The Parable of the Strong Man

Here’s the parable from each of the three synoptic Gospels:

  • Or again, how can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can rob his house. (Matt 12:29)
  • In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can rob his house. (Mark 3:27)
  • When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are safe. But when someone stronger attacks and overpowers him, he takes away the armor in which the man trusted and divides up the spoils. (Luke 11:21-22)

What is the relationship between the Parable of the Strong Man in the three synoptic Gospels and the words of God through the prophet Isaiah in chapter 49[1] verses 24-25? The question is interesting because Jesus is viewed by many New Testament scholars as quoting these two Isaiah verses in His telling of the parable.

The blue text in the verses are my translation of verses 24 & 25. Specifically, these are the verses scholars view as being referenced by Jesus in this parable:

Isaiah 49:22-26:

This is what the Sovereign LORD says: “See, I will give a signal to the godless nations. They will carry your little sons back to you in their arms; they will bring your daughters on their shoulders. Kings and queens will serve you and care for all your needs. They will bow to the earth before you and lick the dust from your feet. Then you will know that I am the LORD. Those who trust in me will never be put to shame.”  [After all] how can plunder be taken from the mighty; and do [even] righteous[2] captives escape? But now, said the LORD, even captives of the mighty can be taken, And from them is the plunder delivered. Know that with those with whom you strive,  I will strive. And your sons I will deliverIndeed, I will feed your enemies with their own flesh. They will be drunk with rivers of their own blood. All the world will know that I, the LORD, am your Savior and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Israel.” (my translation of verses 24 and 25 are colored blue)

The traditional explanation is that Jesus is explaining that He has the power to exorcise demons (placed there by Satan).  However, His critics argue that Jesus is able to exorcise demons by using Satan’s power[3]. Jesus’s response is to point out the inconsistency of His accusers’ argument since they fail to accuse other exorcists in the same way. At this point Jesus declares that since He is casting out demons by God’s power, the Kingdom of God has already, albeit, incompletely, arrived.

  1. [1]Chapter 49 of Isaiah recounts how God will deliver the Children of Zion from exile in Babylon (and elsewhere).
  2. [2]The Greek Septuagint reverses the predicate and, I think, makes the text more clear. “And do captives taken unjustly be delivered”. In the Hebrew, the adjective ‘tzadiq’ is used to describe captives that did not deserve to be taken. In this, the Rabbis who wrote the Hebrew offer a more meaningful translation
  3. [3]This is the so-called Beelzebul controversy; i.e., that Jesus was possessed by Satan or was using Satan to drive out the demons?

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