Why Did Jesus’s Brothers and Sisters Reject Him? – Matthew 13:53-56

All four gospels agree Jesus’s family rejected him as the messiah, although it is not clear why they rejected him. Matthew 13:53-56 claims Jesus’s brothers, sisters and extended family questioned the source of his authority to teach and do miracles.

Jesus's Family

Jesus returned to his own hometown. Rather than say Jesus went from Capernaum to Nazareth, Mathew says he returned to his “homeland” (εἰς τὴν πατρίδα αὐτοῦ). This anticipates the final saying of the story, but a prophet is not welcome in his homeland. Mike Wilkins suggests this surprising return to Nazareth was prompted by the visit in 12:46-50 (Wilkins, Matthew, 509). His mother asked him to return home, he refused at first and then did as she asked (John 2).

After Jesus teaches in the Nazareth synagogue, the crowd is astonished and ask, “Where did Jesus ‘get all these things?’” Mark and Matthew do not tell us what Jesus taught (Matthew does not even say this takes place on the Sabbath). In Luke 4:16-21, Jesus reads from Isaiah 61:1-2 and ends by saying “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” The audience was astonished or amazed (ἐκπλήσσω) because of his teaching. Although Matthew does not tell us what Jesus taught, this is the same reaction as the crowd at the end of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 7:28) and at the end of his teaching int eh Temple courts (Matt 22:33).

The Pharisees wonder where he got this wisdom (teaching) and these mighty works (miracles). This is something like, when he lived Nazareth, he wasn’t reaching like this, and he certainly wasn’t doing any miracles like he is rumored to have done in Capernaum. Later in Matthew 21:23-27 the chief priests ask Jesus where he got his authority to teach. Similarly, in John 7:15 the crowd hearing him teaching in the Temple wonders where Jesus got his learning, since has “never studied.”

In this small village synagogue, everyone knew Jesus was the son of the carpenter and that he had not been sent to rabbinical school nor had he trained as under a great teacher of the Law. So where did he get his wisdom and miraculous powers?  Like the Pharisees in chapter 12, the people in the synagogue wonder about the source of Jesus is wisdom and power. Does it come from man? Or does it come from the devil?

Isn’t This the Carpenters’ Son?

Unlike the Pharisees, people of Nazareth know who Jesus is. He is the carpenter’s son, and they know Jesus’s brothers, sisters, and mother well.  Does the title “the carpenter’s son” imply they know something is odd about Jesus’s birth?

Joseph’s name is not used, he is simply the carpenter. In a small village he may have been known by his trade. Mark calls Jesus “the carpenter.” Nolland suggests Matthew modified this since Jesus was not (at that time) working as a carpenter while he was doing his ministry (unlike Paul, who was a tentmaker while traveling as a missionary). As is well known, the traditional translation “carpenter” for τέκτων is too limited in modern English. A τέκτων was any sort of builder, whether using wood or stone. Some suggest “stonecutter.” Although secular Greek can use τέκτων for an artesian (even a sculptor, Soph. Tr. 768, BrillDAG), a worker living in the small village of Nazareth was probably more of a day laborer, perhaps working in Tiberius or Sepphoris, two Roman cities only a few miles away.

The Greek question is usually smoothed out in English translations: “Is not his mother called Mary?” It is oddly phrased, as if the people of Nazareth want to avoid his father’s name. Citing Stauffer, Davies and Allison suggest the phrase “the son of Mary” was “intended as a slur: the circumstances of Jesus’ birth were known to have been unusual” (Matthew, 2:456). Perhaps they knew the rumors that Jesus was an illegitimate child.  But the easiest solution is that Joseph is dead by this time and Matthew focuses on Jesus as the son of David, not the son of Joseph.

The Brothers and Sisters of Jesus

There are four brothers of Jesus named: James, Joseph, Simon and Judas. All four are named after the patriarchs in Genesis. James is a well-known leader of the Jerusalem church in Acts (Acts 15:13; 21:8; cf., Gal 1:19; 2:9). Jesus appears to him after the resurrection, perhaps commission him to lead the Jerusalem church (1 Corinthians 15:7). According to tradition, he is the author of the letter of James. The name in Greek is Ἰάκωβος, Jacob. Mark 6 calls the second brother Joses; Matthew uses the more common Joseph. Compare Matthew 27:56 and Mark 15:40).  Joses is a Hellenistic form of the name Joseph (BDF §53.2).

Matthew also reverses the order of the last two brothers, Simon now comes before Judas. Although there is no good explanation for this, perhaps he knew the birth order of the brothers and changed Mark’s list. Judas is Judah, one of the twelve sons of Jacob, although like Simon his name also could refer to one of the founders of the Hasmonean dynasty.

In Matthew 12:26-50, Jesus’s mother and brothers want to speak to Jesus, in Mark 3:20-21 Jesus’s family thought Jesus was “out of his mind” and they have come to take charge of him. John 7:5 specifically states his brothers did not believe in him.

“All his sisters” implies a large family. The sisters are “still with us,” implying they have married men in Nazareth, Perhaps the brothers have moved out of town (to find work?) “The silence of the NT may imply that they never became Christians” (Davies and Allison, Matthew, 2:459).

Nazareth was a small village in the first century, so it is likely everyone gathered in the synagogue knew Jesus and his brothers and sisters well and were all related to him in some way! Jesus’s origins are not fitting for someone with such power and wisdom, so the people might actually agree with the Pharisees: he is in league with the devil!

6 thoughts on “Why Did Jesus’s Brothers and Sisters Reject Him? – Matthew 13:53-56

  1. Unbelief. The god of this world had blinded their minds to the true identity of The LORD Jesus.

  2. I am furious after reading Your last paragraph” so perhaps the Pharisees are right, he is in league with the _ _ _ _ _.,” I will not put my SAVIOR ‘ S NAME in the be same sentence with evil!!! How dare you tarnish the SAVIOR, THE SON OF GOD,!! How DARE YOU…To think JESUS went through the TRAGEDY OF THE CROSS for ALL SINNERS… even you…

    • Maybe you should relax. I am not saying Jesus is in league with the devil, the crowd in Nazareth may have agreed with the Pharisees that he was. I modified that last sentence to be more clear.

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