“And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphæus sitting at the receipt of custom, and said unto him, Follow me. And he arose and followed him.”
When a relationship is mentioned (“son of Alphaeus”), it is normally either because:
The relative (in this case, Alphaeus) was known to Mark’s audience.
Mark wants to distinguish the person from others with the same name. (While there is no other Levi in Mark’s Gospel, there could have been another Levi known to Mark’s audience.)
We do not know which is the case here. Either way, this phrase presents a bit of a puzzle since Levi is not mentioned elsewhere in the NT and since there is no “Levi” on the lists of the Twelve. There are several possibilities for what has happened here:
Mark 3:18 refers to James as the “son of Alphaeus.” So:
Levi might be the brother of James (which is a helpful data point, but doesn’t solve the problem).
“Levi” might be another name for “James.” (Some manuscripts read “James” instead of “Levi” here, but that is almost certainly a later reading.) It was not uncommon for people to be known by more than one name; we know that Jesus himself renamed a disciple on at least one occasion although, unlike with Simon Peter, there is no story in the text describing a renaming of Levi.
It is possible that this might not even be the same “Alphaeus;” there could be no relationship whatsoever between Levi and James.
The reason that Levi is not mentioned on any of the lists of the Twelve is because Levi was not one of the Twelve. This story states that Jesus called Levi to follow him but does not mention a specific calling; it is certainly possible that Jesus called Levi to a different role.
Matthew 9:9-13, which is parallel to this story, has a toll collector named Matthew (although he is not called the son of Alphaeus). Because the name Matthew appears on the apostolic lists and he was also a publican, perhaps Levi was another name for Matthew. (This seems to be how the Gospel of Matthew understands this story, but this does not necessarily mean that Mark understood the situation in the same way.)
The word “Levi” could be a tribal marker (“the Levite”) and not a proper name. The idea of a Levite tax collector would be most ironic, since tax collectors were regarded as particularly unclean while Levites needed to be clean to perform the temple rituals. But most scholars do not accept reading “Levite” here since it would be odd for Jesus to call someone without his name being included in the story.
Regardless, the emphasis here is not on Levi’s identity, but the fact that he was a tax collector.
In a culture and time period that were so male-centric, the attention that Jesus paid to women was noteworthy. All four of the gospels, and especially Luke, contain stories of Jesus healing women, teaching them, including them in his parables, and even allowing them to become part of his ministry. In addition to three individual stories about Jesus healing women, Luke also includes a summary that notes how Jesus was accompanied in his Galilean ministry by a group of women “which had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities,” including Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna, “and many others, which ministered unto him of their substance” (Luke 8:2–3). All this is particularly striking in the cultural context of the gospels, in which Jewish men would be wary of interaction and especially any kind of physical contact with women to whom they were not related. The fact that none of these women are directly named allows them to serve as types of all women whom Jesus invites to come to him and be healed. Continue reading →
The divinity of Jesus that the miracle at Cana symbolized was even more clearly demonstrated in those nature miracles that are the clearest examples of epiphanies, or direct revelations of a divine identity. The twin examples of Jesus’ calming a storm on the Sea of Galilee and his later walking on that same body of water are striking illustrations of this because they employ common Near Eastern symbols of creation, which often involved a deity defeating the unruly powers of chaos, which were often represented with images of stormy seas. But more importantly, because the Hebrew Bible credited YHWH, or Jehovah, with the ability to subdue the sea and tread upon the face of the waters, these New Testament miracles directly connect Jesus with the Jehovah of the Old Testament.
Mark 4:35–41 gives the earliest account of Jesus stilling a storm and thereby saving his disciples. Continue reading →
Gospel Doctrine Lesson 7 focuses on the miracles of Jesus, a topic that has been of great interest to me the last several years, and the results of my research and thinking on this topic have recently been published by Deseret Book as The Miracles of Jesus. Continue reading →
Another early miracle, the healing of the paralyzed man at Capernaum (KJV, “one sick of the palsy”), who was lowered through the roof by his friends, appears in all three Synoptic gospels (Mark 2:1–12; Matthew 9:1–8; Luke 5:17–26). The scene is set with Jesus teaching inside a private home, which overflowed with people who came to hear him. The only way that the paralyzed man’s friends could bring him close to Jesus was to tear up the roof of the house and lower him down through the hole. Jesus acknowledged their efforts as a sign of their faith, but before healing the man, he makes a pronouncement that causes contention with some of the Jewish scribes present: “Son, thy sins be forgiven thee” (Mark 2:5). Continue reading →
One of the earliest miracles recorded in the Synoptics is the cleansing of a leper (Mark 1:40–45; Matthew 8:1–4; Luke 5:12–15). Leprosy in the biblical world was not necessarily the better known Hansen’s Disease. Instead, it was a catch-all condition for a spectrum of conditions that affected the skin or even clothing and dwellings (see Leviticus 13:1–59). While some cases may have indeed involved considerable deformity and sickness, every instance of biblical leprosy had significant ritual, and hence social, implications as the sufferer was excluded from religious life and often even the company of others. Hence, the leper who first approached Jesus needed help and attention beyond simply being healed of his disease. Continue reading →
Mark’s Gospel does not contain any specific dates for its contents or writing. It is possible that Mark was written in stages (either because Mark himself wrote the Gospel over a number of years or because he incorporated passages that were written by someone else at an earlier time, or both). There is a high degree of scholarly consensus that the Gospel of Mark was written in the 60s. Continue reading →
Regardless of our assumptions about “Mark” the author, we might wonder to what extent the writer simply transmitted the traditions about Jesus that he received (from Peter or from others) or reshaped them. As Joel Marcus phrased the question, was Mark a “conservative redactor [=editor] or creative theologian?”