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Analysis

Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

A House Divided

What Do Jesus and Abraham Lincoln Have in Common?

They're both vampire hunters, obviously. Oh wait, no. They both wear top hats. Shoot—not that, either.

It was on June 16, 1858 that Abraham Lincoln delivered his now famous "House Divided" speech while he was running for a seat in the Senate. Against the advice of a political ally he stated very clearly, "A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free."

Lincoln lost the election. But he knew his position would be a hard sell to his contemporaries. So he purposely reached for language that already had some authority: the Bible. Jesus himself says, "Every kingdom divided against itself becomes a desert, and house falls on house" (11:17). And Jesus, too, knew it was a hard sell.

In Context

Of course, Luke can't take all of the credit, since Matthew and Mark record the words, too.

In all three gospels, the house divided principle is part of Jesus's defense speech against people who say that he exorcizes demons by the power of Beelzebul, one of the higher-ups of the demonic orders. Jesus points out their failure of logic: a kingdom or house at loggerheads with itself cannot stand. So if the demonic order is at war with itself it too will fall. The assumption is that this is an unlikely scenario.

While he may have been well aware of this context, Lincoln lifts the key principle out and brilliantly re-applies it in his analysis of the mounting crisis in pre-Civil War America. Read all of Lincoln's speech and all of Jesus's (Luke 11:17-26 ) and tell us: who said it better?

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