“But if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.”
– Luke 11:20, NIV
Jesus cast a demon that was dumb (kophon) out of a man. The Greek word kophon may mean dumb (speechless), deaf, or deaf and dumb. As used here, the English word dumb means not capable of speech. Because of the demon, the man could not speak.
When the demon was cast out, the dumb man spoke. The multitude marveled, and a controversy arose. Some of the multitude said (Luke 11:15), “‘He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons.'” In reply Jesus pointed out that a house divided against itself would not stand. It was not logical to suppose that He cast out the demons by the power of Beelzebul.
Finger of God
Then, Jesus explained how He did cast out demons. He cast them out by the “finger of God.” Obviously, God was the source of His power to cast out demons. Jesus used a human characteristic to stand for what was not human. Such anthropomorphisms are not uncommon in the Bible.
Several terms are of interest to us. The term “finger of God” represents the power of God in Exodus 8:19; Deuteronomy 9:10; Exodus 31:18; Psalm 8:3; and Daniel 5:55. Another term representing the power of God is “the hand of God.” This term is used, for example, in I Chronicles 28:12, 19. The term “hand of the Lord” is used in Ezekiel 1:3; 3:22; 8:1; and 40:1. Luke himself (1:66) uses the term “hand of the Lord” as well as the term “His arm.” According to Luke, Mary (1:51) says, “He has done mighty deeds with His arm.”
Sometimes such terms are used to refer to the Holy Spirit. Many scholars believe that this is the case in the Ezekiel passages just cited. However, these terms are not always exactly synonymous with the Holy Spirit. In a sense they are broader and refer to God without further qualification. Because God is Triune, these terms can include all three persons of the Trinity. Usually, however, the writer is referring to either God the Father or God the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit
According to Luke, Jesus cast out demons by the “finger of God.” However, the parallel passage in Matthew 12:28 says Jesus cast out demons “by the Spirit of God.” Given the passage in Matthew, we may conclude that “finger of God” can be used figuratively to refer to the Holy Spirit. Clearly, when you take the total witness of Scripture, Jesus cast out demons by the power of the Spirit. This leads us to ask, “Why did Luke say “finger of God” instead of “Spirit of God?” To answer this question, we must observe the overall framework of Luke’s treatment of the Holy Spirit.
A study of Biblical theology leads us to identify what each author of scripture says about a subject. Although all the authors are in harmony each may have a different emphasis. In recent times, scholars have done much to identify the variations in emphasis between Paul. Luke, and John. Pentecostals find much support for their views of the Holy Spirit in the writings of Luke. Of course, not all agree with the Pentecostals.
Turner and Menzies are among the writers who have extensively studied Luke’s writings. Both of them hold that Luke stresses the Spirit of prophecy. However, they differ on what this means. According to Turner (p. 259), Luke’s Spirit of prophecy is broadly includes not only empowerment, but also the work of the Spirit in salvation as well as His work in exorcisms and healings. Against this, Menzies (P. 116) says Luke’s presentation of the Spirit of prophecy is much more narrow. Luke’s concern is prophecy, empowered witness, and Spirit endued service. Given this framework, Menzies maintains that Luke wrote “finger of God” in order to avoid making a direct connection between the Holy Spirit and exorcisms and healings. He does acknowledge that, despite Luke’s special emphasis, the primitive church understood that the demons and exorcisms took place by the power of the Spirit.
Clearly, the term “finger of God” can be a figure of speech for the “Spirit of God.” Nevertheless, Menzies is right in pointing out that Luke does not directly connect the term “Spirit of God” with exorcisms and healings. He is right, also, in acknowledging that the early church does. We can assume that Luke understood the views of the early church.
The Kingdom of God
In his reply to his accusers, Jesus makes a connection between the “finger of God” and the “kingdom of God.” Because the “finger of God” was present in delivering power, the kingdom of God was present among them. The kingdom of God is present through the work and presence of the Spirit of God. Or, as Jesus said, through the “finger of God.”
The kingdom of God is both present and future. The Spirit of God breaks in upon us with the power of the future kingdom. When God breaks in with powerful manifestations, it is evidence of the presence of the Kingdom of God. Although we look forward to the full consummation of the kingdom of God when Christ returns, we are blessed wonderfully now by anticipations of that consummation.
Hawthorne, Gerald F. The Presence and the Power. Dallas: Word Publishing, 1991.
Marshall, I. Howard. The Gospel of Luke. Exeter, The Paternoster Press, 1978.
Menzies, Robert P. Empowered for Witness. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1991.
Stronstad, Roger. The Charismatic Theology of St. Luke. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1984.
Turner, Max. Power from On High. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press. 1996.
Copyright 2000 © George M. Flattery