Friday, July 11, 2014

Jesus & The Finger Of God (part 1)

But if I cast out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has already overtaken you. – Luke 11:20  (NET)

The “finger of God” is something that makes several appearances in Scripture.  It is yet another one of those things that links together the writings of the New Testament with the Hebrew Scriptures that serve as its foundation and basis for any and all understanding.  The Gospels contain two references to the “finger of God.”  The first is the one found in Luke, as seen above, with the other to be found in the Gospel of John. 

Though in John one cannot actually locate the phrase “finger of God,” the reader is led to understand that the finger of Jesus is the finger of the Creator God because John, in his creation-and-new-creation-story tinged narrative of the ministry of Jesus begins with an overt declaration of the divinity of Jesus, with this proclamation rooted in an understanding of the implications of both Messiah and Resurrection.  The finger of God can be seen when Jesus stoops to write in the dirt during the scene in which He is presented with the woman that was said to have been taken in the very act of adultery. 

Here it is necessary to acknowledge that some of the earliest and best manuscripts of John do not contain this story of the woman taken in adultery, and therefore do not contain the story that has Jesus writing on the ground with His finger.  In fact, some manuscripts place the story at the end of the twenty-first chapter of Luke, thus interestingly putting both “finger of God” references in the same Gospel, which makes a great deal of sense.

When Jesus speaks about the finger of God in Luke, He hits upon a key theme of His mission, which is the proclamation of the presence of the kingdom of God on earth.  He offers His statement in response to the accusation that “By the power of Beelzebul, the ruler of demons, He casts out demons” (11:15).  After speaking of His own casting out of demons by the finger of His God, He goes on to say “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his possessions are safe.  But when a stronger man attacks and conquers him, he takes away the first man’s armor on which the man relied and divides up his plunder” (11:21-22). 

Clearly then, this is designed to resonate with Jesus’ hearers.  Because Jesus speaks within a culture with a shared history, He is building on a foundation from which His hearers can fully understand Him and derive maximum meaning.  So rather than attempt to interpret and spiritualize the words of Jesus and treating His words as a free-floating aphorism subject to any number of flights of interpretive fancy, it is possible to gather up the appearances of the “finger of God” that are to be found in Israel’s defining historical narrative so as to put oneself in position to grasp what is being communicated.

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