In Matthew's account (12:27-28), we read (All quotes from NIV, all empahsis mine):

And if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your people drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.

But Luke 11:19-20 renders it a bit differently:

Now if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your followers drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. But if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.

Given that Luke's writings are so Spirit-focused, I would have expected it the other way around: that Matthew would use "finger of God" and Luke "Spirit of God". Why would Luke be the one to adopt the phrase "finger of God" here? What does it tell us?

9 Answers 9


The "finger of God" is mentioned in two passages in the Hebrew Bible. Once when the magicians of Pharaoh conceded defeat before Moses (Ex 8:19) and secondly when the two tablets were inscribed with the Ten Commandments (Ex 31:18).

In the context at hand here in Matt 12:27-28 and Luke 11:19-20, where we see Jesus casting out the demons, the confrontation hails back to the former episode in Exodus, when magicians in the court of Pharaoh were stymied by "the finger of God."

Thus, like Moses, Jesus had stymied the power of Satan, whom Jesus likens in this context to a strong man that is bound and plundered (Matt 12:29-30 and Luke 11:21-23). The strong man is stymied by "the finger of God." Please notice that Jesus makes the connection in the immediate context at hand.

According to Isaiah, the "Holy Spirit" of Yahweh was this power of God, which enabled Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. The words are קָדְשֹׁו רוּחַ, which literally are translated as "his Holy Spirit" in Isaiah 63:10 and Isaiah 63:11. It was therefore "the Spirit of Yahweh" (Isaiah 63:14) who empowered Moses according to these three respective passages in Isaiah.

As we see in the Exodus account, the "mighty hand and outstretched arm" now come into focus in these passages from Isaiah. It was not the finger of God, but the "mighty hand and outstretched arm" of God that delivered them from Egypt. The progression of power starts with the finger, the hand, and then the arm. The visible theocratic Kingdom of God was subsequently established through the "mighty hand and outstretched arm" of God.

Jesus thus said to the Pharisees that "the Kingdom of God was nigh." He implied therefore to his listeners who were familiar with the Hebrew Bible that the "mighty hand and outstretched arm" of God was next, since the "finger of God" was now presently evident to them. In other words, when Jesus had mentioned that the Kingdom of God was at hand, he signaled the immanency of the return of the Kingdom of God to earth (just as the Exodus in Egypt resulted in the visible theocratic Kingdom at the giving of the Ten Commandments on Sinai). Please note that the Ten Commandments (Old Covenant) was given 50 days (Shavuot) after the Exodus from Egypt in the same way that the New Covenant was given 50 days (Pentecost) after the resurrection of Jesus the Nazarene.

Further, in Ezekiel 20:33-44, we see the predictive prophecy at the time that Ezekiel wrote, that the "mighty hand and outstretched arm" will again save the faithful remnant of Jews but through God's covenant, which was the New Covenant that was in view (cf. Ezek 20:37 with Ezek 11:19-20; Ezek 34:25; and Ezek 36:24-28). Therefore Jesus was heralding to his listeners the immanency of this New Covenant-based Kingdom.

The finger of God therefore prefigures "the mighty hand and outstretched arm" of God, who delivers his people through "his Holy Spirit" (קָדְשֹׁו רוּחַ). The Holy Spirit therefore is the power that binds Satan.

Jesus is the Moses who heralds the New Covenant-based Kingdom of God, which arrived at Pentecost by the Holy Spirit.

  • I thought the explanation of how the finger relates to the hand and arm was very informative, but I don't see where the OP's question is actually addressed: why do Matthew and Luke use different expressions? If anything, you seem to have provided even more reasons for Matthew, rather than Luke, to have used the expression.
    – user33515
    Dec 5, 2017 at 17:49
  • @user33515 - the OP only asked two questions, and they concerned Luke, and not Matthew
    – Joseph
    Dec 5, 2017 at 17:52
  • "In Matthew's account ... But Luke ... Why would Luke be the one to adopt the phrase 'finger of God' here?" I read the question as why Luke rather than Matthew chose the expression "finger of God". But you're right, there were two questions. You answered the second, but not the first. it was a really good answer though. You might also check out Cyprian's commentary on the hand of God. He lists a lot of additional references from Isaiah.
    – user33515
    Dec 5, 2017 at 17:55
  • For me, I associate Luke with wolf. In Norse mythology, Tyr gave his Hand to Fenrir the wolf when the wolf was being bound. The Hand will ultimately save the wolf, the least of us. Joseph shows deference to Benjamin (wolf) because the part of Joseph that resides in Benjamin. And Deut. 33:12. In the NT, "Today" is capped and tells us that, one day, the Hand will be called back to Himself. To discover Holy Spirit Within while His Hand is stretched out still, or it will be too late.
    – tblue
    Feb 25, 2018 at 8:26

The Spirit of God and the finger of God are used in Matthew 12:27 and Luke 11:20 interchangeably. The Lord God wrote down the 10 commandments on the stone tablets with his finger. Ex. 34:1. In Jeremiah 31:33 talking about the new covenant God says,”I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.” How can God write his law on our hearts? By his Spirit. Here the law is not external rules written on stone, but an internal truth coming from the Holy Spirit at work inside us. This is the Spirit of Christ, Roman 8:9. “ You however are not controlled by the sinful nature, but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ, does not belong to him.” As a Christian, I need the finger of God writing his law on my heart and the Spirit of Christ living in my heart. First his Spirit comes in when I am born from above ( again) John 3:3 I think the finger of God in this context is the physical, delicate and surgically accurate working of the Holy Spirit etching his truth in my innermost being. So in practice, I cannot separate God’s Spirit who gives me new life, from His finger within me which enables me to live for Jesus so I can work out my salvation. Phil 2:12

  • Beautiful job in connecting the Spirit of God with the Finger of God, Jocelyn. Welcome to the forum. Best wishes,
    – Dieter
    Jun 14, 2018 at 2:34
  • Yes, if one eliminates the biased translation that capitalizes some letters, it's obvious that "the finger of God" is simply a metaphor for "the spirit of God". Today we refer to "the long arm of the Law" as a metaphor for the power of the police to eventually track down a criminal. Oct 7, 2021 at 17:48

That is a metaphoric language, in fact, the "hand of God" (cf. Isaiah 64:8) or "finger of God" (cf. Psalm 8:3) is a fixed metaphor for that, through which God creates universe, the entire created order of things, and therefore, the "hand" or "finger" of God cannot in principle be a created thing, unless we go to a negative infinity that this created "finger" through which God creates the world is also created by another created finger and so on. Therefore, when the Lord identifies this "finger of God" with the "Spirit of God" (Matthew 12:28), we see a clear evidence that the Spirit of God is not created, and what is not created, is God.

Now, we know, furthermore, that the Holy Spirit is a distinct Person, having the feature that only person can have, like willing (John 3:8; Acts 15:28-30), or cognizing (1 Cor. 2:10). And so, we have a clear theology of the Holy Spirit who is God, coming out from the God-Father (John 15:26) from whom He is distinct as the Sent is distinct from the Sender.

Moreover, the "finger" indicates that God-the-Father not only does not do anything without His Spirit, but also that He ontologically cannot do anything without His Spirit, like a surgeon not only does not, but cannot operate anyone without using his deft fingers. Which leads us to the necessary conclusion that the activity of the Father and the Spirit is one and the same divine activity conducted by distinct divine Persons.

Furthermore, the Lord says that the action of the Spirit and that of the Father, which action we have just proven to be identical, is conducted by Him, the Lord Jesus Christ, for He clearly says that “I expel demons”, and He does so out of His own authority, without invocation and prayer. Moreover, His disciples, who vicariously possess the ability of exorcising demons, do this by invoking His, Jesus’ name, that is to say, they invoke His, Jesus’ action (Matthew 12:27; Luke 10:17). This leads us to a further theological conclusion that also the Lord Jesus Christ co-acts with the Father and the Spirit in expelling demons, thus His own divine activity being also identical to the divine activity of the Father and the Spirit.

Now, given the principle that the activity is always an outcome of essence, the latter logically, if not temporarily, preceding the former, and given that entirety of the Father's activity is identical to the entirety of the Son’s and the Holy Spirit's activity, then we can freely conclude with the fathers formulating the Nicaean-Constantinopolian Creed (381 AD), that the Father and the Son and the Spirit have the same and identical divine essence.

Thus, this great theology is contained in the Lord's identification of the "finger of God" with the "Spirit of God".


In addition to the previous answer, consider a bit more simply, that Mt and Lk are communicating the exact same concept with "spirit" and "finger". Point being that only the one true God has power over the devil (immediate context of both Mt and Lk) as the Gospel writers (all 4) are evidencing that Jesus is the Christ, the Saving Son of the Living God. Matthew's primary Jewish audience needed no connection to the "finger of God" in Ex 8:19 for they were already acutely aware that all the plagues (and in particular the plague of gnats which was a unique plague in that it was sheer ex nihilo, a creation of a living thing out of nothing, a miracle which the magicians of Egypt could not duplicate) evidenced the power of the Spirit of the living God. Luke's audience would have been more loosely aware of the details of the Exodus story. So Luke's Gospel catches his audience with a reference that would give them pause to consider: either to go back and look at the Exodus story, or more likely, to tie the Holy Spirit's presence and power directly to this Jesus, who, like God alone, had his own "finger" with Holy Spirit power over the forces of darkness.

  • Welcome to Stack Exchange, we are glad you are here. When you have a chance, be sure to check out the site tour and read up on how this site is a little different than other sites around the web... This is an OK answer, but would be greatly improved by referencing reliably sources. In general, don't just tell us what you know, show us how you know it.
    – ThaddeusB
    Nov 17, 2015 at 18:37

Jesus traveled from town to town preaching the Good News, it is most likely that on many occasions He repeated the same things but in a slightly different manner, that is I believe the reason for the difference.

  • Are you suggesting that Luke was only aware of the times that Jesus used the "finger of God" version of this expression and not aware of any times he used "Spirit of God" instead?
    – Soldarnal
    Feb 20, 2018 at 21:46
  • @Soldarnal: Luke was aware that Jesus used the term "Spirit of God", because the Gospel of Matthew was completed by 41 of our Common Era and the Gospel of Luke was by 58 C.E. , so Luke must have been aware that Matthew used that term , and perhaps knowingly choose to use the other term "finger of God" used also by Jesus. Feb 21, 2018 at 19:35
  • Yes, so my question is if he knowingly choose the other term, why?
    – Soldarnal
    Feb 22, 2018 at 1:23
  • @Soldarnal: From the narration of the four gospels we note differences, and not simply that each writer copies the others ,just to give us different testimonies of the same thing. The narration of Luke for example contains about 60 % material that is not found in the other gospels and the rich vocabulary used indicates that Luke was well educated . In mentioning the "finger of God " Jesus was likely alluding to Exodus 8:19, probably a well known verse to the Jews, and the fact that Luke used it, indicates that he avoided copying others. Feb 22, 2018 at 19:16

I believe that since a finger always used to points in a direction, I would say that the Finger of God is the Spirit of God directed towards a specific purpose.

  • 1
    Please add more research. What did finger of God mean to the Jews in the first century?
    – Perry Webb
    Jul 9, 2018 at 7:42

Could it be that Jesus was wisely rebuking their lack of faith and ability by all THEIR efforts of flesh?

And demonstrated How much Power is even in His finger? Demons did not take yelling and saying prayers etc, He was contrasting His limitless power to the finite Power of legions of demons.

A man a woman, boy or girl, living in Faith in the Name above all names, not Their Faith, but like Peter, Faith in the Holy Name of Jesus..strong and mighty Tower....

That’s why His Wisdoms reminds us Not to take HIS NAME in vain

When you and His Name are One With the adversary you will have fun Take heart dear warrior

His Name moves mountains Melts hearts Binds wounds Cleanses souls Makes whole The Soul!

  • Hi Rick! Welcome to Hermeneutics.SE. You might take the tour if you have not already to get an idea of what constitutes a thorough answer.
    – colboynik
    Oct 20, 2018 at 13:36

Just wondering how certain we can be with our dating of Matthew vs Luke, inclusive the theory of who copied whom, and what might have been the actual words of Jesus - as this relates to a quotation of a direct speech of Jesus - so wondering what was actually happening, whether there were different oral traditions circulating or if one of the writers would have been so free as to change a part of Jesus's direct speech?

To me, the expression Finger of God appears to be the more original one, and the oral tradition might in order to clarify have used the term Spirit of God as well - resulting in different accounts circulating.

  • Repeating the welcome, Sam, but just to add that your first paragraph needs to show research sources, and your second paragraph is really just an opinion. Again, research needs to be show to back that up, otherwise it remains just an opinion, which is not what this site is looking for. Do add a bit more to your answer!
    – Anne
    Oct 8, 2021 at 16:37
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    – Lesley
    Oct 8, 2021 at 16:38

This is because Luke being a Physician is a bit more functionally accurate. He is implying that another word for "spirit" is "finger".

The same practicality can be seen with the word "soul".

Matthew 16:26

For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?

Luke 9:25

What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?

Luke is being more specific by implying that the soul is another way of saying "self".

Your soul is your self. Your spirit is your finger.

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