190 Commentary

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This page forms part of the resources for 190 Fishing for Humans in the Jesus Database project of FaithFutures Foundation

Crossan Inventory | 190 Literature | 190 Parallels | 190 Commentary | 190 Poetry | 190 Images


John Dominic Crossan

Crossan [Historical Jesus], (407-10) suggests that this item has developed from a post-Easter appearance (John 21) to simple call narrative (Mark 1):

Recalling the chronological sequence of the Gospels from Mark to Luke to John, one might easily judge that 190 Fishing for Humans [2/3] developed from a non-miraculous saying of Jesus in Mark, to a miraculous symbolization in Luke, to be finally displaced into a more climactic post-resurrectional setting in John. All the internal evidence, however, points in exactly the opposite direction. The unit's trajectory is from John to Luke to Mark, and the miracle, far from a later insertion, is a later deletion. Notice, for example, that Peter's confession of his sinfulness in Luke 5:8 makes far less sense there than in a postresurrectional situation after he had denied Jesus during his trial. ... The complex 190 Fishing for Humans is therefore a companion piece to 128 Walking on Water [1/2] and carries exactly the same meaning and message. To row all night without Jesus is to get nowhere; to fish all night without Jesus is to catch nothing. But, of course, it is the leadership group of the disciples who are both rowing and fishing, and it is to them that Jesus' resurrectional assistance is forthcoming. (p. 410)

Jesus Seminar

The views of the Seminar can be represented as follows:

  • Mark 1:16-20
  • Matt 4:18-22
  • GEbi 2
  • Luke 5:1-11
  • John 21:1-14

The commentary in [The Five Gospels] includes the following:

The metaphor of fishing for people may go back to Jesus. The saying in its present form, however, is not the sort of aphorism to have been repeated during the oral period. "Become my followers and I'll have you fishing for people" is suitable only for the story in which it is now embedded, since only a few of his followers were originally fishermen. Further, as scholars have long noted, the story of the call of the first disciples is expressed in vocabulary typical of Mark, which suggests that Mark created both the story and the saying. (p. 41)

John P. Meier

Meier has an extended discussion of the disciples in the third volume of A Marginal Jew [III,19-285]. One of the elements of discipleship that he considers is the initiative taken by Jesus in calling certain persons to be his followers:

One striking trait, found in a number of different Gospel sources, is that Jesus seizes the initiative in calling people to follow him. Three clear examples are given in the Marcan tradition: the call of the first four disciples (Peter, Andrew, James, and John) in Mark 1:16-20; the call of Levi the toll collector in 2:14; and the (unsuccessful) call of the rich man in Mark 10:17-22. in each case, Jesus issues a peremptory call to follow him, a call addressed to people who have not taken the initiative of asking to follow him. (p. 50)

Meier also notes that the promise to become fishers of humans is only made to Andrew and Peter; and is not extended to James and John.

When he does turn to the question of historicity, Meier asserts that the term "to fish humans" [halieis anthropon] is sufficiently distinctive to be identified as a phrase deriving from Jesus:

The exact phrase never occurs in the OT, and the metaphor of fishing for human beings (or using a hook to catch them) is relatively rare. When it occurs, it always has a hostile sense of capturing or killing human beings [n. 122 refers to Jer 16:16; Ezek 29:4-5; Amos 4:2; Hab 1:14-17]. The metaphor occurs at times in the Qumran literature, likewise in a negative context of destruction or judgment [n. 123 refers to 1QH 3:26; 5:7-8]. The metaphor of "catching men" is also found with a negative sense in later rabbinic literature. Thus, there is no real parallel to Jesus' positive, salvific use of the metaphor in the Jewish tradition before or after him. (p. 160)