“And He Could Do No Miracles There”

In Chapter 6 of the Gospel of Mark, we read that the God Jesus miraculously exorcised a “demon-possessed” man in the “country of the Gerasenes,”[1] located on the Western side of the Sea of Galilee. He then returns to the Eastern shore where He cures a woman suffering from chronic vaginal bleeding,[2] and raises a dead 12-year-old daughter of a Jewish synagogue leader back to life.

Jesus next travels to Nazareth to preach to the inhabitants of his former hometown. It is there that an astonishing turn of events takes place.

Upon hearing the God Jesus preach in their synagogue,[3] the Nazarenes are awed and “amazed” by the religious knowledge and wisdom” Jesus has displayed, and stand confounded by the reports of the “remarkable miracles” he is said to have performed. Why he’s Mary’s son,[4] the brother to four others, and to sisters who still live among us, they remind themselves. What happened to cause such a change in “the son of Joseph” (Luke 4:22), his listeners wonder.

But the Nazarenes quickly turn their awe and amazement into outright hostility towards Jesus. And oddly enough, Mark fails to clarify the precise cause for this strange change of heart. Neither does Matthew (13:53-58). Luke, however, writing much later and using a copy of Mark as a template before him, does. But before we delve into his account of Jesus’ rejection in Nazareth, let us re-examine a piece of gospel evidence that is extremely relevant.

In chapter two of Luke’s gospel, Luke portrays Jesus as wowing the Jewish Temple leaders in Jerusalem with his prodigious religious knowledge and wisdom, and at the tender age of only twelve![5] But if true, the child Jesus would naturally have left a similar impression on Nazareth’s synagogue leaders, as well as Jesus’ fellow villagers throughout the region. His fame for possessing such extraordinary knowledge at such a tender age would certainly have been widespread. And yet, Jesus’ listeners exhibit no awareness whatsoever of Jesus’ previous exceptionalism.  So, we must ask: Why are the citizens of Nazareth suddenly “amazed” by Jesus’ knowledge and wisdom only now?

In any event, Luke begins with Jesus standing in Nazareth’s synagogue reciting the first verses of Chapter 61 from the Book of Isaiah which begins with:

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.”

Jesus goes on to tell the congregation that He is the embodiment of Isaiah’s “prophecy,” that He’s  their long-awaited Messiah. Surprisingly, his listeners are not in the least bit offended at this point. In fact, Luke tells us that the Nazarenes,

“All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips (Luke 4:22).”[6]

But Jesus suddenly appears irked. Someone must have told Him: “Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you’ve done in Capernaum,”[7] for Jesus responds: “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.”

Mark claims that Jesus could not perform any miracle there, but then quickly contradicts himself by adding, “except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them” (Mark 6:5; NIV). But the Greek text of Mark 6:5 states that Jesus did no “mighty” miracle there;[8] the word δύναμιν (dunamis) exemplifying power and strength. So are we to assume that the miraculous healing of a collection of sick individuals fails to be deemed a “mighty” miracle? Or should we just take the latter text to be an interpolation by a later hand?

Matthew, who also  used a copy of Mark as his template, and writing some 15 to 20 years after Mark, altered Mark slightly by writing, “and he did not do many  miracles there because of their lack of faith.” (Matthew 13:58). However, Luke (4:14-30) fails to report any miracles performed by Jesus, neither mighty nor minor. In fact, Luke’s timeline would almost preclude miracle-performing on the part of Jesus, for Luke has Jesus:

  1. Read from Isaiah Chapter 61,
  2. then elucidate his “interpretation” of several key verses in Isaiah 61,
  3. which, in turn, enrages the Nazarenes to the point that they grab Jesus and drag Him to a cliff[9] with every intention of throwing Him off of it.

“All the people in the synagogue were furious …  They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff.” (Mark 4:28-29)

Luke, therefore, appears to contradict Mark and Matthew by failing to mention any attempts at miracle-performing on Jesus’ part, and, judging by Luke’s timeline, little opportunity for Jesus to perform a miracle of any great significance anyway.

Then again, perhaps Luke does report a Nazareth “miracle, after all. It appears that in Luke 4:30, Jesus must have used divine power to supernaturally numb the angry ardor of the Nazarenes and thus, walk to safety through their midst.

So either Jesus did no miracles in Nazareth (Luke), no “mighty’ miracles there (Mark), or was unable to do “many” miracles in Nazareth (Matthew). Take your pick.

What is truly astounding is the fact that Mark asserts Jesus couldn’t perform a single miracle of any great significance in Nazareth due to the lack of “faith” on the part of the Nazarenes. And note, the text in Mark doesn’t state that Jesus didn’t want to perform any mighty miracles in Nazareth, it plainly states that he couldn’t.

Now wouldn’t the God Jesus have known beforehand what He would encounter in Nazareth? After all, He had the power of divine omniscience to alert Him. And wouldn’t performing a genuine miracle of note before his friends, family, and acquaintances help prove He truly was the Messiah? Moreover, isn’t the ultimate aim of performing a holy miracle to bring people to faith?

So now the question: How do most Christian apologists explain away Mark 6:5? Well, in the main, by claiming that Jesus could have performed any miracle He wanted to but chose not to perform any significant miracle because of the hostile attitude of the Nazarene community, while admitting that lack of faith does act as a barrier to miracle-performing. But all that tells us is that Jesus exhibited pure vindictiveness; hardly the hallmark of a “loving” God. And as we’ve already pointed out, the text of Mark doesn’t say he “chose” not to perform a mighty miracle, it says He couldn’t (Gk: οὐδεμίαν [oudemian]) and all due to lack of faith on the part of Jesus’ family, friends, and acquaintances.

Christians need to think back and remember this:

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.  “The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David,  and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.”

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.” (Luke 1:26-38; NIV)

and ask themselves how Mary (and Jesus’ brothers) could think Jesus “nuts”[10],  “without honor,” and incapable of miracle-performing (on occasion) in the face of unbelief if Luke 1:26-38 is the “gospel truth”?

 

[1] Matthew 8:28 states it was two demoniacs in the region of the “Gadarenes,” while Luke 8:26-39 has just one demoniac that Jesus exorcised, but, along with Mark, in the region of the Gerasenes. Note: the only “city” where the exorcism could have possibly fit the narrative was “Kursi,” otherwise known as “Gergesa”—a city which none of the gospel writers cite. And which is part of the country of the “Gergesenes, not the Gerasenes or Gadarenes. (See Map Here)

[2] Touching Jesus in her “unclean” condition would have rendered Jesus unclean as well—according to Jewish law.

[3] Modern archeological evidence indicates that there was no actual “synagogue” per se in Nazareth during Jesus’ lifetime. In fact, not a single one has been found anywhere in the whole of Galilee. (See Here) So we must take the word “synagogue” to mean the meeting place of worshiping Jews, whether in someone’s home or elsewhere, and not a temple-like structure we refer to today.

[4] Many a Christian NT scholar has noted that calling Jesus the “son of Mary” would be taken as a slur. The Jews would almost universally use a patriarchal reference, not a matriarchal one.

[5] Luke 2:41-51.

[6] Luke 4:22

[7] I.e., Exorcised demoniacs, healed Simon Peter’s fevered mother-in-law, a leper, a paralytic, etc.

[8] So the KJV.

[9] There was no “cliff” per se in the old village of Nazareth proper. Christian apologists maintain that Luke was referring to Mt. Precipice. But Mt. Precipice is located 2 miles from the old village. Therefore, we may rightfully conclude Luke has made up this episode out of whole cloth.

[10] See Luke 3:21; cf. John 7:5; 10:20. Many apologists try and deflect by insisting that the Greek makes it possible to be referring to Jesus’ followers or “associates” in 3:21. But Mark 3:31-34 makes it clear it is Jesus’ Mother and brothers 3:21 is referring to.

 


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