Jesus “Could Do No Mighty Work There”?
According to Mark 6:5, while Jesus was in His hometown of Nazareth, “He could do no mighty work there, except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them” (emp. added). Based upon this statement, some have concluded that Jesus must have lacked the power to work all manner of miracles in His hometown.1 Allegedly, Jesus was not God and the Bible’s depiction of Him is contradictory.
Are skeptics correct? Does Mark’s statement pose a problem for Christians who believe the Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God and that Jesus is divine?
A Matter of Inability or Circumstance?
Have you ever made the statement, “I couldn’t do it”? Perhaps you repeatedly attempted to open up a tightly sealed jar, but “just couldn’t do it.” Maybe you tried to run a marathon, but stopped from exhaustion midway through the race. Later, you reflected on the race and told someone, “I simply couldn’t do it.” Statements made in such contexts clearly indicate that a person is physically unable to accomplish the tasks at hand.
It is also possible, however, to make the statement “I couldn’t do it” yet mean something very different. Suppose a football coach is beating a team 50-0 at halftime and certain fans are begging him to “hang a hundred on them.” But the coach responds: “I couldn’t do that.” Though it is likely within his power to score 80 or 100 points, the situation demands that he not attempt to follow through with his normal game plan. The coach chooses to adjust his strategy and win in a more gracious manner.
Consider also the wealthy grandfather who travels to visit his grandson on the boy’s 12th birthday. Though he had planned to give his grandson $50, after seeing how disrespectful, ungrateful, and spoiled rotten the boy has become, he chooses not to give him anything. When he departs, the grandfather says to his daughter, “I simply could not give such insolent offspring anything.” Obviously, this statement does not mean that the grandfather was literally unable to give his grandson something, but that the circumstances made it so that he could not allow himself to do anything other than show up for the boy’s birthday party.
The simple fact is, when something “cannot be done” it may very well have to do with the circumstances at hand and not one’s inability to actually perform the action. In truth, not only are skeptics unable to prove that Jesus actually lacked power and ability in Nazareth, the immediate context and the parallel passages in Matthew and Luke indicate that the restraint Jesus willingly displayed was a result of the particular situation in his hometown.
Consider the many amazing miracles of Jesus that Mark reports in chapters five and six of his gospel account. In Mark 5, Jesus heals a demon-possessed man as well as a woman with a continual bleeding issue. He then raises a 12-year-old girl from the dead. In Mark 6:7-56, Jesus gives the 12 apostles power over unclean spirits, so that they “cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick, and healed them” (6:7,13). Later, Jesus miraculously feeds 5,000 men (plus the women and children; Matthew 14:21), with only five loaves of bread and two fish. He then walks on water. Mark 6 concludes with these words: “Wherever He [Jesus] entered into villages, cities, or the country, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged Him that they might just touch the hem of His garment. And as many as touched Him were made well.”
Mark’s account of Jesus’ limited miracles in Nazareth is immersed in an overall context of Him working all manner of miracles, including raising someone from the dead. What’s more, Jesus was actually “able” to heal a “few sick people” in Nazareth (6:5). Given all of these facts, one should, at the very least, seriously question the critics’ conclusion that Jesus was simply not powerful enough to work more miracles in His hometown. The overall context of the passage implicitly testifies to a different conclusion: that is, Jesus chose not to work more miracles in Nazareth because of the circumstances.
Even though Jesus spoke astonishing words of wisdom (Mark 6:2) like “no man ever” (John 7:46; Matthew 7:28-29), and though He performed “mighty works” (Mark 6:2), including healing some of Nazareth’s sick (6:5), overall, the town disbelieved that He was the prophesied Messiah (Luke 4:16ff.). The inhabitants not only rejected Him (despite the wonders that He had already worked), but they were so enraged by His teachings that they “thrust Him out of the city” and “led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw Him down over the cliff” (Luke 4:29). At such hard-hearted unbelief, Jesus “marveled” (Mark 6:6).
Jesus knew that more miracles was not the answer. He had provided sufficient evidence for those of His hometown to come to the rational conclusion that He was not merely the son of Joseph and Mary; rather, He was One on Whom Isaiah prophesied “the Spirit of the Lord” would rest (Luke 4:18). Yet, they kicked Him out of the city anyway. He was the miracle-working, prophesied Messiah, yet it appears that no amount of evidence would change Nazareth’s unbelief.
In short, the circumstances of unbelief in Nazareth made it so that “He could do no mighty work there” (Mark 6:5). Perhaps no more than a few people even bothered to come to Jesus for healing. Or perhaps others came to Jesus, but they approached Him in a disingenuous, mocking manner. Whatever the case may have been, Jesus chose to work no more miracles in Nazareth than He did (before being thrown out of the city). Thus, the problem in Nazareth was not one of powerlessness on the part of Christ, but the inhabitants’ strong unbelief (and all that went along with it).
1 See “Jesus is a False Messiah” (2016), www.evilbible.com/do-not-ignore-the-old-testament/jesus-is-a-false-messiah. See also Steve Wells (2016), “How Much Power Did Jesus Have?” www.skepticsannotatedbible.com/contra/power.html.