8. Preaching the gospel, 13:53-17:23

i] Rejection at Nazareth


Jesus returns to his hometown, Nazareth, and begins teaching in the local synagogue. The people question his authority because they well remember him and know his family - familiarity breeds contempt! In response to the people's lack of faith, Jesus limits his miraculous signs. "No prophet goes unhonored, except in his own country.


The gospel often "leads not to indifference, but hostility. Those who do not grasp the secrets of the kingdom of heaven necessarily find Jesus offensive", D&A.


i] Context: Matthew's thematic selection and arrangement of his received tradition covering The Mission of the Church has been the focus of the 2nd. Narrative, 11:1-12:50. Now in the 3rd. Narrative, 13:53-17:23, linked to the 3rd. Discourse, The Preaching of the Gospel, 13:1-52, Matthew wants us to consider the gospel, its message and function, highlighting "the contrast between understanding and lack of understanding", Gundry. As with the previous major sections in Matthew's gospel, the 3rd. Discourse will guide our interpretation of the associated 3rd. Narrative. So, the episodes in this narrative section will tend to serve as a paradigm for the gospel at work.

This 3rd. Narrative tends to align with Mark's gospel account. If we hold to the view that Matthew uses Mark as his prime source, then it is likely that he stays with Mark's sequence of events because it generally serves his narrative purpose. Not all the episodes found in these chapters will focus on the central theme, but Matthew has given it priority; "Matthew edits his narrative materials to carry out the overriding theme of the preceding discourse as far as possible", Gundry. Of course, not all commentators agree. D&A argue that "the various paragraphs cannot be discussed as parts of larger thematic units and are ... best discussed in isolation."

The narrative presents as three separate units; see Patte:

Patte titles the first unit as "Faith, Little Faith, and Unbelief", 13:53-14:36. The sown seed prompts faith, a little faith, unbelief, and at times, hostility. The episodes include Jesus rejection at Nazareth, Herod's assessment of Jesus, the feeding of the five thousand, and Jesus walking on water.

The second narrative unit, 15:1-16:12, covers the Pharisees' teaching on defilement, the Syrophoenician woman's faith, the feeding of the four thousand and the yeast of the Pharisees. Here Matthew contrasts the "yeast" / bread / word / teaching of the Pharisees with that of Jesus. The "bread" / Word / gospel that Jesus proclaims reaches out beyond Israel, enlivening those with faith; the teaching / word of the Pharisees kills in more ways than one - their word is to be avoided.

The third narrative unit, 16:13-17:23, moves to the heart of the gospel, namely the mystery of Christ's passion, while also exposing the substance of faith, namely identification with Christ's vicarious sacrifice. The episodes include Peter's confession of the Christ and Jesus' teaching on discipleship, the transfiguration and the healing of the epileptic boy.


ii] Structure: Jesus rejection at Nazareth:

Transitional, v53;

Setting, v54a;

Two part question / statement, v54b-56;

Response, v57a;

Saying, v57b;

"a prophet is not without honor ....."

Editorial comment, v58.

"he did not do many miracles there ...."


A chiastic structure has been observed by some commentators, see D&A.


iii] Interpretation:

The majority of commentators argue that this passage commences the next major section in Matthew's gospel, citing both narrative style and the signature verse "when Jesus had finished .... he left that place", 14:53, cf., 11:1. Jesus' withdrawal from Nazareth fits Luz' descriptive title of the 3rd. Narrative, "Jesus withdraws from Israel and the Origins of the Church." So, the tendency is to treat the narratives as an introduction to the next discourse. Rather than looking forward, it seems more likely that these narratives look back to the preceding discourse in order to develop and apply its teaching.


Jesus "departed", presumably Capernaum, and comes to his home town Nazareth. As a recognized teacher, Jesus is invited to preach at the Sabbath service (the use of the imperfect edidasken may imply on more than one occasion). The people are amazed at his teaching, its wisdom and power, but are suspicious. They know Jesus and his humble origins, and they know his family - his mother, four brothers and sisters (the failure to mention Joseph implies he is deceased). Jesus is just "the carpenter's son." So, the community "took offense at him." Jesus aptly comments that "prophets are honored by everyone, except the people of their home town and their own family", CEV. As a consequence of the people's lack of faith they see little of the messianic signs of the coming kingdom

Within Matthew's context of the gospel at work, this episode serves as a paradigm for the gospel's confrontation with the world today. Jesus' preaching of the gospel prompts hostility and the consequential withdrawal of divine revelation ("he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith"). We may hope for faith, or at least indifference, when we communicate the gospel, but it will often lead to hostility.


iv] Synoptics:

All three synoptic gospels record this event, with Matthew and Mark in close alignment. Mark, or a proto-Mark, is usually identified as the source, although a common oral tradition should not be discounted. Luke seems to be drawing on a separate tradition. Only Luke mentions the name of Jesus' "hometown."

Text - 13:53

Jesus' rejection at Nazareth, v53-58. The opening verse serves as a formula conclusion which is used at the end of all the discourses. A particular difference exists with the last discourse with the addition of pantaV, "all"; "and it came about when Jesus finished all these words", 26:1.

egeneto (ginomai) aor. "-" - [and] it came about.

oJte "when" - when [jesus finished these parables]. Temporal conjunction introducing a temporal clause; "Having completed the telling of these parables", Cassirer.

ekeiqen adv. "there" - [he departed] there. Adverb of place; "he moved away from that place."


In his hometown and synagogue Jesus faces an indifferent, even a hostile audience.

elqwn (ercomai) aor. part. "coming" - [and] having come [to the homeland = hometown of him]. The participle is adverbial, best taken as temporal; "after arriving in his own country", Berkeley.

edidasken (didaskw) imperf. "he began teaching [the people]" - he taught [them]. The imperfect is taken as inceptive by the NIV.

en + dat. "in" - in [the synagogue of them]. Local, expressing space.

w{ste + inf. "and" - that [to be amazed them and to say]. This conjunction + the two infinitives "to be amazed" and "to say", would normally introduce a purpose clause, but obviously here a consecutive clause expressing result; "with the result that they were astonished and said." "His teaching left them astonished", Barclay.

ekplhssesqai (ekplhssw) aor. mid. inf. "they were amazed" - to be driven away = to be amazed, shocked, astonished, astounded. Straight away we see the gospel at work in prompting a strong reaction from Jesus' neighbors. They are amazed at his "wisdom", referring to the content of his preaching. They are also amazed at his aiJ dunameiV, "the powers". This is usually read as "miraculous powers / mighty works / miracles" (often used this way in the synoptic gospels), but Matthew tells us that he didn't do many miracles there. So, are they referring to the "power" of his preaching, inspirational power? Cf., 14:2. "They were utterly amazed."

poqen "where" - from where. Interrogative adverb of place. They don't supply the answer, but obviously they are not convinced that Jesus' wisdom and power comes from God. "From where this wisdom and this power of his?", Berkeley.

toutw/ dat. pro. "this man" - [this wisdom and the power] to this man. Dative of interest, advantage (note Berkeley's dative of possession above).


The comment / question of the audience is offensive, eg., "he is just a carpenter; what does he know." The reference to Jesus being the son of Mary, rather than Joseph, implies that he is illegitimate.

ouc "Isn't [this]" - [is this] not [the son of the carpenter, is] not [the mother of him called mary]? This negation is used in a question expecting the answer "yes".

tou tektonoV (wn onoV) gen. "the carpenter's [son]" - The genitive is adjectival, relational. The word may refer to a builder and Jesus does tend to use building allusions more than he does carpentry allusions. So, it is likely that Joseph was what we call a carpenter builder, and that Jesus, as was the normal practice, followed his father's trade. Mark, in the parallel passage, calls Jesus the tektwn, cf., 6:3. The lack of references to Joseph in the gospels implies that he predeceased Jesus' public ministry.

oiJ adelfoi (oV) "[his] brothers" - and are not the brothers [of him james and joseph and simon and judas]? Nominative subject of an assumed verb to-be. Of the four, only James gets much of a run. The claim to know his brothers is a way of saying "we know this Jesus well", Hagner. It is natural to take the brothers and sisters of Jesus as the younger children of Mary and Joseph, rather than cousins / relatives.


"Are not all his sisters with us?" The implication is that they know all about Jesus' family and there is nothing of particular distinction about them. This verse, and the parallel in Mark, contains the only reference to Jesus' sisters.

ouci "aren't" - [and the sisters of him are they] not [all with us]? The negation is used in a question expecting the answer "yes".

proV "with" - Here expressing association, as NIV.

poqen "where" - from where. Interrogative adverb of place. The crowd / neighbors want to know the source of Jesus' wisdom and power. Given that they think they know Jesus well, the source is obviously not God. There is no direct implication that they think it is Satanic, but then where does a Snake Oil salesman get his ability to sell ice to Eskimos? "The person who seemed to have found a short-cut to power and significance could readily be accused of engagement in the black arts (collusion with the devil)", Nolland. "Where does he get all this from?" REB, but Peterson probably gets to the heart of it with "who does he think he is?"

oun "then" - therefore. Inferential; drawing a logical conclusion.

tautw/ dat. pro. "this man" - [do all these things come] to this one? Dative indirect object / interest, advantage.


So, Jesus' neighbors "turned their back on him." Jesus responds with a proverb / saying. As we would put it, familiarity breeds contempt.

eskandalizonto (skandalizw) imperf. mid./pas. "they took offense" - The durative imperfect emphasizes the offense; "they took great offense", Cassirer. The word, initially used of a baited trap, took on a number of metaphorical meanings, eg., "to cause to sin", "to scandalize, offend." Here with the sense "to be offended", as opposed to the response "to be amazed." TDNT sees the word as opposite to belief, "they refused to believe in him", but the reaction is more emotional than calculated. "They were deeply offended with him", Phillips.

en + dat. "at [him]" - in [him]. Probably adverbial, causal, "because of him."

de "but" - but/and. Usually taken as adversative, "but", as NIV, but possibly coordinative, "and", even "and so Jesus said to them."

ei mh "except" - [jesus said to them, a prophet is not dishonored] except. Introducing an exceptive clause expressing a contrast by designating an exception.

en dat. "in" - in [the homeland and] in [the house of him]. Local, expressing space. The saying may be a common proverb (it has certainly become one!), but if not, the mention of "his own home" may indicate that Jesus' family are "offended" by his behavior as well the crowd / neighbors, so Luz. Jesus is indeed a "prophet", although he does not normally refer to himself as such. This may indicate that Jesus is just using a common proverb to dismiss their reaction.


Unlike Mark, Matthew makes it clear that Jesus chose not to do many miracles. A faithless people do not deserve to receive the gospel, particularly in the form of signs.

dunameiV (iV ewV) "[many] miracles" - [and he did not perform in that place] much [powers / authorities]. Accusative direct object of the verb "to do." Here referring to the observable product of the "powers" / miraculous / spiritual / mysterious / mighty powers, namely "miracles". Mark makes the same point as Matthew, but in a round about way - Jesus "could do no might work there", "except" a few. So, Jesus did some miracles, but not many; he healed a few sick people. Matthew is not suggesting inability, but rather is describing refusal on Jesus' part.

dia + acc. "because of" - because of [the unbelief of them]. Causal, as NIV. "Just as unbelief effects the way Jesus speaks to people, so too does it effect the work he does", D&A. The gospel, in either words or signs, is denied an "evil and adulterous generation."


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