Musings on Mark: The Johannine Calling Narratives of John 1:35-51

In the Gospel of Mark, the first four disciples that Jesus calls to follow him (akoloutheō) are Simon, Andrew, James, and John (Mark 1:16-20). All four of those men were fishing on the Sea of Galilee when Jesus walked by and all four of them dropped their nets to follow him. Both the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke include this calling narrative. Matthew (4:18-22) follows Mark’s version almost verbatim while Luke (5:1-11) makes some rather interesting changes.1 Despite their differences, all three of the Synoptics are univocal in their portrayal of Jesus’ disciples as fishermen and that this is what they were doing when Jesus found them.

But not the Gospel of John. While we may infer their status as fishermen from the end of the Gospel (21:1-4),2 we do not get this impression from the beginning. And this is because the calling narrative of John’s Gospel looks nothing like that of Mark’s.

Disciples of John the Baptist

One of the main differences between the Markan calling narrative and the Johannine narrative is its location. Whereas in Mark the setting is the Sea of Galilee (Mark 1:16), in John the setting is “in Bethany across the Jordan” (John 1:28). While the exact location of this Bethany is disputed3 it is clear that it is not in Galilee (cf. 1:43). Rather, John’s work is generally associated with the region of Perea, an area under the control of Herod Antipas who also ruled the region of Galilee.4 In the Johannine Gospel, John baptizes in Bethany and in “Aenon near Salim” (3:23), another town whose location is unknown but from the given context is somewhere near the Judean countryside and close to sufficient water for Jesus to perform baptisms (3:22).

With the Sea of Galilee not in the picture, there are no fishers for Jesus to call to become fishers of people (Mark 1:17). So from where do Jesus’ first disciples originate? According to the Johannine author, some of Jesus’ first disciples were actually disciples of John the Baptist!

The next day [cf. John 1:29-34] John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed [ēkolouthēsan; cf. Mark 1:18] Jesus (John 1:35-37).

In what follows (1:38-42) we discover that one of the disciples’ name is Andrew and that he has a brother named Simon (1:40). So Andrew is in the Gospel of John a disciple of John the Baptist before he begins following Jesus. This detail – one that seems rather important – is nowhere to be found in the Markan text.

The calling of Simon in the Gospel of John consequently differs from what we find in the Gospel of Mark. Rather than being found fishing in the Sea of Galilee with Andrew, he is instead in a location other than where both Jesus and Andrew were (cf. 1:39). The narrative thus has Simon coming to find Jesus at the prompting of Andrew rather than Jesus finding Simon and calling him himself (1:41-42).5 

Substituting James and John

Another striking difference between the Markan and Johannine calling narratives is that John’s Gospel makes no mention of the calling of James and John. In fact, James and John are only alluded to with the moniker “the sons of Zebedee” (John 21:12; cf. Mark 1:19-20). In each of the Synoptic Gospels their calling plays an important part of the narrative and they as characters engage in conversations with Jesus that result in teaching moments about the fate of Jesus’ followers (i.e. Mark 10:35-45). Yet in John’s Gospel they are mentioned but once and then not even by their own names but by their father’s.

Instead of a calling narrative concerning James and John we find a calling narrative about Philip and Nathanael. Philip is known from the Synoptic Gospels where we find him mentioned in the list of disciples (Mark 3:18; Matthew 10:3; Luke 6:14). Nathanael on the other hand is not attested in the Synoptics at all and is wholly a Johannine character. But he is surely a member of the Twelve since he is among those listed in 21:2 which include disciples about whom we know from the Synoptics like Simon, Thomas, and James and John.

The narrative structure of 1:43-51 is similar to that of 1:37-42.

  • Philip, like Andrew, begins to follow Jesus (1:43).
  • Philip, like Andrew, seeks out another (i.e. Nathanael) to follow Jesus (1:44).
  • Philip, like Andrew, says that, “We have found [heurēkamen; cf. 1:41]” a messianic leader.6
  • Nathanael, like Peter, comes to Jesus (1:47).
  • Jesus, simply seeing Nathanael, announces his true character – “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” (1:47) which is similar to Jesus’ renaming of Cephas upon simply seeing him. (See note 5.)

Nathanael’s amazement at Jesus’ insights is to acknowledge that he is “the Son of God” and “the King of Israel” (1:49). Yet Jesus is quick to say that compared to what Nathanael will see, Jesus’ statement in 1:47 (cf. 1:48) is small peanuts (1:50): “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man” (1:51). This plays into the Johannine motif of the role that signs play in having faith in Jesus (John 20:30-31; cf. 21:24-25).

An Attempt to Reconcile

The Johannine calling narratives reveal that their author wrote with theological and rhetorical interests at heart. Because of this, the Markan and Johannine narratives are in direct conflict with one another. But this has not prevented attempts to reconcile the tensions. For example, Eric Lyons in a post entitled “When Did Jesus Call the First Apostles?”7 claims that “John is describing a totally separate incident from the one the synoptists describe.” The Synoptic narratives are about the call of the disciples to become apostles whereas the Johannine narrative is about their relationship to Jesus as Messiah.

John records Peter and Andrew’s first meeting with the Christ. The synoptists, however, testify of a later meeting, when Jesus called them at the Sea of Galilee to become “fishers of men.”

But this apologetic only results in a more confusing narrative and doesn’t take the language of John’s Gospel seriously.

The Johannine narrative takes place over a series of days (1:29, 1:35, 1:43, 2:1), culminating in Jesus’ appearance with “his disciples” (2:2) at a wedding in the Galilean city of Cana (2:1-11). Undoubtedly, among his disciples were Andrew, Simon, Philip, and Nathanael who had just interacted with Jesus both temporally in the days before and narratively in the preceding context. In the narratives that follow, there is no sense that these disciples have abandoned Jesus for the Sea of Galilee: they follow him to Capernaum (2:12), to Jerusalem (2:13-25), and so on. At what point does Jesus have to go back to Galilee to call the disciples to be “fishers of people”? As Raymond Brown noted,

The standard harmonization is that Jesus first called the disciples as John narrates but that they subsequently returned to their normal life in Galilee until Jesus came there to recall them to service, as the Synoptics narrate. There may be some basic truth in this reconstruction but it goes considerably beyond the evidence of the Gospels themselves. In John, once the disciples are called, they remain Jesus’ disciples without the slightest suggestion of their returning to normal livelihood. Nor in the Synoptic account of the call in Galilee is there any indication that these men have seen Jesus before.8

In other words, the Gospel narratives do not allow any such reconciliation. In both, the disciples continue with Jesus without interruption. Lyons contrived explanation simply doesn’t work.

No Harmonization Needed

In truth, no harmonization is needed. If the Johannine author was working from traditional material then it is clear that there was a version of Jesus’ first interactions with Andrew and Peter that differ from that found in the Markan narrative. And if the author was working with some version of Mark or Luke9 then he has clearly reshaped preexisting narratives to suit his own particular purposes, especially with regards to his rather high Christology. In either case, a harmonization simply isn’t possible. The authors of the Gospels of Mark and John were clearly writing with different criteria in mind.10  These are portraits, not snapshots, of Jesus. And they are portraits painted with the brushes of later authors in historical situations different from Jesus’ own.


1 Not only does Luke’s version of the calling narrative come after Jesus heals Simon’s mother-in-law, in the narrative it is stated that Jesus gets into Simon’s boat (Andrew is nowhere to be found) and that James and John were Simon’s fishing partners!

2 The Johannine addendum shares particular similarities with the Lukan calling narrative of Luke 5:1-11. For example, in both the Lukan and Johannine accounts we see Simon mentioned without Andrew and we also find James and John, although they are referred to as “the sons of Zebedee” (John 21:2). Both accounts also include a miraculous haul of fish (John 21:6; cf. Luke 5:5-6) as well as a specific response from Simon (John 21:7; cf. Luke 5:8).

3 See Rainer Riesner, “Bethany Beyond Jordan,” in David N. Freedman, editor, Anchor Bible Dictionary (Doubleday, 1992), 1:703-705.

4 See Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of John: A Commentary (Baker Academic, 2003), 1:449-451.

5 There may be more going on with Simon’s name change in John 1:42 from “Simon son of John” to “‘Cephas’ (which is translated Peter).” Not only is it Andrew rather than Simon who affirms that Jesus is the Messiah (1:41; cf. Matthew 16:16), Simon’s change of name to Cephas/Peter occurs far earlier in the Johannine narrative than in the Matthean. Bradford Blaine, Jr. has suggested some Christological motivations for “transplanting the naming episode to the front” of the Gospel of John.

First, Jesus has not met Peter and yet knows enough about him to give him the name “Cephas” which means “rock.” In this way, “John highlights both Jesus general foreknowledge (cf. 4:25; 6:6; 14:26; 16:30, etc.) and his specific foreknowledge concerning the fates of the disciples (14:16; 15:20 and 16:32).

Second, Peter’s statement of Jesus’ identity and that he is the one who has “the words of eternal life” (6:68-69) in the midst of many of Jesus’ disciples leaving him (6:66-67; cf. 6:60-65) serves as a “profession of loyalty in a time of crisis” and not simply as a confession like what we find in the Matthean text. Jesus’ role as Messiah has already been acknowledged (1:41) and the name change is not connected to a Petrine confession. In other words, the Johannine Jesus has already established Peter’s faithfulness.

Third, “by bringing the name change to the front of the Gospel but leaving the confession [i.e. 6:68-69] in its ‘original’ context…John introduces the familiar character of Peter without letting him overshadow Andrew, Philip, and Nathanael.” Consequently, the Johannine author creates “a powerful chain of witness” in the earliest stages of Jesus’ ministry.

See Bradford B. Blaine, Jr., Peter in the Gospel of John: The Making of an Authentic Disciple (Society of Biblical Literature, 2007), 38-39.

6 If we compare Andrew’s statement to Peter – “We have found the Messiah” (1:41) – with Philip’s statement to Nathanael – “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth” (1:45) – we see an example of narrative exposition. Philip in essence explains what the word “Messiah” means to the Johannine community: the one about who the Hebrew scriptures wrote, seen in its fullness in Jesus of Nazareth. So then for this community there is no doubt who the Messiah is: it is Jesus!

7 Eric Lyons, “When Did Jesus Call the First Apostles?” (2007), Accessed 16 January 2018.

8 Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John (I-XII) (Doubleday, 1966), 77.

9 There is some evidence that John may have known of the Synoptic Gospels of Mark and Luke, including both direct verbal parallels and knowledge of Synoptic episodes. See L. Michael White, Scripting Jesus: The Gospels in Rewrite (HarperOne, 2010), 354-355. See also Thomas L. Brodie, The Quest for the Origin of John’s Gospel: A Source-Oriented Approach (OUP, 1993), 67-120.

10 The clearest sign of this is that there is not even a whiff of the secrecy motif that is so prevalent in Mark’s Gospel found in John’s. From the outset, Jesus is declared to be the Messiah and the one about whom the Hebrew scriptures had foretold (John 1:41, 45). This is absent from Mark’s Gospel as virtually no human characters – especially not the disciples – understand who Jesus is.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.


Satan Entered Judas: The Great Betrayer, part 1

“So he appointed…Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.”
Mark 3:16a, 19, NRSV

Of all the characters in the Gospels, few stand out like Judas Iscariot. It isn’t because he is as verbose as Peter can be nor is it because he stands out like James and John. Whereas most of the disciples fade into the background behind Peter, James, and John, Judas doesn’t because of what he does to Jesus. In each of the Gospels the first thing that is said of him is that he was the one who betrayed Jesus (Mark 3:19, Matthew 10:4, Luke 6:16, John 6:71). Being a traitor is his claim to fame and to this day his name used to describe someone who acts as betrayer.

The Gospels do not give us very many glimpses into who Judas really was. But what is interesting to see is how Judas develops over time as we move from the earliest Gospel to the latest. It is upon that issue that this series of posts will focus.


We aren’t told in the Gospel of Mark how Judas came to follow Jesus. He isn’t called like Peter, Andrew, James, and John are (Mark 1:16-20). Nor is he sitting at a tax booth and hears the words “Follow me” come from Jesus lips as Levi heard (2:13-14). It isn’t even clear that the first mention of “disciples” (Greek, mathétés) in Mark’s Gospel includes the group we typically consider to be Jesus’ core disciples (2:15). Rather, the first time we see Judas named it is when Jesus ascends a hill and “called to him those whom he wanted” (3:13). Out of that group, he appoints twelve “to be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message, and to have authority to cast out demons” (3:14-15). The last one to be listed in the series of twelve names is “Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him” (3:19). We learn two things about Judas from those few words.

First, Judas is given the surname “Iscariot,” a word that likely means “man from Kerioth,” a village in the southern region of Judea. [1] If this is the meaning of “Iscariot,” then it is an interesting part of the story. In fact, it may mean that Judas was part of a group of people from “the whole Judean countryside” who had gone to see John the Baptist and were baptized by him (1:5). Perhaps it was there he first encountered Jesus. Admittedly, while this is a plausible scenario, it is purely speculative.

Second, Mark describes Judas as hos kai paredōken auton – “the one who also betrayed him.” The verb rendered as “betrayed” in the NRSV is paradidómi, a compound word that stems from the Greek preposition para and the verb didómi, “to give.” Ceslas Spicq notes that paradidómi is in the New Testament became “a technical term for Jesus’ passion” and while it “is to be taken first in its legal and judicial sense,” it also “conveys…a moral or psychological nuance and a theological value.” [2] Spicq writes,

The verb rather often also connotes this nuance of criminality: desertion to another camp, breach of sworn faith, betrayal of someone’s trust. It is certain that the first Christians saw Christ’s crucifixion less as an atrociously painful form of torture than as an ignominy and a result of perfidy. To say that Jesus was handed over, then, means that he was betrayed. [3] 

As we will see, when Judas Iscariot appears in Mark’s Gospel it is always associated contextually with some form of paradidómi though not every instance of paradidómi is contextually associated with Judas.

Passion Predictions

Before Jesus enters the city of Jerusalem in 11:11, he makes a couple of statements that predict what will happen to him when he gets there.

First, as Jesus and the disciples pass through Galilee on their way to Capernaum he begins teaching them: “The Son of Man is to be betrayed [paradidotai] into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again” (9:31). Jesus doesn’t say who will betray him, only that he will be betrayed. Mark then comments that “they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him” (9:32). Since the “they” refers to the disciples of 9:31, Judas must have been included.

Second, while on their way to Jerusalem, Jesus takes the Twelve aside and tells them what will happen when they get to the city: “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over [paradothēsetai] to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over [paradōsousin] the Gentiles” (10:33). So he will first be handed over to the chief priests which takes place when Judas leads the chief priests and scribes to Gethsamene in 14:43. And then the chief priests and the scribes will hand Jesus over to “the Gentiles.” This takes place in 15:3 – “They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over [paredōkan] to Pilate” (cf. 15:10, 15:15).

The Plot to Kill Jesus

Once Jesus and the disciples reach the city, all that Jesus had predicted begins to happen. It all begins to go downhill after he enters the temple and begins to kick out the merchants and their customers from the temple (11:15-17). Once the chief priests and the scribes get wind of what he did they begin to look for a way to kill him, “for they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching” (11:18). The religious authorities begin confronting Jesus to question his authority (11:27-33), seeking to arrest him but refraining because of the crowds (12:12).

Two days before the Passover, the religious authorities begin to plot a way to quietly arrest Jesus and kill him (14:1). “Not during the festival,” they said, “or there may be a riot among the people” (14:2). Meanwhile, Jesus and the disciples are in the home of Simon the leper where he is anointed by an anonymous woman (14:3-9). At some point, Judas leaves the group and returns to Jerusalem where he meets with the religious authorities “in order to betray [paradoi] him to them” (14:10). They are thrilled with the prospect and promise Judas payment in exchange for his cooperation. From then on Judas “began to look for an opportunity to betray [paradoi] him” (14:11).

Another Passion Prediction

On the evening of the Passover Jesus shares a meal with the Twelve. While they are eating, Jesus interrupts with one hell of a conversation starter: “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray [paradōsei] me” (14:18). The disciples are distressed by this prediction and they each ask Jesus who will do it (14:19). But Jesus doesn’t give them any specifics – “It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the bowl with me.” As they were all “dipping bread into the bowl” with Jesus, that piece of information doesn’t help the disciples figure out about whom Jesus is speaking. But Mark’s readers know!

Jesus also says of the one who would betray him, “For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to the one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed [paradidotai]! It would have been better for that one not to have been born” (14:21). This is an interesting statement from Jesus because on the one hand it implies that what is about to happen to Jesus was already set in stone (“the Son of Man goes as it is written of him”) yet the one who plays his part in bringing that about would have been better off never coming into existence!

“The Betrayer”

At no point in Mark’s narrative are we told when Judas leaves to lead the religious authorities to Jesus. He either does so right after the meal or right before Jesus goes to pray in Gethsemane. My personal feeling is that he does so right before they get to Gethsemane since Jesus being in that area would have allowed the chief priests to arrest Jesus quietly (see 14:1). Interestingly, the Gospel of John records that Judas left Jesus after he had dipped bread into a dish and had given it to Judas (see John 13:26-30). How he knew where Jesus would be is not made clear by John.

As Jesus goes into Gethsemane he tells his disciples to wait for him while he goes to pray (14:32). He then takes Peter, James, and John and tells them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake” (14:33-34). But they fail to stay awake not once, not twice, but thrice! (14:37, 40-41). After the third time he catches them sleeping, Jesus says, “Enough! The hour has come; the Son of Man is betrayed [paradidotai] into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer [paradidous] is at hand” (14:41-42). As he speaks to Peter, James, and John, along comes Judas and with him the religious authorities and a crowd armed with swords and clubs (14:43).

For the rest of Mark’s Gospel the character of Judas Iscariot does not appear. Mark strips Judas of his name and the last thing he is called in the Gospel of Mark is ho paradidous – “the betrayer.” Judas has gone from one of the men closest to Jesus to one who gave him up to the religious authorities. Judas had told the chief priests that whoever he kissed was the one that they wanted, and so Judas approaches Jesus, addresses him as “rabbi,” and kisses him (14:44-45). Jesus is then arrested and led away (14:46).

There is nothing more said about Judas Iscariot. We have in Mark neither the Matthean scene wherein Judas throws his blood money back at the priests and then hangs himself (Matthew 27:3-10) nor the details of Judas’ demise offered by Luke (Acts 1:15-20). His story ends in Gethsemane with a kiss. It is abrupt and it is haunting.

Next Time

In the next post in this series we will continue our analysis of Judas Iscariot by examining how he is portrayed in the Gospel of Matthew.


[1] Edwin D. Freed, “Judas Iscariot,” in Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan, editors, The Oxford Companion to the Bible (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1993), 395.

[2] Ceslas Spicq, Theological Lexicon of the New Testament, vol. 3 (Peabody, MA: Hendricksen Publishers, 1994), 21.

[3] Spicq, 21-22.

Musings on Mark: Fishers of Men

καὶ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰησοῦς· δεῦτε ὀπίσω μου, καὶ ποιήσω ὑμᾶς γενέσθαι ἁλιεῖς ἀνθρώπων.
Mark 1:17

I do not care for fishing. While some find it to be a relaxing hobby, I find it to be boring and tedious. Maybe it’s because my dad never took me fishing or maybe it’s because I prefer to have my nose in a book. Whatever the reason, fishing is not for me. And hunting even less so!

Yet much of the world depends on fish and other seafood to sustain its growing population. In his book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, scientist and author Jared Diamond notes,

While seafood consumption is high and rising in the First World, it is even higher and rising faster elsewhere, e.g., having doubled in China within the last decade. Fish now account for 40% of all protein (of both plant and animal origin) consumed in the Third World and are the main animal protein source for over a billion Asians….As a result of our dependence on seafood, the sea provides jobs and income for 200,000,000 people around the world, and fishing is the most important basis of the economies of Iceland, Chile, and some other countries. (Diamond, 2005, 479)

Throughout much of human history, fishing has been an important task. If you lived near a body of water then you got much of your food supply from it. This is true today and it was true in first century Palestine.

With Him All the Way

The Gospel of Mark has a very simple structure. In broad terms, there are three major sections: a prologue or introduction (1:1-15), the public ministry of Jesus (1:16-8:26), and the journey to the cross (8:27-16:8). Within the first section we can see three major divisions: the authority of Jesus (1:16-3:12), the teachings of Jesus (3:13-6:6), and the mission of Jesus (6:7-8:26). Each division begins with a pericope concerning the disciples. Why is this?

To put it simply, one of Mark’s goals in writing his Gospel is to turn readers who may know about Jesus into disciples of Jesus. So in his Gospel the disciples are far from minor characters on the stage that is Jesus’ life. Rather, they are there from the beginning and are vital to the story. And by including them so early in the narrative, Mark is emphasizing that the disciples had been with Jesus all the way. [1]

“Left their father Zebedee”

But the pericope in Mark 1:16-20 is also intended to demonstrate that the proper response to Jesus’ call is immediate and unwavering commitment. When Jesus sees Simon and Andrew casting their nets into the sea, he calls to them and says, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” (1:17) And what is their response? καὶ εὐθὺς ἀφέντες τὰ δίκτυα ἠκολούθησαν αὐτῷ – “And immediately they left their nets and followed him.” (1:18) If this isn’t surprising, it should be. Mark’s audience would have recognized that in dropping their nets to follow Jesus, Simon and Andrew were leaving behind their livelihood, their source of life. Yet they drop their nets and at the call of Jesus follow him.

But Simon and Andrew are not the only ones who abandon fishing to follow Jesus. As he goes a little farther, Jesus sees James and John, the sons of Zebedee, in their boats repairing their nets. The text says, “And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.” (1:20) This is surprising not only because fishing was their source of food but also because apparently Zebedee’s fishing business was doing well enough that he could afford to have τῶν μισθωτῶν, “hired servants.” Furthermore, James and John left their own father behind to follow this man from Galilee. This is astonishing.

Mark is highlighting for his readers that discipleship is costly. You may have to abandon your source of food. You may not have incredible financial success. You may have to leave behind family. But the one you are following is one who teaches with authority and casts out demons (1:21-28), who can heal those who have been sick with leprosy or paralyzed for life (1:40-2:12), and who is even able to raise the dead to life again. (5:35-43) Sure, along the way you may be lumped in with “tax collectors and sinners” (2:15-16) but Jesus said he wasn’t where the healthy were but where the sick were.

“I will make you become fishers of men,” Jesus told Simon and Andrew. And that is one of the purposes of Mark’s Gospel: to make his readers fishers of men.

End Notes

[1] Though as Jesus faces his own death they scatter. This turn of events is intended to emphasize a theme in Mark’s Gospel that no one really understands who Jesus is, not even his disciples. They may have expected a triumphant king but got a crucified prophet.

Print Bibliography 

Jared Diamond. Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. New York, NY: Penguin Books, 2005.