25 October 2021

Mark 3:19b-30

'Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness.' (vs 28-29)

Psalm 22:19-31


Before today's passage, Mark has reported Jesus choosing 12 apostles and several incidents revealing he has opponents as well as followers. In today’s passage we learn that some were attributing mental illness to him, and that even his own family agreed that he was behaving out of hand. In all likelihood they make the journey from Nazareth to Capernaum to seek to restrain him.

Theological scholars ('scribes') from Jerusalem (v. 22) might be expected to carry greater respect than their local equivalents, and their presence may suggest that the religious authorities were already concerned at the challenge Jesus posed to them and were investigating at first hand. They charge him with being possessed by Beelzebul, a name associated with a demon prince, and that it is by the power of that demon that Jesus casts out other demons as he regularly did according to Mark 1:23-27 and other passages.

Jesus responds using 'parables', which is a word that covers a wide range of memorable sayings and illustrations as well as stories. The logic of what Jesus says is unassailable since the demons are all understood to be under Satan their ruler, although as with parables generally listeners are expected to infer the message so he does not spell out that he is himself the strong man who must have overpowered Satan in order to release those who are hostage to demons.

Verse 30 justifies the relevance of the saying in the two previous verses to this historical incident. It clearly indicates that to suggest Jesus is empowered by an evil spirit is equivalent to “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit”. By extension, we might want to say that all good human acts are empowered by God’s Spirit, and that therefore to call them evil is so to set oneself against God, and to be beyond redemption. On the other hand, Jesus also says that people can be forgiven for sins and blasphemies of every kind. Perhaps two things are most important to state. One is that any person who is deeply troubled that they might have committed the unforgiveable sin very clearly hasn’t, or they would not be having those feelings. The other is that it is those of us who are theological teachers and Church leaders who most need to hear the warning. 

To Ponder:

  • Have you ever felt that your family did not understand you?
  • How do you know you are forgiven for your sins?
  • Do you agree that there can be such a thing as unforgiveable sin?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Stephen Mosedale

Stephen Mosedale is a retired Methodist minister living near Exeter, enjoying walking, gardening, and membership of a vegetable-growing co-op. He fulfils responsibilities for ministerial candidates, local preachers and worship leaders, and as a school governor. He has a particular interest in the natural world and its significance to faith, especially in the context of climate crisis. A former New Testament tutor at Cliff College, he has a passion for helping others use the Bible as our main way of knowing what God has to say to us in the world of today.

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