) regarding the person and work of Jesus. This theme is further illustrated and expounded through the persecution of believers and opposition to the Gospel recorded throughout the book of Acts.

There is, then, no one simple meaning to the saying—a proper and accurate interpretation involves careful study of the context of the saying in each Gospel. If an original (Aramaic) form of the saying ultimately derives from a different historical setting—a speculative proposition at best—this is no longer possible to reconstruct. We must deal with the Gospel Tradition as it has come down to us.

The Greek Beelzeb[o]u/l (Beelzeb[o]úl) is a transliteration of lWbz+ lu^B^, “(the) Lord (the) Exalted One” (or “Exalted Lord”), combining two titles regularly used for the Canaanite sky/storm deity Hadad/Haddu. As the main (pagan) Canaanite rival to YHWH in Israelite history, especially during the Kingdom period, it is not surprising that “Prince Baal” would come to represent all of the “demons”—that is the daimons, the (lesser) deities or spirits, which were relegated to the status of evil/unclean spirits in the context of Israelite/Jewish monotheism. The name bWbz+ lu^B^ (Baal-zebub, 2 Kings 1:2-3, 6, 16) is probably a polemic parody through the alteration of one letter, i.e. “Exalted Lord” becomes “Lord of the flies”.

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