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How do you reconcile the two accounts of Jesus calling Peter? (Matt 4:18-19 and John 1:35-42)

In the Matthew passage, Peter and Andrew are together fishing. In the John passage, Andrew was with John the Baptist and Peter was else where?

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I don't see an inherent conflict between these passages. Specifically, the John passage describes how both Andrew and Simon initially met Jesus; the Matthew passage describes how He called them as disciples. Matthew never claims that the event by the seashore was Jesus' first encounter with the brothers.

Edit: In the account of John, Peter meets Jesus just after Jesus had been baptized, been tempted in the wilderness, and came back (John 1:32-34). Peter's calling is in all of the gospels. In Luke, Jesus was tempted in chapter 4. Afterward, in chapter 5 (coinciding with the chronology in John 1), he calls Peter as a disciple (his calling is paralleled in Matt 4 and Mark 1). In Luke 4:38-39, just before Peter and Andrew were called, Jesus went from the synagogue to the house of - wait for it - Simon! He went to heal His mother in law! This is before Jesus called him as a disciple. Also, in 5:3, he first refers to Peter simply by the name of Simon, just like in 4:38, so we can safely assume it is the same Simon whose house He had visited (otherwise Luke should have/would have given him a distinction, like Simon the fisher, in order to clarify it wasn't the Simon discussed only about ten verses ago in chapter 4, right?) Jesus called him after healing his mother in law! Of course He could have met Him as discussed in John 1 with his actual calling taking place soon after! Does anybody see a flaw or hole in this line of logic?

  • +1 While I agree there need not be a contradiction, Matthew sure makes it sound like the disciples had never met Jesus before they were called. Bonhoeffer in The Cost of Discipleship characterized the call as answered by faith and not reputation or former friendship or any prior contact. – Jon Ericson Jan 5 '12 at 1:38
  • @GalacticCowboy: So you are saying that the John passage takes place first so that by the time the Matthew passage takes place, Peter and Andrew would have already known Jesus, as Jon said in his comment? – epotter Jan 5 '12 at 12:01
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    Given that the fundamental circumstances are clearly different, and the John passage explicitly claims to be a first meeting between Jesus and the two men, that seems to be the clearest way to read this. – GalacticCowboy Jan 5 '12 at 13:52
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+100

Before reconciling the synoptic account, generally, with John's account, it is first necessary to reconcile the different versions of the synoptic account.

  • In Mark 1:16, Jesus sees Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea and calls them to follow him, and that he will make them fishers of men. Later, in verses 1:29-30, he visits the house of Simon, where Simon's mother-in-law lies ill.

  • Matthew 4:18,8:14 follow Mark reasonably closely and do not present a contradiction against Mark.

  • In Luke 4:38, Jesus enters visits the house of Simon, where Simon's mother-in-law lies ill. Later, in 5:3 he finds Simon washing, not casting, his net and miraculously tells Simon how to catch a great haul of fish - Jesus says he will teach Simon to be a fisher of men. Andrew does not seem to be present and is only mentioned in chapter 6, where all the disciples are listed.

Wikipedia tells us, "The most widely accepted hypothesis today, however, is that Mark was the first gospel and was used as a source by both Matthew and Luke, together with considerable additional material." If Mark was the source used by the authors of Matthew and Luke, it ought to be the most accurate, at least of the synoptic gospels, and Luke should be ignored wherever it contradicts Mark, such as in the chronology of events. Comparisons should ideally be limited to Mark and John, although using Matthew presents no problem in this instance.

Issues to be reconciled

In both Mark and Matthew the meeting by the Sea of Galilee seems to be the first time Jesus has met the brothers, and we learn in Mark 3:16 that Jesus surnames Simon as Peter, with Mark indicating that Simon's name was changed on this occasion.

In John 1:35-42, Jesus most certainly first met Andrew with John the Baptist and first met Simon shortly afterwards, when Andrew called him. It was at this time (John 1:42) that Jesus called Simon by the name Cephas, or Peter.

In Matthew 3:13-14, John the Baptist immediately recognises Jesus, but John 1:31,33 has the Baptist twice saying that he had not known Jesus when he came to be baptised. However, Mark makes no mention of this, so the contradiction can be overlooked for present purposes.

Explanation

The scope of the problem with any attempt to harmonise the synoptic gospels and John's Gospel is summarised by Burton L. Mack, who says in Who Wrote the New Testament, page 177 that the Jesus, setting and storyline of the fourth gospel can not be aligned with the synoptics. It has not been possible to meld John's Jesus with that of the synoptics as if each had merely emphasised different features of the same historical Jesus. He says John's Jesus is an altogether different kind of being.

Elaine Pagels says in Beyond Belief, pages 61-63, that she discerns in John’s Gospel a distinct bias against Peter. John Dominic Crossan, in The Birth of Christianity, page 566, also points to typically oblique examples of the exaltation of the Beloved Disciple over Peter in John's gospel. So, a theme of John's Gospel seems to be to undermine what its author might have felt had become excessive veneration of the apostle Peter.

In keeping with the resolve to minimise the role of Peter in the gospel story, he is no longer the first disciple selected by Jesus, only following Jesus at the insistence of his brother, Andrew. At the same time, Andrew becomes the first to declare Jesus to be the Messiah, or Christ, at the very beginning of the gospel (John 1:41). In Mark's Gospel, Peter is the first disciple to venture that Jesus is the Christ, and only at verse 8:29.

John does not include a list of the disciples, corresponding to 3:14-19, so simply moves the renaming of Simon forward to this first meeting, where the difference passes unnoticed.

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There are 2 stories here. The first is when Andrew and Peter first meet Jesus in John's account. The second is when Andrew, Peter, James and John are called as disciples, as described in the synoptic gospels.

In the first story, Andrew and another (often believed to be the apostle John, Andrew's business partner) is with John the Baptist when John sees Jesus and proclaims he's the lamb of God (Jn 1,36). Andrew starts to follow Jesus, and tells his brother Peter. Jesus therefore meets Andrew, Peter, and possibly John (Jn 1, 40-42).

Some time later, while John the Baptist was imprisoned (Mk 1, 14) we get the second story, with Mark and Matthew providing the shortened version, and Luke writing the more extensive account. Jesus is preaching and there are lots of people crowding around, so he gets into a boat and pushes out a little way so they can see and hear him (Luke 5, 1-3). After he's finished, he tells Peter to go fishing again - which he reluctantly does after explaining he had spent the entire night fishing without a catch, and they get a huge haul of fish. Peter (and implicitly Andrew) call out James and John in another boat to help get the catch ashore, and even with the additional boat the nets are breaking and the boats nearly sink (Luke 5, 6-10).

The accounts in Mark and Matthew are more brief. Here, there is no description of the crowds, the preaching from the boat, the previous night's fishing or the huge haul of fish. Instead, Mark tells us Andrew and Peter were fishing, and James and John were mending nets. Jesus calls them and they follow (Mark 1, 14-19) and (Matt 4, 18-22).

All these accounts fit together. Andrew, Peter and John met Jesus before he calls them to be disciples. Jesus is preaching and uses Peter's boat to be able to speak to more people. After finishing they fish, bringing in a huge haul that breaks nets and follow Jesus. In the shorter versions, they fish, mend nets and follow Jesus.

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Harmonizing John 1, Mark 1, Matthew 4:19, and Luke 5:1-11

All of these passages speak about a call of Peter. But only Mark and Matthew recall the same event. The order in chronology is John, Mark and Matthew, Luke.

JESUS MEETS PETER In John 1, Jesus in introduced to Peter by Andrew. Andrew was following Jesus since the previous day based on his former teacher’s (John’s) testimony that Jesus was the lamb of God. Obviously, though Andrew did not know Jesus, he was taught by John about the Messiah who was to come. So, when John said, “Look, there is the Lamb of God,” Andrew knew that John was talking about the Messiah. Hence, Andrew followed Jesus.

Andrew then brings his brother Peter to Jesus, saying “we have found the Messiah.” And Peter is named Cephas by Jesus.

JESUS CALLS PETER NEXT, Matthew and Mark agree that Jesus was tempted before he called Peter to be a disciple, “a fisher of people.” In that call scene Jesus saw Peter casting a net into the water. And Jesus called to Peter and he followed Jesus who was walking along the shore.

JESUS HEALS PETER’S MOTHER-IN-LAW In Mark Jesus heals Peter’s wife’s mother after Peter is called. Then it is mentioned how many are healed. In Matthew there is no mention of the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law but there is mention of many being healed after Peter’s call.

In Luke Peter’s mother-in-law is healed before the scene recorded in Luke 5:1-11

JESUS CONFIRMS PETER’S CALL Luke 5 has Jesus standing by the sea of Galilee when the fishermen are washing their nets. And Jesus has a crowd of people gathered around Him, listening to the Word of God. This is not the same scene we see in Mark and Matthew because Jesus posture is different, and the boats are parked along the edge of the sea, not out in the water. The fishermen are washing their nets, not casting them out.

Some have postured that this is the same day as the scene recorded in Matthew and Mark. Hence, Matthew and Mark recorded the early part of the fishing day (which would have been the evening before because Peter says in Luke that they were “fishing all night”) and Luke records the end of the fishing day.

Such a scenario would require that Jesus was there all night long watching the fishing, or that He was there in the evening, then returned the following morning. This understanding is possible but there is no reason to demand such a scenario. More troublesome is the fact that Luke lists the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law before his call scene in 5:1-11.

Either Luke or Mark is out of order chronologically or Luke has recorded a different event from Mark & Matthew. The latter is more likely.

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  • Actually Peter's mother in law is healed in Matthew,but doesn't occur until chapter Matt 8:11. – Scott Bookhout Oct 5 '17 at 15:27
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The event in Matthew at the sea and the one in Luke do not seem to describe different events. Matthew is a summary of the meeting described in Luke - he saw them fishing in Matthew and in Luke it details how they went out and fished together. I see no reason to take Matthew's account to mean "as his eyes laid on them they were fishing". Initially they were washing nets but he told to go cast the nets out again. Hence his interaction with them involved fishing and it is accurate to say, "He saw them fishing," since Matthew felt that was the focal point of the story, especially considering Jesus' words echoed in Luke, "I will make you fishers of men."

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