NT Gospel Doctrine Lesson 4: Matthew 3-4, John 1: 35-51.

In today’s episode of Gospel non-harmony, let’s examine how Andrew and Peter were called.

Matthew’s Version

John’s Version

4:18 As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.1:35 The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). 42 He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).

In Matthew, Jesus meets Peter and Andrew together, while they are fishing. He calls them,  they leave their nets to follow him. (James and John are nearby, and also called at this time, in Matthew.) In John, Andrew and an unnamed disciple (John?) are listening to John the Baptist. He identifies a passing-by Jesus as the Lamb of God, so Andrew and Unnamed follow him, engaging him in conversation, and staying with him all day. Andrew later goes to get Simon, telling him that they’d found the Messiah. Simon follows him to Jesus, who nicknames him Peter, a Greek name corresponding to kepha in Aramaic. The KJV represents kepha “KAY-fa” as Cephas, which Mormons pronounce “SEE-fuss.” You can hear Jesus address kepha in the opening Garden of Gethsemane scene in The Passion on Netflix, about 2:00 in. (I found it profitable and edifying to watch, though difficult at times. And it was fun to hear and understand some of the Aramaic.) What does the Jesus-given nickname Peter/Kepha mean? “Rocky.” Yes, the first Apostle was known to his friends and colleagues as “Rocky.” (Lengthy aside: Jesus will nickname James and John “the thunder boys” in Mark 3:17. And Paul’s name, btw, means “Shorty.” NT Wright makes mention of Jesus giving nicknames in his Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense

When the early Christians told the story of Jesus—which they did in a number of ways to make a number of different points—they never actually said that he laughed, and only once that he burst into tears. But all the same, the stories they told of him constantly hinted at laughter and tears in fair measure. He was constantly going to parties where people had plenty to eat and drink and there seemed to be a celebration going on. He grossly exaggerated to make his point: here you are, he said, trying to take a speck out of your friend’s eye, when you’ve got a huge great plank in your own eye! He gave his followers, especially the leading ones, funny nicknames (‘Peter’ means ‘Rocky’; James and John he called ‘Thunder-boys’).

Now, back to the issue at hand. These two gospels give two completely different accounts of the first meeting and calling of these Apostles. Now, often by looking at differences, we can see how the differences seem to illustrate different points. But here, at least, I can’t tease out anything of the kind. John and Matthew just seem to be reporting the different stories that have come down to them, illustrating the dictum of Elder Widtsoe.

When inspired writers deal with historical incidents they relate that which they have seen or that which may have been told them, unless indeed the past is opened to them by revelation.- Evidences and Reconciliations, 127.

There are various ways to understand that last phrase, but the point to focus on is that people writing historically, even inspired ones, have to act as historians do, and use sources of various kinds and reliability, then weigh and interpret them. In a very useful introduction to history in the Ensign, Elder G. Homer Durham writes that

we should ask what is meant by “history”… [and] that history is at least two things: (1) a record of events and (2) the events themselves. The “events themselves,” which took place in the past, whether yesterday or 5,000 years ago, are beyond exact recall with our present facilities. We cannot re-experience an event. Thus, we are left with records of events, all of which are interpretations of events. (Even television involves a human judgment on where to point the camera.) Furthermore, despite the contributions of archaeology, linguistics, and the natural and social sciences, most history is a form of literature. Naturally, the most reliable records come from qualified participants in the events or from analysts with access to all the records, but their re-creation of the event for us will always be shaped by their own perspective…. The authors of “books” usually write to interpret events, rather than record them. Naturally they face even larger difficulties, since interpretations range from a straight-forward documentary analysis to pure fiction based on presumed facts. Thus every personal history, letter, journal, or inscription carries its own special value and the reader may add his own interpretations…. any history reflects the age in which it is written and the background of the person who writes.

Many people have inaccurate expectations and understandings about the nature of history and history writing, particularly when it comes to ancient standards of such. (For more on this, try V. Philips Long, The Art of Biblical History  and also Robert Alter’sthe Art of Biblical Narrative. Alter demonstrates the great literary quality of those texts we tend to read as straight clerk-written history, and gave me my email signature, “History is far more intimately related to fiction than we have been accustomed to assume.”) “History” is only one very very general genre descriptor, however.

a growing number of scholars maintain that biography is the only generic text type with which the gospel genre can be compared. Taking into account the objections raised against the comparison, it nevertheless appears that although the gospels fall short in literary style and language usage, they are nothing less than biographies. It has been argued, for example, that the gospel genre comes closest to the type of biography in which the purpose is to praise a person by accentuating his life, works, and teachings. –Anchor Bible Dictionary, “Gospel Genre”

If I appear to belabor a seemingly esoteric point about history (“really, could anything be more boring?”), it is purely out of pastoral concern. Our reading and understanding of the scriptures, and therefore our faith and actions, depends all too much upon our unrecognized assumptions and understandings of such esoteric points, at times to our great detriment. (Check out the comments illustrating this at a recent Times&Seasons post, where I comment as well.)

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Tidbit:

  • This story provides some of the details about the fishing business co-owned by Peter. Jerome Murphy-O’Connor draws on these and other details to argue that Peter and some of the others were savvy businessmen who changed cities for a tax break. See his article here, from Bible Review (now Biblical Archaeology Review, well worth subscribing to. )
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