Dealing with Argumentative Non-Christians (Mark 8:11–13)

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Image by Priscilla Du Preez. Adapted for Redemption of Humanity. Used under licence.

Last edited on 18/Jan/2021

Overview and Context

The Pharisees came and began to argue with him [Jesus], seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him. 12 And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.” 13 And he left them, got into the boat again, and went to the other side. (Mark 8:11-13, ESVUK)

This passage of Scripture comes right after Jesus had fed the 4,000 people with only seven loaves. Following this, Jesus and his disciples went into a boat to the district of Dalmanutha, where some Pharisees began arguing with him and demanding heavenly signs from him to test him.

Parallels Between the Pharisees and Certain People of Today

The amazing thing about this timeless truth of Scripture, is that it shows how sinful human nature hasn’t changed all throughout the centuries. It’s all too common to see people like the Pharisees in this day and age, looking for arguments with Christians and not peaceful dialogue, demanding that Christians give them “signs” or “evidence” for God‘s existence or for the truth of Christianity while at the same time completely dismissing the signs and evidence already given in the Bible, and testing Christians purely for the aim of proving them wrong and inflating their own ego. One cannot help but notice the disturbing similarity between the Pharisees here and many secular anti-Christian groups of this day and age.

How Jesus Responded to the Pharisees

But what was Jesus’ response to them? How did Jesus deal with the Pharisees who only wanted to argue with him, demand evidence from him while dismissing his previous miracles, and test him only to prove him wrong? Jesus first sighed “deeply in his spirit” and asked “Why does this generation seek a sign”? The irony here is that right before this event with the Pharisees, Jesus had literally given people a sign from heaven, a miracle, proving that he is who he claimed to be: the Christ (Messiah) of God, and yet people still weren’t satisfied with that.

He then told them “no sign will be given to this generation”. After all, it’s a heart issue, not an intellect issue. If people don’t want to believe in someone or something for whatever reason, then even if there are rational and highly compelling reasons to believe, they will still choose not to. If the Pharisees weren’t willing to believe in Jesus even after knowing about his miracles, then even if he were to perform another one right in front of their eyes, they would just find some kind of excuse to not believe in him. So Jesus then did the most suitable thing for such a situation, and walked away from them, leaving it at that.

How We Can Learn from Jesus’ Example

As Christians, we can learn a lot from Jesus’ example here. Sometimes when we are dealing with unreasonable, argumentative non-believers, the best thing we can do is simply walk away, and leave the conversation. Sure, they might snicker, get the last laugh, or feel that they’ve somehow won because they responded last, but at the end of the day we will be dealing with one of two kinds of people in this world: those who have ears to hear and those who do not, as Jesus said (Mark 4:23).

This doesn’t mean that we should walk away from non-believers who are genuinely interested in having peaceful and reasonable dialogues with us, even if they disagree with some of the things we say. Remember Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus at night time, how Nicodemus disagreed with some of what Jesus taught, but wasn’t argumentative, unreasonable, or bent on destroying his worldview, and they both conversed peacefully (John 3:1-15). However, when the non-believers with whom we are conversing start acting like the Pharisees of Mark chapter 8, then those are warning bells that if the conversation goes any further, it won’t end well. At such a stage, we have to use wisdom to determine whether or not it’s best to continue (Proverbs 2:6-12).

Pray for Non-Christians and Conclusion

So then, let’s carefully consider the time we spend on arguing with non-Christians. If it seems to be a fruitful discussion, it’s a good idea to continue talking with them and giving them Christ-centred guidance. However, if it seems to be going nowhere other than escalating in intensity, let us follow Jesus’ example, and simply leave the conversation. There’s no shame in doing that. Whatever we do, however, we should always pray for them (Matthew 5:44Luke 6:27; Romans 9:30-33, 10:1). Perhaps the Lord will open their eyes and hearts one day, in a way that we will not expect. After all, we do not have the power to convert anyone to Christianity; only God has that power (1 Corinthians 2:12-14; 1 Corinthians 3:5-7).

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