Making Sense of A Bible Chronology Puzzle: the calling of the first Disciples.

Today I’ve been searching the scriptures to unravel which passage labeled in my bible as “the calling of the first disciples” is actually their first meeting of the Lord. Trivia perhaps, geeky of me almost certainly, but it has me most curious since, in my lifetime, I have heard each of the accounts of the first disciples’ early meetings with the Lord preached on as if it was the first time Peter, Andrew, James, and John had met the Lord and got up to follow him without hesitancy, and even bible scholars expressing amazement at such recklessness of following some Rabbi they’d never heard of before.

However,  three of the four gospels choose to show case different “calling of the first disciples” incidents that cannot all be those disciples first meeting with the Lord, and they all must have occurred. So curiosity (perhaps as a writer) demanded I figure out these incidents’ actual time sequence. This can be challenging, as Jewish minds don’t necessarily think in chronological order as Greek minds did and we do today. But here is my best shot at it:

First, Mark 1:14-20 (ESV) tells us:

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”  Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.

Note this incident is also recorded in Matthew 4:12-13; 18-22, which informs us the Lord had already moved from Nazareth to Capernaum before the incident Mark 1:21-22; 29-31 goes on to record as coming next:

And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching. And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. …  And immediately [Jesus] left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, and immediately they told him about her. And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

Luke 3:19-20;  4:31-39 both concurs and adds additional information:

But Herod the tetrarch, who had been reproved by him for Herodias, his brother’s wife, and for all the evil things that Herod had done, added this to them all, that he locked up John in prison. … And [Jesus] went down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee. And he was teaching them on the Sabbath, and they were astonished at his teaching, for his word possessed authority. And in the synagogue there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice,”Ha! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent and come out of him!” And when the demon had thrown him down in their midst, he came out of him, having done him no harm. And they were all amazed and said to one another, “What is this word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!”And reports about him went out into every place in the surrounding region.

And [Jesus] arose and left the synagogue and entered Simon’s house. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was ill with a high fever, and they appealed to him on her behalf. And he stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her, and immediately she rose and began to serve them.

Luke 5:1-11(ESV) then adds:

On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets.Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.

Note Luke does not record the calling recorded in Mathew and Mark, but all three record John’s arrest having already occurred, and both Luke and Mark have the incident of healing Peter’s mother-in-law–and Mathew and Mark’s calling of the first disciples came before the healing, while this incident comes after the healing. Which means our eager-to-go boys are back fishing again after we praised them for astounding us by immediately dropping everything to follow Rabbi Jesus.

This text makes them human, after all. At this point in time, Jesus is living and ministering in their own area. So close to their nets, it would be tempting for the four fishermen to attempt to keep up their  business while following their Rabbi. Later, Rabbi Paul is depicted as making disciples while also practicing a trade (tentmaking) to support himself. If they’re following Jesus all day and fishing all night, though, one must wonder when they find time to sleep. No wonder Jesus challenges them to leave their trade altogether and fish for men.

To add to the tale, John 1:29; 35-42 tells us this is actually the second time that, Andrew at minimum, and probably Peter and John also, have gone back to fishing after starting their careers as disciples:

The next day [John the Baptist] saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! … The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “So you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Cephas”(which means Peter).

Did you catch why this incident must be first? In all the other passages, John the Baptist has already been arrested. And, in John’s gospel, the apostle has a  habit of making himself anonymous, and this being his own recollections, he was probably the other anonymous disciple.

Andrew, and likely John the apostle also, then first met Jesus while they were following John the Baptist. After he and Mr. Anonymous stayed over night with Jesus, Andrew fetched Peter and introduced him to Jesus also.

On further study, this mostly likely occurred around the time of the Lord’s Baptism. After the Baptism, Jesus immediately leaves and spends forty days alone in the wilderness. In the messiah’s sudden and mysterious absence, the disciples apparently head back home, perhaps following the arrest of John the Baptist. That might be why the texts note John had already been arrested when we find Peter, John, and Andrew suddenly back home fishing, where Jesus seeks them out again and formally calls them to be his disciples. It occurs to me the first disciples fleeing to Galilee and going back to fishing following the arrest of John the Baptist would also match the behavior of the disciples following Christ’s arrest and execution.