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Matthew 12:22-32

Jesus and Beelzebul

12:22 Then they brought to him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute. Jesus 1  healed him so that he could speak and see. 2  12:23 All the crowds were amazed and said, “Could this one be the Son of David?” 12:24 But when the Pharisees 3  heard this they said, “He does not cast out demons except by the power of Beelzebul, 4  the ruler 5  of demons!” 12:25 Now when Jesus 6  realized what they were thinking, he said to them, 7  “Every kingdom divided against itself is destroyed, 8  and no town or house divided against itself will stand. 12:26 So if 9  Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? 12:27 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons 10  cast them 11  out? For this reason they will be your judges. 12:28 But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God 12  has already overtaken 13  you. 12:29 How 14  else can someone enter a strong man’s 15  house and steal his property, unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can thoroughly plunder the house. 16  12:30 Whoever is not with me is against me, 17  and whoever does not gather with me scatters. 18  12:31 For this reason I tell you, people will be forgiven for every sin and blasphemy, 19  but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 12:32 Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven. 20  But whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, 21  either in this age or in the age to come.

1 tn Grk “And he”; the referent (Jesus) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

2 tn Grk “demoniac, and he healed him, so that the mute man spoke and saw.”

3 sn See the note on Pharisees in 3:7.

4 tn Grk “except by Beelzebul.”

sn Beelzebul is another name for Satan. So some people recognized Jesus’ work as supernatural, but called it diabolical.

5 tn Or “prince.”

6 tc The majority of mss read ὁ ᾿Ιησοῦς (Jo Ihsous, “Jesus”), which clarifies who is the subject of the sentence. Although the shorter text is attested in far fewer witnesses (Ì21 א B D 892* sys,c sa bo), both the pedigree of the mss and the strong internal evidence (viz., scribes were not prone to intentionally delete the name of Jesus) argue for the omission of Jesus’ name. The name has been included in the translation, however, for clarity.

7 sn Jesus here demonstrated the absurdity of the thinking of the religious leaders who maintained that he was in league with Satan and that he actually derived his power from the devil. He first teaches (vv. 25-28) that if he casts out demons by the ruler of the demons, then in reality Satan is fighting against himself, with the result that his kingdom has come to an end. He then teaches (v. 29) about tying up the strong man to prove that he does not need to align himself with the devil because he is more powerful. Jesus defeated Satan at his temptation (4:1-11) and by his exorcisms he clearly demonstrated himself to be stronger than the devil. The passage reveals the desperate condition of the religious leaders, who in their hatred for Jesus end up attributing the work of the Holy Spirit to Satan (a position for which they will be held accountable, 12:31-32).

8 tn Or “is left in ruins.”

9 tn This first class condition, the first of three “if” clauses in the following verses, presents the example vividly as if it were so. In fact, all three conditions in these verses are first class. The examples are made totally parallel. The expected answer is that Satan’s kingdom will not stand, so the suggestion makes no sense. Satan would not seek to heal.

10 sn Most read your sons as a reference to Jewish exorcists (cf. “your followers,” L&N 9.4), but more likely this is a reference to the disciples of Jesus themselves, who are also Jewish and have been healing as well (R. J. Shirock, “Whose Exorcists are they? The Referents of οἱ υἱοὶ ὑμῶν at Matthew 12:27/Luke 11:19,” JSNT 46 [1992]: 41-51). If this is a reference to the disciples, then Jesus’ point is that it is not only him, but those associated with him whose power the hearers must assess. The following reference to judging also favors this reading.

11 tn The pronoun “them” is not in the Greek text, but is implied. Direct objects were frequently omitted in Greek when clear from the context.

12 sn The kingdom of God is a major theme of Jesus. It is a realm in which Jesus rules and to which those who trust him belong.

13 tn The phrase ἔφθασεν ἐφ᾿ ὑμᾶς (efqasen efJuma") is quite important. Does it mean merely “approach” (which would be reflected in a translation like “has come near to you”) or actually “come upon” (as in the translation given above, “has already overtaken you,” which has the added connotation of suddenness)? Is the arrival of the kingdom merely anticipated or already in process? Two factors favor arrival over anticipation here. First, the prepositional phrase ἐφ᾿ ὑμᾶς (efJumas, “upon you”) in the Greek text suggests arrival (Dan 4:24, 28 Theodotion). Second, the following illustration in v. 29 looks at the healing as portraying Satan being overrun. So the presence of God’s authority has arrived. See also L&N 13.123 for the translation of φθάνω (fqanw) as “to happen to already, to come upon, to come upon already.”

14 tn Grk “Or how can.”

15 sn The strong man here pictures Satan.

16 sn Some see the imagery here as similar to Eph 4:7-10, although no opponents are explicitly named in that passage. Jesus has the victory over Satan. Jesus’ acts of healing mean that the war is being won and the kingdom is coming.

17 sn Whoever is not with me is against me. The call here is to join the victor. Failure to do so means that one is being destructive. Responding to Jesus is the issue.

18 sn For the image of scattering, see Pss. Sol. 17:18.

19 tn Grk “every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men.”

20 tn Grk “it will be forgiven him.”

21 tn Grk “it will not be forgiven him.”

sn Whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. This passage has troubled many people, who have wondered whether or not they have committed this sin. Three things must be kept in mind: (1) the nature of the sin is to ascribe what is the obvious work of the Holy Spirit (e.g., releasing people from Satan’s power) to Satan himself; (2) it is not simply a momentary doubt or sinful attitude, but is indeed a settled condition which opposes the Spirit’s work, as typified by the religious leaders who opposed Jesus; and (3) a person who is concerned about it has probably never committed this sin, for those who commit it here (i.e., the religious leaders) are not in the least concerned about Jesus’ warning.

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