Formations 01.27.2019: Naysayers and Detractors

Mark 3:19b-35

Ersson Family Reunion, Borlänge, Sweden, 1988

The other Synoptic Gospels at least give Jesus a chance to get going before people start resisting his message. True, Matthew tells of Herod’s attempt to destroy Jesus while he was still a toddler, but Jesus never took flak for the things he said and did until he dares to heal a paralyzed man’s sins in chapter 9. In Luke, Simeon predicts opposition to Jesus in 2:34, but it isn’t until chapter 4 that the people of Nazareth try to run him out of town—and over a cliff!

Mark, however, shows opposition to Jesus’ teaching and ministry beginning in chapter 2, and it only grows after that. By early in chapter 3, these controversies are beginning to boil over. The Pharisees and Herodians are already plotting to kill him (3:6), and by the time we get to today’s passage, his own family tries to take him away (v. 21), and scribes from Jerusalem accuse him of being in league with the devil (v. 22).

They say you can’t please everybody. In today’s text, however, it seems that Jesus can’t please anybody! Not the Jerusalem establishment, and not even his own family. And though their ultimate concerns about Jesus’ ministry were probably quite different, both groups had profound misunderstandings of what he was all about.

Jesus addresses both groups. First, he exposes the illogic of the scribes’ charge. He isn’t in league with the devil. It would be foolish for the ruler of demons to cast out demons—and it’s an affront to the Holy Spirit to claim that the source of Jesus’ spiritual authority is infernal in nature.

If anything, Jesus’ rebuke to his family is just as harsh. With a word, he redefines family in terms not of blood but obedience to God. Who are his brothers and sisters? Anyone who does God’s will.


• When have you had to deal with naysayers and detractors?
• For what reasons—positive or negative—might the scribes have challenged Jesus?
• Why might the members of Jesus’ family have wanted to bring him home?
• How might Jesus’ responses inform how we handle similar confrontations?

Reference Shelf

Satan’s Many Names

While the OT perspective provides the basic background for the NT, Satan developed in Jewish thought after 200 B.C.E. into a much more well-defined figure than anything described in the OT. The NT uses, in addition to the term Satan (Matt 12:26; Mark 1:13; Luke 11:18; Acts 5:3; Rev 12:9—thirty-three times altogether), the terms devil (almost a synonym for Satan: Matt 4:1; Luke 4:2; Rev 12:9—thirty-two times), Beelzebul (Matt 12:24), Beliar (2 Cor 6:15), and a number of descriptive terms for “the evil one” (Matt 13:19): the prince of demons (Matt 12:24), the tempter (Matt 4:3), the dragon (Rev 20:2), the father of lies (John 8:44), the god of this world (2 Cor 4:4), the prince of the power of the air (Eph 2:2), and others. This rich terminology for that which is opposed to God testifies to an elaborate and virtually universal belief in demons and evil spirits in the first century C.E.

David W. Rutledge, “Satan in the New Testament,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990), 797.

The Scribes’ Accusation

A new group appears suddenly—scribes sent from Jerusalem—presumably to investigate Jesus’ activities. The reference to sending implies concern at some official level, either among the chief priests (who assume a prominent role later in Mark; see also Acts 9:1) or the Sanhedrin (see Acts 5:27-40). Scribes were active in Jerusalem, but little is known about the role of scribes in Galilee or their relation- ship to Jerusalem scribes. Although Jerusalem lay to the south of Galilee, the scribes “came down” from Jerusalem because one came down from or went up to Jerusalem both literally and figuratively regardless of which direction one was traveling.

The scribes’ charge is twofold: (1) Jesus has Beelzebul, and (2) he casts out demons by the power of the ruler of the demons. The Hebrews contemptuously referred to a Canaanite god as Baal-zebub or “Lord of the flies” (2 Kgs 1:2). While Beelzebul does not occur in Jewish literature, the name, or variations of it, are picked up in later Christian writings. The two most commonly proposed derivations are “Lord of dung” or “Lord of the dwelling” (see “the ruler of this world”; John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). The charge that Jesus was demon-possessed occurs in the Gospel of John (7:20; 8:48, 52; 10:20), in later rabbinic literature, and as a charge to which the apologists responded….

Jesus’ response confirms that Beelzebul and “the ruler of the demons” are references to Satan. His question traps his accusers: how can he be empowered by Satan if exorcisms are a casting out of Satan? Jesus’ challenge understands the conflict between good and evil in personal and corporate terms. The powers are communities in conflict. Neither a kingdom (today we would say “a country”) nor a family will be able to withstand an attack from the outside if inside it is divided against itself. Therefore, if he were indeed acting by the power of Satan to cast out Satan’s minions, then his exorcisms show that the dominion of evil is divided and therefore that its end is near. Satan’s end has come (3:26), but not because of division with Satan’s domain. The unclean spirits themselves cry out that Jesus is “the Holy One of God” and ask, alter- natively, “Have you come to destroy us?” (1:24) and “What have you to do with me?” (5:7). Satan’s kingdom is falling not because Satan has risen up against himself but because of the inbreaking of the kingdom of God in the ministry of Jesus. Jesus is indeed spirit empowered, but it is the spirit of God that is at work in him, not that of the “ruler of the demons.” …

Jesus’ declaration introduces an unpardonable 
sin, different from other forms of blasphemy:
 blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Blasphemy is
the repudiation of the holiness or power of God,
and the levitical law prescribed stoning as the
punishment for blasphemers (Lev 24:13-16). In
terms similar to Mark’s, the Damascus
Document declares, “And also they defile his holy spirit, for with blasphemous tongue they have opened their mouth against the statutes of God’s covenant, saying: ‘they are unfounded’” (CD 5.11-12). While it is difficult to distinguish blasphemy against the Holy Spirit from other forms of blasphemy, it is clear in the present context that the scribes had charged Jesus, the agent of the kingdom of God, God’s beloved son (1:11; 9:7), and they had said that he had an unclean spirit (3:30, see the commentary on 1:23), that he had Beelzebul, and that he exorcised demons by the power of Satan. They had therefore rejected the one through whom they might have found forgiveness.

R. Alan Culpepper, Mark, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2007), 114–15, 117.

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.


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