Amateur Exegesis – Episode 6: Family Issues

Texts Discussed: Mark 3:21-35; Matthew 12:22-32, 46-50; Luke 8:19-21, 11:14-23.

Recommended Reading:

  • Mary Ann Beavis, Mark, Paideia Commentaries on the New Testament (Baker Academic, 2011), 19.
  • John R. Donahue and Daniel J. Harrington, The Gospel of Mark, Sacra Pagina vol. 2 (The Liturgical Press, 2002), 128-136.
  • Joel Marcus, Mark 1-8, The Anchor Yale Bible (Doubleday, 2000, 270-287.
  • Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Zondervan, 1996), 403.

7 thoughts on “Amateur Exegesis – Episode 6: Family Issues

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  1. Hello
    I really enjoy your podcast. Thank you for producing it. I would be interested in your thoughts on how I think this passage may actually tie in with Markan secrecy.

    Here is part of the NIV version with the titles removed:

    “James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means “sons of thunder”), 18 Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot 19 and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. 20 Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. 21 When his family[b] heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” 22 And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.”

    My question is what did his family hear about? If I recall right you said they heard of his teachings or miracles.

    But none of the immediately preceding text is talking about his teachings really at all. So is it because of the miracles – casting out demons or some other miracle? That doesn’t make sense either. I mean lets assume they didn’t believe he could do miracles just like I don’t believe my brother can do miracles. And someone comes to me and says my brother is doing miracles like casting out demons. Would I conclude my brother is insane? No. I would conclude the person telling me this is insane.

    What is “this” that his family heard and caused them to try to take charge of him and claiming he was insane? Well the most immediate thing is that he was attracting huge crowds! In a prior podcast you gave an explanation of the Markan secrecy that meant once people widely knew he was the messiah he would die (see your no sign for you podcast) If his family (or people very close to him – (possibly even closer than the disciples that he just named) knew that his busting out this information would mean he is going to die then they may have wanted to apprehend him to protect him. They said he is crazy and tried to take him away because he attracting crowds and his mother knew that would lead to his death – at least according to the Markan secrecy rational you offered.

    I know this is speculation – sure. But Markan secrecy is quite and odd beast. And it is unclear why people would say Jesus is insane because people are saying he is casting out demons. If you don’t believe in that then you would say the people making the claim is insane. The text – at least as translated in English seems to be saying the family tried to grab him bys saying he was out of his mind when they heard he was attracting huge crowds.

    What do you think?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You raise some interesting points. The Greek text of v. 21 literally reads, “And having heard…”. The “it” or “this” is implied since the verb “to hear” is transitive. In context, I think they heard Jesus was at home and this prompts them to make their way to lay hold of him because they believed him to be out of his mind. But why did they consider him out of his mind? That’s a good question. Could it be because he was attracting huge crowds? Perhaps. But I’m not sure that adequately explains it since why would attracting a crowd mean one is insane? We do know that the charge of insanity and demon possession sometimes went hand-in-hand in the first century and so I think Jesus’ reputation as an exorcist and the Pharisees’ accusations of demon-possession may suggest the reason they thought he was insane. I doubt the secrecy motif is in play but I’d honestly need to give that more thought since it is a tantalizing possibility.

    I absolutely love how closely you are paying attention to the podcast and the text themselves. I’m doing some revisions to the script for the podcast and turning into a book. As I work on this particular episode, I’ll have to think through some of the stuff you’ve said!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ok yes so it may have been just that they heard he was close, but of course just being close would not be reason to claim he was insane either.

      On the theory I propose his family (or close associates) knew more than his recently chosen disciples. They knew he was going to die shortly after he was found to be the messiah. (this is a theory why Jesus always wants everyone to be quiet about his miracles) So they wanted to take hold of him and try to make it so he became “a nobody” again. the fact that he was drawing crowds by performing these miracles would mean he is racing to his own death. So the whole bit about saying oh never mind him he is just crazy let us take him home, would have been to save him, not because they really believed he was crazy. At least not in a literal sense but rather he was crazy for doing what would lead to his death. It is a compassionate move on their part not one of rejection.

      You say:
      “But I’m not sure that adequately explains it since why would attracting a crowd mean one is insane?”

      It wouldn’t. The text does not say the close associates actually believed he was insane. (But I can’t read Greek!) Rather it said they “said” he was insane so they could take him away. Nothing to see here everyone just go home.

      Now the later saying of Jesus about who his family is may be interpreted negatively about his mothers and brothers but I don’t think it must be understood that way.

      “Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.”

      33 “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked.

      34 Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.'”

      Letting God’s will be done means he has to die as the messiah. But he doesn’t actually say those outside saying he is crazy are not his brother or sister or mother. He says many people are his family, so he is explicitly broadening the concept but not necessarily restricting it. At least according to that translation.

      I do agree with what you say that Matthew and Luke interpreted this differently and butchered it. But it is not surprising they misunderstood as Markan secrecy is cryptic. I am just looking at Mark in isolation here. It does seem that Mathew had an idea when he talked about the sign of Jonah though.

      I am glad Travis listed your website because I thoroughly enjoy reading these ancient texts especially the Gospels. It seems there are always new ways of understanding what is written.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I see what you’re saying. They’re saying he was insane was merely pretense to try and remove him. They didn’t *actually* think he was nuts. That’s an interesting take. But I think the Markan imagery is such that his family is presented as outsiders, both physically and spiritually. The way Mark paints his picture is such that Jesus’ own family has rejected him as messiah, probably out of ignorance (and who could blame them?), but it has led him to show that in these last days his true family are those who do the will of God just as he is doing.

        In any event, I’m glad you are enjoying the podcast! Next year I plan on doing a new series on Paul and the letter of 1 Thessalonians. Still reading and acquiring sources for it.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. “But I think the Markan imagery is such that his family is presented as outsiders, both physically and spiritually. The way Mark paints his picture is such that Jesus’ own family has rejected him as messiah, probably out of ignorance (and who could blame them?)”

        Is that view just from Mark 3 (the passages we discuss here) or do you think other parts of Mark take a dim view of Jesus family? Maybe Mark 6:1-6? I agree that any analysis would have to deal with that passage as well if we want Marks understanding. But what jumps out at me is in Mark 3 it is Mary and Christs brothers trying to get him. No mention of the sisters being outside even though Jesus says who would be his brothers and sisters in his parable. And in Mark 6 the passage says he is son of mary and brother to….. But it seems to separate the sisters as being with those who took offense. So much ink is spilled about whether Jesus had brothers and sister etc I can’t find much about whether the Greek would suggest mark is saying all the family is “with [those who took offense]” or just the sisters.
        “’Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? 3 Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph,[a] Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.”

        I mean if I were just reading that in english I would say the author is clearly saying the sisters are there with those who took offense but is not saying the mother and brothers took offense. Does the Greek offer anything here one way or another?

        The view that when people would hear about him, they would naturally conclude that he was crazy is contradicted by Mark just a few verses up in verse 8.

        Mark 3:7-8

        “7 Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the lake, and a large crowd from Galilee followed. 8 When they heard about all he was doing, many people came to him from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, and the regions across the Jordan and around Tyre and Sidon.”

        It seems that when many people hear “all he was doing” they do not say he was crazy. Instead they came to follow him. It is hard to square that passage with the view that Mark thought what Jesus was doing would naturally lead people to think he was just a kook.

        It interesting that verse 7 talks about the large crowds but Mark says the many people heard what he was doing so he is making it clear that the reaction is not simply to the fact that he is drawing large crowds. But when talking about Jesus family he does not make it so clear what made them say he was crazy. At least by the rules of English grammar it would simply be that they heard Jesus was attracting large crowds that would have caused them to claim he was crazy and try to take him away.

        I reread the first two chapters and there are some teachings that would definitely have raised some eyebrows, but I am not sure why anyone hearing it would say he was crazy. And Mark contradicts that view in 3:7. And as for hearing about the miracles he performed well again Mark reports them as facts and even if the family thought any such miracle talk was crazy the talk was not from Jesus. The text doesn’t say Jesus told his family he could cure cripples and then they said he was crazy. Rather the text suggests they heard this from others. So there would be no reason to say Jesus was crazy. If anything they would think the crowd is crazy for following Jesus.

        It seems that according to Mark Jesus is suddenly busting out once John the baptist is in prison. Mark 1:14-15
        “After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!””

        So this seems to announce a change in Jesus public image. Anyone cared about Jesus and knows about how this will end would be understandably upset. Mark 4 continues and seems to be explaining that Jesus no longer wishes to remain hidden. “And he said, ‘Let anyone with ears to hear listen!’” Mark 4:9

        And again Mark 4:21-23
        “21 He said to them, ‘Is a lamp brought in to be put under the bushel basket, or under the bed, and not on the lampstand? 22 For there is nothing hidden, except to be disclosed; nor is anything secret, except to come to light. 23 Let anyone with ears to hear listen!’”

        Liked by 1 person

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