Friday, May 25, 2012

Interpreting the Beelzebul Controversy

A version of a paper I did for my GTU Oral Exam (be prepared for philosophy to meet biblical studies):



In the so-called Beelzebul Controversy, Jesus is involved in a confrontation with certain opponents over their charge that Jesus’ exorcisms are done only by the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons.  This controversy occurs in Mark 3:20-30 as well as, in longer form, in both Matthew 12:22-37 and Luke 11:14-26.  Jesus’ response to his critics, in this pericope, consists of a number of sayings.  The main focus in this paper will be specifically on the Divided House and Kingdom sayings, and the Strong Man sayings respectively[1] (for purposes of conciseness, I will simply call this group of sayings the DSM sayings, with “DSM” short for Divided-Strong Man), with only secondary attention to their context in the larger text of the controversy itself.  Regarding these same sayings, Joel Marcus and others have gone so far as to claim that they contradict one another; the main argument of this paper will then be to undermine the claim that such a reading is necessitated by the text. 
To make my case, I will be offering three possible interpretations according to which the DSM sayings turn out to be consistent with one another.  Along the way, I will be addressing a small number of objections to these interpretations based on analogous objections offered by Marcus against other, often similar, interpretations.  I will conclude from this discussion that we have good reason to believe that the DSM sayings may not be contradictory after all, since, if even one of my proposed interpretations proves to be plausible, it will seriously challenge the warrant for accepting Marcus’s interpretation.  To set up the discussion of the DSM sayings to follow, I will first briefly consider the sayings inserted by Matthew and Luke between the DSM sayings.  Following this, I turn to the DSM sayings proper, where I first give some preliminary considerations about the proper interpretation of the Strong Man before finally looking at the Divided House and Kingdom and examining the case for inconsistency within the DSM sayings and offer my own alternative interpretations one by one.             

The Context
Before turning to the DSM sayings themselves and the argument for their inconsistency, I will first examine some of the context of these sayings within the Synoptics.  Towards the beginning of the pericope, in Mark 3:22, some scribes have come down from Jerusalem and accuse Jesus of “having” Beelzebul[2] and further charge that it is “by the prince of demons” (ἐν τῷ ἄρχοντι τῶν δαιμονίων) that Jesus casts out demons.[3]  The scribes accuse Jesus of using Beelzebul, whom they identify as the prince of demons, as the power behind his exorcisms, accusing Jesus, in effect, of being something like a sorcerer or magician who has a spirit granting him power.[4]  Similar charges are laid out at the beginning of both Matthew and Luke’s respective versions of the pericope as well.
In all three Synoptic Gospels, the Evangelists move next to the first set of DSM sayings, the Divided House and Kingdom.  I will for the time being put this set aside, as well as the Strong Man, and turn first to some of the other sayings presented in Jesus’ response to his opponents as it appears in each of the three Synoptics.  Whereas in Mark the DSM sayings appear all together, in Matthew and Luke they are separated by the question of the source of others’ authority for exorcism, which then concludes with the Finger/Spirit of God saying.  A quick examination of these will, I think, prove suggestive as to how to interpret the DSM sayings, at least as they are understood in Matthew and Luke.
In Matthew 12:27 and Luke 11:19, immediately following the Divided House and Kingdom, Jesus asks his opponents by whom certain exorcists (οἱ υἱοὶ ὑμῶν) cast out demons.  The majority opinion is that Jesus is issuing a charge of inconsistency against his opponents – they do not charge certain others with being in league with Satan, yet Jesus (whose exorcisms and miracle working are even more unmistakably unlike magical practices than the more ambiguous exorcisms performed by Jewish exorcists) is the one accused of sorcery.[5]  There is in fact nothing to cast doubt on Jesus’ exorcisms when compared with the exorcisms performed by other Jews who do not seem to be in question.  Hence, without further evidence and given that these others are not in question, the opponents ought not to be attributing Jesus’ exorcisms to Satan.[6]  This still leaves us, however, with the question of the source of Jesus’ power, particularly as it is manifested in casting out demons.
The alternative to casting out demons by Satan seems to be that Jesus does so by power from God.  And if this is true, Jesus’ message is vindicated – the kingdom of God really has come in the person of Jesus.  This is what we find next in the Finger/Spirit of God saying in Matthew 12:28/Luke 11:20.[7]  Jesus’ exorcisms are unique in that they point to the presence of the kingdom and this is owing to Jesus’ unique relationship to that very same kingdom.[8] 
In sum, both the immediately preceding context in all three Synoptic Gospels, as well as the two sayings inserted between the DSM sayings by Matthew and Luke, point to the conclusion that the DSM sayings are being used by Jesus in some way to answer his opponents concerning the charges laid against him.  In particular, one might expect to find in the Divided House and Kingdom sayings some initial rebuttal to the charge that Jesus is casting out demons by Beelzebul.  And in the Strong Man sayings (particularly in Matthew and Luke, due to their insertions immediately prior to this saying), one would expect to find either some further argument against the opponents, an alternative explanation of the authority and power of Jesus to cast out demons, or both.  As we will see in the rest of paper, such expectations are likely not far from the truth.  The issue, however, will be whether we can interpret the DSM sayings in such a way that they not only fit in their context in the ways just mentioned but that they are also in fact consistent with one another.

Defeating the Strong Man
I will now address the DSM sayings, taking on the Strong Man sayings first since its interpretation seems in general to be less controversial than the Divided House and Kingdom sayings. Interpreting the Strong Man sayings first will then aid us with the more controversial sayings later on.  Because of the controversial nature of the Divided House and Kingdom sayings, then, and because the target of our argument is the (in)consistency of these with the Strong Man sayings, I will again postpone discussion of the argument for inconsistency until the next section, where I can explore it in conjunction with my treatment of the Divided House and Kingdom.  However, the treatment of the Strong Man here will prepare for that discussion by giving us a prior handle on at least one of the two sets of sayings comprising the DSM. 
While Matthew and Mark contain essentially the same version of the Strong Man, Luke’s is somewhat different in ways that I will describe below.[9]  We turn to Matthew and Mark’s version first:  The Strong Man appears in Matthew immediately following the Spirit of God saying, and in Mark immediately following the Divided House and Kingdom.  The idea seems to be that if one is to plunder the goods (τὰ σκεύη) of a strong man’s house – that is, rescue oppressed people from Satan’s kingdom (see Isaiah 49:24-25 LXX) – then one must first “bind” (δήσ - an aorist subjunctive form of δέω) the strong man.  The strong man will obviously otherwise resist and will not willingly allow the stealing of his goods.[10]  This terminology of binding occurs both in the New Testament and in Jewish literature with respect to rendering Satan or a demon powerless or defeated, particularly in regards to rescuing a person from that being’s influence, carrying at times echoes of creation or restoration.  Hence, in its current context, use of such language emphasizes that Satan’s power must be contained or destroyed by the eschatological power of the kingdom of God present in Jesus’ exorcisms.[11]
This binding need not necessarily be seen as a full, once-and-for-all, final defeat of Satan at Jesus’ hand, since Matthew and Mark both seem to still think of Satan as at least somewhat active.  Instead it can be viewed in terms of “Satan having being [sic] rendered powerless to interfere with Jesus’ incursion into his territory.”[12]  Alternatively, we might see the binding as a victory-in-principle, still to be implemented through real conflict with the demonic realm, particularly through exorcisms – in fact, we might even see each act of exorcism as the very act of binding (and hence plundering of goods) Jesus is speaking of, an attack on Satan’s minions being an attack on Satan himself.[13] 
In Luke’s version of the parable, by contrast, an armed strong man guards his abode and is then defeated and disarmed by an even stronger attacker, who then divides his goods.  Hence, instead of a robbery as in Matthew and Mark, Luke describes an armed battle.  Martin Emmrich suggests that Luke’s version, more clearly than its parallels, echoes the Exodus pattern behind Isaiah 49:24-26 (and 59:16-18), with God’s people rescued from an oppressive tyrant by the even more powerful divine warrior.[14]  In any case, Jesus seems clearly to be the stronger man who attacks Satan’s kingdom and overcomes him, as already foreshadowed in both Luke 3:16 and 4:1-13.[15] 
This attack has consequences for Satan similar to those in the parallels in Matthew and Mark, as he is disarmed and his goods taken.  What happens with the goods, though, is slightly different.  Whereas in the parallels, the goods seemed to be people and the idea seemed to be that they are released from Satan’s power, here the idea seems to be that in disarming Satan, Jesus brings blessings of some kind upon people.[16]  Despite the difference between accounts, however, the outcome seems ultimately to be similar: In casting out demons, Jesus is disarming Satan, thereby bringing blessings to the formerly possessed and, in general via the power of the kingdom of God, to the world.

Satanic Civil War
Having discussed the context of the DSM sayings and one of its two components – the Strong Man – we are now ready to address together the Divided House and Kingdom and the argument that it and the Strong Man are mutually inconsistent.  As already alluded to earlier, most of the warrant for thinking that the DSM sayings are inconsistent depends on the supposed lack of availability of plausible alternative interpretations according to which they are consistent.  If we find another interpretation which is otherwise plausible and sees the sayings as consistent, then we will have taken away much of the warrant for seeing the DSM sayings as inconsistent.  The current section will examine three interpretations which appear to be plausible candidates for having this character.
Mark begins Jesus’ discourse with a question about whether Satan is able to cast out Satan, proceeding then to describe how divided kingdoms and houses (here, in the sense of households) will inevitably fall – civil war brings empires to their end.  He then claims that Satan would also fall into the same category if he (that is, his kingdom) was similarly divided.  The parallel in Matthew is similar but with a divided city added to create a Matthean triad of kingdom, city and house.[17]  The sense in Luke is also very similar to that of Mark, despite slightly different wording.[18]
In a paper published in 1999, Joel Marcus claims that the Divided House and Kingdom present us with an argument that is “fairly easy to reconstruct” and, indeed, Marcus describes to us its “fairly obvious logic”, which, he says, contradicts the Strong Man.[19]  Marcus’s reconstruction of it, focusing on Mark’s version, is as follows:
1. If Jesus casts out demons by means of Beelzebul/Satan, as his opponents charge, then Satan’s kingdom has become divided.
2. A divided Satanic kingdom implies a Satanic kingdom laid waste, and one that cannot stand.
3. But Satan’s kingdom has obviously not been laid waste, and is not about to fall.
4. Therefore Satan’s kingdom has not become divided.
5. Jesus, then, does not cast out demons by means of Beelzebul/Satan: Q.E.D.
Marcus takes all of these steps to be obviously present basically at the surface of the text, premise 3 being supplied as an implied premise required for the validity of the argument.  One might see 5, in Mark at least, in Mark 3:23 when Jesus begins with what appears to be the rhetorical question “How can Satan cast out Satan?” to which the supposed answer seems to be “He can’t.”  One might wonder whether this logic is as apparent in the parallels in Matthew and Luke (which lack Mark’s initial question on the lips of Jesus), but for the sake of argument I will treat it as if it is.  1 and 2 would appear to come directly from the parables themselves.  The end result is a clear example of a formally valid argument using modus tollens.[20]
By contrast, Marcus takes the Strong Man to assume the negation of premise 3 – Satan’s kingdom has indeed been laid waste by Jesus, Satan having been bound by him.  If Marcus and others are correct in such interpretations, it would appear that the DSM sayings therefore contradict each other.  Is Marcus’s interpretation of the DSM sayings, however, the most reasonable?  What is needed at this point is to examine a few other interpretations, according to which the DSM sayings do not so obviously end up contradictory.  The first interpretation to be considered (A) says that on the DSM sayings, Satan indeed still stands in one sense, but is defeated in another.  The second (B) takes the argument to be that whether or not Jesus casts out Satan by Beelzebul, his message of the coming of the kingdom is vindicated and hence so is he.  The third (C) says takes the argument instead to be that it would be absurd to think that Satan would risk his own kingdom by empowering Jesus to cast out demons and hence it is by God’s power that Jesus defeats Satan.  In what follows I will successively examine each of these three interpretations.

The Defeat of Satan as Coming and Accomplished
The first interpretation to be considered (Interpretation A) does not dispute the logic of the Divided House and Kingdom as reconstructed by Marcus but nevertheless still insists that the set of statements made in this argument is consistent with that of the statements made in the Strong Man.  On this view, the Strong Man does indeed depict Satan as bound, and the earlier DSM sayings do depict him as still standing.  The key is to see Satan as powerful in one sense and yet rendered powerless in another: there are aspects of Satan’s defeat that have been or are being accomplished and yet others that are still future.  This sort of now/not yet tension should not perhaps be so surprising, given the way it arguably shows up throughout the New Testament.  Or so one could argue.  On this view, one can see Satan as already proleptically defeated yet the completion of that victory as still to come; the world now experiences the inbreaking of God’s kingdom into Satan’s yet must still wait for the final defeat of Satan and the swallowing whole of his kingdom by God’s.  In other words, the power of evil is broken, but complete victory is still to come.
The comments of the previous main section on the Strong Man seem to support such an interpretation (assuming, of course, that they in fact end up being accurate).  The defeat of Satan in the Strong Man is just the inbreaking of the kingdom in the ministry of Jesus and its application in freeing individuals from Satan’s power by casting out his minions that oppress them, something which is occurring in Jesus’ ministry and through his disciples’.  The defeat that is denied in the Divided House and Kingdom consists, perhaps, in a more universal, complete powerlessness on the part of Satan.  This sort of defeat is not something which has happened, since the Gospel writers still seem to see Satan as active, at least at some further points in Jesus’ ministry.  If this all worked out, then it would turn out that the Strong Man would not in fact assume the negation of step 3 (“But Satan’s kingdom has obviously not been laid waste, and is not about to fall”) as it is understood within the argument of the Divided House and Kingdom.
One potentially useful way of understanding this idea of Satan defeated and yet undefeated is to think in terms of models.  A model is just some structure which we use to represent something else as being in a certain condition.  The model does this by being in a similar condition itself.[21]  A model, though, will not be similar in every respect to the object or phenomena it is representing (or modeling) and hence ought not to be used as a representation of everything that is true of its representational target.  Hence, when discussing the success or implications of a particular usage of a model, we ought in general to restrict our discussion of it with respect to the actual goals or ends for which it was deployed in the first place.[22] 
One can even accurately and appropriately use two models which, if taken as applying in every aspect, would otherwise be contradictory.[23]  This is simply because models are meant to resemble their targets only in some respects (and for some particular purposes) and not others and should not be interpreted, when used, overly literally as representing fully the conditions of what is being represented.
The application to the DSM sayings is fairly clear – models are used not just in science but in ordinary thought as well, perhaps in metaphorical or imagistic thought in particular.[24]  The Strong Man presents us with one model: Jesus’ confrontation with the forces of darkness is in some aspects rather like a Strong Man being bound and despoiled.  The Divided House and Kingdom, meanwhile, presents us with models involving civil strife – divisions in household, kingdoms, or cities (depending on the Gospel).  This latter sort of model forecasts the fall or collapse of power for the civic entity involved in such internal strife.  Without such strife, the entity may yet stand, or at least not fall from within.  Satan’s kingdom, according to this interpretation, is in some aspects rather like a civic entity lacking such internal strife and hence not falling to internal division. 
To take these two very different models and think that they tell us something contradictory goes beyond the use of the model itself – there is no clear indication that Jesus uses each model to represent so much of the current state of Satan’s kingdom that a contradiction is produced.  On this way of understanding what Jesus is doing, he is not literally saying that the reality is exactly in every way like the situations presented in the models.  Rather, things in reality resemble the way things are in the model in important ways but not necessarily in every way.[25]  To take the DSM sayings as contradictory, then, is to treat them too literally and not to treat them as using the models they (on this interpretation) do.  To make them out as contradictory, one would have to show that what the features being modeled end up, for the purposes for which the models are respectively used, representing conflicting states of affairs.  This, however, has not been done.  More could be said, obviously, about this – in particular, about the exact ways in which these models are supposed to resemble reality (at which point the discussion earlier in this section about differing kinds of defeat might usefully be deployed).  Instead, I will simply leave this approach as a live interpretive option for the time being, whichever way we understand Interpretation A, and turn to my other alternative interpretations.

Not Whether but How
The next two interpretations I will examine involve challenging Marcus’s five-step argument as an accurate reconstruction of what is going on in the Divided House and Kingdom.  In particular, it involves a denial that step 3 (“But Satan’s kingdom has obviously not been laid waste, and is not about to fall”) is any part of what is going on in these passages.  Despite Marcus’s assertion of obviousness (one person’s obvious may be another’s unclear and what one finds obvious may in fact be false), it is by no means clear that all the steps he gives ought to be read as occurring in our passages.  There is no direct evidence, for instance, of 3, 4 (“Therefore Satan’s kingdom has not become divided”), or 5 (“Jesus, then, does not cast out demons by means of Beelzebul/Satan”) in the passages under consideration, though the latter two are surely not unreasonable suppositions.  In fact, all Jesus explicitly says is what is represented by step 2 (“A divided Satanic kingdom implies a Satanic kingdom laid waste, and one that cannot stand”) – everything else is just filled in by reconstruction based on the context.  And when we take into account the fact that the Strong Man is part of that context, that may provide at least some evidence against reading 3 into the earlier DSM sayings (provided we do not adopt Interpretation A, that is). 
The interpreter obviously has to take into account the context of the Divided House and Kingdom in interpreting that set of sayings, but we cannot arbitrarily take only some of the context into account but ignore the rest (i.e., the Strong Man), and then say that the passage contradicts those ignored parts when that ignored part ought to have been taken into account in our interpretation in the first place.  Marcus cannot appeal to the original separateness of the DSM saying, either, since he would then be begging the question – after all, it was supposed to be the contradiction between the sayings that, on his view, was supposed to show us that the sayings were originally separate in the first place.
On the two interpretations to be considered next, then, 2 (“A divided Satanic kingdom implies a Satanic kingdom laid waste, and one that cannot stand”) will be accepted and, within 2 (understood as expressing a conditional), the consequent will be accepted while the antecedent is rejected.[26]  This is a perfectly plausible position to take so far in our investigations, as long as a convincing interpretation of the DSM sayings is offered which is consistent with this.[27]  The basic idea of these sorts of interpretations will be that the Divided House and Kingdom are not really about whether Satan is defeated but how.  Satan does not fall to civil war but to invasion from without by the divine robber or stronger one.[28] 

Either Way, it’s the Kingdom
On the second interpretation (Interpretation B) to be considered, the main idea is that even if Jesus’ opponents’ charges are correct, it would still mean that Satan was falling and hence, given the assumed correlation between the two events, that the kingdom of God has come.  But this, in effect, only serves to vindicate Jesus’ message and, by extension, his miracles, thus casting doubt on the charges against him.  In Mark, this is followed immediately by the Strong Man.  Jesus offers an alternative interpretation of just why Satan’s power is failing and people have been freed from his grasp – Jesus has bound Satan.[29]
In Matthew and Luke, prior to the Strong Man, we have the saying about the other exorcists and the Finger/Spirit saying.  The effect, on Interpretation B, is that Jesus begins by showing that his hypothetical use of Satan to cast out demons implies the coming of the kingdom.  He then continues with a short interlude charging his opponents with hypocrisy, and then provides finally the alternative that if it is by God rather than Satan that Jesus casts out demons, the kingdom has still come either way (and hence Jesus is vindicated once again).  Thus, we see in the Strong Man, Jesus is not in collusion with Satan but rather has either tied him up or disarmed him.  In all three Gospels, then, we have a reading of the DSM sayings that renders them perfectly consistent with one another.
Marcus, however, considers the following idea: that Jesus is asserting what would follow from his opponents’ charge (that is, Jesus asserts that Satan’s kingdom has been laid waste and cannot stand) and yet rejects the charge itself.  Marcus’s objection to this idea is that it is “ridiculous” for Jesus to suddenly accept his opponents’ charge after arguing against it with the analogies in 3:24-25.  And even if this was an “even if” acceptance[30] – that is, accepting the charge only in order to draw out its consequences – there ought to be a more strongly contrastive conjunction between 3:24-25 on the one hand, where Jesus is not accepting the charge in any way, and 3:26, where he is.[31] 
It is Marcus who is confused here, however, since the statements ‘On the supposition that p, q’ and ‘If p, then q’ are formally equivalent.  Drawing out the consequences of a statement does not require actually supposing that statement but instead can all be done in the form of conditionals.  And, similarly, the work done in the form of conditionals can be done by supposing something p for the sake of argument, drawing out consequence q, and then discharging p (that is, discarding the assumption by conditionalizing what was drawn from it) by concluding that if p then q.[32]  But these procedures are exactly what Marcus has already done in 1 (“If Jesus casts out demons by means of Beelzebul/Satan, as his opponents charge, then Satan’s kingdom has become divided”) and 2 (“A divided Satanic kingdom implies a Satanic kingdom laid waste, and one that cannot stand”) of his reconstructed argument.  1, for instance, tells us in its consequent – that Satan is divided – what is the case on the supposition of its antecedent – that Jesus casts out demons by Satan.  There is, then, no contrast between what is going on in Mark 3:24-25 and in Mark 3:26 on the interpretation we are considering.  3:24-25 simply give the general examples of what happens on the supposition of particular events occurring and 3:26 gives the application to a particular supposition involving Satan or Jesus.  Marcus, once again, has gotten tripped up on issues of logic (once again, related to conditionals).

That’s Just not What Rulers Do
The final interpretation (Interpretation C) I will examine comes to this: Jesus agrees with the widely held idea of the unity of the demonic realm and sees Satan as the chief and undisputed ruler of that realm.[33]  And it is only common sense that rulers such as Satan do not undermine their own absolute authority or willingly endanger their own rule – for in that case, their rule and authority would crumble and their kingdom would slip from their fingers.[34]  Given the absurdity of rulers acting in such a way to undermine themselves and the further fact that if Satan was empowering Jesus to perform exorcisms he would be doing just that, it follows that it is also absurd to think that Satan is empowering Jesus to do such things.  Instead, in the Strong Man, we are told that Satan’s fall only comes about unwillingly and as a result of an act of binding (or disarming).  Again, on this interpretation the DSM sayings come out consistent with one another.
Marcus does, in fact, consider a version of this interpretation which he dubs the “satanic intentionality” interpretation.  On that interpretation, Jesus is thinking things from Satan’s point of view: Satan thinks that using someone to cast out demons would result in his fall and hence, as a rational being and given his own desires and goals, refuses to pursue such a foolish course of action.  Marcus, however, takes it that there is no independent evidence in the passage that “Jesus is hypothesizing about Satan’s thought-processes.”[35]  In fact, on his view, whereas the antecedent of the conditional in the Greek of Mark 3:26 indicates the past (since its main verb ajnqivsthmi appears here in the aorist indicative), if this were from Satan’s point of view, it would rather be future.  Instead, a proper reading of the grammar of this section has Jesus pointing to “a real or contrary-to-fact division of Satan’s kingdom that is past from the perspective of the person from whose outlook the condition is being formulated; if that person were Satan himself, it would be too late to do anything about it, and the sentence would be senseless.”[36]
On behalf of the satanic intentionality interpretation, it can be argued that one may indeed see in the context of this passage at least some concern with Satan’s mental state.  The Strong Man, for instance, emphasizes the unwillingness of Satan to give up power – it has to be by external attack, not internal division.  Marcus does not consider, though, the option that the viewpoint encapsulated in the conditional is that of Jesus and his audience – they have a third-person person, present viewpoint, on Satan’s first-person, past point of view.  From the viewpoint of Jesus and his companions, Satan’s hypothetical thought-processes leading (or not) to division are past.  If this is possible, then Marcus has failed to consider a relevant alternative available to the satanic intentionality interpretation.
More importantly, however, we need not see the focus in this passage to be on Satan’s internal thought processes at all.  Talk of rationality, behavior, and even interests or dispositions need not be directly concerned with mental deliberations or thought-processes – it need not look at any of these as subjective phenomena but can take a purely external, third-person point of view on them.  Hence, “satanic intentionality” might not be the best name for all forms of such interpretations – Marcus’s idea that the focus on thought processes is the key feature of the satanic intentionality interpretation actually implies that many of the scholars, whom Marcus lumps together as holding the satanic intentionality view, do not in fact hold that view but rather hold some other version of Interpretation C.  Hence, Marcus’s arguments do not in fact damage the views of many of the very scholars he targets with them.
As Marcus himself says, quoting Robert Gundry, the Divided House and Kingdom are about “action, not thinking”.[37]  But whereas Marcus uses this quote against the satanic intentionality interpretation, it actually points to the very same point I made in the previous paragraph: one can hold a view somewhat similar to the satanic intentionality interpretation but without focusing on Satan’s thought processes.  One can say things like “Satan would not do that since that would be an irrational action,”[38] “Satan would not do that because it conflicts with his interests,”[39] or “Satan would not do that because he is a ruler and rulers simply do not do that sort of thing.”[40] And one can say such things all the while without making any excursion into internal processes.  The focus in each of these examples is on the external, even in the second statement.[41]  Marcus’s criticisms, then, do not carry any weight, at the very least, against many potential forms of Interpretation C.

As we have seen, Matthew, Mark, and Luke present us with versions of the Beelzebul controversy which are at once very similar but also rather different.  At the heart of each version of the controversy, however, are the DSM sayings, which are the only sayings carried across all three Synoptics in the context of the Beelzebul controversy.  These provide the basic skeleton on which the three Evangelists build based on their individually distinct interests. 
Joel Marcus, along with a number of other commentators, to the contrary, has argued that the DSM sayings are in fact inconsistent with one another.  However, as I hope I have shown we need not accept Marcus’s interpretation.  Instead, I offered three alternative interpretations which prima facie fit well into the DSM sayings’ contexts in the Gospels.  We thus have three possible interpretations on which the DSM sayings end up consistent and which can potentially provide viable alternatives to interpretations on which the DSM sayings are contradictory.  Further examination of these three interpretations, and possible adjudication between them (or acceptance of more than one if it is found that the DSM sayings are appropriately ambiguous), is needed but would take us beyond the scope of this paper.  If, as I believe, at least one of these is more plausible than Marcus’s interpretation, though, I think we will still have good reason to think that the DSM sayings end up being truly consistent with each other after all. 


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Luz, Ulrich. Das Evangelium nach Matthäus, 2.Teilband Mt 8-17.  Zürich: Benzinger, 1990.
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______.  Mark 1-8. AB. New York: Doubleday, 2000.
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Rodd, C. S. “Spirit or Finger.” Expository Times 72 (1960-1961): 157-158.
Shirock, Robert. “Whose Exorcists are They? The Referents of οἱ υἱοὶ ὑμῶν at Matthew 12:27/Luke 11:19.” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 46 (1992): 41-51.
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Williams, David. “Why the Finger?” Expository Times 115 (2003): 45-49.
Williams, James G. “A Note on the ‘Unforgiveable Sin’ Logion.” New Testament Studies 12 (1965): 75-77.
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[1] The Divided House and Kingdom: Mk 3:24-26/ Mt 12:25-26/ Lk 11:17-18. The Strong Man: Mk 3:27/ Mt 12:29/ Lk 11:21-22.  For evidence that the DSM sayings do in fact, in some form, go back to Jesus, see David E. Aune, “Magic in Early Christianity,” in Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt, Part II, 23.2, ed. H. Temporini and W. Haase (Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1980), 1525-1526; Joel Marcus, “The Beelzebul Controversy and the Eschatologies of Jesus,” in Authenticating the Activities of Jesus, ed. B. Chilton and C. Evans (Leiden: Koninklijke Brill, 1999), 261-264; G. H. Twelftree, Jesus the Exorcist: A Contribution to the Study of the Historical Jesus (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1993), 142.  Marcus is, in particular, arguing against Rudolf Bultmann, History of the Synoptic Tradition (New York: Harper and Row, 196), 49.
[2] On this name (βεελζεβούλ in the Greek), see, for instance, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke X-XXIV (Garden City: Doubleday, 1985), 920; Lloyd Gaston, “Beelzebul,” Theologische Zeitschrift 18 (1962): 254; as well as the relevant TDOT article.
[3] The sorts of charges brought out in the Beelzebul controversy in the Synoptic Gospels are likely historical given the also likely historicity of Jesus’ exorcism and healing ministries (both charges of possession and ministries of Jesus also being attested to by the Gospel of John).  See J. R. Donahue and D.J. Harrington, The Gospel of Mark (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2002), 130; Martin Emmrich, “The Lucan Account of the Beelzebul Controversy,” Westminster Theological Journal 62 (2000): 269; R. T. France, The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2002), 170; D. J. Harrington, The Gospel of Matthew (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1991), 134; John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, Volume One: The Roots of the Problem and the Person  (New York: Doubleday, 1991), 96; N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996), 187, 195.
[4] Chrys C. Caragounis, “Kingdom of God, Son of Man, and Jesus’ Self-Understanding,” Tyndale Bulletin 40 (1989): 224; Michael Humphries, “The Kingdom of God in the Q Version of the Beelzebul Controversy: Q 11:14-26,” Forum 9 (1993): 128-130; Joel Marcus, Mark 1-8 (New York: Doubleday, 2000), 281; Wright, Jesus, 452-453; Adela Yarbro Collins, Mark: A Commentary (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2007), 228.
[5] This seems to be the most plausible explanation.  See Caragounis, “Kingdom of God,” 229; W. D. Davies and D. C. Allison, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to Saint Matthew, Vol. 2: Matthew 8-18 (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1991), 337; Fitzmyer, Luke, 918; Harrington, Matthew, 183; Ulrich Luz, Das Evangelium nach Matthäus, 2.Teilband Mt 8-17 (Zürich: Benzinger, 1990), 259-260.  For an alternative (and, it seems to me, less plausible) interpretation according to which these exorcists are the disciples rather than Pharisees or some other Jews outside Jesus’ circle see Robert Shirock, “Whose Exorcists are They? The Referents of οἱ υἱοὶ ὑμῶν at Matthew 12:27/Luke 11:19,” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 46 (1992): 41-51.
[6] Note that this important move on Jesus’ part in no way implies or requires the acceptance of the other exorcists and their exorcisms on Jesus’ part.  At least some commentators notice this.  See, for instance, Robert H. Gundry, Matthew: A Commentary on His Handbook for a Mixed Church under Persecution, Second Edition  (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1982), 235.  Hence, we need not follow, for instance, Humphries, “Q Version,” 132-134.
[7] Whether or not this Q saying originally spoke of casting out demons by the “finger of God” or the “Spirit of God” need not concern us, particularly given the amount of evidence on both sides and the difficulty of adjudicating it.  See Davies and Allison, Matthew, 340; Emmrich, “Lucan Account,” 271-273; Fitzmyer, Luke, 918; Harrington, Matthew, 183; Luz, Matthäus, 255-256; I. Howard Marshall, The Gospel of Luke: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1978), 475-476; Robert P. Menzies, The Development of Early Christian Pneumatology (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1991), 186; C. S. Rodd, “Spirit or Finger,” Expository Times 72 (1960-1961): 157-158; Robert W. Wall, “The Finger of God: Deuteronomy 9:10 and Luke 11:20,” New Testament Studies 93 (1987): 144-150.  Whether or not the saying, in whatever form it originally took, is regarded as an authentic word of Jesus, it certainly fits the context well and probably went together with the charges of demon possession in the tradition (at least within Q’s version of it), which might give us at least some reason (even if it is not seen as decisive) to think this might originally belong with the DSM sayings or even go back to Jesus (though its absence from Mark certainly makes these claims less supported than they otherwise might have been).  On the potential significance of the phrase “finger of God” as a link back to the Exodus narrative, see Fitzmyer, Luke, 922; Gerald A. Klingbeil, “The Finger of God in the Old Testament,” Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 112 (2000): 415; Marshall, Luke, 475; David Williams, “Why the Finger?” Expository Times 115 (2003): 48.  Against the alternative understanding of Wall, “Finger of God,” 144-150, see Emmrich, “Lucan Account,” 272n32. 
[8] Caragounis, “Kingdom of God,” 230-231; Davies and Allison, Matthew, 339.  There may also be a sense here of Jesus’ companions having won a victory for God’s kingdom over Satan as Jesus’ kingdom subordinates by attacking Satan via casting out his subordinates.  See Luke Timothy Johnson, The Gospel of Luke (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1991), 183.
[9] On the originality (or not) of Luke’s version, see Davies and Allison, Matthew, 342; Emmrich, “Lucan Account,” 273; Marshall, Luke, 476-477.
[10] Davies and Allison, Matthew, 342; Luz, Matthäus, 261; Marcus, Mark, 274; Collins, Mark, 233.  I take this interpretation to be more plausible than that of Gundry, who thinks that in Matthew (as opposed to the other two Synoptics) Jesus is the strong man and the goods are the disciples.  See Gundry, Matthew, 236.
[11] For Biblical and extra-Biblical references, see Richard H. Hiers, “‘Binding’ and ‘Loosing’: The Matthean Authorizations,” Journal of Biblical Literature 104 (1985): 235-239; Luz, Matthäus, 261-262; Marcus, “Beelzebul Controversy,” 250; Marcus, Mark, 274; Collins, Mark, 233.  See, for instance, I Enoch 10:4; Jubilees 5:6; 10:7-11; Revelation 20:2-3.
[12] John Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2005), 502.
[13] France, Mark, 171-174; Robert H. Gundry, Mark: A Commentary on His Apology for the Cross (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1993), 174.  In Luke, this may be clearer because of the links in his version of the controversy with Luke 10:17-19.  Cf. Donahue and Harrington, Mark, 131. 
[14] Emmrich, “Lucan Account,” 273; Marshall, Luke, 478.
[15] Fitzmyer, Luke, 919.
[16] Marshall, Luke 477-478.
[17] Davies and Allison, Matthew, 138: “[F]rom the largest collective to the smallest, internal division wreaks havoc.”
[18] Luz, Matthäus, 255n21, declares, without giving any real evidence or dealing with opposing views, that Luke misunderstood the image of the house in Matthew 12:25 and took the house to be a building and then shortened the whole thing: “Er faßte ‘Haus’ als Gebäude auf raffte daraufhin das Ganze.”  Commentators on Luke appear to disagree and find Luke’s use of “house” to be in the sense of “household”, just as in Matthew and Mark.  Luke’s image is of a civil war, just like the other Gospels, not of one building falling onto an adjacent one.  See, for instance, Fitzmyer, Luke, 921; Marshall, Luke, 474.
[19] Marcus, “Beelzebul Controversy,” 248-250.  Note, however, that his landmark Anchor commentary on Mark, published the very next year, does not press the thesis of the paper.  Cf. Austin Busch, “Questioning and Conviction: Double-voiced Discourse in Mark 3:22–30,” Journal of Biblical Literature 125 (2006): 483-484; Christopher Evans, Saint Luke (Philadelphia: Trinity Press, 1990), 491; William Lane, The Gospel of Mark (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1974), 142-143; Luz, Matthäus, 259; Marcus, Mark, 273.  Note, though, that, unlike many of these others, while Lane agrees with Marcus’s interpretations of the DSM Sayings, he does not appear to see any contradiction there.
[20] As reconstructed, it is clearly not a reductio ad absurdum, contrary to what Marcus says.  This confusion between reductio and modus tollens is an example in Marcus’s paper of a persistent confusion between statements that appear as premises in an argument and statements that appear as the antecedents of conditionals that appear as premises in an argument.  Busch, “Questioning and Conviction,” 483, correctly identifies the form of this sort of argument.
[21] More formally, by examining a model m of, say, object o, which is similar to o in regards to some property or relation F, we can learn about o insofar as it is F. 
[22] A physical, scale model airplane in a small wind tunnel, for instance, can act as a model of its target, a real plane in a full-sized wind tunnel, and does a good job in representing certain aspects of the plane by being very similar to it those respects, but obviously a model airplane will be very different from what it is modeling in other, very important ways. 
[23] In physics, for instance, physicists routinely model water as an incompressible, continuous fluid one moment, to capture particular aspects of water, and then the next moment model it as a collection of discrete, billiard-ball like particles, to capture certain other aspects of water.  If taken to describe water in every aspect, the application of these two models to water would be contradictory.  But it is not – physicists, and those who knowingly use models in general, do not take their models to apply in every aspect to what is being modeled.  The goals with respect to which each model is used are different.  Since the aspects of water we are interested in with one model are different from those with the other, there is nothing contradictory in applying both of them to water.
[24] Philosopher Paul Teller, in his talks and seminars, even goes so far as to suggest that models are being applied or used in almost all of our thoughts or beliefs – that is, our thinking tends to be in-model thinking.  Model usage is related to other representational phenomena in various ways.  Analogies, for instance, tend to involve a more or less explicit statement of correspondence (or some particular manner thereof) between a model and the target of the analogy.  For a brief overview of model theory, including how models are used in theory construction, see, for instance, Ronald Giere, “Using Models to Represent Reality,” in Model-Based Reasoning in Scientific Discovery, ed. L. Magnani, N. J. Nersessian, and P. Thagard (New York: Kluwer, 1999), 41-57; “How Models are Used to Represent Reality,” Philosophy of Science 71 (2004): 742-752.  Other works by Giere might also be usefully considered here.
[25] Arguably, this is how a lot of wisdom instruction works, Jesus’ parables included.  It may prove useful, in fact, to consider the DSM sayings as examples of the latter.
[26] Though see Joachim Gnilka, Das Evangelium nach Markus, 1.Teilband Mk1-8,26 (Zürich: Benzinger, 1978), 150.  According to Marcus, “Beelzebul Controversy,” 252-253, Gnilka takes Jesus to accept both antecedent and consequent – Satan has risen against himself.  Marcus offers some pieces of evidence against this, some of them more convincing than others.  In the end, though, I think this is an incorrect reading of Gnilka, a result of the recurring given confusion concerning premises and conditionals in Marcus’s paper.
[27] Marcus, “Beelzebul Controversy,” 254, attacks Gundry, Mark, 173, for taking just this position, saying, “But it flouts every rule of logic to use a patently absurd premise to justify a true conclusion, and one wonders how such an obtuse rhetorical procedure could be presumed to be effective in a polemical situation.”  It is rather difficult to tell what Marcus is actually talking about, since Gundry’s Jesus does not offer any absurd premise or use it to justify any true conclusions.  This seems to be another case where Marcus is simply confusing antecedents with premises and, by extension, consequents with conclusions (and conditionals, in general, with arguments) – Gundry’s Jesus does offer step 2 (“A divided Satanic kingdom implies a Satanic kingdom laid waste, and one that cannot stand”), which has an absurd antecedent but a true consequent.   Accepting this sort of conditional need not be an “obtuse rhetorical procedure” at all – it depends on how it is used and such conditionals can often be rather useful, effective things.  In fact, Marcus himself admits in more than one place that the Evangelists accept an interpretation of the DSM sayings which has just this understanding of 2 as a consequence.  See, for instance, Marcus, “Beelzebul Controversy,” 255; Marcus, Mark, 282.  This is just the sort of “not about whether Satan falls, but how” reading that we are now discussing, though Marcus still thinks that the Divided House and Kingdom suggests a strong Satan.  For positions Marcus considers similar in some ways to his own, see, for instance, Hugh Anderson, The Gospel of Mark (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1976), 123; C. K. Barrett, The Holy Spirit in the Gospel Tradition (London: SCM Press, 1947), 60-61.
[28] Marcus, “Beelzebul Controversy,” 253-254, offers arguments against this sort of interpretation (espoused, for instance, by Gundry and D. H. Juel, Mark (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1990), 63, but most of these arguments really only work so long as the target is the sort of position that takes it that the DSM sayings are about how Satan is falling but which do not add anything else to the structure of the passages.  Once an argumentative structure is added, Marcus’s criticisms do not necessarily apply any longer.  His other argument (why would the Evangelists mention how division leads to destruction if invasion does the same?) does not seem to me to provide very convincing evidence for Marcus’s view and in fact it may even be argued to be evidence for the very position he is arguing against.
[29] Collins, Mark, 232-233, seems to suggest something like this reading of the DSM sayings.  Ben Witherington III, The Gospel of Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2001), 157, may also have something similar in mind, but he is woefully unclear here.
[30] As he finds, for instance, in Twelftree, Exorcist, 106.
[31] Marcus, “Beelzebul Controversy,” 253.
[32] For a recent extended treatment of conditionals in Koine Greek, see Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 679-712.
[33] See Marcus, Mark, 281.  Contra Otto Böcher, Christus Exorcista: Dämonismus und Taufe im Neuen Testament (Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1972), 162, and Twelftree, Exorcist, 106, Marcus, “Beelzebul Controversy,” 251, argues against the thesis that this unity is the issue, not Satan’s relative strength.  The argument, basically, is that this idea applies only to Mark 3:23 but not 3:24-26 since, on Marcus’s interpretation, 3:24-26 assumes Satan is not finished and yet Jesus has performed successful exorcisms.  This, of course, is clearly question-begging, since whether or not 3:24-26 tell us Satan is not defeated is precisely part of what is at issue. 
[34] Cf. Harrington, Matthew, 183; Juel, Mark, 63; John J. Kilgallen, “The Return of the Unclean Spirit (Luke 11,24-26),” Biblica 74 (1993): 49; Marshall, Luke, 471.  Juel says that the opponents’ charge is against common sense – rulers who did that would fall.  Instead, it is Jesus who is bringing Satan to an end.  This is a clear example of the sort of interpretation presented in this section.  Marcus, “Beelzebul Controversy,” 260, however, does not see this interpretation and interprets Juel in the same way he interprets the Divided House and Kingdom.
[35] Marcus, “Beelzebul Controversy,” 257.
[36] Marcus, “Beelzebul Controversy,” 257-258.
[37] Marcus, “Beelzebul Controversy,” 258, quoting Gundry, Mark, 173.
[38] Cf. Davies and Allison, Matthew, 337-338; B. L. Mack and V. K. Robbins, Patterns of Persuasion in the Gospels (Sonoma: Polebridge Press, 1989), 165.
[39] Cf. Rudolph Pesch, Das Markusevangelium, Teil 1: Einleitung und Kommentar zu Kap. 1,1 - 8,26 (Freiburg: Herder, 1976), 214-215.
[40] Cf. Nolland, Mark, 499.
[41] One might even argue that, because of the strict unity of the demonic, Satan is constitutively incapable of acting against other demons because that would be to act against himself.  See Loren R. Fisher, “Can this be the Son of David?” in Jesus and the Historian: Written in Honor of Ernest Cadman Colwell, ed. F. T. Trotter (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1968), 91-92; Gundry, Mark, 173.