Exorcisms by Satan’s power? Hardly.

by K.W. Leslie, 04 July

Mark 3.22-27, Matthew 9.32-34, 12.22-30, Luke 11.14-23.

In between Jesus’s family fearing he was overworked, Mark inserts this story about the Jerusalem scribes (or Pharisees, in Matthew) accusing him of performing his exorcisms through the power of the devil.

Matthew and Luke tell the story in the context of an exorcism Jesus had just performed. Matthew even tells it twice. Likely this accusation took place more than once.

Mk 3.22 KWL
Scribes who came down from Jerusalem said Jesus had Baal Zevúl,
and that he threw out demons by the head demon.
Mt 9.32-34 KWL
32 As they left, look: People brought Jesus a mute person, a demoniac.
33 Once Jesus threw out the demon, the mute man spoke.
The crowd was amazed, saying, “This never appeared in Israel before.”
34 The Pharisees were saying, “Jesus throws out demons by the head demon.”
Mt 12.22-24 KWL
22 Then they brought Jesus a blind and deaf demoniac.
Jesus cured him, so the deaf man was speaking and seeing.
23 The whole crowd was overwhelmed and said, “Isn’t this man the Son of David?”
24 The Pharisees who heard it said, “This man doesn’t throw out demons—
unless it’s by Baal Zevúl the head demon.”
Lk 11.14-16 KWL
14 Jesus was throwing out a demon, and it was mute.
It happened when the demon came out, the mute man spoke. The crowd was amazed.
15 But some of them said, “He threw out the demon by Baal Zevúl the head demon.”
16 Others, to test Jesus, sought from him a sign from heaven.

Baalism is what we tend to call all the pagan religions which cropped up in ancient Palestine. They’re not all the same god, but the Hebrew-speakers generically called all these gods bahál/“master.” The Baal they referred to as Baal Zevúl was the god of Ekron, Philistia; the god Akhazyáh ben Ahab had inquired of when he wanted to know if he’d recover from his injuries. 2Ki 1.2 Elijah had intercepted Akhazyáh’s messengers and told them he’d die; Akhazyáh sent soldiers to arrest Elijah, who had the LORD set them on fire; maybe you heard the story. 2Ki 1

Zevúl means “[heavenly] dwelling.” But just for fun, the Hebrews started swapping zevúl for zevúv/“gnat” or “fly,” and it stuck. In the Septuagint, Baal Zevúl is translated Vaal, myían theón/“Baal, fly god.” But by Jesus’s day, they were back to calling it Baal Zevúl… ’cause in Aramaic, zevúl means “feces.” Hence the New Testament calls the god Veëlzevúl/“Beelzebul” (KJV “Beelzebub”). And y’might notice the Pharisees were using the term as a euphemism for Satan.

Christian mythology imagines Baal Zevúl, or Beelzebul, or Beelzebub, as a whole other devil than Satan. Sometimes Satan’s vice-devil. Sometimes a devil who rebelled against Satan and went its own way. Sometimes the devil who supervises idolatry; sometimes the devil who tempts humans with gluttony; sometimes the devil who specializes in demonizing people. Meh; a devil’s a devil.

The Galilean Pharisees didn’t know what to make of Jesus. They hated that he violated their customs. But they couldn’t deny that he actually performed miracles and exorcisms. Perhaps they sent for Jerusalem scribes in order to help ’em sort this out, and provide an expert opinion. Remember, the custom in Pharisaism isn’t to give your own rulings like Jesus does, but defer to the experts. Whereas Protestants tend to be a bit independent, and figure we have enough horse sense to judge someone a heretic right away, simply because we don’t care for their teachings. Or their politics. Or their person.

Jesus would object and say look for the fruit. Heck, that’s what he did in response.

Can Satan overthrow Satan?

The Pharisee scholars were typical humans. If we don’t like someone, but can’t say why, we search for reasons why, find ’em, and claim they were the real problem all along. They didn’t like Jesus. So they sought something to pin on him.

If you broke tradition, Pharisees often figured it was only a matter of time before you broke the Law. Don’t mock ’em for it; we Christians teach the very same thing. When I first started growing my hair long, I got grief from conservatives who insisted it was a form of cross-dressing. Dt 22.5 Never mind the Nazirites who had long hair, Nu 6.5 like Samson, Samuel, Elijah, and John; their typical attitude was if long hair isn’t cross-dressing, it’ll lead to it. Typically it doesn’t; if anything, cross-dressers start with the clothes and then the hair. But conservatives teach it anyway. ’Cause since when is prejudice logical?

So if Jesus broke tradition, Pharisees figured he must be some sort of sinner; Jn 9.24 if he didn’t follow the LORD, he must follow Baal. Right? Well… no. Jesus, ever the master of logic, pointed this out with an analogy.

Mark 3.23-26 KWL
23 Summoning them, Jesus told them by way of analogy,
“How’s Satan able to overthrow Satan?
24 When a kingdom is split apart, that kingdom can’t stand.
25 When a house is split apart, that house can’t stand.
26 And if Satan rises up against itself and is split apart, it can’t stand. Instead it’s the End.”
Matthew 12.25-26 KWL
25 Knowing their reasoning, Jesus told them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste.
Every city or house divided against itself can’t stand.
26 If Satan throws out Satan, it’s divided against itself.
So how will its kingdom stand?”
Luke 11.17-18 KWL
17 Jesus, knowing their thinking, told them, “Every kingdom divided up against itself is laid waste.
A house falls over another house.
18 If Satan also divides up against itself, how will its kingdom stand?
—for you say I’m throwing out demons by Baal Zevúl.”

In pagan mythology, gods fought one another all the time. It’s part of their creation myths. The gods fought, one of ’em came out on top, and that god was the head god, the master, the Baal. (Or, as Pharisees and Christians figure it, the head demon, as the Greeks called their lesser gods.) But pagan mythologies tended to teach this battle was gonna happen again someday. Uranus was overthrown by Kronos, who was overthrown by Zeus. Odin overthrew Ymir, and would someday be overthrown by Fenrir. It’d be chaos, destruction… especially for us humans, ’cause pagans figured we’re gonna get trampled underfoot. It’s the End. So if the gods were fighting—if Baal was fighting Baal, or even Satan fighting Satan—it meant the End.

We Christians (and the Pharisees too) understand the pantheon way differently. These “gods” aren’t actual gods. They’re either servants of the One True God, or they rebelled against him and are doing their own thing, or trying to corrupt humanity. In the End they’re getting overthrown by Jesus, who’s the One True God anyway.

Pagan mythology or revelation, the results are essentially the same: If Jesus is battling the demons and winning, obviously something—or Someone—is intervening. The strongest god in the pantheon? Nah; that god’s end has come. More likely the God of gods, the Almighty.

Matthew 12.27-28 KWL
27 “If I throw out demons by Baal Zevúl,
by whom do your sons throw them out?—it’s why they’ll critique you.
28 If I throw out demons by God’s Spirit,
then God’s kingdom took you by surprise.”
Luke 11.19-20 KWL
19 “If I throw out demons by Baal Zevúl,
by whom do your sons throw them out?—it’s why they’ll critique you.
20 If I throw out demons by God’s finger,
then God’s kingdom took you by surprise.”

Éfthasen/“took you [by surprise],” is translated in the KJV as “come unto” in Matthew, “come upon” in Luke. It means somebody caught up with you, usually before you meant for them to, like in a race or battle. It means the Pharisees weren’t ready for the kingdom. Explains why, once it arrived, they freaked out, misinterpreted it, and killed their Messiah as a heretic.

Also explains why certain Christians nowadays make the very same accusation against supernaturalist Christians. To be fair, there are a few fakes among us, though I’d say their powers are more likely human trickery. Devils are really hesitant to enter authentically Spirit-filled churches, ’cause they’re risking their freedom when they’re found out; we’ll put ’em in the pit. Lk 8.31 Fraudulent humans, however, don’t worry about it.

Fraudulent interpreters should worry about it, but I’ll get to that another time.

The devil’s a defeated foe.

Mark 3.27 KWL
“But nobody who enters a strongman’s house is able to rip up his things
when he doesn’t first tie up the strongman; and then he can take off with his house.”
Matthew 12.29 KWL
“Now how can one enter a strongman’s house and take off with his things
when he doesn’t first tie up the strongman? And then he can take off with his house.”
Luke 11.21-22 KWL
21 “When a fully armed strongman can guard his own court, his possessions are at peace.
22 Once a stronger person comes and conquers him,
he strips off his armor in which he trusted, and surrenders his arms.”

In Mark and Matthew Jesus speaks of tying up the resistant strongman, whom we figure would be the devil. The idea we usually go with is Jesus can’t free people from the devil unless he first binds the devil. Hence whenever Christians perform any kind of exorcism, we tend to declare, “I bind you,” or “The Lord bind you,” or something like that; it’s not like we can physically handcuff them, but you get the idea. We want ’em spiritually hogtied so we can free this poor demoniac from their power.

In contrast, in Luke the strongman full-on surrenders. Gives up his armor; gives up his weapons. Knows he’s beaten.

I realize other bibles prefer to translate it as if the conquerer forcibly takes the strongman’s armor and weapons: “He taketh from him all his armour wherein he trusted, and divideth his spoils.” Lk 11.22 KJV The pronouns actually let you translate it either way. I figured it was “surrenders” because diadídosin is better translated “gives over” than “distributes.” Who are the armor and weapons meant to be distributed to? What’d we be doing with the devil’s armor and weapons? Spoils are one thing, but weapons? Nope; doesn’t work.

You notice whenever Jesus encountered demons, sometimes they put up a fight, but for the most part they knew they’d lost, and surrendered the people they possessed. He’s absolutely stronger than they. Us, not so much; we’d better be working with Jesus, or we’re in for a fight.

Matthew 12.30 KWL
“Not being with me is against me.
Not synagoguing with me scatters.”
Luke 11.23 KWL
“Not being with me is against me.
Not synagoguing with me scatters.”

Now if the Pharisees insisted upon an absolute, here’s Jesus’s.

The application is obvious: When we see someone doing a supernatural work, we typically judge the work based on whether we approve of the person, or whether we think that individual is good or perfect enough. Face it: Nobody is good enough. Except Jesus, and look what people thought of him.

We need to consider the implications of the work rather than the references of the person. Is God glorified? Is the good news preached? Is Christianity spreading? Is Jesus proclaimed? Are people healed and found and redeemed? If yes, then God is using a weak vessel to confound the mighty. If no, then God’s not in it. That’s simple logic.

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