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Well Known in Galilee - Twice

Why Does Jesus Preach Throughout Galilee on Two Different Occasions?

In the Gospel according to Luke, after Jesus is tempted by the devil he preaches in the synagogues in the region all around Galilee, becoming well known (famous, as the KJV has it) in the process (English and Greek text taken from the NET):

Then Jesus, in the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, [Lk 4:14a]
and news about him spread throughout the surrounding countryside. [Lk 4:14b] 
[And] He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by all. [Lk 4:15] 
Καὶ ὑπέστρεψεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἐν τῇ δυνάμει τοῦ πνεύματος εἰς τὴν Γαλιλαίαν. 
καὶ φήμη ἐξῆλθενκαθ᾿ ὅλης τῆς περιχώρου περὶ αὐτοῦ. 
καὶ αὐτὸς ἐδίδασκεν ἐν ταῖς συναγωγαῖς αὐτῶνδοξαζόμενος ὑπὸ πάντων.

Having done this, Jesus then preaches in two named places: Nazareth (in Lk 4:16-30) and Capernaum (in Lk 4:31-36), after which (rather implausibly) the news about him spreads all over again around the same area (Capernaum being on the shore of the Sea of Galilee)!

So the news about him spread into all areas of the region. [Lk 4:37]
καὶ ἐξεπορεύετο ἦχος περὶ αὐτοῦ εἰςπάντα τόπον τῆς περιχώρου.

Jesus then leaves the synagogue in Capernaum, and heals Simon’s mother-in-law and others (Lk 4:38-41). Following this he goes to a desert place where the people ask him to stay, but he says that he has to preach in other towns, and so he continues to preach in the synagogues of (according to the NET) Judea:

But [he] said to them, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns too, for that is what I was sent to do.” [Lk 4:43]
So he continued to preach in the synagogues of Judea. [Lk 4:44] 
ὁ δὲ εἶπεν πρὸς αὐτοὺς ὅτικαὶ ταῖς ἑτέραις πόλεσιν εὐαγγελίσασθαι με δεῖ τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ, ὅτι ἐπὶ τοῦτο ἀπεστάλην. 
Καὶ ἦν κηρύσσων εἰς τὰς συναγωγὰς τῆς Ἰουδαίας.

Although the NET has “Judea” at the end of Lk 4:44, the majority of mss read “Galilee,” and so according to this alternative reading, Jesus went back to Galilee yet again to preach in their synagogues once more. The variants in Lk 4:44 are discussed in this note in the NET:

Most mss (A D Θ Ψ Ë13 33 Ï latt) have “of Galilee”; others, “of the Jews” (W). “Judea” (read by Ì75 א B Q 579 892 pc sa, and [with minor variation] C L Ë1 1241) is probably the original reading since it is both the harder reading and supported by the best witnesses. “Galilee” is an assimilation to Mark 1:39 and Matt 4:23.

There are some significant narrative problems here:

  1. The news about Jesus (his “fame” in the KJV) spreads both before preaching in Nazareth and Capernaum, (Lk 4:14b) and after (Lk 4:37); 
  2. In Lk 4:43-44 Jesus appears to have forgotten that (according to most mss) he had already preached all over Galilee in Lk 4:14-15; 
  3. There is also the well known problem that in Nazareth Jesus refers to healings in Capernaum that appear to have not yet taken place.

From their similarity, it is clear that Lk 4:14b/37 and 4:15/44 are doublets, and it is a reasonable inference that one of the verses in each doublet is 'more original' than the other. On this point it is worth noting that Lk 4:14b-15 have no parallels in either Mark or Matthew, while Lk 4:37 has a close parallel at Mk 1:28, and Lk 4:44 at Mk 1:39a.

So the news about him spread quickly throughout all the region around Galilee. [Mk 1:28]
καὶ ἐξῆλθεν ἡ ἀκοὴ αὐτοῦ εὐθὺς πανταχοῦ εἰς ὅλην τὴν περίχωρον τῆς Γαλιλαίας.

He replied, “Let us go elsewhere, into the surrounding villages, so that I can preach there too. For that is what I came out here to do.” [Mk 1:38]
So he went into all of Galilee preaching in their synagogues … [Mk 1:39a] 
καὶ λέγει αὐτοῖς· ἄγωμεν ἀλλαχοῦ εἰς τὰς ἐχομένας κωμοπόλεις, ἵνα καὶἐκεῖ κηρύξω· εἰς τοῦτο γὰρ ἐξῆλθον. 
Καὶ ἦλθεν κηρύσσων εἰς τὰς συναγωγὰς αὐτῶν εἰς ὅληντὴν Γαλιλαίαν

In fact, the whole passage from Lk 4:31-44 has a close parallel at Mk 1:21-39a, which, assuming Markan priority, is almost certainly the origin of these verses in Luke. Consequently, either Lk 4:14b-15 come from a non-Markan source, or are later interpolations in Luke, based on Lk 4:37 and 4:44 (or perhaps Mk 1:28 and 1:39a) respectively. 

Despite the whole Capernaum passage at Mark 1:21-39a being a close parallel to Lk 4:31-44, there is one big difference: In Mark (and also in the shorter parallel in Matthew) this passage takes place before Jesus preaches in the synagogue at Nazareth, while in Luke it takes place afterwards (i.e. in Luke Capernaum and Nazareth are swapped when compared with Mark and Matthew). Also, as neither Mark nor Matthew have equivalents to Lk 4:14b-15, in these gospels there is no problem when we read at the end of the Capernaum episode that Jesus then preached throughout Galilee, because this had not already happened.

In both Mark and Luke the statement that Jesus preached in the synagogues in Galilee (or perhaps Judea) marks the end of the Capernaum episode. However, while in Mark the preaching in Nazareth is still to come, in Luke it has already happened, and, apparently, Jesus has already (Lk 4:14-15) preached all over Galilee. Therefore, as it appears that these latter two verses are redundant, why are they present in Luke at all?

Even though in Luke Jesus preaches in Nazareth before Capernaum, in Nazareth Jesus is able to say:

“No doubt you will quote to me the proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ and say, ‘What we have heard that you did in Capernaum, do here in your hometown too.’” [Lk 4:23]

As at this point in Luke there has been no mention of Jesus preaching in Capernaum, so how can he make such a suggestion? The answer is that this is the function (the only function) of Lk 4:14b-15: to provide some context suggesting that Jesus could have already preached in Capernaum before Nazareth. There is no equivalent to these verses in either Mark or Matthew simply because Lk 4:23 has no equivalent in either of these gospels, and so their function is not required.

However, there is plenty of evidence that in Luke Capernaum originally came before Nazareth (see Capernaum or Nazareth First?), as it also did in Marcion’s Gospel of the Lord, and therefore at this time Lk 4:14b-15 would have served no purpose, so would not have been in Luke (and indeed were not in Marcion’s gospel - see Lk 4 – Capernaum First ...). Instead, this text was only added later, when Capernaum and Nazareth were swapped (so occupying the positions in which we see them today), in order to suggest that Jesus could have preached in Nazareth before Capernaum.

This then makes sense of the variant seen at the end of Lk 4:44, which in the NET reads “Judea,” but most mss read “Galilee.” Here the assessment of which variant is likely to be original is wrong, as it is based on the (incorrect) assumption that the original order of the verses in Lk 1-4 was the same as we see today. However, when it is acknowledged that in Luke Capernaum originally came before Nazareth then it is easy to see that “Galilee” is the original reading in Luke, following the parallel at Mark 1:39a. The other two readings (“Judea” and "of the Jews”) then only came about later, after Capernaum and Nazareth were swapped (so occupying the positions in which we see them today) and Lk 4:14b-15 had been added, in order to avoid the implication that Jesus had simply gone back to Galilee again to preach, and had ignored everywhere else.


Brooks, E. Bruce: Prolegomena to Proto-Luke, SBL, San Diego, 2007

Padfield, David: Capernaum: the City of Jesus

If you have any comments, questions, suggestions, etc. regarding this topic please email me at davidinglis2@comcast.net