Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Fishermen Called: Matthew/Mark vs. Luke

As I said a few days ago, I believe that the calling by Jesus of the fishermen that Luke describes in his Chapter 5 is a different event than the one described by Matthew in his Chapter 4 and Mark in his Chapter 1. In the prior post I dealt with the timeline. Now I'll deal with the specifics of the event(s).

Certainly, when two eyewitnesses see the same event, they will have different recollections. That is especially true when they wait thirty years to write it down. The inspiration of God for them to write probably did not eliminate their foibles and nuances of memory. So, when Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell of the same event, we can expect some differences. So differences alone are probably not enough to be certain of whether these are two events.

In Matthew and Mark, Jesus is walking by the sea of Galilee. In Luke, he is more or less stationary. At least Luke does not mention him walking along.

In Luke, he has a crowd with him, waiting to hear him teach, that is so big he decides to use Peter's boat as a platform and get a little distance between him and the crowd so as to be more effective in his teaching. Neither Matthew nor Mark mention any crowd. They lead us to believe Jesus was alone.

In Matthew/Mark, Jesus calls Peter and Andrew, and they immediately follow; he then goes on a short distance and sees James and John sons of Zebedee, calls them, and they immediately follow. That's the end of the scene. In Luke, after Jesus finishes teaching, he suggest that Peter put out into deep water to catch some fish. Peter does so, and catches some. When he returns to shore, he worships Jesus, yet at the same time says he is not worthy to follow Jesus.

The difference in the words that Jesus says are also of importance. In Matthew and Mark, Jesus' words are almost identical: "Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men." But in Luke his words are: "Don't be afraid; from now on your will catch men." Could this be different recollections of the same words? Possibly, but the differences lead me to believe these are different events. Matthew and Mark is a calling; Luke is a declaration. And "don't be afraid" appears to be in response to Peter saying he was sinful and Jesus should leave him.

But the really key item in my mind is that in the Luke account Peter calls Jesus, "Master". The Greek word is epistata, a word used in political or military sense to imply chain of command issues. The president of a Greek democratic institution was the epistata. Certain officers, not necessarily the ones in highest command, were epistata. The word may also have the connotation of a school master in authority over his students. Now, if this is the first calling of Peter (and remember that the encounter in John 1:41-42 was not a calling), why would Peter call him epistata? Was Jesus' reputation such by then to warrant that kind of title?

Some say that, since epistata appears several times in Luke's gospel but in no other, this was Luke's way of using a term of authority that his Greek and Roman audiences would understand, rather than rabbi and other Aramaic or Hebrew titles. Still, Peter used a title, of respect and authority. I maintain that he would only use such a title if he had already spent some time with Jesus, and had found him to be one he (Peter) would be willing to have in authority over him. By the time of what is described in Luke 5, Peter must have already spent a significant amount of time with Jesus.

So what kind of calling was this? Did Peter follow Jesus for a while, possibly a couple of months, then leave him to go back to fishing? That's what I suspect happened. Jesus called Peter and his companions (Matthew 4:18-22/Mark 1:16-20); Peter followed immediately; took part of some of those events given in the combined timeline, but then went back to fishing. He was at his trade when Jesus came by again, this time with a crowd, and used another method to convince the inconsistent Peter that people, not fish, were to be his life's pursuit.

So says the layman, dangerously dabbling in theological water he possibly shouldn't be. I'm not dogmatic about this. Others will read these passages and a few before and after and come to another conclusion. So be it. But this is my conclusion, one I have found others to be in agreement with, and I throw it into cyberspace for whatever good it may do.


Anonymous said...


A reasonable supposition, though you might want to think some more about Luke's perspective as an historian and his editorial touch. You know Luke pretty well so do you think he may have shaped his account in more ways than you refer to?


David A. Todd said...


I hold open the possibility that what you suggest is true, that I am mistaken, and Luke IS writing about the same event, only describing different portions of it.

I think I'm right, but am not dogmatic about it. I tend to take an historical approach to the gospels, beielving that they record history as best as inspired authors could under those circumstances. Hence my first thoughts when reading an event recorded in the gospels is, "How does this event fit in with another one I just read?"

I don't generally ascribe to the belief that the gospel writers had theological agendas and hence shaped their works accordingly. Mark probably wrote first, and was simply recording Peter's teaching as best he could. Either Matthew or Luke wrote next. It seems both of them had Mark's gospel as a source. Matthew seems more concerned about literary style than the others, and less concerned with chronology. Matthew, or course, was an eye-witness while Luke was an historian/researcher; Luke's writing may have reflected some Paul's views. John, writing last, may just have wanted to fill in some of the gaps the other writers left out for events that he thought important. Whether he had the others as a source is unknown.

Of course, each had an audience in mind: Matthew had the Jews; Luke had the Romans/Greeks; Mark was probably for Jews; and John's was probably for Gentiles of any nationality. Having different audiences in mind would shape their words, but I see that as different than their having a theological agenda. I believe their agendas were simply to spread the message of Jesus to those who didn't have it.