Friday, July 27, 2018

Jesus' Use of Reason in Matthew 12.22-29

Matthew 12.22-29: Jesus’ Use of Reason

1.     Setting the scene

a.     There is a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute.

b.     Jesus responds by healing the man “so that he spoke and saw” (v. 22).

c.      The crowds are amazed and begin to draw the explanatory conclusion that Jesus might be the Son of David—the Messiah.[1]

d.     The Pharisees offer another causal explanation—Jesus’ exorcistic power is from Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons.

2.     Jesus begins to reason about why their explanatory cause makes no sense.  He points to their (a) inconsistency and (b) arbitrariness.[2]

a.     Inconsistency:  Jesus points to an internal inconsistency in his opponents argument in verses 25-26.  Essentially Jesus argues that if Satan is casting out Satan this creates a divided kingdom.  If Satan is casting out Satan and in the process is drawing people’s minds to think of God’s promises—namely the Davidic Messiah—then is a stupid plan.[3]

b.     Arbitrariness: In verse 27 Jesus points to a reality the Pharisees accepted—exorcisms by their “sons.”  Jesus is asking if their causal explanation of his exorcisms is consistent with the fact of other exorcisms they do accept.  Jesus is thus demonstrating that their causal explanation is arbitrarily applied.[4]

3.       Jesus continues to draw out his reasoning about the situation in verse 28: “But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” 

a.     This is an example of modus ponens:

                                               i.     If P then Q
                                              ii.     P
                                            iii.     Therefore, Q

b.     In Jesus’ argument:

                                               i.     P = I [Jesus] cast out demons
                                              ii.     Q = the kingdom of God has come upon you

c.      Jesus had defended P in verses 25-27 against the counter-explanatory claims of the Pharisees

4.     The Pharisees can irrationally hold to their inconsistent and arbitrary explanation or they could attempt to take Jesus’ modus ponens argument and turn it into a modus tollens argument.

a.     modus tollens

                                               i.     If P then Q
                                              ii.     ^Q
                                            iii.     Therefore, ^P

b.     They could deny that the kingdom has come (^P).  Therefore, whatever the explanatory cause of the exorcism it is not the case that the kingdom has come so they reject Jesus’ reasoning.  It is to admit that they do not have an explanation for Jesus’ power but they refuse to give credence to Jesus’ explanation.

5.     Why does Jesus draw the conclusion about the relationship between exorcism by the Spirit and the coming of the kingdom?

a.     Jesus’ words in Matthew 12.29 help us to see the background of Jesus’ reasoning.  Matthew 12.29 states: “Or how can anyone enter the strong man’s house and carry off his property, unless he first binds the strong man?  And then he will plunder his house.

b.     This language of Matthew 12.29 is an allusion to Isaiah 49.24-25:

24”Can the prey be taken from the mighty man, or the captives of a tyrant be rescued?”  25Surely, thus say the Lord, “Even the captives of the mighty man will be taken away, and the prey of the tyrant will be rescued; for I will contend with the one who contends with you, and I will save your sons."

c.      Larger context of Isaiah 49 is about the “Servant.”

                                               i.     Servant is both corporate (Israel—verse 3)

                                              ii.     And an individual—the Servant brings back Israel (Jacob) to God (verse 5-6)

d.     “Servant” language in Isaiah 49 is part of larger Servant imagery in Isaiah that Jesus also appeals to in his teaching.

                                               i.     Isaiah 42.1 “Behold, my Servant, whom I uphold; my chosen one in whom my soul delights.  I have put my Spirit upon him…

1.     Isaiah 42.1-3 is the passage quoted by Jesus in Matthew 12.17-21—the pericope immediately prior to the passage under consideration about Jesus’ exorcisms!

2.     The Servant who has God’s Spirit upon him is linked in Isaiah with the Spirit-anointed One in Isaiah 61.1 “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted;…

                                              ii.     Isaiah 61.1-2

1.     “This individual parallels in the servant figure of Isa. 40-55.  The anointment of the Spirit recalls 42:1…” 

2.     “Thus Beuken (1989) is correct in understanding Isa. 61 as an ‘interpretation’ of Isa. 40-55.”[5]

3.     Isaiah 61.1-2 is quoted by Jesus in Luke 4.18-19

e.     Jesus is utilizing the background material in Isaiah regarding the Spirit-anointed Servant who brings God’s kingdom.[6]

6.     Jesus and the Pharisees hold certain background assumptions in common.  They both formally affirm the Old Testament perspective on God, his covenants, his promises in Isaiah, etc.  Jesus reasons from within these shared assumptions to show the inconsistency and arbitrariness of the Pharisees.  Their explanation does not fit the evidence as situated within their shared background assumptions.



     [1] “The question is worded in such a way as to indicate a measure of perplexity, but also to open the door to an interesting possibility.”  Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1992), 314.
     [2] Douglas Groothuis sees Jesus’ answers here in verses 25-27 as an example of Jesus using a reductio ad absurdum form of argumentation.  On Jesus (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth-Thompson Learning, 2003), 34.
     [3] “It is not be presumed that Satan is stupid: the Pharisees were taking up an impossible position.  Theoretically, of course, it might be argued that Satan could allow the expulsion of one demon in order to effect some diabolical purpose, but this would be met by the fact that Jesus kept on expelling demons; he carried on an unrelenting war against all the demonic forces.”  Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1992), 315.
     [4] “The only possible logic behind the Pharisaic position was that a mere human could not overcome a demon.  If Jesus did have such a victory, therefore, it would show that he had aid from a superhuman source, and in their hostility their logic led them to hold that the source could only be Satan.  But they had spoken hurriedly; they had not stopped to reflect that some of their own people claimed to cast out demons.  The Pharisees would have vehemently denied that their sons were in league with the evil one, but they had not realized that such exorcisms said something about Jesus also.  Therefore they will be your judges; your own sons will prove you wrong!  The logic of a Pharisaic denial that their followers cast out demons through the evil one meant that Jesus did not use the powers of evil either.  The sons would be able to testify to the fact that casting out demons was not a work of Satan.  They would ‘judge’ them for ascribing to Satan what they, the exorcists, knew came from God.”  Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1992), 316.
     [5] David W. Pao and Eckhard J. Schnabel, “Luke” in Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, eds. G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson, (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2007), 288.
     [6] “In making this unique claim—in the light of the expectation that in the last time God’s Spirit would rest on the Messiah (Isa. 11.2)—Jesus was almost certainly claiming that in his exorcisms it was evident that he was endowed with the eschatological Spirit and therefore an eschatological figure himself.”  Graham H. Twelftree, “The Miracles of Jesus: Marginal or Mainstream?” Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus 1.1 (January 2003), 119.