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Matthew 12:38-45

Context
The Sign of Jonah

12:38 Then some of the experts in the law 1  along with some Pharisees 2  answered him, 3  “Teacher, we want to see a sign 4  from you.” 12:39 But he answered them, 5  “An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 12:40 For just as Jonah was in the belly of the huge fish 6  for three days and three nights, 7  so the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights. 12:41 The people 8  of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented when Jonah preached to them 9  – and now, 10  something greater than Jonah is here! 12:42 The queen of the South 11  will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon – and now, 12  something greater than Solomon is here!

The Return of the Unclean Spirit

12:43 “When 13  an unclean spirit 14  goes out of a person, 15  it passes through waterless places 16  looking for rest but 17  does not find it. 12:44 Then it says, ‘I will return to the home I left.’ 18  When it returns, 19  it finds the house 20  empty, swept clean, and put in order. 21  12:45 Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they go in and live there, so 22  the last state of that person is worse than the first. It will be that way for this evil generation as well!”

1 tn Or “Then some of the scribes.” See the note on the phrase “experts in the law” in 2:4.

2 tn Grk “and Pharisees.” The word “some” before “Pharisees” has been supplied for clarification.

sn See the note on Pharisees in 3:7.

3 tn Grk “answered him, saying.” The participle λέγοντες (legontes) is redundant, but the syntax of the sentence was changed to conform to English style.

4 sn What exactly this sign would have been, given what Jesus was already doing, is not clear. But here is where the fence-sitters reside, refusing to commit to him.

5 tn Grk “But answering, he said to them.” This construction is somewhat redundant in English and has been simplified in the translation.

6 tn Grk “large sea creature.”

7 sn A quotation from Jonah 1:17.

8 tn Grk “men”; the word here (ἀνήρ, anhr) usually indicates males or husbands, but occasionally is used in a generic sense of people in general, as here (cf. BDAG 79 s.v. 1.a, 2).

9 tn Grk “at the preaching of Jonah.”

10 tn Grk “behold.”

11 sn On the queen of the South see 1 Kgs 10:1-3 and 2 Chr 9:1-12, as well as Josephus, Ant. 8.6.5-6 (8.165-175). The South most likely refers to modern southwest Arabia, possibly the eastern part of modern Yemen, although there is an ancient tradition reflected in Josephus which identifies this geo-political entity as Ethiopia.

12 tn Grk “behold.”

13 tn Here δέ (de) has not been translated.

14 sn Unclean spirit refers to an evil spirit.

15 tn Grk “man.” This is a generic use of ἄνθρωπος (anqrwpo"), referring to both males and females. This same use occurs in v. 45.

16 sn The background for the reference to waterless places is not entirely clear, though some Jewish texts suggest spirits must have a place to dwell, but not with water (Luke 8:29-31; Tob 8:3). Some suggest that the image of the desert or deserted cities as the places demons dwell is where this idea started (Isa 13:21; 34:14).

17 tn Here καί (kai) has been translated as “but” to indicate the contrast present in this context.

18 tn Grk “I will return to my house from which I came.”

19 tn Grk “comes.”

20 tn The words “the house” are not in Greek but are implied.

21 sn The image of the house empty, swept clean, and put in order refers to the life of the person from whom the demon departed. The key to the example appears to be that no one else has been invited in to dwell. If an exorcism occurs and there is no response to God, then the way is free for the demon to return. Some see the reference to exorcism as more symbolic; thus the story’s only point is about responding to Jesus. This is possible and certainly is an application of the passage.

22 tn Here καί (kai) has been translated as “so” to indicate the concluding point of the story.



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