Problem: Jesus contradicts himself on people "with us or against us"
Verses: Matthew 12:30, Mark 9:40; Status: Weak

Matthew writes that, during one of his confrontations with the Pharisees, Jesus said that those who are not with him are against him. This is Matthew 12:30:

Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. (ESV)

In a seperate incident, regarding a man using the name of Jesus to drive out demons, Jesus says what appears to be the opposite. This is Mark 9:38-40:

John said to him, "Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us." But Jesus said, "Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. For the one who is not against us is for us. (ESV)

The first thing to note is that, from a strictly logical point of view, this is not a contradiction at all. If everyone who is not with you is against you, then everyone who is not against you is with you. Either sentence is sufficient to rule out the possibility of people being neutral, and thus, to divide people into just two mutually exclusive groups: for and against.

However, usually when someone says something like what Jesus says, he is really saying that those who are not actively involved are either for or against. Understood this way, the meanings become:

(Matthew) Whoever is not actively helping me is fighting me.
(Mark) Whoever is not actively fighting me is helping me.

But I don't think it's necessary to read the passages in this way. Instead, the strictly logical approach above works fairly well.

Furthermore, the context in which the two claims are uttered is quite different. In Matthew (and also Luke 11:23), Jesus is addressing his enemies, whereas in Mark (and also Luke 9:50), Jesus is addressing his friends. In the latter case, it's reasonable to think that the change in emphasis is to ensure that the disciples do not think that everyone is their enemy.

Updated: 2009-01-18

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