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Call of the Disciples

Note of the Day – February 25 (Mark 3:20-34)

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The next topic to be discussed in this section, on the Galilean Ministry of Jesus (cf. the Introduction), are the traditions involving Jesus’ family and relatives. This is a simpler study, in that only a very few passages in the Gospels relate to it. However, it is most interesting for our study of the development of the Gospel Tradition, since it demonstrates how traditions, expressing a different point of view or emphasis, can develop alongside one another.

In the early Church, Jesus’ natural family—his brothers and mother (Mary)—held a prominent and revered position, which, by the first half of the 2nd century, had become quite well-established. This is indicated already in the New Testament in several places (1 Cor 9:5; Acts 1:14; Luke 1:26-56), especially with regard to the position of James among the Christians in Jerusalem (Gal 1:19; Acts 12:17; 15:13ff, etc). However, the early Gospel tradition tells rather a different story. There are scant references to Jesus’ family and relatives, but those which have come down to us are characterized by misunderstanding, even hostility, to Jesus’ ministry. There are two main passages to be discussed:

  1. Mark 3:20-35 (vv. 20-21, 31-35) and parallels
  2. The Episode at Nazareth (Mark 6:1-6a par)

According to the method I have adopted in this series, I begin with the Gospel of Mark as representing the basic Synoptic tradition. This is not to say that Mark’s account is always the earliest or simplest version, but it generally shows fewer signs of (secondary) development, compared with Matthew and Luke.

Mark 3:20-35

As it happens, this section follows directly after the calling of the Twelve (Apostles) by Jesus (3:13-19), as discussed extensively in the prior notes. In the Markan narrative this provides a clear and distinct contrast between Jesus’ relatives (his natural family) and his followers (his true/spiritual family). Two episodes are brought together in this section—verses 20-21 and 31-35, respectively. In the middle of these we find the “Beelzebul controversy” (vv. 22-30), a (hostile) encounter between Jesus and certain ‘experts’ on Scripture (the Law/Torah) who have come down from Jerusalem to see him. This controversy scene centers on the healing miracles performed by Jesus (cf. the immediate context of verses 7-12 & 15), which involved the exorcism (casting out) of the (semi-)divine beings (daimons), or spirits, understood as being responsible for many diseases and ailments.

According to the monotheistic view of Israelites and Jews, true deity only existed in God the Father (El/Yahweh [YHWH]). As a natural consequence, all other ‘lesser’ deities, recognized by the surrounding nations, were relegated to the position of evil spirits. The famous Canaanite deity of Baal (i.e. the “Lord/Master”, Haddu), so well-known from ancient tradition, was fittingly viewed as the “Prince” of these daimons (or “demons”). This designation was preserved in the Gospels, transliterated in Greek as Beelzebou/l (Beelzeboúl, “Baal-Zebul, originally “Baal [the] Exalted [One]”).

The thematic connection between the Beelzebul episode and verses 20-21 is important to note. Consider the sequence of events narrated in these two verses:

  • A crowd of followers has gathered around Jesus at the house where he was residing (v. 19b-20). No doubt this was due to the many healing miracles he had been performing (vv. 7-12).
  • Certain friends/relatives/acquaintances of Jesus (lit. “the ones alongside [of] him”), hearing about the miracles, and, it would seem, shocked by the sensation caused by his ministry, respond dramatically (v. 21):
    (a) they went out to “grasp hold” of him (i.e. seize him)
    (b) they declared “he stands out of (himself)”, i.e. is “out of his mind”

To cite a modern parallel, Jesus’ relatives and/or acquaintances wish to have him taken into custody (committed) on the grounds of insanity. In the ancient world, such “madness” was typically seen as being caused by the presence of divine beings/spirits (daimons, or “demons”). This was essentially the claim made by the religious experts in verses 22ff—that Jesus “holds Baal-Zebul”, and so performs healing miracles through the power of “the prince of demons”. Jesus’ response in verses 23-27 takes the form of a parable, illustrating the practical impossibility of such a claim. This leads into the famous saying on the Holy Spirit in vv. 28-29. The Gospel writer makes the connection clear by the explanation in verse 30—the religious leaders claimed that Jesus worked miracles through a demon-spirit rather than the Holy Spirit of God. This fundamental lack of understanding regarding Jesus’ ministry provides the setting for the episode in verses 31-35.

Mark 3:31-35

Here, Jesus’ mother and brothers are mentioned (also his sisters in v. 32 v.l.), creating a more specific and detailed situation than that of vv. 20-21. This also establishes a more direct contrast—between Jesus’ natural family and his true family (of followers/believers). The contrast is clear enough by the repeating elements of the verses in sequence:

  • His mother and brothers come (seeking him) (v. 31)
    • A crowd of followers is sitting around him (v. 32a)
      • Messengers report about his mother and brothers (v. 32b)
  • Jesus’ asks: “Who is my mother and [my] brothers?” (v. 33)
    • He looks at the followers round about him (v. 34a)
      • Declaration of his (true) mother and brothers (vv. 34b-35)

There is a possible play on words in v. 31, where it is said that Jesus’ mother and brothers were “standing outside” (e&cw sth/konte$), i.e. outside of the house/room where Jesus and his followers were gathered. Etymologically, this expression is related to the verb used in v. 21, where Jesus’ relatives declare that “he stands out of (himself)” (e)ce/sth); on this, cf. above. Note that this passage also contains certain vocabulary that alludes back to the calling of the Twelve in vv. 13-19:

  • In vv. 13-14, Jesus calls the Twelve toward [proskalei=tai] him, and they come toward [pro/$] him, so that he might send them forth [a)poste/llh|] as his representatives (i.e. apostles)
    • Jesus’ mother and brothers come to him, and send forth [a)pe/steilan] messengers toward [pro/$] him, calling [kalou=nte$] him (v. 31)
  • In v. 14, Jesus makes [vb. poie/w] the Twelve to be his close followers, to be with him (i.e. as his true family)
    • Jesus’ statement that the one who does [vb. poie/w] the will of God is (or becomes) part of his true family (v. 35); compare the reference to his (natural) ‘relatives’ as those who are alongside of him (v. 21)
  • The context in v. 15 of Jesus and the Twelve casting out daimons (vb. e)kba/llw)
    • This is also part of the narrative setting of vv. 31-35—verses 22ff, with the repeated used of e)kba/llw

All of these parallels serve to emphasize the contrast established between Jesus’ natural family, and the true family made up of his faithful followers (disciples). The subsequent passage, the parable of the Sower and its explanation (4:1-9, 10-20), confirms this point. In verse 11 Jesus’ disciples are contrasted with “the ones outside [e&cw]”, just as his mother/brothers are “standing outside [e&cw]” the room where Jesus and his disciples are gathered.

As we shall see (in the next daily note), the Gospels of Matthew and Luke have each handled this episode in a different way, both adapting the core tradition and expanding the narrative with other traditional material. One point in common is that neither Matthew or Luke includes anything corresponding to Mk 3:20-21. There are two possibilities; either (a) both Gospels have omitted it from Mark (or a similar Synoptic source), or (b) Mark has added the verses to the core Synoptic tradition. In either case, the Matthean and Lukan narratives omit any reference to actual hostility by Jesus’ natural family toward his ministry in this scene. This reflects a general tendency within the Gospel Tradition to downplay or eliminate details which cast Jesus’ family members in a negative light.

Note of the Day – February 20 (Luke 6:12-16; John 6:67-71)

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Today’s note continues the discussion from yesterday, on the tradition of the call/commission of the Twelve Disciples (or Apostles). Here we will explore the tradition as found in the Gospels of Luke and John.

Luke 6:12-16

The Lukan version of the call of the Twelve, like that in Matthew, is simpler than Mark’s version. It is possible that Luke has abbreviated the earlier tradition, though, in this instance, it is perhaps more likely that each Gospel writer has, in his own way, developed the core Synoptic tradition independently. Luke has also, it would seem, modified the tradition so as to emphasize certain themes which he brings out elsewhere in his Gospel. Consider the following observations:

  • Luke has the unique detail of Jesus first being alone on the mountain, in prayer (v. 12). A similar detail is found in the Lukan version of the Baptism and Transfiguration scenes (3:21; 9:28-29).
  • It is stated that Jesus gathered out (i.e. chose) the Twelve from among his disciples. Luke uses the verb e)kle/gomai, which, along with the related adjective e)klekto/$, is used of Jesus elsewhere in the Gospel (9:35 [v.l.], the Transfiguration scene; and 23:35), referring to him as the “Elect/Chosen One (of God)”—parallel to the titles “Anointed One” and “Son of God” (cf. also Jn 1:34 [v.l.]). Similarly in the Gospel of John, Jesus uses the verb in reference to his call/choosing of his disciples (cf. below). Elsewhere in the New Testament, both verb and adjective came to be applied to believers generally as the “chosen ones” (i.e. the elect), according to the pattern of the people of Israel in Old Testament tradition. Note how this verb is central to the statement in Lk 6:13 (re-translating slightly, to bring out the symmetry of the word order):
    • he called [lit. gave voice] toward
      —his disciples
      ——and gathering out from them twelve
      —whom also (were) “apostles
    • (so) he named (them)
  • Luke specifically refers to Jesus naming the Twelve, i.e. designating them, as apostles—lit. “ones (who are) se(n)t forth”. The majority text also reads this at Mk 3:14, but, as it is not present in certain manuscripts, and is perhaps suspect textually as a harmonization with Lk 6:13b, it remains in question.
  • There is no mention here of Jesus giving them authority, etc, to work miracles (cp. Mark 3:15; Matt 10:1)
  • The list of the Twelve in vv. 14-16 differs little from the main Synoptic tradition, except for the variant names for the 10th and 11th apostles, compared with those in Mark/Matthew.

As in Matthew 5:1ff and 10:1-4ff, a sermon (or collection of teaching) follows the call/gathering of Jesus’ disciples to him. In Matthean narrative, the “Sermon on the Mount” is placed earlier than the call of the Twelve. By contrast, in Luke, the corresponding “Sermon on the Plain” does follow Jesus’ calling of the Twelve.

In the Gospel of Luke, moreso than in the other Synoptics, the call of the Twelve lies at the center of the Galilean ministry period, especially as it begins in 4:14. The Nazareth episode (4:16-30) precedes the ministry narratives (4:31-6:11) corresponding to Mk 1:16-2:28. The call of the Twelve, and their parallel mission (9:1-6ff), each culminate (and mark off) the two periods of the Galilean ministry, as narrated by Luke. Here is an outline for all that comes after the opening Nazareth episode:

  • First period of Jesus’ Galilean ministry—miracles and teaching (4:31-6:11)
    • Calling of the Twelve (6:12-16)
      • and Jesus’ teaching them (6:20-49)—the “Sermon on the Plain”
      • with the example of his authority to cast out spirits/disease (6:17-19)
  • Second period of Jesus’ Galilean ministry—miracles and teaching (7:1-8:56)
    • Mission of the Twelve (9:1-6)
      • and Jesus’ teaching them (9:10-17)—the Feeding miracle
      • with the question of Jesus’ identity as one who acts with the authority to work miracles, etc (9:7-9)

The Galilean period culminates with Peter’s confession regarding Jesus’ identity (9:18-20)

John 6:67-71

There is no corresponding passage narrating the calling of the Twelve in the Gospel of John; however, there is at least one reference to this general tradition, occurring at the end of the great “Bread of Life” discourse in chapter 6. It would appear that a distinct tradition (vv. 67-70) has been joined to the end of the discourse. Thematically, a reference to “the Twelve” at this point would make sense, in light of the narrative context of the Feeding miracle (in 6:1-13f). Within the Synoptic tradition, the two Feeding miracles (Mk 6:30-44; 8:1-10, 14-21 par), are closely associated, in various ways, with the Twelve. The Bread of Life discourse which follows in vv. 22ff is typical of the Johannine narrative structure, whereby a miracle and/or saying by Jesus leads into a complex (and theologically significant) discourse between Jesus and the people (sometimes including his disciples) who hear him. The audience misunderstands the words and actions of Jesus, interpreting them on a superficial or conventional level, which brings about an explanation (exposition) by Jesus as to their true/deeper meaning. The core Bread of Life discourse—the most complex in the Gospel (outside of chapters 13-17)—is contained in verses 22-59. A second, simpler discourse, specifically involving Jesus’ disciples, follows in vv. 60-65, reprising the motifs and imagery of the earlier discourse—much as Jesus is recorded explaining his parables to his close disciples (the Twelve) in the Synoptics (Mk 4:10-11ff par).

As noted above, it seems likely that a (separate?) tradition (vv. 67-70) was joined to the discourse, creating a fitting (and striking) climax to the entire narrative of chap. 6. Verse 66 provides the transitional joining point:

“Out of this [i.e. as a result of his words, from this point on] many of his learners [i.e. disciples] went (away) from (him) into the back, and did not any (more) walk about with him [met’ au)tou=].”

The last phrase is reminiscent of Mk 3:14 (cf. yesterday’s note), where it is stated that a main purpose in Jesus’ calling the Twelve was “that they might be with him [met’ au)tou=]”. Then in the following verse 67 we read:

“Then Yeshua said to the Twelve: ‘You do not also wish to bring (yourselves) under [i.e. go back, sink/sneak away], (do you)?'”

The tradition, such as it may have existed earlier, has been shaped into a Johannine (mini-)discourse, which also (as it happens) has a general similarity to the scene of Peter’s confession in the Synoptic tradition:

  • Jesus asks the disciples a question, regarding his identity—i.e. their relationship to him (as followers/believers) [v. 67; Mk 8:27-29]
  • Peter responds with a declaration regarding Jesus’ identity [vv. 68-69; Mk 8:30]
  • Jesus responds in turn (or afterward) with a statement involving the “Devil” and teaching regarding discipleship [v. 70; Mk 8:33, 34-37f]

What is most striking about the tradition(s) in Jn 6:67-71 is that they involve details otherwise attested in the Synopic call of the Twelve:

  • An introductory reference to “the Twelve” (v. 67; Mk 3:14a, par)
  • The reference to Jesus’ disciples as those who were “with him” (v. 66; Mk 3:14b, cf. above)
  • The primary/leading position of Peter (v. 68; Mk 3:16 par)
  • The use of the verb e)kle/gomai (“gather out”) to refer to Jesus call/choice of the Twelve (v. 70a; Lk 6:13)
  • A concluding reference to Judas Iscariot as the one who betrayed Jesus (vv. 70b-71)

This presentation (of the traditional material) in John is also significant for the way it foreshadows the scene in chapter 13, with strands relating to: (a) the disciples (the Twelve) and their relationship to Jesus, (b) the betrayal of Jesus, (c) the central presence/position of Peter, and (d) the idea of Jesus choosing his followers, again using the verb e)kle/gomai (v. 18).

Note of the Day – February 19 (Mark 3:3-19; Matt 10:1-4)

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The next topic to be discussed regarding the Call of the Disciples in the Gospel Tradition is the tradition of the Twelve Disciples (or Apostles). Three distinct aspects will be examined:

  1. The tradition of the call/commission of the Twelve, and how this functions in the Synoptic Gospels
  2. The list(s) of the Twelve, along with brief discussion of the details related to Peter and Judas Iscariot, and
  3. The significance of the (number) Twelve within this tradition

I begin with the first aspect, starting with the tradition as recorded in the Gospel of Mark.

The Twelve Disciples

Mark 3:13-19

It is worth noting that here, with regard to this particular tradition, Mark actually has a slightly longer (and more elaborate) version. Usually the longer form of a tradition indicates some degree of (secondary) development, though occasionally the process of development may work in the opposite direction—toward the simplifying or condensing of an earlier tradition. The call/commission of the Twelve is set after an initial period of teaching and (healing) miracles by Jesus, as recorded in 1:21-3:12. The Markan narrative at this point may be outlined as follows—first, for the specific tradition in 3:13-19:

  • Verse 13—The call of the Twelve is narrated simply, with three details or elements: (a) the location on a mountain, (b) the call, and (c) the response. As in 1:16-20, an immediate, obedient response is indicated:
    • Jesus calls them toward [pro$] him
    • They go away toward [pro/$] him
  • Verses 14-15—The commission: “he made twelve”, where the verb poie/w (“do, make”) can be understood in the sense of “appoint, designate”. The majority text adds “whom he also named apostles“, though the phrase is omitted by a number of manuscripts and may reflect a harmonization with Lk 6:13b. A two-fold purpose is expressed, by use of the conjunctive particle i%na (“[so] that”):
    • “that [i%na] they might be with him”
    • “that [i%na] he might set [i.e. send] them forth”, using the verb a)poste/llw, related to a)po/stolo$ [apostle]
      the purpose of his sending them is also two-fold, expressed by a pair of infinitives (and a third joining infinitive):

      • “to proclaim (the message of the Kingdom)”
        —”and to hold authority [e)cousi/a]”
      • “to cast out the daimons [i.e. demons, (evil) spirits]”
        These represent the two principal activities of Jesus in his Galilean ministry, and are both characterized by the authority which he possesses.
  • Verses 16-19—The names of the Twelve; this consists of two overlapping components:
    • Vv. 16-17: A specific notice of the naming (implied) of the Twelve, echoing verse 13 [v.l.], and the new names given by Jesus (“he set a name for [them]”) to the first, and best known, of the Twelve—Peter, James, and John
    • Vv. 16b-19: The list of the Twelve, according to the (Synoptic) tradition shared with Matthew

The Markan narrative which follows, spanning the entirety of the Galilean ministry period (3:208:30), appears to be governed by this passage, and may reflect a specific (Markan?) development of an earlier stage of the Gospel tradition. Note the following outline, as I suggest it may relate to the two-fold purpose assigned to the calling of the Twelve in 3:14-15 (above):

1. “to be with him” (3:206:6a)—this theme is expressed, in various ways, in each of the passages or episodes which make up this section, which one might organize into a chiastic outline:

  • Contrast of the disciples with Jesus’ natural family and acquaintances, etc (3:20-21, 31-35)
    —Jesus’ proclamation (and teaching) of the Kingdom, i.e. in parables (4:1-34); by which he also gives the secrets of the Kingdom to his closest followers (the Twelve, v. 10)
    ——The disciples together with Jesus in the boat (4:35-41), along a manifestion of the authority he holds
    —Jesus’ healing (exorcism) miracles (5:1-43), i.e. the authority to “cast out the daimons”
  • Contrast (implied) of those who trust in him (i.e. disciples) with the people of Jesus’ home town (6:1-6a)

2. “he would send them forth” (6:6b-8:30)—the section is introduced with a summary of this activity by the Twelve in 6:6b-13; “the Twelve” are mentioned specifically as such in verse 7. A similar chiastic outline may be established for this section as well, framed, for example, by three pairs of episodes:

  • Reference to the healing miracles, worked by the Twelve (6:13)
    —An episode involving Herod (6:14-29)
    ——Feeding miracle (6:30-44)
    ———{the remainder of 6:45-7:37}
    ——Feeding miracle (8:1-10)
    —An episode in which Herod is mentioned (8:14-21)
  • Narrative of a healing miracle, worked by Jesus (8:22-26)

Clearly the commission of the Twelve in 6:6b-13 is parallel to the call of the Twelve in 3:13-19—and each introduces the two main sections of the narrative (3:13-6:6a and 6:6b-8:30). Beyond this point, the narrative clearly depicts the Twelve remaining with Jesus during his journey to Jerusalem (9:35; 10:32), and also during the time in Jerusalem (11:11).

Matthew 10:1-4

By comparison with Mark, the narrative of the call of the Twelve is much simpler; it also functions thematically, and within the structure of the Gospel, rather differently. To begin with, the mountain setting of Mk 3:13 is not mentioned, occurring at an earlier point, as the setting for the “Sermon on the Mount” (chaps. 5-7); the wording in 5:1 is generally similar to that in Mk 3:13: “he stepped up onto the mount(ain)/hill”. In this scene, Jesus also gathers his disciples together, again using similar language (“they came toward him”); only here the purpose is not to commission the Twelve, but to teach (v. 2). On the theory that Matthew has made use of Mark (or a comparable Synoptic narrative), the collection of teaching making up the “Sermon” (primarily “Q” material) has been ‘inserted’ into the first period of the Galilean ministry at a point corresponding to Mark 1:21. The preceding summary of Matt 4:23-25 anticipates the episodes following in chapters 8-9, which essentially ‘pick up’ the Markan narrative—8:1-9:17 corresponds with Mk 1:29-2:22.

As mentioned, the version of the call tradition in Matthew is simpler that that of Mark, and may reflect an abbreviation of the Synoptic tradition (note how Matthew paraphrases the details in Mark). Moreover, the emphasis is more specifically upon the authority Jesus gives the Twelve to work healing miracles:

“And calling his twelve learners [i.e. disciples] toward him, he gave to them (the) authority [e)cousi/a] o(ver) unclean spirits, so as (also) to (be able to) cast them out and to heal every sickness and every disease.” (10:1)

Healing sickness/disease is mentioned as distinct from the casting out of unclean spirits (exorcism miracles), whereas in Mark, both kinds of activity are combined under the basic idea of expelling demons (understood as being responsible for disease). The names of the Twelve follow in vv. 2-4, but without the Markan reference to Jesus’ giving names to Peter/James/John (Peter’s new name is mentioned in passing).

Also different from Mark’s treatment is the way that the mission of the Twelve (Mk 6:6b-13) follows immediately after the call, in 10:5-16. It also serves as the setting for another collection of teaching (vv. 16-42), similar to the earlier “Sermon” in chaps. 5-7. This material is found in other locations in Mark and Luke (including “Q” material). Matt 11:1 concludes this teaching to the Twelve and focuses back again on the ministry activity of Jesus—11:116:20 generally follows Mk 3:208:30 (cf. above), with some differences in ordering and emphasis, and also inclusion of other “Q” and “M” material. Consider the general outline:

  • Narrative introduction/summary of Jesus’ ministry work (4:23-25)
    • Jesus gathers his disciples to him (5:1)
      • He instructs them—collection of teaching (chapters 5-7, “Sermon on the Mount”)
        • First period of the Galilean ministry—teaching and miracles of Jesus (8:1-9:34)
          —development of the Synoptic tradition, including “Q” and “M” material
  • Narrative introduction/summary of Jesus’ ministry work (transitional, 9:35-38)
    • Jesus’ call/commission of the Twelve (10:1-5)
      • He instructs them—collection of teaching (10:6-42)
        • Second period of the Galilean ministry—teaching and miracles of Jesus (11:116:12)
          —development of the Synoptic tradition, etc.

As in Mark, there is also a notice that the Twelve follow Jesus to Jerusalem; two specific references contain this information:

  • The saying in 19:28, added to the core narrative of vv. 27-30 (= Mk 10:28-31); this tradition will be discussed in a subsequent note.
  • 20:17—the third prediction by Jesus of his upcoming Passion (Mk 10:32 par)

This topic will continue in the next daily note, where the call/commission of the Twelve in the Gospels of Luke (and John) will be examined.

Note of the Day – February 18 (John 1:35-51)

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Yesterday’s note explored the tradition(s) related to the call of Peter and the first Disciples, in the Synoptic Gospels (Mk 1:16-20 par). Today I will be looking at the very different line of tradition preserved in the Gospel of John. While it is not entirely impossible to harmonize the Synoptic and Johannine accounts (for those who wish to do so), it should be noted that there is scarcely a single detail in common between them, other than the presence of the brothers Andrew and Simon, and the introduction of the name “Peter” for the latter.

John 1:35-51

As discussed in earlier notes, these verses are part of the larger narrative block of 1:19-51—a sequence of four episodes, set as occurring on four consecutive “days” (a literary device, as much as historical). Verses 35-51 make up the last two “days”. Here again is an outline of vv. 19-51, indicating how deftly the author has blended together traditions regarding the baptism of Jesus and the call of the first disciples, into a single narrative:

  • 1:19-28—Day “1”: The testimony of John the Baptist regarding his own identity
  • 1:29-34—Day “2”: The testimony of John regarding the identity of Jesus
  • 1:35-42—Day “3”: Disciples follow/encounter Jesus as the result of John’s witness
  • 1:43-51—Day “4”: Disciples follow/encounter Jesus as the result of his (and other disciples’) witness
Day “3” (John 1:35-42)

Verses 35-36 essentially repeat the opening from the previous “day” (v. 29f), in which the Baptist sees Jesus (coming) and declares, “This is the lamb of God!”. What follows in the earlier episode (vv. 30-34) is the Baptist’s narration of Jesus’ baptism and his witness as to Jesus’ true identity as the “Son of God” (v. 34 [some MSS read “Elect/Chosen One of God”]). This is treated as a public declaration, for all people to hear. In verses 35-36, on the other hand, it is (only) heard by John’s immediate followers (disciples), two of whom, upon hearing it, leave the Baptist to follow Jesus (v. 37). Compare this with the Synoptic tradition (in Mark):

  • “Jesus said to them, ‘Come (here) behind me…’ [Mk 1:17] and straightaway, releasing th(eir) nets, they followed him” [v. 18]
  • “…looking on Jesus, John says, ‘See! the lamb of God’ [Jn 1:36] and the two…heard him speaking and followed Jesus” [v. 37]

There is a general similarity, but the details differ considerably. It is interesting that, in both traditions, two disciples are involved, and one of them is Andrew (Mk 1:16; Jn 1:40). This cannot be mere coincidence; rather, on entirely objective grounds, it almost certainly reflects authentic (historical) tradition. It is likely that the original Johannine tradition, in its simpler form, continued from verse 37 on (directly) to vv. 40-41:

37…they heard him speaking and followed Jesus. 40Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, was one of the two…following (Jesus)… 41He finds his own brother Simon and says to him…”

This tradition follows the Synoptic by recording Andrew and his brother Simon (Peter) as the first two disciples (known by name) who follow Jesus. However, the entire setting in John appears to be quite different from that of the Synoptics. There is no mention of fishing; indeed, Andrew appears not to be engaged in fishing at all, but has been a disciple of the Baptist. Nor does Jesus take the initiative, speaking first to Andrew and Peter both, but a very different process and order of events seems to be involved. Moreover, this distinct Johannine tradition has been further adapted by the Gospel writer in light of the overall narrative in chapter 1. This has been done through the inclusion of a number of details:

  • The emphasis on the disciples responding to the witness of John the Baptist regarding Jesus (cf. verses 7-8, 15, 19, 31-32, 34). This is made all the more emphatic by the repetition of verse 29 in vv. 35-36.
  • This begins a chain of witness from John to the disciples in turn (cf. 17:20; 20:31, etc), as narrated in vv. 40-42 and 43-46.
  • The central encounter with Jesus in vv. 38-39, told with distinctly Johannine language, including the special use of the verbs e&rxomai (“come”), me/nw (“remain”) and the motif of seeing/knowing.
  • The declaration of Jesus as “the Messiah” (i.e. Anointed One, Christ); cf. the parallel declaration in v. 49 (also in v. 45), whereby the first disciples bear witness to the identity of Jesus (20:31).

This particular episode also concludes with the naming of Peter (as “[the] Rock”, pe/tro$), by Jesus. This is associated with a different point of the Gospel narrative in the Synoptics (Mk 3:16 par; Matt 16:18). The naming of Peter will be discussed in a subsequent note.

Day “4” (John 1:43-51)

Much that has been said of the prior episode applies to the fourth “day” as well. One main difference is that the disciples are shown responding to Jesus’ call directly, rather than the testimony of John the Baptist (compare vv. 35-37 and 43). Indeed, verse 43 is similar to the Synoptic tradition in Mk 1:16-20 par, though a different disciple (Philip) is involved; yet the basic motif is very close, as Jesus says to the person:

  • “Come (here) in back of me…!”
    Deu=te o)pi/sw mou (Mk 1:17 par)
  • “Follow me!”
    Akolou/qei moi (Jn 1:43)

Again, as in the Synoptics, we are dealing with a second pair of disciples who come to follow Jesus—Philip and Nathanael (instead of the brothers James and John). That this reflects an authentic (historical) tradition, however different from the Synoptic, would seem to be confirmed by the presence of disciples (Philip and, especially, Nathanael) who otherwise play little role in the Gospel narrative. A Christian tradition from a later period would almost certainly have involved better known figures. It is interesting, again, how it is said of Philip (in v. 44) that he was from the same town (Bethsaida) as Andrew and Peter; similarly, in the Synoptics, Andrew/Peter and James/John are, it would seem, from the same area (Capernaum).

From the standpoint of the Johannine narrative (and theological) context, note how in this episode we find the same keywords and motifs as in the prior one—e&rxomai (“come”), me/nw (“remain”), and seeing/knowing (vv. 46-48, 50). All of these common words are given a special meaning and significance in the Gospel of John, involving the relation of the believer to Christ:

  • Jesus comes into the world from the Father, and also comes to those who will believe. Believers, in turn, come to Jesus
  • Believers remain/abide in/with Jesus, and Jesus in/with them

This same dynamic is defined in terms of seeing/knowing—Jesus sees/knows from the Father, and sees/knows those who will believe; then believers also come to see/know Jesus (the Son).

The saying/statement of Jesus in the closing verse 51—a suitable climax to the entire section (and, indeed, chapter 1 as a whole)—draws together all of these motifs, as well as the entire Baptism scene, in the vision promised to the disciples (believers). This remarkable verse has been discussed in considerable detail in an earlier note.

Note of the Day – February 17 (Mark 1:16-20; Luke 5:1-11)

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Today’s note begins the next division of our series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition”, focusing on the Galilean Ministry of Jesus (cf. the Introduction). The first topic of study is on traditions related to the Call of the Disciples. There are four primary traditions found in the Gospel narrative:

  1. The call of the first Disciples—esp. two pair of brothers (Peter/Andrew, James/John)
  2. The call of Matthew/Levi
  3. The call and commission of the Twelve
  4. The naming of Peter

Only the first and third of these will be dealt with in detail.

The Call of the First Disciples

Mark 1:16-20 par

Following the baptism of Jesus (and the testing in the desert), the period of Galilean ministry, according to the Synoptic narrative, begins with announcement of Jesus’ activity. In the Gospel of Mark, this is found in 1:14-15:

“And with the giving along (of) Yohanan {John} (into custody), Yeshua {Jesus} came into the Galîl {Galilee} proclaiming the good message of God and giving account [i.e. declaring/saying] that ‘The time has been (ful)filled and the kingdom of God has come near! Change your mind [i.e. repent] and trust in the good message!'”

Matthew (4:17) generally follows Mark, though without the preceding message of John the Baptist’s arrest. Luke has set the notice of John’s imprisonment at a different point in the narrative (right before Jesus’ baptism, 3:18-20), and makes no mention of Jesus proclamation of the coming of the kingdom or need for repentance (but cf. Lk 4:43; 8:1). This has essentially been replaced by the narrative summary in 4:14-15, emphasizing the role of the Spirit and Jesus’ activity of teaching (in the Synagogue), which sets the scene for the episode at Nazareth in 4:16ff. In the quotation of Isaiah 61:1 (vv. 18-19), Jesus declares, as part of his mission, that he is to “give/proclaim the good message”, much as is stated in Mk 1:14-15.

Mark 1:16-20 records the call of the first disciples. The parallel in Matthew (4:18-22) is very close; while Luke, has supplemented the basic narrative (5:1b-2, 10-11) with a miracle story involving Peter and his co-workers (5:4-9). This unique handling and development of the tradition will be discussed below. The narrative in Mark is extremely simple, with action and dialogue kept to an absolute minimum:

  • Notice of the location, along the Sea of Galilee (v. 16a)
  • Jesus encounters a two pair of brothers—Simon/Andrew & James/John—in turn (vv. 16b, 19a)
  • These men are all fishermen, busy working their nets (vv. 16b, 19b)
  • Jesus calls to them (to follow him) (vv. 17, 20a)
  • They all leave their nets and boats (and family, etc) to follow Jesus (vv. 18, 20b)

The central element is the saying of Jesus in verse 17, and the structure of the narrative gives the impression that it was built up around the saying. Here is the saying (in Mark):

“Come (here) in back of me [i.e. follow me], and I will cause you to become salt-water (fisher)s of men” (Mk 1:17)

Matthew’s version (4:19) is virtually identical, reading “make you” instead of “cause you to become”. In Luke, the comparable saying is quite different:

“Do not be afraid! From now on you will be catching men alive” (Lk 5:10b)

What is striking about the main Synoptic tradition, as given simply in Mark/Matthew, is how the sparse narrative detail gives the impression of an immediate response by the disciples—at the very (first) word from Jesus, they leave everything and follow him. This, of course, will become a motif—i.e. of obedience and commitment in following Jesus—repeated on several occasions in the Synoptic narrative (Mk 2:14; 8:34; 10:21 par; Lk 9:57-62 par). The core saying itself contains certain elements which summarize and reflect the ministry of Jesus, and are worth noting:

Verse 17a—the emphasis and motif of discipleship:

  • The expression deu=te (“come [here]”) is as much an invitation or exhoration as it is a command, and indicates one’s coming close, toward Jesus—Matt 11:28; 25:34; cf. also 22:4; Mark 6:31.
  • The preposition o)pi/sw (“in back of, behind”) is often used specifically in terms of a disciple following a master (Mark 8:34 par, etc). Its occurrence in the saying(s) of John the Baptist (Mk 1:7 par; Jn 1:15, 27, 30) was discussed in previous notes.

Verse 17b—the illustration from daily life (cf. the parables of Jesus):

  • The word a(lieu/$ refers to someone who works on/in the salt-water, here meaning specifically a fisherman. The activity from daily life is applied to the religious/spiritual life of the disciple (believer) who follows Jesus.
  • The genitive “of men” (a)nqrw/pwn) establishes the point of contrast—instead of gathering in fish for the catch, the disciples will be gathering in human beings for the kingdom of God. This latter detail is not stated explicitly, but such a connotation is likely, given the frequent references to the kingdom of God/Heaven in the parables and teachings of Jesus.

Luke 5:1-11

As noted above, Luke’s version of this episode represents a significant development, in which the core Synoptic narrative (found in vv. 1b-2, 10-11) has been expanded to include a distinct miracle story featuring Peter (vv. 4-9). Verses 1a & 3 may reflect Lukan editing/authorship in order to blend the two traditions effectively into a literary whole. In particular, they seem to echo the setting in Mk 4:1-2, which Luke may have transferred from that location in the (Synoptic) narrative. This is likely, since in 8:4ff, the passage parallel to Mk 4:1-2ff, there is no corresponding mention of Jesus teaching the crowd from a boat.

This is all relatively straightforward—the Synoptic narrative, supplemented by another (“L”) tradition related to the call of Peter—were it not for the fact that the miracle narrated in vv. 4-9 is remarkably similar to that found in John 21:1-8ff. The problem is that the Johannine episode is said to have occurred at a much later time, after the resurrection of Jesus. It is not just a question of a general similarity; rather, there are a number of specific details shared by the two narratives, which include:

  • Peter and his colleagues had fished all night and had caught nothing (v. 3, 5; Jn 21:3)
  • Jesus is standing on the shore of the lake (v. 1; 21:1, 4)
  • Jesus tells them to go and cast out their nets again (v. 4; 21:6)
  • The result is an enormous catch of fish (v. 6b; 21:6, 11)
  • Reference to the stress (tearing) on the nets, and to the help required to bring in the catch (vv. 6-7; 21:8, 11)
  • A reaction by Peter to(ward) Jesus as a result of the miracle (v. 8; 21:7)
  • Jesus is called “Lord” [ku/rio$] (v. 8; 21:7)
  • The catch of fish is symbolic of the work of Christian ministry, and is connected in the narrative to a (separate) tradition involving the commission of Peter and the other disciples (vv. 10-11; 21:11, 15ff)

Also notable is the use of the dual name “Simon Peter” in both narratives (v. 8; 21:7), as it is the only such occurrence in the Gospel of Luke (and only once elsewhere in the Synoptics, Matt 16:16); cf. J. A. Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke I-IX (Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 28), p. 561.

These similarities have been explained various ways by commentators:

  • As two separate historical episodes, at different points in the life of Peter, during his time with Jesus—one at the beginning, and the other at the end. The shared details would be either coincidental or providential.
  • Two separate traditions have been shaped by a distinct miracle-story form—i.e. the miraculous catch of fish.
  • A tradition with an original post-resurrection setting (John) has been given an earlier setting at the time of Peter’s calling (Luke).
  • A tradition originally associated with Peter’s calling has been set after the resurrection. I.e. the reverse of the view above.
  • It is a piece of “floating” tradition, which came to the Gospel writers (and/or their sources) without a specific narrative (or chronological) context; each writer made use of the tradition at the most meaningful (or logical) point.

The first option generally follows the traditional-conservative view. Those who hold to it would quickly point out the many differences between the two narratives, in addition to the similarities. Critical scholars, on the other hand, are more likely to accept either the second, third, or fifth options (e.g., Fitzmyer, Luke I-IX, pp. 561-2). The fact that Luke has apparently adapted an (earlier) Synoptic narrative, by adding/inserting the miracle episode, as a distinct unit (vv. 4-9), would perhaps favor (some form of) the critical view. For those who would argue between the Lukan and Johannine setting as the “original” setting of the historical tradition, the evidence seems to be fairly evenly divided. On the one hand, the fact that Luke and John (according to the Alexandrian/Majority text of Lk 24), have inherited common traditions related to the resurrection, supports the post-resurrection setting in John 21. On the other hand, the idea of Peter and the other disciples returning to the ordinary life of fishermen after the resurrection has always seemed a bit odd (even unlikely) to many. The overall milieu of the scene (esp. vv. 1a-8 in John) better fits the period of Jesus’ Galilean ministry (as narrated in the Synoptics). It would be easy enough to adapt such an “earlier” or “floating” tradition to a post-resurrection setting, as could have been done in John simply by adding vv. 1 and 12b-14 (try reading the text without these framing verses) to an episode otherwise very close to Lk 5:4-9.

Speaking of the Gospel of John, it should be mentioned, in closing, that the Fourth Gospel has nothing like Mark 1:16-20 par, but records/preserves an entirely different tradition regarding the call of the first disciples (Peter/Andrew, etc). This will be discussed in the next daily note.

Note of the Day – January 28

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At the end of the previous note, I compared the reaction of the people of Nazareth to Jesus (cf. Luke 4:16-30) with the reaction of the first disciples as recorded in Luke 5:1-11. Today I will be examining this passage a bit more closely. It derives, in part, from a common tradition found, in much simpler form, in Mark 1:16-20 / Matthew 4:18-22. The difference between the Lukan and Markan/Matthean accounts are significant, but clearly we are dealing with a single historical tradition involving the calling of the first disciples (Peter [and Andrew], James and John). This would serve to disprove any need to posit, e.g., two “cleansings” of the Temple, two visits to Nazareth, etc., in order to harmonize apparently divergent chronologies. The order and arrangement of episodes in the Gospels is as much literary as it is chronological. Still, it is useful to recognize the unique elements of the Lukan narrative, for it reveals something of the purpose and meaning the author attributes to it. Here are the main differences, compared with the account in Mark/Matthew:

  1. It is set after the initial ministry in Capernaum (Lk 4:31-44), instead of before (cf. Mark 1:21-39 par).
  2. It begins with a different historical/narrative setting (5:1-3)
  3. It incorporates a miracle, similar to that recorded in John 21:1-8, which is also centered on Simon Peter (5:4-9)
  4. The narrative of the miracle includes a significant saying of Simon Peter (5:8)
  5. The saying of Jesus, central to the main call narrative, differs from the version in Mark 1:17 par (5:10)

Each of these points will be discussed in turn.

1. The setting after Jesus’ initial ministry in Capernaum

In between the episode in Nazareth (4:16-30) and the call of the Disciples here, Luke records three narrative episodes set in Capernaum: (a) healing of the demon-possessed man in the synagogue (4:31-37); (b) healing of Peter’s mother-in-law (4:38-39), with other similar healings being described (4:40-41); (c) Jesus’ retiring to a solitary place, with a statement regarding his mission (4:42-44). These can all be found in Mark/Matthew (Mk 1:21-39 par., in the same sequence), but they occur after the call of the first disciples (Mk 1:16-20). The Lukan order creates a much more dramatic (some would say, more realistic) setting for the call of Peter, et al.—it is only after they have spent some time with Jesus (in Capernaum), having witnessed a number of miracles, that they leave everything to follow him. By comparison, in Mark/Matthew, the disciples appear to follow Jesus on the spot, at first sight, with no psychological motivation provided. Luke may even suggest that a longer time is involved, with additional preaching in Judea (v. 44, other manuscripts reading “Galilee”), before the call in chapter 5. It could be too that the joining of several different traditions (from a later Galilean ministry setting, cf. below) has caused the narrative to move further down in the relative chronology of the Gospel.

2. A different historical/narrative setting

Mark 1:16 states simply that Jesus was himself going alongside the sea [qa/lassa] of Galilee and saw Simon Peter, etc. Luke, on the other hand, records that a crowd was laid upon Jesus as he stood alongside the lake [li/mnh] of Gennesaret (v. 1), and he gets into Simon Peter’s boat and preaches to the crowd. In addition to more precise terminology for the body of water, the setting of verses 1-3 is similar to that in Mark 4:1 / Matt 13:1. Luke would seem to be aware of this, for at the same point (Lk 8:4) he omits mention of Jesus teaching to the crowd from a boat (having already used this setting here in chap. 5). Of course, at the historical level, Jesus may of done this sort of thing on more than one occasion, but there is evidence here of conscious modification by the Gospel writer: he has combined elements from different parts of the (Synoptic) Tradition. Was this done simply for dramatic effect? for greater historical accuracy? or is there a theological reason for the change? In my view, the most likely reason for the joining of these traditions here is literary—by way of “catchword” bonding, with a common motif (the boat/lake setting), elements from different traditions are brought together here. This may seem forced and artificial to us today, but it was an effective and meaningful way of communication—of building up narrative—in the ancient world.

3. Incorporation of a (separate?) Miracle story

The central portion of the Lukan narrative is a miracle involving an extraordinary catch of fish (vv. 4-9). Even a casual reader of the Gospels will recognize the similarity to the miracle recorded in John 21:1-8, the latter of course taking place (in the Gospel setting) after the Resurrection. How are we to explain this? There are three possibilities:

  • They reflect different (authentic) historical events—one occurring early, the other late—which happen to have similar details.
  • The episode reflects a single historical tradition, which has been transferred, from an early Galilean setting (Luke) to a post-resurrection setting (John), or vice versa.
  • It is a “floating” tradition, which has been incorporated into different (chronological) settings in Luke and John.

The third option is perhaps more likely, on objective critical grounds. The first would generally be the traditional-conservative view, but is wrapped up within the larger critical question of the nature and composition of John 21 as a whole (and its relation to Jn 20:19-29 [cf. also Lk 24:36-53, esp. v. 49]). In any case, the miracle, as Luke relates it, would seem to belong to its setting in the (early) Galilean ministry of Jesus. It is the turning point upon which the disciples (Simon Peter, James and John; curiously Luke does not mention Andrew, cf. Mark 1:16) decide to leave their boats and nets to follow Jesus (v. 9-11). Harmonizing passages such as Lk 5:1-11 and Jn 21:1-8 on historical/chronological grounds is a questionable procedure at best; a comparison on symbolic or theological grounds is more profitable (and useful):

  • In both accounts, Simon Peter is the central figure, along with his companions (incl. disciples of Jesus) (Lk 5:3-5; Jn 21:3)
  • In each they fish all night and catch nothing (Lk 5:5; Jn 21:3b); in Lk this is said to Jesus
  • Jesus tells them to (go out again and) let down their nets:
    “Lead (out) upon (the water) into the deep and let go your nets unto a catch” (Lk 5:4)
    “Cast the net (down) into the giving [i.e. right] (side) of the sailboat and you will find” (Jn 21:6)
  • The disciples obey and catch a great “multitude of fish (plh=qo$ [tw=n] i)xqu/wn)” (Lk 5:6; Jn 21:6), so that:
    —the boats became filled so as to sink down (Lk 5:7)
    —they were not strong (enough) to drag it in (Jn 21:6)
  • The miracle brings about recognition of Jesus:
    “And at (his) seeing (it), Simon Peter…” (Lk 5:8)
    “Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter: ‘(It) is the Lord!'”(Jn 21:7)
  • Peter acts in response (Lk 5:8; Jn 21:7b)

Most significantly perhaps (as noted by many commentators), in Lk the nets are breaking [lit. rip through], but in Jn it is stated that the nets were not split, and the great catch (153 fish) is brought onto land (Jn 21:8, 11). This sometimes seen as a symbol of the Church and her unity; in the Johannine context especially, an ecclesiastical image (associated with Peter, cf. vv. 15-17) probably is intended.

4. The saying of Simon Peter

This exclamation by Peter in the narrative context is noteworthy:

But (at his) having seen (it), Shim’ôn Rock {Simon Peter} fell to Yeshua’s knees, relating/saying: “Go out (away) from me! (in) that I am a sinning/sinful man, Lord!” (v. 8)

It would seem to be a reaction not just to the miracle, but also to the doubt which he had initially expressed in v. 5. However, in the previous note, I discussed the reaction of the people of Nazareth in relation to the prophecy of Simeon (Lk 2:34-35)—that the purpose prophesied for the child (Jesus) was to uncover the thoughts [counting/reckoning] out of many hearts. In the Nazareth episode, this uncovering leads to outright hostility; here, it leads to repentance and humility. Perhaps a slight irony is involved as well: the people of Nazareth, in passionate anger, cast out [e)ce/balon] Jesus from the city; Peter shouts to Jesus, “Go out [e&celqe] (away) from me!” Similar words, but a very different sense.

It is hard to determine whether this saying of Peter reflects a separate tradition (from the miracle story); if so, it has been joined effectively, for it fits within the context of the miracle extremely well. Some critical scholars have felt that Peter’s repentance expressed here is more appropriate in the post-resurrection context (of Jn 21), in light of his three-fold denial of Jesus during the Passion; I find this rather unlikely, on objective grounds. There is nothing else in Lk 5:1-11 which remotely suggests such a context—indeed, without Jn 21 for comparison, I doubt if anyone would consider such an association based on the details of Lk 5:1-11 itself.

5. The form of Jesus’ saying

The saying of Jesus as it appears in Mark 1:16 is:

deu=te o)pi/sw mou kai\ poih/sw u(ma=$ gene/sqai a(liei=$ a)nqrw/pwn
“Come (here) behind me and I will make you to become fishers of men”

These are the only words Jesus speaks in the short narrative (the par. saying in Matt 4:19 is nearly identical). The version of the saying in Lk 5:11 is noticeably different:

mh\ fo/bou: a)po\ tou= nu=n a)nqrw/pou$ e&sh| zwgrw=n
“Do not fear! from now (on) you will be catching men alive”

These are different enough to count as entirely separate sayings; however, assuming Luke was aware of the simpler Gospel tradition (and saying) in Mark, he has either modified or substituted the saying here. Most translations partially harmonize the Markan and Lukan saying by rendering the latter with “…you will be catching men”. However, the verb zwgre/w literally means “capture/take alive“. The contrast is more than simply catching men instead of fish: the disciples will be catching them alive. There may be a distinct soteriological nuance as well: catching men alive implies catching them unto (eternal) life. Since zwgre/w can also be used in the technical sense of taking someone captive (2 Tim 2:26), it may not be inappropriate to compare the Pauline idea of taking people “captive” for Christ—cf. especially 2 Cor 10:5, where the verb ai)xmalwti/zw (lit. take [away] by spear-point) is used.

In conclusion, it is worth comparing the two statements by Jesus which bracket the miracle narrative in vv. 4-9:

  • “Lead (out) upon (the water) into the deep and let go your nets unto a catch [a&gran]” (v. 4)
  • “Do not fear! from now (on) you will be catching men alive [zwgrw=n]” (v. 11)

This highlights the way in which Jesus, with a few simple words, could transform ordinary human activity into a profound expression of the work of God in the lives of human beings. This is not just a question of ‘evangelism’ and missionary work (important as those are), but cuts to the very heart of the nature of the eternal and spiritual dimension which Christ reveals at every moment.