Frightful Fishing and Forgiven Catching

Raphael, “The Miraculous Draught of Fishes” (Image via Wikipedia)

Although the calling of Simon Peter appears in all three synoptic Gospels (Matt 4:18–20; Mark 1:16–18; Luke 5:1–11; cf. John 1:35–51; 21:1–11), Luke’s narrative develops the pericope in much greater detail than Matthew’s or Mark’s. Luke 5:3 indicates that Jesus did some teaching from Simon’s boat. After concluding, Jesus instructs Simon to take the boat into the λίμνη (lake), and set out the nets for a catch (Luke 5:4). Although incredulous, Simon acquiesces (Luke 5:5–6a, 8–10a).1 Then, to his surprise, not only do they catch fish, but their catch is of such quantity that it nearly nearly tears the nets and sinks both their boat and another called to help (Luke 5:6b–7). Observing this situation, Simon προσέπεσεν τοῖς γόνασιν Ἰησοῦ λέγων· ἔξελθε ἀπʼ ἐμοῦ, ὅτι ἀνὴρ ἁμαρτωλός εἰμι, κύριε. θάμβος γὰρ περιέσχεν αὐτὸν καὶ πάντας τοὺς σὺν αὐτῷ ἐπὶ τῇ ἄγρᾳ τῶν ἰχθύων ὧν συνέλαβον (Luke 5:8–9; fell at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, because I am a sinful man, Lord.” For, astonishment at the catch of fish that they had enclosed had come upon him and all those who were with him).2

To Simon, Jesus then addresses the words μὴ φοβοῦ· ἀπὸ τοῦ νῦν ἀνθρώπους ἔσῃ ζωγρῶν (Luke 5:10b; Do not fear; from now on, you will be catching people). For, the huge catch of fish has sufficiently demonstrated to Simon that Jesus is one to whom he should have listened from the first (Luke 5:5, 8).3 The others’ θάμβος (Luke 5:9; astonishment) may have been more simply “not knowing what to say,” but Simon’s is apparently mixed with fear so that he has ready on his tongue a judgment that he is ἀνὴρ ἁμαρτωλός (a sinful man) and a petition that Jesus leave (Luke 5:8, 10). Simon has found himself to have grumbled against someone who can apparently even command fish and who, therefore, bears authority from Israel’s God.4 Having been at such odds with this person, Simon might well have cause for fear (cf. Jer 16:16–18). Consequently, Jesus’ admonition that Simon not fear and his assertion about Simon’s new vocation of ἀνθρώπους . . . ζωγρῶν (Luke 5:10; catching people) are tantamount to forgiveness and a welcoming of Simon into Jesus’ closest body of followers.5 Under the ban of ἀνὴρ ἁμαρτωλός (a sinful man), Simon had wished Jesus to depart (cf. Luke 4:35), but Jesus extends to Simon forgiveness and welcome as an agent in welcoming others into his community.6

  1. Jon L. Berquist, “Luke 5:1–11,” Int 58, no. 1 (2004): 62; Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke (New International Commentary on the New Testament; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 232. 

  2. Or, if Ἰησοῦ is a dative, προσέπεσεν τοῖς γόνασιν Ἰησοῦ may be “he fell on [his own] knees before Jesus” (I. Howard Marshall, The Gospel of Luke [New International Greek Testament Commentary; Exeter: Paternoster, 1995], 204). 

  3. H. J. Flower, “The Calling of Peter and the Restoration of Peter,” ATR 5, no. 3 (1922): 239. 

  4. Berquist, “Luke 5:1–11,” 62; Fred B. Craddock, Luke (Interpretation; Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox, 2009), 70; Flower, “The Calling of Peter and the Restoration of Peter,” 238–39; Green, Luke, 232; Marshall, Luke, 204–5; N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (Christian Origins and the Question of God 2; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996), 193–95, 297–301. Although other understandings of this part of the narrative have been proposed, this reading seems at least very reasonable in view of (1) the narrative’s specific focus on Peter (Luke 5:5, 8, 10) and (2) Peter’s reaction to the catch by describing himself as ἀνὴρ ἁμαρτωλός (a sinful man) rather than, perhaps, simply as someone who was unworthy of Jesus’ presence (cf. Luke 1:8–80; 7:6–8; 9:28–36; 15:18–19). 

  5. Cf. Berquist, “Luke 5:1–11,” 64; Green, Luke, 231, 234. 

  6. Berquist, “Luke 5:1–11,” 62, 64; Green, Luke, 234–35. Instead of Luke’s ἀνθρώπους . . . ζωγρῶν (catching people) addressed particularly to Simon Peter, Matt 4:18–19; Mark 1:16–17 have ἁλιεῖς ἀνθρώπων (fishers for people) addressed to Simon Peter and Andrew. Between Luke’s greater focus on Peter in this pericope and his selection of the more general ζωγρεῖν (to catch), therefore, one wonders whether Luke might perhaps here have a view toward at least some of Peter’s later activity (cf. Acts 10:9–16; LSJ, s.v. “ζωγρέω”; Augustine, Enarrat. Ps., 68.23 [NPNF1 8:294]; see also Chrysostom, Hom. Matt., 3.8 [NPNF1 10:19]). 

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