A Prelude to Judgment (Mark 3:20-35): The Beelzebul Confrontation and Its Significance for Evangelistic Social Action: the introduction
Some Bible stories elicit more questions than offer answers. The Beelzebul controversy as depicted in the Gospel of Mark is one of these stories. The fear of having “blasphemed the Holy Spirit” has plagued conscientious Christians throughout the history and life of the Church. The harshness of the warning that such offense is unpardonable worries many good-minded believers. More often than not, a pastoral answer comes to reassure the doubting Christian that he or she is not a candidate to have committed the unpardonable sin, that is, if they are concerned about it. The meaning of the text is resolved—it has no bearing and now can be safely ignored, passed over. It applies to someone else. Application trumps interpretation. Problem solved. The text is for others who are not bothered about the possibility of blasphemed the Holy Spirit.
To solve or ameliorate the difficulty the Beelzebul controversy creates, the text is too often narrowed down to the individual, relegated to the vagueness of introspection, and subject to privatized application (or ignored at the private level “since it doesn’t apply”). Granted, applying Scripture at the personal level is a needed discipline. But there are times when interpretation is confused with application. Personal application is often leveraged and then used to lift out an interpretation of a text. This is not only short-sighted and a flawed, backward method for determining a text’s meaning and, then, its significance, this also sets up barriers to hearing what an author intended for his audience to hear from a text in its context and within the author’s own literary flow of thought. The value of the Mark 3 Beelzebul episode is defined by Mark’s narrative choices and should develop further the content to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God (Mark 1:1). Whatever the meaning of this tension–filled text, it should inform the church community of its relationship to this Gospel and to Jesus’ mission (1:14-15), which is often eclipsed by pastoral counsel and privatized application.
The intent of this paper is to move away from privatized application and demonstrate that the significance of the Mark 3 Beelzebul episode (1) joins the surrounding context and continues the programmatic content Mark has already established in his Gospel, (2) helps define the linkage between the community of faith and this Gospel, and finally (3) the controversy’ contextual significance should include social action outcomes as a component of the Church’s task of evangelism. Such a direction on this line of application (i.e., social action outcomes), admittedly, is not at first apparent. However, in supporting this thesis the paper will develop the following areas: (I) establish a sociological imagination approach to rehear the text; (II) identify narrative clues that give the episode and its contextual meaning; (III) note the Redemptive–Historical function of the Beelzebul episode as a marker highlighting a continued rebellion and a new exodus; and finally (IV) examine how the significance of the intentional blasphemy of the Holy Spirit–threat (or warning) encourages the Church to consider social action as a component of its evangelistic activities.
I decided it was time to start posting the parts of my upcoming Evangelical Theological Society paper I am working on for the annual meeting in November. This paper is also chapter 5 of my forthcoming book, Wasted Evangelism: Social Action and the Church’s Task of Evangelism (Wipf & Stock). The following thread in this section are drafts to the paper and thoughts on the research associated with the study of Mark 3:20-35.