By the Finger of God, 1 — R.S. Notley

Jesus’ ministry of miracles and deliverance occasionally brought him into conflict with the religious establishment of his day. One of the most intriguing controversies concerned the accusation by a group of Pharisees—termed “Jerusalem scribes” in Mark’s gospel—that Jesus had accomplished the healing of a dumb man with the aid of Beelzebul, the prince of demons (Matt. 12:22-30; Mark 3:22-27; Luke 11:14-23).

Minor Agreements

In terms of synoptic relationships, it is significant to note a “minor agreement” of Matthew and Luke against Mark in this story. In Matthew and Luke Jesus is accused of casting out demons “by Beelzebul, the prince of demons.” Mark, however, records his accusers’ claim as: “He is  possessed by Beelzebul, and by the prince of demons he casts out demons.” [Italics added.]

Our interest, however, is in another “minor agreement” that occurs in this story. It involves Jesus’ response to his accusers as recorded by Matthew and Luke for which there is no parallel in Mark: Mark’s variation is a clear example of the literary technique that Dr. Robert Lindsey has termed “Markan pickups.” These are differences in Mark’s account that often can be attributed to words and phrases Mark borrowed from other literary sources (e.g., Luke, Acts, the early Pauline epistles). In this instance, Hebrew University professor David Flusser has suggested that Mark’s preservation of the claim that Jesus was “demon possessed” is taken from the accusation laid against John the Baptist found in Matthew 11:18 and Luke 7:33.

But if it is by the finger [Matthew: “spirit”] of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. (Luke 11:20; Matt. 12:28)

Jesus’ reference to the “finger of God,” אצבע אלהים (etsba elohim) draws upon an expression that occurs only three times in the Hebrew Scriptures—Exodus 8:19, 31:18, and Deuteronomy 9:10.

Check back Tuesday for part 2.
See also Jerusalem Perspective

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