Notes on Mark 1, verses 16-20
by Jonathan Spurlock
(Holts Summit, MO)
Mark 1:16. KJV 16 Now as he walked by the sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers.
Several notes: first, the Sea of Galilee has other names in the Bible. Sometimes it was called the “lake of Gennesaret (Luke 5:1)”, the “sea of Tiberius (John 21:1)” and the “sea of Chinnereth/Chinneroth” a few times in the Old Testament. These all refer to the same body of water in northern Israel.
Then, at least a few cities were located around this sea or lake during this time. Jesus lived in Capernaum for a while (Matthew 4:13) and performed miracles there, plus in Chorazin and Bethsaida—but they also received some of the most severe condemnations ever from the Lord (Matthew 11:21-24). Other cities, seldom or never mentioned in the Bible, could be found by using a Bible atlas or similar work.
Third, Jesus is reported to be walking by the Sea of Galilee. Why He was walking along this sea is never directly specified but as it turned out, He found some followers!
Finally, fishing would be a natural source of food and income for that part of the country. Estimates for the Sea of Galilee differ but this body of water was at least a few miles in length, north to south, and a few miles wide, east to west. The depth varies, and was never recorded in Scripture, but it was deep enough for a boat to sink (Luke 5:7, 8:22-25).
In this verse, Mark tells how Simon (also named Peter) and his brother Andrew were casting a net into the sea. This is unusual, as several commentators describe fishing as something done at night; even later, after Jesus had been crucified and risen from the dead, Peter went fishing at night (John 21). To be casting a net into the sea in what was apparently daylight is something I’ll never understand. Was Simon literally “angling” for one more catch?
17 And Jesus said unto them, Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men.
Note how Jesus phrased His invitation: “Come after Me, and I’ll make you fishers of men”! Both Peter and Andrew did so: Andrew brought a few to Jesus, Simon Peter preached and led many to faith in Jesus. Both types of disciples are important: those who can reach only a few as well as those, the many.
18 And straightway they forsook their nets, and followed him.
“Straightway” means immediately. It’s as if Simon and Andrew dropped what they were doing (casting the nets into the water), left those nets on the beach or the shore, and followed Jesus.
A peculiar item is that Jesus seems to have given no other “invitation” or challenge than in verse 17, and there is no record of any verbal response by either Simon or Andrew. They simply followed Jesus.
19 And when he had gone a little further thence, he saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who also were in the ship mending their nets.
We may never know how many boats and how many people used the Sea of Galilee for fishing. Jesus didn’t have to go very far to find James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were still in their boat mending their nets.
To be brief, sometimes nets would scrape the bottom, or would hold a large catch of fish, or sometimes, being in water for long periods of time, the nets would need fixing. Other sources give additional details about “drag-nets” and “seine nets” and how they were used. James and John weren’t casting the nets, like Simon and Andrew: they were mending theirs. The Chinese Christian author Watchman Nee used these examples in one of his books.
20 And straightway he called them: and they left their father Zebedee in the ship with the hired servants, and went after him.
Immediately Jesus called them and immediately they followed Him. James and John, and their father, Zebedee, were at least financially able to have hired servants (nothing mentioned about this for Simon and Andrew). This didn’t seem to have much of an effect on how Simon (Peter) , James and John related to each other: several times, these three are mentioned as being in close contact with Jesus.
Again, there is no record of what Jesus actually said to James and John, and no record of any communication between these men, their father, or anyone else. Like Simon and Andrew, they left everything and followed Jesus.
Scripture quotations taken from the King James Version of the Bible (KJV).