Monday, April 22, 2024

Excessive Righteousness 3: The Greatest Sin


Pharisees … asked Him a question … “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus said … “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment.”

(Matthew 22:34-38 NKJV)

Pharisees … said, “This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub,

the ruler of the demons.” “Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy

will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men

either in this age or in the age to come.”

(Matthew 12:24-32 NKJV)


It seems logical that the greatest sin it is possible to commit would relate to the greatest commandment. Monotheism is the basis of the greatest commandment (see previous post), so polytheism would be considered suspect as the basis of the greatest sin.




Why would Pharisees, who are so protective of monotheism that they accuse Jesus of being blasphemous in claiming to be the Son of God (John 10:33-36), be so willing to attribute the works of Jesus to a Canaanite “god”? That’s who Beelzebub is! The only reference to Beelzebub in the Old Testament is in 2 Kings 1:2-17 (NKJV):

Ahaziah [the northern, Israelite king] fell through the lattice of his upper room in Samaria, and was injured; so he sent messengers and said to them, “Go, inquire of Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron, whether I shall recover from this injury.” But the angel of the Lord said to Elijah the Tishbite, “Arise, go up to meet the messengers of the king of Samaria, and say to them, ‘Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are going to inquire of Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron?’ Now therefore, thus says the Lord: ‘You … shall surely die.’” So Elijah … arose and went down with him to the king … he said to him, “Thus says the Lord: ‘Because you have sent messengers to inquire of Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron … you shall surely die.’” So Ahaziah died.

Sometimes spelled Beelzebul and (as in 2 Kings) Baal-Zebub, Beelzebub (the putative “god”) is possibly best translated “Lord of the Flies.” There were multiple Baals (the Hebrew plural is Baalim), Baal-Zebub being only one of these Baalim. Bible students are aware of the Canaanite god(s) called Baal, a word (in Ugaritic and Canaanitic) meaning “Lord.” The Old Testament speaks elsewhere of the god/s Baal (Numbers 25:3, Joshua 11:17, Judges 3:3, 7, and 8:33, 1 Kings 18:18, 20-40, 1 Chronicles 5:5, 8:30, 9:36, Jeremiah 7:9, 19:5) who served in Canaan as rival/s of the God of Israel. Zebub probably means “flies,” perhaps indicating the insect pests that were prone to constantly land on feces and then land on humans and were, therefore, suspected of transferring diseases from these feces to humans. Baal-Zebub was a Canaanite god of health. In both the 2 Kings account and Matthew 12:24-32, Baal-Zebub/Beelzebub is credited with healing powers. Ahaziah thought Baal-Zebub could heal him from the injuries of his fall; the Pharisees thought Beelzebub could heal the demon-possessed, so they attributed to Beelzebub the healings that Jesus had performed.

If “blasphemy” consists of believing in the existence and power of another god in addition to the God of Israel, as the Pharisees in John 10:33-36 asserted (accusing Jesus of claiming to be one), then they themselves are guilty of “blasphemy” when they attribute the healing power of Jesus to the Canaanite god Beelzebub. Jesus clearly healed, so they implicitly concluded that there was an actual god Beelzebub who had given Him power to heal. That was the unforgiveable sin for a teacher of the Law, steeped in the monotheism of the Ten Commandments and the Shema, who certainly should have known better.


Loving God with All Your Mind


Your mind is the center of your thought processes. Your mind allows you to conceive of who you are, how the world came to be, life after death, and, most importantly, who God is! The greatest sin is not murder or stealing or adultery. Those are sins of the body. King David committed all of these, but God forgave him when he repented. The greatest sin is a sin of the mind—holding polytheistic views when you should know better. Polytheistic views are the product of one’s mind (as are atheistic views).

The New Testament Christians’ righteousness exceeded the righteousness of the Pharisees, by holding to a clear monotheism, while the Pharisees embraced polytheism—the belief in Beelzebub, the god of Ekron, a rival to THE LORD. Imagine! They reject Jesus’s claim to be the Son of God (even though all that He taught and the works He did were accomplished by power of His Father), yet they embrace and attribute healing power to the pagan god of the Canaanites: Beelzebub! Jesus called this the blasphemy against the Spirit and said it would never be forgiven meneither in this age or in the age to come! Jews since the time of the New Testament have overwhelmingly repented of that Pharisaic position on Beelzebub (although, they have more repenting yet to do in their assessment of Jesus as not being God’s Son). As an example of rival-god-repentance, Jewish scholar Bernard Bamberger states: “The astounding thing is that, after some centuries of experimentation with this idea [of divine forces/angels rebelling against God] the authoritative teachers of Judaism dropped it altogether.  … The main line of Jewish thought returned to an uncompromising monotheism in which there was no room for satanic rebels.” To my Jewish friends: Remember, Jesus was never a “satanic rebel.” He tells the Pharisees He has no connection with Satan (Matthew 12:26). It was His blood that cast Satan out of Heaven (Revelation 12:11).


Christians and Beelzebub


            Meanwhile, however, Christians since the time of the New Testament have picked up the Beelzebub-error baton and have run with it! They seem to believe that Beelzebub actually exists and that he is a powerful rival to God. Modern day Catholic and Evangelical notions of fallen angels are largely responsible, as they hearken back to Persian dualistic religious influence occurring between the Old Testament and New Testament periods. In my book, Revelation:  The Human Drama (page 73), I comment:


Some interpreters of Revelation [wrongly] consider the informing anecdote of the book to be the conflict between God and Satan. This perceived conflict is a vestige of Judaism's contact with Persian religion. Martin Hengel discounts such … [Persian Dualism] in accounting for the scene which, for example, produced the “fallen angel” stories in the centuries preceding the New Testament period. In perusing John's Revelation, examples of a direct rivalry between God and Satan cannot be found. While allusions are made to “fallen angels” in Revelation, it is not clear that they are typical of the Fallen Angel Stories of the centuries preceding the Christian Era.


In my book, Angels and Demons: The Personification of Communication (pages 19-20), I explain further:


“Persian religion developed the concept of an Evil God who was constantly at war with a Good God.” There is no picture in the Old Testament of a Satan who could [or would] rival God. The Hebrew word “SATAN” … means “adversary” or “prosecuting attorney.” That is all Satan was in the Book of Job [an adversary of humans, not of God]. He certainly had not “fallen” from Heaven by then. Job 1:6 has Satan joining the angels (sons of God) in presenting themselves before God. He petitions God for permission to “test” Job. He certainly does not demand anything of God. This “testing” role is also the one he assumes in the New Testament as he “tests” Jesus in the desert, following his baptism. At the end of Jesus’ life (Luke 22:31), Jesus informs Simon Peter that Satan has asked permission to sift him like wheat. This sounds to me like the same Satan who was in the courts of Heaven in Job.


Frankly, this point (that the Old and New Testaments do not depict fallen angels who “sin”) is a primary reason I wrote my Indiana University M.A. in Hebrew thesis—“Anamartetous [= Sinless] Fallen Angels”—and my subsequent book, Angels and Demons. I do not find anywhere in the Old or New Testaments Satan or any other angel rebelling against God. Satan (aka, the Devil) is called an “adversary,” but not an adversary of God. In 1 Peter 5:8. He is “your [human’s] adversary, the Devil!” (just as he was the adversary of [the humans] Adam and Eve). This is exactly the view of Satan embraced by Judaism in the past two millennia. In that respect, I think it highly likely that, after the New Testament period, the righteousness of Jews has exceeded the righteousness of Christians on the Beelzebub issue.

The issue of demons as adversaries of God is also problematic, despite what the movies suggest. In gospel texts, “demon-possessed” individuals confess that Jesus is the Son of God (Matthew 28:29, Luke 4:41). James 2:19 (NKJV) states: “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!” In John 4:6 God’s Spirit is contrasted with the Spirit of Error. A “spirit of error” fairly well describes a demon (in the New Testament). The Old Testament does not include a single case of demon-possession (nor do John’s Gospel, Revelation, or Paul’s writings; Matthew only includes one—an incident that concludes, according to Mark 5:15, with the man finally being “in his right mind”). Demon is a Greek (not Jewish) concept. The Apostle Paul suggests that “idols” and “demons” are the same thing (1 Corinthians 10:18).  He also states (rhetorically) that “idols” are “not anything.”  In 1 Corinthians 8:4, he states, “We know that no idol really exists; that there is no God but one.” Revelation 9:20 agrees that demons (like idols) are nothing.  He writes of unrepentant men who worshiped the “works of their hands”—“demons and golden idols, and silver, and bronze, and wooden, which are not able to see, nor hear, nor walk.” Those who believed they had demons were actually in error. The physical malady they thought the demon caused existed only in their minds (= psychogenic). The list of illnesses and bodily malfunctions cured by Jesus (which I provide on pages 203-4 of Angels and Demons) does not contain any type of mental illness. Similar to psycho-somatic illness, the demon-possessed (or, as they are also identified: those with “unclean spirits” or “evil spirits,” meaning “spirit of something ‘bad’—not ‘evil’ in a moral sense) just believed the lie and that belief in a lie produced the physical malady. There are no supernatural, divine, or semi-divine beings that are adversaries or rivals of the One True God. This is the heart of monotheism.

When I say that Christians since the time of the New Testament have picked up the Beelzebub-error baton and run with it, believing that Beelzebub actually exists and that he is a powerful rival to God (and that modern day Catholic and Evangelical notions are largely responsible for that doctrine), I include Catholic and Evangelical doctrines of rebel fallen angels (including the view that Satan is a rebel fallen angel) and of demons that war against God. One had better be careful when asserting that such rebels against God exist in the supernatural realm. Why? Because such an assertion is close to (if not precisely) the unforgiveable sin! True: there was a war mentioned in Revelation 12:7-12.  John sees Satan being cast out of Heaven (by Michael, not by God) when Jesus died on the cross.  Satan was thrown out because his job as “accuser” (of men) was no longer needed. Jesus’ blood had secured forgiveness for men.  No longer is an accuser necessary in Heaven.

If you know (with all your mind) that THE LORD our God is one, you cannot allow your mind to believe that He has any rival (including Beelzebub, Satan, fallen angels, or demons). He is the only and absolute king of the world! Love THE LORD your God with all your mind!