Fishermen Made Fishers of Men

Matthew 4:18–22 recounts the famous story of Jesus choosing his disciples: Jesus saw the brothers Simon Peter and Andrew, and said, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Next he called brothers James and John, the sons of Zebedee, likewise. They all answered the call without hesitating. Mark's account is virtually the same, but it is preceded with a reference to Jesus being spurred by the arrest of John the Baptist to declare the time right for the introduction of the Gospel of the Kingdom.

Difference in Perspective

The difference between Matthew's and Mark's accounts, and that of John's Gospel (as given in Chapter 3, which begins with John's and Andrew's call from the very side of John the Baptist), reflects a difference in perspective between John and Peter. John was there, on the scene and, most likely being the youngest of the fishermen, was probably more strongly impressed by all the new events and the incredible charisma of John the Baptist and Jesus. Peter, many believe, told his story the way he remembered it in Mark's presence, and Matthew may have got his outline of details from Mark's account.


In Fox's Book of Martyrs (1563), John Fox refers to James and John, the sons of Zebedee, as relatives of Jesus “for [their] mother Salome was cousin-german to the Virgin Mary.” Cousin-german is an old English term for first or full cousin, a child of your uncle or aunt.

Neither Matthew nor Mark was on the scene when Jesus called the fishermen. This is not to say it didn't happen; only that it happened a little later than when Simon Peter and Andrew were first tapped to be followers of Jesus. The first “call” may have been understood by brothers Andrew and Simon Peter as a one-time short enlistment, maybe for one evening event, but when Jesus came to their boat to call them again, it finally sank in that he was calling them to a permanent change of life. They would still continue fishing for a livelihood, as other events already discussed (like Jesus walking on the water to join them on their fishing vessel) confirm, but that kind of fishing would be — from this call onward — their secondary vocation. Both sets of brothers (Simon Peter and Andrew; James and John) now had a higher calling.

The Third Calling and the Other Eight

The synoptic Gospels Matthew, Mark, and Luke all have similar versions of the selection of the Twelve to the higher calling of apostles. The four first called to be followers are still listed as the first four disciples, but it's clear that the additional eight now being ordained for special ministry were considered from a larger pool of followers, most of whom may have followed Jesus during his ministry and even on into the beginning of the church. It's instructive that with all his power and knowledge, Jesus still spent a whole night in prayer — what later monastics call a vigil — seeking the Father's direction on the choosing of the Twelve. This choosing of the Twelve for apostleship is the basis for the ordination processes followed by most Christian communions and denominations today.

discussion question

What have the modern churches learned from Jesus' discipleship process?

Many ministries have discipleship programs concentrating on cementing loyalty to the ministry by having senior and junior ministers spend great amounts of time in one-to-one interaction. Some of the world's largest congregations are built on a cell model, in which tiny groups are instructed by intensive fellowship and training.

The word apostle, from the Greek apostello, means “sent” or “sent out.” At this point, the Twelve are not yet ready to be sent out, but they have now been put on what today's generation might call a fast track leading to the mission field. Their “ministry graduate school” — theological seminary — was the most intensive 24/7 crash course the church has ever known.

Mark 3:14–15 adds that Jesus ordained twelve apostles to be with him, so that he might send them out to preach, and empower them to heal infirmities and cast out demons. Matthew 10:1 specifies that Jesus gave them power to cast out unclean spirits and to heal all kinds of disease.

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