“Chapter 4: Matthew 8–12,” New Testament Student Manual (2018)
“Chapter 4,” New Testament Student Manual
Matthew 8–12 presents a continuation of the Savior’s Galilean ministry overviewed in Matthew 4:23: “Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching … and preaching … and healing all manner of sickness” (see also Matthew 9:35). Having recorded an important part of the Savior’s teaching and preaching in chapters 5–7, Matthew next documented in chapters 8–9 numerous miracles that Jesus Christ performed. These miracles illustrate the Savior’s power and authority over all things and prepare readers for Matthew 10, which records the Savior conferring on His Apostles the power to minister and to perform similar miracles. The Savior’s power can give us confidence in His promise and ability to lighten the burdens of all who come unto Him (see Matthew 11:28–30).
Capernaum is referred to as the Savior’s “own city” (Matthew 9:1). It was a prosperous town, located on the famous Roman road, the Via Maris (the Way of the Sea), which linked ancient Egypt with Syria and Mesopotamia. It was the home of Peter, the chief Apostle, and his brother Andrew, another of the Twelve Apostles. Jesus delivered a powerful discourse at the synagogue located in Capernaum (see John 6:24–65). More recorded miracles occurred at Capernaum than at any other site.
For insights on the miracle of the centurion’s servant, see the commentary for Luke 7:2–10.
One of the things we learn from this account is that Peter was married. Elder Bruce R. McConkie (1915–85) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles used the account of Peter’s mother-in-law being healed by the Savior to teach that “Jesus’ specially selected disciples were married men with wives and children and families of their own” (The Mortal Messiah: From Bethlehem to Calvary , 2:37). Elder McConkie further explained that “some persons in some of the churches in the world are bound by vows of celibacy whereunder they agree to remain unmarried. Celibacy is not of God, whose law is that ‘Marriage is honourable in all’ (Heb. 13:4), and that men should ‘Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth.’ (Gen. 1:28.)” (Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. , 119).
The title “Son of man” appears to have been the Savior’s preferred way of referring to Himself in the four Gospels. Jesus used the title over 80 times in reference to Himself. Passages such as Matthew 12:8 and Mark 8:29–31 make clear that it is a messianic title. Though we cannot say with certainty why Jesus used this title, the following are possible reasons:
Second, in Moses 6:57 and 7:35 we read that another name for God the Father is “Man of Holiness.” “When Jesus called Himself the Son of Man, it was an open declaration of His divine relationship with the Father” (Guide to the Scriptures, “Son of Man”; scriptures.lds.org). Elder James E. Talmage (1862–1933) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles wrote: “He knew His Father to be the one and only supremely exalted Man, whose Son Jesus was both in spirit and in body—the Firstborn among all the spirit-children of the Father, the Only Begotten in the flesh—and therefore, in a sense applicable to Himself alone, He was and is the Son of the ‘Man of Holiness,’ Elohim, the Eternal Father” (Jesus the Christ, 3rd ed. , 143).
Third, using the title “Son of man” may have been one way in which Jesus Christ intended to reveal the nature of Heavenly Father. The Prophet Joseph Smith (1805–44) explained: “God Himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! … I say, if you were to see Him today, you would see Him like a man in form—like yourselves in all the person, image, and very form as a man; for Adam was created in the very fashion, image and likeness of God” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith , 40).
For help understanding the meaning of the saying “Let the dead bury their dead,” see the commentary for Luke 9:59–60.
For insights into the account of Jesus calming the tempestuous sea, see the commentary for Mark 4:35–41.
To read about the Savior casting devils out of possessed men, see the commentary for Mark 5:1–20.
A bedridden man, plagued by some sort of paralysis, was brought before Jesus by four of his friends. Jesus was moved by their faith, but rather than immediately healing the man, He spoke something infinitely more significant: “Man, thy sins are forgiven thee” (Luke 5:20). Some Jewish leaders complained and criticized that such talk was blasphemous—only God can forgive sins. Jesus was indeed God and was forgiving the man’s sins. In various dispensations the Lord has taught that great faith can bring forgiveness of one’s sins (see James 5:15). Forgiveness can also come through bearing fervent testimony of the Savior (see D&C 62:3; 84:61) and dedicating oneself to preaching the gospel (see D&C 31:5; 60:7). To read more about the healing of this paralytic, see the commentary for Mark 2:2–5.
The term publicans (Latin, publicani) refers to men who were responsible to the Roman government for overseeing the collection of taxes in Israel, as well as to those who worked for them and actually collected the revenue. Tax collectors were required to pay a fixed amount to the government each year, but they were free to collect as much from the public as they could. Thus, in Jesus’s day, publicans were one of the most corrupt and detested groups of people among the Jewish populace. Jews who became publicans were often excommunicated.
One of the Lord’s original Apostles, Matthew (also known as Levi before his conversion), was a publican. Matthew 9:9 highlights Matthew’s readiness to become a disciple of Jesus Christ. At the simple invitation “Follow me,” Matthew left “the receipt of custom” (tax office) and followed Jesus. Matthew hosted a feast attended by many of his fellow publicans, whom the Pharisees labeled as sinners. Jesus took the opportunity to teach a powerful lesson on pride (see Luke 5:27–32). Many of these other publicans also followed Jesus (see Mark 2:15). Many of the publicans mentioned in the New Testament accepted the gospel, perhaps because they were humbled by their lowly social status (see Matthew 9:9–11; 10:2–3; 21:31–32; Luke 7:29; 18:13–14; 19:2, 8).
The disciples of John came to the Savior and asked Him why His disciples did not fast. Jesus answered by comparing Himself to a bridegroom and His disciples to the bridegroom’s friends. A marriage feast was a time of great rejoicing—like the time when the Savior was among His friends. Fasting in those days was normally associated with sorrow and would not be appropriate while He was with them. Soon He would not be with them, and then it would be a time of fasting.
The “bottles” Jesus Christ referred to in Matthew 9:17 were containers made from goatskins, often called wineskins—not those made of glass or earthenware we commonly think of today. With time wineskins became stretched, cracked, and brittle. Gases produced by the fermentation of newly made wine would expand and stretch old wineskins and could cause them to burst. The “new cloth” mentioned in Matthew 9:16 refers to unshrunken cloth, which would have been undesirable as a patch because when it shrank it would tear away from the surrounding fabric, the old cloth not being strong enough for the new.
Both analogies—the new cloth and new bottles—point to the incompatibility of the old with the new. In the context of the Savior’s response to the Pharisees (see Matthew 9:14–15), the Savior seemed to be teaching that the gospel He offered was meant not merely to mend Judaism, but to replace many religious and cultural practices of His day. In the same way, the Savior came to make us not just better men and women, but “new creatures” (2 Corinthians 5:17; see also Galatians 6:15; Mosiah 27:26). The Joseph Smith Translation adds: “For when that which is new is come, the old is ready to be put away” (Joseph Smith Translation, Matthew 9:21 [in the Bible appendix]).
To read about the healing of the ruler’s daughter, see the commentary for Mark 5:22–24, 35–42.
To read about the Savior’s healing of a woman with an issue of blood, see the commentary for Mark 5:25–34.
As the Savior taught in “all the cities and villages” in Galilee (Matthew 9:35), multitudes gathered to hear Him and He perceived that there were many who would accept the gospel, but, He declared, “The labourers are few.” More ministers of the gospel were needed. As recorded in the very next chapter, the Twelve Apostles were called, given authority, and sent forth (see Matthew 10:1). Later, the Savior sent forth 70 more men to preach (see Luke 10:1). President M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught that in our day the Church also needs more laborers. He gave the following example of what can happen when Church members become actively involved in sharing the gospel with friends and neighbors:
“Some years ago a faithful convert, Brother George McLaughlin, was called to preside over a small branch of 20 members in Farmingdale, Maine. He was a humble man, driving a milk delivery truck for a living. Through his fasting and earnest prayer, the Spirit taught him what he and the members of his branch needed to do to help the Church grow in their area. Through his great faith, constant prayer, and powerful example, he taught his members how to share the gospel. It’s a marvelous story, one of the great missionary stories of this dispensation. In just one year there were 450 convert baptisms in the branch. The next year there were an additional 200 converts. …
“Just five years later, the Augusta Maine Stake was organized. Much of the leadership of that new stake came from those converts in the Farmingdale Branch. Now we might ask why there was such great success in those days, and the answer may be because of the urgent need to strengthen the Church. Let me assure you that that same urgency in all units of the Church is every bit as critical today as it was then” (“The Essential Role of Member Missionary Work,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2003, 38–39). See also the commentary for Luke 10:2.
Matthew 10 records the calling of the Twelve Apostles and the Lord’s instructions to them. The word apostle means “one sent forth” (Bible Dictionary, “Apostle”). The title also implies that the person “sent forth” has authority and a message to proclaim. In these latter days, the Lord has declared that Apostles are sent forth to be “special witnesses of the name of Christ in all the world” (D&C 107:23).
Elder L. Tom Perry (1922–2015) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained that modern Apostles have the same assignment as Apostles in New Testament times: “An Apostle today continues to be ‘one sent forth.’ The conditions we face are different from those of the early Brethren as we make our journeys to fulfill our assignment. Our manner of travel to all corners of the earth is very different from that of the early Brethren. However, our assignment remains the same as that which was given by the Savior as He instructed His called Twelve to ‘go ye therefore, and teach all nations’” (“What Is a Quorum?” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2004, 24).
After declaring that latter-day Apostles are “men who have a witness of [the Lord’s] divinity, and whose voices have been and will be raised in testimony of his reality,” President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910–2008) further described the work of the Apostles: “Their one chief concern must be the advancement of the work of God on the earth. They must be concerned with the welfare of our Father’s children, both those within the Church and those out of the Church. They must do all that they can to give comfort to those who mourn, to give strength to those who are weak, to give encouragement to those who falter, to befriend the friendless, to nurture the destitute, to bless the sick, to bear witness, not out of belief but out of a certain knowledge of the Son of God, their Friend and Master, whose servants they are” (“Special Witnesses for Christ,” Ensign, May 1984, 49–50).
The following chart provides a brief overview of the Savior’s original Twelve Apostles:
Peter, Cephas, Simeon, brother of Andrew
Fisherman with Andrew and Zebedee’s family. Senior Apostle following Savior’s death; missionary as far as Rome. Tradition says he was crucified head downward in Rome about A.D. 64–68. With James and John, he conferred the Melchizedek Priesthood on Joseph Smith.
Brother of Peter
Fisherman with Peter and Zebedee’s family. First introduced Peter to Jesus Christ. Tradition says he preached in Scythia (Ukraine and Russia), Greece, and Asia Minor and was crucified on an X-shaped cross.
Son of Zebedee; he and his brother John were “Boanerges” or “sons of thunder.”
Fisherman with John, Peter, and Andrew. Preached in Jerusalem and Judea. Member of the First Presidency with Peter and John. Beheaded by Herod in A.D. 44 in Jerusalem (see Acts 12:2), first of the Twelve to be martyred.
“The Beloved”; he and his brother James were “Boanerges” or “sons of thunder.”
Fisherman with James, Peter, and Andrew. Member of the First Presidency with Peter and James. Labored among churches of Asia Minor, especially Ephesus. Banished to the Isle of Patmos, where he wrote the book of Revelation. Was later translated (see D&C 7).
Shared news of the long-awaited Messiah with Nathanael. Tradition says he preached in Asia Minor and died in Hierapolis.
Nathaniel or Nathanael
Cana (see John 21:2)
Tradition says he preached in southern Arabia and was flayed to death or crucified.
Levi; son of Alphaeus
Tax collector (see Matthew 9:9). Tradition says he preached in Parthia and Ethiopia, where he died as a martyr.
Tradition says he was a missionary to Parthia (modern Iran) and India and died when shot by arrows while in prayer.
The Less; the Younger; son of Alphaeus
Tradition says he preached in Palestine and Egypt and was crucified in Egypt or stoned by Jews for preaching of Christ.
The Canaanite; Zelotes (the Zealot)
May have taught the gospel in Britain and Egypt. Tradition says he suffered death by crucifixion.
Son of James; Jude; Thaddaeus; Lebbaeus
Tradition says he preached in Assyria and Persia, where he was martyred.
Betrayed Jesus Christ and then hanged himself.
Information on the missionary travels and traditional deaths of the Apostles is based on Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, Eric D. Huntsman, and Thomas A. Wayment, Jesus Christ and the World of the New Testament (2006), 303.
The Savior’s instruction in these verses shows that in His time, the preaching of the kingdom of God was “to the Jew first,” and later to the Gentiles (Romans 1:16; see also Matthew 15:24). After the Savior’s Resurrection, He instructed His Apostles to take the gospel message to all nations, both Jewish and Gentile (see Matthew 28:19–20; Acts 1:8; 8:4–25). To read more about the tension between Jews and Samaritans at the time of Christ, see the commentary for John 4:20–24.
In the Savior’s time, a purse carried money, while a scrip was a larger bag used to carry food and other supplies. The Savior instructed His Apostles that they were not to worry about food, clothing, lodging, or other temporal needs; they were to rely on the Lord and the mercies of others for their sustenance. This was in harmony with the hospitality and social customs of the day. Later, in Luke 22:35–36, Jesus revoked this command to rely on the hospitality of the people, perhaps because the Apostles would soon carry the gospel to Gentile nations that did not have the same standards of hospitality and because they would face opposition from the Jews as they went out into the world (see John 15:18–22).
Elder James E. Talmage provided this insight about the Savior’s instructions regarding shaking off the dust of one’s feet: “To ceremonially shake the dust from one’s feet as a testimony against another was understood by the Jews to symbolize a cessation of fellowship and a renunciation of all responsibility for consequences that might follow. It became an ordinance of accusation and testimony by the Lord’s instructions to His apostles as cited in [Matthew 10:14]. In the current dispensation, the Lord has similarly directed His authorized servants to so testify against those who wilfully and maliciously oppose the truth when authoritatively presented” (Jesus the Christ, 345; see also D&C 24:15; 75:18–22; 84:92–96). Because of its serious nature, however, this should never be done except under the direction of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
When the Savior sent His disciples out to preach the gospel, He told them to be “wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16). In modern times, the Savior gave similar counsel to His disciples, declaring, “Be ye as wise as serpents and yet without sin” (D&C 111:11). Both accounts teach that the Savior’s disciples should combine wisdom with innocence and purity. The Joseph Smith Translation emphasizes the importance of being a wise servant of the Master: “Be ye therefore wise servants, and as harmless as doves” (Joseph Smith Translation, Matthew 10:14; compare Matthew 10:16).
In these verses Jesus Christ declared that His message would not always bring peace. In fact, choosing to make God preeminent in one’s life might even result in divisions within a family. President Ezra Taft Benson (1899–1994), in commenting on this scripture passage, noted that one of the most difficult choices a person might make is choosing between God and a family member:
“One of the most difficult tests of all is when you have to choose between pleasing God or pleasing someone you love or respect—particularly a family member.
“Nephi faced that test and handled it well when his good father temporarily murmured against the Lord (see 1 Nephi 16:18–25). Job maintained his integrity with the Lord even though his wife told him to curse God and die (see Job 2:9–10).
“The scripture says, ‘Honour thy father and thy mother’ (Exodus 20:12; see also Mosiah 13:20). Sometimes one must choose to honor Heavenly Father over a mortal father” (“The Great Commandment—Love the Lord,” Ensign, May 1988, 5).
President James E. Faust (1920–2007) of the First Presidency taught that losing our lives means overcoming selfishness and committing ourselves to the service of others:
“For each of us unselfishness can mean being the right person at the right time in the right place to render service. Almost every day brings opportunities to perform unselfish acts for others. Such acts are unlimited and can be as simple as a kind word, a helping hand, or a gracious smile.
“The Savior reminds us, ‘He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it’ [Matthew 10:39]. One of life’s paradoxes is that a person who approaches everything with a what’s-in-it-for-me attitude may acquire money, property, and land, but in the end will lose the fulfillment and the happiness that a person enjoys who shares his talents and gifts generously with others.
“… The greatest fulfillment in life comes by rendering service to others, and not being obsessed with ‘what’s in it for me’” (“What’s in It for Me?” Ensign, Nov. 2002, 21–22).
Elder Neal A. Maxwell (1926–2004) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught that losing our lives means submitting our will to God’s will, thereby finding our true identity: “So many of us are kept from eventual consecration because we mistakenly think that, somehow, by letting our will be swallowed up in the will of God, we lose our individuality (see Mosiah 15:7). What we are really worried about, of course, is not giving up self, but selfish things—like our roles, our time, our preeminence, and our possessions. No wonder we are instructed by the Savior to lose ourselves (see Luke 9:24). He is only asking us to lose the old self in order to find the new self. It is not a question of one’s losing identity but of finding his true identity!” (“Swallowed Up in the Will of the Father,” Ensign, Nov. 1995, 23). For additional insights on what it means to lose your life for the Lord’s sake, see the commentaries for Mark 8:34–38 and for Mark 8:38.
To receive a prophet “in the name of a prophet” means to accept him as a prophet and to recognize his words as coming from the Lord (see D&C 1:38). President M. Russell Ballard shared an example of a young woman who showed by her actions that she received President Gordon B. Hinckley as a prophet. President Ballard referred to counsel that President Hinckley had given to youth of the Church concerning their physical appearance, including admonishing young women to wear only one pair of earrings (see “A Prophet’s Counsel and Prayer for Youth,” Ensign, Jan. 2001, 7). President Ballard then said:
“I know a 17-year-old who, just prior to the prophet’s talk, had pierced her ears a second time. She came home from the fireside, took off the second set of earrings, and simply said to her parents, ‘If President Hinckley says we should only wear one set of earrings, that’s good enough for me.’
“Wearing two pair of earrings may or may not have eternal consequences for this young woman, but her willingness to obey the prophet will. And if she will obey him now, on something relatively simple, how much easier it will be to follow him when greater issues are at stake” (“His Word Ye Shall Receive,” Ensign, May 2001, 66).
While Jesus was ministering throughout the cities of Galilee, John the Baptist, who had been put into prison by Herod, “sent two of his disciples to inquire of Jesus to reassure their faith. Many have thought this event reflected a lack of confidence in John’s own mind. However, Jesus took the occasion to bear testimony of the great work John had done, emphasizing that he was unwavering and true” (Bible Dictionary, “John the Baptist”).
Robert J. Matthews further explained that John wanted his followers to become disciples of Jesus Christ: “The question they were to put to Jesus was for their edification, not for his own. John knew, as no one else knew, who Jesus was, and he had known it for a long time. He had had revelation from heaven to this effect: he had seen with his eyes, he had heard with his ears, and he had the testimony of the Holy Ghost. … The most satisfactory answer seems to be that John sent his disciples to question Jesus about his identity so that they themselves would at long last realize the truth of what John had been testifying” (A Burning Light: The Life and Ministry of John the Baptist , 92).
For insights on being “least,” see the commentary for Luke 7:28.
After the disciples of John departed, Jesus began teaching the people about the greatness of John the Baptist. John the Baptist was foreordained to be a forerunner to Jesus Christ, a mission that fulfilled Old Testament prophecy, as made clear in the Joseph Smith Translation:
“But the days will come, when the violent shall have no power; for all the prophets and the law prophesied that it should be thus until John.
“Yea, as many as have prophesied have foretold of these days.
“And if ye will receive it, verily, he was the Elias, who was for to come and prepare all things” (Joseph Smith Translation, Matthew 11:13–15 [in the Bible appendix]).
The following scripture passages describe John the Baptist’s foreordained mission as a forerunner to Jesus Christ: Isaiah 40:3; Malachi 3:1; Luke 1:76–77; 1 Nephi 10:7–10; Doctrine and Covenants 84:27–28.
In Matthew 11:16–19 the Savior illustrated the inconsistency and unbelief of those who rejected Him and John the Baptist. Elder Bruce R. McConkie paraphrased these verses: “What illustration can I choose to show how petty, peevish, and insincere are you unbelieving Jews? You are like fickle children playing games; when you hold a mock wedding, your playmates refuse to dance; when you change the game to a funeral procession, your playmates refuse to mourn. In like manner you are only playing at religion. As cross and capricious children you reject John because he came with the strictness of the Nazarites, and ye reject me because I display the warm human demeanor that makes for pleasant social intercourse” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [1965–73], 1:263).
The Savior promised rest to all who come unto Him, no matter how difficult life’s trials. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained how we follow the Savior’s repeated invitation “Come unto me”:
“Just believing, just having a ‘molecule’ of faith— … that simple step, when focused on the Lord Jesus Christ, has ever been and always will be the first principle of His eternal gospel, the first step out of despair.
“Second, we must change anything we can change that may be part of the problem. In short we must repent, perhaps the most hopeful and encouraging word in the Christian vocabulary. … Anything we can change we should change, and we must forgive the rest. In this way our access to the Savior’s Atonement becomes as unimpeded as we, with our imperfections, can make it. He will take it from there.
“Third, in as many ways as possible we try to take upon us His identity, and we begin by taking upon us His name. That name is formally bestowed by covenant in the saving ordinances of the gospel. These start with baptism and conclude with temple covenants, with many others, such as partaking of the sacrament, laced throughout our lives as additional blessings and reminders. …
“Following these most basic teachings, a splendor of connections to Christ opens up to us in multitudinous ways: prayer and fasting and meditation upon His purposes, savoring the scriptures, giving service to others, ‘succor[ing] the weak, lift[ing] up the hands which hang down, … strengthen[ing] the feeble knees’ [D&C 81:5]. Above all else, loving with ‘the pure love of Christ,’ that gift that ‘never faileth,’ that gift that ‘beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, [and] endureth all things’ [Moroni 7:45]. Soon, with that kind of love, we realize our days hold scores of thoroughfares leading to the Master and that every time we reach out, however feebly, for Him, we discover He has been anxiously trying to reach us” (“Broken Things to Mend,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2006, 69–70).
In times past, wooden yokes were usually carefully crafted by carpenters to fit the necks of the animals that would wear them. Since yokes were used to bind one animal to another animal, they can be seen as symbolic of the covenant relationship that binds us to the Savior and allows us to “pull together” with Him. President Howard W. Hunter (1907–95) explained:
“In biblical times the yoke was a device of great assistance to those who tilled the field. It allowed the strength of a second animal to be linked and coupled with the effort of a single animal, sharing and reducing the heavy labor of the plow or wagon. A burden that was overwhelming or perhaps impossible for one to bear could be equitably and comfortably borne by two bound together with a common yoke. …
“Why face life’s burdens alone, Christ asks, or why face them with temporal support that will quickly falter? To the heavy laden it is Christ’s yoke, it is the power and peace of standing side by side with a God that will provide the support, balance, and strength to meet our challenges and endure our tasks here in the hardpan field of mortality.
“Obviously, the personal burdens of life vary from person to person, but every one of us has them. Furthermore, each trial in life is tailored to the individual’s capacities and needs as known by a loving Father in Heaven. Of course, some sorrows are brought on by the sins of a world not following the counsel of that Father in Heaven. Whatever the reason, none of us seems to be completely free from life’s challenges. To one and all, Christ said, in effect: As long as we all must bear some burden and shoulder some yoke, why not let it be mine? My promise to you is that my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (See Matt. 11:28–30.)” (“Come unto Me,” Ensign, Nov. 1990, 18).
To those who take upon them the Savior’s yoke, He promises “rest unto your souls” (Matthew 11:29). This promised “rest” can be a lightening of our burdens (see Mosiah 24:15) and ultimately a fulness of God’s glory (see D&C 84:24; Hebrews 4:1–11).
The Pharisees took an untenable position when they accused Jesus of using the power of the devil to do something good by healing a man possessed with a devil (see Matthew 12:22–24). The Savior taught that “a good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit” (Matthew 7:18). In challenging the Pharisees to “either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt” (Matthew 12:33), Jesus was telling them they needed to make a choice about Him. Because of His good works they could not consistently call Him evil, and they could not take a neutral position (see Matthew 12:30). Confronted with His testimony and good works, the Pharisees had to choose whether or not they would accept Him as the Christ and follow Him.
Christian writer C. S. Lewis taught that we too must make an all-or-nothing choice in response to Jesus Christ: “You must make your choice. Either this man [Jesus Christ] was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to” (Mere Christianity , 41).
The term Beelzebub used by the Pharisees (see Matthew 12:24) literally means “Lord of flies.” It refers to an ancient Phoenician deity who was a chief among demons. In scripture, Beelzebub is another name for Satan.
Elder Bruce R. McConkie spoke of truths that stem from the Savior’s statement in Matthew 12:30:
“There is, in fact, no such thing as neutrality where the gospel is concerned. Jesus said: ‘He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad.’ (Matt. 12:30.) … If we do not sustain and uphold and support the kingdom of God in all things, we are thereby aiding a cause other than the Lord’s.”
Elder McConkie further explained: “On every issue it behooves us to determine what the Lord would have us do and what counsel he has given through the appointed officers of his kingdom on earth. No true Latter-day Saint will ever take a stand that is in opposition to what the Lord has revealed to those who direct the affairs of his earthly kingdom” (“The Caravan Moves On,” Ensign, Nov. 1984, 84–85).
“Blasphemy against the Holy Ghost” is sometimes used interchangeably with the terms “denying the Holy Ghost” or “the unpardonable sin.” Other scriptures provide further understanding of the unpardonable sin (see Hebrews 6:4–6; D&C 29:43–45; 76:30–37; 88:32).
The Prophet Joseph Smith defined this blasphemy: “What must a man do to commit the unpardonable sin? He must receive the Holy Ghost, have the heavens opened unto him, and know God, and then sin against him. After a man has sinned against the Holy Ghost, there is no repentance for him. He has got to say that the sun does not shine while he sees it; he has got to deny Jesus Christ when the heavens have been opened unto him, and to deny the plan of salvation with his eyes open to the truth of it; and from that time he begins to be an enemy” (in History of the Church, 6:314).
President Spencer W. Kimball (1895–1985) noted that few will commit this sin: “The sin against the Holy Ghost requires such knowledge that it is manifestly impossible for the rank and file [members of the Church] to commit such a sin” (The Miracle of Forgiveness , 123).
President Boyd K. Packer (1924–2015) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles similarly reassured Church members: “Save for those few who defect to perdition after having known a fulness, there is no habit, no addiction, no rebellion, no transgression, no offense exempted from the promise of complete forgiveness” (“The Brilliant Morning of Forgiveness,” Ensign, Nov. 1995, 19).
The Joseph Smith Translation makes clear that in Matthew 12:43–45, the Savior is discussing the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, for when a person commits this sin, the Holy Ghost does not return to him:
“Then came some of the scribes and said unto him, Master, it is written that, Every sin shall be forgiven; but ye say, Whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven. And they asked him, saying, How can these things be?
“And he said unto them, When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest and findeth none; but when a man speaketh against the Holy Ghost, then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, he findeth him empty, swept and garnished; for the good spirit leaveth him unto himself” (Joseph Smith Translation, Matthew 12:37–38 [in the Bible appendix]).
When the Pharisees asked the Savior for a sign, He replied, “An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign” (Matthew 12:39). The Prophet Joseph Smith commented on this statement made by the Savior: “He who seeketh a sign is an adulterous person; and that principle is eternal, undeviating, and firm as the pillars of heaven; for whenever you see a man seeking after a sign, you may set it down that he is an adulterous man” (in History of the Church, 3:385). On another occasion, Joseph Smith taught the following about sign seeking: “Faith comes not by signs, but by hearing the word of God” (Teachings: Joseph Smith , 384).
Ancient Assyria, whose capital was Nineveh, was notorious for its brutal treatment of war captives, who were often tortured, beheaded, dismembered before family members, flayed alive, roasted over a slow fire, or sent back to Assyria for forced relocation or public execution. Nonetheless, the ancient inhabitants of Nineveh, who were not of Israelite descent, responded to Jonah’s cry of repentance (see Jonah 3:1–9). Similarly, the queen of the south (queen of Sheba), also not of Israel, had great respect for Solomon, the Israelite king (see 1 Kings 10:1–13).
The Savior referred to the men of Nineveh and the queen of Sheba while rebuking the Pharisees for failing to believe in Him. He was “greater than Jonas” (Matthew 12:41) and “greater than Solomon” (Matthew 12:42)—yet to the shame of the Jewish leaders, who were of Israel and ought to have known better, they were refusing to honor and hearken to Jesus Christ, the greatest of all. (See similar rebukes in Matthew 8:10; 11:20–24; Luke 4:25–27.)
In these verses, the Savior took the arrival of His family as an opportunity to teach that those who do the will of Heavenly Father belong to His eternal family. Elder Bruce R. McConkie said of the Savior’s words: “The blessings of heaven are available—freely, without money and without price—to all men. All men cannot be born into this world as the sons of God, after the manner of the flesh, but all, through righteousness, can be adopted into the family of the Eternal God and become joint-heirs with Christ of the fullness of the glory and power of the Father” (Mortal Messiah, 2:227).
In this dispensation, the Savior again taught this principle: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, that as many as receive me, to them will I give power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on my name” (D&C 11:30).