Mahlon H Smith,
Commentary on the
implications of Jesus' interaction with his relatives in
Mark 3:31-35 and
parallels has covered biographical questions (identity of kin, break with
family) and the ecclesiastical concerns of Mark (universalization of the
Christian brotherhood, polemic against the Jerusalem church).
Critical controversy over the structure of the passage, however, has
concentrated on the relationship between the concluding aphorism and its
narrative setting. Dibelius claimed that the story originally ended
with Jesus' declaration (3:34): "Here are my mother and brothers!" with 3:35
added later as a homiletic peroration/1/
Bultmann proposed the reverse: that 3:35 is "original" (from
Jesus?) and that the preceding verses are a secondary "imaginary" setting
created to introduce a previously free-floating aphorism./2/
The most detailed discussion to date is that of J. D.
Crossan, who decades ago came to the "somewhat tentative" conclusion,
supporting Dibelius, that "Mark himself created and appended 3:35 to 3:31-34."/3/
All of this debate concerned the synoptic evidence alone.
Crossan's subsequent gathering of non-canonical parallels in the
Thomas 99, 2 Clement 9:11, and the Gospel of the Ebionites 5 has, however,
put this pericope in a whole new context, one that suggests quite a
different and more complex solution./4/
Mark 3:31-35 is
easily identified as the matrix behind Matt 12:46-50 and Luke 8:19-21./5/
The Markan narrative has six distinct elements phrased with characteristic
A. Description of Jesus'
mother and brothers "standing outside" (3:31).
B. Description of Jesus surrounded by "crowd" (3:32a).
C: Jesus told: "Your mother and brothers are
outside, seeking you" (3:32).
D. Jesus asks: "Who are my mother and brothers?"
E. Jesus indicates audience: "Here are (ἴδε) my mother
and brothers" (3.34).
F. "Whoever does will of God is my brother, sister and
almost monotonous reiteration of the formula "mother and brothers" in A-E
seems excessive even for Mark. What is striking, however, is that this is
not the sequence of relatives used in F. If Mark 3:31-34
generated 3:35 or vice versa, why has the verbal pattern been inverted?
Restrictions by redactors
and Luke's versions are, as usual, less clumsy and more economical, each
containing only four of the elements employed by Mark. Yet they differ from
each other both in their choice of elements and in the degree to which their
wording echoes Mark. A and F are the only features all three have in common,
although in no case is there full verbatim agreement.
not following the opening of Mark's narrative closely (paraphrasing A and
omitting B and probably C),
reproduces the sayings Mark credits to Jesus in DEF virtually verbatim, with
the exception of the terms chosen to designate the Deity. His use of "my
Father in heaven" instead of "God" is readily explained as a redactional
characteristic of the evangelist who generally replaces a Markan "ὁ θεός"
with circumlocutions that were more acceptable in the synagogues.
Otherwise, Matthew here accepts Mark as a reliable source for the words of
Jesus, even though he seeks to streamline the second evangelist's awkward
description of the occasion and to clarify the intent of the pronouncement
in EF by having Jesus, as he delivers it, point directly
toward his "disciples" (rather than just give a vague general glance at the
surrounding "crowd" as in Mark). That is to say, while Matthew trusts
Mark's ability to quote Jesus accurately, he thinks it necessary to correct
the impression left by the second gospel that Jesus' pronouncement
originally envisioned a universal audience.
treatment of the Markan account, on the other hand, is almost the reverse of
Matthew's. He sees little need to alter Mark's scenario other than to
polish his grammar. Rather, his rewriting skill is focused primarily
on editing the lines that the second gospel gives to Jesus. His
excision of the rhetorical question in Mark 3:33 (D) not
only removes an unnecessarily dull echo of the message in the previous line,
it also reduces the impression of rudeness in Jesus' reply to his blood
relatives' request for an audience. Luke presents Jesus' climactic
pronouncement neither as a direct rebuff to his mother and brothers nor as
an open invitation to any religious person to claim kinship with him, but
rather as a masterfully enigmatic bit of repartee. By having Jesus
assert that those who "hear God's word" (presumably as spoken by himself)
are his family, Luke shows that he understands Jesus' remark as a pointed
rejoinder to the one who interrupts his teaching with word that his presence
is requested elsewhere. If his mother and brothers really want to
see Jesus, he insinuates, they should not just "stand outside" but come
in and listen to him. At the same time, those who were already in the
position of being Jesus' auditors could understand such a saying as
indicating that their teacher felt a closer bond to them than to members o
his own family who insisted on staying outside his audience. And
eventually, the same saying could be taken as establishing the criteria
necessary for anyone, though not originally present, to relate to Jesus.
Thus, while verbally simpler than Mark's generalization, Luke's version of
F is logically more complex. In any case, like
Matthew, Luke presents Jesus' pronouncement as initially having a more
immediate and less comprehensive focus than that envisioned in Mark's
If one considers
just the synoptic evidence, then, it would appear that the first and third
evangelists have independently edited a Markan narrative and that most of
their differences can be accounted for on the basis of redactional
tendencies characteristic of the respective authors./6/
It is not immediately evident, however, why Matthew and Luke should
both take the trouble to alter Mark to make it clear that a logion
which explicitly proclaimed Jesus' kinship with all persons dedicated to
God, regardless of genetic ties or gender, was originally directed to those
who at the moment of first utterance formed Jesus' inner circle of students.
For both evangelists---as much or more than Mark---saw Jesus as intending to
create a universal fellowship.
attributes the opening of discipleship to the Gentiles to a saying of the
resurrected Jesus (28:19). But apart from this, the first evangelist
had no trouble in tracing logia relevant to the post-resurrection church to
the pre-crucifixion Jesus (e.g.,
18:15-20) and even, in one
case, presents Jesus as explicitly telling the "crowds" as well as his
"disciples" that they are "all brethren" (23:8) because they have
"one Father" (23:9). Moreover, since he accepts and even intensifies
the generalized wording of Mark 3:35 (replacing ὃς with ὅστις), it is even
less clear why he insists that Jesus directed this saying to his "disciples"
alone (Matt 12:49a), especially when he expressly claims that this happened
while Jesus "was speaking to the crowds" (12:46).
Luke, it is just as puzzling why the
evangelist who claims that the international scope of Jesus' mission was
evident from the beginning (2:30-32;
4:25-27), and who more than any other
NT writer attests to the prominence of women among Jesus' followers (both
before and after the crucifixion), should delete both "whoever" and
"sisters" from the pronouncement as worded by Mark (and even Matthew!).
To be sure, Luke does not directly limit the focus of Jesus' rejoinder to
his "disciples." But does not his insistence that Jesus' true kin are
those "hear the word" indirectly imply as much? Can such coincidence
be credited merely to chance or clumsiness on the part of Mark's redactors?
Or is it possible that both had access to some less universalized version of
this incident than they found in the second gospel. If so, what did it
As long as one is
confronted only by the synoptic evidence the answer to questions about the
redaction and pre-Markan history of this pericope can only be conjecture.
When one brings in parallels in other ancient texts, however, one begins to
be able to reconstruct the tradition behind each of the church's
canonical gospels. Neither
Gospel of Thomas 99 nor Gospel of the Ebionites
5, nor even 2 Clement 9:11, can be adequately explained as an echo of one or
more of the canonical gospels. Nor is any one of them clearly
dependent on any of the others. Thus one has six versions of this pericope,
the three non-canonical texts being more truly independent witnesses
than are the synoptics. Yet, there are elements in each of the former
that help to clarify the development of each of the latter.
characteristically presents the incident in dialogue rather than story form.
Only three of the Markan elements (CEF) are represented,
with wording that approximates but does not exactly and consistently reflect
that found in any of the synoptics. At first such differences seem
trivial, careless oversights perhaps on the part of the non-canonical
evangelist or his translator. They become significant, however, when
one notices that Thomas:
(1) gives the
two statements in Markan (and Matthean) EF as one (cf.
9:11; and GEbion 5);
(2) limits the focus of Jesus' pronouncement to his immediate disciples (cf.
(3) prefers the order "brothers/mother" (cf.
Mark 3:35; Matt
12:50) in both members of the dialogue;
(4) has Jesus make doing "the
will of my Father" his criterion for kinship (cf.
2 Clem 9:11; GEbion
5; Matt 12:50).
of elements makes it difficult to regard
Thom 99 as a secondary echo of the
synoptic model(s), since it is at once simpler and logically more coherent
than any of them. Jesus acknowledges those who obey his "Father"
(without Matthew's celestial qualifier) primarily as "brothers" (unlike
Luke). Yet the force of this declaration has not been applied to a
social situation beyond his immediate disciples, as there in no generalizing
"whoever" or mention of "sisters" (unlike Mark, Matthew, or GEbion 5).
If, however, one
accepts the dialogue in Thom 99 as a clearer reflection of the pre-Markan
form of this tradition than
any of the synoptic stories, then one is able to explain not only why
Matthew and Luke edited Mark but also why Mark wrote A-E as
he did. If Matthew, for example, was familiar with a version of this
incident like that in Thomas as well as that in Mark, then one can see why
he introduced the references to "disciples" and "my Father" that are not
found in the second gospel. Likewise, it would then be evident why Luke
(unlike Mark 3:32) says Jesus was told his family was "standing" outside
and, even more, why he replaced Mark's version of Jesus' reply (EF)
with a more concise and less generalized pronouncement. Moreover, one could
then understand the reason for the vagueness and redundancy of the Markan
narrative itself. For, if the pre-Markan tradition consisted simply of
an unsituated interchange between Jesus and his disciples in which the
latter began by informing their master that his relatives were
"standing outside," then it becomes clear why Mark also begins his narrative
by telling his readers just this, no more and no less. He could not
say outside where, or what, because the "disciples" did not give him this
information. And left to his own imagination to explain why Jesus' family
did not themselves come in, the second evangelist fell back on his oft-used
device: the "crowd" surrounding Jesus (before this in
Mark 2:4,13 and
but also again in 4:1,36 and
5:21-31, etc.). That is to say:
probably transformed an original aphoristic dialogue into a pronouncement
story by creating the setting (AB) out of information he found in the first line of conversation (C).
In the same way, he dramatized and generalized Jesus' response by splitting
the single stich saying into two (E and F) and prefacing it with a rhetorical question of his own composition (D).
b. Mark's apparently clumsy redundancy, then, might be recognized as a mark
of his conservatively creative hermeneutic. Even while forming a
narrative framework for isolated sayings material, Mark did not invent
details that could not be read out of the original (oral?) tradition.
c. In the same vein, Matthew and Luke appear to have "corrected" Mark, not
just due to personal whim but to restore details found in earlier
Yet, to say that
Thomas seems to preserve a version of this pericope that is more primitive
than any of the synoptic accounts is not to say that every detail of the
current Coptic text of Thom 99 antedates the canonical gospels.
Thomas' unparalleled statement that Jesus' spiritual brethren are the ones
who will "enter the kingdom of my Father" (G) is best seen as a logion that
was added at a later date. And the original wording of the disciples
announcement (C) probably put "mother" before "brothers" since this is the
preferred order, not only in the synoptics, but in the
Gospel of the Ebionites, whose opening line of dialogue is otherwise closer to that found
in Thomas than in any particular canonical parallel.
Priority of "brothers"
Thomas seems to have preserved the original nucleus of this pericope better
than any canonical text, he does not give the elements of Jesus'
pronouncement in their simplest logical form. The presence of Jesus'
mother in the opening announcement presents the stimulus for him to
introduce his Father in his response. Confronted by one
parental paradigm, Jesus appeals to the other---possibly, but not
necessarily, invoking the ancient social ethos that gave the paternal
precedence over the maternal in matters of obedience. For him then to go on
to proclaim that one obedient to his Father is also his
mother---however true that may be of her---not only confuses the filial
focus but destroys the tensions in the setting that provide the necessary
logical stimulus for this type of repartee.
priority of "brothers" in Thomas' version of Jesus' response is supported
not only by Matthew and Mark's wording of the climactic pronouncement (F)
but by the Ebionite text and an isolated logion cited in that Corinthian
homily called 2 Clement. In fact, the latter claims Jesus identified
his spiritual kin only as "brethren." Since
2 Clem 9:11 does
not pretend to retell the whole incident, but rather cites Jesus' words only
to prove his promise that God will receive those who are wholeheartedly
devoted to him as "sons" (9:10), it is possible that the author has
presented only that portion of the pronouncement that was of immediate use.
There was no need to quote Jesus' as referring to either "mother" or
"sisters" as neither is properly identified as a "son" of the Father.
If, on the other hand, Thomas is right---along with Matthew and
Epiphanius' quote from the Ebionite Gospel---in portraying this
pronouncement as directed initially just to Jesus' "disciples'
(meaning the Twelve or some other limited inner circle of followers),
then it is highly likely that Jesus' original saying mentioned only his
"brothers." For being all Jewish males (as far as we know) it is
hardly likely that Jesus' disciples would have told others that their
teacher had equated them with his mother and sisters, even if this were the
case! Only when this saying came to be applied to a wider audience
which included women would it have been necessary to introduce female titles
of kinship into the pronouncement (F). Then, the order in which such
kin were mentioned would depend on whether the tradant was influenced more
by the fact that the original saying emphasized "brothers" (so Thomas, Mark,
Matthew and the Ebionite Gospel) or by the fact that the introductory
announcement gave precedence to Jesus' mother (so Luke). Evidence that
"mother" was at first the only female relative inserted into
F is to be
found not just in the fact that neither Thomas nor Luke have Jesus' sisters
in view but in Epiphanius' quotation of the Ebionite Gospel which lists
"mother" right after "brothers" (like Thomas) but before
"sisters" (unlike Mark and Matthew).
Importance of doing the Father's will
on the evidence of the Gospel of the Ebionites is risky, however, insofar at
all our knowledge of its contents comes from critiques. It is uncertain
whether Epiphanius actually had the text before him when he wrote
Panarion 30.14.5 or even if he did, whether he cited it exactly.
His quotation, as its stands, has complex affinities to the four other
versions of this pericope. The opening announcement is closest to Thomas or
(among the synoptists) Luke. He begins Jesus' reply, with the rhetorical
question (D) that is not found these in these works but in the first two
gospels. Epiphanius phrases the question (with its double "who') like
Matthew with this verbatim agreement with the first gospel is continued
through the following narrative describing Jesus' gesture towards his
disciples, the longest passage with consecutive verbal agreement between two
works anywhere among the various versions of this pericope. On the
other hand, the wording given for the definitive pronouncement (F) is hardly
that of canonical Matthew. Not only does it open with a specifically
focuses "these" rather than a broadly generalized "whoever," it (like Luke
and 2 Clement but not the other gospels) has Jesus identify his true
relatives ("brothers," etc.) and the criterion of doing "the will of my
Father" (yet without locating him "in Heaven").
Epiphanius'quotation with just the synoptics might lead one to accept either
the claim of the heresiologist that the Ebionites used a "falsified and
mutilated" version of Matthew (Pan. 30.13.2) or the opinion of modern
scholars that it is a harmony of two or more of the synoptics./7/
Yet comparison with the other non-canonical versions shows
that (originally Syriac?) Thomas and Hellenic Clement agree verbatim with
the Cypriote archbishop's quotation of a Palestinian Jewish-Christian text
in saying that Jesus claimed kinship with those "who do the will of my Father," a
clause not identical with any of the synoptic versions. Since
it is hardly likely that any of these authors was directly dependent on any
of the others, it is safe to concluded that their consensus, on this point
at least, reflects a widespread oral formula, whose antiquity and authority
is proved by the mere fact that three authors independently chose it rather
than one of the canonical alternatives. Ironically, it is the three
"spurious" works rather than the "apostolic memoirs" that are truly
"synoptic"---or, rather, "syn-acoustic"---here.
becomes even more striking if one brackets the Matthean material---question
(D) and narrative (E)---out of Epiphanius'
quotation of the Ebionite Gospel.
Then one is left with a simple two
member dialogue that in form is as coherent as
Thom 99. Moreover, if
one recognizes "sisters" to be a secondary insertion in the original text of
the Ebionite Gospel, this work and Thomas display greater agreement in
reporting the verbal content of this interchange between Jesus and his
disciples than any two of the other sources. Epiphanius, of all people, is
hardly to be seen as the source of such a parallel! Nor is it credible
that the author of the Jewish-Christian gospel, if he were working
from the text of canonical Matthew, would have deliberately substituted
Thomas' version of the substance of this dialogue between the disciples and
Jesus (CF) for the parallel material in the first gospel (AF)
and still quote the latter's non-essential intervening elements verbatim.
Since neither Epiphanius nor the Ebionites noticed any affinity to Thomas,
it is not likely that the parallel wording in the Palestinian gospel was
borrowed from Thomas at any stage of its development. But it is
plausible that later Ebionites, contending that they possessed
the authentic version of Matthew (Pan. 30.13.2, 30.16.4), borrowed
lines from the first canonical gospel to flesh out the version of this
dialogue recorded in their own sacred text, which no one either then or
later recognized to be virtually identical with Thom 99. And this similarity
might still have passed unnoticed (except by G. Quispel) had not Crossan set
these passages side by side.
Thus, in Thom 99
and the dialectical core of Epiphanius' fifth fragment of the Gospel of the
Ebionites we have an excellent example of multiple attestation to the
pre-synoptic form of the pericope on kinship. In fact, the Ebionite
wording can be seen as a better reflection of the original tradition than
that preserved in Coptic Thomas. For its introductory formula gives Jesus'
mother precedence over his brothers, a feature of every version except
Thomas. And its subject-predicate of Jesus' reply (F), introduced by a
demonstrative with a clearly present focus ("these"; compare
9:11), makes it a more pointed rejoinder to those who told their teacher his
brothers were "outside." The Jewish-Christian version of Jesus'
pronouncement (leaving out "mother" and "sisters") neither generalizes nor
sets conditions for becoming a brother of Jesus. Rather, it has
the effect of telling Jesus' disciples, who are already doing Jesus'
Father's will by being there inside listening to him, that they are
his real brethren. Thomas'
version, on the other hand, seems to make Jesus imply that there are even
some insiders that do not do the Father's will---an understandable attitude
given the disciples' subsequent history but hardly appropriate either for
the occasion or for the earliest report of the incident, in which the
disciples themselves would have told others that that Jesus said in effect:
"You are my brothers!"
historicity of this incident may be challenged because of its
application to several situations in the social formation of the
post-crucifixion church (tensions between Jesus' disciples and
blood-relatives, polemic between advocates of a universal mission open
to Gentiles and reactionaries insistent on ethnic solidarity, etc.) But
such an objection pales in the face of the number of signs of historical
authenticity of the core dialogue.
- Multiple Attestation:
This one of the best
attested passages in the Jesus tradition, ironically with the greatest
verbal agreement regarding Jesus' saying in non-canonical sources that
do not appear to be dependent either on the synoptics or on each other.
This indicates an old and generally stable oral tradition behind this
- Coherence: The basic terms of the climactic saying,
particularly in the non-canonical texts, are well-attested in traditions
that may reliably be traced to Jesus (identification of God as "[my]
Father," concern that his "will be done"). But even more
significant is the unpremeditated creative wit: a Jewish teacher is
interrupted with word that his mother awaits him outside; instead of
going out he justifies his staying inside by calling for obedience to
this unseen Father. Such
an interchange has too much hint of flippant impiety about it to have
been created by Jesus' super-serious followers.
- Cultural Setting & Dissimilarity:
Presupposed in the logic of the
repartee is the seriousness with which the command to honor both father
and mother was regarded in Jewish culture. The son who publicly
scorned his parents was subject to stoning./8/
In not going outside to his mother, Jesus is in danger
of being seen as a disobedient son, an image hardly likely to have been
invented by either Jewish or Gentile Christianity./9/
Almost as startling in a Jewish context is the
elevation of disciples, pedagogical subordinates, to the level of
spiritual contemporaries with their mentor./10/
For a teacher to call his students his "brothers" is
unprecedented and virtually unthinkable in first-century Judaism. It
took Jesus' followers some time to work out the logical implications of
such an idea./11/ The seed of this trajectory as well as various attempts at
hermeneutical clarification are evident in the various recorded versions
of Jesus' pronouncement on kinship.
The evolution of this pericope may be schematized in the diagram
below (with the letters A-F of the Markan narrative and G as Thomas'
statement on entering the Kingdom). The sequence is intended to clarify
the logical proximity of the various reports of the dialectical core of
this pericope, not to make chronological claims about the
relative antiquity of the texts within which those reports are embedded.
Few sayings of Jesus have as many variants, indicating that the common
nucleus was inherently explosive.
traces the proximity of various witnesses to the probable core of this
tradition, regardless of the publication date of the texts themselves.
Such an outline makes Mark's role in developing this pericope all the
more vivid. At the same time it dramatizes the enduring restraints
imposed by a residual sensitivity among Christian scribes to the
original form and content of oral tradition. In the pericope on
kinship at least, scribal creativity is most evident in the
narrative rather than the logia. Every version of Jesus' words can
be attributed to performancial or hermeneutical variations to preserve
the original impact of an utterance of Jesus. Crossan was correct,
therefore, in recognizing the form of this saying in Mark 3:35 as the
product of later reflection. Yet it is equally evident that, here at
least, the second evangelist is echoing an authentic word of Jesus and
expressing implications which had already emerged in its pre-Markan
transmission. Instead of consciously creating a saying and
attributing it to Jesus, Mark lets the traditional saying create its own
setting. Since Jesus did not say that those first disciples were
his only brethren, Mark makes it clear that he left the door open
for anyone to qualify as his kin. Though admittedly late in
formulation, such an interpretation---controversial in Mark's day
because of those who saw the Christian fellowship as a community
determined by ethnic kinship (cf.
closer to the original insight occasioned by Jesus' words than those
that present this saying as having a restrictive intent.
Concern to transcend attitudes ingrained by millennia of subjugation
of females to males may make my reconstruction of the development of
this tradition problematic for the socially liberated exegete.
Some would argue that the non-canonical texts show a progressive
masculinization of the tradition by the displacement or elimination of
the names of feminine relatives in the Markan version of Jesus'
pronouncement. Unfortunately, claims of the priority of the Markan
(or Matthean) wording here are contradicted by the agreement of the
non-canonical versions in other wording that is at once simpler and more
Semitic. Yet, by arguing that Jesus' original response probably
reflected the general first-century Jewish (and gentile!) masculine
bias, I am not suggesting that Jesus shared sexist sentiments.
While those who preserved his words regarded them as programmatic, the
setting shows that they were formulated as repartee. And repartee
depends as much upon quip as upon principle.
successful quip carries more weight than words. For it exploits common
prejudice, wielding the outlook of one's hearers to lead them to an
uncommon reflection. Just as Jesus must have known the command to
obey one's parents, he certainly knew that within his culture it was the
"father," not the "mother," who was regarded as the ultimate authority.
Such an awareness seems to have influenced his own distinctive preferred
epithet for the Deity (Abba). Likewise, he could not have ignored
the fact that other Jews sometimes assumed a similar---though more
distant and deferential---stance as God's "sons." And the "brotherhood" of
all "sons of Abraham" was axiomatic in Hebrew tradition (e.g., Lev
19:17; Mal 1:2). Yet, this predominance of masculine terminology
in ancient Judaism did not necessarily discriminate against women
(witness Deut 15:12; Jer 34:9). As in English until quite recently, the
Semitic masculine was generally used as the umbrella that covered
females as well (see Gen 1:27).
Since language is primarily the means of communication with one's
contemporaries, historical accuracy demands that the historical
Jesus not be made to appear ahead of his time in his use of words,
unless the evidence shows otherwise.
Impact. Jesus' quip
gets its force from such social commonplaces. He presupposes that among
his hearers the names of masculine relatives carry literal
and transcendent connotations; and he invokes this double entendre to
make a point. In both physical and spiritual relationships Jews expected their
"brothers" to do the will of their "Father." The fact that neither
"mother" nor "God" carried the same ambivalence for a Jewish audience
makes it either term was part of Jesus' original response to those who
reminded him of familial responsibility. The bite in his words comes not
from the sentiment but from the context, in that traditional wisdom is
used to subvert social obligation. Jesus' retort here, like his terse
call elsewhere to "leave the dead to bury the dead" (Matt 8:22 // Luke
9:60) is a radical challenge to rethink traditional attitudes to all
social relationships. His "brother" is defined neither by blood nor by
masculinity but by response to his "Father" who, in the absence of a
living male parent, is transcendent by implication. Conversely, male
siblings who remain aloof are implicitly not recognized as "brother."
No attempt at inclusive language could do more to undermine the male
chauvinism of Jesus' contemporaries.
Mark 3:35 and its synoptic parallels just do not function at the same
level of social discourse. Explicitness is substituted for innuendo and,
as a result, some of the explosive energy is lost. Jesus' reply is
presented as liberalizing rather than contradicting conventional
priorities in human relationships. Although Jesus' kinship with those
who are not blood relations is underscored, discrimination by sex and
seniority is retained. Women may be regarded as "sisters" or
"mothers," presumably depending on their relative age, but only men can
claim full equality as "brothers." And, in a culture where any son
regardless of age can claim priority to women as his father's heir, such
a distinction is decidedly anti-feminist.
If Pauline parallels give any indication of the development of familial
terms in the post-crucifixion fellowship, the Markan (and Matthean)
wording is patently late. In Galatians, generally recognized as
one of the earliest NT writings, Paul presents the denial of sexist
distinctions among Christians as axiomatic (3:28), although his own
description of fellow believers is exclusively masculine. By
calling all "sons" (3:26) Paul allows women to be see as equal to
any male, including Jesus, in the eyes of God (4:5-7). This spiritual
status requires him to regard all as "brothers," whether they are
comrades (1:2) or critics (2:4) or readers being lectured (1:11; 3:15;
4:12,28,31; 5:11,13; 6:1,18). "Sisters" are not mentioned in this
letter, although he sometimes uses the term elsewhere (1 Cor 7:15; Rom
16:1; Phil 1:2) in contexts where relationship to God is not at
issue. Contrast this with 1 Timothy, which is clearly late and probably
post-Pauline, where women are silenced and subjected to men (2:11), even
though the reader is expressly urged to regard them as "mothers" and
"sisters" according to their age (5:1). While such observations do
not themselves prove that the non-canonical versions of our logion are
prior to the synoptics, they should remove the impression that my
thesis---that the textual evidence indicates that Jesus probably
identified those around him simply as "my brothers"---is sexist and
2 Clem 9:11
"My brethren are those who do the will of my Father."
Thom 99:2 "Those here who do the will of my
Father are my brothers..."
GEbion 5 "These are my brethren...who do
the will of my Father."
Matt 12:49 "Here are my...brothers.
whoever does the will of my Father...is my brother...."
Mark 3:34 "Here are my...brothers.
Whoever does the will of God is my brother...."
Luke 8:21 "my brothers are those who hear the word of
God and do it."
Bultmann, History of the Synoptic Tradition, 29.
Bultmann, Synoptic Tradition 29f.
"Mark and the Relatives of Jesus," 97.
See Crossan, Sayings Parallels, 187.
For detailed analysis of these pericopes and reasons favoring Markan
priority see discussion in my
Synoptic Gospels Primer.
Howard (Gospel of Matthew, 215) claims the variation between
Mark 3:35 // Matt 12:50 and
Luke 8:21 suggests the
primacy of Hebrew Matthew with its orthographically ambiguous
But he does not explain any of the other verbal differences in this
pericope, which point to oral exposition of Greek Mark.
Barnstone, The Other Bible, 336.
See Deut 21:18-21 and m Sanh 7.4a. While there is no evidence
that this command was enforced in first-century Galilee, the principle was
embedded in thee Torah lectionary and probably known to Jesus' followers.
Compare Luke 2:51; Rom 1:30; Eph 6:1; Phil 2:8; Col 3:20; 2 Tim 3:2; 1 Pet
Though Jewish sources are later, the social stratification of the Jewish
teacher/student relationship was already well-established in NT times.
Jewish students regularly addressed and referred to their teachers with
titles implying superiority and seniority, e.g.: Rabbi, Mari
or Abba (compare Matt 23:8-10). Jewish (and Jewish Christian)
teachers in turn treated their followers as subordinates and children
(compare Matt 10:24-25 // Luke 6:40; John 15:15; 1 Cor 4:15-21; 1 John 2:1
For further theological development of this trajectory see
Matt 23:9; John
1:12-13; Rom 8:14-17,29; Gal 3:26, 4:4-7; Heb 2:10-18.
Anderson, Hugh, The Gospel of Mark.
New Century Bible. London: Oliphants, 1976.
Barnstone, Willis, ed., The Other Bible.
San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1984.
Bultmann, Rudolf, The History of the Synoptic Tradition. Trans. J. Marsh.
Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1963.
Crossan, J. Dominic, "Mark and the Relatives of Jesus," Novum Testamentum
15 (1973): 81-113.
Sayings Parallels: A Workbook for the Jesus Tradition.
Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1986.
Gould, Ezra P., The Gospel According to St. Mark.
International Critical Commentary.New York: Charles Scribners, 1896.
Grant, Frederick C., "The Gospel According to St. Mark." Pp. 621-917 in
The Interpreter's Bible. Ed. G. A. Buttrick. Vol 7. Nashville/New York:
Abingdon/Cokesbury Press, 1951.
Hennecke, Edgar and Wilhelm Schneemelcher, New Testament Apocrypha 1.
Trans. A. J. B. Higgins et al. Ed. R. McL. Wilson. Philadelphia: The
Westminster Press, 1963.
Howard, George, The Gospel of Matthew according to a Primitive Hebrew
Text. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1987.
Lightfoot, J. B., The Apostolic Fathers. Part 1, Vol. 2. London/New
York: Macmillan & Co., 1891.
Mann, C. S., Mark. The Anchor Bible 27. Garden City: Doubleday & Co., 1986.
James M., The Problem of History in Mark. Studies in Biblical
Theology 21. London: SCM Press, 1957.
Schnackenburg, Rudolf, The Gospel According to Mark 1. Trans. W.
Kruppa. London/Sydney: Sheed & Ward, 1971.
Eduard, The Good News According to Mark.
Trans. D. H. Madvig. Richmond: John Knox Press, 1970.
Smith, Mahlon H., A Synoptic Gospels Primer (http://virtualreligion.net/primer/).
Taylor, Vincent, The Gospel According to St. Mark. New York: St.
Martins Press, 1966.
Robert McL, Studies in the Gospel of Thomas. London: A. R. Mowbray &
by author 2000-2019
all rights reserved
This paper was first presented
in March 1989 to the session of the Jesus Seminar in Sonoma, CA.
expanded version presented above was published in FORUM o.s. 6,1
Hypertext links to this web page are
welcome. But the contents of this paper may not be reproduced or posted
elsewhere without the express written consent of the author.
- last revised
15 February 2019