Mary and Jesus

Last Sunday’s Gospel reading (Mark 6:1-13) had many fascinating moments that caused us to think again. I want to pause with Mark 6:3

Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary

Firstly, Mark never mentions Jesus’ father. Secondly, Luke 4:22 and Matthew 13:55 read “the son of Joseph” and “the son of the carpenter”. Thirdly, it is notable that this is the only verse in the Bible where Jesus is described as being a carpenter.

Here are five options, which may overlap, in interpreting this unique designation of Jesus as “the son of Mary”:

Mark may be trying to stress the human characteristics of Jesus in response to a Jesus is “God only” view of his audience (Docetism).

Joseph is not mentioned because Mary is his only human parent. Hence, this is hinting at the virginal conception of Jesus. Normally, one would have been called “son of [a man]”. The unusual nature of a “son of [a woman]” was code for early Christians by which they understood that Jesus lacked a human father.

The villagers intended the comment as a slur and Mark simply reported it. The villagers were implying Jesus was illegitimate.

The phrase was simply the most natural way to refer to Jesus because Mary was more well known (either to the villagers or Mark’s audience), possibly because Joseph was long dead. There are arguments that “son of [a woman]” was the normal way to refer to children of widows.

Mark didn’t write the text as we now have it. There was textual corruption either through scribal error or to avoid conflicting with the by-then-wider-known virginal conception story. There are textual variants of Mark 6:3 which read ὁ τοῦ τέκτονος υἱός καὶ τῆς Μαρίας “the son of the carpenter and Mary” instead of ὁ τέκτων ὁ υἱὸς τῆς Μαρίας “the carpenter, son of Mary”.

In short, we are not sure why this unusual phrase “the son of Mary” is used here in Mark – there are several theories, including that the phrase as we have it isn’t what Mark wrote. What do you think? Are there other options missed here?

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