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.”

They were 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).

They 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 perhaps the Pharisees are right, he is in league with the devil!

When Did the Rejection at Nazareth Happen? Matthew 13:53-58

In the gospel of Matthew, the Rejection at Nazareth servers as a conclusion to the parables of the Kingdom of God but also as a transition to the next section of the gospel. When Jesus’s hometown of Nazareth rejects Jesus as the Messiah, the village falls under the judgment promised to the Pharisees at the end of Matthew 12. Nineveh in the Queen of the South will rise in judgment over Nazareth because they have rejected Jesus as the Messiah. In addition, this is the last time Matthew portrays Jesus as teaching in a synagogue.

Jesus in the Synagogue

In Matthew 12:46-50 Jesus’s family came to see him, but Jesus declares the ones who follow the will of the Father are his brothers and sisters. After the parables of the kingdom (Matt 13), Jesus’s hometown (and extended family) rejects him (13:53-58). This story concludes a frame around the parables of the Kingdom.

Is the Rejection at Nazareth a Synoptic Problem?

Perhaps more than other stories in Matthew, I need to comment briefly on the parallels to this story in Mark and Luke. In Matthew and Mark 6:1-6a, this final summary of the crowd’s reaction to Jesus’ teaching. In Mark, the incident in Nazareth takes place well into Jesus’ ministry, as in Matthew. It is a dramatic turning point in Mark as it is in Matthew, when Jesus seems to be rejected by both religious Jews and the common people of the village of Nazareth. In Luke 4:16-30, however, the incident occurs at the beginning of his ministry. In Luke Jesus reads from a scroll of Isaiah on the Sabbath in the synagogue in Nazareth and announces the prophecy of the Messiah from Isaiah is fulfilled that day in their hearing, claiming that he is the Messiah.

Several Solutions to the Problem

First, the rejection at Nazareth may have occurred twice, once at the beginning of Jesus’s ministry and a second time after Jesus teaches the parables of the Kingdom of God (Mark 4 / Matthew 13; Wilkins, Matthew, 509; Carson, “Matthew,” 335; Morris, Matthew, 364).

The second possibility is Mark place the rejection at Nazareth at the end of the Parables of the kingdom so that the rejection by his family introduces the parables and the rejection at Nazareth ends the section. Matthew followed Mark and toned down the stories, omitted that his family thought Jesus lost his mind (Mark 3:21) and that Jesus could not do miracles in Nazareth (Mark 6:5; cf. Matt 13:58, “he did not do many miracles”).

However, “There is no reason to think that Mt 13:53–8 is anything other than a revised and abbreviated version of Mk 6:1–6a” (Davies and Allison, Matthew, 2:452; cf., Nolland, Matthew, 574). Davies and Allison also argue Luke 4 “more likely preserves an independent narrative,” implying there were two sources for the rejection at Nazareth. Along with several references to synagogue rejections in John, they consider this historically reliable (three sources), in addition to the criterion of embarrassment (what Christian scribe would create a story where Jesus could not do any miracles!)

The rejection at Nazareth also serves to introduce several stories in which Jesus withdraws from Capernaum and no longer teaches in the villages of Galilee He goes into the wilderness (14:13-21) and then moves back and forth around the Sea of Galilee and heads toward Jerusalem (Gennesaret, 14:34; Tyre, and Sidon, 15:21; the “other side” of the sea, 15:29, Magadan, 15:39; Capernaum 17:24 the regions of Judea, 19:1; Jericho, 20:19).

What is a Scribe of the Kingdom? – Matthew 13:51-52

After seven parables describing the kingdom of God, Jesus concludes by calling his own disciples scribes of the kingdom. This enigmatic phrase is key to understanding Matthew’s view of discipleship. Disciples of Jesus are like scribes of the kingdom who bring out both old and new treasures for people to see.

He asks his disciples a question: “do you finally understand all this?” (13:51). After the series of parables, Jesus asks the disciples if they understand what has been said. They answer that they do, which might be a surprise since they have not understood in 13:13-15, 19. After Jesus has explained the parable of the Sower and the Weeds, the true disciples now are able to understand the parables without further explanation.

Library of old books

Is this an eighth parable in Matthew 13? Mark Bailey, for example, calls it an eighth parable (“The Parables of the Dragnet and of the Householder,” 282. Wilkins, Matthew, 489). On the one hand, “seven parables of the kingdom” has a certain biblical ring to it, but Matthew had eight beatitudes, so an eighth parable fits his own preference for eight examples.

If point of the Sower parable is that the true disciple produce fruit, that the disciples now understand the parables signal they are in fact true disciples. As with the Parable of the Sower, the seed is good, but the preparation of the soil determines whether the seed will bear fruit.

In response, Jesus describes the scribe of the kingdom (13:52). A scribe (ESV, γραμματεύς; translated “teacher of the law” in the NIV) is a person who is devoted to studying the Torah and searching out wisdom (Sirach 39:2-3). But his is a new kind of scribe, one that has been instructed (aorist passive participle, μαθητεύω) in the Kingdom of Heaven.

These new scribes have been instructed by Jesus in the series of parables in Matthew 13. Since Jesus described these parables as the mysteries of the kingdom of God (13:11), the new scribes have a “new teaching” to study.

This new kind of scribe is like a household owner that takes things out of his storeroom, old and new (13:52). This is structurally parallel to the mysteries of the kingdom of Heaven. The “mystery” is something that has not been previously revealed, Jesus is revealing something new about the nature of the kingdom to his disciples. This short saying explains to the disciples they have a new responsibility as new scribes in the kingdom of God to pass their understanding of the kingdom on to others (Wilkins, Matthew, 491).

The master of the house “brings out” (ἐκβάλλω) treasures. This verb does not mean, “bring out to display his treasures for others to see,” but more like “throw out” the new and old treasures so that other people can possess them. “This scribe is a discipling disciple: the treasure he has gained he passes out to others” (Nolland, Matthew, 571).

There is a combination of “old and new” in the mysteries of the kingdom in that the kingdom will happen, but not in the way that the Jews thought that it might. Jesus is weaving the messianic expectations of the first century together with a new understanding of the kingdom as beginning humbly, growing slowing, etc.

This may apply to the Sermon on the Mount as well. There is some old, since Jesus begins with and affirms the Law, but then extends the Law beyond what was written (do not kill, now includes do not be angry). The Sermon on the Mount Jesus claims to be teaching his disciples “something new.” In Matthew 9:17 Jesus described his teaching as “new wineskins for new wine” in contrast to the old wineskins of the Pharisees and the “old” teachers of the Law.

In the context of the previous three short parables, the true disciple must be willing to give everything he has to obtain this kingdom, because in the final day there will be a judgment that separates the true disciple from the false ones, everyone will be rewarded justly for their discipleship.

The Parable of the Dragnet – Matthew 13:47-50

The parable of the dragnet is the third harvest metaphor in Matthew 13 (The Sower and The Weeds). In this case the harvest is fish from the sea. This parable is “paired” with the parable of the Wheat and the Weeds in Matthew 13:24-30.

Fishing on the sea of Galilee with a dragnet

Like the Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds, the image is of a harvest, although this time the story of the parable is of a fisherman using a dragnet. We know that the harvest is a stock metaphor for the day of Judgment, but what about fishing? It is not as common a metaphor for judgment as it is for the giving of the Gospel – “I will make you fishers of men.” There is perhaps an implicit judgment in the “fisher of men” image, since not everyone that is caught in the net will be found in the kingdom of God!

Does This Parable Allude to Ezekiel 47:6-10?

In the prophet’s description of the future Temple water will flow out of the Temple and flood the Arabah, making the Dead Sea into freshwater sea which will yield “fish of many kinds.” Ezekiel’s “fish of many kinds” is often interpreted as gentiles who become part of the millennial kingdom, and then that meaning is imported into the dragnet parable. Bailey suggests “Jesus was clarifying that now no one, regardless of his or her background, was to be excluded from the offer or message of the kingdom” (Mark Bailey, “The Parables of the Dragnet and of the Householder,” 283).

Jesus’s parable is focused on the judgment when the kingdom is established, the separation of the wheat from the weeds or the sheep from the goats, not on the gentile inclusion (or not) in the future kingdom.

A Net Catches All Kinds of Fish

A “dragnet” is a net held in place by floats; weights would sink part of the net to snare any fish that happen to swim into it. The fisherman would take up the net, return to shore and “sort” the fish.

In the parable there are two categories, good fish and bad fish. It is possible the difference between the good and the bad is what the fisherman can sell (Hagner, Matthew 1-13, 399). A fisherman might throw back a small fish since he would have more money on a larger fish.

On the other hand, the good fish may refer to which are edible, according to the law, the bad fish are those that are inedible according to the law (Lev 11:9-12; Deut 14:9). The clean fish are those with scales, therefore shellfish, shark, or other “swarming creatures” are forbidden. Most of the forbidden fish are not native to the Sea of Galilee, the most common fish in the Sea is tilapia, but there are sfamnun, an African catfish. Since it has no scales, it is not to be eaten according to the Law. Since the sfamnun is a long skinny fish it is sometimes mistaken for a snake.

Jesus draws an analogy to the end of the age. As with the Parable of the Weeds, angels will separate the evil from the righteous and put the evil into a fiery furnace. Why would the fisherman destroy the “bad” fish if they are simply forbidden as food for Jews?  Could he not sell the catfish to Gentiles? Why destroy them?  To throw them back would counterproductive, next time you let down the nets you might very well catch the same unclean fish. Better to get rid of the bad so it doesn’t reduce your take the next time!

In the parable the fisherman is the Son of Man at the end of the age sorting out those that are prepared for the kingdom, so the image is of a fisherman who would not use the fish unlawfully.

There is a brief interpretation of this parable in 13:49-50 which is virtually identical to the words of 13:41-42. There is a repetition of theme of separation at the end of the age and the angels gathering out those that are unworthy and throwing them to the “furnace of fire” to destroy them, the place “where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

The Pearl of Great Price – Matthew 13:45-46

Unlike the man who finds a hidden treasure in the previous parable, the merchant in the Pearl of Great Price is searching for treasure, fine pearls. The kingdom is like the merchant in this case, not the valuable pearl, but the “is like” refers to the whole saying.

Large Pearl

The word ἔμπορος, merchant, refers to “one who travels by ship for business reasons” (literally, someone who boards a boat; BDAG), a wholesale dealer who travels and finds sources for goods to resell. This is not necessarily a shop-owner, more like someone who owns an import/export business.

The point is the man is on the lookout for valuable things he can purchase and make some profit from. By analogy, occasionally I will find a book in a used bookshop that I know is more valuable than the asking price. I might buy the book knowing that I can “flip it” in Amazon or eBay for some profit (which I usually use to buy more books).

How Valuable Were Pearls in the Ancient World?

Pearls were highly valued in the ancient world, in some cases more valuable than gold; Noland suggests we could change the image to diamonds (Nolland, Matthew, 566). But it is unlikely the merchant would sell everything in order to obtain an extremely fine one. This is another example of hyperbole in this parable. Pearls (μαργαρίτης) are listed along with precious stones (Rev 17:4, 18:12, 16) and with gold (1 Tim 2:9).

Pliny the Elder said pearls have the “first place” among valuable items, the “topmost rank among things of price” (Natural History 9.106). “Among the Indians worth 3 times as much as pure gold: Arrian, Ind. 8, 13 and always in great demand: ibid. 8, 9)” (BDAG). Pearls from India were introduced into the Mediterranean area at the time of Alexander the Great and are not mentioned in the literature of Egypt or the Old Testament prior to that time.

Sell Everything to Gain the Kingdom

When the merchant finds the ultimate valuable pearl, he sells everything to purchase it. Since he is a businessman, this means something like “he liquidates his assets.”

Like the Hidden Treasure, the parable of the Pearl of Great Price is also about the cost of discipleship.  Here is no need to allegorize this pearl to make it the church (Walvoord, Matthew: Thy Kingdom Come, 105) or Christ (Pentecost, The Parables of Jesus, 60). If anyone wants to follow Jesus, no price is too great to pay. ““the glorious character of the kingdom brought by Jesus, which justifies the cost of absolute discipleship (Hagner, Matthew 1-13, 396).”

There are some disciples of Jesus who were genuinely searching for the kingdom and found it in Jesus. Perhaps these are the disciples of John the Baptist or some Pharisees who responded to Jesus (Nicodemus, for example).

The Hidden Treasure described the disciples who unexpectedly find the Kingdom of God in Jesus’s ministry, The Pearl of great price described a disciple who was diligently searching for the Kingdom and also finds it in Jesus’s ministry. In both cases, the finder has something far more valuable than they could possibly imagine.