Matthew 12:46
While he yet talked to the people, behold, his mother and his brethren stood without, desiring to speak with him.
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(46) His mother and his brethren.—Who were these “brethren of the Lord?” The question is one which we cannot answer with any approximation to certainty. The facts in the Gospel records are scanty. In what we gather from the Fathers we find not so much traditions as conjectures based upon assumptions. The facts, such as they are, are these: (1.) The Greek word translated “brother” is a word which has just the same latitude as the term in English. Like that, it might be applied (as in the case of Joseph and his brethren) to half-brothers, or brothers by adoption, or used in the wider sense of national or religious brotherhood. There is no adequate evidence that the term was applied to cousins as such. (2.) The names of four brethren are given in Mark 6:3, as James (i.e., Jacob) and Joses and Juda and Simon. Three of these names (James, Juda, Simon) are found in the third group of four in the lists of the twelve Apostles. This has suggested to some the thought that they had been chosen by our Lord to that office, and the fact that a disciple bearing the name of Joses was nearly chosen to fill the place of Judas Iscariot (Acts 1:23, in many MSS.) presents another curious coincidence. This inference is, however, set aside by the fact distinctly stated by St. John (John 7:3), and implied in this narrative and in our Lord’s reference to a prophet being without honour in his father’s house (Matthew 13:57; Mark 6:4), that up to the time of the Feast of Tabernacles that preceded the Crucifixion, within six months of the close of our Lord’s ministry, His brethren did not believe in His claims to be the Christ. The names, it must be remembered, were so common that they might be found in any family. (3.) Sisters are mentioned in Mark 6:3, but we know nothing of their number, or names, or after-history, or belief or unbelief. It is clear that these facts do not enable us to decide whether the brothers and sisters were children of Mary and Joseph, or children of Joseph by a former marriage—either an actual marriage on his own account, or what was known as a Levirate marriage (Deuteronomy 25:5), for the sake of raising up seed to a deceased brother—or the children of Mary’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas (John 19:25). The fact of the same name being borne by two sisters, as the last theory implies, though strange, is not incredible, as by names might come into play to distinguish between them. Each of these views has been maintained with much elaborate ingenuity, and by some writers these brethren, assumed to be sons of Clopas, have been identified (in spite of the above objection, which is absolutely fatal to the theory) with the sons of Alphæus in the list of Apostles. When the course of Christian thought led to an ever-increasing reverence for the mother of the Lord, and for virginity as the condition of all higher forms of holiness, the belief in her perpetual maidenhood passed into a dogma, and drove men to fall back upon one of the other hypotheses as to the brethren. It is a slight argument in their favour, (1) that it would have been natural had there been other children borne by the mother of the Lord, that the fact should have been recorded by the Evangelists, as in the family narratives of the Old Testament (e.g., Genesis 5, 11; 1 Chronicles 1, 2), and that there is no record of any such birth in either of the two Gospels that give “the book of the generations” of Jesus; (2) that the tone of the brethren, their unbelief, their attempts to restrain Him, suggest the thought of their being elder brothers in some sense, rather than such as had been trained in reverential love for the first-born of the house; (3) that it is scarcely probable that our Lord should have committed His mother to the care of the disciple whom He loved (John 19:26) had she had children of her own, whose duty it was to protect and cherish her; (4) the absence of any later mention of the sisters at or after the time of the Crucifixion suggests the same conclusion, as falling in with the idea of the sisters and brethren being in some sense a distinct family, with divided interests; (5) lastly, though we enter here on the uncertain region of feeling, if we accept the narratives of the birth and infancy given by St. Matthew and St. Luke, it is at least conceivable that the mysterious awfulness of the work so committed to him may have led Joseph to rest in the task of loving guardianship which thus became at once the duty and the blessedness of the remainder of his life. On the whole, then, I incline to rest in the belief that the so-called “brethren” were cousins who, through some unrecorded circumstances, had been so far adopted into the household at Nazareth as to be known by the term of nearer relationship.

The motive which led the mother and the brethren to seek to speak to our Lord on this occasion lies on the surface of the narrative. Never before in His Galilean ministry had He stood out in such open antagonism to the scribes and Pharisees of Capernaum and Jerusalem. It became known that they had taken counsel with the followers of the tetrarch against His life. Was He not going too far in thus daring them to the uttermost? Was it not necessary to break in upon the discourse which was so keen and stinging in its reproofs? The tone of protest and, as it were, disclaimer in which He now speaks of this attempt to control and check His work, shows what their purpose was. His brethren, St. John reports, did not believe in Him (John 7:3-5)—i.e., they did not receive Him as the Christ, perhaps not even as a prophet of the Lord.

Matthew 12:46-50. While he yet talked with the people — While he was uttering these solemn truths, and giving these awful warnings, in the audience of the vast multitudes that were gathered around him: behold, his mother and his brethren — Or near kinsmen, (namely, the sons of Mary the wife of Cleopas, or Alpheus, his mother’s sister,) stood without, not being able to come near him because of the multitude that sat about him: But he said, Who is my mother? &c. — We must not suppose that our Lord meant to put any slight on them, especially on his mother. He only took this opportunity of expressing his affection to his obedient disciples in a peculiarly endearing manner; which could not but be a great comfort to them, and a rich equivalent for all the fatigue and expense which their zeal for him and his heavenly doctrine occasioned. Stretching forth his hand toward his disciples, he said, Behold my mother, &c. — “This short speech, related by the evangelists with great simplicity, is, without their seeming to have designed it, one of the finest encomiums imaginable. Could the most elaborate panegyric have done Jesus Christ and his religion half the honour which this divine sentiment hath done them? Whosoever shall do the will of my Father, &c., the same is my brother, and sister, and mother! — A saying, this, which will never be forgotten while there are memories in the world to retain it, or tongues to repeat it.” As if he had said, “I regard obedience to God so highly, that I prefer the relation it constitutes, and the union it begets, to the strongest ties of blood. They who do the will of my Father, have a much greater share of my esteem than my kinsmen, as such. I love them with an affection tender and steady, like that which subsists between the nearest relations; nay, I reckon them, and them only, my brethren, my sisters, and my mother. A high commendation this, and not a reflection upon our Lord’s mother, who, without doubt, was among the chief of those who did the will of God. What veneration should live in the hearts of men for Jesus and his religion, which exhibits such perfection in goodness!” — Macknight.

12:46-50 Christ's preaching was plain, easy, and familiar, and suited to his hearers. His mother and brethren stood without, desiring to speak with him, when they should have been standing within, desiring to hear him. Frequently, those who are nearest to the means of knowledge and grace are most negligent. We are apt to neglect that which we think we may have any day, forgetting that to-morrow is not ours. We often meet with hinderances in our work from friends about us, and are taken off by care for the things of this life, from the concerns of our souls. Christ was so intent on his work, that no natural or other duty took him from it. Not that, under pretence of religion, we may be disrespectful to parents, or unkind to relations; but the lesser duty must stand by, while the greater is done. Let us cease from men, and cleave to Christ; let us look upon every Christian, in whatever condition of life, as the brother, sister, or mother of the Lord of glory; let us love, respect, and be kind to them, for his sake, and after his example.See also Mark 3:31-35; Luke 8:19-21.

His brethren - There has been some difference of opinion about the persons who are referred to here, some supposing that they were children of Mary his mother, others that they were the children of Mary, the wife of Cleophas or Alpheus, his "cousins," and called "brethren" according to the customs of the Jews. The natural and obvious meaning is, however, that they were the children of Mary his mother. See also Mark 6:3. To this opinion, moreover, there can be no valid objection.

46. While he yet talked to the people, behold, his mother and his brethren—(See on [1285]Mt 13:55, 56).

stood without, desiring to speak with him—"and could not come at Him for the press" (Lu 8:19). For what purpose these came, we learn from Mr 3:20, 21. In His zeal and ardor He seemed indifferent both to food and repose, and "they went to lay hold of Him" as one "beside Himself." Mark (Mr 3:32) says graphically, "And the multitude sat about Him"—or "around Him."

See Poole on "Matthew 12:50".

While he yet talked to the people,.... Upon these subjects, which so nearly concerned the Scribes and Pharisees, and which could not fail of drawing upon him their resentment and ill will.

Behold his mother and his brethren: by "his mother" is meant Mary; but who are "his brethren", is not so easy to say: some are of opinion, that Joseph had children by Mary, who are here meant; but it is more generally believed, that these were either the sons of Joseph by a former wife, whose name is said to be Escha; or rather, Mary's sister's sons, the wife of Cleophas, the cousin-germans of Christ, it being usual with the Jews to call such kindred brethren; and so they might be James, Joses, Simon, and Judas: these

stood without: for Christ was within doors, not in a synagogue, as Piscator thought, but in an house; see Matthew 13:1 and his mother and brethren stood without doors, either because they could not get in for the throng of the people; or because they would not, it not being proper to make all within acquainted with what they had to say to him:

desiring to speak with him; not with a pure view to interrupt him in his work, or to divert him from it, lest he should overspend himself; nor from a principle of ambition and vain glory, to show that they were related to him, and that he was at their beck and command; but rather, to observe unto him the danger he exposed himself to, by the freedom he took with the Pharisees in his discourses, and probably to acquaint him with some conspiracies formed against him.

{10} While he yet talked to the people, behold, his mother and his brethren stood without, desiring to speak with him.

(10) Christ teaches by his own example that all things ought to be set aside in respect of God's glory.

Matthew 12:46-50. The same incident is given in Luke 8:19 ff. in a different but extremely loose connection, and, as there recorded, compares unfavourably with Matthew’s version (in answer to Schleiermacher, Keim). The occasion of the incident as given in Mark 3:20 ff. is altogether peculiar and no doubt historical.

οἱ ἀδελφοὶ αὐτοῦ] even if nothing more were said, these words would naturally be understood to refer to the brothers according to the flesh, sons of Joseph and Mary, born after Jesus; but this reference is placed beyond all doubt by the fact that the mother is mentioned at the same time (Mark 3:31; Luke 8:19; John 2:12; Acts 1:14), just as in Matthew 13:55 the father and the sisters are likewise mentioned along with him. The expressions in Matthew 1:25, Luke 2:7, find their explanation in the fact of the existence of those literal brothers of Jesus. Comp. note on Matthew 1:25; 1 Corinthians 9:4. The interpretations which make them sons of Mary’s sister, or half brothers, sons of Joseph by a previous marriage, were wrung from the words even at a very early period (the latter already to be found as a legend in Origen; the former, especially in Jerome, since whose time it has come to be generally adopted in the West), in consequence of the dogmatic assumption of Mary’s perpetual virginity (nay, even of a corresponding state of things on the part of her husband as well), and owing to the extravagant notions which were entertained regarding the superhuman holiness that attached to her person as called to be the mother of Jesus. The same line of interpretation is, for similar reasons, still adopted in the present day by Olshausen, Arnoldi, Friedlieb, L. J. § 36; Lange, apost. Zeitalt. p. 189 ff.; and in Herzog’s Encykl. VI. p. 415 ff.; Lichtenstein, L. J. p. 100 ff.; Hengstenberg on John 2:12; Schegg, and others; also Döllinger, Christenth. u. Kirche, p. 103 f., who take the brothers and sisters for sons and daughters of Alphaeus; while Hofmann, on the other hand, has abandoned this view, which he had previously maintained (Erlang. Zeitschr. 1851, Aug., p. 117), in favour of the correct interpretation (Schriftbew. II. 2, p. 405 f.). See, besides, Clemen in Winer’s Zeitschr. 1829, 3, p. 329 ff.; Blom, de τοῖς ἀδελφοῖς κυρίου, 1839; Wieseler in the Stud. u. Krit. 1842, p. 71 ff., and note on Galatians 1:19; Schaf, ueber d. Verh. des Jak. Bruders des Herrn zu Jakob. Alphäi, 1842; Neander, Gesch. d. Pflanzung u. s. w. p. 554 ff.; Hilgenfeld on Gal. p. 138 ff.; Wijbelingh, Diss. quis sit epistolae Jacobi scriptor, 1854, p. 1 ff.; Riggenbach, Vorles. üb. d. Leb. d. Herrn, p. 286 ff.; Huther on Jas. Einl. § 1; Kahnis, Dogm. I. p. 426 f.; Wiesinger, z. Br. Judä Einl.; Laurent, neut. Stud. p. 153 ff.; Keim, I. p. 422 ff. For the various interpretations of the Fathers, see Thilo, Cod. Apocr. I. p. 262 ff.

ἔξω] The former incident (Matthew 12:22 ff.) must therefore have occurred in some house. Mark 3:20; Luke 8:20.

ἐπὶ τοὺς μαθητὰς αὐτοῦ] not his hearers generally (τοὺς ὄχλους), and yet not merely the Twelve (Matthew 12:50), but those who followed Him in the character of disciples; these He indicated by pointing to them with the finger.

ἰδοὺ ἡ μήτηρ μου, κ.τ.λ.] my nearest relations in the true ideal sense of the word. Comp. Hom. Il. vi. 429; Dem. 237. 11; Xen. Anab. i. 3. 6, and Kühner’s note; Eur. Hec. 280 f., and Pflugk’s note. True kinship with Jesus is established not by physical, but by spiritual relationship; John 1:12 f., Matthew 3:3; Romans 8:29. In reference to the seeming harshness of the reply, Bengel appropriately observes: “Non spernit matrem, sed anteponit Patrem; Matthew 12:50, et nunc non agnoscit matrem et fratres sub hoc formali.” Comp. Jesus’ own requirement in Matthew 10:37. He is not to be understood as avowing a sharp determination to break off His connection with them (Weizsäcker, p. 400),—a view, again, which the account in Mark is equally inadequate to support. Besides, it is evident from our passage, compared with Mark 3:20 f., John 7:3, that the mother of Jesus, who is placed by the latter in the same category with the brothers, and ranked below the μαθηταί, cannot as yet be fairly classed among the number of His believers, strange as this may seem when viewed in the light of the early gospel narrative (Olshausen has recourse to the fiction of a brief struggle to believe). Again, judging from the whole repelling tendency of His answer, it would appear to be more probable that He declined the interview with His relations altogether, than that He afterwards still afforded them an opportunity of speaking with Him, as is supposed by Ebrard and Schegg. Be this as it may, there is nothing to justify Chrysostom and Theophylact in charging the mother and the brothers with ostentation, inasmuch as they had requested Jesus to come out to them, instead of their going in to Him.

ὅστις γὰρ, κ.τ.λ.] spoken in the full consciousness of His being the Son of God, who has duties incumbent upon Him in virtue of His mission.

αὐτός] He, no other.

Matthew 12:46-50. The relatives of Jesus (Mark 3:31-35; Luke 8:19-21). Matthew and Mark place this incident in connection with the discourse occasioned by Pharisaic calumny. Luke gives it in a quite different connection. The position assigned it by Matthew and Mark is at least fitting, and through it one can understand the motive. Not vanity: a desire to make a parade of their influence over their famous relative on the part of mother and brethren (Chrys., Theophy., etc.), but solicitude on His account and a desire to extricate Him from trouble. This incident should be viewed in connection with the statement in Mark 3:21 that friends thought Jesus beside Himself. They wished to rescue Him from Himself and from men whose ill-will He had, imprudently, they probably thought, provoked.

46–50. Jesus is sought by His Mother and Brethren. The true Mother and Brethren of Jesus

Mark 3:31-35; Luke 8:19-21The account is given with very slight variation by the three Synoptists. But see Mark 3:21; Mark 3:30-31, where a motive is suggested—“When his friends heard of it, they went out to lay hold on him: for they said, He is beside himself” (Matthew 12:21). Comp. the then=therefore, of Matthew 12:31. It would seem that the Pharisees, on the pretext that Jesus had a demon, had persuaded His friends to secure Him. This was another device to destroy Jesus, see Matthew 12:14; Matthew 12:38.

Matthew 12:46. Μήτηρ, mother) It is clear that, on this occasion, the thoughts and feelings of Mary were not in unison with those of her Son.—[593]Αὐτῷ, unto Him) as if for His sake.[594]

[593] Οἱ ἀδελφοὶ αὐτοῦ) These were not sons whom Joseph had brought to Mary at their marriage; for Christ, as He was accounted the Son of Joseph, so was accounted as absolutely his first-begotten Son.—V. g.

[594] Their intention was to interrupt him; Mark 3:21; Mark 3:31.—V. g.

Verses 46-50 -

(2) The opposition that our Lord met with from his relations. He shows that not natural but spiritual relationship is all-important. Parallel passages: Mark 3:31-35; Luke 8:19-21. The section belonged originally to the Framework. Verse 46. - While he yet talked; while he was yet speaking (Revised Version); i.e. on the occasion which formed the basis of the preceding discourse (vers. 22-45). To the people; to the multitudes (Revised Version). Behold, his mother and his brethren (Matthew 13:55) stood without (so that he was in a house), desiring (seeking, Revised Version, ζητοῦντες, they evidently made attempts) to speak with him. Matthew 12:46
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