The epilogue, 21:1-25
i] The risen Christ beside lake GalileeSynopsis
Jesus has instructed his disciples to move to Galilee where he will again appear to them. While they are waiting, Peter decides to go fishing on lake Galilee with some of the other disciples. After a fruitless night of fishing, Jesus stands on the shore and tells them to cast their nets to the right side of the boat. Encircling a large school of fish the disciples recognize Jesus and head for shore with their catch. Jesus has breakfast underway and so together they share in a meal of bread and fish.
The apostolic "mission to the world, undertaken at Christ's command and under His authority, will be the means by which many are saved", Hoskyns.
i] Context: See 1:1-13/14. The story of the miraculous catch of fish is the third appearance of Jesus to his disciples in the gospel of John and serves to introduce the gospel's epilogue. In this chapter John ties off on some important issues: First, John wants to underline the commissioning of the disciples to mission - they are to be fishers of men; Second, the restoration of Peter to his position of authority; Third, there is the issue of authorship and how this relates to the beloved disciple and the urban myth that he would not die before Jesus returns; Fourth, an editorial conclusion.
ii] Structure: The risen Christ beside lake Galilee:
All night without a bite, v2-3;
Instructions from a friend, v4-6;
"It is the Lord."
A Barbecue on the beach, v7-13;
The historical-critical method of Biblical interpretation has dominated the last hundred years of New Testament research, but one wonders if the allegorical reading of the Bible that dominated up to our more technical era, hasn't got something to say to us when it comes to the passage before us. We must admit that the history of allegorical interpretation reveals a debris-littered trail. To further research the history of Biblical interpretation see Kealy, Mark's Gospel: A history of its Interpretation; Grant and Tracy, A Short History of the Interpretation of the Bible, 2nd edition; Luz, Matthew in History: Interpretation, Influence and Effects
Many commentators do lean toward the view that the story recorded in this passage, does, to some degree, have an allegorical edge to it - Johannine irony at its best, so Barrett. It is as if this story has something to say about "the mission of the disciples" and "the ongoing fellowship of Jesus with the disciples", Pfitzner. John "is here teaching us the truth about the apostolic mission of the Church; and he is testifying to the presence and power of the Risen Lord, directing the work and feeding the workers with eucharistic food", Richardson, so also Klink, .... Discerning the level of symbolism present in the story, and thus the degree to which we can draw out an allegorical interpretation, is where we can so easily come unstuck. Calvin wisely warns his readers against creating "sublime mysteries" from God's word.
If we have here an example of Johannine irony, then the incongruities may have a didactic intent; But what do we make of them?
• The disciples have headed out into the dark to go fishing, but catch nothing. In the light of day, under the Master's direction, they net a school of fish. The implication could be that the disciples are to be fishers of men, and this at the master's direction, rather than returning to their former lives. Note that elkusai, "to draw", v6, is used of gathering people to Jesus, 6:44, 12:32. Note also the numerous arguments proposed for the number of fish, Numerology has prompted a number of suggestions, 17 + 16 + .......... +1 = 153. According to Augustine the number of the law is 10 and the number of grace is 7. The most likely explanation, if there is one, is that at the time Greek zoologists believed that there were 153 different species of fish = the many Gentile tribes, so Jerome; "The full total of the Catholic and apostolic Church", Barrett, or is it just a "bumper catch", Hunter?
• Gathering by the fire and eating a meal of fish and bread, may serve as a reminder of the feeding of the five thousand, an image of the eschatological banquet for those drawn to Jesus. Some have suggested it is an image of the Eucharist. Note the reported fact that the net was not torn. Possibly an image of unity in the church, or even the perseverance of the saints.
It is not overly clear how we should treat this passage. Many commentators stay well clear of any allegorical interpretation, focusing more on how the record enhances the status of Peter and John in the early church. Yet, the themes of mission and fellowship are evident in this passage. Beasley-Murray best captures this sense when he argues that "The author of chapter 21 viewed Peter and his friends, not as retreating to their old calling as fisherman, but as advancing to their vocation to be fishers of men on a new plane made possible by the resurrection of Jesus."
Chapter 21 looks a little like a later addition to the gospel, added after John's death to tackle the growing urban myth that Jesus would return before the death of John, the "beloved disciple." None-the-less, chapter 21 is clearly part of the tradition used to craft the fourth gospel, a tradition ascribed to the apostle John, and evidences the hand of the editor of the gospel (contra Barrett, p.479f). Note that there are no manuscripts of John's gospel that do not contain this chapter, and it is also worth noting how this chapter, serving as an epilogue, frames the gospel with the prologue.
When it comes to v1-14, it is likely that the tradition has been shaped by its homiletic use for the topic of mission and fellowship. This context explains the use of words like elkusai, "to draw" for "called", or oyarion, "pickled fish" for "fresh fish." A homiletic shaping of gospel tradition is evident throughout the New Testament (eg., the temptation of Jesus), as are didactic influences (eg., proclamation stories, linked independent sayings of Jesus, etc.). A Johannine source should not be discounted.
This "third" appearance of Jesus reads like a first appearance. Mark relays the tradition that, following the discovery of the empty tomb, the disciples were to go to Galilee where Jesus would appear to them, Mk.16:7. Does this story evidence that tradition?
John's story of the miraculous catch of fish is very similar to Luke 5:1-11 evidencing a possible miss-handling of the tradition, but then who did the miss-handling? If both stories relate to a single incident we can well imagine the thrice-denying Peter uttering the words "depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man." Of course, such matters are ultimately useful for debate, but in the end, God's word to us is revealed in the tradition crafted on our behalf by the inspired authors of the scriptures. So, what we have in Luke is a call story and in John a resurrection story, both stories are God's word to us.
vi] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.
Text - 21:1
The miraculous catch of fish, v1-14. i] Setting: This, the fullest description of a resurrection appearance, takes place by lake Galilee.
meta tauto "after these things" - after these things [jesus again]. Transitional, establishing an indefinite connection to chapter 20.
efanerwsen (fanerow) aor. "appeared" - manifested, made known, revealed [himself]. A bit stronger than just appeared. Christ's appearance is a revelation, although the editor has used this word, in previous chapters, of miracles etc. and not of a resurrection appearance. "He showed himself as he is", Morris.
toiV mathtaiV (hV ou) "to [his] disciples" - to the disciples [of him upon = beside the sea]. Dative of indirect object.
TiberiadoV (aV idoV) gen. "of Galilee" - of tiberias. The genitive is adjectival, idiomatic / identification, "the sea known as Tiberias"; "the sea of Tiberias, after whom the sea is named", Novakovic.
ouJtwV adv. "[it happened this] way" - [but/and he was manifested] thus. Adverb of manner; "This is how he revealed himself."
ii] The disciples decide to go fishing, v2-3. John lists the disciples present. The sons of Zebedee are James and John, and it is generally assumed that "the beloved disciple" is John.
oJ legomenoV (legw) pres. pas. part. "called [Didymus]" - [there were together simon peter and thomas] the one being called [didymus]. The participle may be taken as a substantive, standing in apposition to "Thomas", or adjectival, attributive, limiting "Thomas." "Didymus" is the Greek word for the Hebrew "Thomas", both of which mean "twin". This seems an unusual common name to use of a person, but I actually knew a person whose commonly-used-name was "brother". His childhood name stuck with him into old age.
oJ "-" - the one [from]. The article serves as an adjectivizer turning the prepositional phrase "from Galilee" into an attributive modifier; "Nathanael who was from Cana in Galilee."
thV GalilaiaV (a aV) gen. "[Cana] in Galilee" - [cana] of galilee. The genitive is adjectival, idiomatic / locative; "from the village of Cana which is located in Galilee." A village northwest of Nazareth.
oiJ "the sons" - the ones. The article serves as a nominalizer turning the genitive "of Zebedee" into a substantive, "the ones of = the sons of Zebedee."
tou Zebedaiou (oV) gen. "of Zebedee" - of zebedee. The genitive is adjectival, relational: "the sons of Zebedee." John has not mentioned the brothers, James and John, before.
ek + gen. "[two other disciples were together]" - [and others] from [the disciples of him, two]. Here the preposition serves for a partitive genitive; "two others of his disciples." Why are they unnamed? It has been suggested that the "beloved disciples" was one of them and therefore he was not, as assumed, John, the son of Zebedee.
The disciples seem directionless and so Peter proposes a fishing trip
aJlieuein (aJlieuw) pres. inf. "[I am going] to fish" - [simon peter says to them i am going] to fish. The infinitive is adverbial, expressing purpose; "I am going out on the lake in order to fish".
autoiV dat. pro. "[told] them" - [said] to them. Dative of indirect object.
sun + dat. "with [you]" - [they say to him and = also we are coming] with [you]. Expressing association / accompaniment / participation.
exhlqon (exercomai) aor. "they went out" - they went forth [and entered in = embarked]. Westcott argues that the disciples are leaving the house they were staying at in Capernaum, possibly Peter's house.
to ploion "the boat" - [into] the boat. The presence of the definite article implies that this is the boat that the disciples used for fishing, possibly owned by one or two of them. Possibly even "the particular boat" that nearly sunk two years before when weighed down with a great draft of fish.
kai "but" - and. Here probably adversative, as NIV.
en + dat. "that night" - in [that night they seized = caught nothing]. Adverbial use of the preposition, serving to introduce a temporal clause; "during that night." The use of the demonstrative pronoun ekeinh/, "that", is somewhat emphatic, so not "the night", but "that memorable night", Harris.
Jesus appears on the beach (rather than comes to it) and is not initially recognized - similar to Mary Magdalene's meeting with him.
genomenhV (ginomai) gen. aor. part."[early in the morning]" - [but/and early morning] having [already] come. The genitive absolute participle is obviously temporal; "when dawn was already breaking" = "just as dawn was breaking", Barclay. The editor has used the declinable form of the noun prwiaV, "early in the morning", when on other occasions he used the indeclinable form.
eiV "[Jesus stood] on [the shore]" - [jesus stood] into, toward [the shore]. The textual variant epi is followed for meaning sake, although eiV has stronger support. "Stood" is a verb of motion in classical Greek and therefore eiV is grammatically correct, even though rendered "on" here. So here, eiV expresses arrival at after a verb of motion.
oJti "that [it was Jesus]" - [but, however the disciples did not know = recognize] that [it is jesus]. Introducing a dependent statement of perception expressing what the disciples did not realize, namely that it was Jesus. The tense of their knowing / recognizing relates to the moment of their knowing.
Jesus calls to the disciples. His question implies a negative answer; "You haven't caught any fish have you?"
oun "-" - therefore. Inferential, establishing a logical connection, or just transitional.
paidia (on) "friends" - [jesus says to them] children, boys, lads. An intimate title for the disciples, although not the usual word used by Jesus elsewhere in the gospel. "Lads, have you caught any fish?", Barclay.
mh "[have]n't [you any fish]?" - [you have] not [any fish]? The word "have" carries the sense "caught" in the sentence. The negation mh is used in a question expecting the answer "no". You haven't caught any fish have you?"
iv] The disciples respond, v6-8: Imaging the draught of fishes in the synoptics, Jesus tells them to cast the net out on the right side of the boat (there is no significance in this, other than it wasn't where they were fishing). The net ends up so full that they can't pull it into the boat.
eiV "on" - [and he said to them, throw = cast the net] to, into. Spacial, expressing direction of action, and arrival at. Literally, "throw to the right side of the boat."
tou ploiou (on) gen. "[the right side] of the boat" - The genitive is adjectival, possessive. "To starboard."
elkusai (elkuw) aor. inf. "[they were unable] to haul" - [and you will find fish. they threw therefore, and no longer were they strong enough] to drag, draw. The infinitive is complimentary, completing the sense of the verb "they were strong." This verb is used in the gospel of drawing people to Christ. Barrett suggests that the use of this word is a further hint that this story is intended to be interpreted allegorically in terms of the apostolic mission.
apo + gen. "because of" - from. Literally, "they were not strong to draw from the multitude of the fish." Interestingly, in similar constructions in John, dia + acc. "because of / on account of", is used. It makes more sense if we give the preposition a causal sense in English, "because".
twn icquwn (uV uoV) "[the large number] of fish" - [the multitude] of the fish. The genitive is adjectival, partitive.
The beloved disciple recognizes the hand of Jesus in the event. He was also first to recognize the significance of the empty tomb. On hearing the words of the beloved disciple, Peter tucks his fisherman's smock up under his belt, jumps overboard and swims ashore.
oun "then" - therefore. Inferential, establishing a logical conclusion; "so the disciple whom Jesus loved said ..."
oJn hgapa oJ IhsouV "whom Jesus loved" - [that disciple] whom jesus was loving. Again, our author-editor underlines the spiritual perception of this disciple. He is the first to recognize the risen Lord. Note how he is again linked with Peter.
tw/ Petrw/ (oV) "[said] to Peter" - [says] to peter [it is the lord]. Dative of indirect object.
akousaV (akouw) part. "as soon as [Simon Peter] heard [him say]" - [therefore simon peter] having heard. The participle is adverbial, probably temporal, as NIV. Peter is reacting to "John's" words since he presumably still doesn't recognize the risen Lord. "When Peter heard that it is the Lord", ESV.
oJti "-" - that [it is the lord]. Here introducing a dependent statement of perception, expressing what Peter had heard said.
diezwsato (doazwnnumi) aor. "he wrapped [his outer garment around him]" - tied around, tucked up, put on [the outer garment]. Peter is possibly working next to naked in a loin cloth and follows proper form by dressing before greeting an important guest. Brown suggests that the word properly means "tuck up" clothing to perform some chore, rather than "put on". So, Peter is possibly dressed "lightly" in a working/fisherman's smock, rather than underclothing ("for he had taken it off"), and this he tucks up under his belt before diving into the water.
gar "for" - for [he was unclothed (wearing only his loincloth)]. Introducing a causal clause explaining why Peter put on his outer garment.
ebalen (ballw) aor. "jumped" - [and] threw [himself into the sea]. "Threw himself into the lake", Cassirer.
The others follow in the boat, dragging the net full of fish to the shore. "The disciples haul of fish is a parable of their missionary activity in the time that lies ahead", Bruce.
tw/ ploiariw/ (on) "[followed] in the boat" - [but/and the other disciples] in the boat [came]. The dative of "boat" may be instrumental, expressing means, "came by boat", but probably better local, "in the boat."
suronteV (surw) pres. part. "towing" - dragging, drawing. The participle is adverbial, modal, expressing the manner of their following in the boat.
twn icquwn (uV ewV) gen. "[the net] full of fish" - [the net] of fish. The genitive is adjectival, idiomatic / of content; "full of fish", as NIV.
gar "for" - because. Introducing a causal clause explaining why the other disciples stayed in the boat, rowing it ashore and towing the net full of fish.
alla "-" - [they were not far from the land] but. Strong adversative / contrastive.
wJV "about [a hundred yards]" - as, like = about [two hundred cubits]. When used with numerals this particle expresses approximation; "about", as NIV.
v] Jesus prepares breakfast, v9-13. Jesus has breakfast under way and asks the disciples to join him. Although presented in a matter-of-fact way, it is likely that we are being invited by John to look for a deeper meaning.
wJV "when" - [therefore] as = when. The comparative sense, "as / like" is not intended here, but rather a temporal sense, serving to introduce a temporal clause, as NIV.
apebhsan (apobainw) aor. "they landed" - they got out [into the land]. When used of a boat the sense is "disembarked".
anqrakian (a) "a fire of burning coals" - [they see] a charcoal fire. Accusative direct object of the verb "to see." The coals may or may not be burning.
keimenhn (keimai) pres. part. "there" - lying. The participle serves as the accusative complement of the direct object "charcoal fire", standing in a double accusative construction and predicating / telling us something about the fire; "they saw a charcoal fire laid", Barclay, "piled up", Cassirer.
oyarion (on) "fish" - [and] fish. The second direct object of the verb "to see." The fish and bread are singular, but a collective sense my be intended, particularly with the bread. The fish is most likely fresh, but John has used the word for dried/picked fish, as in the feeding of the 5,000. Certainly the disciples fish is fresh, but Jesus uses the same word when he asks them to contribute their fish to the fry-up. So, what's the point of this incident? Allegorical interpretations abound, but some symbolic sense may be intended. Is this another hint that the apostles are meant to be catching fish for the kingdom? A sacramental sense seems far fetched, but a link with the feeding of the 5,000 may well be intended; See above.
epikeimenon (epikeimai) pres. part. "on it" - lying upon [it and a loaf = bread]. The participle serves as the accusative complement of the direct object "fish", as with "lying" above.
Jesus asks the disciples to contribute to the communal meal. Is Jesus reminding them of their partnership with him in the business of gathering fish for the kingdom? Jesus' request enables the disciples to discover how many fish there were and more importantly, that "the net was not torn" (none got away).
autoiV "[Jesus said] to them" - Dative of indirect object.
enegkate (ferw) aor. imp. "bring" - A present imperative would be expected.
apo "some [of the fish]" - some from [the fish]. Here the preposition serves as a partitive genitive. This is another example where the grammar of this chapter is slightly different to the rest of the gospel. In the rest of the gospel ek serves to replace a partitive genitive.
nun adv. "just [caught]" - [which you caught] now. Temporal adverb referring to time immediately before the present time, as NIV.
The number of the catch is noted, 153. As already noted, much is often made of this number, given that it is so precise, but its significance may just lie in it being an impressive catch. Given the allegorical hints in this story it is only natural that many commentators have moved into numerology to unlock the secret of what is a very specific number. See Barrett for the maths supporting the claim that it is a number of "completeness and perfection." The suggestion that it equalled the actual number of disciples at this point of time is interesting, but unsupported. Probably Augustine should have the last word; as far as he was concerned the number is "a great mystery." So, what do we conclude from the facts that the fish were big, there were a lot of them, and, here's the point, none got away (at the first miraculous catch of fish the net was torn, cf., Luke 5)? Bruce makes the point that "the gospel net will never break, no matter how many converts it catches; there is no limit to the number it will take." Barrett draws a different conclusion: "the church remains one in spite of the number and variety of its members."
anabh (anabainw) aor. "climbed aboard" - [therefore simon peter] went up [and dragged the net into the land]. The NIV has Peter getting into the boat to haul the net ashore, but it could just mean he went to the bank, on the shore line, to pull the net ashore.
icquwn (oV) gen. "[it was full of large] fish" - [full of large] fish. Genitive complement of the adjective "full of", limited by the attributive adjective "large."
eJkaton penthkonta triwn gen. "153" - one hundred fifty three. Genitive in agreement with "fish".
o[ntwn (eimi) gen. pres. part. "even with [so many]" - [and = and yet] being [many the net did not split]. The genitive participle with the genitive pronoun "many" form a genitive absolute construction. The sense is concessive, "even though it was full of large fish" - an unusual sense for a genitive absolute. The genitive may be explained by attraction. "Although there were so many of them, the net was not broken", Barclay.
Jesus' unusual presence prompts the disciples to wonder who it is, although deep down they knew it is the Lord. They are overwhelmed by the mysterious nature of Jesus' person and feel unfamiliar in his presence, As Ridderbos notes, "knowing it was he, they shrink from entering into the mystery of his presence." "His natural habitat is no longer earthly", Harris.
deute adv. "come" - [jesus says to them] come [eat breakfast]. This adverb functions more as an exclamation than an imperative. Normally followed by an imperative as here, "eat breakfast" (the morning meal).
oudeiV de "none" - not one but/and. Nominative subject of the verb "to dare." The conjunction de (not found in all texts) functions as an adversative emphasizing that "not one" of the disciples dared ask Jesus.
twn maqhtwn (hV ou) gen. "of the disciples" - The genitive is adjectival, partitive.
exetasai (exatazw) aor. inf. "[dared] ask" - [was daring] to scrutinize, examine, question [him, who are you]? The infinitive is complementary, completing the sense of the cognitive verb "was daring."
eidoteV (eidon) perf. part. "they knew" - having known. The participle is adverbial, possibly causal, "because they knew", even concessive, "although they knew", Morris.
oJti "-" - that [it is the lord]. Introducing a dependent statement of perception, expressing what they knew.
Does this description allude to either the last supper, or the feeding of the 5,000, or to both? Fenton suggests that the "eucharistic allusions are strong here", but Morris argues that "it is not easy to draw a satisfactory conclusion" from the events.
ercetai (ercomai) pres. "[Jesus] came" - [jesus] comes. If he were standing next to the fire, why does he come over to it? The word is possibly not expressing motion, in that sense it is pleonastic, ie. a redundant or unnecessary word and so best not translated.
lambanei (lambanw) "took" - [and] takes [the bread and gives it to them]. The verbs in this verse are best translated in the historic present. Jesus takes the food and distributes it, functioning as the host.
oJmoiwV adv. "the same with [the fish]" - [and] likewise [the fish]. Modal adverb, expressing manner; "likewise, in the same way."
vi] Conclusion, v14. John notes that this is the third time Jesus has appeared to his disciples as a group. Interestingly, it is the fourth time if we count Mary.
triton (oV) "the third time" - [this was now] third. Adverbial accusative modifying the verb "to reveal, manifest"; "Jesus was manifested for the third time."
triton efanerwqh (fanerow) aor. mid./pas. "[Jesus] appeared" - [jesus] was manifested. Interesting how John ignores Jesus' appearance to Mary (she is a woman?) and how Jesus' appearance to the disciples while fishing does not at all flow from chapter 20.
toiV maqhtaiV (hV ou) dat. "to his disciples" - to the disciples. Dative of indirect object.
egerqeiV (egairw) aor. pas. part. "after he was raised" - having been raised. The participle is adverbial, best treated as temporal, as NIV. Note again the possible theological passive, God does the raising, as NIV, although the passive here does not necessarily imply the action of another; "this was the third time, now, that Jesus appeared to the disciples after rising from the dead", Moffatt.
ek + gen. "from [the dead]" - Expressing separation; "away from."