Thursday, March 02, 2006

Did Jesus have a house in Capernaum?

I've always been intrigued with this verse in Mark, as suggesting that Jesus may have had a house in Capernaum:
Mark 2.15: καὶ γίνεται κατακεῖσθαι αὐτὸν ἐν τῇ οἰκίᾳ αὐτοῦ καὶ πολλοὶ τελῶναι καὶ ἁμαρτωλοὶ συνανέκειντο τῷ Ἰησοῦ καὶ τοῖς μαθηταῖς αὐτοῦ ἦσαν γὰρ πολλοὶ καὶ ἠκολούθουν αὐτῷ

And it happened that he was reclining in his house, and many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who were following him . . .
This may be an example of the criterion I was recently discussing, accidental information, or material given away in passing, where a piece of data (here: Jesus had a house in Capernaum) is assumed and not narrated. However, there is another way to take the verse. Is Mark intending the reader to take the αὐτοῦ (his) with reference to Levi, who has just been called to follow Jesus? This is the way that most commentators across the centuries have taken it, but I suspect that this is under the influence of Luke, who makes this a great party in Levi's house (Luke 5.29). Incidentally, I can't help wondering how Levi had the resources to finance this big party if he had just left everything (Luke 5.28); perhaps it was long last big bash with his old mates before setting off on the road with Jesus; or perhaps by "everything", Luke means his career and his means of earning a living (cf. the same pattern in the Zacchaeus story in Luke 19.1-10, where the tax-collector is called, and Jesus invites himself to tea).

But Mark's text encourages the reader to imagine Jesus hosting the party at his own place in Capernaum. After all, he has just asked Levi to follow him (Mark 2.14) and from that point onwards, Levi is absorbed into the anonmymous following disciples group in Mark, not even listed as one of the twelve in Mark 3.13-19. Mark 2.15-18 is a new pericope in Mark, and it is probably Mark himself who has bolted this pericope onto the Call of Levi in 2.13-14, in which case he may well have inherited this tradition about Jesus partying in his house without a link with the Levi tradition.

I am not sure why we should be surprised at the note that Jesus may have had a house in Capernaum. After all, Capernaum does seem to be the hub of his mission in Galilee. Perhaps we allow ourselves to be seduced by the saying in Matt. 8.20 // Luke 9.58, "Foxes have their holes and the birds of the air have their nests . . ." But even if Jesus said that, we don't know when he said it, and it could reflect a later, itinerant stage of his mission.

If Jesus the craftsman had a career in Capernaum, perhaps this is how he got to know those later to become his disciples.

If Mark 2.1-12 also depicts Jesus at his house (2.1, ἐν οἴκῳ, "at home"), perhaps that is why he says "Child, your sins are forgiven" -- they've just dug a big hole through the roof of Jesus' house and he's going to have to get up there later on to mend it.

22 comments:

Milton Stanley said...

Intriguing ideas. I'd never before given thought to these verses describing Jesus' house, but you've made a reasonable case. Thanks for sharing it.

Jim said...

I agree Mark- very interesting ideas indeed. If you are right- the notion of Jesus as wandering poor man is inexact at best.

Carl Mosser said...

Matthew 4:13 tells us that Jesus moved from Nazareth to live in Capernaum. This implies that he either purchased a house or shared a house with someone. In either case there would be a house in Capernaum that could be referred to as "his," whether Mark intends to refer to it or not.

David May said...

I wrote a brief article, "Mark 2:15: The Home of Jesus or Levi?," in the journal New Testament Studies, vol. 39, 1993. My conclusion, based on social-science criticism (specifically reciprocity) was that "the cultural setting of the first-century world supports the position that the home in which Jesus dined and was condemned by the scribes of the Pharisees was not his home but Levi's."

David M. May

crystal said...

John 1:38-39 ... They said to him, "Rabbi, where are you staying?"
He said to them,"Come, and you will see." So they went and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day.


... this doesn't mean he owned a home, I guess, but maybe it suggests some kind of residence?

P J Williams said...

The great classic for studying accidental information is: John Blunt's Undesigned Coincidences. See:
http://en.wikipedia.org/
wiki/John_James_Blunt

William Paley also studied this phenomenon in his Horae Paulinae.

Michael F. Bird said...

Mark,
I think a good case can be made that Capernaum was Jesus' base of operations from he then ventured out of in his itinerant travels, which implies that he had some kind of regular accomodation there. Rainer Riesner goes too far in thinking that he set up a rabbinic school there!

Doug said...

My take on this has been that is actually Peter's home. This is the home Jesus enters after preaching in the synagogue. Go from Mk 1:14 to 1:21, and then after a tour by Jesus, return to be "at home" Mk 2:1. If Jesus, creating a new family stays with that family, is their home not his home. While I grant the possibility of your reading, I wonder whether it doesn't import a modern concept of home ownership divorced from extended (or relacement) families into the text. I would argue that the most likely alternatives are Peter's home and Levi's home, not Jesus as a second home owning property magnate.

Jack Painter said...

I have discussed the very point with my students on a number of occasions. They are always surprised and often bring up the "foxes have holes..." quote. Whether he had a house of his own or not, Mark implies that he had a regular residence known to the local populace.

Brad Boydston said...

What we really want to know is, what kind of mortgage did he have -- fixed, adjustable, interest-only?

Anne and Mike said...

If Mark 2.1-12 also depicts Jesus at his house (2.1, ἐν οἴκῳ, "at home"), perhaps that is why he says "Child, your sins are forgiven" -- they've just dug a big hole through the roof of Jesus' house and he's going to have to get up there later on to mend it.

Hi Dr. Goodacre,
I'll share something that I learned from my dad last year...
the hole dug in the roof is symbolic of his baptism... burying himself with Christ. That's why his sins are forgiven.

("your sins are forgiven you" is the wisdom statement of the first part of that Story, written in the Literary Form of a Parable.)

Levi getting up to follow Jesus is the wisdom statment of the Wisdom section of that same Story. The literary form tells us that Levi rose from the waters of baptism...or said another way...he put away his old mat, or old way of thinking, and followed Jesus.

Jesus came to call the sinner to newness of life in the Spirit, that's why he's eating with them.

Anne

Anne and Mike said...

This was posted on our blog today, and thought you may be interested...

Home and House
In Mark's gospel, Jesus returns to Capernaum, and we find out that "he was at home," as chapter two begins.

When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. (nrsv)

In Mark's chapter three, after Jesus appoints the twelve, we are told simply that "he (Jesus) went home, and the crowd came together again, so they could not even eat.

In both examples, home is where the community of believers assemble!

In this second example from Mark's chapter three, we are given an additional insight into the word home. Here, Jesus begins to speak to the scribes that have come down from Jerusalem using the word, house.

"How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. But no one can enter a stron man's house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered. "Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin"--for they had said, "He has an unclean spirit." (nrsv)

I suggest to you that the scribes from Jerusalem represent the House of Israel who blaspheme against the Holy Spirit by saying that the words that come out from Jesus' mouth are not from the Holy Spirit but from Beelzebul.

Now, I suggest that Jesus' home in the two examples that I've given from the beginning of Mark's gospel represent the assembly of those who believe Jesus' words. The home is where the Spirit dwells among believers! In this second passage, when his family comes to restrain Jesus because some people have said that Jesus has gone out of his mind, this is Jesus' answer to return to home: Yes, he has gone out of his mind--Jesus has gone into his heart, where the Spirit gushes forth to be welcomed by the assembly.

Mark said...

I'd like to try a slightly different approach to this question and look at it more through the eyes of common sense. Jesus grew up with parents who undoubtedly had a house or residence, and then as an adult held a career and lived his life like those around him. Wouldn’t it have been very odd for him to have not had a house of his own, especially when he taught others how to grow & succeed in life? It wouldn’t surprise me to find out that he sold all his possessions (including a house?) to begin his ministry near the end, but I agree with Jim's concept in one of the posts that it's not very conceivable that he was some kind of wondering vagabond his entire life - that just doesn’t jive with common sense which any thinking person carries.

Levy said...

I had a chance to read the blog and everyones comments about the subject of Jesus having a house. I found it all very intriguing. In looking at all of the scriptural references that were left, I looked at several things and a few things even went through my head which make me question the type of living quaters they had at the time. In Mark chapter 2:1 it says that it was noised that He was in the house. As one of you mentioned, house could have meant the city, or one can take it from a literal sense. There could have been a dwelling place more than just one individual to dwell in. Almost like those Chinese hotels where a they all share one place with many separated beds. It would be great if someone could find that. Yet, also according to scripture, in order to fulfill the prophesy that was given by the prophet Esaias (Isaiah) that he would be in the land of Zabulon and the land of Nephthalim by the way of the sea, Isa 9:1and 2 Jesus came and dwelt in Capernaum Matt. 4:13. The disciples on the other hand had homes, and may have even had a place for all of them to dwell together also. After Jesus had risen, and was walking on the road with the two disciples Lk 24 the disciples constrained him to come and stay with them. Luke 24:30, yet at the same time, Paul had his own place Acts 28:30. I have not come to any conclusion, exept, the main things that Jesus said, Repent, make disciples, and be holy as He is holy.

T Michael W Halcomb said...

Friends, I have posted some comments on this subject at my blog at: http://michaelhalcomb.blogspot.com/

Some of the conversation echoes things found here yet, some of it is different. It is under the entry "Did Jesus have a home?"

This is an interesting topic to say the least!

--T Michael W Halcomb

Rob said...

I am not sure if the greek for home would mean something along the lines of a rented room or apartment. However, when I read it in the English, it strikes me that "in his house" strikes me as relating to the concept of the kingdom, which is all around us. His house is the kingdom made up of the followers of Christ. Whether everyone sitting at the dinner were physically seated in the house of Yeshua or the house of Levi may not be as significant or as poignant as the point that is being made by Peter (who is the narrator of the book of Mark) that the sinners Yeshua was sitting among represented the "house" in the sense that they represent the "kingdom." This would have been a shocking concept for the pharisees, can you imagine?

wateringwhole said...

Insight appreciated, what is the importance of whether Jesus had a home or not? Materialism nor poverty determines godliness. Those who cite the verse foxes have holes etc. I hear that as saying Jesus is not accepted anywhere. I really do appreciate all your insight, that is how we grow. Johnny

Abie said...

Jesus is simply rebuking (with His usual caustic wit) the hapless guy who follows Him from the Samaritan village. This is the village that refused Him lodging on account that He was on His way to Jerusalem because Samaritans don't believe that God dwells in Jerusalem. So Jesus tells the guy (and his village) off by pointing out that in that Samaritan village they even let foxes and birds have a place to stay but they won't give the Son of Man a place for the night. So Jesus simply shakes the dust of His feet and heads to the Holiday Inn at the next village.

Of course Jesus had a home in Capernaum. Seriously, He was hardly a homeless beggar, that's just Western Catholic poverty theology. Just like assuming that those three Kings of Ye Orient Olde came all the way from faraway lands to worship the King of Heaven only to present Him with a single gold coin, a little teeny pinch of myrrh and one tiny Holy Land flea market souvenir bottle of frankincense, like in the nativity plays. Sometimes you really have to try to think like a Easterner when you read the "accidental" information in the Bible.

Shock Films said...

First off, if it had been Jesus's house, it would have translated "His house". Plus, in the NKJV, the verse talks of Levi and the the verse in reference said "Levi's house". I believe that Jesus had no house of His own. I would think that he would have given it all up when He began spreading the word, just as he instructed His disciples to. Jesus would have been perfectly fine with this because He knew He had a home in Heaven with His Father. He doesn't need an earthly one.
-A.S.

Anatoly Ivanov said...

It's an interesting topic indeed. But first of all I think we are to ask "Why do we wanna know if Jesus had a house or not?" I personally believe He did. To me it's important because it means He wasn't poor like some teach - He was poor and therefore you should be poor. Not true. Someone wants people to be poor because it is easier to control poor and uneducated people but the Bible tells us to be rich in order to help others. To be rich to satisfy your own desires is selfish and pointless. It is not what God wants. But to be rich to help and serve and spread the gospel is selfless and meaningful. The gospel is free but it is not cheap. It takes a lot of money to propagate it. Blessing, Anatoly

Joi Leamons said...

Bible scholars attribute the house referenced in Mark 2:1 to be Peter's house. Jesus just stayed there frequently and therefore people associated the home with him.

I don't believe Jesus not having a home and subsequently being poor means that all Christians are called to monetary destitution. Jesus not owning his own home points to his complete and utter humility and therefore challenges believers to practice a life of humility of spirit. Philippians 2:5-8 sums this concept up.

enlightenedbytheword said...

JESUS'S HOUSE

It's my understanding that Jesus had a house to live in and it was located in Capernaum. Jesus as we know from scripture was not some destitute penniless man as often is described by Preachers in the land today.
Matthew 2:11 teaches that now with treasures plural, this was the last day Jesus was poor if he ever was poor to begin with.!
We also know that "the" house was referenced prior to the meeting with Levi / Matthew. Mark 2:3 says they came to him. This would point to people knowing where Jesus was located prior to the encounter with Matthew. Since Mark 2:14 says that Levi followed Jesus and not vice versa the reader must conclude that following Jesus led to Jesus and Levi being in Jesus's residence. If not the text would say the opposit, Jesus would have to follow Levi to Levi's residence. The fact that Peter also resided in Capernaum takes nothing away from the fact that Jesus did too Matthew 4:13. Chronologically this leaving of Nazareth to then dwell in Capernaum occurred prior to the calling of any of the Apostles.!

The "foxes have holes" verse is taken out of it's proper context to mean Jesus had no house or dwelling to sleep in. In context though Jesus referred to himself as "the son of man" in that verse which is a Messianic term. Jesus came from Heaven sent of the Father where He always dwelt and where His Kingdom is located. The man who said he would follow Jesus was not required to go where Jesus dwelt and where Jesus would return to. This should not be presented as evidence that Jesus was homeless, but that Jesus is the son of man, the Messiah, sent from his original dwelling place to earth. Earth was and is not his home.!