Votes : 0

From Simon the Fisherman to Peter the Fisher of Men

Marc Rastoin, SJ - La Civiltà Cattolica - Mon, Mar 13th 2023

Fisher of Men

Simon Peter is a key figure in the New Testament. He was present for many stages of the establishment of the canon. It seems he wrote nothing during his lifetime, but many other Christians wrote about him. How did this fisherman from Galilee come to die a martyr’s death in the capital of the Roman Empire? Let us try to retrace some key episodes of his journey.

Simon of Galilee, fisherman and entrepreneur

It is important to place Simon in his homeland of Galilee. This is where it all begins. What image do we have of Capernaum? I always had a rather romantic vision of this town, which I saw as a small village by the sea. This vision was linked to what was written about the Franciscan excavations at Capernaum. The area of dwellings near the harbor had been excavated, including what was thought to be the house of Peter, and the synagogue a short distance away. But the excavations carried out at the port of Magdala and at Sussita/Hippos, as well as the recent studies on the lake[1] indicate that the village of Capernaum must have included, toward the east, an area that one might consider, somewhat incongruously, as industrial.

Capernaum was at the center of a fishing area, which supplied fish to an area extending for several dozen kilometers and ensured their preservation following the two main techniques of the time: salting and drying. In 1986 a perfectly preserved boat from the first century was found, made of 10 different types of wood. What is becoming increasingly clear, and is also confirmed by Vespasian’s naval victory at Magdala in 69,[2] is that this area was one of intense commercial activity, with numerous boats and that fishermen-entrepreneurs processed and supplied fish. In short, Capernaum was not a large metropolis like Caesarea or Sefforis, but it was neither small  nor poor.[3] 


Therefore, one may conclude the first apostles were people from the semi-industrial artisan world, not from the more modest categories of the population of the time. Jesus did not choose apostles from among illiterate laborers. James and John, sons of Zebedee, who lived in this context, were artisans, men who were obviously not part of Herod’s circle, but people of responsibility, small businessmen, artisans. They had a social standing in the village and a religious status in the synagogue. They were relatively educated people with a sound religious culture.

Let us go back to the lake. We can find some insights in Sandro Veronesi’s book Non dirlo. Il Vangelo di Marco, which is a re-reading of the gospel of Mark as what he calls a “boat book.”[4] The author points out that Jesus comes from Nazareth, a town from which one cannot see the lake; he refers to the countryside, the hills and olive trees. In fact, Jesus’ parables mostly refer to the countryside, not the city or the maritime environment. Paul, on the other hand, is a man of the big city, and his metaphors are drawn mostly from the city environment. But Veronesi shows us that Jesus loves the lake, loves the fishermen, and Capernaum becomes his favorite place. Jesus crosses the lake, and he prefers to use the boat, even when he could go on foot. Even when the weather is bad and the weather is stormy, he sleeps peacefully in the boat.

He next discusses the different circles of Jesus’ disciples. With the exception of the first four, almost nothing is known of the other disciples, except that one of them, another Simon, is nicknamed “the Zealot,” that is, he belongs to the party prone to violent action that Flavius Josephus calls the “fourth philosophy.” It seems that among the disciples of Jesus two groups can be distinguished: one formed by the three disciples (Peter, James and John) who will have an important role in the public life of Jesus, and one formed by the other nine.[5] The nucleus of Jesus’ disciples are the fishermen. They are important men, not people who would have obtained their social standing thanks to Jesus.

Simon, a disciple of the Baptist

Another element to point out is that Jesus’ first disciples were from the circle of John the Baptist. A young French biblical scholar recently wrote a thesis on the movement inaugurated by Jesus against the background of other schools and groups of the time. It is a study on the sociology of the Jews of the first centuries and on the Gospel of Matthew. The author thus speaks of “schools” in the Hellenistic sense. In fact, at that time reference was often made to “sects” (aireseis), without this term taking on the pejorative meaning it has today. At that time, the Jewish world was subject to Hellenistic influences, and the Aramaic world itself was strongly Hellenized. In this environment there were “schools,” which were places of teaching, but also of learning a certain way of life. The scholar states, somewhat schematically but suggestively, that “the school of Jesus is rooted in the school of the Baptist, is structured in the manner of a Pharisee school and has a way of life close to that of the Essene school.”[6] This analysis gives us a better understanding of the movement inaugurated by Jesus.

One cannot understand Jesus without John the Baptist. This is a basic fact, and Jesus shares this  with Simon, James and John. The Baptist had gathered his disciples into a movement, which continued to exist in the first century (cf. Acts 18, at Ephesus) and was of great interest to Luke and John. But it does not seem that he did  much teaching. In fact, his was primarily a moral and practical approach. Jesus, on the other hand, speaks and teaches at length, and sometimes answers questions about the law, following the practice of the Pharisees.

Where did Jesus teach? Mainly in three places: the synagogue, the home, and out in the open air on the road. Jesus frequents Simon’s house in Capernaum; he teaches everywhere, as well as praying everywhere, and he goes to the synagogue for Shabbat. He constitutes his movement in the manner of the Pharisees and, at the same time, gives it elements characteristic of the Essenes. We know from documents that the Essene community of Qumran consisted of a small group of people, who lived in a sort of monastery and had contacts with sympathizers from nearby villages. Flavius Josephus reports that they practice hospitality, share goods and that their communal meals have a cultic dimension. Some were also committed to celibacy. This movement, for these reasons, is close to that of Jesus. However, this does not mean that Jesus stayed at Qumran.

Jesus therefore is initiated into his public activity by the Baptist. He looks around and asks, “Where does God act?” The answer is: “God acts here and now in Israel, through the Baptist.” In the Gospel, after Jesus enters Jerusalem, there is the episode in which he is asked this question, “By what authority do you do these things?” Jesus responds with another question, “Was John’s baptism from heaven or from men? If you answer me, I will tell you by what authority I do this.” They say, “We do not know.” Jesus then concludes: “Neither do I tell you by what authority I do these things” (cf. Mark 11:28-29). What is certain is that Jesus, until the end of his life, remained faithful to John. The same can be said of Simon who, before beginning his spiritual journey with Jesus, was already animated by the desire for the coming of God in power to save Israel. This was a fundamental element of the Baptist’s movement, that is to prepare for the coming of God, here and now, in Israel. The “school” of Jesus thus derives from that of the Baptist, from which Simon also came.

In John’s Gospel it is also recorded that Jesus was baptizing (cf. John 4:1). This is why he remained in Judea longer than we assume. It was a literary choice of Mark to structure his Gospel as an ascent of Jesus to Jerusalem, while, according to John’s Gospel, he went there several times for the feasts. Today it is believed that, historically, John is right. This explains why Jesus was able to have  disciples from there. This justifies, for example, the presence of Cleophas, who lives not far from Jerusalem, or the role of Mary, Mark’s mother, whose home is in Jerusalem (cf. Acts 12:12). This is also important for the identity of “John the Elder,” who would be the ancestor of the Johannine tradition[7] and of whom everything suggests that he is from Jerusalem, and knows the family of the high priest. So, in addition to Galilee, Jesus was also able to recruit disciples in Bethany and Jerusalem, and this Jerusalemite element will become important after his death and resurrection.

Simon becomes Peter-Cephas

Simon is a man who has been given a new name, which corresponds to a mission. It is a strange name, which should surprise us. “Cephas,” in fact, does not mean the “stone”, but the “rock,” which is a name of God. The constitution of the new State of Israel by Ben-Gurion in 1948 was proclaimed in the name of the “rock of Israel,” as the result of a compromise with the orthodox Jews.[8] It is a metaphorical expression that, for the Jewish religion, clearly designates God.

How can you give a man a name that is reserved for God? This is surprising in two senses. First, in a monotheistic tradition, one does not give a man a name of God. This is not done within a Christian perspective, if one keeps in mind who Jesus is, the authority he possesses and the radicality he demands in following him (“one teacher, one teaching, one authority”: cf. Matt 23:8-10). Whereas in the schools of the rabbis there are many teachers and a diversity of ideas, in the school of Jesus there is only one authoritative teacher. Therefore he is the “rock.” It is therefore surprising to give another person this name. There has been, and continues to be, a lively debate about the meaning of this name and the mission it implies. First, the issue is to identify Simon’s mission and determine whether it is pre-Easter or post-Easter. With the vast majority of current exegetes, I believe that the choice of the Twelve, as well as the mission of Simon, are not post-Easter events  projected back into the public ministry, but date from the historical ministry of Jesus.[9]

Jesus gave a new name to Simon and apparently did so only for him. It is true that James and John were given the nickname Boanèrghes, “the sons of thunder” (cf. Mark 3:17), but this expression is mentioned only once in the Gospels,  without being associated with a mission. What is certain is that the move from the name Simon to that of Cephas becomes a reality and is recognized in the Church, even by Paul. Therefore Simon clearly has his own authority. He receives a new Aramaic name, which does not exclude, among other things, that Jesus, like most educated Jews of the time, had some knowledge of Greek.

Simon will go down in history with this double name,  Simon Peter. Why did Jesus call him this? At the basis of his naming is the conviction that all men are “sons of God,” since the creation.[10] Often one sees in Jesus above all an eschatological prophet, a man oriented to the end of time, to the coming of the Kingdom. This is not wrong, but in this we could forget that a good part of Jesus’ parables, his ethical principles and his religious demands derive from the fact that he believes in the theology of creation. Jesus has an “optimistic” anthropological vision: man is capable of imitating God, since he was created by Him. “Abba,” “father,” are words everyone can say.

Jesus presents himself as the “Son of Man,” and this name is surprising. In Matt 16 he asks the disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” (Matt 16:13). What does “Son of Man” mean? This is a question that continues to fascinate and divide scholars. It raises the question of how Jesus conceived his mission. He conceived it by linking together three expressions taken from Scripture: Son of Man, suffering servant and Messiah.[11] This is a link that was not at all evident in Scripture.

By what hermeneutical, theological and spiritual operation did Jesus conceive and elaborate this idea of the “Son of Man”? He affirmed in substance: “Names reserved for God can be given to men, because he himself says: ‘You are gods’ (cf. John 10:34).” The expression “Son of Man” can designate anyone – any human being – or, as in Daniel, someone who will be given the throne and will ride on the clouds of heaven (cf. Dan 7:13-14). If one rides on the clouds of heaven, one has an almost divine status. Thus, “Son of Man” can be, on the one hand, an ordinary person and, on the other hand, a person who possesses quasi-divine status.

To this consideration we must add another: the style of Jesus is a “style of discretion.” He speaks in parables, which require explanations, and one can never be sure of having understood them correctly. Unlike the categorical statements of legal or political authorities, those of Jesus do not impose themselves, but leave room for discernment. Kings and high priests speak unequivocally, and not in parabolic accounts. The parable is a word that is addressed from the weak to the strong, as in the case of Nathan addressing David after the killing of Uriah (cf. 2 Sam 12:1-15). Jesus asks for a spiritual adherence, a free recognition. He invites you to open your ears, not to discount  your judgment.

The English writer Clive Staples Lewis said, in essence, that the Messiah is not a man who claims to be the Messiah, because in that case he would have to be locked up in an asylum, but he is the one who really is the Messiah. In the Gospel, Jesus says: “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear” (Matt 11:4-5). Faced with these words of Jesus, a decision must be made. At Caesarea Philippi, Jesus asks the question: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” It is not that he does not know who he is, or has doubts about his own identity.

But a “true Messiah” is someone who is also recognized as such by others, not someone who simply claims this identity. The apostles “replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But you, who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah, for neither flesh nor blood has revealed this to you [thus, it was not revealed to him by his earthly father, who may have been called Jonah, for it is not this father who counts], but my Father who is in heaven [revealed to him through Jonah, that is, the dove, or the Holy Spirit]. And I say to you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church’” (Matt 16:14-18). This episode in which Simon becomes spokesman for the Twelve to express his faith in the messianic nature of Jesus will clearly constitute, together with his personal vision of the Risen One (cf. Luke 24:34), the foundation of his singular apostolic role.

Simon, fisher of men

“I will make you fishers of men” (Mark 1:17), Jesus says to the first ones called. It is an interesting expression, but also scandalous, to the point that the Fathers of the Church avoided citing it for three centuries, because the fisherman “deceives in order to kill”: “Fishing is, simply put, never good for the fish!”[12] The fisherman deceives with hooks and bait, and then kills. To compare the evangelical mission, the mission of giving life, to the work of a fisherman was for a long time unacceptable to Christians. Matthew and Mark use this expression, and today’s literary analysts may call it a mise en abyme. In the moment when Jesus, on the shore of the lake, says to Simon and Andrew: “I will make you fishers of men,” he enunciates exactly what he is doing: he does not deceive, but speaks the truth; he does not kill, but saves. This presupposes a double operation of transformation of the obvious meaning of the words. The same will happen later with James and John, companions of Simon (cf. Mark 1:19-20).

Luke recoils from the expression, and we can understand why. To Simon, Jesus says: “Do not fear [a divine expression par excellence!]; from now on you will capture men alive” (Luke 5:10). Luke uses here a verb, z?gra?, that was little used in 12 centuries of Greek literature. This verb, used by Homer, is also found in the Septuagint and means, for a warlord, to capture people and let them live. We can then understand the evangelist’s embarrassment. When a word of Jesus is so startling and shocking, it is very likely that it was the actual word he used.

In the Bible, the image of the one who catches men in a net is called Satan, as it appears in both Job and the prophets. Those who use a  hook use it for the enemies of Israel; they do so for Leviathan. Luke changed the expression – “fisher of men” – but tried to keep the meaning. It is a shocking, paradoxical image, but it says something about Jesus, about his style. He is a man who draws to himself without deceit, without making promises, without demagogy. Does he not say to Nathanael that he is a man without deception, a man like himself (cf. John 1:47)? Jesus fishes, using his charisma, with the word of God that he announces, but without casting the net. That moment will come, but later. What then does it mean to be a missionary? How does one fish for men? What must one do? How far can one go?

Simon then will be present throughout the New Testament. He will become an apostle in the style of Jesus, while remaining in contact with others. He will reject exclusivism. For example, he will step aside in Jerusalem, leaving the leadership post to James. In Acts 15 he also takes a back seat. Basically, the main purpose of the Acts of the Apostles is to show that Peter and Paul are fighting the same battle; they are inseparable. So, around 95/100 A.D., Luke knows he cannot do without Cephas. Simon Peter is a man open to compromise; this is his fundamental quality, and it is also the reason for his conflict with Paul.

Cephas, the man of communion

The fundamental question for first century Christians is: Who can have the title of apostle? Who has the legitimacy to be considered one? It is the institutional question that divides believers, just as rituals (as well as dietary rules and circumcision) divide them. They were not divided over the Trinity or the Holy Spirit, but over liturgy, rituals, and over questions of primacy and authority.

Clearly different ways of thinking are present here. It seems quite logical that an apostle must have experienced  an apparition of the risen Jesus. In that sense the Twelve can claim the title of apostles to themselves. But there is the problem that they have become eleven. It is at this point that Luke introduces Matthias. In literature, this is called “the law of first effects”: a character carefully introduced at the beginning of a story must, a priori, play a role in what follows. But does this then occur for Matthias? Who knows him? Who chooses him? After this episode, he will have no role at all! His choice is a way of honoring the Twelve. At the end of his Gospel, Matthew is very honest (cf. Matt 28:16): he speaks of the “eleven disciples,” whereas a little earlier he had written that the Twelve would sit on twelve thrones (cf. Matt 19:28). Who then will sit on the twelfth throne?

According to a somewhat summary, yet eloquent schematization, in the first century there were four main groups of Christians: the Petrinians, i.e., the Galileans, those who followed Jesus all the way from Galilee; the Jacobites, i.e., the group of James, “the Lord’s brother,” also Galileans, Judeo-Christians, who have family legitimacy; the group of Cleophas, i.e. the group of Judeo-Christians of Judea; and the Paulines and the Johannites, who make up the Churches of Asia Minor founded by Paul and John the Elder. In Luke’s Gospel, this makes us realize that there are not only the Twelve. They are highlighted in Scripture, but at times we get the impression that there are other apostles as well. One proceeds along the thread of such ambiguity. In John 21, for example, on the shore of the lake, there are only seven apostles: Simon Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, James and John and two other disciples. But Nathanael had disappeared after the initial meeting with Jesus (cf. John 1:45-51): so why is he, not one of the Twelve, present here? The same thing happens in the episode of the two disciples of the  Emmaus episode in Luke 24, where we find Cleopas, who had never appeared before, nor will he appear afterward. This, for Luke and John, is a way of ultimately stating, “There are other people besides the Twelve who have seen Jesus. You cannot limit apostolic legitimacy to just the Galileans, who by the way are eleven.”

We think that one of the men who most contributed to creating the link between these currents and the apostles was Simon Peter himself. He was a pole of ecclesial unity, as can be seen in his letters, which are late. In the letter to the Galatians, Paul feels that his apostolic legitimacy is being attacked by itinerant missionaries who claim that it is necessary to be circumcised. The Galatians are impressed by them, and Paul vindicates his position as an apostle, stating, “the gospel I preached is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ” (Gal 1:11-12). In the First Letter to the Corinthians, two years later, the Apostle will say: “I passed on to you as of first importance what I received” (1 Cor 15:3), clearly not on the road to Damascus, but from the Church. So from whom did Paul receive the Gospel? On the one hand, he insists  that he received it “without mediation,” that is, we might say today, on the “Protestant” aspect of his call. He states: “But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles [the same expression as in Matt 16], my immediate response was not to consult any human being. I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia. Later I returned to Damascus” (Gal 1:15-17). On the other hand, he states, “Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas and stayed with him for fifteen days” (Gal 1:18). “Fifteen days” means having had time to talk with him. But “fifteen days” is not enough time for Paul to be “catechized” by Peter. He then continues, “I saw none of the other apostles – only James” (Gal 1:19). For Paul, if Cephas and the Jerusalem authorities do not greet him, it means that they do not recognize his mission; if the Galatian Christians of pagan origin are considered second class Christians and are not recognized, then his mission “will have been in vain.” This statement is very strong. It means that Paul is convinced that he absolutely must remain in communion with Cephas. This is the, so to speak, “Catholic” aspect of Paul, after the “Protestant” one. It is, after all, the experience we all have. We have all received or learned the gospel from someone else. But that is not what counts: what counts is the moment in which we commit ourselves personally. The Gospel is always received from someone, but ultimately from God. The Gospel comes through actual faces and flesh, but ultimately it comes from the Spirit.

Thus, Paul concludes, “James, Cephas and John, those esteemed as pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me” (Gal 2:9). This is the fundamental agreement of Jerusalem, recounted in Acts 15.  It is  a text that was inspired by Luke,  a more theological text, written 50 years later. There is no reason to doubt Paul’s word. The important thing is that Cephas the Galilean recognized Paul’s apostolic call, knowing that he was not in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus’ resurrection, he was not in Galilee, he had not experienced Jesus in the flesh. Cephas acknowledges that Paul has received a charism, though other Christians will deny it to him for a long time. From here, all of Luke’s work is intended to justify Paul’s apostolic status.

There was, however, a difficulty with that justification, the appearances of the Risen One. They were clearly seen as limited in time, having occurred a few days after the crucifixion. Therefore could the “Damascus event” be considered an apparition of the Risen One? Knowing Luke’s writings, one might think, “But had not the ascension already taken place, forty days after the resurrection?” How can Luke, Paul’s disciple, so play down the apparition that his teacher clearly says he had (cf. 1 Cor 9:1: “Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?”)?

So, for Luke there is an exception; the true twelfth apostle is not Matthias, but Paul. But after the last appearance of Jesus to Paul, only mystical experiences will occur. Teresa of Ávila, for example, did not have an “apparition” of the risen Jesus; her vision of Jesus is of a different kind. Therefore, in itself, Paul should not be qualified as an apostle. He did not know Jesus, and his encounter with Christ occurred three years after the Resurrection. In this regard, Joseph Ratzinger says, in essence: “It is the exception that confirms the rule!”[13] Christoph Theobald states: “It is an exception that is wanted by God so that one does not say: ‘Ah, if we had been among the apostles, if we had fished by the lake with Jesus, eaten and drunk with him, we would believe more easily’.” The apostles, like us, had to make an act of faith, and Paul is the link between us and the group of Twelve. He is like us, in that he did not know Jesus, he came later; but, at the same time, he is not like us, because he is one of the apostles, such as no one will be after him. Paul thus makes us understand that one can be an apostle without having known Jesus in the flesh.

Even the agreement signed in Jerusalem will yield  an obstacle: the contrast between Paul and Peter in Antioch (cf. Gal 2:11-14). Paul openly rebukes Peter: “You, Cephas, for the love of Jesus, for the sake of evangelization eat with the Gentiles; but if, when I come, you withdraw, you imply that this would be sin. So Jesus would make you a sinner. This is unbelievable!” The reasoning is simple: “If I go and eat with the Gentiles and don’t ask questions about the food in the name of the gospel, I don’t sin, because what I do, I do in the name of the gospel.” Paul’s argument is very strong. Now we may regard Cephas’ gesture as an expression of his desire for fellowship, and therefore compromise, with the followers of James.

Simon’s call rooted in Jesus’ prayer

The primacy of Cephas, based on his confession of faith at Caesarea, is found right in the middle of Mark’s Gospel, just before Jesus’ transfiguration. Matthew also grounds the role and authority of Cephas in Galilee in the moment of the confession at Caesarea, with Jesus’ famous words, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church” (Matt 16:18). But why did Jesus decide to ask the question about his own identity in this place? Caesarea Philippi resembles Delphi, that is, it is an essentially pagan center. One wonders why Jesus went there. Capernaum is certainly not a place where a Jew would feel comfortable. This is precisely the place where Jesus will be able to speak quietly to the Twelve, not having to suffer the pressure of the crowd. This is one of the moments when he seeks tranquility. He goes there to ask his question, and Peter, as spokesman, formulates the group’s response.

Surprisingly, Luke downplays the episode in Caesarea, while he defers the moment of Jesus’ special word to Simon Peter to the end, in Jerusalem. Here he relates that, at the moment of the passion, Simon abandoned Jesus, his faith failing. This is worrying, because Simon had been chosen because he was reliable, courageous; but in the end he is no better than the others. Luke however reports, in chapter 22, the words of Jesus to Peter: “Simon, Simon, Satan has demanded  to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31-32). In the New Testament, this double call from Jesus is addressed not only to Simon but also to Paul and Martha. Rashi, commenting on Gen 22, says: “When it is written: ‘Abraham, Abraham,’ it is a sign of love and tenderness.” The way in which Luke’s Jesus bases the primacy of Peter is extraordinary: not in the triumphant and serene moment of Caesarea, but in the prayer of Gethsemane, in the moment of trial. Peter stumbles, but does not fall completely (cf. Rom 11). With a brilliant insight, Luke grounds the primacy of Cephas in this prayer of Jesus at Gethsemane.[14]

Witness of the Risen Lord (John 21)

The scene by the lake in John 21 is extraordinary. There is fishing, in this case for humanity; the net is not torn, because God keeps it together, despite the great quantity of fish. The protagonists are Jesus and the seven disciples. Everything is bright, clear, simple. But there are some surprising details. Why should the net be thrown to the right of the boat? Who are the two nameless disciples? Before jumping into the water, Peter throws on some clothing . Jesus asks the “sons” for fish, but then we realize that he already had some. The evangelist uses two distinct words for “fish.” As for the number of fish, 153, Anglican Hebrew professor John Emerton has advanced the hypothesis that it is a gematria, that is, a transposition of letters into numbers. It could be the sum of the first 17 digits (1+2+3+4… =153). This draws a triangle,  each side of which involves 17 points. Or in the number 153 we may see a reference to the passage in Ezek 47, where water flows from the right side of the Temple and goes to restore the Dead Sea, resulting in an abundance of fish (the Hebrew word hadagah, “the fish,” has the numerical value of 17). The water then goes from Ein-Gedi (Engaddi), the Hebrew shore of the Dead Sea (where Geddi has the numerical value of 17, like “the fish”) to Ein-Eynaim (En-Eglaim), the pagan shore of the Dead Sea (where Eynaim has the numerical value of 153). Ultimately, this is a somewhat “ecumenical” number, signifying that the Church, under the leadership of Peter and the apostles, unites all Jews and Gentiles in one network, in one body.[15] With this veiled allusion to Ezekiel’s prophecy, John shows that it is through Jesus that the prophetic vision that Jews and Gentiles will be reunited is fulfilled.


What is it that constitutes the unity of the New Testament? Undoubtedly, Jesus.[16] But then Peter is a central figure, both in the Johannine and in the Pauline and Petrine traditions. Therefore, this witness to the Risen One, along with Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna and the other women, is a “bridge” figure between Paul and James, between the Jews and the Galileans, between the Jews of the land of Israel and the believers of the Hellenistic world. He came from the first circle of Jesus’ disciples, but opened up to the second; he proclaimed the Gospel in the land of Israel, but died in Rome. He remained at the service of communion, even with his failures, and this is what constitutes his greatness. He committed himself to unity, and that is what makes him such a compelling and fundamental character.

DOI: La Civiltà Cattolica, En. Ed. Vol. 6, no.7 art. 9, 0722: 10.32009/22072446.0722.9

[1].      Cf. F. D. Troche, Il sistema della pesca nel lago di Galilea al tempo di Gesù. Indagine sulla base dei papiri documentari e dei dati archeologici e letterari (thesis discussed in 2015 at the Alma Mater Studiorum – University of Bologna); S. De Luca, “Scoperte archeologiche recenti attorno al Lago di Galilea: contributo allo studio dell’ambiente del Nuovo Testamento e del Gesù storico”, in G. Paximadi – M. Fidanzio (eds), Terra Sancta: archeologia ed esegesi. Atti dei convegni 2008-2010, Lugano, Eupress – FTL, 2013.

[2].      Cf. Flavius Josephus, Jewish War, III, X. 9.

[3].       Cf. S. L. Mattila, “Revisiting Jesus’ Capernaum: A Village of Only Subsistence Level Fishers and Farmers?”, in D. A. Fiensy – R. K. Hawkins (eds), The Galilean Economy in the Time of Jesus, Atlanta, Society of Biblical Literature, 2013, 75-138.

[4].       S. Veronesi, Non dirlo. Il Vangelo di Marco, Milan, Bompiani, 2015.

[5].      Cf. J. P. Meier, Un ebreo marginale. Ripensare il Gesù storico. 3. Compagni e antagonisti, Brescia, Queriniana, 2018.

[6].       A. de Boudemange, L’école de Jésus dans l’évangile de Matthieu (dissertation discussed in 2021 at the Centre Sèvres in Paris, forthcoming).

[7].      According to the tradition of the Christian historian Papias, taken up by Eusebius of Caesarea.

[8].      “Placing our trust in the Rock of Israel (Tzur Yisrael), we affix our signatures to this proclamation” (May 14, 1948). Cf. 2 Sam 23:3.

[9]  . What is striking is that in the Gospel Jesus will continue to call Simon by his circumcision name, as if to indicate that “Cephas” is a name for the future, a name for the mission.

[10].     Cf. M. Rastoin, “Jésus: Un ‘Fils de l’Homme’ tourné vers les Fils de Dieu’. Un nouveau regard sur Mt 11,27 et Lc 10,22”, in New Testament Studies 63 (2017) 355-369.

[11].    Cf. Id., “La cristologia del Figlio dell’uomo”, in Civ. Catt. 2021 IV 434-446.

[12].     C. M. Anderson, Wasted Evangelism. Social Action and the Church’s Task of Evangelism. A Journey in the Gospel of Mark, Eugene, OR, Wipf & Stock, 2013, 82.

[13].    Cf. J. Ratzinger, Jesus of Nazareth. Part Two. From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection, Vatican City, Libr. Ed. Vaticana, 2011.

[14].     Cf. M. Rastoin, “Simon-Pierre entre Jésus et Satan: la théologie lucanienne à l’œuvre en Lc 22,31-32”, in Biblica 89 (2008) 153-172.

[15].     Cf. Id., “Encore une fois les 153 poissons (Jn 21,11)”, in Biblica 90 (2009) 84-92.

[16].    Cf. J.-N. Aletti, Gesù Cristo: l’unità del Nuovo Testamento?, Rome, Borla, 1995.

share :
tags icon tags :
comments icon Without comments


write comment
Please enter the letters as they are shown in the image above.