Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 31: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
MATTHEW 4:18-25; MARK 1:16-20; LUKE 5:1-11
18. And Jesus, walking near the sea of Galilee, saw two brothers, Simon surnamed Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishers. 19. And he saith to them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. 20. And they, having left their nets, immediately followed him. 21. And advancing thence, he saw other two brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the ship with Zebedee their father, mending their nets: and he called them. 22. And they immediately, having left the ship and their father, followed him. 23. And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the Gospel of the kingdom, and healing every disease, and every illness among the people. 24. And the report of him spread into the whole of Syria: and they brought to him all who were ill and afflicted with various diseases and torments, and demoniancs, and lunatics, and those that had palsy, and he healed them. 25. And great multitudes followed him from Galilee, and from Decapolis, and from Jerusalem, and from Judea, and from the country beyond Jordan.
16. Now, as he was walking near the sea of Galilee, he seeth Simon and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. 17. And Jesus said to them, Follow me, and I will make you to become fishers of men. 18. And immediately having left their nets, they followed him. 19. And advancing thence a little, he saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who themselves also were mending their nets in the ship. 20. And immediately he called them: and they, having left their father Zebedee in the ship with the workmen, 333 followed him.
1. And it happened, while the crowd was pressing upon him, that they might hear the word of God, and he stood near the lake of Gennesaret, 2. And he saw two ships standing 334 at the lake: and the fishers had gone down out of them, and were washing their nets. 3. And entering into one of the ships, which was Simon’s, he asked him to draw it a little from the land: and sitting down, he taught the multitudes out of the ship. 4. And when he ceased to speak, he said to Simon, Pull out to the deep, and loose your nets for catching. 5. And Simon answering said to him, Master, laboring through the whole night, we have taken nothing: yet at thy word I will loose the net. 6. And when they had done this, they inclosed a great multitude of fishes: and their net was broken. 7. And they made signs to their companions, who were in the other ship, that they might come and help them. And they came, and filled both the ships, so that they were sinking. 8. Which when Simon Peter had seen, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man. 335 9. For astonishment had overpowered him, and all were with him, on account of the draught of fishes which they had taken: 10. And in like manner James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were companions of Simon. And Jesus saith to Simon, Fear not: for henceforth thou shalt catch men. 11. And having brought the ships to land, and having left all, they followed him.
Matthew 4:18. And Jesus walking. As this history is placed by Luke after the two miracles, which we shall afterwards see, an opinion has commonly prevailed, that the miracle, which is here related by him, was performed some time after that they had been called by Christ. 336 But the reason, which they allege, carries little weight: for no fixed and distinct order of dates was observed by the Evangelists in composing their narratives. The consequence is, that they disregard the order of time, and satisfy themselves with presenting, in a summary manner, the leading transactions in the life of Christ. They attended, no doubt, to the years, so as to make it plain to their readers, in what manner Christ was employed, during the course of three years, from the commencement of his preaching till his death. But miracles, which took place nearly about the same time, are freely intermixed: which will afterwards appear more clearly from many examples. 337
That it is the same history, which is given by the three Evangelists, is proved by many arguments: but we may mention one, which will be sufficient to satisfy any reader, who is not contentious. All the three agree in stating, that Peter and Andrew, James and John, were made apostles. If they had been previously called, it would follow that they were apostates, who had forsaken their Master, despised their calling, and returned to their former occupation. There is only this difference between Luke and the other two, that he alone relates the miracle, which the others omit. But it is not uncommon with the Evangelists, to touch slightly one part of a transaction, and to leave out many of the circumstances. There is, therefore, no absurdity in saying, that a miracle, which is related by one, has been passed over by the other two. And we must bear in mind what John says, that, out of the innumerable miracles “which Jesus did,” (Joh 21:25,) a part only has been selected, which was sufficient to prove his divine power, and to confirm our faith in him. There is therefore no reason to wonder, if the calling of the four apostles is slightly touched by Matthew and Mark, while the occasion of it is more fully explained by Luke.
Luke 5:1. He stood near the lake. Matthew and Mark, according to the usual custom of their language, call it the sea of Galilee. The proper name of this lake among the ancient Hebrews was כנרת, (Chinnereth;) 338 but, when the language became corrupted, the word was changed to Gennesaret. Profane authors call it Gennesar; and that part, which lay towards Galilee, was called by them the sea of Galilee. The bank, which adjoined to Tiberias, received its name from that city. Its breadth and situation will be more appropriately discussed in another place. Let us now come to the fact here related.
Luke says, that Christ entered into a ship which belonged to Peter, and withdrew to a moderate distance from the land, that he might more conveniently address from it the multitudes, who flocked from various places to hear him; and that, after discharging the office of teaching, he exhibited a proof of his divine power by a miracle. It was no unusual thing, indeed, that fishers cast their nets, on many occasions, with little advantage: and that all their fruitless toil was afterwards recompensed by one successful throw. But it was proved to be a miracle by this circumstance, that they had taken nothing during the whole night, (which, however, is more suitable for catching fish,) and that suddenly a great multitude of fishes was collected into their nets, sufficient to fill the ships. Peter and his companions, therefore, readily conclude that a take, so far beyond the ordinary quantity, was not accidental, but was bestowed on them by a divine interposition.
Luke 5:5. Master, toiling all the night, we have taken nothing. The reason why Peter calls him Master unquestionably is, that he knows Christ to be accustomed to discharge the office of a Teacher, and is moved with reverence toward him. But he has not yet made such progress as to deserve to be ranked among his disciples: for our sentiments concerning Christ do not render him sufficient honor, unless we embrace his doctrine by the obedience of faith, and know what he requires from us. He has but a slender perception — if he has any at all — of the value of the Gospel; but the deference which he pays to Christ is manifested by this, that, when worn out by fruitless toil, he commences anew what he had already attempted in vain. Yet it cannot be denied, that he highly esteemed Christ, and had the highest respect for his authority. But a particular instance of faith, rendered to a single command of Christ, would not have made Peter a Christian, or given him a place among the sons of God, if he had not been led on, from this first act of submission, to a full obedience. But, as Peter yielded so readily to the command of Christ, whom he did not yet know to be a Prophet or the Son of God, no apology can be offered for our disgraceful conduct, if, while we call him our Lord, and King, and Judge, (Isa 33:22,) we do not move a finger to perform our duty, to which we have ten times received his commands.
Luke 5:6. They inclosed a great multitude of fishes. The design of the miracle undoubtedly was, to make known Christ’s divinity, and thus to induce Peter and others to become his disciples. But we may draw from this instance a general instruction, that we have no reason to be afraid lest our labor should not be attended by the blessing of God and desirable success, when it is undertaken by the authority and guidance of Christ. Such was the multitude of fishes, that the ships were sinking, and the minds of the spectators were thus excited to admiration: for it must have been in consequence of the divine glory of Christ manifested by this miracle, that his authority was fully acknowledged.
Luke 5:8. Depart from me, O Lord. Although men are earnest in seeking the presence of God, yet, as soon as God appears, they must be struck with terror, and almost rendered lifeless by dread and alarm, until he administers consolation. They have the best reason for calling earnestly on God, because they cannot avoid feeling that they are miserable, while he is absent from them: and, on the other hand, his presence is appalling, because they begin to feel that they are nothing, and that they are overpowered by an immense mass of evils. In this manner, Peter views Christ with reverence in the miracle, and yet is so overawed by his majesty, that he does all he can to avoid his presence. Nor was this the case with Peter alone: for we learn, from the context, that astonishment had overpowered all who were with him. Hence we see, that it is natural to all men to tremble at the presence of God. And this is of advantage to us, in order to humble any foolish confidence or pride that may be in us, provided it is immediately followed by soothing consolation. And so Christ relieves the mind of Peter by a mild and friendly reply, saying to him, Fear not. Thus Christ sinks his own people in the grave, that he may afterwards raise them to life. 339
Luke 5:10. For afterwards thou shalt catch men. The words of Matthew are, I will make you fishers of men; and those of Mark are, I will cause that you may become fishers of men. They teach us, that Peter, and the other three, were not only gathered by Christ to be his disciples, but were made apostles, or, at least, chosen with a view to the apostleship. It is, therefore, not merely a general call to faith, but a special call to a particular office, that is here described. The duties of instruction, I do admit, are not yet enjoined upon them; but still it is to prepare them for being instructors, 340 that Christ receives and admits them into his family. This ought to be carefully weighed; for all are not commanded to leave their parents and their former occupation, and literally 341 to follow Christ. There are some whom the Lord is satisfied with having in his flock and his Church, while he assigns to others their own station. Those who have received from him a public office ought to know, that something more is required from them than from private individuals. In the case of others, our Lord makes no change as to the ordinary way of life; but he withdraws those four disciples from the employment from which they had hitherto derived their subsistence, that he may employ their labors in a nobler office.
Christ selected rough mechanics, — persons not only destitute of learning, but inferior in capacity, that he might train, or rather renew them by the power of his Spirit, so as to excel all the wise men of the world. He intended to humble, in this manner, the pride of the flesh, and to present, in their persons, a remarkable instance of spiritual grace, that we may learn to implore from heaven the light of faith, when we know that it cannot be acquired by our own exertions. Again, though he chose unlearned and ignorant persons, he did not leave them in that condition; and, therefore, what he did ought not to be held by us to be an example, as if we were now to ordain pastors, who were afterwards to be trained to the discharge of their office. We know the rule which he prescribes for us, by the mouth of Paul that none ought to be called to it, unless they are “apt to teach,” (1Ti 3:2.) When our Lord chose persons of this description it was not because he preferred ignorance to learning as some fanatics do, who are delighted with their own ignorance, and fancy that, in proportion as they hate literature, they approach the nearer to the apostles. He resolved at first, no doubt, to choose contemptible persons, in order to humble the pride of those who think that heaven is not open to the unlearned; but he afterwards gave to those fishers, as an associate in their office, Paul, who had been carefully educated from his childhood.
As to the meaning of the metaphor, fishers of men, there is no necessity for a minute investigation. Yet, as it was drawn from the present occurrence, the allusion which Christ made to fishing, when he spoke of the preaching of the Gospel, was appropriate: for men stray and wander in the world, as in a great and troubled sea, till they are gathered by the Gospel. The history related by the Evangelist John (Joh 1:37-42) differs from this: for Andrew, who had been one of John’s disciples, was handed over by him to Christ, and afterwards brought his brother along with him. At that time, they embraced him as their master, but were afterwards elevated to a higher rank.
Matthew 4:22. And they immediately left the ship. The first thing that strikes us here is the power of Christ’s voice. Not that his voice alone makes so powerful an impression on the hearts of men: but those whom the Lord is pleased to lead and draw to himself, are inwardly addressed by his Spirit, that they may obey his voice. The second is, the commendation bestowed on the docility and ready obedience of his disciples, who prefer the call of Christ to all worldly affairs. The ministers of the Word ought, in a particular manner, to be directed by this example, to lay aside all other occupations, and to devote themselves unreservedly to the Church, to which they are appointed.
Matthew 4:23. And Jesus went about all Galilee. The same statement is again made by Matthew in another place, (Mt 9:35.) But though Christ was constantly employed in performing almost innumerable miracles, we ought not to think it strange, that they are again mentioned, twice or thrice, in a general manner. In the words of Matthew we ought, first, to observe, that Christ never remained in one place, but scattered every where the seed of the Gospel. Again, Matthew calls it the Gospel of the kingdom, by which the kingdom of God is established among men for their salvation. True and eternal happiness is thus distinguished from the prosperity and joys of the present life.
When Matthew says, that Christ healed every disease, the meaning is, that he healed every kind of disease. We know, that all who were diseased were not cured; but there was no class of diseases, that was ever presented to him, which he did not heal. An enumeration is given of particular kinds of diseases, in which Christ displayed his power. Demoniacs (διαμονιζομένοι) is a name given in Scripture, not to all indiscriminately who are tormented by the devil, but to those who, by a secret vengeance of God, are given up to Satan, so that he holds possession of their minds and of their bodily senses. Lunatics (σεληνιαζομένοι) 342 is the name given to those, in whom the strength of the disease increases or diminishes, according to the waxing or waning of the moon, such as those who are afflicted with epilepsy, 343 or similar diseases. As we know, that diseases of this sort cannot be healed by natural means, it follows that, when Christ miraculously healed them, he proved his divinity.
“Avec les ouvriers.”
“Stantes;” — “et voyant deux nasselles qui estoyent pres du lac;” — “and seeing two ships which were near the lake.”
“Homo peccator;” — “homme pecheur;” — “a man a sinner.”
“Quelque temps apresque Jesus Christ ent appelle a soy Pierre, Andre, Jean, et Jaques.” — “Some time after that Jesus Christ had called to himself Peter, Andrew, John, and James.”
“Ils ne s'amusent pas, esplucher de pres lequel est le premier, ou le second.” — “They do not give themselves the trouble of investigating closely which is first or second.”
Chinnereth occurs in Joshua, (Jos 19:35,) as the name of an adjoining city, from which the lake probably derived its name. In the French copy, our author gives it Cinerot, or, as we have it, (Jos 11:2,) Chinneroth. But that word contains a Vau, which is here wanting: though it must be owned that, when it is connected with a Cholem point, that letter is often inserted, or left out, according to the pleasure of the writer. — Ed.
“Et c'est la coustume du Seigneur d'abbattre les siens, et comme les plonger dedans le sepulcher, afin de les vivifier puis apres.” — “And it is customary with the Lord to strike down his own people, and, as it were, to sink them in the grave, that he may raise them to life afterwards.”
“Il les prend en sa compagnie et conversation domestique, afin de les faconner a enseigner puis apres les autres.” — “He takes them into his society and private conversation, in order to prepare them afterwards to instruct others.”
“Pour suivre Christ des pieds, c'est a dire exterieurement;” — “to follow Christ with the feet, that is to say, externally.”
Σεληνιάζομαι, like the adjective σεληνιαχὸς, is derived from σελήνη, the moon. Among, the Greeks and Romans, as well as among the Jews, certain violent diseases, the variations of which could not be easily explained, were supposed to be affected by the phases of the moon. Till lately, mental derangement was universally believed among ourselves to be influenced by similar causes; if indeed there be not some who still defend that opinion by plausible arguments. Scripture was not. intended to determine questions of physical science, in which inductive reasoning is a sufficient guide, but to declare those truths, which could never have been known without an express revelation. The term σεληνιαζομένοι, in this and similar passages, does not imply, that the sacred writers supported the common opinion, any more than the English word lunatic, used with equal freedom by philosophers and by the unlearned, countenances an exploded theory, — any more, in short, than the popular use of the phrases, the rising and setting of the sun, expresses a belief that it is the motion of the sun, and not of the earth, that produces the succession of day and night. — Ed.
“Comitiali morbo.” The Romans gave the name of comitialis morbus to this disease, in consequence of the singular fact, that their comitia, or public assemblies, were instantly broken up, when any one present was seized with a fit of epilepsy. — Ed.