Is "blasphemy against the holy spirit" a Markan invention?

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Stefan Kristensen
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Is "blasphemy against the holy spirit" a Markan invention?

Post by Stefan Kristensen » Thu Jun 28, 2018 4:19 am

This is a response to you, Ben, to your post in this other thread about Mark 4: viewtopic.php?f=3&t=4295



Ben C. Smith wrote:
Sun Jun 24, 2018 7:40 am
Stefan Kristensen wrote:
Sun Jun 24, 2018 12:29 am
Jesus says in Mark 3 that all will be forgiven the sons of men except blasphemy against the holy spirit. I suggest this means rejection of the gospel in general, in the sense of denial that the gospel is a message that has come from God. And not necessarily rejection of the gospel in a more active way, i.e. preaching against the gospel so as to make others fall away. Which is what the scribes do in Mark, and is also treated in Mark 9:38-50.

But if “blasphemy against the holy spirit” only means this latter active sense of rejecting the gospel, then of course there is much more hope. And this also means that none of the soils can necessarily be said to be “outsiders” (who will not be forgiven). I dunno, it’s diffucult!
Hi, Stefan. This is one of those cases in which I do not necessarily expect complete coherence from Mark, because I do not think that Mark himself invented the concept of blasphemy of the holy spirit; rather, he is taking a concept that already existed in the early church and working it into his composition.

We know from several sources that early Christian gatherings often included prophetic utterances. But a crucial issue must have arisen at some point: what happens if a prophet delivers a load of nonsense? Different groups came up with different responses to this issue. For example:

Didache 11.7-12: 7 And you shall not test or judge any prophet who speaks in the spirit; for every sin shall be forgiven, but this sin shall not be forgiven. 8 But not every one who speaks in the spirit is a prophet, but he who has the ways of the Lord; by their ways they therefore shall be known, the false prophet and the prophet. 9 And every prophet who orders in the spirit that a table shall be laid, shall not eat of it himself, but if he do otherwise, he is a false prophet; 10 and every prophet who teaches the truth, if he do not what he teaches, is a false prophet; 11 and every prophet who is approved and true, and ministering in the visible mystery of the Church, but who teaches not others to do the things that he does himself, shall not be judged of you, for his judgment lies with God, for in this manner the ancient prophets also did. 12 But whoever shall say in the spirit, Give me money, or things of that kind, listen not to him; but if he should tell you concerning others that are in need, that you should give unto them, let no one judge him.

This strikes me as the obvious Sitz im Leben for the idea of the unforgivable sin.

There were other solutions to the problem:

1 John 4.1-6: 1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world. 4 You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world. 5 They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them. 6 We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

Contrary to the injunction against blaspheming the spirit, this advice essentially invites the congregation to test prophets. It also offers an antidocetic litmus test by which to judge their prophecies.

If I am correct that the saying originated in the context of how to treat prophetic utterances in Christian gatherings, then its use in Mark as a defense on the lips of Jesus comes off as clearly secondary. Furthermore, I suspect that it has been added to that context artificially, on a purely textual level, with Mark 3.30 as an explanatory aid in its insertion:

Mark 3.20-35: 20 And He comes home, and the crowd gathers again, to such an extent that they could not even eat a meal. 21 When His own people heard of this, they went out to take custody of Him; for they were saying, "He has lost His senses." 22 The scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, "He is possessed by Beelzebul," and, "He casts out the demons by the ruler of the demons." 23 And He called them to Himself and began speaking to them in parables, "How can Satan cast out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26 If Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but he is finished! 27 But no one can enter the strong man’s house and plunder his property unless he first binds the strong man, and then he will plunder his house. 28 Truly I say to you, all sins shall be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin" — 30 since they were saying, "He has an unclean spirit." 31 Then His mother and His brothers arrive, and standing outside they sent word to Him and called Him. 32 A crowd was sitting around Him, and they say to Him, "Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are outside looking for You." 33 Answering them, He says, "Who are My mother and My brothers?" 34 Looking about at those who were sitting around Him, He says, "Behold My mother and My brothers! 35 For whoever does the will of God, he is My brother and sister and mother."

Notice the sudden syntactic switch between direct dialogue ("all sins shall be forgiven... guilty of an eternal sin") and narration ("since they were saying"), a transition so awkward that the most literal translations mark it off with an em dash. We find this pattern elsewhere in situations in which a source is being modified. For example:

Mark 1.43-44: 43 And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, 44 and said to him,See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.

Luke 5.14: 14 And he charged him to tell no one, butgo and show yourself to the priest, and make an offering for your cleansing, as Moses commanded, for a proof to them.

On Marcan priority, it is Luke who changed Mark's direct dialogue ("say nothing to anyone") into indirect dialogue ("he charged him to tell no one") before lapsing back into direct dialogue in a sudden and awkward manner.

Another example:

Mark 9.5-6: 5 Peter says to Jesus, "Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three tabernacles, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah." 6 For he did not know what to answer; for they became terrified.

Luke 9.33: 33 And as these were leaving Him, Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three tabernacles: one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah" — not realizing what he was saying.

Mark has the reason for Peter's statement as a completely new sentence, which is syntactically very straightforward, while Luke has summarized Mark's sentence as a participial phrase which can link back only to the subject, Peter, thus using the direct dialogue to divide the subject from its modifying participle in such a way that the cleanest, most literal translations (like the NASB above, or the RSV) have to use an em dash to mark the weird interplay between direct dialogue and narration.

One more example:

Mark 3.2: 2 They were watching Him to see if He would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse Him.

Matthew 12.10: 10 And a man was there whose hand was withered. And they questioned Jesus, asking, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?" — so that they might accuse Him.

This time Mark has no direct dialogue: only narration, which Matthew changes to direct dialogue at one point before returning to the narration, thus creating another seam at which the dialogue interrupts the main clause and its subordinate purpose clause. Matthew's text is not actually ungrammatical here, but it does evince that same kind of close exchange between dialogue and narration.

So it appears to me that the saying about blaspheming the holy spirit was dropped into its current context at some point. There is one more indicator that this is so: to wit, another passage which seems to have been dropped into its current context, and which deals with similar issues:

Mark 2.1-12: 1 When He had come back to Capernaum several days afterward, it was heard that He was at home. 2 And many were gathered together, so that there was no longer room, not even near the door; and He was speaking the word to them. 3 And they come, bringing to Him a paralytic, carried by four men. 4 Being unable to get to Him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above Him; and when they had dug an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic was lying. 5a And Jesus seeing their faith says to the paralytic [λέγει τῶ παραλυτικῶ], 5b "Son, your sins are forgiven." 6 But some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, 7 "Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming; who can forgive sins but God alone?" 8 Immediately Jesus, aware in His spirit that they were reasoning that way within themselves, says to them, "Why are you reasoning about these things in your hearts? 9 Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven’; or to say, ‘Get up, and pick up your pallet and walk’? 10 But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins" — He says to the paralytic [λέγει τῶ παραλυτικῶ], 11 "I say to you, get up, pick up your pallet and go home." 12 And he got up and immediately picked up the pallet and went out in the sight of everyone, so that they were all amazed and were glorifying God, saying, "We have never seen anything like this."

Note the same awkward interplay between direct dialogue and narration as we have noticed in the other examples above. In this case we also have a clear reduplication ("says to the paralytic") marking off the direct dialogue which seems to intrude. I think that the original text moved directly from verse 5a to verse 11, without the intruding dialogue and repeated phrase. It was originally just a miracle story, but now it has been pressed into service as speaking to the issue of blasphemy and sin, which is very similar to the saying about blasphemy of the spirit being the ultimate sin. There are other bits in Mark which seem to speak to similar topics (blasphemy, the spirit, sin) which may also have been added to the text in an accretional style.

So it seems to me, at any rate. YMMV.
You build your case well, as usual. But my milage varies for various reasons, and there are some more things that need to be taken into account. Firstly, I think that an argument from semantic coherence carries more weight than most other arguments, so if it can be shown that the spirit-blasphemy saying fits well and truly into the immediate context then some really heavy arguments are needed to shift the balance toward the editing option, and thus towards a situation where we must be more cautious to use the saying to shed light on other parts of gMark, in this case the theme of un-forgiveness in Mark 4.

But we must always be cautious to let one passage in gMark shed light on another passage outside of its immediate context, because any saying in gMark is tightly tied together to its immediate, closest context. And even though Mark 4 is the same overall context and the same overall theme, we're dealing with two seperate episodes in the narrative, constituting their own thematic micro-universes, as I see it: Mark 3:20-30 is about the eschatological function of God's spirit in the new house vis-a-vis the world, and Mark 4 is about the role of the inhabitants of the house.


Anyway, for me, it is only your secondary argumentation that carries weight here, i.e. the grammatical argument that there may be signs of editing in the "blasphemy against the holy spirit" saying in Mark 3. Because your first argument, the Sitz-im-Leben argument, i.e. that we might deduce a Sitz (and therefore prior to gMark) by using the appearance of the saying in Didache in a different context, I will dismiss flatly on the ground that I regard Didache as dependant on gMatt (I know you disagree with me on this). So for me the saying in Didache does not point to any original Sitz at all, but is instead an interpretation and usage of the saying as it appears in Matt 12:32. And therefore I don't think this shifts the balance toward the spirit-blasphemy saying being traditional rather than Markan. Actually, the whole concept of 'Sitz-im-Leben' is a modern construction by the form critics and a fantasy, as far as I'm concerned. I know we fundamentally disagree on this issue, but that's a whole other discussion in itself.


As for your secondary, grammatical argument, i.e. that the syntax in 3:29-30 is awkward in a way that points to editing, that's an argument I can engage with. But I'm cautious. Because it could also very well be what we regard as typical Markan clumsiness and also what generally characterizes his style of free-flowing narrative with little care for full grammatical or even semantic coherence. What I mean is semantic coherence on the surface level of the narrative, because Mark is carefully and meticulously writing a double-level narrative, and he is only really concerned with semantic coherence on the other, true, level of his narrative, the sublevel where his real message is conveyed, the "Jesus Christ gospel" (1:1). Which is the same way that God's real message, the gospel, is conveyed cryptically or encoded according to Mark, like a hidden lamp that needs to shine, or like someone speaking in parables, or events happening to allegorically convey a transposed meaning, e.g. being inside a "house".

And the added note in Mark 3:30, "because they were saying, 'he has an unclean spirit'", I regard as typical of Mark's style. Like "because she was twelve years old", or in 3:22 "they were saying that, 'he has Beelzebul', and that, 'by the prince of the demons he casts out the demons'" or "declaring all foods clean" (7:19b). I can see why we can suspect some of the very grammatically awkward places as being the results of editing, but I also think that Mark's overall style is so clumsy (on the surface level) that we're dealing with many degrees of clumsiness. And so I ask, by what criteria must we judge one clumsy construction to be just Mark's style and another the result of editing? I think that's problematic, if you understand what I mean.


Further, I also think there are signs that the syntax in Mark 3:29-30, prompting the em dash in translation, may not be as awkward in the Greek after all as it looks to us. There are no textual variants as far as I can see that tries to correct the awkwardness (which would also be the first thing you would point out, if I know you!) Also, in your example with the Paralytic neither Matthew nor Luke changes the apparant awkward part, but they both retain it in its full 'awkwardness'. If it really were awkward they would simply have rephrased it in some way, especially Luke we'd think. Granted, Matthew adds a "then" (Matt 9:6), but he's still fine with interrupting Jesus' saying in the same 'awkward' manner as Mark, and we know he has no problem in rephrasing Jesus' sayings as he pleases, so why doesn't he just rephrase this one sentence? He doens't. Luke seemingly chooses to rephrase the sentence a little, but the 'awkward' part he chooses to retain, why?

The reason that neither Luke nor Matthew retain the spirit-blasphemy saying in Mark 3:29-30 with the 'awkward' part, could be explained by the apparant awkwardness. But it is much better explained for semantic reasons than for a need to remove supposed awkwardness, a need they don't seem to have, as we can see. Matthew adds further to the saying in a way that there's really no room for Mark 3:30; and Luke generally keeps the holy spirit out of the picture because for him this element rightfully belongs to the sequel, Acts, so instead he inserts the motif with an unclean spirit in a house which must be kept out by "keeping the word" inside of the house.

Also, the two examples you bring with the Transfiguration and the Healing of the Leper in gLuke I'd say can strengthen my point here just as well as yours, because even though they are examples of editing, like the passages in gMark might also be, as you suggest, it is a different kind of editing. In these two instances Luke edits a Markan passage, but he also himself creates such an "awkward" syntax in the process – but here there's no apparant reason for it. So I need an explanation as to why Luke would seemingly unmotivated choose to create awkward syntax. He is one of the top commanders of Koine in the NT. I mean, the apparant awkwardness here is not created by Luke as he copy/pastes into his narrative some Jesus-saying that he might have from elsewhere, but rather in both cases he chooses to add this 'awkwardness' himself - but for no apparant reason.

And with your last example, Matt 12:10, it is the same: Why would Matthew choose to create an awkward syntax when he could just as easily rephrased it in some other way? The best explanation I can see is that it is not really awkward. So it looks to me like the 'awkward' grammatical phenomenon that appears in Mark 3:29-30 is not really awkward after all, and on that basis at least, this thing doesn't point to editing. Perhaps it's abit clumsy, if you will, but that's the Mark we know and love, but the other seem to have no problems with it either.

Of course, the question is also, are there any instances of this phenomenon elsewhere in gMatt or gLuke in passages that are not clear edits, or is it only a phenomenon that appears in clearly edited passages?

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Re: Is "blasphemy against the holy spirit" a Markan invention?

Post by Stefan Kristensen » Thu Jun 28, 2018 4:22 am

Now, the way I would suggest the saying makes sense as a Markan invention, or at least as a saying that was created as an integral and crucial part of the whole episode (the Beelzebul controversy), is that the saying as it appears in Mark 3 is a typical Markan conclusion to an episode. In this case shedding light on the fact that the new community houses (pun intended!) the holy spirit, whereas Satans kingdom houses his unclean spirits and demons, and so this is where the battle is, on the spiritual level. It is by God's holy spirit, the carrier of God's Word and life-force (δυναμις), that Jesus (meaning the Church) plunders Satan's "house", and so hindering the spirit amounts to hindering God's saving work through Jesus/the Church, i.e. hindering the Word which is sown, as we hear in the next chapter. Right from the get go, Mark builds this episode (the Beelzebul controversy) to conclude with the saying about the spirit, I think.

The saying fits in perfectly to complete the whole message of the episode, I think, both in its immediate context and in the wider context, i.e. the conflicts Jesus has just had in Mark 2:1-3:6 and the whole dualistic theme of Mark 3-4. This doesn't mean that it can not be traditional material, of course, but I think it fits so well into the context that semantically it makes the most sense to regard it as an invention of the same person who invented the whole episode (the Beelzebul controversy).

Jesus has just, symbolically, appointed and arranged the new group, the Church, Jesus' "house" with his "family", that constitutes the population of the growing Kingdom. And the Beelzebul controversy is all about the nature of this new family and house as the home of God, i.e. the holy spirit. They have just, ironically, 'blasphemed' Jesus in the preceding conflict episodes (2:1-3:6) and now it's about the Church. Right from the get go in 3:22 the path is laid straight to the concluding spirit-blasphemy saying. Or even 3:21 with the introduction of Jesus' family. They say he is "set out of it", i.e. out of his mind, εξ-ιστημι, a term that Mark could have chosen consciously as an ironic comment to the whole inside/outside theme, because it is in fact the family who are "set outside", εξω ιστημι, 3:31. Jesus is not the one "outside" who "has Beelzebul", he is the one inside who has the God's spirit.

So Mark has the new-group theme as the "house" (or "home", "εις οικον", 3:20) right after the appointment of the twelve in the new Sinai election (3:12-19), and he then uses Jesus' enemy characters as a foil straight away to say something most central about this new group: It is the new house where God now dwells: his holy spirit. And which has now commenced the crucial, eschatological dismissel of Satan's kingdom of sin, or his "house", which houses his unclean spirits. "He has Beelzebul!" No, he has the holy spirit.

With the new group formed the eschatological defeat has begun: the defeat of one spirit by another spirit. "Vessel" by "vessel" (3:27) being emptied of Satan's spirits and filled with God's spirit, as the word is sown and "taken in" (4:20). "Vessel" being a metaphor for person, or body, as we in other places in NT. Interestingly, it's also a word used for the very important "holy vessels" in God's house, the temple, sometimes merely referred to as the "holy ones" in LXX when denoting the temple (e.g. Ezek 37:26.28), and perhaps Mark uses this word in 11:16 as an allorical image for these holy vessels used in the service of God under the old covenant to make the 'temple cleansing' allegorically about the temple cult, the shut-down of the old 'house', which God has left to now go and dwell spiritually within each believer (15:37-39).

I think this is the way gMark is written. Carefully chosen words and terms in carefully constructed scenes, that has an air of historical or eyewitness tradition about them, but which is instead fiction densely endowed with sophisticated and complex themes and connections. This was one way of writing narratives in Mark's day (see e.g. Tolbert's Sowing the Gospel).

And if this is the way gMark is written, and if the spirit-blasphemy saying fits into the context in this integrated way, as a direct comment upon and conclusion to the very first verse ("he has Beelzebul"), then there is no reason to suspect that the saying originated in a different place. Or else he created the Beelzebul controversy around the spirit-blasphemy saying, but that would be stretching it unnecessarily, I think. And if Didache is dependant on gMatt (which I believe and you don't), then there's all reason to think that it is not Mark 3's context for the saying which is secondary, but Didache's.


Regarding the possible editing in Mark 2, you suggest that "it was originally just a miracle story", but since we'd still have the element of healing by faith, then it's not "just" a miracle story, then it's a theologically imbued event. And one that, coincidentally, fits absolutely perfectly well into Mark's whole theological treatment of the theme of faith. So if it were originally without vv. 5-11, then it would still appear perfectly Markan. And not just thematically, also concerning the very style of narration. And I don't think we can say that the phrase "he says to the paralytic" is a "clear reduplication", because it's a perfectly normal sentence to have twice in this scene, especially if it's the same clumsy author who wrote the whole thing, an author who clearly doesn't value varied storytelling much. Can't we say that it's a 'possible' reduplication.

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Re: Is "blasphemy against the holy spirit" a Markan invention?

Post by Ben C. Smith » Thu Jun 28, 2018 7:07 am

Hi, Stefan. Thanks for the response. Can you summarize why you think Mark says that this one sin — accusing Jesus (in this case, at least) of being possessed by a demon instead of by the holy spirit — is unforgivable? Why are the "sons of men" apparently allowed to do anything else they want to Jesus — slander him, accuse him of blasphemy, plot against him, and even kill him — and still hypothetically be forgiven, while this one accusation is beyond the pale?

The closest I can see you getting to answering this question in your two posts is this:
Stefan Kristensen wrote:
Thu Jun 28, 2018 4:22 am
Now, the way I would suggest the saying makes sense as a Markan invention, or at least as a saying that was created as an integral and crucial part of the whole episode (the Beelzebul controversy), is that the saying as it appears in Mark 3 is a typical Markan conclusion to an episode. In this case shedding light on the fact that the new community houses (pun intended!) the holy spirit, whereas Satans kingdom houses his unclean spirits and demons, and so this is where the battle is, on the spiritual level. It is by God's holy spirit, the carrier of God's Word and life-force (δυναμις), that Jesus (meaning the Church) plunders Satan's "house", and so hindering the spirit amounts to hindering God's saving work through Jesus/the Church, i.e. hindering the Word which is sown, as we hear in the next chapter. Right from the get go, Mark builds this episode (the Beelzebul controversy) to conclude with the saying about the spirit, I think.
But it still does not explain why this one sin is, of all sins, the unforgivable one. What are your thoughts on this?
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Re: Is "blasphemy against the holy spirit" a Markan invention?

Post by Charles Wilson » Thu Jun 28, 2018 7:40 am

Who was the "Holy Spirit"? Who was this featureless disembodied entity?

Domitian.

His group held the pen last - he had hoped. Titus was to be the Deified. Domitian took care of him. The seeds of Christianity were planted here, shortly after the death of Domitian. The Baptism of the Holy Spirit replaces the Baptism of John before more than a few people had even heard of the Baptism of John. Suspicious or what?

"Lord, God Domitian" would allow no criticism.

Mark 1: 8 (RSV):

[8] I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."

'Zackly.

CW

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Re: Is "blasphemy against the holy spirit" a Markan invention?

Post by Charles Wilson » Thu Jun 28, 2018 8:44 am

Acts 19: 1 - 6 (RSV):

[1] While Apol'los was at Corinth, Paul passed through the upper country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples.
[2] And he said to them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" And they said, "No, we have never even heard that there is a Holy Spirit."
[3] And he said, "Into what then were you baptized?" They said, "Into John's baptism."
[4] And Paul said, "John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus."
[5] On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
[6] And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them; and they spoke with tongues and prophesied.

Very curious. John tells the crowd that after him will come one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and "Jesus" does come! Did the crowd not hear? JOHN TOLD THEM. Here, after the crucifixion and resurrection, the baptism of John is known but the Holy Spirit, who is now running the show, isn't even known!

Apologetix doesn't work here. This is a History Lesson and the lesson is that "Father-Son-Holy Spirit" was a creation, a creation that makes sense with the overthrow of the Julio-Claudians and their replacement by the Flavians. Mark has ties to the Roman Court, by Authorship or Redaction. Domitian has a firm grip on the output at the first rewrite. His "Damnatio" after his death points to the Time Line.

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Re: Is "blasphemy against the holy spirit" a Markan invention?

Post by Stefan Kristensen » Thu Jun 28, 2018 3:48 pm

Ben C. Smith wrote:
Thu Jun 28, 2018 7:07 am
Hi, Stefan. Thanks for the response. Can you summarize why you think Mark says that this one sin — accusing Jesus (in this case, at least) of being possessed by a demon instead of by the holy spirit — is unforgivable? Why are the "sons of men" apparently allowed to do anything else they want to Jesus — slander him, accuse him of blasphemy, plot against him, and even kill him — and still hypothetically be forgiven, while this one accusation is beyond the pale?

The closest I can see you getting to answering this question in your two posts is this:
Stefan Kristensen wrote:
Thu Jun 28, 2018 4:22 am
Now, the way I would suggest the saying makes sense as a Markan invention, or at least as a saying that was created as an integral and crucial part of the whole episode (the Beelzebul controversy), is that the saying as it appears in Mark 3 is a typical Markan conclusion to an episode. In this case shedding light on the fact that the new community houses (pun intended!) the holy spirit, whereas Satans kingdom houses his unclean spirits and demons, and so this is where the battle is, on the spiritual level. It is by God's holy spirit, the carrier of God's Word and life-force (δυναμις), that Jesus (meaning the Church) plunders Satan's "house", and so hindering the spirit amounts to hindering God's saving work through Jesus/the Church, i.e. hindering the Word which is sown, as we hear in the next chapter. Right from the get go, Mark builds this episode (the Beelzebul controversy) to conclude with the saying about the spirit, I think.
But it still does not explain why this one sin is, of all sins, the unforgivable one. What are your thoughts on this?
Heh, that's a good question... first we need to try and get a sense of what that cryptic phrase even means, "blasphemes the holy spirit"? Because it is cryptic, it is far from clear. But the important part is, as I see it, that it's not meant to be clear, it's meant to be cryptic. Just like every single time in gMark when Jesus concludes an episode with some saying that frames the point of the episode. They're always cryptic and obviously meant to be. All these comments by Jesus are in fact "parables", cf. 7:17. Only the Syro-Phoenician woman explicitly gets the parable she hears, and it seems like this is what she is rewarded for, even expanding the parable on her own. So everything Jesus utters is in parables, and even his private explanations for the disciples are still filled with allegorical keywords and cryptic expressions (e.g. "the sower", "the Word", "bear fruit", "the son of man", etc.). There are one or two exceptions to this in gMark where a saying of Jesus really only has one level of meaning and without metaphorical elements (I can only find 10:11-12 and 7:17-23).

So therefore, a priori, we also have to expect this spirit-blasphemy saying as likewise being a "parable", and thus carrying a deeper, true, meaning, apart from its concrete context on the surface level of the narrative. In the concrete context it is the "holy spirit" as the weapon to expel unclean spirits and demons in exorcism. In the Didache the context is not the spirit working in exorcism but instead working in prophetic utterances, the classic aspect of the spirit where it is the carrier of God's word.

And this, I think, is also the case with the saying in gMark (and the synoptic parallels), that it's really about the spirit as the carrier of God's word. That's the 'hidden' meaning in this cryptic saying. But not God's word in the specific sense of prophetic utterance, as in the Didache, but rather the general sense of God's word having come into the world to build the Kingdom, a theme which is then further expanded by Mark in the very next chapter (Mark 4).

On the surface level of the narrative in gMark it is concretely about exorcism, but on the deeper level it is really about God's word working to build the Kingdom, turning the human beings from their sinful ways to the right way, "exorcising" the sinful spirits by replacing it with God's spirit.

The Didache wants to set some things straight concerning the important, concrete issue of itinerant prophets within the communites, and so brings in this pointed Jesus saying from Matt 12, like for instance Did 8:2. But in the gospels, in gMark, the authors are not concerned with such concrete problems, but rather with the general role of God's word as the seed which is sown, i.e. teaching, preaching and mission in general. Mark 3-4 is about the Church as the Kingdom that has come, and it is growing in just one way: preaching by the holy spirit, "exorcising" sin from humans, snatching "vessles" from Satan's "house".

In that perspective it makes sense to me, that Mark is very preoccupied with opposition to preaching, opposition to conversion, which is how I see the whole Beelzebul Controversy, with the spirit-blasphemy saying to frame it all. It is helping Satan hold on to the "vessels" in his "house" (kingdom) so they won't be snatched into God's "house" (kingdom).

This is what gMark is all about, the coming of the "Jesus Christ gospel" (1:1) which is also a beginning or creation ("αρχη" Mark 1:1, Gen 1:1) with the spirit above the water, so it makes sense that Mark points to this as the ultimate sin. God is in the process of a new creation, and this happens through a message that needs to sink in with the humans. "Blaspheming the holy spirit" is exactly what hinders this. Mark's narrative is not so much a story about Jesus but rather a story about a message. It is not "the beginning of the Jesus Christ story" in Mark 1:1. Of course, the message is so united with the person of Jesus that there is hardly any difference. John's "word become flesh" is merely one inch around the corner. Because whereas Jesus dissappears from the world stage after his short earthly ministry, it is the message that continues in the world.

It was always the message that was the central actor in gMark, "the Jesus Christ gospel", Jesus merely provided the body for the message. The moment the holy spirit came into him the message entered into the world in the person of Jesus, i.e. in his words as well as his deeds, including his one central deed on the cross. And the message is the revealing of God's will in its true form, thereby setting the Christian teaching opposite the Law as the true interpretation of Scripture. This could be why Mark chooses to have scribes as the antagonists in this episode: It is about God's Word, and the scribes are the ones who are supposed to know God's Word.

It is all about the message. Without the message, no kingdom. And without the spirit, no message. So if blasphemy against the holy spirit means hindering this message, then of course this is the worst thing of all. That is the only real weapon against God, speaking against the Christian teaching (or "speaking against the holy spirit", as Matthew expands the saying). It is not the accusation against Jesus and his exorcisms which is unforgivable, this is merely the surface level context of the saying. It is the denying of the Christian teachings, the Christian confession, the "Jesus Christ gospel". The real context in gMark is the workings of "the Word" which happens by the agent of the spirit, taking up its dwelling within God's (new) "house". The "seed" that needs to be sown for the kingdom to come.

Also, there is an extremely tight thematic connection between the Beelzebul Controversy and the teaching in 9:42-50. And we see how Mark seems to be extremely concerned and upset with the issue of causing apostasy (9:42). It seems to be the same thing: working against the Word. (And again the context is the allegorical symbol of exorcism with the Unknown Exorcist.)

"The one who is not against us is for us" (Mark 9:40; and see Matt 12:30). So unless you undo the workings of the message, you can be fine in the end. But you don't wanna try and annul the effect of God's message that has come into the world in order to build God's kingdom, or else you'd rather have a millstone around you neck etc. I think this is one reading that can make some sense of it. What say you?

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Re: Is "blasphemy against the holy spirit" a Markan invention?

Post by Ben C. Smith » Thu Jun 28, 2018 6:33 pm

Stefan Kristensen wrote:
Thu Jun 28, 2018 4:19 am
Because your first argument, the Sitz-im-Leben argument, i.e. that we might deduce a Sitz (and therefore prior to gMark) by using the appearance of the saying in Didache in a different context, I will dismiss flatly on the ground that I regard Didache as dependant on gMatt (I know you disagree with me on this).
To be clear, I do not think that the present form of the Didache predates Matthew; I believe that "the gospel" to which the Didache refers some three or four times is a written gospel, and is in fact either Matthew or something very much like it. But I do think that the Didache contains many passages whose contents and/or concepts predate both Matthew and other gospel texts. I bet you will disagree even with that more nuanced position, but I want to make sure that our conversation includes the nuance, since without it any debate might easily lapse into misrepresenting my approach, if that makes sense.
Stefan Kristensen wrote:
Thu Jun 28, 2018 3:48 pm
Ben C. Smith wrote:
Thu Jun 28, 2018 7:07 am
Hi, Stefan. Thanks for the response. Can you summarize why you think Mark says that this one sin — accusing Jesus (in this case, at least) of being possessed by a demon instead of by the holy spirit — is unforgivable? Why are the "sons of men" apparently allowed to do anything else they want to Jesus — slander him, accuse him of blasphemy, plot against him, and even kill him — and still hypothetically be forgiven, while this one accusation is beyond the pale?

The closest I can see you getting to answering this question in your two posts is this:
Stefan Kristensen wrote:
Thu Jun 28, 2018 4:22 am
Now, the way I would suggest the saying makes sense as a Markan invention, or at least as a saying that was created as an integral and crucial part of the whole episode (the Beelzebul controversy), is that the saying as it appears in Mark 3 is a typical Markan conclusion to an episode. In this case shedding light on the fact that the new community houses (pun intended!) the holy spirit, whereas Satans kingdom houses his unclean spirits and demons, and so this is where the battle is, on the spiritual level. It is by God's holy spirit, the carrier of God's Word and life-force (δυναμις), that Jesus (meaning the Church) plunders Satan's "house", and so hindering the spirit amounts to hindering God's saving work through Jesus/the Church, i.e. hindering the Word which is sown, as we hear in the next chapter. Right from the get go, Mark builds this episode (the Beelzebul controversy) to conclude with the saying about the spirit, I think.
But it still does not explain why this one sin is, of all sins, the unforgivable one. What are your thoughts on this?
Heh, that's a good question... first we need to try and get a sense of what that cryptic phrase even means, "blasphemes the holy spirit"? Because it is cryptic, it is far from clear. But the important part is, as I see it, that it's not meant to be clear, it's meant to be cryptic.
I think I just plain disagree that it is meant to be cryptic. I think its meaning is plain in Mark. Consider this passage from 4 Kingdoms:

2 Kings 18.28-19.7:

18.28 Then Rabshakeh stood and cried with a loud voice in Judean, saying, “Hear the word of the great king, the king of Assyria. 29 Thus says the king,Do not let Hezekiah deceive you, for he will not be able to deliver you from my hand; 30 nor let Hezekiah make you trust in the Lord, saying, “The Lord will surely deliver us, and this city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.” 31 Do not listen to Hezekiah, for thus says the king of Assyria, “Make your peace with me and come out to me, and eat each of his vine and each of his fig tree and drink each of the waters of his own cistern, 32 until I come and take you away to a land like your own land, a land of grain and new wine, a land of bread and vineyards, a land of olive trees and honey, that you may live and not die.” But do not listen to Hezekiah when he misleads you, saying, “The Lord will deliver us.” 33 Has any one of the gods of the nations delivered his land from the hand of the king of Assyria? 34 Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim, Hena and Ivvah? Have they delivered Samaria from my hand? 35 Who among all the gods of the lands have delivered their land from my hand, that the Lord should deliver Jerusalem from my hand?’”

36 But the people were silent and answered him not a word, for the king’s commandment was, “Do not answer him.” 37 Then Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, who was over the household, and Shebna the scribe and Joah the son of Asaph, the recorder, came to Hezekiah with their clothes torn and told him the words of Rabshakeh.

19.1 And when King Hezekiah heard it, he tore his clothes, covered himself with sackcloth and entered the house of the Lord. 2 Then he sent Eliakim who was over the household with Shebna the scribe and the elders of the priests, covered with sackcloth, to Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz. 3 They said to him, “Thus says Hezekiah, ‘This day is a day of distress, rebuke, and rejection; for children have come to birth and there is no strength to deliver. 4 Perhaps the Lord your God will hear all the words of Rabshakeh, whom his master the king of Assyria has sent to blaspheme [βλασφημεῖν] the living God, and will rebuke the words which the Lord your God has heard. Therefore, offer a prayer for the remnant that is left.’” 5 So the servants of King Hezekiah came to Isaiah. 6 Isaiah said to them, “Thus you shall say to your master, ‘Thus says the Lord, “Do not be afraid because of the words that you have heard, with which the servants of the king of Assyria have blasphemed [ἐβλασφήμησαν] Me. 7 Behold, I will put a spirit in him so that he will hear a rumor and return to his own land. And I will make him fall by the sword in his own land.”’”

2 Kings and Mark share the following elements:
  1. A person being blasphemed. In 2 Kings it is the living God; in Mark it is the Spirit.
  2. A person blaspheming. In 2 Kings it is Rabshakeh; in Mark it is the scribes.
  3. A spokesperson the doubting of whose words or deeds is the evidence of the doubter having blasphemed. In 2 Kings it is Hezekiah; in Mark it is Jesus.
The Didache does not use the term "blasphemy of the spirit" in conjunction with its unforgivable sin, but notice that all three of these elements are also present in that text; the person being blasphemed would be the Spirit; the person blaspheming would be the hypothetical person who is testing the prophets speaking in the spirit; and the spokesperson would be the prophet him/herself.

To blaspheme is essentially to curse or cast aspersion upon the good name or reputation of somebody. In 2 Kings, Rabshakeh does this when he calls into question God's ability to rescue his people by denying Hezekiah's hypothetical integrity in reporting God's divine intent to rescue his people. In Mark, the scribes do this when they call into question God's salvation of demoniacs by asserting that the spirit working through Jesus is not God's, but rather an evil one. "Blasphemy of the spirit" literally fulfills the sum of its parts in Mark: it is watching the spirit truly at work in Jesus and then asserting that the spirit doing such work is Beezebul, thus casting aspersion upon the good name of the holy spirit.

So I do not think that the phrase is meant to be any more cryptic than, say, the affirmation of a surrogate family in Mark 3.35 is. In fact, the blasphemy of the spirit is, if anything, less cryptic than that affirmation, since Mark 3.35 at least requires us to understand "mother and brothers" as fictive kin (an easy step, I readily grant), whereas the "blasphemy of the spirit" is really, on this level of reading Mark, exactly what it says on the tin, so to speak. Neither "blasphemy" nor "spirit" is even figurative, much less cryptic.

What is harder to figure out in Mark is why this particular sin is the one and only unforgivable one. In the Didache it is embarrassingly easy to figure out what is going on. Cult leaders often like to avoid having their authority questioned. So what better way to avoid that sort of thing than by tagging such questions as unforgivable before God? Authoritarian strains of the modern charismatic movement achieve much the same goal by quoting 1 Samuel 24.6 about the inadvisability of raising one's hand against the Lord's anointed (interpreting "the Lord's anointed," naturally, as the pastor or preacher who is serving as leader of the church). But why, in Mark, is mistaking the holy spirit for a demon so much worse than killing the very son of God (among other misdeeds)? On the same level of reading Mark in which "blasphemy of the spirit" makes such perfect sense, the assertion that this act is unforgivable makes little immediate sense.

It is for this reason, I believe, that you have to reach for the answer to this question in other potential layers of meaning in Mark:
And this, I think, is also the case with the saying in gMark (and the synoptic parallels), that it's really about the spirit as the carrier of God's word. That's the 'hidden' meaning in this cryptic saying. But not God's word in the specific sense of prophetic utterance, as in the Didache, but rather the general sense of God's word having come into the world to build the Kingdom, a theme which is then further expanded by Mark in the very next chapter (Mark 4).

On the surface level of the narrative in gMark it is concretely about exorcism, but on the deeper level it is really about God's word working to build the Kingdom, turning the human beings from their sinful ways to the right way, "exorcising" the sinful spirits by replacing it with God's spirit.
I have little issue with such interpretations, but they do not yet accomplish the objective of explaining why the sin is unforgivable, even on these other levels of possible meaning. You do get there at some point:
This is what gMark is all about, the coming of the "Jesus Christ gospel" (1:1) which is also a beginning or creation ("αρχη" Mark 1:1, Gen 1:1) with the spirit above the water, so it makes sense that Mark points to this as the ultimate sin. God is in the process of a new creation, and this happens through a message that needs to sink in with the humans. "Blaspheming the holy spirit" is exactly what hinders this.

....

It is all about the message. Without the message, no kingdom. And without the spirit, no message. So if blasphemy against the holy spirit means hindering this message, then of course this is the worst thing of all. That is the only real weapon against God, speaking against the Christian teaching (or "speaking against the holy spirit", as Matthew expands the saying). It is not the accusation against Jesus and his exorcisms which is unforgivable, this is merely the surface level context of the saying. It is the denying of the Christian teachings, the Christian confession, the "Jesus Christ gospel".
I find this part to be the weakest in your post, and it is weak at precisely the most crucial juncture. There are so many ways to hinder the spreading of God's message: killing the messengers, for example; is that, too, an instance of blasphemy of the spirit? In fact, Mark himself details several ways of hindering the message in the parable of the sower: Satan distracting the person from the word as soon as it is heard, the onset of persecution or affliction, and the lure of riches and other worldly concerns. Are all of these things instances of blaspheming the holy spirit? If not, then the force of my question remains unabated: why does blasphemy of the spirit, as a shorthand (in your view) for "hindering the message," rank so much higher than these other factors which must also be, by the very logic of the parable itself, fully capable of hindering the message? But, if so, then I think you have fallen into the trap of interpreting "blasphemy of the spirit" as whatever you need to make it work, much like some evangelicals interpret it, without any basis in the text so far as I can tell, as dying without ever having accepted Jesus as one's savior; that is the only way they can make sense of the sin being unforgivable, so that is what they latch on to, regardless of context.

My approach feels so much cleaner and more obvious, at least to me. The notion of blasphemy of the spirit is coined in a pretty literal manner: blaspheming the spirit means, in theological terms, slandering the holy spirit or casting doubt upon its integrity, efficacy, reputation, or "good name," whereas in practical terms it means questioning the messenger who is claiming to speak or to act in the spirit. This concept works both for the Didache (which, however, does not use the exact phrase) and for Mark (which does use the phrase). (Replace the spirit with God himself, and it also works for that passage from 2 Kings.) Its status as an unforgivable sin is instantly comprehensible in the Didache as a way to keep the average Joes from questioning the leaders of the group, who fancy themselves prophets of God, but less instantly comprehensible in Mark, where it comes off as a relic of the concept having been artificially worked into an incident in the life of Jesus. That is to say, its comprehensibility in Mark depends upon external knowledge of its use in the church meetings. It makes a lot of sense to equate what the scribes are doing to Jesus (doubting that the spirit is what is working through him) with what troublemakers in Christian meetings might do to prophets claiming divine authority (doubting that the spirit is what is speaking through them); but this can make sense only if one already knows something about Christian meetings; thus Mark's treatment of the blasphemy of the spirit presumes its function as a regulatory concept in the early church meetings, much as we find in the Didache.

Unless there is some way to salvage "hindering the message" or some other broad cipher as the intended content of "blasphemy of the spirit."

Or so it seems to me.
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Re: Is "blasphemy against the holy spirit" a Markan invention?

Post by Stefan Kristensen » Mon Sep 10, 2018 8:24 am

Hi, believe it or not, I'm back! I've spent all my time doing fieldwork on this question collecting empirical data from all over the earth and in heaven. Unfortunately, I'm none the wiser. But I do have some new thoughts on this so I'm back anyway to try and "salvage hindering the spirit"! I hope you had a good summer, Ben, and everyone reading this.



Basically, I think that the graveness of the sin can be explained by the unique role of the holy spirit. The holy spirit is untouchable.

The reason that the holy spirit is such a sensitive matter is that it is the entity that executes the whole work of God's eschatological salvation on the inidiviual plane. Not Jesus. Therefore the spirit is untouchable. Any action to severely counteract the holy spirit constitutes counteracting God's eschatological salvation. Counteracting the setting up of his eternal kingdom. Counteracting the very purpose of creation itself.

Now, this action was not a possibility before God chose to send the gospel into the world by the holy spirit. But everything changed the moment the holy spirit brought the gospel into the world through Jesus. Now the gospel has come, now is the time for chosing sides, not there are no excuses.

All the various things the holy spirit has been doing throughout history beforehand, before this heated eschatological time of the gospel, is incomparable to the work it is engeaged in now. Building the kingdom of God.

If blaspheming in some way means 'counteracting', then that's explanation enough for me. Simply because of the unfathomable importance of the work of the holy spirit.

I think your paraphrasing of the sin which these scribes are committing is unfair, "mistaking the holy spirit for a demon". What they are doing is levelling a fierce and brutal public accusation against Jesus that he is the servant of Satan. They are not engaged in some kind of innocent mistake. They are witnesing the divine works of God that the holy spirit is doing through Jesus. And instead of understanding and therefore following Jesus, they instead engage in anulling the witness of these deeds. The holy spirit is in the process of convincing human beings, that's the plan of God to save them. Influencing their minds by teachings and mighty deeds to make them acquire a certain conviction and perception.

This is the game now, from the moment God released the holy spirit to carry the gospel into the world. That's the game. And blaspheming the holy spirit constitutes playing for the wrong team working to make the right team lose. It is a war of words, the war between God and Satan of convincing the minds of the humans. Convincing humans of false teachings or of the falsehood of the gospel makes you guilty of the one sin that will never be forgiven. Does it make sense that the people of Did 11:7 interpreted the sin as "testing or judging any prophet speaking in the spirit"? Certainly, but that would merely be one instance of this sin.




Now, you ask, would it also be an instance of this sin to persecute the Christian missionaries (as in the Sower) or killing Jesus, God's son? I believe that the case can be made for this. Let's again consider the immense role of the holy spirit. The Christian martyrs are "witnessing" by the holy spirit, so killing them could well be understood as an act of counteracting the work of the holy spirit. And killing Jesus is the same thing. Consider the fact that Jesus is nothing without the holy spirit, that's how important this entity is in the imagined universe of gMark.

Also, there is the whole theme of Israel's perennial hard-heartedness which has always made them impervious to the commandments that God has communicated to them in the Law - through the holy spirit, lest we forget. And connected with this theme is the motif of Israel killing its prophets, also like Moses the vessels of the holy spirit. Now, these two connected things also play a central role in gMark. Whenever Mark brings up the "hard-heartedness" of the Jews (including his own disciples), he is drawing on this theme, and this is brought up in contexts where Israel is confronted with the works of the holy spirit, which makes sense in that the heart in this context is the cognitive faculty. The holy spirit is communicating, but they refuse to understand. Even in the face of the mighty deeds of Jesus, done by the holy spirit.

The parable of the Evil Tenants treats the motif of Israel killing its prophets and this includes Jesus. Or at least the Jerusalem establishment. And it is precisely some scribes from this establishment of the 'evil tenants' in Jerusalem who come down to Capernaum with their fierce attack on his name. I think the full force of God's anger which is inherent in the theme of Israel's disobedience is carried over into the offense of these scribes. They are blaspheming the spirit as they have always done, rejecting the Law and killing their prophets. In fact, the concluding episode of the section 2:1-3:6 combines these two things, when Jesus is "angered" and "grieved2 at their hard-heartedness, as they fail to understand the Law (that it is permitted to save a life on the sabbath). Instead, when confronted with the working of the holy spirit in accordance with the Law, i.e. Jesus' healing of the withered hand, they go out and plot to kill him (on the sabbath!)

It is also this context in which we must see these scribes and understand the real nature of their sin as they attack Jesus by accusation. This is made from the same stuff as the plot to kill Jesus: the counteraction against the crucial work of the holy spirit. It makes sense that Mark thinks all of this as one and the same action, which is unforgivable. He then choses to label it "blaspheming against the holy spirit", which also makes sense as the term "blasphemes" in this connection with the divine entity of the holy spirit inevitably invokes the graveness of the offense of blaspheming God himself.

But since the holy spirit is a very different thing from God when we get into the important technical details, then the term "blaspheming" must also have a sense that can meaningfully be applied to the holy spirit. And that sense, I think, is 'counteracting' or 'opposing' or just plain 'attacking'.

You also include the other two bad things mentioned in the Sower which are hindering the message, but surely you were a little too quick here. It doesn't even make sense to suggest that "riches" can be guilty of this unforgivable sin as the "lure" the humans away from the work of the holy spirit. Neither can the concept of sin be applied in this regard to Satan, as he "snatches" the word from humans. And besides, Jesus specifically mentions the sins of "the sons of men".


But I think I have argued that it can make sense that Mark might have understood the killing of Jesus and the martyrs also as actions of "blaspheming against the holy spirit". And to add support for this I may point to the fact that this seems in fact to be the way that Luke understands it as he comes up with the broad action of "opposing the holy spirit" which covers both Israel's rejection of God's teachings (the Law) and the killing of the prophets, including Jesus and Stephen obviously. This is very close to what I propose for the meaning of 3:29, "blaspheming against the holy spirit".

It comes in the story of the martyrdom of Stephen in Acts 6-7. As a martyr he is speaking in the holy spirit (Acts 6:5,10,15), and his long speech is one long description of Israel's perennial imperviousness to God's communication. Finally they also show imperviousness once more as the take him out and stone him to death. And the statement that get's them fired up is 7:51-52 which frame the whole desciption of Israel's actions as "opposing the holy spirit". Whereupon he turns to the theme of killing the prophets, effectively including this into Israel's "opposing the holy spirit". And that is the sense I think we can also reasonably find in Mark 3:29.

“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are forever opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do. Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, and now you have become his betrayers and murderers. You are the ones that received the law as ordained by angels, and yet you have not kept it.” When they heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen. ...
(Acts 7:51-54)

Let's look at the way Luke chooses to apply the teaching of the unforgivable sin, then, "blaspheming against the holy spirit":

“And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God; but whoever denies me before others will be denied before the angels of God. And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. When they bring you before the synagogues, the rulers, and the authorities, do not worry about how you are to defend yourselves or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that very hour what you ought to say.

He juxtaposes the teaching about "blaspheming against the holy spirit" with the persecution of the martyrs as they witness by the holy spirit. I don't think that's coincidental, I think Luke has an idea about "blaspheming against the holy spirit" that unproblematically covers the killing of the bearers of the holy spirit. So why not also in gMark, where the connected themes are so central, those of Israel's hard-heartedness, i.e. not perceiving the gospel communicated by the holy spirit, and the killing of the prophets that carry the holy spirit including Jesus?

So, the aggressive attack on Jesus by these Jerusalem scribes constitutes - within the larger perspective - the same action as attacking Jesus by killing him. It is all instances of counteracting the work of the holy spirit, or as Luke puts it, "opposing the holy spirit". The teaching is part of a sandwich, lest we forget, and the 'beef' of that sandwich, i.e. the Parable of the Strong Man, does exactly that: it places the incident with the Jerusalem scribes within this larger perspective, and it does so exactly in order to show how their mailicious act of accusing Jesus is part of something much bigger. Accordingly, the sin they are committing is also part of some bigger offense: the opposition to the work of holy spirit in this heated end-time era of the gospel. That's the work of Satan. Makes sense to me that this sin is the one unforgivable sin, I think.



Since I think that arguments can be mounted for what is practically a slam dunk case that Did 11:7 is directly and literarily dependent on Matt 12:31, I cannot see Did 11:7 as a piece of evidence that Mark 3:29 is secondary to its context. And for me, your suggestion for the practical motivation behind the graveness of the sin, i.e. the need for the community leaders to guard their authority against the "average Joes", can be nothing more than speculation as I see it. That might well have been the motivation for the way they applied this teaching that they found in Matt 12:31.

But your suggestion does fulfill the need to find the practical motivation behind the theological teaching. Or, the Sitz, as it were. If I should say anything about this, I would point to the fact that it is not only Jesus in Mark's story who is fighting on the battlefield where one is open to these attacks against the holy spirit. Mark himself is personally engaged in this same activity, and I imagine that he considered his teachings to be the true presentation of God's gospel mediated through the holy spirit. He was in the business of soul-saving, helping the gospel along its way in the world, establishing a firm version of the truth. Meaning that if someone came along and accused Mark's gospel narrative of being completely false, then that would be an unforgivable sin in the eyes of God, according to Mark!

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Re: Is "blasphemy against the holy spirit" a Markan invention?

Post by Ben C. Smith » Mon Oct 15, 2018 9:11 am

Hi, Stefan. I have been wanting to return to this thread, but I am finding that we may share too little common ground to make further discussion profitable, at least at this time.

For one thing, you seem pretty adamant that the Didache is based on Matthew, whereas I am fairly convinced that the Didache at least contains materials upon which Matthew was based. That debate would take us far, far afield, and is a full discussion in its own right.

For another, you very frequently write in a way that I have trouble squaring with our extant text of Mark. For example:
Stefan Kristensen wrote:
Mon Sep 10, 2018 8:24 am
Basically, I think that the graveness of the sin can be explained by the unique role of the holy spirit. The holy spirit is untouchable.

The reason that the holy spirit is such a sensitive matter is that it is the entity that executes the whole work of God's eschatological salvation on the individual plane. Not Jesus. Therefore the spirit is untouchable. Any action to severely counteract the holy spirit constitutes counteracting God's eschatological salvation. Counteracting the setting up of his eternal kingdom. Counteracting the very purpose of creation itself.

Now, this action was not a possibility before God chose to send the gospel into the world by the holy spirit. But everything changed the moment the holy spirit brought the gospel into the world through Jesus. Now the gospel has come, now is the time for choosing sides, not there are no excuses.

All the various things the holy spirit has been doing throughout history beforehand, before this heated eschatological time of the gospel, is incomparable to the work it is engaged in now. Building the kingdom of God.

If blaspheming in some way means 'counteracting', then that's explanation enough for me. Simply because of the unfathomable importance of the work of the holy spirit.
I cannot prove that Mark did not think in this way. On the other hand, however, I do not really understand some of it, and the rest I cannot relate in any meaningful way to the text of the gospel of Mark. It feels like an entire theological structure has been imposed upon Mark from outside; either that or you have done some serious, heavy duty exegetical work on the Marcan text with which I am simply not familiar.

My view is based upon the specific textual data of Mark; for example, Mark states explicitly that Jesus spoke the word about blasphemy of the holy spirit "because they were saying, 'He has an unclean spirit.'" This "mistaking" of one spirit for another, then, must be related to the charge of blasphemy of the spirit. Your own view seems to studiously avoid this very specificity which Mark lays out, making the blasphemy a matter of just generically opposing the spirit in some way, as if Mark had written, "because they were opposing the spirit." I cannot follow that.

I can, however, respond to this specific charge:
I think your paraphrasing of the sin which these scribes are committing is unfair, "mistaking the holy spirit for a demon". What they are doing is levelling a fierce and brutal public accusation against Jesus that he is the servant of Satan. They are not engaged in some kind of innocent mistake.
Well, I agree completely (at least from Mark's point of view), and I apologize for being misleading. My writing about "mistaking" one spirit for another was not meant to treat the matter lightly; it was merely meant to highlight that the holy spirit is being maligned (not merely opposed); it is being identified as its exact opposite, a demon. Something that somebody is saying is casting the spirit in a bad light.

I hope that makes sense.
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Stefan Kristensen
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Re: Is "blasphemy against the holy spirit" a Markan invention?

Post by Stefan Kristensen » Mon Oct 15, 2018 12:42 pm

Ben C. Smith wrote:
Mon Oct 15, 2018 9:11 am
Hi, Stefan. I have been wanting to return to this thread, but I am finding that we may share too little common ground to make further discussion profitable, at least at this time.

For one thing, you seem pretty adamant that the Didache is based on Matthew, whereas I am fairly convinced that the Didache at least contains materials upon which Matthew was based. That debate would take us far, far afield, and is a full discussion in its own right.
Well, I'm glad you made an effort to go through this quite messy reply. And it's true, we sort of have different starting points for this whole discussion. Not just with regards to the Didache, but to a lesser extent also with regards to our basic understandings of the nature of gMark's text. For the record, I don't know if I think that the whole of Didache as such is an integrated work which is dependant on gMatt, but I think that it applies to the parts in question (Did 11).
For another, you very frequently write in a way that I have trouble squaring with our extant text of Mark. For example:
Stefan Kristensen wrote:
Mon Sep 10, 2018 8:24 am
Basically, I think that the graveness of the sin can be explained by the unique role of the holy spirit. The holy spirit is untouchable.

The reason that the holy spirit is such a sensitive matter is that it is the entity that executes the whole work of God's eschatological salvation on the individual plane. Not Jesus. Therefore the spirit is untouchable. Any action to severely counteract the holy spirit constitutes counteracting God's eschatological salvation. Counteracting the setting up of his eternal kingdom. Counteracting the very purpose of creation itself.

Now, this action was not a possibility before God chose to send the gospel into the world by the holy spirit. But everything changed the moment the holy spirit brought the gospel into the world through Jesus. Now the gospel has come, now is the time for choosing sides, not there are no excuses.

All the various things the holy spirit has been doing throughout history beforehand, before this heated eschatological time of the gospel, is incomparable to the work it is engaged in now. Building the kingdom of God.

If blaspheming in some way means 'counteracting', then that's explanation enough for me. Simply because of the unfathomable importance of the work of the holy spirit.
...
It feels like an entire theological structure has been imposed upon Mark from outside; either that or you have done some serious, heavy duty exegetical work on the Marcan text with which I am simply not familiar.
Well, both, I guess. I didn't put in enough effort in my reply with regards to giving thoughts about which premises of mine others might share and which are just mine. (Maybe I just rambled!) What I wrote here is perhaps based on some of my unspoken premises, so I can see why much of it appears unmeaningful, so that's entirely on me.

Based on my specific understanding of the very nature of the text ('cryptic', 'coded', 'veiled', whatever) I hold the view that (1) it is entirely possible that there exists throughout the sub-level of the whole story such an "entire theological structure", or, a coherent theological understanding of everything on the part of Mark in the same way we find in the sophisticated and complex theology of the epistle writers. And (2) that it is in fact there.

So on the basis of that premise of mine, for me, understanding the parts of gMark means understanding parts and aspects of this coherent theological understanding found on the sub-level. Each verse has to be held up against the entire text of the whole gospel. And also, because of the premise, a part of my method to try and understand the text of gMark is to try and impose various coherent theological understandings, and see where that gets me. That modus operandi can be justified, I submit, on the basis of what I'll argue is the nature of the text and the writing strategy of the author.


I guess that your reading of Mark 3:22-30 is what I would perhaps see as a 'surface-level reading'. Now, it is my suspicion that there can be no such things in gMark, i.e. teachings that are communicated only on the surface level. The scribes say bad things about the spirit, and Jesus says that saying bad things about the spirit is an unforgivable sin.

Well, maybe there are instances where it makes sense with 'surface level readings' (such as 10:11-12), but I work on the hypothesis that Mark very counsciously and consistently avoids his messages being communicated in this way. As a consequence of that hypothesis, any teaching abstracted from gMark which is abstracted from what can be understood to be the 'surface-level' is by definition not the whole meaning of the text - if the hypothesis is carried fully through.


But it makes me suspicious that Mark would place this teaching (3:29) as part of a sandwich, if there really was no purpose for it, i.e. you could remove the "parable" which constitutes the 'beef', and you would still have your reading intact. The parable makes it clear that this incident with the scribes has to do with the whole salvation scheme of God, defeating Satan's kingdom. That in itself sets a hugely broad context for what appears on the surface as just a minor incident. And also (as you know) I don't think that it makes immediate sense to speak about "blaspheming" the spiritual entity of the holy spirit, and for me, that's another indication that there's more to the sin mentioned in 3:29 than merely the concrete act of saying something 'bad' about the holy spirit.

It makes sense to slander a person, and it even makes sense to slander the Christian teaching, a notion that appears other places in the NT (let me find them when I get the time). And this is actually a notion that I think is related to the one in 3:29.

My view is based upon the specific textual data of Mark; for example, Mark states explicitly that Jesus spoke the word about blasphemy of the holy spirit "because they were saying, 'He has an unclean spirit.'" This "mistaking" of one spirit for another, then, must be related to the charge of blasphemy of the spirit. Your own view seems to studiously avoid this very specificity which Mark lays out, making the blasphemy a matter of just generically opposing the spirit in some way, as if Mark had written, "because they were opposing the spirit." I cannot follow that.
I suppose that what you here refer to as "the specific textual data of Mark" is what I understand as 'surface level reading'. Anyway, I remember that I meant to address this comment in 3:30, but apparantly I didn't include it in the end. I think it's because in my view it can't tell us anything of importance. Maybe I'm wrong, but I simply regard it as another typical Markan explanatory comment (e.g. 5:8). Perhaps Mark felt that he needed to hook back to 3:22 to make the 'sandwich' structure clear, because Jesus' conclusion to his "parable" of the Strong Man ("Truly I tell you", 3:28) has to do with the holy spirit, while the "parable" doesn't meantion anything at all about the holy spirit. It kind of seems like Jesus goes off on a tangent (something I can relate to).

If that is the case, the narrator's comment in 3:30 is nothing more than a practical measure to make sure the important sandwich structure of the surface narrative remains clear. Remember, as I view the nature of the text, the narrator is not there to say anything about the true meaning of the text which is there, on the sub-level only, in my opinion. To the contrary: the 'narrator' is an instrument among many for the veiling efforts of the 'real author', as I view it.


So when the narrator in 3:30 paraphrases what the scribes have done, this tells us nothing of the true meaning that lies in their action. And as I argue, there is much more to their action than the immediate context can tell us. I think their action is meant to be understood as part of the same thing as the accusation of blasphemy against Jesus (2:7 and 14:64). In this way it's a case of Markan irony when they accuse Jesus of blasphemy at the interrogation, because it is actually this act which really constitutes an act of blaspheming, i.e. "blasphemy against the holy spirit".

Jesus has authority from God, and if the reason that they accuse him of blasphemy is this claim from him to this authority, and that's how I see it (contrary to you), then there can be seen a connection between 2:7, 3:22/29 and 14:64. At the interrogation Jesus' confession is symbolic (cf. the sub-level) of preaching the gospel by the holy spirit, cf. 13:9-13. What Jesus' accusers are doing when they condemn him of blasphemy, then, is saying that the gospel message expressed by the holy spirit is blasphemy. That, to me, would be a case of "blaspheming against the holy spirit".

What I further argued was also that this whole act itself of killing Jesus because he preaches the gospel can be viewed as a dramatization of the sin of blaspheming against the holy spirit. Their act, in my opinion, is the same act spoken of in Acts 7: the killing of the prophets and of the martyr Steven, being a case of "opposing the holy spirit" in parallel with the unwillingness to grasp God's word, i.e. the hard-hearted Israel.


What I suggest is, that it's all the same basic theme, a very central one, and the incident with the Jerusalem scribes in Mark 3:22-30 is meant to be a contribution to that theme. As such, their act of calling the holy spirit an unclean spirit is just one incident of the sin, an incident used by Mark to say something about the general opposition to the all-important plan of God: spreading of the gospel. Jesus' exorcisms (3:22) are symbolic of the post-easter spread of gospel by the holy spirit by the missionaries, those twelve apostles Jesus has just appointed not least "to have authority to cast out evil spirits".

I can, however, respond to this specific charge:
I think your paraphrasing of the sin which these scribes are committing is unfair, "mistaking the holy spirit for a demon". What they are doing is levelling a fierce and brutal public accusation against Jesus that he is the servant of Satan. They are not engaged in some kind of innocent mistake.
Well, I agree completely (at least from Mark's point of view), and I apologize for being misleading. My writing about "mistaking" one spirit for another was not meant to treat the matter lightly; it was merely meant to highlight that the holy spirit is being maligned (not merely opposed); it is being identified as its exact opposite, a demon. Something that somebody is saying is casting the spirit in a bad light.
Ah ok, I understand. I know my reply was very messy (sorry for that), but my point is also that the speaking-element is very central to the sin in question, although I also suggest that it can also embrace the action of persecution.
Last edited by Stefan Kristensen on Mon Oct 15, 2018 1:11 pm, edited 11 times in total.

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