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!

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.”