The mission of the Messiah, 1:5-9:50

3. The signs of the Messiah, 4:31-6:11

ii] Sign of the fish - Lord of mankind


On this occasion Jesus has chosen to preach in the open air beside lake Galilee. The crowd presses in and so Jesus has to requisition a fishing boat as an improvised pulpit. Following the sermon Jesus tells Peter, the boat's owner, to push out from the shore and cast out his nets. The heat of the day is no time to fish, and in any case, they have worked all night and caught nothing, so, what's the point! Still, Peter obviously has some respect for this wondering rabbi and so does as directed. The resulting catch is overwhelming, and in response, Peter falls to his knees and cries out "Lord, depart from me for I am a sinful man." His reverential fear, prompted by an awareness of his unworthiness, is met with kindly grace. Jesus invites Peter and his partners, James and John, to join him in catching people for the Kingdom of God. To this end they leave their boats and follow Jesus.


In the miracle of the draft of fishes we witness a messianic sign which prompts in Peter the response "depart from me for I am a sinful man." The miracle also serves as an acted-out illustration of the will of the messiah in his call to discipleship, "don't be afraid; from now on you will catch men".


i] Context: See 4:31-44. This passage is the second episode in a section which deals with the acts of the Messiah, acts which reveal the nature of the messiah's authority, 4:31-6:11. The episodes are in the form of messianic signs which together reveal the simple truth, "he does what only God can do." In the episode, The Sign of the Fish, the sign is intertwined with the call of the first disciples, although the passage is more concerned with their vocation than their call. Although this event seems early in Jesus' ministry, it is clear that Jesus now has a considerable popular following. It is also likely that Jesus has an existing acquaintance with Peter, James and John. John, in his gospel, 21:1-14, alludes to this story in order to underline Christ's call to "catch men", something the disciples forget after the resurrection.


ii] Structure: This narrative, The sign of the fish, presents as follows:

Setting, v1-3;

A miraculous catch of fish, v4-7:

Jesus and Peter, v4-5;

The catch of fish, v6-7;

Response, v8-11;

Peter's confession, v8-10a;

Jesus' promise, v10b;

"don't be afraid, from now on you will catch men."

They follow Jesus, v11.


ii] Interpretation:

The issue of application draws out the interpretation of this passage. If the story describes the vocation of the disciples as gatherers for salvation, a vocation confirmed in Jesus' final commission to them, is their vocation ours? We must always remember that a specific command to a specific person or group, is not necessarily a universal command. A survey of scripture indicates that this vocation is not an individual one, but rather a community one to which all members of the Christian community contribute in their own particular way. Our support for a missionary society is a good example of how the many contribute to the face-to-face mission of the few.


It is usually held that this section, and the three that follow, are primarily drawn from Markan material and set out to relate the acts of messiah. Although geography is not of great concern to Luke, these acts form the bulk of Jesus' Galilean ministry.


Miracles: There are a myriad ways commentators handle miracles, ranging from fables to allegories. Blomberg's description of miracles as "audiovisuals" of a deeper reality points us in the right direction. Nolland titles this passage Fishing Associates for Jesus and in so doing points to the message in the miracle.


iv] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.

Text - 5:1

The sign of a miraculous catch of fish, v1-11: i] The setting - Jesus teaches the crowd from a fishing boat, v1-3. Jesus is standing beside lake Gennesaret, or as it is more commonly known, lake Galilee, while a large crowd pushes in to hear him proclaim the message of the kingdom. The excitement of the crowd contrasts beautifully with the tranquility of the lake and of the fishermen cleaning up after their night of fishing. Beside the lake Jesus sees two boats where the fishermen are mending their nets. Due to the push of the crowd he decides to put one of the boats into service as a rostrum for his sermon. The boat, belonging to Simon Peter, is pushed out a little from the shore, and as is the custom, Jesus sits to teach while the crowd stands to listen.

de "-" - but, and. Here transitional, introducing a new literary unit.

egeneto (ginomai) aor. "one day" - it happened, it came about. Used to indicate a new narrative.

hn eJstwV "was standing" - had been standing. The imperfect of the verb to-be with the perfect participle forming a periphrastic pluperfect. Subordinate to "he saw", v2. Jesus "stood beside the lake", Moffatt.

para + acc. "by" - Spacial; "beside, alongside, near."

Gennhsaret gen. "[the lake] of Gennesaret" - The assumed genitive is adjectival, limiting lake, probably by definition, ie. epexegetic.

en tw/ + inf. "as" - on the [to press in on .... to hear]. The preposition en followed by the dative articular infinitive of "to press in on" and "to hear", forms a temporal clause, contemporaneous time; "while the crowd was pressing in on (him) and listening to the word of God", NAB. Subordinate to "stood beside the lake." "The crowd pressed near him, straining to hear him", Bock.

tou qeou (oV) gen. "[the word] of God" - Possibly a subjective genitive, "the message God reveals", or less likely an objective genitive, "the message about God", although better, an ablative genitive of source, "the message from God that Jesus proclaims." A common descriptive of Jesus' preaching and of the apostolic preaching in Acts. "The word coming from God", Fitzmyer.


eiden (oJraw) aor. "he saw" - Main verb. Jesus spots two boats on the edge of the lake, one of which can serve as a preaching platform, given that the crowd is crushing in on him. Note, as usual, Jesus sits to teach.

eJstwta (iJsthmi) perf. part. "at" - standing [beside the lake]. The participle may be treated as adjectival, attributive, limiting "boats"; "two boats which were beside the lake." Often though, a participle is used with a verb of perception to form an object clause / dependent statement of perception expressing what they saw, namely, two boats beside the lake. Note that Moffatt treats the participle as adverbial, temporal; "as he stood beside the lake", Moffatt. "He saw two boats drawn up on the lake-side", Barclay.

de "-" - but, and. Here coordinative, "and the fisherman disembarked, washing their nets."

apobanteV (apobainw) aor. part. "left there [by the fishermen]" - [the fishermen from them] having gone away, departed, disembarked. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "were washing"; "the fishermen had gone out from them and were washing their nets", ESV.

eplunon (plunw) imperf. "who were washing" - were washing. The imperfect is durative, denoting the ongoing action of washing (Mark has "repairing") their nets following a night of fishing.


embaV (embainw) aor. part. "he got [into]" - embarking, entering [into]. The participle is usually treated as attendant circumstance expressing action accompanying the verb "he asked"; "he boarded one of the boats ...... and asked ..", Berkeley. It may be treated adverbially, temporal, "when ....", consecutive, "so he went on board one of the boats", Cassirer.

twn ploiwn (on) gen. "[one] of the boats" - The genitive is adjectival, partitive.

SimwnoV (Simwn) gen. "belonging to Simon" - [which was] of Simon. The genitive is adjectival, possessive, it was Simon's boat. "Christ uses Peter's boat as a pulpit, whence to throw the net of the gospel over his hearers", Plummer.

epanagagein (epanagw) aor. inf. "to put out" - to bring, to return. Introducing a dependent statement of indirect speech, entreating, expressing what Jesus asked Peter to do. Here as "to put out to sea."

apo + gen. "from [the shore]" - from [the land]. Expressing separation, "away from."

kaqisaV (kaqizw) aor. part. "then he sat down" - having sat down. The participle is adverbial, probably forming a temporal clause, "when he sat down."

edidasken (didaskw) imperf. "taught" - he was teaching. Possibly an inceptive imperfect, "he began teaching the people", or durative, "he went on teaching", NEB.

ek + gen. "from [the boat]" - Expressing source/origin; the teaching was directed "from" the boat to the crowd.


ii] The miraculous draft of fish, v4-7. a) Jesus and Peter, v4-5: The sermon finished, Jesus asks Peter to undertake some more fishing. Peter is less than enthusiastic, but is willing to submit to Jesus. Note the address "master", rather than rabbi/teacher.

wJV "when" - like, as / when, while. Here temporal, as NIV.

lalwn (lalew) pre. part. "[he had fished] speaking" - A not so common complementary participle, completing the thought of the verb "finished".

proV + acc. "[he said] to [Simon]" - The command is addressed "to" Simon. This may imply that he was steering the boat, so Plummer, or better, it was his boat.

epanagage (epanagw) aor. imp. "put out" - bring, return. "Push out into deep water", Williams.

to baqoV "deep water" - the deep. The presence of the article may imply a particular spot on the lake. "The son of a carpenter is telling the fisherman where to toss their nets!", Bock. Yet, the sense is probably that the boat was "a little from the shore", v3, but now it is to go into deeper water where fish are found.

calasate (caletw) aor. imp. pl. "let down" - The plural command implies that it is addressed to Peter and those with him in the boat.

eiV "for [a catch]" - Here expressing purpose, "in order to catch some fish."


apokriqeiV (aporkrinomai) aor. pas. part. "[Simon] answered]" - [Simon] answering said. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "said" - Semitic construction, virtually redundant.

epistata (hV ou) voc. "Master" - chief, master. Probably an expression of respect, but possibly a recognition of Jesus' authority. Note how Matthew and Mark prefer the term "teacher", or "rabbi".

kopiasanteV (kopiaw) aor. part. "we've worked hard" - having labored. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "we caught [nothing]"; "we have toiled all night and caught nothing." Possibly adverbial, concessive; "although we have worked hard throughout the night we have caught nothing." The word carries the sense of "wearisome work", BAGD.

dia + gen. "all [night]" - through (in time). Instrumental; "throughout the night."

de "but" - but, and. Adversative, as NIV.

epi + dat."because [you say so]" - upon, on [the word of you]. Here expressing cause, "in reliance upon, on the basis of" = "because of." Probably expressing "reluctant obedience", TH., but more likely a recognition of Jesus' authority; "all the same, if you say so ...", Barclay.

calasw (calaw) sing. fut. "I will let down" - The singular obviously referring to Peter's personal response to Jesus' command.

ta diktua (on) "the nets" - Nets (plural) used for deep water fishing.


b) The catch of fish, v6-7: The sign of the fish is now described in the terms of an amazing haul of fish, so large that the two boats begin to sink with the weight of the catch.

poihsanteV (poiew) aor. part. "when they had done [so]" - having done [this]. The participle is adverbial forming a temporal clause, as NIV. "After they did this ..."

sunekleisan (sugkleiw) aor. "they caught" - they shut up. "They did so and made such a huge catch of fish", REB.

polu adj. "a large number" - a great [multitude]. Emphasizing the "great multitude of fish", and thus the miraculous nature of the catch. It is unclear what type of miracle it was. Does it display Jesus' knowledge (he knew where the fish were without seeing them), or does it display his will (he caused the fish to be there)? Some have argued that Jesus could see the fish from where he was standing, but the response of Peter discounts this view.

icquwn (uV oV) gen. "of fish" - The genitive is adjectival, partitive / wholative.

de "that" - but, and. A consecutive sense seems likely, "with the result that", as NIV; "that their nets began to split", REB.

dierrhsseto (diarrhssw) imperf. pas. "began to break" - were being burst, split, torn. The imperfect is probably inceptive where the emphasis is placed at the beginning of the action, so NIV.


kateneusan (kataneuw) aor. "they signaled" - they signaled by the nodding of heads. This word is probably chosen because their hands are full and their voices would not carry to the other boat.

toiV metocoiV (oV) dat. "their partners" - to/for the partners, companion. Dative of direct object after the verb "they singled." Grundmann notes that boats usually worked in pairs so Peter and his crew are signalling to their business partners, James and John, probably still with their boat on the beach.

en + dat. "in [the other boat]" - Expressing space/sphere.

tou ...sullabesqai (sullambanw) aor. inf. "to [come] and help" - to help, give a hand, assist. This construction, the articular infinitive led by a genitive article, usually forms a purpose clause; "in order that, [having come], they may help them."

elqontaV (ercomai) aor. part. "come" - having come. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the infinitive "to help"; "to come and help them."

autoiV dat. pro. "them" - Dative of diret object after the infinitive "to help."

wJste + inf. "that" - Forming a consecutive clause expressing result, "so that / with the result that."

baqizesqai (baqizw) pres. pas. inf. "they began to sink" - The present tense is probably inceptive with the emphasis at the beginning of the action, so NIV.


iii] Response - confession and comission, v8-11. a) Peter's confession, v8-10a: Peter (a shortened form of Simeon), along with his partners James and John, is "astonished" at the catch. He sees the catch as evidence of a messianic sign, a sign which demonstrates the authority of Jesus. If Jesus commands the fish, then he clearly has authority over mankind. Peter's recognition of Jesus serves only to expose his own inadequacies in the face of God. In the presence of the "Lord" Jesus, Peter's sinful nature is exposed. He prostrates himself and asks Jesus to step back from this unworthy servant.

idwn (eidon) aor. part. "when [Simon Peter] saw this" - having seen. The participle is adverbial, probably forming a temporal clause, as NIV.

prosepesen (prospiptw) aor. "he fell at" - he fell before. "He threw himself at Jesus' feet", Barclay.

toiV gonasin (u atoV) dat. "[Jesus'] knees" - the knees [of Jesus]. Dative of direct object after the verb "he fell before", with "Jesus" as a possessive genitive. Peter threw himself "at the feet" of Jesus. "Knees" rather than "feet" possibly indicates that Peter actually knelt before Jesus with his head level with Jesus' knees. Of course, Jesus could already be on his knees in squatting fashion, rather than standing in the boat.

legwn (legw) pres. part. "and said" - saying. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "he fell before."

exelqe (exercomai) aor. imp. "go away" - go out, depart. The sense "go out" as if expelling Jesus' presence from his mind, is unlikely. Lit. "go forth from me" = "go and leave me", Fitzmyer.

kurie (oV) voc. "Lord" - Lord, master. Here, "Supreme Lord", rather than just "Sir", Nolland.

oJti "-" - for, because. Here expressing cause/reason, introducing a causal clause. In this miracle Peter recognizes something of Jesus' person and so asks Jesus to back off from him "because" he knows himself to be a sinful man. Peter's response is an interesting one. It is not a full-blown recognition of the person of Jesus, nor is it an overt act of repentance, but it does evidence a quality always found in a seeker, namely, a recognition of their unworthiness before God. This prompts an obvious question; is it necessary to begin a gospel presentation by telling the congregation they are sinners? Confronted by the grace of God in Jesus, the seeker can't help but recognize their state of loss. "For I'm only a sinful man", Phillips.


gar "for" - Expressing cause/reason; introducing a causal clause explaining why Peter has responded the way he has.

sun + dat. "[and all his companions]" - [all the ones] with [him]. Expressing association, accompaniment. Peter is not the only one who is shocked; "Peter and everyone with him were completely surprised", CEV.

qamboV (oV) "[were] astonished" - astonishment, amazement [had seized him]. In the synoptic gospels amazement is usually a pre-faith response to Christ, to his words and works.

epi + dat "at [the catch]" - concerning [the catch]. Possibly identifying the particular referent that astonished them, "were astonished with respect to / with reference to / concerning the catch of fish", although reference / respect is usually followed by an accusative. Probably here causal, "on the basis of" = "because of [the catch of fish]."

twn icquwn (uV uoV) gen. "of fish" - The genitive is adjectival, possibly content; "the catch full of fish."

wJn gen. rel. pro. "-" - which. Genitive due to attraction to "of fish."

sunelabon (sunlambanw) aor. "they had taken" - they took. "All the fish they had caught", CEV.


omoiwV de kai "and so" - and likewise also.

Zebedaiou (oV) gen. "[the sons] of Zebadee" - The genitive is adjectival, relational.

tw/ Simwni (wn wnoV) dat. "Simon's [partners]" - [partners] with Simon. Instrumental dative, of accompaniment, association.


b) Jesus' promise, v10b: Although divine power resides with Jesus, Peter and the others need not be afraid, cf. Lk.1:13, 20. A person's recognition of their unworthiness before God is the very basis of their acceptance by God. Yet there is more, the divine authority that gathered the fish, will gather people ("men") into the kingdom and Peter and his friends will share in this gathering of humanity. Under God's sovereign grace, Christ will do the gathering and if the disciples are willing to place themselves in the centre of his will, then they will become "fishers of men."

mh fobou (fobew) pres. imp. "don't be afraid" - This particular negation indicates that the command is to cease an action already in progress. For Jesus, a recognition of unworthiness is no ground for fear, but rather, is the very basis of approval before God.

apo tou nun "from now on" - from the now, present. For the disciples, things will be different from this moment on. "Beginning immediately", TH.

esh/ zwgrwn (zwgrew) pres. part. "you will catch [men] / you will fish for [people]" - you will be catching alive [men]. Probably with the sense "rescue", so "save alive", and therefore "gather for salvation." The future of the verb to-be with the present participle forms the periphrastic future. Although it is difficult to give any particular reason for the choice of a periphrastic construction rather than a simple verb, the choice is often for emphasis, and here one suspects that the choice serves to underline durative action; "you will continue to gather people for salvation." This story describes the incorporation of Peter, James and John into Jesus' mission, and so probably serves as Luke's version of the call of the disciples, cf. Mk.1, Matt.4. None-the-less, the story doesn't really describe the call of the disciples, but rather their vocation. "It's people you will be catching", NJB.

anqrwpouV (oV) "men / people" - The position is emphatic emphasizing that the disciples will be catching people from now on, and not fish. "From now on you will bring in people instead of fish", CEV.


c) The disciples follow Jesus, v11: Clearly, this small group of disciples accept Christ's assurance; they have nothing to fear and everything to gain. So, they set out with Jesus. Although this verse is often taken to mean that they abandoned everything they owned to follow Jesus, we know that the disciples continued to own property, including their fishing boats. The phrase simply indicates where their priorities in life now lie.

katagagonteV (katagw) aor. part. "so they pulled [their boats] up" - having put in at, arrived at, brought to [the boats upon the land]. The participle is adverbial, possibly, temporal, "then they hauled the boats up onto the land", Barclay, or consecutive "and so they ......"

afenteV (afihmi) aor. part. "left [everything]" - having left. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the main verb "they followed"; "they left all and followed him." The "they" indicates that it is Peter and his associates who leave their profession behind and follow Jesus as disciples. As Danker notes, from now on they are only amateur fishermen.

panta "everything" - The impression from John 21 is that these disciples still owned their boats, let alone their homes, so what is the "everything" all about? Possibly in the sense of leaving their profession behind.

hkolouqhsan (akolouqew) aor. "followed" - they followed, came after, accompanied. The sense is to follow as a disciple, follow as a student or proteges of a teacher; "and became his followers (disciples)", Barclay.

autw/ dat. pro. "him" - Dative of direct object after the verb "they followed."


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