I don't understand the following counter argument by Jesus.

And if I by Beelzebul cast out demons, by whom do your sons cast them out?
Luke 11:19

One viewpoint is that the Pharisees' students (which I believe is what Jesus meant when he said sons) did try to cast out demons, but that would mean that I would be assuming that the Pharisees' student did actually cast out demons during that time.

1) Would the aforementioned argument be valid?

2) Are there any other ways of understanding Luke 11:19? If yes, could someone please explain them?

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5 Answers 5


The NET Bible makes an interesting point at footnote 54:

Most read your sons as a reference to Jewish exorcists (cf. “your followers,” L&N 9.4; for various views see D. L. Bock, Luke [BECNT], 2:1077-78), but more likely this is a reference to the disciples of Jesus themselves, who are also Jewish and have been healing as well (R. J. Shirock, “Whose Exorcists are they? The Referents of οἱ υἱοὶ ὑμῶν at Matthew 12:27/Luke 11:19,” JSNT 46 [1992]: 41-51). If this is a reference to the disciples, then Jesus’ point is that it is not only him, but those associated with him whose power the hearers must assess. The following reference to judging also favors this reading.

(L&N refers to Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Nida, eds. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains. New York, NY: United Bible Societies, 1988. JSNT refers to Journal for the Study of the New Testament)

In short, if Shirock (in JSNT) is correct about Jesus' your sons referring to his disciples and not the Pharisees' disciples (see Matthew 12:27 for the identification of Jesus' accusers as Pharisees), then Jesus' argument--to me--makes more sense. Jesus' disciples, after all, were chronologically the Pharisees' disciples (i.e., "sons") before they were Jesus' disciples (i.e., "sons"). That would not mean that Jesus' disciples were also Pharisees; it would mean that his disciples (and Jesus, for that matter!) were brought up in Judaism and under the umbrella of Jewish rabbis, teachers, and leaders within the Jewish faith, regardless of their "party" affiliation.

Jesus' reasoning in both Matthew and Luke can be summarized as follows:

  • If I in fact am casting out demons by the power of their prince, Beelzebub [viz., Satan], that must mean Satan is working against himself, and that does not make sense.

  • Moreover, if I have given your sons who were brought up under your tutelage but are now my sons the power to cast out demons--and they have done so successfully, then by whose power do they do so: mine or Satan's?

If the Pharisees were to have answered Jesus' question at this point, they would have been caught on the horns of a dilemma! If they said, "Our disciples (i.e., our sons) also cast out demons by the power of Beelzebub," then they (the Pharisees) would be guilty of bad teaching and are just as much to blame as Jesus!

If, however, the Pharisees' former disciples (i.e., their sons) who are now under the authority of Jesus and like Jesus are casting out demons by the finger of God (Luke 11:20), then they will wind up judging the Pharisees.

Moreover, if that be the case, then the kingdom of God which Jesus preaches has not only arrived on the scene but has also surpassed the kingdom with which the Pharisees are aligned. In other words, Jesus turned the Pharisees' argument back onto them, with the implication that they were aligned with the wrong kingdom!

Jesus was therefore accusing the Pharisees of being aligned with Satan's purposes, just as Pharaoh's magicians were in Moses' day, since by their admission only the finger of the one true God could perform the miracle of the gnats (Exodus 8:19).


I think it's pretty simple. Jesus is saying basically something similar to "If you are accusing me of devilry, then why not your people who also cast out demons?".

That is to say, who have you been calling on to cast out demons? Well, that's me! And as Christ continues, He goes on to explain how Satan's kingdom wouldn't stand if he stood against himself, not allowing demons to possess, when that is the goal of his demons.

  • However, is there any historical evidence pointing out that the Jewish Pharisees and Priests ( i.e Jewish Religious Bureaucratic Administration) practiced casting out demons? Isn't the casting out of demons a practice that Jesus himself introduced? ( The reason I ask is because there is No practice of casting out demons in the Old Testament (i.e Torah) which the Jewish Pharisees and Priests followed. )
    – CS Lewis
    Feb 24, 2016 at 8:27
  • That's a good point. I infer their acquaintance with the devil(s) form various passages, such as Matthew 11:8 "For John came neither eating nor drinking; and they say: He hath a devil.", and John 8:48 "The Jews answered and said to him, Say we not well that thou art a Samaritan and hast a demon?" I conclude from verses like these that the Jews were a) at least aware of demon possession, and b) mostly likely invoked God their Father to cast them out (exorcism). It is interesting that they don't explicitly mention exorcism, though. Feb 24, 2016 at 13:58

Here's how I see the structure of Jesus's argument in Luke 11.

Jesus was casting out a demon (v 14). Some said he was driving out demons by the prince of demons. (v 15)

Jesus had two objections.

Jesus's objection 1:

  • No house is divided against itself, because it would fall. (v 17)

  • Driving out demons by the prince of demons is dividing against itself (v 18)

I will rephrase verse 19 as a syllogism, with major premise implied:

 All who drive out demons do so by the power of Satan.
 The sons of the Pharisees drive out demons.
 Therefore, the sons of the Pharisees drive out demons by the power of Satan.

Jesus's objection 2:

While the syllogism is in a correct form, the Pharisees (and any reasonable observer) would say that the conclusion is false. If an argument of proper structure has a clearly false conclusion, then either the minor premise or the major premise is false. Since the minor premise is true ("The sons of the Pharisees drive out demons") then the major premise ("All who drive out demons do so by the power of Satan") must be false.


Let's start by clarifying the question. The passage does not refer to Pharisees. The prior verses state:

Jesus was driving out a demon that was mute. When the demon left, the man who had been mute spoke, and the crowd was amazed. But some of them said, “By Beelzebul, the prince of demons, he is driving out demons.” Others tested him by asking for a sign from heaven.

So "sons" does not refer specifically to students of the Pharisees, at least not in Luke, although Pharisees may have been in the crowd. It could refer to literal sons of people in the crowd. Perhaps youngish religious people were doing exorcisms in the area and Jesus addressed their parents in the crowd. Or it be any number of other people, including students of Pharisees, students of other religious movements or their literal children. In Matthew's version it's the Pharisees that object and in Mark it's "teachers of the law" (same as Pharisees IMO), but not here.

Therefore there are definitely other ways to understand this passage. One is that it doesn't refer to Pharisees at all; it's "the crowd." We should not presume that it's only Pharisees that Jesus is speaking to even though other Gospels mention them. Second, "sons" could mean literally sons, not students.


I don't believe that there is any other conclusion to be had. There are a couple of other verses that came to mind when I had came across this one though.

Mark 9:38-41 & Acts 19:13-20 Both reveal that there were "non-followers" of Christ who were casting out / attempting to cast out demons in the name of Jesus.

I personally am of the opinion that it was not possible to cast them out apart from the power of God, through Jesus, primarily because of what Jesus taught (specifically John 15:1-8) Without HIM I could do nothing.

So the "sons" being judges against those who were being spoken to, would have no doubt understood this, either by their failure, or their successes; and would have had to come to the conclusion that unless it were through the power of God, this result could not be obtained.

Hope that helps.

  • Ok, however, could you please elaborate on what Jesus meant by sons ( of the Pharisees )?
    – CS Lewis
    Feb 13, 2016 at 7:36
  • In all honesty I'm not certain he was referring to the sons of Pharisees (I won't discount it though). If you notice in scripture when the chief priests had business to be handled, they sent officers, or lawyers, or others to handle it? And when you look at this group of men, they were all older in age. That being said, any one who walked in their teachings could have been referred to in that way (sons). Jesus calls his followers children even. The primary thing is, is that there were definitely disciples of these people who were accusing Jesus of casting out demons in the name of Beelzebul.
    – Rick Riggs
    Feb 13, 2016 at 8:07
  • This gets more interesting, and harder to distinguish in the Greek, because anyone that would follow after a teaching, would be "OF" that teaching. For instance my children are mine (possessive case), they are "OF" me. John the baptists is one that was referred to as having disciples even (John's disciples - could loosely mean sons/daughters). Jesus taught using these possessive cases all the time. My sheep know my voice. Those sheep are "OF" Jesus. This is littered throughout the Greek language, and understood thought when speaking of the "Genitive" case. Even Paul used it with Timothy.
    – Rick Riggs
    Feb 13, 2016 at 8:11
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  • I do apologize for not making my position clear up front. My viewpoint and response are rooted in 'Sola scriptura' (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sola_scriptura). I hope that helps clear up the viewpoint portion.
    – Rick Riggs
    Feb 13, 2016 at 14:31

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