The Human Family

Home » historiography » Jesus, the son of Mary.

Jesus, the son of Mary.

Or, How paying a little attention to kinship can teach you a lot about history. My Father’s Day gift to one and all.

In the oldest book of the New Testament, the Gospel of Mark (6:3), Jesus is referred to as Mary’s child, viz.:

“Where’s he getting this?” and “What’s the source of all this wisdom?” and “Who gave him the right to perform such miracles? This is the carpenter, isn’t it? Isn’t he Mary’s son? And who are his brothers, if not James and Judas and Simon? And who are his sisters, if not our neighbors?” And they were resentful of him.

In no other book of the Bible is Jesus referred to as the son of Mary. Notice how the source text in Mark has been modified to arrive at Matthew 13:54–58, below:

“What’s the source of this wisdom and these miracles? This is the carpenter’s son, isn’t it? Isn’t his mother called Mary? And aren’t his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And aren’t all his sisters neighbors of ours? So where did he get all this?” And they were resentful of him.

Why is this a difference that matters? Given that Jesus’s father is nowhere named in Mark—the lack of a Nativity account in this Gospel tends to go curiously unnoted—and that Mark is the oldest surviving New Testament text, it would seem that Jesus’s earliest followers considered and openly acknowledged him as the child of an unwed mother.

Now consider Jesus’s response in Mark 3:33–34 upon his return to Galilee when told that his mother and siblings are outside searching for him:

“My mother and my brothers—who ever are they?” And looking right at those seated around him in a circle, he says, “Whoever does God’s will, that’s my brother and sister and mother!”

In short, I believe that the Gospel of Mark reveals to modern readers two important facts regarding Jesus’s family life as understood by his earliest followers:

  1. It was accepted and acknowledged that Jesus was the child of an unwed mother.
  2. It was accepted and acknowledged that God was Jesus’s—and not only Jesus’s—father.

Matthew Timothy Bradley

Reference

Funk, Robert Walter, Roy W. Hoover, and The Jesus Seminar. The five Gospels: the search for the authentic words of Jesus. New York: Macmillan; Toronto: Maxwell Macmillan Canada; New York: Maxwell Macmillan International, 1993.

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