“He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters” (Matthew ch12 v30)
“For he that is not against us is for us” (Mark ch9 v40)
I hold in my hand a penny.
“Old money”, of course, pre-decimal, twelve to the shilling. Queen’s head on one side, Britannia and her trident on the other. It makes the
visual point better than one of Harold Wilson’s tiddlers.
If I flip the coin into the air and allow it to land, it will show either “Heads” or “Tails”. The result will vary, since I am not a character
in “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead”, but it will always be one or the other.
[P.S. I've just tested. 7-3 for Heads]
This can be expressed in two different statements;
“If the coin does not land ‘Heads’, it lands ‘Tails’”
“If the coin does not land ‘Tails’, it lands ‘Heads.”
Clearly there is no contradiction or disagreement there. They are just differently ordered ways of saying the same thing. The point being that the
coin never rests on its edge.
In the same way, the two statements quoted at the top of the page are counterparts, giving the same meaning in reverse order. This would have been
more obvious if the word in Mark had been “with” instead of “for”;
“He who is not with me is against me.”
“He that is not against us is with us”.
You are either friendly or hostile. There is no such thing as neutrality.
As far as I’m concerned, then, these quotations are two sides of the same coin.
Yet people are always claiming to be able to see a contradiction between them. I’ve never seen one myself, and I really struggle to understand how
anybody else can see one. So I’m having one more go at solving the mystery.
It seems to come down to the question of “neutrality”. Even some of the commentators have managed to convince themselves that Jesus is giving us
two different ways of treating neutrals. So Cranfield (in his commentary on Mark) describes the principle of the Matthew verse as “to be neutral
toward Jesus is to have decided against him”.
That interpretation is only possible if the verse is taken in isolation. In the context of Matthew ch12 (and in the equivalent location in Luke) it is
part of the response of Jesus to the “he casts out demons by Beelzebub” slander of the Pharisees. It is the Pharisees who are “not-with” him,
and they are not neutral. They are actively hostile. The concept of neutrality “don’t enter into it”.
And again, if we look at the context of the Mark verse, we find that Jesus is talking about “the man who was casting out demons in your name”. But
that man isn’t being neutral either. If he is working in the name of Jesus, then he is actively friendly. The concept of neutrality “don’t enter
In fact his willingness to accept the man echoes the verdict that Moses gave, on that occasion when he gathered the elders of Israel to receive the
Spirit of the Lord and prophesy (Numbers ch11 vv24-30). The Spirit also rested on two men who had remained in the camp, and they also prophesied.
Joshua wanted Moses to forbid them, but Moses said “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put his Spirit upon
them”. The point was that “being on the Lord’s side” was not about physical location, but about the presence of his Spirit.
I think part of the problem, in the case of the Mark verse, is that Jesus says “for us” when he might have said “with us”, which means the
same thing. This makes it possible for people to be unconsciously led astray by the “physical presence” meaning of the English word “with”.
Then the man who casts out demons can be seen as “not-with” Jesus, because he is in a different location. Once that idea has taken hold of the
mind, there’s an apparent contradiction between the “not-withs” of Matthew, who are labelled “against me”, and the “not-with” of Mark,
who is labelled “for us”. When we appreciate that “with” is about friendly collaboration, sharing the same Spirit, then the contradiction
Those commentators who do see a “different treatment of neutrals” try to find ways of harmonising the difference. For example, the “tolerant”
view of Mark should be applied by others, while a man should apply the “sterner” view of Matthew to himself. Or Matthew is the verdict of the
final judgment, while Mark should be applied in the interim.
The real solution is to recognise that neutrality “don’t enter into it”.
Matthew says “If you are actively hostile towards what Jesus is doing, then Jesus will regard you as hostile”.
Mark says “If you are actively friendly towards what Jesus is doing, then Jesus will regard you as friendly.”
You cannot find any contradiction between those two declarations, unless you are actively looking for one.
edit on 9-7-2021 by DISRAELI because: (no reason given)