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No. 4: The Son of Joseph, Revisited

BIBLICAL Horizons, No. 4
May, 1989
Copyright 1989, Biblical Horizons

Mr. Paul Miller of Vancouver writes that he is not persuaded by my remarks on Luke 4 on "The Son of Joseph." He calls attention to Mark 6:1-6, where Jesus came "to His own part of the country," taught in the synagogue, and astonished many. The people said, "Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? Are not His sisters with us?" In reply Jesus said that a prophet is not without honor except in his own part of the country, and He could do only a few miracles there because of their unbelief. Compare Matthew 13:54-58.

This certainly seems to indicate that the crowd was only thinking of Joseph the carpenter, not of Joseph the patriarch. In reply to this objection, I have two points:

1. This is almost certainly a different incident. Luke 4 occurred right at the start of Jesus’ ministry, in the town of Nazareth. Mark 6 and Matthew 13 happened later, in "His own part of the country," not necessarily Nazareth. An examination of the chronology of the gospels will indicate that these are two separate occasions, as Calvin states in his Harmony of the Gospels. Scholarly opinion is split on this question, however.

2. Even if we grant that it is the same incident (dischronologized), or that this later incident nevertheless shows the mind of the crowd at the time of the Luke 4 incident, we still have to come to grips with Luke’s theological purpose. Luke does not mention Mary or Jesus’ brothers and sisters. He only mentions Joseph. What accounts for Luke’s selectivity, and the selectivity of Matthew and Mark? Why does Luke stress Joseph, while Matthew and Mark stress the rest of Jesus’ family? The difference can be accounted for by the differing theological purposes of the writers.

Matthew and Mark stress the unbelief of the Jews because they thought they knew who Jesus was. They had seen plenty of miracles already, but they wanted more. The focus is exclusively on Jewish unbelief. Both Matthew and Mark follow up this story with the story of Herod’s murder of John the Forerunner. It is interesting to note that Herod also wanted to see a miracle (Luke 23:8).

Luke stresses that Jesus is rejected by the Jews because He announces that the Gentiles will receive Him. This note is absent from the accounts in Matthew and Mark, but it is completely in line with Luke’s overall Gentile focus. I suggest that this is why Luke speaks of Joseph rather than of Mary and Jesus’ siblings. Whether the crowd suspected Jesus might be the "son of Joseph the patriarch" or not, I believe Luke intends to point us to that possibility.

It seems to me, though, that at least some in the crowd may have been thinking of Joseph the patriarch. All the same, we have no way of knowing the total psychological state of the crowd. We can, however, interpret Luke’s theological purpose, and in line with that I am still persuaded that Joseph the patriarch is partially in view in Luke 4:22.

(See also Biblical Horizons No. 3, The Son of Joseph.)