Fishing: leaving all

Fishers-of-men-iconfrom now on you will be catching menLiterally, the next line reads: “from the now, you shall be catching alive (zogreo) people.” The similar phrase in Matthew and Mark reads: “I will make you (to become) fishermen [halieus] of people.” (This word for “fishermen” is used in v. 2 of our text.)

The Greek verb translated “catching alive” is a compound word: zoos = “alive, living” + agreo = “capture, catch”. (This is a verb closely related to agra used in vv. 4 and 9 about “catching” the fish). Classically, it also came to mean, “to restore to life and strength, to revive.” Maybe a more literal translation might lead us to a sense of this verse as something like “You will be restoring people to life and strength.”  This is perhaps a more captivating thought to people who don’t want to be caught in a net… but what about being “caught up in his or her love” or “captured” by love. Being caught in this way can make us feel really alive and energized – captivated! By the end of our text, Peter and some of his friends are captivated by Jesus. They leave everything and follow him. (Stoffregen)

Culpepper [117] writing on these verses points out that the “fishing” image was not usually a positive one: The fishermen are themselves caught by Jesus and given a new vocation. In the OT and the Dead Sea Scrolls fishing is used metaphorically for gathering people for judgment (Amos 4:2; Hab 1:14-15; Jer 16:16; 1QH 5:7-8). Seen against this background, the call to the disciples was a commission to gather people for judgment, a theme found in the preaching of John the Baptist (3:7-9). The metaphor of fishing was also common in Greek literature as a metaphor for the activity of philosopher-teachers. In the Gospels, however, the call to become fishers of men becomes a call to gather men and women for the kingdom.

In our evangelical work, this word can remind us that our purpose is to “capture” others in such a way that it is “life-giving” rather than “life-taking”. To use more theological terms, to “capture” them with love and grace and mercy; rather than threats and law and intimidation.

Who are they (and we) to “captivate”? The word is anthropos = “people”. However, the context might narrow the field a little. Immediately after this story, Jesus is confronted by a man with leprosy. Jesus touches him (thus taking on his uncleanness) and heals him. In the next story, some men come to Jesus carrying a paralyzed man (anthropos). Jesus forgives and then cures him. Next Jesus calls Levi, the tax collectors and shares in a feast at his house. A few verses later, Jesus is teaching in the synagogue on the sabbath, a man (anthropos) with a withered hand was there (6:6). Jesus cures him. Prior to the fish story, Jesus had exorcised an unclean spirit from a man (anthropos) (4:33); healed Simon’s mother-in-law, and cured all who were sick.

This suggests that: “You will be restoring people to life and strength” is at least part of the understanding of “catching people”. Or as Green (The Gospel of Luke) suggests that Jesus is identified “as one who crosses boundaries to bring good news to the unworthy” [p. 234].

When they brought their boats to the shore, they left everything and followed him” Tannehill (Luke, 101 – found in Stoffregen) presents the economic and social implications of this leaving:

“Leaving everything” means leaving the family (cf. 14:26) and leaving one’s means of support. The family was the primary producing unit in antiquity. Whatever economic security there was came through the family. In leaving their families these men were abandoning family responsibilities and their own security. However, we will see later that they moved from an original family to a “surrogate family,” the community of disciples (cf. 8:19-21), as the primary group. This decision did not suddenly make the disciples individuals in the modern sense, but it would take some strength and independence to decide against the group to which society gave the highest value.

The boat returns to land. Those who have experienced Jesus’ power on the lake (an image of baptism?), return changed people. They “leave” everything. The word for “leave” (aphiemi) was used earlier of the fever leaving Simon’s mother-in-law (4:39), and the noun form (aphesis) twice in the Lucan quote from Isaiah: “release to the captives” and “let the oppressed go free” (4:18); but most often these words are used of forgiving sins (for example: 5:20, 21, 23, 24).

Perhaps we can restate the action of the fisherman as “freeing themselves from all things” or “being released” from them. Levi the tax collector will do the same thing in v. 28. Might this also illustrate that forgiveness means being freed or released from our sinfulness? That our sins or sinfulness no longer have to control us and that we are freed from whatever hinders us from following God’s call to be and live as God’s children.

From what do we need to be “released” so that we can properly follow Jesus? Following Jesus in 9:23 requires denying oneself = release from one’s own desires. In 9:57-61, three different people wish to follow Jesus, but following him requires leaving comforts behind and family obligations behind. In 18:22, the rich man is unable to leave his possessions in order to follow Jesus. In contrast, Peter indicates that they “have left” (or “been released from”) their own things (idia – homes, possessions, property) and followed Jesus. Jesus promises that they will get back much more in this age and eternal life in the age to come (18:28-30).


5:11 They left everything: in Mark 1:16-20 and Matthew 4:18-22 the fishermen who follow Jesus leave their nets and their father; in Luke, they leave everything (see also Luke 5:28; 12:33; 14:33; 18:22), an indication of Luke’s theme of complete detachment from material possessions.

followed: akoloutheín is used in the Gospels for than a physical act. The verb denotes the spiritual allegiance of the disciple (see 5:27-28; 9:23, 49, 57, 59, 61; 18:22,38,43; 23:39, 54). In Luke “following” will take on a special significance because of the importance of Jesus’ journey toward Jerusalem.


  • R. Alan Culpepper, “The Gospel of Luke.” New Interpreter’s Bible. Ed. Leander E. Keck. Vol. 9. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994–2004) 112–18
  • Joel B. Green, “The Gospel of Luke.” The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997) 230- 35
  • Brian Stoffregen, “Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes” at

Scripture quotes from New American Bible by Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. © 1991, 1986, 1970

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