What It Means To Be “Fishers of Men” (Mark 1:17)

In Mark 1:17 Jesus tells Simon & Andrew: “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” But what exactly does this title, “fishers of men,” mean?

The “common-sense” reading of the text suggests that it simply implies that Jesus’ followers will come to have same mission that Jesus has (calling people to follow him). Indeed, this is how the text is normally read and preached. As those who follow Christ, we are called to be “fishers of men” and continue to extend the invitation of following Christ to those around us. However, at least two alternate or supplemental readings are possible:

1) The “Martyr” Reading

If you take the metaphor of fishing seriously, perhaps there is a note of implied suffering involved in the call to be “fishers of men.” Fishing is a somewhat violent activity which involves the hooking of an animal and, usually, it’s eventual death. Already in the first chapter of Mark’s Gospel, John has been arrested by the authorities, Jesus has been tempted in the desert by Satan, and Simon/Andrew/James/John have abandoned their financial and social security in order to follow Jesus. It won’t be long until Jesus reveals that the call to follow him is ultimately a call to martyrdom – a call to pick up one’s cross and die. Is Jesus playing on the metaphor of fishing and suggesting that the mission the disciples are called to join is one of bidding people to a life of temptation, suffering, and death? William Placher concludes: “Is such a connotation (of suffering) intentional? It is hard to tell. Those who are ‘caught’ in discipleship of Jesus will come to great joy, but only, we will learn, on the other side of suffering.” (Placher, Mark, 37).

2) The “Judgement” Reading

It’s possible, if not likely, that Jesus is drawing this title from Old Testament prophetic images of God “fishing” his people. Perhaps Jesus draws this title from Jeremiah 16:16, Amos 4:2, or Ezekiel 29:4. In these texts, “fishing men” is seen as a euphemism for God’s judgement on his people – the rich and powerful who have abandoned his call to obedience. If Jesus is intentionally drawing on these prophetic traditions, then perhaps he is inviting Simon/Andrew/James/John to “join him in his struggle to overturn the existing order of power and privilege.” (Myers, Binding the Strong Man, 132). To follow Jesus, in this reading, is thus to become part of a people who by their very existence cast judgement on those living in disobedience to God’s true desires. It is to live a life of radical generosity and enemy-love which necessarily clashes with the world and its rulers.

What do you think?
How do you read the call to be “fishers of men”?
What do you think about these alternative/supplemental readings?

fishersofmen

Observations On ‘Hearing’ Mark

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Two days ago I was able to attend a live reading of the Gospel of Mark.* The goal was to experience the Gospel in a way similar to an early Christian community – orally. As Michael Bird correctly notes,

“Our earliest Christian literature is the textual product of the oral activities of the early church, including proclamation, apologetics, exhortations, prayers, debates, hymns, creeds, and storytelling… Several scholars have drawn attention to the Gospel of Mark as a text designed to be orally performed and to be aurally penetrating.”

Some observations after hearing Mark performed:

1: I’m irreversibly textual.

I’m not sure it’s possible to “go back in time” and make-believe that we are an illiterate community. While listening to Mark, it was obviously clear to me that I am a textual person. Part of this is my personality (I learn better that way … I’m not an “oral learner”) but I believe that in a large way all of the developed world is irreversibly textual. In other words: I think textually… I process information textually… I organize material textually. I found myself consistently fighting the temptation to “see the words” in my mind or to place the story to a chapter or verse (chapters and verses are a separate problem: “Have We Ruined the Bible?”).

2: Mark is a genuinely good story.

Bird, and other New Testament scholars, are correct to identify Mark as a legitimately engaging oral narrative. It keeps one’s attention with its pace, it has more than enough humor, and it contains a good amount of dramatic tension. Many of the “themes of Mark” that I knew intellectually, such as the Messianic Secret, had even more of an impact when I heard the entire text at once.

3: The cumulative effect of a story is greater than the sum of its parts.

There’s something wise about keeping a story together instead of breaking it into pieces. A narrative seems to have a “cumulative meaning” – a powerful impression left on the mind when it is told all at once. There are many confusing events in Mark that make me want to stop and ask questions, but with the story continuing on one is forced to accept these elements as they are and keep following the narrative. In fact, having these questions unanswered and lingering in the back on one’s mind actually brings out the overall meaning of the story.

4: I’m often as confused as the disciples, but I want to follow Jesus.

Jesus is an attractive, mysterious, and powerful figure. I want to know him, I want to be like him, and I want to follow him. I’m often afraid. At times I have denied him. But I’ve never been able to shake this haunting feeling that he has risen and I am called to follow him into the future.


* Our church hosted the event and Mark was read by my good friend (and one of our Elders) Jake Milwee. While planning the event, we found out that we were definitely not the first to do so: see Mark’s Gospel Live, Performances of Mark’s Gospel, and Mark’s Gospel (performed by Max McClean).

Biblical Studies Blog Carnival | September 2014

Welcome to the September 2014 Biblical Studies Blog Carnival!

September means one thing in Texas: football season is back! And of course, I’m speaking of American football – both college and NFL teams are now on the field once again. I know that many of our biblical studies bloggers are more inclined towards the internationally recognized form of “football” (what we down here in Texas call “soccer”), so please accept my apologies for picking such a culturally-biased theme. You might enjoy the video below of a confused “football” coach attempting to coach a “soccer” team.

College football divides each team into certain conferences – the SEC (Gig ‘Em Aggies!), Big 12, ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12, etc. Thus, I’ve divided this month’s excellent blogging into four conferences:

– The OTC (Old Testament Conference)
– The NTC (New Testament Conference)
– The CHTC (Church History, Theology, and Hermeneutics Conference)
– The BRC (Book Review Conference)

However, just because a post might not be in one of the above conferences it still might have merited a place in the Wild Card Race (Miscellaneous Posts).

There were a ton of great blog posts this month.
Thanks to all who contributed –  happy reading!


The OTC (Old Testament Conference)

The NTC (New Testament Conference)

The CHTHC (Church History, Theology, and Hermeneutics Conference)

BRC (Book Review Conference)

The Wild Card Race (Miscellaneous Posts)

* * *  New Blog Alert  * * *
Michael Forth, a doctoral student at Aberdeen, has started a new blog: PonderForth. Check out his first blog post, “Is Christian Fundamentalism a Manifestation of Liberal Theology?”


[1] Did I miss a great post from the month of September? Post a comment with the link so that we can all enjoy it!

[2] Next month’s Biblical Studies Blog Carnival (October 2014) will be hosted by Brian Renshaw on November 1. Be sure to stay tuned for another month of blogging greatness.

[3] Phil Long at Reading Acts is still looking for volunteers to host future Carnivals. This is my “emotional plea” for a few decent folks to step up and help continue this biblioblog tradition! If you’re interested and/or willing to be coerced, please contact Phil through his blog.

Best of the Best: Carnival Submissions

What are the best biblical studies blog posts that you’ve read/written this month?

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Don’t forget to turn in submissions for this month’s Biblical Studies Blog Carnival!

You can email me: mike@fc3.org, leave a comment, or use the form below:

‘Soul-Starving Tendencies’

One of the great dangers in (academically studying) theology is making our faith something we discuss rather than something that moves us. We lapse into this problem when we treat God as the mere object of the study rather than as the Lord we worship. Helmut Thielicke exposed this temptation in his delightful book ‘A Little Exercise for Young Theologians.’ He noticed that students of theology often developed soul-starving tendencies, such as the shift from reading the Bible in the ‘second person’ to the ‘third person,’ from seeing that it addresses them personally to treating it as an impersonal system of thought. ‘The transition from one to the other level of thought, from a personal relationship with God to a merely technical reference, usually is exactly synchronized with the moment that I no longer can read the word of Holy Scripture as a word to me, but only as the object of exegetical endeavors.’ Reading Scripture merely to to look for doctrinal proof texts or sermon illustrations, rather than as the blazing Word which is alive and active, kills our spirit. We should not ignore abuses of interpretation or neglect important hermeneutical practices, but at its most fundamental level, Scripture is God’s voice to his people, and by his Spirit we encounter a living, rather than a dead, letter.

Kelly M. Kapic ‘A Little Book for New Theologians’ (64-65)