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Was Jesus Crazy? The Unforgivable Sin (Mark 3:20-30)

Analysis and Commentary

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Jesus with Satan

Jesus with Satan

    20 And the multitude cometh together again, so that they could not so much as eat bread. 21 And when his friends heard of it, they went out to lay hold on him: for they said, He is beside himself. 22 And the scribes which came down from Jerusalem said, He hath Beelzebub, and by the prince of the devils casteth he out devils.
    23 And he called them unto him, and said unto them in parables, How can Satan cast out Satan? 24 And if a kingdom be divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand. 26 And if Satan rise up against himself, and be divided, he cannot stand, but hath an end. 27 No man can enter into a strong man’s house, and spoil his goods, except he will first bind the strong man; and then he will spoil his house.
    28 Verily I say unto you, All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme: 29 But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation. 30 Because they said, He hath an unclean spirit.
    Compare: Matthew 12:22-32; Luke 11:14-23

Jesus & Blasphemy Against the Holy Spirit

Here again Jesus is portrayed as preaching and, perhaps, healing. His exact activities are not made explicit, but it’s clear that Jesus just keeps getting more and more popular. What isn’t as clear is the source of popularity. Healing would be a natural source, but Jesus doesn’t heal everyone. An entertaining preacher is still popular today, but so far Jesus’ message has been depicted as very simple — hardly the sort of thing that would get a crowd going.

And what a crowd is must be — so big that no one is even able to eat. But what happens to Jesus here? The text describes him as being “beside himself,” but what is that supposed to mean? Does he experience a panic attack? Does he have a phobia of large, close crowds? Does he experience a break down from all the stress he is under from the healing, the preaching, and the nosy Pharisees?

Once again, the Pharisees manage to turn up and make a nuisance of themselves. Observing Jesus casting out the demons, they argue that maybe Jesus can do this because he is the head demon. After all, if he is in charge of all the demons, it would be a simple matter to order them to leave. This is one of the few examples you’ll find of a literal demonization of one’s enemies.

Jesus rebuts this accusation with another parable, explaining that it just wouldn’t make sense for Satan to “stand against himself” by casting his minions out of possessed people. Unfortunately, I’m not sure that this rebuttal makes much sense. Why not set up a few demons to take the fall in order to gain the trust and acceptance of others?

It’s not really such a bizarre tactic, especially when we are talking about the headmaster of all evil. What, should we expect Satan to treat his demons with honor and sympathy? He’s not going to care what happens to them — and if casting a few out allows him to make greater gains elsewhere, it’s a fair trade.

Theologically, this parable is often interpreted as a reference to Jesus’ mission to establish a “new house” and a “new kingdom” out of the old kingdom that he was living in. Since a kingdom cannot stand against itself, the old one would be swept away by the stronger forces under the command of Jesus. His followers will be given the power to “bind” evil (whether supernatural demons or mundane Roman soldiers), plunder its “house,” and take control.

This, in turn, leads us to one of the less generous comments that Jesus is described as making in the various gospel stories: there exists a sin so horrible that it cannot be forgiven. This is, of course, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. But just what constitutes such blasphemy? Many Christians today argue that it means saying that Jesus’ powers were derived from demons or simply equating Jesus with Satan.

That interpretation isn’t mandated by the text, but it is possible. A broader interpretation argues that the sin doesn’t lie in attributing Jesus’ power to demons but the inability to properly distinguish good from evil or God from Satan. If we imagine that any of this is what Jesus intended, doesn’t that mean that the Pharisees present were no longer forgivable — that not even Jesus himself could baptize them and declare their sins forgiven?

Finally, we should note Jesus’ use of the phrase “sons of men” in this passage. Jesus is not talking about angels, messengers of God, or anything divine. He’s talking about regular human beings, just like those standing around him. If that’s what “sons of men” meant, then it’s reasonable to think that “Son of man,” the singular form, would also describe a regular human being.

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