[Note: This is the “Old” version of the Grace Commentary on Luke. It will be updated to the new version soon.]
One of the primary functions of Jesus during His ministry was preaching and teaching the Word of God. This focus on explaining Scripture allowed Him to reveal what living in light of the Kingdom of God looked like. Such instruction was essential for the disciples of Jesus if they were going to carry on the mission of Jesus, as they begin to do in Acts (cf. Green 1997:228).
The events in this section are near the beginning of the second year of ministry, and due to His teaching and miracles, Jesus has gathered quite a large number of followers. However, at the beginning of this second year, Jesus began to focus on teaching several of these followers. Luke 5:1-11 records the selection of three of these.
It is unclear if this event is parallel to or follows after the similar events in Matthew 4:18-22 and Mark 1:16-20. Many believe the events are parallel, but there are enough differences between those accounts and this passage in Luke to lead one to believe the events are different (cf. Bock 1994:450). For example, in Matthew 4 and Mark 1, Jesus is walking along the shore and invites Simon and Andrew to follow Him, and then walking along some more, also invites James and John. But in Luke 5, Jesus is teaching from a boat, and from within the boat, after a great catch of fish, He invites Simon to catch men. If they are all talking about the same account, it seems incredible that neither Matthew nor Mark include the miraculous catch of fish. But then, even if they are different events, this miraculous catch of fish is not recorded at all in Matthew or Luke. It seems best to conclude that they are different events, with the accounts of Matthew and Mark preceding the account of Luke by a few weeks or months. This view is supported by the fact that Simon is already following Jesus (4:38-39).
5:1. The end of chapter four indicated that Jesus intended to teach the Scriptures all over the region of Galilee. On one such day, the multitudes had gathered to hear Jesus teach the word of God. Jesus not only taught the Scriptures in the synagogue on the Sabbath, but whenever and wherever the opportunity presented itself. On this occasion, He taught on the shore of the Lake of Gennesaret, also known as the Sea of Galilee. The lake is about eight miles wide and fourteen miles long and was a popular place for fishing (on fishing, see Edersheim, 1988:473ff).
5:2. As the crowd grew and pressed in on Jesus to hear what He was saying, He found himself backed up against the water, and so, not wanting to stand in the water and teach, He decided to get into a boat and teach a little way out from shore. There were two boats standing by the lake; but the fishermen had gone from them and were washing their nets. Most likely, they were able to listen to Jesus teach while they went about their work. The detail about the fishermen washing their nets is crucial for the development of the tension in this text.
Fishing on the Sea of Galilee was mostly done at night as this is when fish were more active, out of hiding, and had more difficulty seeing the linen nets (Green 1997:232; Bailey 2008:140-141). There were two ways of fishing using nets. The first used a circular net with weights around the circumference of the net, with a long cord coming out of the center. During the night, the fishermen would stand on the boat or shore with the night slung over their shoulder. While holding on to the cord, they would flip the net out over the water so that it twirled and spread out wide. When it hit the water, the weights cause the net to drop to the bottom like a cone, trapping any fish within. Using the cord, the fisherman begins to slowly draw the net back up while the weights on the net draw together along the bottom, keeping the fish inside. Once the net is pulled up, and the fish removed, the whole process is repeated. This type of fishing is probably what is done later in the ministry of Jesus when He tells them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat (John 21:6).
The second type of fishing required two boats, and used a dragnet (cf. Matt 13:47). It was for deep water fishing, generally done at night, and allowed for a larger number of fish to be caught. It was the kind of fishing being done here, since two boats are mentioned. The boats would go a certain way out into the water, and then, with the spread the net between them, drop the lower end of the net to the bottom while the top was secured to the boats. Then the boats would slowly move in toward shore, dragging the net along the bottom as they want. The net acted like a sieve, trapping fish inside until the net was pulled up near shore.
Both methods required long hours of hard, physical labor during the night. But once morning came, the work was not done. The fish not only had to be cleaned and sold, but the nets had to be cleaned and sewn. Dragging the nets along the bottom caused them to pick up sticks, stones, and other debris that had to removed, and small tears had to be mended so they did not become large, gaping holes which allowed the fish to escape. Cleaning the nets was a long, arduous process, and took several hours. After this was complete, the fisherman could go home and sleep, before rising at dusk to repeat the whole process.
5:3. The fisherman had no need of their boats while they cleaned the nets, and so Jesus got into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, and asked him to put out a little from the land. Maybe Simon was finished with cleaning his nets, or maybe the other fisherman agreed to finish so that Jesus could finish teaching. Listening to Him most certainly made the time go faster. So Simon took Jesus a little way out from shore, and from there, Jesus sat down and taught the multitudes from the boat. As Jesus taught, Simon rowed to keep the boat from drifting down the shore and away from the crowd.
This is the not the first time Jesus and Simon had met. About a year earlier, Jesus had invited Simon’s brother, Andrew, to follow Him, and Andrew brought Simon along as well (John 1:35-42). But they hadn’t left their fishing, and it seems that Jesus spent time where Simon and Andrew were so they and the other fisherman could learn from Jesus while He taught without having to leave their jobs. But this is all about to change.
5:4. After Jesus finished speaking He asked Simon to take the boat out into the deep and let downthe nets for a catch. This was a strange request on multiple levels. First, Simon was the professional fisherman; Jesus was not. Jesus was a carpenter, and while He probably knew the basics of fishing, He was not as skilled or as knowledgeable as Simon. From Simon’s perspective, the request of Jesus reveals His ignorance. It was probably nearing the middle of the day, which is the worst time of the day to fish, as every fisherman knows. The nets were made for night fishing, and during the day, the nets were visible to the fish, and could be avoided.
Second, Simon and his friends had just finished cleaning their nets and should be going home to bed so they can be well rested for the next night of fishing. If they let down the nets now, they would have be cleaned again, which would take most of the afternoon, leaving little time left for sleep. This, in turn, would make it more difficult for them to fish that night.
5:5. Simon’s answer reflects some of his frustration. Though he refers to Jesus as Master, the title is more equivalent to Rabbi, with the implication that Jesus is a teacher, while Simon is the fisherman (Bock 1994:456; Bailey 2008:142). He and the other fisherman have already toiled all night and caught nothing. The word toiled (Gk. kopiasantes) refers to wearisome work, and indicates that Simon and his partners are tired from a long night of fruitless labor (Bock 1994:456). This is a tactful way of saying that if they didn’t catch anything during the night, they wouldn’t catch anything during the day either. And fishing during the day would only make them more tired for fishing during the following night, which may lead to another night of no fish. From a fisherman’s perspective, Jesus was making a foolish request.
Nevertheless, at the word of Jesus, Simon Peter agrees to let down the net. Maybe he does this to humor Jesus, but the text seems to imply he did it out of faithful obedience. Simon Peter did not know what was going to happen, or even if something would happen. Jesus promised nothing for obedience.
5:6. When they had let down the net and started to pull it back in, they discovered that they had caught a great number of fish. So many, in fact, that their net was breaking. Unlike in John 21:11, where they caught 153 fish, it is not recorded how many fish were caught.
5:7. So as not to break the net and lose all the fish, they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. Even then, there were so many fish, that they filled both the boatsand they began to sink.
5:8. The response of Simon Peter to this miracle reveals some of what he may have been thinking when Jesus asked him to let down his nets after he had just finished cleaning them. He is called Simon Peter here, rather than just Simon, because his new apostolic nature starting to emerge. Occasionally in the Gospels, Simon the man is set in contrast to Peter the Apostle. He is more commonly referred to asPeter once Jesus gives him this nickname in Luke 6:14.
The response of Peter to this miracle is surprising. The general response to such a miracle would be amazement, wonder, awe, and a desire for Jesus to stay and perform more miracles (cf. 4:42). But Peter asks Jesus to depart. Peter states that he is a sinful man, implying that he has no right to be in the company of Jesus. But what sin had Peter committed? It was probably not something Peter said or did, but something he thought about Jesus. He may have felt anger, bitterness, or resentment at Jesus for asking Peter to fish in the middle of the day. Peter had just finished cleaning his nets, and to let them down again would require Peter to clean them all over again. This would keep him from going home to his family, and from getting adequate rest to prepare for the next night of fishing. Though it is not recorded, it is quite likely that such thoughts went through Peter’s mind, and now he is confessing them to Jesus, saying that he is not worthy to be in the company of Jesus.
Also, if it is granted that the events here in Luke follow Matthew 4:18-22 and Mark 1:16-20 by a period of a few weeks or months, then Simon has previously been called to follow Jesus and become a fisher of men, but has now gone back to fishing. If so, he may be confessing the sin of turning back from following Jesus. He is confessing his doubt in the ability of Jesus to provide for him.
But now, far from doubting Jesus, Peter declares Jesus is his Lord. This is in contrast to the earlier usage of “Master” (5:5). Simon is not stating that Jesus is God (Green 1997:233), and it is not even certain that Peter believed Jesus was the Messiah (cf. Matt 16:16; contra. Pentecost 1981:143). Instead, Peter now recognizes the authority of Jesus, and submits himself to Jesus as One who is worthy of trust.
5:9. The reason for Peter’s confession of sin is that he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken. The miracle caused amazement, which led to the recognition that Jesus had not asked them to do something ridiculous after all.
5:10. Among these others were James and John, the sons of Zebedee. John may have been one of the first followers of Jesus (John would be the unnamed second disciple in John 1:45-52). As fishing partners with Simon, they would have shared in the task of cleaning the nets and hauling in the fish, as well as the potential rewards from such a great catch (See Bailey 2008:142-143 for some of the thoughts that may have gone through Simon’s head).
Simon has confessed his sin to Jesus, and might be afraid that Jesus will not allow Simon to follow Him any longer. When Jesus speaks to Simon directly, He is not talking only Simon, but speaking to him as the spokesperson and leader for the group. Jesus to him, “Do not be afraid. From now on you will catch men.” Jesus is not here to judge or condemn Simon, but to challenge and encourage him in discipleship directions. Again, if this event follows the previous earlier calling (Matt 4:18-22; Mark 1:16-20), then Jesus is reiterating that Simon can trust Jesus to provide for him as he follows Jesus in catching men.
The idea of catching men does not refer primarily to saving souls from hell so they can go to heaven when they die. “The figure is one of rescue from danger, as the OT and Jewish usage of the concepts ‘to let live’ and ‘to save alive’ show” (Bock 1994:461). Though fish are caught to die, people are rescued to live. This call to discipleship, though frequently observed among Jewish Rabbis, was different in many regards. Jesus was not calling them to learn doctrine or to continue more fully in a way of life they were already practicing, but to learn and follow a completely new way of life, a life of mission, ministry, and service among people who, like Simon, saw themselves as sinners (cf. 5:32). Just as Simon had been “caught” by Jesus, so Jesus was calling Simon to catch others.
5:11. Simon had learned to trust Jesus, even when the request seemed foolish. So now, having just made the largest catch of his entire career as a fisherman, and when they had brought their boats to land, they forsook all and followed Him. They left the boats, the nets, and the record number of fish, and followed Jesus, which becomes a common imagery for being a disciple of Jesus. These men recognized that He had called them to a greater and higher purpose than fishing, and has proven that He has the “knowledge and ability to guide” (Bock 1994:454). The night before, Simon had come home empty handed. Now, as a result of doing what Jesus had said, he and his partners had made the biggest catch of their lives. Now Jesus was asking Simon to do something that seemed even more foolish. He was asking Simon to leave it all behind and follow Jesus in pursuit of something even more valuable; to follow Jesus in catching men.