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“Those from [παρά] him” (Mark 3:21)
I came across an interesting situation this morning in Sunday School. (You remember Sunday School? That mid-level entry point into our mega churches?) The NIV translates Mark 3:21 as, “when his family heard about this… “?
"Family" is a translation of οἱ παρ᾿ αὐτοῦ, which is to say, rather strange. In which sense are these people παρά him?
The most natural reading of the Greek, France says, is to see this group of people as “his envoys,” and context would decide the precise identity of the envoys. There is no suggestion yet in the text that the envoys are his family. And yet the logic of the verse forbids this interpretation. The disciples were in the house, and then they would have had to go outside in order to get him when he is already inside. (The NIV unfortunately obscures the translation of ἐξῆλθον with the plain “went.”)
France mentions the possible colloquial use of οἱ παρ᾿ αὐτοῦ as “kinsman” or “houseful,” but concludes that “this could hardly be said to be its normal sense.”
The translation “family” can only come from the vv 31 – 35 and is followed by most translations. Other possibilities are “his own people” (NASB, NKJV), “his friends” (KJV), and “ relations” (NJB). But the use of παρά suggests some sort of separation that would not be appropriate for a close group of friends.
Mark 3:7ff. begins a series of pericopes showing how different groups of people responded to Jesus. We have already seen a positive response on the part of most people (chapter 1) and a negative response on the part of the religious leaders (chapter 2). Many people were attracted to his healing power (3:7-12). There is an inner group to whom Jesus gives authority (3:13–19), which of course means that there are people on the “outside.”
Jesus’s own family, οἱ παρ᾿ αὐτοῦ, think that he has “flipped out,” and are coming to take him away where he cannot damage himself or the family’s reputation. Before they can arrive, sandwiched into the narrative, is how yet another group respond to him; the teachers of the law from Jerusalem say that he is demon possessed. Having delivered this declaration, Jesus’s mother and brothers and sisters arrive, confirming how they responded to Jesus’s preaching and healing.
When you are faced with the actions of Jesus, you must make a decision. There is no fence to sit on. If you are on the inside, what a marvelous joy awaits. In an astonishingly radical statement, Jesus proclaims that the core cultural unit is no longer the nuclear family but rather the family of faith. My mother and brothers and sisters are not those who think I am insane; my family are those who do the will of God.
I don’t think this statement negates the value of the nuclear family; there are enough other statements in Scripture that shows the value of blood relations. What Jesus does is put the nuclear family in proper perspective, and the primary social unit for disciples in the kingdom of God is the family of faith. And we all know what eventually happened to Jesus’s nuclear family.
I wonder what it would be like to live in a discipleship community where Jesus’s words were given the weight they deserve, but without becoming a cult?