Matthew Chapter 4:18-25

This will conclude Chapter 4.

18 Περιπατῶν δὲ παρὰ τὴν θάλασσαν τῆς Γαλιλαίας εἶδεν δύο ἀδελφούς, Σίμωνα τὸν λεγόμενον Πέτρον καὶ Ἀνδρέαν τὸν ἀδελφὸν αὐτοῦ, βάλλοντας ἀμφίβληστρον εἰς τὴν θάλασσαν: ἦσαν γὰρ ἁλιεῖς.

19 καὶ λέγει αὐτοῖς, Δεῦτε ὀπίσω μου, καὶ ποιήσω ὑμᾶς ἁλιεῖς ἀνθρώπων.

20 οἱ δὲ εὐθέως ἀφέντες τὰ δίκτυα ἠ κολούθησαν αὐτῷ.

Walking around the Sea of Galilee he saw two brothers, Simon, the one called Peter, and Andrew his brother, throwing their nets in the water, for they were fishermen. (19) And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of people”. (20) And immediately they left behind their nets and they followed him.

Not sure exactly what to say about this. It’s close to verbatim from Mark, right down to the “fishers of people” line.  Given the prominence of Cephas/Peter/Simon in Paul, we know that Peter was one of Jesus’ main followers. In fact, I would suggest that Peter may be the only one of the followers named of whom we can be reasonably confident that existed. 

18 Ambulans autem iuxta mare Galilaeae, vidit duos fratres, Simonem, qui vocatur Petrus, et Andream fratrem eius, mittentes rete in mare; erant enim piscatores.

19 Et ait illis: “ Venite post me, et faciam vos piscatores hominum ”.

20 At illi continuo, relictis retibus, secuti sunt eum.

21 Καὶ προβὰς ἐκεῖθεν εἶδεν ἄλλους δύο ἀδελφούς,Ἰάκωβον τὸν τοῦ Ζεβεδαίου καὶ Ἰωάννην τὸν ἀδελφὸν αὐτοῦ, ἐν τῷ πλοίῳ μετὰ Ζεβεδαίου τοῦ πατρὸς αὐτῶν καταρτίζοντας τὰ δίκτυα αὐτῶν: καὶ ἐκάλεσεν αὐτούς.

22 οἱ δὲ εὐθέως ἀφέντες τὸ πλοῖον καὶ τὸν πατέρα αὐτῶν ἠκολούθησαν αὐτῷ.

And going further then he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father repairing their nets, and he called them. (22) Immediately leaving the boat and their father they followed him.

As I have said many times before, I have serious doubts about the Twelve. Between Paul and Mark I believe that we can safely and confidently say that the “Twelve Apostles” as those who were closest to Jesus is pretty much a later, mistaken interpretation. Paul was an apostle. Mark says Jesus sent out (apostellein) 72, not twelve. The only reason I cannot completely dismiss the Twelve is that Paul tells us that Jesus appeared to the Twelve. But given their rank in the sequence of appearances, I would guess that this may have been something that James instituted. 

Now, I seriously doubt the existence of Andrew, although there is a certain amount of likelihood of two brothers both choosing to follow Jesus. James (usually referred to as “The Greater”, as opposed to the other James who was a member of the twelve) and John, the “sons of thunder” pose real issues. In the gospels they are key members of Jesus’ inner circle. And yet, aside from probably spurious attributions of gospels and revelations to John, supposedly the one whom Jesus  loved, they are both very shadowy figures at best. They are prominent in the legends, but pretty much missing from the actual historical record. I keep toying with the idea that James the Greater (son of Zebedee and of Thunder) was actually James, brother of Jesus. This would solve a couple of problems. First, it would put the lord’s brother in the centre of the action, giving him a legitimate claim to being the leader of the Jerusalem Community after Jesus’ death. Second, transforming him into the son of Zebedee, rather than the son of Mary, possibly by a husband other than Jesus’ father, it would be a way to downplay the leader of the Jerusalem Community who was shunted aside, and then was executed in 64 according to Josephus. At the same time, the name James would still be retained as a prominent member of the inner circle, a name that probably would have been remembered by a number of Jesus’ followers. By retaining the name, while stressing the different father would help push James aside by covering up his relationship to Jesus. Downplaying this relationship would have helped justify the emergence of Peter as the eventual leader of the community.

In fact, that Jesus and James were half-brothers would, a) hardly be unusual for the time and place; b) explain why Mark called Jesus the son of Mary, rather than the son of…Joseph; and c) wrap up a bunch of loose ends. James could have been both the son of Zebedee and the (half-) brother of Jesus. Also, this would explain why Matthew added (or invented) the name of Joseph: to tell us that Jesus and James were sons of different fathers.

John poses bigger problems. We have nothing solid to attribute to John, and yet the name was revered enough that a later writer would put it to the last gospel and the Book of Revelation (although two persons named John is hardly impossible). Paul doesn’t name him, but James is the only “Pillar” of the Jerusalem Community that he does name. The attributions of the two books of the NT tells me that there actually was a John; unfortunately, that’s about all it tells me.

I did not deal with the actual point of this passage when discussing Mark. I’m not sure I grasped the actual point of the passage. Here we have two sets of brothers leaving occupation and father and family behind. Now, if Jesus had really lived in Caphernaum rather than Nazareth, he may have known Peter, and if James was his half-brother, then Jesus likely knew him as well. As such, this may not have been the swift, sudden decision that is presented here; rather, it may instead have been the culmination of a much longer process. The thing I missed in Mark is the connection of this episode with Jesus’ statement about the approaching kingdom. Now, the concept of “the kingdom” is one of the most important themes in Mark. There are those who will say that this was the key theme of the teaching of the historical Jesus. And there is good reason to think this may be true. This of course, leads to the question of what Jesus meant by “the kingdom”. I do not think we looked at this very closely when we read Mark, largely because I didn’t realize how deep the theme ran. If you break down Mark by theme–which I did–the kingdom is one of the most common motifs, and one of the few that extends from very early in the gospel more or less to the end. That is, it’s an integral part of the Wonder-worker section as well as the Christ section.

The point for this passage is whether the way the two sets of brothers left home and family and occupation behind is supposed to be a hallmark of the kingdom. Was this part of the price to be paid?  Or part of the preparation for the kingdom? Was the kingdom about an overthrow, or a disregarding of standard social norms? Instead of being dutiful sons, the sons of Zebedee leave their father and the family boat to follow Jesus. This was not how a good son was to act in the First Century. They were to stay and help Zebedee to carry on with the fishing. That was their duty. Instead, the literally drop what they’re doing and follow Jesus. This is a pretty sharp departure from standard practice. Is this a harbinger of what the kingdom is to be, or is to require? This needs to be looked at in a lot more depth than we did in Mark.

21 Et procedens inde vidit alios duos fratres, Iacobum Zebedaei et Ioannem fratrem eius, in navi cum Zebedaeo patre eorum reficientes retia sua; et vocavit eos.

22 Illi autem statim, relicta navi et patre suo, secuti sunt eum.

23 Καὶ περιῆγεν ἐν ὅλῃ τῇ Γαλιλαίᾳ, διδάσκων ἐν ταῖς συναγωγαῖς αὐτῶν καὶ κηρύσσων τὸ εὐαγγέλιον τῆς βασιλείας καὶ θεραπεύων πᾶσαν νόσον καὶ πᾶσαν μαλακίαν ἐν τῷ λαῷ.

And he went through the whole of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing all the diseases and all the maladies among the people.

23 Et circumibat Iesus totam Galilaeam, docens in synagogis eorum et praedicans evangelium regni et sanans omnem languorem et omnem infirmitatem in populo.

 This is a very broad statement. It’s more of a summary than a description. Perhaps it’s meant as a foreshadow. First, he went through the whole of Galilee. IOW, he was a peripatetic teacher who covered a fair bit of ground. Now, if he had withdrawn to Galilee to avoid being arrested like John, he wasn’t going to fly under the radar of Herod Antipas by circumambulating the entire region. So what are we to think of the whole connection with him going to Galilee because John was arrested? In this instance, was John arrested by someone other than Herod? That these two sets of circumstances seem to be contradictory tells me that at least one of them is wrong. Either a) John wasn’t arrested by Herod; b) Jesus didn’t withdraw to avoid Herod; or c) Jesus didn’t travel about the whole–or at least, a good portion–of Galilee. I suspect that the second is the odd-fact out, the one that doesn’t belong. One simple explanation could have been that, with the master in prison, Jesus returned to his own territory. Or, if John had been arrested by Herod, that Jesus never really left his home territory. This is more or less possible geographically.

Now, neither Mark nor Matthew explicitly stated that this was the reason for Jesus’ action as opposed to something that occurred prior, but the implication is very strong that there was a causal connection. Here, I think, is a great indication that the connection between John and Jesus was overplayed by his followers. The connection between the arrest and the return to Galilee is more or less presented as if Jesus were moving up to take John’s place.

In contrast, it’s interesting to note that the bit about the healings are downplayed to a certain extent. If you’ll recall, the first act in Jesus’ public ministry in Mark was the healing of the man’s withered hand in the synagogue, rather in the face of the Pharisees as happened. Here, Jesus’ healings are mentioned, but not specified. This, I think, is a great example of the continued transition from Wonder-worker to Christ. Mark started with the former and ended with the latter; Matthew, OTOH, picks up where Mark left off. Matthew does not ignore the wonders, but they do not get the attention that they received from Mark.

But think about this in relation to the calling of the brothers. In Mark, you have sequential episodes overturning the “rules”. First, the two brothers leaving their home and family; second, Jesus poking the established religious authorities in the eye by curing the man’s withered hand in the synagogue on a Sabbath. Both could be taken as “signs” of the overturning of the rules heralding the coming kingdom. Matthew, in contrast, leaves out the second of these episodes. Why? Or, more to the point, what does this say about Matthew’s interpretation of the kingdom? Which then raises the question: does this indicate a change in attitude towards the idea of the kingdom? This is a huge question.     

24 καὶ ἀπῆλθεν ἡ ἀκοὴ αὐτοῦ εἰς ὅλην τὴν Συρίαν: καὶ προσήνεγκαν αὐτῷ πάντας τοὺς κακῶς ἔχοντας ποικίλαις νόσοις καὶ βασάνοις συνεχομένους [καὶ] δαιμονιζομένους καὶ σεληνιαζομένους καὶ παραλυτικούς, καὶ ἐθεράπευσεν αὐτούς.

25 καὶ ἠκολούθησαν αὐτῷ ὄχλοι πολλοὶ ἀπὸ τῆς Γαλιλαίας καὶ Δεκαπόλεως καὶ Ἱεροσολύμων καὶ Ἰουδαίας καὶ πέραν τοῦ Ἰορδάνου.

And the word (lit = ‘hearing’) of him came to the whole of Syria; and all having illnesses, and various diseases, and constrained by torment (that is, pain), [and] demonaics and lunatics and paralytics came near to him and he healed them. (25) And many crowds followed him, from Galilee, and the Decapolis, and Jerusalem, and Judea, and from across the Jordan. 

24 Et abiit opinio eius in totam Syriam; et obtulerunt ei omnes male habentes, variis languoribus et tormentis comprehensos, et qui daemonia habebant, et lunaticos et paralyticos, et curavit eos.

25 Et secutae sunt eum turbae multae de Galilaea et Decapoli et Hierosolymis et Iudaea et de trans Iordanem.

OK, Matthew very neatly summarizes Mark here. We have the long list of maladies cured, and the numerous places of origin, and the fact that Jesus was very popular and followed by crowds. This is all an echo of Mark. One thing that’s a bit different is the prominence of Syria, and the inclusion of the Decapolis. These are non-Jewish territories. The non-Jewish world was rather peripheral in Mark’s account, but Syria is the first place Matthew mentions. At one time the theory was that Matthew wrote his gospel for the community of Antioch, which is in Syria. But we go beyond that, here. What this indicates, I think, is that the movement has become largely non-Jewish by the time Matthew wrote. One realization that I’ve come to during this study is the belief that the tipping point when the majority of the followers were pagans came much earlier than I had suspected. I don’t recall seeing any real estimates of when this occurred, but the sort of bland assumption that seems to underlie much of the scholarship is that Jews constituted the majority of Jesus’ followers for a number of decades, probably well into the last decades of the First Century. I don’t think so. I am coming to believe that the turning point came with the destruction of the Temple when the Jewish followers were scattered, if not killed. Matthew, in some ways, seems like the most Jewish of the evangelists, with his assertion that not an iota of the law has been abrogated. But I wonder if he is not displaying the zealousness of a convert, of a pagan who, as a god-fearer, became educated in Jewish law and scripture. This opinion–and that’s all it is–is a bit out there, isn’t something you will see suggested. But, certainly, whether or not Matthew was Jewish from birth, I would daresay that the majority of his community was not. That, I think, is why Syria and the Decapolis are mentioned so prominently here.

Just a quick note about the comment to last section. After this summary of the wonders, and the skipping of Jesus’ showing up of the religious authorities, we go on to the Sermon on the Mount.  What does this say about Matthew’s attitude towards the kingdom? Has it changed from what Mark thought it was, or would be?

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About James, brother of Jesus

I have a BA from the University of Toronto in Greek and Roman History. For this, I had to learn classical Greek and Latin. In seminar-style classes, we discussed both the meaning of the text and the language. U of T has a great Classics Dept. One of the professors I took a Senior Seminar with is now at Harvard. I started reading the New Testament as a way to brush up on my Greek, and the process grew into this. I plan to comment on as much of the NT as possible, starting with some of Paul's letters. After that, I'll start in on the Gospels, starting with Mark.

Posted on November 15, 2014, in Chapter 4, gospel commentary, gospels, Historical Jesus, Matthew's Gospel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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