Why Were People Offended by Jesus? – Matthew 13:57-58

After teaching in the synagogue in Nazareth, the people were offended by Jesus. Jesus is teaching like the great teachers of the Jewish world and he has done miracles which demonstrate he is a prophet. But they do not know the source of his authority and power and are therefore offended by him.

Jesus in the Synagogue of Nazareth

The verb “took offense” (σκανδαλίζω) often has the sense of “to cause to sin,” but the meaning here is “to shock, cause to be angry” (BDAG), or even “be outraged” (BrillDAG).  Jesus caused this extended to be shocked and angry by teaching with wisdom and having power (doing miracles). In Luke 4:28-30 we are told that the offense led the people to want to throw Jesus from a cliff for blasphemy.

“A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown” (Matthew 13:57)

In Luke’s Gospel is appears people are offended by Jesus because he has not done miracles in their town. In Luke 4:23-24 Jesus says, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, “‘Physician, heal yourself.’ What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well” before saying “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown.”

There are no other examples of this proverb, and it is the only time Jesus ever calls himself a prophet (although the proverbial use may not be a claim to be a prophet). Possibly Testament of Judah 18:5 “he does not obey the prophet when he speaks, and he is offended by a pious word.” The proverb also appears in John 4:44 and GThomas 31.  In response to questions from disciples of John the Baptist, Jesus said “blessed is the one who is not offended on account of me” (Matt 11:6).

The people of village of Nazareth reject Jesus, and in Luke’s version they try to attack him! “The failure to understand leads not to indifference but to hostility” (Davies and Allison, Matthew, 2:455).

Jesus did not do many mighty works in Nazareth (Matthew 13:58)

Mark says Jesus “could not do miracles” except to lay his hands on a few people. Matthew has reworded this slightly to avoid the implication Jesus requires people to have faith to be healed. Matthew made this point in 9:1-8. The paralyzed man does not demonstrate faith, yet his sins are forgiven, and he is healed. “Inability has become refusal; Jesus is indisputably in charge” (Davies and Allison, Matthew, 2:460).

By the end of this section, Jesus arrives at Gennesaret. People recognize Jesus and many people gather hoping to just touch the hem of Jesus’s garment to be healed (14:34-36). This is a considerably different response than his own hometown!  But the fact is he did some miracles in Nazareth, yet the people remain unconvinced the source of Jesus’s power is nothing other than the devil!

The Parable of the Sower (13:1-23) demonstrated that not everyone who hears the word of the God from Jesus will accept that word and produce fruit. Only those who have been prepared by God to hear will receive the word and produce fruit. Even among those who appear to have heard the word and accept it are some who are not genuine disciples, they are the weeds among the wheat (13:24-30; 36-43; 13:47-50). Only those who are ultimately committed to seeking the mysteries of the kingdom of God will find it (13:31-35; 44-46) and pass it on to others (13:52). The Pharisees, some of the villages of Galilee including his hometown and even Jesus’s family have rejected the word that Jesus is the Messiah. Yet there are many who continue to follow Jesus, eventually as many as 5000 will gather to hear Jesus (14:13-21).

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!

Aaron Sherwood, Romans: A Structural, Thematic, and Exegetical Commentary

Sherwood Aaron. Romans: A Structural, Thematic, and Exegetical Commentary. Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2020. xv+949 pp.; Hb.; $54.99. Link to Lexham Press

In the introduction to this new commentary on Romans, Aaron Sherwood states his goal is an accessible commentary that avoids atomistic approaches, one that “notes the trees but focus on the forest… the investigation especially looks at how Paul uses the letter structure to help convey his message. This approach allows Paul to set the theological priorities of Romans, ensuring that modern readers take Paul’s own meaning and theology from his discussion” (p. 1). Sherwood previously published a revision of his 2010 Ph.D. dissertation supervised by John Barclay, Paul and the Restoration of Humanity in Light of Ancient Jewish Traditions (Ancient Judaism and early Christianity 82; Brill, 2013) and The Word of God Has Not Failed: Paul’s Use of the Old Testament in Romans 9 (Lexham 2015).

Sherwood RomansIn the 91-page introduction to the book focuses more upon the overall shape and message of Romans. Sherwood offers three reasons Paul wrote the book of Romans. First, Paul wants to establish a warm relationship with his audience (1:1-15; 15:14-33). Second, Paul wants to care for his audience pastorally (12:1-15:13). Third, Paul must defend himself against a negative reputation that has preceded him to the Roman churches. So 1:16-11:36 is Paul’s apology for his gospel. Paul’s goal in this large section of the letter is to ensure that nothing prevents his pastoral care from being effective nor hinders his mission to Spain. What is unusual in this commentary is Sherwood’s view that the main body of the letter is 12:1-15:13 rather than the eleven-chapter theological section. Scholars often wonder why Paul wrote such a detailed theological treatise to churches he had not yet visited.

Sherman observes that scholars generally agree on most critical introductory issues for the book of Romans. Paul wrote the letter from Corinth in the winter of AD 56-57. The audience is a combination of Jews and non-Jews who were committed to Israel’s scriptural heritage. Paul wrote to numerous house churches, which were healthy, although they were facing a few challenges. Scholars are equally unanimous interview that Phoebe carried Paul’s letter to Rome and was the initial reader of the letter (p. 778). He agrees with Esther Ng’s conclusion that Phoebe was not the leader of a congregation, Paul’s patron, nor his serving helper. She worked as the provider of hospitality and a supporting member of Paul’s missionary organization.

Regarding the theology of Romans, Sherwood argues the main point of the book is the Gospel and the Christ-event which inaugurated God’s Kingdom on earth, so that believers are as eschatologically restored. Israel is located in Jesus, so those who trust in Jesus are Israel (p. 42). All believers are quote God’s “humanity of Israel,” so they ought to live out their relationship with Jesus and their identity as Jesus’s disciples (ethics, pastoral care). Since God’s goal in the Christ event his eschatological restoration of humanity, missions is God’s vehicle for working with God to provide salvation for unreached people.

With respect to Christology, Sherwood detects a (proto)Trinitarianism in Romans. Jesus is God’s Messiah, but the Father, Son and Holy Spirit share unique divine identity of Israel’s God. Soteriology saturates the book of Romans. He coins the term “righteousization,” which is more or less equivalent to the more common theological word “justification.” This term appears consistently throughout the commentary where one would expect the word justification. Believers are righteousized by entering into a trust relationship with God in Christ. In Romans, “the process of righteousization (or justification) seems to follow a certain algorithm:

  • Believers believe in the report of the Christ event.
  • At the same time, believers trust God’s declaration of who Christ is and what he accomplished, as well as what God accomplished through him.
  • Also at the same time, believers are in a trusting personal relationship with Jesus, and with God in Jesus.
  • Then, with the above three elements in place, God gifts believers with the removal of sin and guilt against himself.
  • God also gifts them with a transformation of their identity, by which their character emulates God’s own divine character (p. 60).

Sherwood observes that soteriology is relatively distant from the center of Paul’s theology in the book of Romans. “It is profound, but it is less substantial than is typically assumed” (p. 62). For example, Paul’s limited references to soteriology in Romans do not show God’s grace is inherently irresistible, nor does Sherwood find any idea of imputed righteousness in the book. Rather than imputed righteousness, “righteousizing is transformational” (p. 61).

This rejection of imputed righteousness is associated with a New Perspective on Paul, but Sherwood is not a representative of this view. He thinks the New Perspective provides two helpful correctives to the traditional view of Paul. First, Romans does not focus on the tension between grace and works (or Law), and second, Second Temple Judaism was not a legalistic religion. However, Sherwood thinks the New Perspective reduces Paul’s theology to its sociological dimension, something he calls “an unsound methodological emphasis” (p. 67). Sherwood takes the “works of the law” (ἔργων νόμου) in Romans 3:20 as the whole law rather than limiting the phrase to the boundary markers (such as circumcision, food taboos and Sabbath). In fact, Sherwood translates ἔργων νόμου as Torah rather than “works of the law.” He says this phrase means “the Jewish commonplace of Torah observance, in the sense of having a lifestyle, identity, and devotion to righteousness that is characterized by habitually living in faithfulness to the Torah” (p. 227). He includes a lengthy digression on the use of the phrase “works of the law” in 4QMMT. He concludes the similarity between Romans 3:20 and 4QMMT is “rather incidental” and 4QMMT “should not be allowed to distract from a proper understanding of Paul’s message” (p. 234). This discussion is somewhat disappointing since the primary source he cites in this section is a 1994 Biblical Archaeology Review magazine article by Martin Abegg rather than the two major articles on Paul and 4QMMT by James Dunn or N. T. Wright.

Given Sherwood’s previous work on Paul’s use of Scripture in Romans 9, it is not surprising he devotes a large section of his introduction to Paul’s use of scripture. He provides two charts of Paul’s citations of the Hebrew Bible, one in canonical order in a second in order of appearance in Romans. Sometimes Paul’s use of Scripture is described as a midrash, although it is certainly not exegesis. Sherwood points out Paul has already done his exegesis and is now using cited Scripture in a “faithful, contextually determined meaning of that scripture in a way that serves his communicative strategy” (p. 74). He suggests Paul uses references to Scripture in a way analogous to a modern academic. Paul makes his theological point and then offers a “footnote of authorities” to support his point (p. 77). He argues Romans was not written from the perspective of New Testament studies, “Paul’s use of Scripture requires an interpretation that comes out of Old Testament studies” (p. 77).

The introduction concludes with helpful a ten-page glossary of key terms.

In the body of the commentary itself, individual units begin with Sherwood, his own translation. This is followed by a paragraph highlighting key idea of the pericope with the thesis statement for the unit set out in bold type. He then outlines the structure of the unit by means of a syntactical display of the English text. Although there are some comments on the structure, he avoids technical rhetorical terms. “Analysis and Interpretation” is a phrase-by-phrase commentary on the English text. There is no Greek in the commentary’s body, and it is rare in the footnotes. Occasionally he refers to textual critical issues in the footnotes, but this is not the focus of the commentary. There are references to contemporary scholarship in the footnotes, but in the main text Sherwood provides a readable and accessible commentary on Paul’s key ideas uncluttered by scholarly debate. As he stressed in the introduction, his commentary is selective and non-comprehensive. Each unit concludes with a summary and theological reflection. These reflections focus on the unit itself rather than larger ideas of Pauline or canonical theology.

In addition to the commentary Sherwood provides several short digressions throughout the commentary. These deal with controversial issues such as homosexuality in Romans 1 (155-57), imputed righteousness (269-71), and Paul’s view of empire (p. 673-76). Following the commentary are seven substantial excurses on controversial theological topics commonly addressed in a Romans commentary.

  • Natural Theology and the Identity of the Accused in Romans 1:18-32
  • Interplay between Romans 3:27-8:17 and Galatians 3:1-4:7
  • Salvation, Redemption, Deliverance, and Atonement in Romans
  • The “I” In Romans7
  • Divine Foreknowledge and Predestination in Romans 8:28-30
  • The Salvation of “All Israel” In Romans 11:25-27
  • The Disputed Originality of Romans 16

These excurses are substantial (over fifty pages total). By separating them from their context in the main commentary, Sherwood achieves his goal of an accessible and readable commentary since the average reader is not prepared for a protracted discussion of the “I” in Romans 7. Sherwood argues Paul’s speaker in Chapter 7 is “a representative Jew who is both convicted of his obligation to obey Torah perfectly and is perfectly appalled by his inability to do so” (p. 629). Regarding predestination and Election in Romans 8:28-30, Sherwood avoids both Reformed and Arminian positions, stating that his exegesis is compatible with either position (which is probably not going to make either side very happy). Regarding the originality of Romans 16, he states clearly “all things considered, there are no compelling let alone sound reasons for rejecting the originality of Romans 16:1-23” (p. 851).

He does not think that “all Israel” in Romans 11:25- 27 refers to future salvation of unbelieving Jews (p. 841). In his view, the best reading of this passage is that Paul is making a positive statement about God’s process of reconstituting his people, come what may. “All Israel” therefore “refers to God’s corporate Christocentric people” (p. 846) and that a reading of Romans 11:25-32 “with an expectation of ethnic Jews’ salvation would be a mistake” (p. 847).

Conclusion. Sherwood achieves his goal of providing an accessible commentary that sheds light on Paul’s Letter to the Romans. He avoids tedious comparisons of views from other major commentaries, although he is certainly informed by them. Nor he does not get bogged down in exegetical details which distract the commentator from Paul’s overarching theological themes.

 

NB: Thanks to Lexham Press for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

 

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.