Mark Chapter 3.20-35

Chapter three continues and concludes.

20 Καὶ ἔρχεται εἰς οἶκον: καὶ συνέρχεται πάλιν [ὁ] ὄχλος, ὥστε μὴ δύνασθαι αὐτοὺς μηδὲ ἄρτον φαγεῖν.

And he came to (his) home. And again a crowd gathered, so that they were not able even to eat bread.

Some notes on the Greek: the fact that [ὁ], the definite article is bracketed indicates confusion over whether “a crowd” or “the crowd” gathered. The former would be people from wherever; the latter, IMO, would imply sort of the usual suspects.

Second, the number of persons indicated by the verb changes from the first clause “he came home”, to “they were not able” in the final clause. This tells me (asuming it wasn’t just a scribal error) that when Jesus went to his home, his inner circle came with him.

Now let’s talk about << εἰς οἶκον >>. Idiomatically, this would be rendered in English simply as “he went home”. I translated it as I did, again, to give a fuller sense of the literal Greek.

So let’s talk about “home.” Three of my four crib translations render this as some variation on “his home” or “went home”. Again, Jesus lives in Caphernaum, and he has no visible means of support. We are never told that he worked, and yet he maintains his own home. I was a tad surprised by this, by the idea of Jesus going to his own house. I have never seen this discussed, especially as to what it says about Jesus as a human who has to eat and sleep, and that it seems to have some serious implications about his social status.

20 Et venit ad domum; et convenit iterum turba, ita ut non possent neque panem manducare.

21 καὶ ἀκούσαντες οἱ παρ’ αὐτοῦ ἐξῆλθον κρατῆσαι αὐτόν, ἔλεγον γὰρ ὅτι ἐξέστη.

And those beside him hearing, they went out to take possession of him, for they said that he was out of his senses.

Whoa, Nellie!  He’s out of his senses? What is this all about?

The fact that this could be said about “Our Lord” has led a lot of people to claim that it’s very accurate. It’s too embarrassing to invent. There is a certain level of logic to this. But the most interesting part of this is how this sort of hangs there, without a whole lot of context. He’s home, a crowd gathers, they can’t eat, and people around him try to overpower, or take possession of him because he’s lost his marbles. Then, in the next verse, we jump to the scribes.

Frankly, I do not understand this.  So I consulted a commentary on Mark that I picked up at a library sale. His take is that those around him refer to the family members in V-31, his mother & brothers, who came from Nazareth. OK, that makes some sense, but how did they hear about this in Nazareth and come all the way to get him while it was all happening? Or, is there a chunk of the story left out?  

There would have to be, since it seems to be about 20 miles from Capheranaum to Nazareth; IOW, most of a day’s worth of walking.  So to get the news to Nazareth, and come back from Nazareth would take 2 days.

My immediate reaction was that Jesus’ family must have been living in Caphernaum, too. However, we read in Mark 6.1 that Jesus returns to his ‘home/native town’. In the passage it really sounds like Jesus’ mother and sisters (at least) still live there. So, bottom line, this is a puzzle. In the matter of Jesus, however, the fact that he goes to his ‘home/native town’ indicates that it’s no longer his residence.

The commentary also suggests that this house he returned to is really Simon’s house, where Jesus healed Simon’s mother-in-law, and that seems sensible, but that’ s not how the text reads, IMO.

 Now for the truly sticky part. As for who “those around him” are, << οἱ παρ’ αὐτοῦ  >> is a wonderfully ambiguous term. As I translated, it’s literally “those beside him”. Now, this can be in a literal sense; Jesus is sitting in a line of people, and those beside him are Peter and John. Or, it can mean those beside him more figuratively, such as friends. It can also mean family, which seems to be the favourite choice among Biblical commentators. But if it does mean family, and they do live in Nazareth, then we run into the logistical issues of a day’s journey each way, and that makes no sense in this context.

In which case, by default, it seems it must indicate his followers in this case.

But that doesn’t begin to address the part about being out of his senses. Was he fatigued from not being able to rest, or even eat?  Or was there some sort of contention, perhaps with officials? We get into that in the next verse, so that explanation has some merit. We’ll leave it at that.

 21 Et cum audissent sui, exierunt tenere eum; dicebant enim: “ In furorem versus est ”.

22 καὶ οἱ γραμματεῖς οἱ ἀπὸ Ἱεροσολύμων καταβάντες ἔλεγον ὅτι Βεελζεβοὺλ ἔχει, καὶ ὅτι ἐν τῷ ἄρχοντι τῶν δαιμονίων ἐκβάλλει τὰ δαιμόνια.”

About the Greek: great example of the distinction between << κατα >> and << ανα >>.  <<  ἄναβάινω >> as in The Anabasis, is The March Up Country. Here, they came down , which is  << καταβάινω >>.  Probably a bit pedantic. Sorry.

The ‘being in the kingdom’ is a great example of the dative of place/location.  

And the scribes that came down from Jerusalem said that “He has Beelzebul,” and that “(being) in the kingdom of the demons he casts out demons.”

Here we have scribes. And not just local ones, but from Jerusalem. Does this imbue them with any sort of legal status? Or are they just sightseers like everyone else? If the former, it may be that his followers of the previous verse want to extricate Jesus from a potentially sticky wicket.

As for Beelzeboul, this is likely some form of Ba’al, a Canaanite god who was reduced to the status of a demon in Jewish literature and thought, just as Pan became a demon in Christian thought. The iconography of  Pan contributed to the image of The Devil, per J B Russell’s book that I mentioned previously.

22 Et scribae, qui ab Hierosolymis descenderant, dicebant: “ Beelzebul habet ” et: “ In principe daemonum eicit daemonia ”.

23 καὶ προσκαλεσάμενος αὐτοὺς ἐν παραβολαῖς ἔλεγεν αὐτοῖς, Πῶς δύναται Σατανᾶς Σατανᾶνἐκβάλλειν;

And calling them to him, he spoke to them in parables.  “How can Satan cast out Satan?”

Here we start a very famous passage….

23 Et convocatis eis, in parabolis dicebat illis: “ Quomodo potest Satanas Satanam eicere?

24 καὶ ἐὰν βασιλεία ἐφ’ ἑαυτὴν μερισθῇ, οὐ δύναται σταθῆναι ἡ βασιλεία ἐκείνη:

“And if a kingdom is measured against itself, that kingdom is not able to stand.”

24 Et si regnum in se dividatur, non potest stare regnum illud;

25 καὶ ἐὰν οἰκία ἐφ’ ἑαυτὴν μερισθῇ, οὐ δυνήσεται ἡ οἰκία ἐκείνη σταθῆναι.

“And of a house is measured against itself, that house is not able to stand.”

25 et si domus in semetipsam dispertiatur, non poterit domus illa stare.

26 καὶ εἰ ὁ Σατανᾶς ἀνέστη ἐφ’ ἑαυτὸν καὶ ἐμερίσθη, οὐ δύναται στῆναι ἀλλὰ τέλος ἔχει.

“And if Satan stands against and is measured against itself, he is not able to stand, but has his end.”

26 Et si Satanas consurrexit in semetipsum et dispertitus est, non potest stare, sed finem habet.

27 ἀλλ’ οὐ δύναται οὐδεὶς εἰς τὴν οἰκίαν τοῦ ἰσχυροῦ εἰσελθὼν τὰ σκεύη αὐτοῦ διαρπάσαι ἐὰν μὴ πρῶτον τὸν ἰσχυρὸν δήσῃ, καὶ τότε τὴν οἰκίαν αὐτοῦ διαρπάσει.

“But no one is able to enter in the house of a strong man to plunder the goods unless they first bind the strong man, and then he may plunder the house.”

What does this all mean? Or, rather, what is the point? Yes, it addresses the idea brought up by the scribes.  But why do we need to go into this level of detail on  this? It’s a great metaphor; perhaps we should just enjoy it for the literary quality? I don’t see a whole lot of real religious/theological value to this, so I’m a bit perplexed at the point, if the point is not literary.

27 Nemo autem potest in domum fortis ingressus vasa eius diripere, nisi prius fortem alliget; et tunc domum eius diripiet.

28 Ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι πάντα ἀφεθήσεται τοῖς υἱοῖς τῶν ἀνθρώπων, τὰ ἁμαρτήματα καὶ αἱ βλασφημίαι ὅσα ἐὰν βλασφημήσωσιν:

“Amen I say to you, that all will be taken away from the sons of men, their sins and the blasphemies howsoever that they may blaspheme.”

It has been suggested that the phrase “Amen I say to you” is something actually Jesus said. Apparently, it is something of an usual usage, so there is reason to suspect it was perpetuated because it was authentic.

That being said, what happened here? How did we get from binding a strong man to rob his house to sins and blasphemies? It’s rough transitions like this that make me wonder if Mark wasn’t cobbling different sources together. I’m sure that this has been discussed in the literary criticism; or has it? Is this a situation where the question hasn’t been asked because “everyone knows” that Mark is a unitary construction.  I have seen it suggested that Mark in its present form is a collaborative effort, composed and edited by several different authors/editors. I guess that comes to the same thing: different traditions or points of view being woven together.

As for the meaning, there is probably nothing terribly remarkable about the sentiment expressed. Sins can be forgiven. I suspect that the question with this is how will the sins be forgiven? Are we working within the traditional Jewish framework of expiation of sins by way of sacrifice in the Temple?  Or have we moved to something more like what we saw in Chapter 2, when he ate with sinners who had not performed any sort of formal penitence?

28 Amen dico vobis: Omnia dimittentur filiis hominum peccata et blasphemiae, quibus blasphemaverint;

29 ὃς δ’ ἂν βλασφημήσῃ εἰς τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον οὐκ ἔχει ἄφεσιν εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα, ἀλλὰ ἔνοχός ἐστιν αἰωνίου ἁμαρτήματος

“But he who may blaspheme against the holy spirit does not have remission forever, but is held bound to (lit=of)  an eternal sin.”

So why is blaspheming against the sacred breath such a big deal? I understand taking God’s name in vain; is that what it means? While we don’t have a Holy Spirit here, we do have something that is an integral part of God: his breath, which moved over the waters in Genesis 1.2.

29 qui autem blasphemaverit in Spiritum Sanctum, non habet remissionem in aeternum, sed reus est aeterni delicti ”.

30 ὅτι ἔλεγον, Πνεῦμα ἀκάθαρτον ἔχει.

Apparently, his listeners didn’t get it either. Or somehow this message was outside their ability to understand, for whatever reason. Is the whole sacred breath thing something that Jesus made up? Or at least made popular? But, since they don’t understand, they resort to that most human of traits: they disparage what they can’t understand. Some things never change,.

30 Quoniam dicebant: “ Spiritum immundum habet ”.

31 Καὶ ἔρχεταιἡ μήτηρ αὐτοῦ καὶ οἱ ἀδελφοὶ αὐτοῦ καὶ ἔξω στήκοντες ἀπέστειλαν πρὸς αὐτὸν καλοῦντες αὐτόν.

And his mother and his brothers and standing outside they sent to him, calling him.

It’s kind of almost like this section of the chapter got sort of scrambled up: we’re back to (presumably) the people we left off in V-21. Here, we are told that it’s his family; his mother and brothers.  [ The addition of sisters in the next verse is pretty clearly, IMO, an interpolation. Sisters are not in this verse, and they’re not in verse 33, either. This was the interpolation I mentioned in the comment to 3.16 ]

Now, note, the family members are outside. So this sort of impliesa that they did not live with Jesus. Is this Peter’s house, after all? Is it Peter who is up high enough on the social scale that he can entertain a houseful of people, as he did after calling Levi/Matthew? (Mk 2.15)

31 Et venit mater eius et fratres eius, et foris stantes miserunt ad eum vocantes eum.

32 καὶ ἐκάθητο περὶ αὐτὸν ὄχλος, καὶ λέγουσιν αὐτῷ, Ἰδοὺ ἡ μήτηρ σου καὶ οἱ ἀδελφοί σου [καὶ αἱ ἀδελφαι σου] ἔξω ζητοῦσίν σε.

And the crowd was seated around him, and saying to him,  “Look, your mother and your brothers [ and your sisters ] outside are seeking you.”

The mother & brothers [ & sisters, interpolated ] cannot get through the crowd that is around ( περὶ ) him.

32 Et sedebat circa eum turba, et dicunt ei: “ Ecce mater tua et fratres tui et sorores tuae foris quaerunt te ”.

33 καὶ ἀποκριθεὶς αὐτοῖς λέγει, Τίς ἐστιν ἡ μήτηρ μου καὶ οἱ ἀδελφοί [μου];

And he answered them, saying, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?”

33 Et respondens eis ait: “ Quae est mater mea et fratres mei? ”.

34 καὶ περιβλεψάμενος τοὺς περὶ αὐτὸν κύκλῳ καθημένους λέγει, Ἴδε ἡ μήτηρ μου καὶ οἱ ἀδελφοί μου.

And looking around at those around him in seated in a circle, he said, “Behold my mother and my brothers.” 

34 Et circumspiciens eos, qui in circuitu eius sedebant, ait: “ Ecce mater mea et fratres mei.

35 ὃς [γὰρ]ἂν ποιήσῃ τὸ θέλημα τοῦ θεοῦ, οὗτος ἀδελφός μου καὶ ἀδελφὴ καὶ μήτηρ ἐστίν.

For he who may do the will of God, he is my brother and my sister and my mother.”

Note that the sisters show up again. But regardless, what is this all about? The point here seems to be that Jesus is breaking some of the traditional bonds of family. He is saying that blood-family is not as important as spiritual-family. This is, to the best of my knowledge, a fairly novel concept for the time. There is all sorts of discussion about whether this was a new rule, promulgated in expectation of an immanent apocalypse, so normal family ties, wives, mothers, brothers, were no longer particularly important since the world was going to end–and soon.

Now, I’m not sure that we need to read end-of-the-world implications into this. Rather, my thinking is that Jesus is redefining family in a particular way. Earlier, in 2.16 & thereabouts,  we had him eating with sinners and outcasts. I said we should keep an eye on that. Here’s my thinking: In the Graeco-Roman world, there was a philosophical school known as the Stoics. (Yes, the root of our word ‘stoic’, as in to accept good fortune and bad impassively. Think Mr Spock) One of their tenets was the idea of universal brotherhood. Or, in modern terms, the family of man. Or, the family of humanity. Now, I’m not necessarily saying that Jesus got the idea of a universal family from Stoic thought; rather, I’d suggest that the idea was in the air. Earlier, we are told to accept sinners and outcasts; now we’re told that our family is those who do God’s will. Is this, perhaps, one of the truly novel ideas that Jesus promulgated?

There was something different about him, or we wouldn’t be discussing him as we are. As Akenson and Robin Lane Fox show, their was an entire spectrum of religious ideas out there in the First Century. Perhaps Jesus’ gift, his genius, was to take some of these ideas and put them together in a new manner. Perhaps it was more than that.

35 Qui enim fecerit voluntatem Dei, hic frater meus et soror mea et mater est ”.


About James, brother of Jesus

I have a BA from the University of Toronto in Greek and Roman History. For this, I had to learn classical Greek and Latin. In seminar-style classes, we discussed both the meaning of the text and the language. U of T has a great Classics Dept. One of the professors I took a Senior Seminar with is now at Harvard. I started reading the New Testament as a way to brush up on my Greek, and the process grew into this. I plan to comment on as much of the NT as possible, starting with some of Paul's letters. After that, I'll start in on the Gospels, starting with Mark.

Posted on January 23, 2013, in gospel commentary, gospels, mark's gospel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. In reference to the strong man, it has been suggested that this relates to Isaiah 49:24 “Can plunder be taken from warriors, or captives be rescued from the fierce?” and the context in Isaiah is about the restoration of the kingdom of Israel: “…23″Kings will be your guardians, And their princesses your nurses. They will bow down to you with their faces to the earth And lick the dust of your feet; And you will know that I am the LORD; Those who hopefully wait for Me will not be put to shame. 24″Can the prey be taken from the mighty man, Or the captives of a tyrant be rescued?” 25Surely, thus says the LORD, “Even the captives of the mighty man will be taken away, And the prey of the tyrant will be rescued; For I will contend with the one who contends with you, And I will save your sons.…”

    This not only fits into a Daniel-style apocalypse, but is actually considered “Isaiah apocalypse”, written during the Exile.

  2. In reference to Jesus’ home, if you think about the economics of the area, his family could very well have more than one “home”, without owning any of them. Once planting was done in Nazareth, it only took a few to watch the fields until the next stage, while the rest of the family moved on to the next seasonal job. This could have been fishing in Galilee or building in Sephoris. Each of these “homes” could have been connected to the seasonal job. Nazareth may have been the only one owned by the family. Peter and his mother may have had a boarding house for the seasonal laborers.

  3. I’m going to be talking more about apocalyptic thinking. I touched on it in the comments for 1 Corinthians 3. At this point, suffice it to say that, like a lot of this stuff, it’s not exactly what we might think on first glance.

    As for the homes, Capernaum is about 25 miles from Nazareth. Mark mentions Nazareth a couple (maybe three) times. Matthew situates Jesus there because of the scriptural passage “he will be called a Nazarene”. As such, I don’t give that a whole lot of weight (I don’t give Matthew a whole lot of weight as a whole). Yes, there are all sorts of ingenious theories of how to square his being from Nazareth with his home in Capernaum. The simplest is that neither he nor his family lived in Nazareth. Certainly they did not in this story. I see no evidence, anywhere, supporting Jesus having lived in Nazareth. By this I mean internal evidence, in which his living in Nazareth is internally consistent with the narrative. Here the narrative is internally consistent with him and his family living in Capernaum.

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