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Did Jesus own a home?

Currently, at the congregation where I serve, I am leading a sermon series and Sunday morning study on Mark’s account of the Gospel. Like a few before me, I have become highly interested in a number of the passages that seem to suggest that Jesus owned a home. These are:


1) Mark 2.1-2: “A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that He had come home. They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and He preached the word to them.”


Now, a plain English reading of this verse leaves no room for speculation really that Mark places the event he’s speaking of, in the home of Jesus (the Greek seems to suggest the same). There is no pause in the story and no other people mentioned whose home it could have been (it is commonly argued that this is the home of Peter but the text makes no such claim; further, when Jesus did go to Peter’s home just a few verses earlier, Mark didn’t hesitate to make that known).


Also, in an ancient setting, we know that one’s place of origin was of great importance (e.g. Saul of Tarsus, Jesus of Nazareth, etc.). I would argue that when Mark says that Jesus returned “home” to Capernaum, a literal home is being referred to here, not, say, a hometown. His hometown was not Capernaum but Nazareth. So, home (oikoi) should be taken literally here as a house. Clearly, Mark knows the word “hometown” (patrida) because he uses it in 6.1. If he wanted, he could have just as easily used it here.


It might well be the case too, that, when the men dig through the roof to lower their friend to Jesus, His comment, “Son, your sins are forgiven” is a meant to be humorous as well as a precursor to the forgiveness he will fully experience along with his healing in verses 10-12. More on this comment can be found on Mark Goodacre’s blog: NT Gateway.

2) In the very next scene (2.13-17), Jesus goes out to the lake where Levi is collecting fishery taxes for the Roman government. Jesus walks up to Him and says, “Follow me” (2.14). And, of course, Levi did. The question has been raised, “If Jesus were going to Levi’s home, why would He tell Levi to follow Him? Wouldn’t it make more sense that when Jesus says this, He is taking Levi to His own home?” While this argument is pretty lightweight, its simplicity seems to speak volumes. I agree with it.


Verse 15 is quite ambiguous in the Greek here. The reader can either translate the text as “While Levi was having dinner at the house of Jesus” or (as most translations read) “While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house.” The Greek reads: “en thi oikiai autou” (in/at the house of him). Again, the reader, in light of the context, must decide here whether or not the home being referred to is that of Jesus or Levi. I suggest the former. I think the next episode in Mark’s account helps prove this.


3) Mark 2.18-19: “Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. Some people came and asked Jesus, “How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?” Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have Him with them.”


While Jesus uses the metaphor of a wedding here, the analogy might suggest that the while He was having a meal at His home (the same meal from the previous episode), that people approached Him. Perhaps the analogy is not merely eschatological but just appropriate because Jesus is “hosting” people at His home, where they are the “guests.” Further, when you take this scene, of Jesus eating with sinners in His home, in tandem with the previous scene where His roof is ripped off and people are crowding His house and you contrast it with the surrounding scenes of the religious leaders who tended to ban the sick from their houses of worship, you end up with a powerful contrast here. The scene becomes all the more potent if one accepts that the synagogue scene of 3.1-6, where the man with a shriveled hand is healed, was planted there by the religious leaders in an attempt to catch Jesus in a trap. Indeed, in 3.6, after Jesus healed the man, we read, “Then the Pharisees when out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.” Part of their anger was probably due to the fact that their plan to trip Jesus up by planting this man in there backfired. Further, when Jesus walked in and saw this outcast sitting in there, He would have been as shocked as anyone (He knew they didn’t normally let people like this in) and would have immediately realized that something was up.



4) Mark 3.20: “Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that He and His disciples were not even able to eat” (TNIV). As with 2.15, the Greek is ambiguous here. There is no definite article before “oikon” (house), which might suggest that “a house” is the correct reading. However, and against that, the context seems to allow that this is the home of Jesus. For instance, the fact that His family arrives so quickly might imply this (e.g. as family members, they would have known where He lived). Bruce Malina's argument that the family came to preserve their honor might also help the argument. For example, society would have connected the house of Jesus with dishonor, which in a society where kinship is incredibly meaningful, would have, by virtue of blood relations alone, also brought shame or dishonor on the homes or households of Christ's family members. In short, their homes would have been "marked" with dishonor simply because one of their family member's homes was. Also, in this episode, Jesus is accused by the religious leaders of being in-league with satan. Jesus responds with a couple of analogies: 1) kingdom divided against kingdom and 2) plundering a strong man’s house.


The analogies would be especially potent if Jesus Himself gave them in His own home. How could His house stand if He were in-league with satan and was at the same time, driving out satan? It couldn’t! Yet, as Mark shows, it is satan’s house that is being divided not Christ’s (e.g. the Jesus Movement is spreading like wildfire all throughout the Mediterranean world; Mk. 3.7-8). Given this, Jesus goes on to say that the “strong man” (= satan) is being bound and plundered by Him—ironically, this is what the religious leaders end up doing to Jesus, which might be another suggestion on Mark’s behalf that they are the one’s working on satan’s behalf. Thus, if Jesus is in His own home at this point, the analogy of Him plundering the strong man’s house works well. Why? Because it is like a play on words where He proves that His house is not the one that needs to be plundered of evil (not least because “sinners” are coming there and being changed and forgiven) but rather the houses of worship and the Empire who are sated with evil. While I acknowledge that this part of my argument is not the strongest and needs tweaked a bit, it may work.


5) Traditionally, the consensus seems to run counter to this whole idea of Jesus having a home. Some have attempted to use Matthew 8.20 and Luke 9.58 as prooftexts to argue against such claims. In those passages, Jesus is recorded as having said, “Foxes have holes and the birds of air have nests but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head.” Yet, this does not mean that Jesus never had a home. Indeed, in the Gospel accounts where this statement is made, it is always after Jesus has left the villages and is on His way to Jerusalem (= the cross). Logically, then, it only follows that Jesus has definitely left His home for good—He’s not going back! These should be taken as narrative markers that reveal the “onward press” of Christ as He makes His way to Golgotha. He knows it is going to be hostile and He knows He will die. Thus, when He makes this comment to the scribe, He essentially is asking Him to make a choice: Follow me, with the potential of dying or stay here where you are comfortable.


Well, those are my thoughts for now. I plan to look into this more in the future. Personally, I love the idea of Jesus opening His home up to the needy; it is a powerful and challenging image. Perhaps it is time to let the stereotype of Jesus as a wandering, homeless, peasant preacher be put to rest. While I would not go as far as James Tabor and argue that Jesus was wealthy, I do see in Mark’s Gospel account, reason to believe that Jesus owned a home that He opened up to people. Let me know what you think.

14 comments

John | June 19, 2007 at 7:05 PM

This is a fascinating and detailed study of a subject that I've never thought of before. I've always assumed that Jesus wandered to and fro without an actual house, but the evidence might suggest otherwise.

T Michael W Halcomb | June 20, 2007 at 9:57 AM

John,
Thanks for your comments. I agree, the evidence (at least according to Mark), seems to suggest that indeed, Jesus did own a home. The more I think about it, it doesn't even seem logical that Jesus would have spent His adult life as a homeless person (even though there were philosophical sects who tended to promote such ideas during this time). Yet, Jesus was not a Cynic! We know that He worked so, why wouldn't we assume that he had a home, even if it were in close proximity to the home of His immediate family members?

P-Style | June 20, 2007 at 8:31 PM

If Joseph was presumably not around (dead or otherwise) by this stage, would not the family home have becoem Jesus' by virtue of being the eldest male in the family?

If Mary etc.. had a home, then perhaps this is the very home that Jesus dwelt in - thus explaining the immediate proximity question.

It also enhances the notion of "honour" to the family home that would have upset Mary and the brothers so much, and helps explain the complexing nature (which skeptics seem to love) of that family intervention.

T Michael W Halcomb | June 20, 2007 at 10:05 PM

P-Style,

Just to put the question out there, what if Joseph was around? While this is not the general consensus, it certainly cannot be ruled out. We might speculate for instance, why Jesus used so many "father/son" real-life parables when He spoke? Could it have been because He had a close relationship with Joseph? Also, if you read the infancy accounts closely, there seems to be a lot of emphasis on Joseph; we tend to think that because He isn't mentioned a lot of other places, he was dead or unimportant--that's not necessarily true.

Next, did Jesus as the eldest male of the family (if Joseph were dead), (have to) take care of the family? To this I would say, "Not necessarily." In fact, while this may have been a cultural norm, I would argue that the Synoptic Gospel writers go to great lengths to show that He separated Himself from the customary "household" expectations (see: Mt. 4.13-6; Lk. 4.16-30, 31-32 and Mk. 2.1). Thus, we should probably be careful when applying ancient Jewish “norms” to every ancient Jew or Jewish family, especially as the Gospels portray Jesus as one who shattered many of those expectations. Moreover, you only need to take another look at the story of the Prodigal Son to see that not everyone stuck to the norm!
And this may be precisely one of the reasons He is met with dishonor in His hometown!!! No doubt in Mk. 6.4 the crowds are "shaming" Jesus (especially as they refer to Him from the female line; this is not simply an indicator that Joseph was dead or something like that, it was a shaming tactic). This is probably akin to what his family was doing earlier in 3.20ff. They seem to have "shamed" Him as they went along with the accusations that He was possessed (notice, it is His family who says that "He is out of His mind). It is not accidental, then, that in this episode, the family members of Jesus are "outside" the house. In an "insider/outsider" culture, hearing this would have jolted the audience. That said, Jesus doesn't seem to be living in the home of His parents. In 3.20-35, the family "comes" to the house where Jesus is at—insinuating that it is not theirs.

As for the "honor" being enhanced by Mark suggesting that the family is upset with Jesus, I think that claim is, for a lack of better terms, quite backwards. Again, the family "shames" Jesus here. She may be concerned about her honor, but that is my point exactly, her and the other family members are concerned about their honor alone--at the cost of going along with the crowd and suggesting that Jesus was demon possessed. Ironically, to have a demon-possessed son would taint your honor incredibly. Perhaps the family is pulling out all of the last ditch efforts here and they are shaming Jesus in front of everyone else in hopes that they might retain their own honor. It's like a parent today saying, "I raised them as good as I could have" when their child does something horrible. In that instance, as rough as it might sound, the parent is more concerned about preserving their honor and the family's honor, not necessarily trying to make the bad child seem honorable!

Josh McManaway | June 21, 2007 at 6:06 AM

Really good post. Thought provoking!

John Meunier | July 10, 2007 at 4:10 PM

Could he have both had a home and also spent a good amount of time wandering and relying on the charity of others?

Afterall, when he sends out the apostles he tells them to take nothing with them and rely on hospitality in the towns they visit. Perhaps that is because that is the way he operated.

Not all who wander are lost.

T Michael W Halcomb | July 10, 2007 at 8:42 PM

John,

I see no problems with what you're suggesting at all; this is probably correct. I think we need to look at the "social networking" aspect of "making disciples" (e.g. making social relationships) and the things that come along with that (benefaction, honor, shame, etc.). This is why, for instance, in chapter 2, we see Him going into Peter's home (or one of Peter's family members' homes). I'm sure they all did that; it was social network!

I would be careful when I say that He "relied" on the "charity of others" though. We have to remember that, like Paul, Jesus was a vocational, iternerant evangelist. I tend to think that Jesus worked with the disciples building boats (e.g. woodwork) or something of that nature; that could be where He met them.

Though I don't agree with it, Kazanstakis posited the idea that Jesus was even a cross maker for the government. Again, I don't agree with that but it is interesting to think about nonetheless.

Getting back to Paul, I think that his "social networking" mirrored that of Jesus's. There seem to be a lot of comparisons there!

Good stuff!!!

Dan Trabue | July 10, 2007 at 10:19 PM

From Locusts & Honey, where Michael said:

"post your rebuttals on my blog; I'd love to engage you in this if you have some good arguments against me."

T Michael (T? Michael? Mr. Halcomb?), you should know I mean no offense, I just didn't think the argument was well supported.

I have no rebuttals - your suggestions are all within the realm of possibility. This topic just seems to fall into that category of unknowable knowledge. That is, your exegesis just seems like hunches - "maybe because the writer used the word "home" in this sentence, he is indicating Jesus' home".

Or, more specificially, how do you get from "follow me" to "follow me and let's go to my house"? Is not the context of that statement, "follow me in my way of life and leave behind your way of life?"

Or, "While Jesus uses the metaphor of a wedding here, the analogy might suggest that the while He was having a meal at His home"... well, maybe. But it might also suggest that he was dining at the governor's house or maybe at the local pub.

Maybe I'm just a poor dumb Kentucky boy who doesn't understand exegesis, but you seem to be making just incredibly huge leaps. Sure, all your suggestions are a possibility, but I see nothing in the text to suggest there's any reason for us to consider them as any more likely than any other suggestion.

You may well be right, that Jesus wasn't homeless. I may have just been reading the passage about having no place to lay his head and making a leap to the what-seemed-obvious-to-me (and many others) conclusion that he was homeless for so long that it's hard for me to see any other possibility.

It's just that, to me, you have made some huge leaps. As I said, I intended no offense, I just don't see any significant evidence in your hypotheses, just some guesses.

As you do just above in your statement:

"We have to remember that, like Paul, Jesus was a vocational, iternerant evangelist. I tend to think that Jesus worked with the disciples building boats"

??! That's not mentioned anywhere in the Bible. It is a supposition based on some evidence but with no real support, is it not?

If all you're doing is taking the evidence and providing some What ifs?, to fill out the stories with more detail, that's fine. I just wouldn't go so far as to suggest that it's anything near a solid explanation.

T Michael W Halcomb | July 11, 2007 at 10:16 AM

Dan,

I some of your points are well taken. I thought your "T, Mr. Michael" comment was rather humorous (even if you weren't meaning it to be); it's kind of like the whole J D G Dunn thing. Anyways...

Some of the results of my exegesis are hunches but that is not the same thing as saying that my exegesis is "based on" hunches. It is the exegesis that leads me to think differently about such passages.

For instance, when the texts speaks of the "home" nobody else is mentioned at all; how then, can we posit--evidentially--that this was someone else's home? The Greek text and the context both point to this begin Christ's home. That is not just guessing, that is contextual and textual analysis. Therefore, it is not a "huge leap" as you suggest. In fact, the "huge leap" is to take your position and disregard the immediate wording and context of the passage and place Jesus at someone else's home--a someone else who is never mentioned in the story.

Moreover, your spiritualizing or theologizing of the "follow me" statement seems like a much greater leap than anything I suggested. Why do you make that theological and hermeneutical move when it is not necesarry? Because you want the text to mean something? That is eisegesis.

I think that as far as the "lay His head" passage, you have to read that in its literary context; you just have to; to not do that is to miss the point. All of the writers who include that passage place it after He has begun His Jerusalem trip and this is not accidental. These are literary cues that the reader is meant to pick up.

Like you, I am not being offensive, just discussing the issues at hand. And not all KY people are idiots; I live in KY myself and I don't consider myself an idiot. From what I can gather, you don't seem to be one either.

I do think that our traditional understandings and readings of Jesus prevent us from seeing new things many times; especially seeing things from narrative and socio-rhetorical perspectives.

As with your previous comments about "prooftexting" I find the same type of unfounded claims made by you here with the "huge leaps" and "what ifs" language. I have not done either of those; I feel like I have offered evidence to prove my point (though I may need more on some points--e.g. the boat building). But why does carpenter automatically equal home builder? Whe couldn't it have been boat builder? Indeed, Mark is keen on making sure that his readers notice that Jesus loves being around the lake/water.

Dan Trabue | July 11, 2007 at 11:01 AM

"Carpenter" could be a boat builder. There just is no biblical support for it. "Carpenter" could also be Cross builder (wouldn't that be ironic!) or One who builds time machines out of wood, but there's no biblical support for those positions, either.

I'm not hung up on it. Just, after having read your suppositions and having reconsidered my traditional view, I feel more comfortable with my traditional view.

Certainly, Jesus was an intinerant and didn't have multiple homes on the road to stop at. Do we know traditionally if itinerant preachers (and I believe that was not an uncommon "vocation") kept homes?

There is more than just the verse about no place to lay his head to suggest he didn't have a home. He asked his followers to abandon everything and follow in his community, for instance, and how would an itinerant preacher be able to afford and maintain a home in that day?

Having no home "feels" right to me, from the whole of the NT story about Jesus. Not that I would say that the Bible establishes that as a beyond-debate fact.

T Michael W Halcomb | July 11, 2007 at 1:36 PM

Dan,

It is precisely for the reason that people have often said that Jesus told His disciples to "abandon" everything that I posted part 1 of my Mark series! This is another one of those things that led me in the direction of understanding Jesus to perhaps, have a home.

Neither am I hung up on these things, yet, they are worth discussing and searching out. In the end, does it make a huge difference, well, probably not a huge one. But it might give us a little more insight into the type of life that Jesus lived as a human and those types of things.

Ironically, in an upcoming post, I note that Kazanstakis in "The Last Temptation of the Christ" has the woodworking Jesus actually working as a cross maker for the Romans.

As for the comfortability of holding a traditional view that's fine. It just makes more logical sense to me, that He probably built boats and perhaps, even did work on homes from time to time.

John | July 14, 2007 at 2:57 PM

I'll buy into the first two arguments as evidence for Jesus having a home (either owned or rented), but the rest do not die a home location to Jesus in particular or are clearly parabolic language.

T Michael W Halcomb | July 17, 2007 at 9:26 PM

John,

I respectably disagree with you. While you may be correct that the last few points do not offer as strong evidence as the previous ones, when you say that they "clearly" don't, I think you are wrong. From a literary standpoint, these, I think, are very strong points. They may be wrong (though I don't think they are) and they are definitely not "clearly" wrong!

Jacob Paul Breeze | September 20, 2007 at 12:59 AM

Michael,

Thanks for writing on my blog. Will you be at the next SCJC?

It's very strange, I noticed you had a GMark series and saw we have some very similar ideas (yours are much more full than mine) about Jesus having a house.

I posted about it on my blog today, and just now read yours. Very cool. I would be interested in your reflections on my post concerning demons in GMark. I'm a Senior Undergrad student, and would appreciate any input you have.

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