The Calling of the Apostles
Did Matthew, Mark, and Luke all refer to the same calling of Peter, Andrew, James, and John?
Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record Jesus summoning Peter, Andrew, James, and John to leave their fishing nets behind and become fishers of men (Matthew 4:18-22; Mark 1:16-20; Luke 5:1-11). However, whereas Matthew and Mark’s accounts of the event are nearly identical, Luke positions the account at a different location in His record and reports several other details that Matthew and Mark exclude.
Matthew and Mark both record the calling immediately following their accounts of the temptations of Christ and the beginning of His ministry (Matthew 4:1-17; Mark 1:12-15) and before His healing of the demon possessed and the afflicted, including Peter’s mother-in-law (Matthew 4:23-25; 8:14-15; Mark 1:21-31). Luke positions Jesus’ calling of these two sets of brothers after Jesus’ healing of Peter’s mother-in-law and a demon-possessed man (Luke 4:31-41). Furthermore, Luke includes several details in his record that Matthew and Mark omit: (1) The fishermen had left their boats and were cleaning their nets (Luke 5:2); (2) A multitude surrounded Jesus as He approached the fishermen (5:1); (3) Jesus taught the multitudes from Peter’s boat (5:3); (4) Jesus instructed the fishermen to go to the deep part of the lake (5:4); (5) The fishermen’s catch was great (5:6-7); (6) Peter confessed his sinfulness (5:8); etc.
Just as it is possible that Jesus cleansed the temple twice (see Lyons, 2004), it is very possible that Jesus may have told His disciples twice that they would be fishers of men: the first time recorded by Matthew (4:18-22) and Mark (1:16-20), and then a second time recorded by Luke (5:1-11). Consider also that even prior to Matthew and Mark’s accounts of Jesus calling Peter and Andrew to become fishers of men, these two fishermen had already previously “followed” Jesus (John 1:35-42; see Lyons, 2007).
So what is the answer to the question? Did the synoptic writers all refer to the same calling in these passages? Although I tend to believe that these are two different callings, with Matthew and Mark recording an earlier encounter, and Luke a later one, one simply cannot be certain about the matter. Bible writers often arranged things differently because of their different purposes in writing. What’s more, although Luke includes several more details in his account of the calling, it could be that he, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, was merely providing supplemental material. In either case, we can be sure that no discrepancies exist among these accounts—only differences that we would expect to find from inspired, independent writers.
Lyons, Eric (2004), “Chronology and the Cleansing of the Temple,” [On-line], URL: http://apologeticspress.org/articles/528.
Lyons, Eric (2007), “When Did Jesus Call the First Apostles?” [On-line], URL: http://apologeticspress.org/articles/3344.