How to cite this article: JP Staff Writer, “The Social Jesus: Beyond an Individualist Reading of the Capernaum Synagogue Incident,” Jerusalem Perspective (2023) [https://www.jerusalemperspective.com/27611/].
Readers of the New Testament Gospels who have inherited the modern individualist mindset often miss important social dynamics at play in the stories about Jesus. When Jesus healed the sick, proclaimed forgiveness to sinners, and expelled demons, he did so within a social context and not merely on an individual, one-on-one basis. Jesus’ message and his miracles had an effect on the entire community, not just on the individuals immediately involved. Removing our individualist blinders can help us more fully appreciate what is going on in the Gospel accounts and can help us understand why the drama unfolds the way it does. Reading the Gospels from a social perspective can also make sense of unusual or disturbing details that are typically ignored or overlooked because they do not fit into an individualist frame of reference.
To demonstrate the usefulness of a social approach to the Gospel narratives we will take a fresh look at the Capernaum Synagogue incident found in Mark 1:21-28 and Luke 4:31-37. Since the differences between these parallel accounts will not be of much importance for the purposes of our investigation, we will primarily follow Luke’s version, which, in our view, has certain features that are more authentic than the version found in Mark.
It is the social, rather than the individualist, reading of the Capernaum Synagogue incident that makes the best sense of its details and taps its full potential. In place of the anemic conception of Jesus relating only to individuals, we have begun to appreciate an understanding of the social Jesus who creates and sustains community.
For more on the Capernaum Synagogue incident, check out these JP articles:
David Flusser, “Teaching with Authority: The Development of Jesus’ Portrayal as a Teacher within the Synoptic Tradition”
Joshua N. Tilton and David N. Bivin, “Teaching in Kefar Nahum” (a segment of the LOY Commentary)