Wednesday, August 02, 2006


Q and the Beelzebul Story

In this post I shall provide a colored synopsis of Mk 3:22-30, Mt 12:22-32, Lk 11:14-23, the so-called Beelzebul story. After the synopsis, I shall then try to identify peculiar traits in each of the accounts, with the aim to consider whether one can think that one evangelist simply used the other(s) or whether, on the other hand, it would make more sense to posit the existence of an external tradition ("Q").

First of all, let me clarify that I'll assume Markan priority as established (I won't discuss it here and I shall take it for granted).

Color code of the synopsis (RGB values shown):

Mark: red (255,0,0)
Matthew: blue (0,0,255)
Luke: yellow (255,204,0)
Matthew + Mark: purple (128,0,128)
Matthew + Luke: green (0,128,0)
Mark + Luke: orange (255,128,0)
Matthew + Mark + Luke: brown (153,51,0)

Mt 12:22-32 Mk 3:22-30 Lk 11:14-23
22 Τότε προσηνέχθη αὐτῷ δαιμονιζόμενος τυφλὸς καὶ κωφός. καὶ ἐθεράπευσεν αὐτόν, ὥστε τὸν κωφὸν λαλεῖν καὶ βλέπειν.
23 καὶ ἐξίσταντο πάντες οἱ ὄχλοι

καὶ ἔλεγον,
Μήτι οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ υἱὸς Δαυίδ;

24 οἱ δὲ Φαρισαῖοι ἀκούσαντες


Οὗτος οὐκ
ἐκβάλλει τὰ δαιμόνια εἰ μὴ ἐν τῷ Βεελζεβοὺλ ἄρχοντι τῶν δαιμονίων.

25 εἰδὼς δὲ τὰς ἐνθυμήσεις αὐτῶν

εἶπεν αὐτοῖς,

Πᾶσα βασιλεία μερισθεῖσα καθ' ἑαυτῆς ἐρημοῦται,

καὶ πᾶσα πόλις ἢ οἰκία μερισθεῖσα καθ' ἑαυτῆς οὐ σταθήσεται.

26 καὶ εἰ ὁ Σατανᾶς τὸν Σατανᾶν ἐκβάλλει, ἐφ' ἑαυτὸν ἐμερίσθη·
πῶς οὖν σταθήσεται ἡ βασιλεία αὐτοῦ;

27 καὶ εἰ ἐγὼ ἐν Βεελζεβοὺλ ἐκβάλλω τὰ δαιμόνια, οἱ υἱοὶ ὑμῶν ἐν τίνι ἐκβάλλουσιν; διὰ τοῦτο αὐτοὶ κριταὶ ἔσονται ὑμῶν.
28 εἰ δὲ ἐν πνεύματι θεοῦ ἐγὼ ἐκβάλλω τὰ δαιμόνια, ἄρα ἔφθασεν ἐφ' ὑμᾶς ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ.

29 ἢ πῶς δύναταί τις εἰσελθεῖν εἰς τὴν οἰκίαν τοῦ ἰσχυροῦ καὶ τὰ σκεύη αὐτοῦ ἁρπάσαι,

ἐὰν μὴ πρῶτον δήσῃ τὸν ἰσχυρόν;

καὶ τότε τὴν οἰκίαν αὐτοῦ διαρπάσει.

30 ὁ μὴ ὢν μετ' ἐμοῦ κατ' ἐμοῦ ἐστιν, καὶ ὁ μὴ συνάγων μετ' ἐμοῦ σκορπίζει.

31 Διὰ τοῦτο λέγω ὑμῖν, πᾶσα ἁμαρτία καὶ βλασφημία ἀφεθήσεται τοῖς ἀνθρώποις, ἡ δὲ τοῦ πνεύματος βλασφημία οὐκ ἀφεθήσεται.
32 καὶ ὃς ἐὰν εἴπῃ λόγον κατὰ τοῦ υἱοῦ τοῦ ἀνθρώπου, ἀφεθήσεται αὐτῷ·

ὃς δ' ἂν εἴπῃ κατὰ
τοῦ πνεύματος τοῦ ἁγίου,

οὐκ ἀφεθήσεται αὐτῷ οὔτε ἐν τούτῳ τῷ αἰῶνι οὔτε ἐν τῷ μέλλοντι.

22 καὶ οἱ γραμματεῖς οἱ ἀπὸ Ἱεροσολύμων καταβάντες


ὅτι Βεελζεβοὺλ ἔχει, καὶ ὅτι
ἐν τῷ ἄρχοντι τῶν δαιμονίων ἐκβάλλει τὰ δαιμόνια.

23 καὶ προσκαλεσάμενος αὐτοὺς ἐν παραβολαῖς

ἔλεγεν αὐτοῖς,

Πῶς δύναται Σατανᾶς Σατανᾶν ἐκβάλλειν;
24 καὶ ἐὰν βασιλεία ἐφ' ἑαυτὴν μερισθῇ, οὐ δύναται σταθῆναι ἡ βασιλεία ἐκείνη·

25 καὶ ἐὰν οἰκία ἐφ' ἑαυτὴν μερισθῇ, οὐ δυνήσεται ἡ οἰκία ἐκείνη σταθῆναι.

26 καὶ εἰ ὁ Σατανᾶς ἀνέστη ἐφ' ἑαυτὸν καὶ ἐμερίσθη, οὐ δύναται στῆναι ἀλλὰ τέλος ἔχει.

27 ἀλλ' οὐ δύναται οὐδεὶς εἰς τὴν οἰκίαν τοῦ ἰσχυροῦ εἰσελθὼν τὰ σκεύη αὐτοῦ διαρπάσαι

ἐὰν μὴ πρῶτον τὸν ἰσχυρὸν δήσῃ,

καὶ τότε τὴν οἰκίαν αὐτοῦ διαρπάσει.

28 Ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι πάντα

τοῖς υἱοῖς τῶν ἀνθρώπων, τὰ ἁμαρτήματα καὶ αἱ βλασφημίαι ὅσα ἐὰν βλασφημήσωσιν·

29 ὃς δ' ἂν βλασφημήσῃ εἰς τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον

οὐκ ἔχει ἄφεσιν εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα, ἀλλὰ ἔνοχός ἐστιν αἰωνίου ἁμαρτήματος

30 ὅτι ἔλεγον, Πνεῦμα ἀκάθαρτον ἔχει.
14 Καὶ ἦν ἐκβάλλων δαιμόνιον, καὶ αὐτὸ ἦν κωφόν· ἐγένετο δὲ τοῦ δαιμονίου ἐξελθόντος ἐλάλησεν ὁ κωφός. καὶ ἐθαύμασαν οἱ ὄχλοι·

15 τινὲς δὲ ἐξ αὐτῶν


τῷ ἄρχοντι τῶν δαιμονίων ἐκβάλλει τὰ δαιμόνια·
16 ἕτεροι δὲ πειράζοντες σημεῖον ἐξ οὐρανοῦ ἐζήτουν παρ' αὐτοῦ.

17 αὐτὸς δὲ εἰδὼς αὐτῶν τὰ διανοήματα

εἶπεν αὐτοῖς,

Πᾶσα βασιλεία ἐφ' ἑαυτὴν διαμερισθεῖσα ἐρημοῦται,

καὶ οἶκος ἐπὶ οἶκον πίπτει.

18 εἰ δὲ καὶ ὁ Σατανᾶς ἐφ' ἑαυτὸν διεμερίσθη,
πῶς σταθήσεται ἡ βασιλεία αὐτοῦ;
ὅτι λέγετε ἐν Βεελζεβοὺλ ἐκβάλλειν με τὰ δαιμόνια.

19 εἰ δὲ ἐγὼ ἐν Βεελζεβοὺλ ἐκβάλλω τὰ δαιμόνια, οἱ υἱοὶ ὑμῶν ἐν τίνι ἐκβάλλουσιν; διὰ τοῦτο αὐτοὶ ὑμῶν κριταὶ ἔσονται.
20 εἰ δὲ ἐν δακτύλῳ θεοῦ ἐγὼ ἐκβάλλω τὰ δαιμόνια, ἄρα ἔφθασεν ἐφ' ὑμᾶς ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ.

21 ὅταν ὁ ἰσχυρὸς καθωπλισμένος φυλάσσῃ τὴν ἑαυτοῦ αὐλήν, ἐν εἰρήνῃ ἐστὶν τὰ ὑπάρχοντα αὐτοῦ·

22 ἐπὰν δὲ ἰσχυρότερος αὐτοῦ ἐπελθὼν νικήσῃ αὐτόν, τὴν πανοπλίαν αὐτοῦ αἴρει ἐφ' ᾗ ἐπεποίθει,

καὶ τὰ σκῦλα αὐτοῦ διαδίδωσιν.

23 ὁ μὴ ὢν μετ' ἐμοῦ κατ' ἐμοῦ ἐστιν, καὶ ὁ μὴ συνάγων μετ' ἐμοῦ σκορπίζει.

It is sometimes not easy to decide how atomic one has to go in coloring sentences; for example, I labeled Mk 3:25 as mostly "red" (that is, Mark only), and Mt 12:25c as mostly "blue" (that is, Matthew only), while these verse actually share a lot of commonality between them, compared to the "yellow" (Luke only) 11:17: so, another choice meant to highlight this fact (Mark and Matthew somewhat against Luke) would have been to color Mk 3:25 and Mt 12:25c with "purple" (Mark + Matthew).

These are the distinctive features of each gospel:

Matthew Mark Luke
Audience: Pharisees.

The demon-possessed man is blind and deaf (Luke has deaf only).

The audience asks: "can this be the Son of David?"

Every "city" divided against itself cannot stand. (divided "house" and "kingdom" are present also in Mk and Lk.)

"If I cast out demons by the spirit of God..."

Blasphemy will be forgiven "to men"; words "against the son of man" will be forgiven. The Lukan parallel is found in Luke 12:10 (καὶ πᾶς ὃς ἐρεῖ λόγον εἰς τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου, ἀφεθήσεται αὐτῷ· τῷ δὲ εἰς τὸ ἅγιον πνεῦμα βλασφημήσαντι οὐκ ἀφεθήσεται.)

Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, "either in this age, or in the age to come".
Audience: scribes.

There is no foreword to the passage, except for a typically Markan unreverential portrait of Jesus in Mark 3:21, where Jesus is said to be "out of his mind" (ἔλεγον γὰρ ὅτι ἐξέστη).

Jesus "has Beelzebul".

Jesus speaks to the audience "in parables". (in Mt and Lk instead Jesus "knows the thoughts" of the audience)

Every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven "to the children of men".

Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will "never" be forgiven. Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit is guilty of "an eternal sin".

This discourse was uttered by Jesus because the audience said he had "an unclean spirit". An alternative interpretation of v.30 is to see it as referring to the previous v.29 (blasphemy against the Holy Spirit): in this case the audience would have been guilty of that sin.
Audience: "some of them". (i.e. some of the people who marveled when Jesus healed the demon-possessed man, v.14.)

"Others" (than the audience) were trying to tempt Jesus continuously seeking (imperfect ἐζήτουν) "a sign from heaven".

Peculiar expressions "οἶκος ἐπὶ οἶκον πίπτει", perhaps expansion and consequence of the previous statement about the division of a kingdom.

"If I cast out demons by the finger of God..."

"The" strong man (articular), cf. the anarthrous "a strong man" of Mk and Mt.

The strong man is "fully armed" (καθωπλισμένος, perfect passive participle), only here in the NT. "His goods / possessions" (τὰ ὑπάρχοντα) are safe, cf. instead "his tools" of Mk and Mt, while he continuously (φυλάσσῃ, present tense) guards his palace.

When "the stronger man" (articular) comes, he takes away the full armor "in which he trusted" and distributes "the spoils" (cf. "goods" of v.21).

There is no discussion on the "blasphemy of the Holy Spirit" here (it is in Luke 12:10 though).

Material where Mark is not the middle term, i.e. material common to Matthew and Luke against Mark (but still not quite "double tradition"), is highlighted in the synopsis above by the green color:
  • The foreword to the passage, where a demon-oppressed man is brought to Jesus. Matthew and Luke agree that he was mute; for Matthew he was also blind.
  • Jesus knows the thoughts of the audience.
  • By whom do "your children" cast out demons?
  • Whoever is not with me is against me. (but cf. Mark 9:40, featuring the milder ὃς γὰρ οὐκ ἔστιν καθ' ἡμῶν, ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν ἐστιν, paralleled in Luke 9:50b: the account of the one casting out demons in Jesus' name.)
As with all material where Mark is not the middle term, and that is coherently part of a "triple tradition" narrative, it is difficult to think that an external source ("Q") was used. Take Matthew 12:27-28 and the almost identical Luke 11:19-20: they make good sense when read together with the previous verses, but it is more clumsy to think of a separate source containing, out of context, just the words "And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the spirit/finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you."

There is then the related point of the "minor agreements". These are also reflected in the "green" material; but now the focus is on the fact that these agreements of Matthew and Luke against Mark, totally embedded into the common narrative sequence, seem to presuppose some dependency of Luke on Matthew or viceversa, something that by definition goes squarely against the Q theory. For example, take Matthew 12:26, Mark 3:26 and Luke 11:18 ("If Satan is divided against himself..."): this verse seems to belong to typical triple tradition material, but in Matthew and Luke we also have literal agreement on the question "πῶς [Matthew only: οὖν] σταθήσεται ἡ βασιλεία αὐτοῦ;", not found in Mark. First, how would one explain this agreement, if not by presupposing a dependence of Luke on Matthew or viceversa? Second, it is interesting that Matthew has οὖν, omitted by Luke. This conjunction makes excellent sense when in Matthew v.26 follows v.25 (where Matthew by the way exactly repeats the form σταθήσεται of v.26), to express logical consequence. But Luke omits the Matthean v.25b, substituting it for the cryptic καὶ οἶκος ἐπὶ οἶκον πίπτει: in this case, οὖν would make much less sense, and so it is also omitted. But in this case the logical consequence of the question, its raison d'etre in the narrative, is somewhat lost. It therefore seems that Luke shows a dependency on Matthew here.

Note that there is very little "orange", i.e. agreement between Mark and Luke against Matthew. On the other hand, there is a much more substantial amount of "purple", i.e. agreement between Mark and Matthew against Luke. This could point to the fact that it would not really be necessary to posit a direct influence of Mark toward Luke. All that Luke needs is basically Matthew's account.

Luke has apparently reworked the order of some sentences. For example, the "word against the son of men" and the "blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, that cannot be forgiven" pericope has been moved to Luke 12:10. It may be noteworthy that the Ethiopic version (written between the 4th and 5th centuries) adds there the Matthean "neither in this world, nor in that which is to come".

Matthew 12:24 (the Pharisees think Jesus is casting out demons by the prince of demons) is a doublet of Matthew 9:34. (omitted by Codex Bezae)

Luke, with his mention of the ἰσχυρότερος, makes explicit what is only implicit in Mark and Matthew, i.e. a hint to the "stronger man" (Jesus) announced by John the Baptist: see Matthew 3:11, ὁ δὲ ὀπίσω μου ἐρχόμενος ἰσχυρότερός μού ἐστιν, Mark 1:7, Ἔρχεται ὁ ἰσχυρότερός μου ὀπίσω μου, and the same Luke in 3:16, ἔρχεται δὲ ὁ ἰσχυρότερός μου. Making explicit what is implicit is often linked to derived, rather than original, literature.

The "Son of David" expression of Matthew 12:23 seems typical of Matthew: referring to Jesus, it occurs 4 times in his gospel (9:27, 12:23, 20:30, 20:31), only once in Mark's (12:35) and never in Luke's. If one believes that this expression is part of the original account, then this is a strong hint to its Matthean origin, ruling out Q. What seems clear is that Matthew hints here to Isaiah 35:5, "Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped". Speaking of typical Matthean words in these initial verses, cf. also τότε in Mt 12:22 - τότε is found 89x in Matthew, 6x in Mark, and 14x in Luke.

Note the ἐφ' ᾗ ἐπεποίθει (in which he trusted) of Luke 11:22, to refer to the "full armor" of the strong man. This would seem to hint to a favorite theme of Luke's, namely that of riches and materialism. It this is so, then the expression could indicate that Luke has personally reworked part of (Matthew's) account, rather than simply relying on an external source (like Q).

Let's finally turn to Matthew 12:28 and Luke 11:20, a place where both evangelists agree verbatim, except for a single word: Matthew has "by the spirit of God", while Luke has "by the finger of God". It has been said that Luke, given his interest in the Spirit, would not have changed "spirit" to "finger"; therefore, the Lukan version would be reflecting the original (Q), while Matthew's would be an interpolation.

For what regards ἐν δακτύλῳ θεοῦ: the "finger of God" (used by Luke in 11:20) is found in the entire Bible 4 times:
  • Ex 8:19, Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, "This is the finger of God." But Pharaoh's heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the LORD had said.
  • Ex 31:18, And he gave to Moses, when he had finished speaking with him on Mount Sinai, the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God.
  • Dt 9:10, And the LORD gave me the two tablets of stone written with the finger of God, and on them were all the words that the LORD had spoken with you on the mountain out of the midst of the fire on the day of the assembly.
  • Lk 11:20, But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.
For what regards ἐν πνεύματι θεοῦ: the "spirit of God" (used by Matthew in 12:28) is found in the entire Bible 26 times (I won't list them all here). Of these 26, twice in Matthew (3:16, at his baptism Jesus saw "the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him", and in our passage, 12:28), and zero in either Mark or Luke. (it seems on the other hand a relatively popular expression in Paul, 6x.) In the OT, Gen 41:38, Ex 31:3 and Ex 35:31 directly apply the expression to Moses, and Matthew seems fond of identifying Jesus as the new Moses. On a related note, the references in 1Sa/2Ch are also interesting: there,  the "spirit of God" descends upon the prophets. It does not seem so strange then that Matthew adopts this expression.

His interest for the spirit notwithstanding, Luke could then have changed the Matthean "spirit of God" (an expression Luke never uses) to "finger of God" to refer specifically to Exodus, to identify the imprinting of God's action. Note that this would not be the only case where Luke omits an expression pertaining to the Spirit: for example, Mark 13:11 (like the parallel Matthew 10:20) has "do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit", whereas Luke only has "Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict." (Luke 21:14-15) The position that, given his insterest in the spirit, Luke would never change the word "spirit" were it present in the text, seems a bit unfounded then.

Many more things could be said, and I hope that what has been said is not too much out of track. But with the elements that I have considered in this post, it does not seem to me really necessary to posit for the Beelzebul story the use of an external source ("Q"): it looks like the gospel narrative would perfectly work under the assumption that Mark wrote first, Matthew next (expanding and rewording the Markan account), and Luke last (relying on Matthew's and Mark's accounts). While, on the contrary, assuming that the material common to Matthew and Luke (the "green parts") was due to Q seems to bring about difficulties, rather than to provide solutions.

Davide: thanks for this clear and very helpful post (I particularly liked the coloured synopsis). I also happen to agree with your conclusion. Have you seen Ken Olson's recent article which relates to this pericope? ("Unpicking on the Farrer Theory" in _Questioning Q_, which I edited with Nick Perrin).

I came over from Stephen Carlson's current Biblical Studies Carnival, in which this is mentioned.

thanks for your kind words. It is actually not by chance that you like the coloring system I adopted, as you say in your blog: I took it straight from your book "The Synoptic Problem"!

Re "Questioning Q": I've added it to my list of books to buy/read. A question: lists two books with this name, both of which you apparently co-edited with Nick Perrin: "Questioning Q : A Multidimensional Critique", ISBN 0830827692, and "On Questioning "Q"", ISBN 0281056137 -- which of the two are you referring to?
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