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Beelzebub (Beelzebul, Baalzebub)

See also Beelzebub

BEELZEBUB, BEELZEBUL (BAALZEBUB) be ĕl’-ze bəb, be ĕl’ ze bəl (bōōl), Βεελζεβούλ, G1015, lord of dung or filth (from rabbinic word זְבוּל dung, and בָּעַל, H1250, lord). The spelling “Beelzebub” came from the Vul. tr. which derives the word from the Heb. בָּעַל זְבוּב, Baalzebub, “Lord of the flies” (q.v.) KJV and ASV follow the Vul. here, but RSV follows the Gr. of the best MSS and renders it “Beelzebul.”

The term is used first in the NT by Jesus, but evidently was a name applied to Jesus by the Jewish leaders (Matt 10:25). The Gr. οἰ κοδεσπότην, “lord of the house” would be in Heb. בָּעַל הַבַּיִת. Possibly here a play on words was intended by Jesus. Jesus then contrasts His true identity with this degrading epithet hurled at Him by His enemies. He is “Lord of the house,” but they have called him “Lord of the dung heaps.”

In another context, Jesus is accused of casting out demons by the power of Beelzebul (12:24). Here Beelzebul is further defined as the prince of demons. This would be tantamount to accusing Jesus of being a demon (δαιμόνιον, G1228) under subjection to the prince of demons, Beelzebul. It cannot be established, however, whether Beelzebul was considered to be Satan himself or some lesser prince.

Matthew identifies the accusers as Pharisees (12:24). Mark calls them Scribes (Mark 3:22). In Mark the accusation goes further and declares Jesus to be possessed by Beelzebul. Luke more generally identified the accusers as “some of the people” (Luke 11:15).

In the same context Jesus answers His accusers by showing the inconsistency of what they say (Matt 12:25-27; Luke 11:18, 19). They have accused Him of working to expel the one to whom they accused Him of being subject. In their minds is the confused picture of Satan empowering Jesus to cast out Satan’s subjects. But Jesus does not stop here. Because they have seen Him indisputably cast out demons, they conclude some devilish power to be possessing Him. Jesus asks, “If this is so; then cannot the same accusation be leveled at any of you who cast out demons?” It was a question which undoubtedly caused these accusers of Jesus considerable pause.

Then Jesus showed them the seriousness of the charge that they had made against Him. To credit to the devil what God has done, is blasphemy and gives evidence of a reprobate mind, as Jesus concludes (Matt 12:28-32).

Two problems remain unanswered in respect to the use of the name “Beelzebul” by the accusers of Jesus.

1. Is the name to be derived from the Heb. name in the OT, Baalzebub? If so, then do Jesus’ accusers simply identify Him as under the control of the ancient pagan god who was known by Israel as “the Lord of flies”? Or is the name to be derived from the rabbinic term “Zebul” from זָבַל, H2290, meaning “dung” or “manure”? If so, then is one to assume that Jesus’ accusers were degrading Him by this vile accusation rather than actually identifying Him with some personal demon? Or, as some think, was the name derived from the rabbinic term Zebul (זְבוּל) meaning “temple.” If so, then perhaps a play on words was intended. He called Himself “Lord of the Zebul” (temple) but they called Him “Lord of the manure pile.”

The latter of these alternatives is prob. to be preferred.

2. The second problem is more briefly stated, but equally elusive. Did the term refer to the prince of demons and become synonymous with Satan as would appear in Matthew 12:26, 27, or did it apply only to a lesser prince in the hierarchy of Satan and the demonic world?

Probably the answer to the second lies in the answer to the first. If the term was occasioned only by a play on words, then the identity of the personality is unimportant. If it was a term used in reference to a specific demon or prince of demons, his identity is of considerable import to us.


T. Meek, Hebrew Origins (1936), 135ff, 138ff; J. Finegan, Light From the Ancient Past (1946), 148; W. Albright, From Stone Age to Christianity (1957), 231-233, 285-287, 298ff, 307-310; Wright and Fuller, The Book of The Acts of God (1957), 274; C. Pfeiffer, Patriarchal Age (1961), 44ff; C. Pfeiffer, Ras Shamra and The BIBLE (1962), 30; F. Bruce, Israel and The Nations (1963), 44ff.