The call of the first disciples

  • Question 167, from Debbie, United Kingdom
    I would like to know the viewpoint of the 4 gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) when we talk about the “call of the first disciples”. What are the likenesses and differences between the 4 readings and who’s the audience?

    Although there is general agreement between the Gospels that Jesus began his ministry by selecting people to become ‘disciples’, there are differences between the accounts. The version of events usually thought of as the call of the first disciples is found in Mark chapter 1 and Matthew chapter 4, where Jesus tells fishermen on the shores of Lake Galilee to leave their nets and follow him.

    In John’s gospel, however, one of those fishermen, Andrew, is already John the Baptist’s disciple, and is one of two disciples who latch onto Jesus by the Jordan River after Jesus’ encounter with John and baptism (John chapter 1, verses 35-39). The author does not reveal the identity of the other disciple of John the Baptist who follows Jesus, but it has been proposed that it is John, who is traditionally ascribed authorship of the fourth gospel.

    This divergence between Mark and Matthew, and John, is interesting, although attempts have been made to harmonise the different texts, for example, by suggesting Andrew following Jesus at the Jordan was later ‘made official’ in Galilee, when Jesus called him along with his brother Peter, and his business colleagues (or, perhaps rivals) James and John.

    A key difference in the ‘call’ of the first disciples is in the ‘active’ and ‘passive’ natures of those who are ‘called’. In Mark and Matthew, Jesus takes the initiative, calling the disciples away from their regular lives and into following him. In John, the disciples take the initiative. Jesus asks Andrew and his unnamed comrade why they are following him. Andrew seeks out Simon Peter to tell him that he thinks he has found “the Christ” (chapter 1, verse 41). A similar action then happens with Philip, who meets Jesus and then searches out Nathanael (John chapter 1, verses 43-46).

    The contrast between those for whom the call is sudden and unexpected, and those who were looking for the messiah is quite marked. John is a seeker’s gospel, which uses Gnostic and other mystical terminology. It seems quite fitting then, that in John, the disciples are looking for the messiah, that is, salvation. John is written in a way that is accessible to those looking for salvation in the various mystery cults of the time.

    Mark and Matthew, however, seem to be written out of a more Jewish context, where divine revelation was a feature of belief and theology. In the Jewish tradition, God chose people, such as Abraham or Moses, so it would be only natural for God’s Son to do the choosing, rather than to be ‘discovered’ by a seeker. Like the heroes of the Jewish faith, the disciples hear the voice of God and respond.

    Luke’s gospel has a different story. The event does take place in Galilee, but is accompanied by a miracle (chapter 5, verses 4-11). Additionally, Jesus had already been to Simon Peter’s house and performed a miracle of healing (chapter 4, verse 38-39). In Luke’s version, Jesus already had a relationship with the disciples and it was only later that he specifically ‘called’ them.

    One aspect of Luke’s account that is different to the others is Simon Peter’s declaration that he is a sinful man and therefore unworthy of following Jesus (Luke chapter 5, verse 8). Luke possibly includes this to illustrate the need for self-awareness of one’s own sinfulness in the journey of discipleship. Jesus ignores Peter’s protestations and accepts him anyway. This is an example of Luke’s over-riding message of universal salvation that is available to any, and every, one.

    There are many similarities under the surface of these stories. The main likeness is that those called followed Jesus, leaving their livelihoods and regular lives behind to become disciples. All four gospels want to make this point – and they all allude to the reason the disciples were prepared to do this: because they recognised Jesus as the Messiah.

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    1. Bible student Jan 16

      Re: The author does not reveal the identity of the other disciple of John the Baptist who follows Jesus, but it has been proposed that it is John, who is traditionally ascribed authorship of the fourth gospel.

      In scripture we see that Jesus’ own words indicate that it is unsafe to simply assuming the traditions of men are true. Still, one has to take off their own shoes before they can take a walk in someone else’s moccasins, and similarly, when it comes to a case of The Bible vs. Tradition, sometimes one has to let go of the traditions of men in order to see the truth that is hidden in plain sight in the text of scripture. has a free eBook that compares scripture with scripture in order to highlight the facts in the plain text of scripture that are usually overlooked about the “other disciple, whom Jesus loved”. You may want to weigh the testimony of scripture that the study cites regarding the one whom “Jesus loved” and may find it to be helpful as it encourages bible students to take seriously the admonition “prove all things”.

      While many simply learn to parrot the traditions of men, a better Bible method would be the method of the Bereans, who searched the scriptures to see the things that they were taught were so.

    2. Jon the freelance theologian Jan 18

      Thanks, ‘Bible Student’.

      Having looked on the suggested website, it appears that you’re suggesting that Lazarus was the Beloved Disciple, because of the references to Jesus loving him.

      That may be the case. But there a lot of suggestions as to the identiity of the ‘beloved disciple’.

      The big problem with the theory that it’s Lazarus, though, is that there is no reason why Lazarus’ name wouldn’t have been appended to the gospel if people thought it was by him. Two of the other traditionally-ascribed authors, Mark and Luke, weren’t disciples or apostles, so not being a disciple was not necessarily a barrier to the early church accepting the gospels into the canon.

      This isn’t the most far out idea for the author of the fourth gospel, but it opens up other questions. Why isn’t Lazarus identified in any of the other gospels, for example? What role did he play in the ealry church, given that he isn’t mentioned in Acts? Can we really base a theory on linguistic usage of a particular word (in this case, ‘love’)? What about the historical testimony of the early church that ascribed authorship to John – are we comfortable saying that they were all in error?

      Every theory has difficulties, which is why the original post use the phrase ‘traditionally ascribed authorship’ to recognise that there is no definitive answer to the question of authorship or identitiy of the beloved disciple. They are just two of the many interesting facets of the fourth gospel.

    3. Bible student Feb 4

      You stated that: The big problem with the theory that it’s Lazarus, though, is that there is no reason why Lazarus’ name wouldn’t have been appended to the gospel if people thought it was by him

      Really? No reason? It is amazing that you can see the illogical nature of that idea — that the author’s God inspired effort to remain ANONYMOUS must necessarily be undermined by anyone who knew who he was and had a copy of his work; for you propose that all such persons could not help but go against the author’s intent and must necessarily append the author’s name to his otherwise anonymous work.

      The author was anonymous and since the author’s work was inspired by God, that would include his effort to conceal his identity. Therefore, your assumption that those who loved God would have rushed to undermine the author’s effort to remain anonymous is problematic, to say the least.

      Regardless of who the author actually was, your charge of “no definitive answer” is demonstrably false — for it is absolutely true that WHOEVER the unnamed author of the fourth gospel was he could not possibly have been John — that is a definitely a false tradition, for it forces the Bible to contradict itself

      And THAT was why the book quoted the biblical facts that proved “the disciple whom Jesus loved” was not John — as that shows how easy it is for Christians to be deceived when they get suckered into substituting non-Bible sources for the authority of God’s word. But in your haste to peak at the back of the book you missed the point that was being made by the biblical evidence that was presented in it.

      Then you mention the “early church” and ask “are we comfortable saying that they were all in error?”

      The fact that a truth in scripture may make us uncomfortable is not a sufficient basis for turning a blind eye to the facts. Jesus said that the truth would cause division, so clearly it cannot be right to set aside the biblical scrutiny of a given teaching simply because we are not “comfortable” uncovering error.

      Three points:

      (A) If ANYBODY in ANY ERA writes or says ANYTHING that is in contradiction with the facts in the plain text of scripture, then they are wrong and God’s word is right. And those who lived in the late second and early third century are just as capable of error as those who lived in any other era.

      (B) Many like to (selectively) encourage reverence for the writings of this-or-that man in the so-called ‘early church’ of the late second and early third centuries, and fail to consider what God’s word tells us about that the EARLIER church, the one composed of those who were taught directly by the apostles.

      Those who promote unbiblical traditions will always substitute some non-Bible authority for the authority of God’s word in order to sell their substitution of their man-made tradition for the actual teachings of God’s word. Antiquity is used as one excuse for doing so.

      But if the Bible is the word of God, then why let any non-Bible source be substituted for the authority of God’s word? And if the Bible is the complete word of God, then nobody has ever had more of the word of God — not in the second and third century ‘early church’ and not in the earlier church, the first recipients of the New Testament teachings.

      Besides that, error was rampant in New Testament times, which is why we see words of correction and rebuke being repeatedly expressed in scripture – “you foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you”, the need to explain that if the dead don’t rise then Christ has not risen, etc. So, why would anyone assume that errors would not be present in the writings of those who came along later (those who comprised the so-called ‘early church’ of the second and third century)?

      People who believe it is safe to parrot the ideas that they find in their preferred non-Bible source simply because that source lived in the late second/early third century are building on a false premise.

      So your rhetorical effort to imply that there were no errors in the ideas that have survived from those of the late second and early third century is poor attempt to avoid dealing with the BIBLE FACTS that show that the John tradition is a false teaching — as it always has been.

      (C) And in skimming you also failed to notice that the book cited the biblical evidence of the FIRST false idea that was spread among the brethren was an ERROR about that that very same unnamed disciple — see the false rumor among the brethren that said that “this disciple would not die”, which the unnamed “disciple whom Jesus loved” reports in the last chapter of his gospel.

      So your question implying that those who came along in the late second and early third century had to be infallible in anything that might say or write concerning their speculations as to the identity of the unnamed author of the fourth gospel is just another attempt to change the subject in order to divert attention from the fact that the biblical evidence proves that the John tradition is a false teaching.

      I’ll leave of my comments with this – while many are content to simply repeat the traditions of men, the better Bible study method is the method of the Bereans, who searched the scriptures to see the things that they were taught were so.

    4. Jon the freelance theologian Feb 5

      At the risk of perpetuating this discussion further, at no point in the discussion did I dismiss the idea that the beloved dsiciple was Lazarus. I just pointed out some issues with it.

      I’m not comfortable with definitively stating any particular person as the potential author, which to go back to the original post was why I used the phrase ‘traditionally ascribed authorship’ to make the point, that despite what people assume, the identity of the beloved disciple remains a mystery. Not everyone likes that ambiguity, but it’s probably the best way forward.

    5. wiggy Nov 26

      why did you say that the disciples ‘recognised’ Jesus as the Messiah?…. hmm….

    6. Jon the freelance theologian Dec 11

      I meant they thought he was the Messiah because of his teaching and other aspects of his ministry.

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