Current American culture is saturated with reports of significant recruiting violations occurring across the collegiate sports world. A new scandal appears to break as soon as the litany of investigations into another scandal comes to an end. Throughout such an investigative process, institutions are monitored extensively in order to discover if any illegal or inconsistent activity occurred. Virtually every time such an investigation is conducted, the program in question is found to have violated protocol. From time to time, however, investigations prove that slander and false accusations are all that truly exists.
Such is the case in the religious world today concerning the introduction and the recruitment of the twelve disciples by Jesus Christ. Theologians who claim to identify with Christ also routinely organize investigations into the legitimacy of His introduction and calling of specific disciples. One such instance that receives considerable attention and is the source of great misrepresentation is that of Jesus’ meeting and calling Andrew and Simon Peter. Both Matthew and John record these specific meetings:
And Jesus, walking by the Sea of Galilee, saw two brothers, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. Then He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” They immediately left their nets and followed Him. Going on from there, He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets. He called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him. (Matthew 4:18–22)
One of the two who heard John speak, and followed Him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his own brother Simon, and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus. Now when Jesus looked at him, He said, “You are Simon the son of Jonah. You shall be called Cephas” (which is translated, A Stone). (John 1:40–42)
If one were to compare these two passages in haste, it could reasonably appear that the two Gospel writers have their stories confused. However, it is important as Christians not to assume that the gospel message is distorted, but rather that our understanding is finite:
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8–9)
When I applied my heart to know wisdom and to see the business that is done on earth, even though one sees no sleep day or night, then I saw all the work of God, that a man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun. For though a man labors to discover it, yet he will not find it; moreover, though a wise man attempts to know it, he will not be able to find it. (Ecclesiastes 8:16–17)
God’s perfect word is clear that we will never fully comprehend the Lord while on earth. This is not a convenient argument to use when a skeptic contests Scripture, but rather it is simply reality. Such reality is only offensive to the individual who positions himself above or level with the authority of Scripture.
Nevertheless, as one examines these two passages carefully, it will become apparent that the manner in which Jesus met and called Peter and Andrew is neither disputed between the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of John, nor is it inconsistent.
Matthew’s Gospel records an incredible moment in which Jesus calls Andrew and his brother Simon Peter to follow Him. What is lost when one directs attention away from Jesus’ actual calling of the two brothers and onto the so-called dispute with the Johannine Gospel is a tremendous display of God’s perception of and posture toward humanity. The true beauty of Jesus’ calling Andrew and Simon Peter is only captured if seen within a first-century Judean context.
One of the most honored positions for a young man in first century Judea was to be a disciple of a rabbi. These holy men of God selected only the best and brightest students from within the highest levels of the education system. Several young men, including Andrew and Simon Peter, would not have made the cut to become a disciple to a rabbi. When a young man was no longer considered for further education and training, most went on to become apprentices within the family trade. In Andrew and Simon Peter’s case, this meant joining their father Jonah as fishermen on the Sea of Tiberias (also known as the Sea of Galilee and the lake of Gennesaret). Imagine, then, a popular and emerging rabbi approaching Jonah’s boat, turning to Simon Peter and Andrew, and saying,
Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men. (Matthew 4:19, emphasis mine)
Within such a context it is easy to understand why Andrew and Simon Peter would have so quickly dropped their nets and followed. What young man, who had previously been denied the opportunity of following a rabbi, would not jump at a second chance to fulfill such a dream? This also could be one explanation as to why Jonah, father of the two sons, remains silent in the narrative and does not object to suddenly losing two of his promising young fishing hands.
Complementary, Not Contrasting
The beauty of this narrative, however, becomes a hostage when individuals focus too heavily on contrasting such a passage to that of another. What one reads in John’s Gospel is not a competing narrative, but rather a passage complementing what Matthew already recorded. Matthew previously records Andrew and Simon Peter’s call to discipleship. The passage under consideration in John written decades later in no way competes with such content. As one carefully reads John’s account again, what is found is an introduction between Jesus and the brothers Andrew and Simon Peter. Nowhere in John’s account does Jesus call Andrew or Simon Peter. The two are introduced to Jesus, but He does not call them. Why not?
The answer to the question, of course, can already be found in Matthew! Jesus formally called Andrew, Peter, James, and John on the Sea of Galilee as recorded in the fourth chapter of Matthew. What the reader is fortunate enough to read in John chapter one is an account written by the disciple John through the firsthand experiences of Andrew, Peter, Philip, and Nathanael.
Matthew’s Gospel account focuses on the call of Andrew and Simon Peter, whereas John’s Gospel account focuses on the first encounter.
What was recorded as occurring on the banks of the Jordan River in John’s Gospel in no way contrasts or threatens what Matthew recorded as occurring later on the Sea of Galilee. Matthew’s Gospel account focuses on the call of Andrew and Simon Peter, whereas John’s Gospel account focuses on the first encounter.
Yet again, when the focus shifts from attempting to establish tension between these two accounts and instead allows the two passages to complement one another, the reader is given an incredible view of God’s beautiful pursuit of His people.
Imagine Andrew and Simon Peter methodically working on their father’s nets, quietly considering Him whom they had met earlier. Andrew had discovered the rabbi. The great teacher had even given Simon a nickname. Yet, not much later they were back to carrying out the same tasks they would complete for the remainder of their lives. As well, they could see James and John down the shoreline with their father Zebedee engaged in similar work. None of them realized how much their lives were about to change as Jesus approached their boats that day. As Jesus recruited all of them to join His work, Andrew and Peter both would have recognized that this was the rabbi they had previously encountered, and James and John likely would have noticed this was the same rabbi both Andrew and Peter had spoken of earlier.
As we seek to apply these events to our own lives, we see evidence that our call to discipleship will prove to never be too far behind our first encounter with Christ. Whenever the human heart experiences the truth and beauty of the Son of God, it is reasonable to suggest that His mission will also soon be shared. Jesus desires to put all of His faithful disciples to work without delay, and His reasons for doing so are simple:
Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.” (Matthew 9:37–38)
The followers of Christ are not called to legitimize or support erroneous claims about supposed inconsistencies in Scripture. The followers of Christ are called to know Him better and in the process come to participate as workers in God’s harvest.
It is our prayer that as God meets with you, He will make clear your own call to serve Him.