Contradictions in Jesus' early ministry

Harmonization of Mk 1:9-18, Jn 1:35-43 and Jn 3:22-24
The calling of Andrew and Simon Peter

Mark 1:9-18 (also Mt 3:13-4:20, Lk 3:21-22, 4:1-14)

At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased."

At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert, and he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.

After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. "The time has come," he said. "The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!"

As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." At once they left their nets and followed him.

Luke 5:1-11

One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, with the people crowding around him and listening to the word of God, he saw at the water's edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, "Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch."

Simon answered, "Master, we've worked hard all night and haven't caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets."

When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.

When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus' knees and said, "Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!" For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon's partners.

Then Jesus said to Simon, "Don't be afraid; from now on you will catch men." So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.

John 1:35-43

The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, "Look, the Lamb of God!"

When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, "What do you want?"

They said, "Rabbi" (which means Teacher), "where are you staying?"

"Come," he replied, "and you will see."

So they went and saw where he was staying, and spent that day with him. It was about the tenth hour.

Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, "We have found the Messiah" (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus.

Jesus looked at him and said, "You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas" (which, when translated, is Peter).

The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee.

John 3:22-24

After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and baptized. Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were constantly coming to be baptized. (This was before John was put in prison.)

Harmonization of Mark and John

The two accounts in Mark and John can be reconciled by the following sequence of events:

Jesus was baptized by John, then went into the desert for 40 days and was tempted. After the temptation, he returned to where John was baptizing (Jn 1:29-34). John pointed Jesus out to Andrew, who brought Peter to him. The next day, Jesus left for Galilee and performed his first miracle at a wedding (Jn 2:1-11).

Jesus then traveled to Capernaum (Jn 2:12), Jerusalem (Jn 2:13), the Judean countryside (Jn 3:22) and Samaria (Jn 4:4) before returning to Galilee (Jn 4:43-45). John had not yet been imprisoned when Jesus was in Judea (Jn 3:22-24, 4:1-3).

Some time later, John was imprisoned. When Jesus heard about it, he wasn't in Galilee and wasn't with Peter and Andrew. He then returned to Galilee and encountered Peter and Andrew again.

The calling of Andrew and Simon Peter

Andrew and Peter first encountered Jesus when Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist (Jn 1:35-42). Andrew spent a day with Jesus (1:39) and Peter at least met him. Jesus left for Galilee the next day. It seems likely that Peter and Andrew went with him, but John doesn't explicitly say they did; he also doesn't say anything about Jesus calling them as disciples at that point, though he does mention Jesus' calling of Philip (1:43).

It may be that Andrew and Peter went with Jesus to Galilee and witnessed his turning water into wine (Jn 2:1-11) as well as other miracles (2:23). However, as described above, Jesus did a lot of travelling between the time he first met Andrew and Peter and John the Baptist's arrest. The brothers may have stayed with Jesus for a time, then returned to their career as fishermen. They may not have been officially called to be disciples at this point; though even if they were, it wouldn't be out of the question for Jesus to take them back later - after all, he forgave them after they deserted him (Mt 26:56) and Peter denied him (Mt 26:74-75).

When Jesus was in Galilee, he walked to the Sea of Galilee and preached to a crowd near where Andrew and Peter were. After preaching, he miraculously enabled them to catch an immense number of fish (Lk 5:5-7) and told them, "Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men" (Mt 4:19). (Obviously, Matthew and Mark give an abbreviated version of the encounter.) At this point, Andrew and Peter had heard John the Baptist's testimony about Jesus, had heard Jesus teach and had personally witnessed a miracle - aside from any other experiences they may have had if they had followed Jesus after first meeting him. They therefore had good reason to leave their nets and become Jesus' disciples. (James and John also heard Jesus' teaching and witnessed the miracle (Lk 5:9-10), plus they were partners with Andrew and Peter and would have heard their accounts of their experiences with Jesus, so it's understandable that they too would answer Jesus' call.)

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