Jesus Invites Peter, Andrew, James and John to Be Fishers of Men (Luke 5:1-11)

Submitted by admin on Sun, 2007-08-05 09:24.

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After leaving Nazareth, Jesus made his home in Capernaum and, initially, appears to have labored alone, proclaiming the need for repentance and the news that the “kingdom of heaven” or the “kingdom of God” had come near. Galilee included the ancient tribal territories of Zebulun and Naphtali. Jesus’ ministry there fulfilled the prophetic words of Isaiah: “Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, [by] way of the sea, across from the Jordan, Galilee of the nations — the people sitting in darkness have seen a great light, and for those sitting in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.” (Matthew 4:13-17; see the Notes section for additional comments about Isaiah’s prophecy.)

In time, Jesus began to choose men from among his disciples to be more closely associated with him in his activity. On one occasion, as he stood beside the Sea of Galilee (the lake of Gennesaret), many people gathered around him and were pressing in upon him, desiring to hear the “word of God.” On the shore were two boats, and the fishermen were washing their nets. Jesus stepped into the boat belonging to Simon Peter and asked him to pull out a short distance from the shore. Seating himself in the boat, Jesus began to teach the crowds. (Luke 5:1-3)

After having finished speaking, he told Peter and his brother Andrew to take the boat to deep water and let down their nets for a catch. Although having toiled all night without catching anything, Simon Peter agreed to act on Jesus’ directive. Upon doing so, Peter and Andrew caught so many fish that the nets began to rip. They motioned to their partners, James and John (the sons of Zebedee), to come to assist them. (Luke 5:4-7)

Together, they filled both boats to the point that they were about to sink. Seemingly because of feeling unworthy on account of being a sinner, Simon Peter fell to his knees before Jesus, and was emotionally moved to say, “Go away from me, for I am a sinful man, Lord.” The tremendous catch of fish astonished all four fishermen, and Jesus reassured Peter, “Fear not; from now on you will be catching men.” After bringing the boats back to the shore, Peter, Andrew, James, and John responded to the call to follow Jesus. (Luke 5:7-11; see the Notes section for more details.)

Departing from the seashore, Jesus and his disciples walked to Capernaum. (Mark 1:21) They probably headed for the home of Peter and Andrew.


The quotation from Isaiah 8:23(9:1) and 9:1(2) in Matthew 4:15, 16 varies somewhat from the extant text of Septuagint manuscripts. The Septuagint reads, “Country of Zebulun, the land of Naphtali, [by] way of the sea, and the rest who dwell by the seashore and across from the Jordan, Galilee of the nations, the parts of Judea: O people who walk in darkness, see a great light! O dwellers in the country and shadow of death, light will shine upon you.”

Not all Septuagint manuscripts include the words “way of the sea.” The expression “across from the Jordan,” as relates to the location of Galilee, would mean the region across from the Jordan when coming from the east.

After “land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,” the Masoretic Text reads, “and in the latter time he will cause the way of the sea to be honored.” This differs considerably from the extant Septuagint text, which mentions no such development regarding the “way of the sea.”

Situated in the northern part of the ten-tribe kingdom, Naphtali and Zebulun often suffered from enemy attacks. During the reign of Pekah, Assyrian monarch Tiglath-pileser III invaded, conquering Galilee and taking inhabitants of Naphtali into exile. (2 Kings 15:29) As Isaiah 8:22 indicates, this proved to be a period of distress and darkness, with no bright prospect. The time would come, however, when such humiliating treatment as the Assyrians had meted out would not be experienced, when Naphtali and Zebulun would be honored. After the exile, the region of Galilee again became populous. Contrasting with the gloom and distress of the past, the time of restoration was a period of joy comparable to a celebration at the time of harvest. (Isaiah 9:3) As if a new day had dawned, the darkness had been dispelled. Where people had once walked in darkness or resided in gloom on account of difficult circumstances, living in the land of “deep shadow,” there then came to be a light.

Centuries later, when God’s Son engaged in extensive activity around the Sea of Galilee, light did indeed shine upon the people. As the “light of the world” (John 8:12), Jesus Christ brought comfort and hope to the oppressed and disadvantaged ones. He also liberated many from their physical afflictions. Most importantly, he refreshed them spiritually and opened up to all who accepted him the inestimable honor of being God’s children and benefiting from his guidance and loving care.

The events surrounding the response of Peter, Andrew, James, and John to Jesus’ invitation to follow him are presented in a very brief way in Matthew and Mark. According to Matthew’s account, Jesus walked along the shore of the Sea of Galilee when he saw Peter and Andrew casting a net into the sea. He invited them to follow him and told them he would make them “fishers of men.” “They immediately left their nets and followed him.” He then saw the brothers James and John in the boat with their father Zebedee. They were mending their nets. When Jesus called them, they immediately left the boat and their father to follow him. (Matthew 4:18-22) Mark’s account is almost identical, with the exception of the addition that there were also hired men with Zebedee. (Mark 1:16-20) This detail reveals that James and John did not leave their father without assistance.

Luke’s account provides more detail, and first introduces the four fisherman as being outside their boats and washing their nets. Initially, though, as Matthew reports, Jesus may have seen Peter and Andrew casting a net into the sea. After the surprisingly large catch of fish, Peter and Andrew brought their boat to the shore, as did James and John. A comparatively short distance would have separated the two boats, and the men would have busied themselves in attending to the catch.

During fishing operations, nets would at times tear, and so it would not have been unusual for Jesus later to have seen James and John mending their nets. When Peter and Andrew tried to pull up the large catch, their nets did tear. The account does not say that James and John, on coming to assist, also used their nets and that these ripped in the process. This is, however, a possibility. On the other hand, James and John may have been mending tears in their nets from other fishing operations.

In Luke 5:10, the reassurance about not being afraid is specifically directed to Peter. The aspect concerning “catching men,” however, applied to all four fishermen, as the Greek verb for “will be catching” is second person plural.

The condensed accounts should clearly not be taken to mean that Peter and Andrew left the fish to rot in the boat and the nets in disarray. The major change in their life was that they were from then onward far more closely associated with Jesus in his activity and witnessed most of what he said and did. The biblical accounts serve to identify Jesus as the Son of God, and how the disciples cared for family affairs during this period does not contribute to the all-important message. So the absence of this kind of information should not be taken to mean that the disciples neglected basic responsibilities and left wives and children to fend for themselves as best they could. When Jesus extended the invitation to Peter, Andrew, James, and John to follow him, they did not put off accepting it but responded without delay. They let nothing interfere with what acceptance of Jesus’ invitation required of them. As “fishers of men,” they would search for responsive ones and share with them the message that Jesus directed them to proclaim.

It may be noted that the disciples continued to use a boat, likely the one belonging to Peter. After Jesus’ resurrection, Peter and six other disciples went fishing, and the net in which 153 large fish were caught was in good condition. (Matthew 8:23; 9:1; 13:1, 2; 14:13, 22; 15:39; Mark 3:9; Luke 8:22, 23; John 21:2, 3, 11)

See for pictures of and comments about the Sea of Galilee.