The account in Mark’s gospel of the binding of the strong man and the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is a fascinating exchange between Jesus, the religious leaders, the crowds, and his mother and brothers. In his characteristic style, Mark introduces one component of the story (3:20–21) before interrupting it by a new development in the story (3:22–30), and then returns to the first part of the story (3:31–35). Let’s fill out the picture of this account with the notes and an article from the fully revised NIV Study Bible.
Jesus Accused by His Family and by Teachers of the Law
“Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’”
“And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, ‘He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.’”
“So Jesus called them over to him and began to speak to them in parables: ‘How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying him up. Then he can plunder the strong man’s house. Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.’”
“He said this because they were saying, ‘He has an impure spirit.’”
“Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.’”
“‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ he asked.”
“Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.’” -Mark 3:20–35
NIV Study Bible Notes on the Text
3:20 Perhaps the home of Peter and Andrew. When in Capernaum Jesus probably made his home at Peter’s house (1:21, 29; 2:1).
3:21 His family…went to take charge of him. His family saw no reason to believe that he was different from them, much less that he was specially anointed by God. His family may have come to Capernaum from Nazareth, about 30 miles away (see v. 31).
3:22 The teachers of the law came down from Jerusalem. An official delegation sent from the Jerusalem leadership. Another delegation of fact-finding religious leaders from Jerusalem sent to investigate the Galilean activities of Jesus (see 2:16; Mt 2:4). The Jews considered Beelzebul the prince of demons (Mt 12:24); the Greek form of the Hebrew name Baal-Zebul (“Exalted Baal” or “Baal the Prince”). Baal-Zebub (“lord of flies”) is a parody on and mockery of the actual epithet, Baal-Zebul (Jdg 10:6). The name came to be used of Satan.
Parables for the Opposition
3:23 In this context the word parables is used in the general sense of comparisons or analogies (see 4:2). They were usually stories out of ordinary life used to illustrate spiritual or moral truth, sometimes in the form of brief similes, comparisons, analogies, or proverbial sayings. They tended to have a central point, rather than every detail having independent significance.
The Binding of the Strong Man and the Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit
3:24 The kingdom is divided against itself. If Satan gave power to Jesus, who opposed him in every way, he would be supporting an attack upon himself.
3:27 In fact, or “on the other hand.” Jesus’ point is that while Satan would never attack his own kingdom (vv. 24–26), Jesus himself is attacking and defeating it (v. 27). He enters a strong man’s house, binds, and plunders. Jesus was doing this very thing when he freed people from Satan’s control.
3:28 Truly I tell you is a solemn affirmation used by Jesus to strengthen his assertions (see 8:12; 9:1, 41; 10:15, 29; 11:23; 12:43; 13:30; 14:9, 18, 25, 30). The Greek word translated “truly” is amen, from a Hebrew word that emphasized the truth and veracity of a statement. In John, the word is doubled, amen amen, translated in the NIV as “very truly.”
3:29 Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven. Jesus identifies the sin in v. 30 (cf. v. 22)—the teachers of the law attributed Jesus’ healing to Satan’s power rather than to the Holy Spirit. There is no forgiveness for blasphemy against the Spirit. The context suggests that the unpardonable sin was attributing to Satan Christ’s authenticating miracles done in the power of the Holy Spirit and never repenting of that attitude (see Mt 12:24, 28, 32). In other words, the only unpardonable sin is a persistent refusal to acknowledge the presence of God in Christ.
3:31 Jesus’ mother and brothers. Jesus had four brothers and at least two sisters (see 6:3).
Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit: the Unforgivable Sin
In Mk 3:29 Jesus says that “whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin” (cf. Lk 12:10). Matthew’s account adds that even blasphemy against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but not blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (Mt 12:31–32). What is this unforgivable sin and what does it have to do with the Holy Spirit (cf. 1 Jn 5:16)? Doesn’t the blood of Christ cover every sin?
Mark gives us some help for interpretation by noting that “He said this because they were saying, ‘He has an impure spirit’” (3:30). Jesus has been healing the sick and casting out demons in the power the Holy Spirit (Mt 12:28; Lk 11:20). Yet the religious leaders attribute the work of the Spirit to Satan (Mk 3:22; cf. Mt 12:24; Lk 11:15). In other words, they look right into the light and then turn to the darkness. The key to the unpardonable sin, then, seems to lie in the role of the Holy Spirit, which is to reveal God and draw people to the truth. Anyone who rejects the work of the Spirit in their life is essentially rejecting any hope of salvation (Jn 16:8; 1 Co 2:14).
The assumption would seem to be that by directly rejecting the Spirit’s work, the religious leaders have reached the point of no return, since the truth will never be clearer than at this point in time. In this way they have committed a sin for which there is no forgiveness. They have committed the sin of blasphemy of the Holy Spirit.
Of course, we as humans are not the all-knowing God and so we don’t know when a person has actually reached this point. We therefore keep proclaiming the gospel and calling for repentance, assuming no one is beyond the opportunity for forgiveness. Furthermore, no one in Scripture who wants to repent hears that they cannot. Those who genuinely seek repentance show that they cannot have committed any unforgivable sin.
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