Mark Goodacre posted today on the “orthodox redaction of Mark.” While I certainly agree that we find later redactors transforming their sources to be more in line with their own convictions (whether about “orthodoxy” or other matters), I am not persuaded that the first example Mark offers represents such a case.
Mark (Goodacre, not the other one) writes:
Take, for example, the question of Jesus’ father. In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus does not have a human father. He is “the craftsman, the son of Mary” (Mark 6.3); his father is in heaven and addresses Jesus directly as his son (Mark 1.11, 9.7) and Jesus calls him “Abba” (Mark 14.36). Other supernatural beings know that he is God’s son too (3.11). The unwary reader of Mark might easily assume that Mark’s Jesus, who simply appears on the scene as an adult in Mark 1, is some kind of god, perhaps the product of a union between a god and Mary. Matthew sees the problem. He gives Jesus a father, named Joseph; indeed, he begins the book with him (Matt. 1). In redacting the Rejection and Nazareth story, he makes Jesus “the son of the craftsman” (Matt. 13.55) so that there can be no doubt about the matter.
It seems to me that, on the one hand, to suggest that Mark’s readers would have thought he did not have a human father is to make too much of silences. As a rule, we assume that people have fathers, even when we don’t mention them, and it seems to me that an exception to that rule would have required an explicit claim rather than silence. And while it is common for commentators to suggest that “son of Mary” reflected rumors that Jesus was illegitimate and his father unknown, that too seems to be reading too much into Mark’s language, which is not followed by any defence of Jesus’ legitimacy. [In my article “Was Jesus Illegitimate?” I discuss this topic in more detail.]
On the other hand, Matthew seems to be moving the tradition away from Jesus having had a human father, if the infancy story is anything to go by. And given the infancy story, we should indeed be puzzled by Matthew 13:55. Perhaps the reader is supposed to detect irony and answer the question which the people of his home town ask in the negative: this isn’t Joseph’s son, this is God’s son. But that would mean that Matthew is here emphasizing rather than downplaying the view that Jesus is God’s son, and in my view, he is taking that belief further than Mark does by actually denying that Jesus had a human father.
Since Luke 4:22 agrees with Matthew against Mark in mentioning Jesus’ father here, this could also provide a basis for discussing Synoptic interrelations – another interest that Mark Goodacre and I share.