Looking at the first chapter of John, we find ourselves in the setting of the time of Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist. On the day after the baptism, “John was standing there with two of his disciples. Gazing at Jesus as He walked by, he said, ‘Look, the lamb of God!’ When John’s two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus” (1:35-37). Momentarily, we learn that one of these disciples was Andrew, though we do not see Jesus calling him to follow. Instead we find that “Jesus turned around and saw them following and said to them, ‘What do you want?’ So they said to Him, ‘Rabbi’ (which is translated Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’ Jesus answered, ‘Come and you will see.’ So they came and saw where He was staying, and they stayed with Him that day. Now it was about four o’clock in the afternoon” (1:38-39). The use of “they stayed with Him that day” seems to convey a double meaning, indicating that they stayed with Jesus at the place where He was staying, while also indicating the fact that it was from that point on that they stayed with Jesus.
Immediately after that we go on to find that “Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, was one of the two disciples who heard what John said and followed Jesus. He first found his own brother Simon and told him, ‘We have found the Messiah!’ (which is translated Christ). Andrew brought Simon to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon, the son of John. You will be called Cephas’ (which is translated Peter). On the next day Jesus wanted to set out for Galilee” (1:40-43a). We’ll notice that, in contrast to Mark, Matthew, and Luke, there is no mention of fishing, Andrew and Simon are not together, Jesus does not explicitly call either to follow Him, and they are not even in the region of Galilee.
In Mark, Matthew, and Luke, Jesus moves directly from calling Andrew and Simon, to calling James and John, who, according to Luke, are all partners in the fishing business. The fishing motif is strong. In John, we move from the non-call of Andrew and Simon, who are not portrayed as fishermen, to the very first overt call of Jesus, which is to Philip. The story of this call is completely absent from the other three Gospels. Having learned that Jesus wanted to set out for Galilee, we go on to find that “He found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me.’ (Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the town of Andrew and Peter.) Philip found Nathanael and told him, ‘We have found the one Moses wrote about in the law, and the prophets also wrote about---Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.’ Nathanael replied, ‘can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Philip replied, ‘Come and see.’” (1:43b-46)
So rather than moving from calling Andrew and Simon to calling James and John, the story of Jesus’ gaining of disciples moves to Philip and Nathanael. Here, we expand on a previous notation, and make emphasize that the calls of Philip and Nathanael are to be found only here in John’s Gospel, which probably serves as an indication that they were somehow connected to the community for which this record of Jesus is composed. We also notice that Philip is the one that calls Nathanael, rather than Jesus, which will be reinforced momentarily. Moving along, “Jesus saw Nathaniel coming toward Him and exclaimed, ‘Look, a true Israelite in whom there is no deceit!’ Nathanael asked Him, ‘How do you know me?’ Jesus replied, ‘Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.’ Nathanael answered him, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You will see greater things than these.’ He continued, ‘I tell all of you the solemn truth---you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.’” (1:47-51)
Thus ends the record, in John, of Jesus’ “calling” of disciples (“calling” is in quotes because only Philip is explicitly commanded to follow). So not only does John not provide a record of the calling of James and John, we do not see a forsaking of occupation (fishing) or of family (James and John leaving their father), as is to be found in the rest of the Gospels, which simply reminds us that John’s Gospel is quite unique in many ways. Strangely, and though there is no mention of fishing in connection to their initial call, it is following the crucifixion, Resurrection, and appearance of Jesus that the Gospel of John provides the first inkling that the disciples had been fishermen. In the twenty-first chapter we find that “After this Jesus revealed Himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias. Now this is how He did so. Simon Peter, Thomas (called Didymus), Nathanael (who was from Cana in Galilee), the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples of His were together” (21:1-2). As an aside, the mention of Nathanael being from Cana in Galilee provides a clue as to why Jesus, His mother, and His disciples were at the wedding feast in Cana, which is presented immediately following Jesus’ words to Nathanael at the close of the first chapter. Returning to the text of the twenty-first chapter: “Simon Peter told them, ‘I am going fishing.’ ‘We will go with you,’ they replied. They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing” (21:3)
Where Mark, Matthew, and Luke have Jesus calling His first disciples in Galilee, John has them being called outside of Galilee, and there are no boats or fish anywhere in sight. At the close of their narratives, Mark concludes with the report of the Resurrection, Luke (and Acts) has Jesus speaking to the disciples in Jerusalem, and Matthew has the disciples on a mountain in the Galilee. John follows Matthew’s account, at least in terms of region, with the final appearance of Jesus to His disciples taking place in Galilee. Ironically, Mark, Matthew, and Luke have the disciples fishing when Jesus first calls them, and it is an occupation to which they do not return, whereas John, which offers up a completely different setting at the time of their calls, has the disciples off and fishing after Jesus makes His first post-Resurrection appearance to them, and it is at this time that they catch a great number of fish.