John 1: 35-42

I propose a biblical analysis with the following steps: a study of each Greek word of the evangelical text, followed by an analysis of the structure of the narrative and its context, to which is added a comparison of parallel or similar passages. At the end of this analysis and as a conclusion, I propose to summarize what the evangelist meant, and I end up with some suggestions on how this Gospel could shed light on our current situation.


  1. Translation of the Greek text (28th edition of Kurt Aland)

    Greek textTransliterated Greek textLiteral translationTranslation in current language
    35 Τῇ ἐπαύριον πάλιν εἱστήκει ὁ Ἰωάννης καὶ ἐκ τῶν μαθητῶν αὐτοῦ δύο35 Tē epaurion palin heistēkei ho Iōannēs kai ek tōn mathētōn autou dyo35 On the next day again has been standing John and of the disciples of him two,35 The next day John was again in the same place, along with two of his disciples.
    36 καὶ ἐμβλέψας τῷ Ἰησοῦ περιπατοῦντι λέγει• ἴδε ὁ ἀμνὸς τοῦ θεοῦ36 kai emblepsas tō Iēsou peripatounti legei• ide ho amnos tou theou.36 and having looked at Jesus walking he says, Behold, the lamb of God.36 Fixing his gaze on Jesus who was walking, he cries out, "Behold the lamb of God".
    37 καὶ ἤκουσαν οἱ δύο μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ λαλοῦντος καὶ ἠκολούθησαν τῷ Ἰησοῦ37 kai ēkousan hoi dyo mathētai autou lalountos kai ēkolouthēsan tō Iēsou.37 And heard the two disciples of him speaking and they followed Jesus.37 Two of his disciples heard him say this, and began to follow Jesus.
    38 στραφεὶς δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς καὶ θεασάμενος αὐτοὺς ἀκολουθοῦντας λέγει αὐτοῖς• τί ζητεῖτε; οἱ δὲ εἶπαν αὐτῷ• ῥαββί, ὃ λέγεται μεθερμηνευόμενον διδάσκαλε, ποῦ μένεις;38 strapheis de ho Iēsous kai theasamenos autous akolouthountas legei autois• ti zēteite? hoi de eipan autō• rhabbi, ho legetai methermēneuomenon didaskale, pou meneis?38 Then, having turned Jesus and having beheld them following he says to them, What do you seek? Then, them they said to him, Rabbi, which is to say, being translated, Teacher, where are you staying? 38 Turning around and seeing them following him, Jesus says to them, "What are you looking for?" They replied: "Rabbi" - which means: master - "where do you live?"
    39 λέγει αὐτοῖς• ἔρχεσθε καὶ ὄψεσθε. ἦλθαν οὖν καὶ εἶδαν ποῦ μένει καὶ παρʼ αὐτῷ ἔμειναν τὴν ἡμέραν ἐκείνην• ὥρα ἦν ὡς δεκάτη.39 legei autois• erchesthe kai opsesthe. ēlthan oun kai eidan pou menei kai parʼ autō emeinan tēn hēmeran ekeinēn• hōra ēn hōs dekatē.39 He says to them, Come and you will see. Therefore they went and saw where he says and with him they stayed that day. Hour was about tenth.39 He said to them, "Come and you will see." So they went and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day. It was about four in the afternoon.
    40 ῏Ην Ἀνδρέας ὁ ἀδελφὸς Σίμωνος Πέτρου εἷς ἐκ τῶν δύο τῶν ἀκουσάντων παρὰ Ἰωάννου καὶ ἀκολουθησάντων αὐτῷ•40 Ēn Andreas ho adelphos Simōnos Petrou heis ek tōn dyo tōn akousantōn para Iōannou kai akolouthēsantōn autō•40 Was Andrew the brother of Simon Peter one of the two having heard from John and having followed him.40 Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, was one of two disciples who listened to John and followed Jesus.
    41 εὑρίσκει οὗτος πρῶτον τὸν ἀδελφὸν τὸν ἴδιον Σίμωνα καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ• εὑρήκαμεν τὸν Μεσσίαν, ὅ ἐστιν μεθερμηνευόμενον χριστός41 heuriskei houtos prōton ton adelphon ton idion Simōna kai legei autō• heurēkamen ton Messian, ho estin methermēneuomenon christos.41 He finds this one first the brother his own, Simon, and says to him, We have found the Messiah, who is translated, Christ.41 He goes first to find his own brother, Simon, and says to him, "We have found the messiah", which means "anointed" or "Christ".
    42 ἤγαγεν αὐτὸν πρὸς τὸν Ἰησοῦν. ἐμβλέψας αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν• σὺ εἶ Σίμων ὁ υἱὸς Ἰωάννου, σὺ κληθήσῃ Κηφᾶς, ὃ ἑρμηνεύεται Πέτρος.42 ēgagen auton pros ton Iēsoun. emblepsas autō ho Iēsous eipen• sy ei Simōn ho huios Iōannou, sy klēthēsē Kēphas, ho hermēneuetai Petros.42 He led him towards Jesus. Having looked at him Jesus said, You are Simon the son of John, you will be called Cephas, which means Peter.42 He brought him to Jesus. Fixing his gaze on Simon, Jesus said to him, "You are Simon, son of John. From now on, you will be called Cephas", which means Peter.

  1. Analysis of each verse

    v. 35 The next day John was again in the same place, along with two of his disciples.

    Literally: On the next day again has been standing John and of the disciples of him two,

The next day
The natural question that comes: the day after what? We have minimal point of reference for time. The evangelist begins his historical account with the testimony of John the Baptist, which he does not place in time. From this beginning, he distributes the events of the start of Jesus' ministry over a period of a week, using the expression "the next day" several times and finally "and the third day". We will present the structure of this week in our analysis of the context.

again has been standing John
Palestine in Jesus time What is the location? According to John 1:28: "It was in Bethany beyond the Jordan River, where John was baptizing." This is the only mention we have of this place, which is different from Bethany on the outskirts of Jerusalem where John places Lazarus, Martha and Mary. According to Boismard (M. E. Boismard, A. Lamouille, Synopse des quatre évangiles, T. III - L'évangile de Jean : Paris, Cerf, 1977, p. 80), the primitive name would not be Bethany, but Bethabara : Instead of the proper name "Bethany", usually adopted, we have "Bethabara" (or "Betharaba") in some manuscripts of the Alexandrian text (083 33), the Caesarean text, the ancient Syriac versions whose testimony probably goes back to Tatian (second century), Epiphany and Chrysostom. And this place of Bethabara would have both real and symbolic value, since the name means "place of passage" and was intended to commemorate the Hebrews' crossing of the Jordan River by the Hebrews at the end of the Exodus opposite Jericho. Either under the name Bethany or Bethabara, biblical scholars agree that the town is located north of the Dead Sea (see map), on the west bank of the Jordan River, not far from Jericho.

This location may be surprising, for John will also tell us: John also baptized at Aenon, near Salim, for the waters were plentiful there, and people came and were baptized" (John 3:23). How can we reconcile Bethany-Bethabara with Aenon? Where did the Baptist's activity really take place? If we accept Boismard's hypothesis (p. 97), the oldest layer of the gospel, which he calls Document C, spoke only of Aenon, in Samaria, where John the Baptist was baptized. It was a second author, whom he calls John II, who introduced the location of Bethany-Bethabara in order to harmonize the account of the Baptist's testimony with the synoptic tradition that places it in the waters of the Jordan River.

John and of the disciples of him two
The entire New Testament mentions that John the Baptist had disciples (in John, see 3:25; 4:1), and one of these disciples would have Jesus himself, at least for a time (see Joseph Meier).

v. 36 Fixing his gaze on Jesus who was walking, he cries out, "Behold the lamb of God".

Literally: and having looked at Jesus walking he says, Behold, the lamb (amnos) of God.

amnos (lamb)
This is the second time that John the Baptist gives the title of Lamb of God to Jesus. The first time, it is a general proclamation, probably addressed to the crowd, without it being made explicit. This time the title seems to be used to make Jesus known to John's two disciples, since this is what leads them to follow Jesus.

We are swimming in a symbolic world. Let us note at the beginning that associating a person with an animal expresses a perception of the person. For example, we often associate a head of state with a lion or an eagle to express his strength. Here, Jesus is associated with a defenseless animal. Let us examine this symbolism of the lamb in the Jewish world, which is very rich and has two distinct roots. Let us note right away that in the Greek language of the New Testament and in the Old Testament of the Septuagint three words can be used to refer to the animal that we call lamb in English: amnos, arēn, arnion

  1. First there is the image of the animal being led to the slaughterhouse, which represents people who are powerless and naive before their enemy, like the prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 11:19: "And I, like a lamb (LXX: arnion) confident being led to the slaughterhouse, did not know that they were plotting against me: 'Let us destroy the tree in its vigor, let us pluck it out of the land of the living, that its name may not be remembered!"). A similar image is found in the famous poems of the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 53:7: "Abused, he humbled himself, he did not open his mouth, like the lamb (LXX: amnos) that is led to the slaughterhouse, like a dumb sheep before shearers, he did not open his mouth"). The gesture of humiliating oneself and not responding to mistreatment is a free decision. This last poem ends by giving the meaning of this humiliation: "that he was counted among the criminals, while he bore the sin of the multitudes and interceded for the criminals" (Isaiah 53:12). This servant accepts to suffer the evil of men, but by not returning evil for evil, he interrupts the infernal circle. The symbolism of the lamb who takes away sins was then born.

  2. Then there is the lamb that is at the heart of the Jewish Passover (for details of the celebration, see the glossary). Recall that, according to the Book of Exodus, Yahweh commanded the Hebrews to kill one lamb per family and to mark with its blood the lintels of their doorways, so that they might be spared from the exterminating angel who would strike all the firstborn Egyptians. It is likely that this tradition of sacrificing a lamb goes back to the semi-nomadic peoples who, as they set out on a journey at the beginning of their spring transhumance, sacrificed an animal from their herd to the deity to secure his favor on their long journey. In the context of the journey out of Egypt, this tradition of the Passover lamb and the blood that is shed will take on new meaning and redemptive value: "For the blood of the Covenant of circumcision, and for the blood of the Passover, I have delivered you out of Egypt," Pirkei R. Eliezer, 39, Mekhilta on Exodus 12).

How did we come to associate Jesus with the Jewish symbolism of the lamb? If we follow the chronology of Jesus' death according to John, Jesus would have died in the afternoon of the day of the preparation of the Jewish Passover (see Jn 18:28; 19:14,31), so at the same time, according to the prescriptions of the Law, the lambs were sacrificed in the temple. Moreover, unlike the other two bandits, the bones of his legs were not broken (see John 19:33), as the Law required (Exodus 12:46: "They shall eat it in one house, and you shall not bring out of that house any meat. You shall not break any bones"). Thus, on the one hand, the coincidence of his death with the Passover ritual offered a wide open door to the symbolism of an innocent lamb being slaughtered. From then on, a new meaning could be given to the Passover lamb, which evoked the liberation from Egypt, that of a liberation from sin, of a life without the true knowledge of God, as this text, which probably reflects a very ancient liturgical tradition, indicates: "Know that it was not by anything corruptible, silver or gold, that you were freed from the vain conduct inherited from your fathers, but by a precious blood, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot, Christ" (1 Peter 1:18-19).

But, on the other hand, reflection on the meaning of this death from the Scriptures led the young Christian community to see in Jesus that servant whom Isaiah (52:13-53:12) describes as the lamb who allows himself to be led to the slaughter, and who in fact bears the sins of humanity, through his wounds we find healing, and because he offered his life as an atoning sacrifice, through him the will of God will be fulfilled and he himself will see the light and be fulfilled. In the light of faith in his resurrection, this passage from Isaiah found its full meaning through Jesus. And it was all the easier to apply the symbolism of the lamb to Jesus because the same Aramaic word talya can mean "lamb," or "servant.

This tradition about Jesus, the true paschal lamb, developed very early in Christianity, as we have a testimony in Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, written around the year 55: "Purify yourselves from the old leaven to be a new dough, since you are unleavened. For our Passover, Christ, has been slain" (1 Corinthians 5:7). But it is especially in the apocalyptic context that the representation of Jesus in the form of the lamb (arnion) immolated has experienced a great expansion (27 times). This is understandable, because is it not normal for a persecuted community to identify with the sorrowful face of its master? But this slaughtered lamb will receive honor, glory and praise, and those who have remained faithful to it despite persecution will participate as the bride in the marriage with the lamb.

After this glimpse of the symbolism of the lamb through time, let us ask the question: what meaning does the evangelist want to give to the expression "lamb of God" in the mouth of John the Baptist? To answer this question, we must go back to v. 29 when he says: "Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world". What is this sin (singular) attributed to the world? For the evangelist, the sin of the world is to deny the word of Jesus speaking to them of the one who sent him: "If I had not come and spoken to them (of the one who sent me), they would have no sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin" (John 15:22; see also 9:40-41; 8:21). So it is the true knowledge of God that Jesus brings to the world. In fact, he is the new Moses promised by Deuteronomy 18:18 ("I will raise up a prophet like you from among their brethren, and I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them whatever I command him"), he is the new "Savior of the world" (see John 4:42), and therefore in him there is a new exodus, a new coming out of Egypt into the Promised Land. He is the lamb of a new Passover, creating a new people inhabited by the knowledge of the true God. John the Baptist's baptism was seen as a cleansing gesture, an exodus from his old life, but it was only to announce Jesus effecting the true exodus, the true liberation; he is the promised prophet on whom the Spirit rests, the new Moses of a new people.

[According to Boismard (op. cit., p. 80), the figure of Moses was often represented under the features of the lamb, as the Targum of Pseudo-Jonathan testifies, commenting on Exodus 1:15 :

And Pharaoh told that he, being asleep, had seen in his dream, and, behold, all the land of Egypt was placed in one scale of a balance, and a lamb (talya), the young of a sheep, was on the other scale; and the scale with the lamb in it overweighed. Forthwith he sent and called all the magicians of Egypt, and imparted to them his dream. Immediately Jannis and Jambres, the chief of the magicians, opened their mouth and answered Pharoh: A certain child is about to be born in the congregation of Israel, by whose hand will be destruction to all the land of Egypt.

The association of Moses with a lamb is possible because of the play on words in the Aramaic word talya, which means both servant and lamb: the author could designate Moses, the servant of God, but hiding him behind the symbolic figure of the lamb, as it should be in a dream-vision. An echo of this dream can be found in the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, II, ch. 9, 205 : "While the affairs of the Hebrews were in this condition, there was this occasion offered itself to the Egyptians, which made them more solicitous for the extinction of our nation. One of those sacred scribes, who are very sagacious in foretelling future events truly, told the king, that about this time there would a child be born to the Israelites, who, if he were reared, would bring the Egyptian dominion low, and would raise the Israelites; that he would excel all men in virtue, and obtain a glory that would be remembered through all ages."]

v. 37 Two of his disciples heard him say this, and began to follow Jesus.

Literally: And heard the two disciples of him speaking and they followed Jesus.

And heard the two disciples of him speaking
This is the role of the Baptist, to give a testimony so that through him people may become attached to Jesus. He is an intermediary. The evangelist insists on this intermediary role of John the Baptist, because in his eyes his mission was to reveal Jesus to the world. From our historical knowledge, it is likely that for the Baptist himself the identity and role of Jesus was not clear until the end of his life. But for the Christian community and for the evangelist himself, the Baptist played a key role in the mission of Jesus: through his preaching, he inspired a movement and discipleship, and all of this served as a springboard. This is why the evangelist insists that it is through an intermediary that one goes to Jesus, and this intermediary here is John the Baptist. We will find the same idea in Paul when he writes: "And how can we believe without first hearing it? And how can we hear without a preacher?" (Romans 10:14).

and they followed Jesus
To follow Jesus means to become his disciple. This is revealed in several other passages of the Gospel according to John:

  • 6: 2: "A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick"
  • 10: 4: "When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice"
  • 10: 27: "My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me"
  • 12: 26: "Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor"

v. 38 Turning around and seeing them following him, Jesus says to them, "What are you looking for?" They replied: "Rabbi" - which means: master - "where do you live?"

Literally: Then, having turned Jesus and having beheld them following he says to them, What do you seek (zēteite)? Then, them they said to him, Rabbi (rhabbi), which is to say, being translated, Teacher, where are you staying (meneis)?

strapheis (having turned)
For the evangelist, this verb has a technical meaning: it is not a physical movement, but an inner change, an awareness, a change of outlook that is a matter of faith. Let's look at the other three uses in addition to our verse.

  • 12: 40: "He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, so that they might not look with their eyes, and understand with their heart and turn (strephō) - and I would heal them."
  • 20: 14: "When she had said this, she turned (strephō) around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus"
  • 20: 16: "Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned (strephō) and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabbouni!" (which means Teacher)"

In 12:40 the verb describes the conversion of the heart, and in chapter 20 it describes the faith outlook of Mary Magdalene who sees the risen Jesus. So what meaning can this verb have in relation to Jesus? If we want to be consistent, we must accept that it describes in Jesus an awareness, a discovery in faith. What is this awareness? Of his mission. He reads through faith the event where people want to follow him, and therefore sees in it a call from God. For those who take seriously the mystery of the Incarnation, Jesus' discovery of his mission followed the normal steps of a human journey.

zēteite (you seek)
The term "seek" is very common in John (more than thirty times) and is frequently used to describe the intention of his opponents who "seek" to kill him. But here it seems to describe a characteristic of the disciple: it is he who takes the initiative to set out in search of Jesus. This is all the more striking because in the synoptic texts it is Jesus who takes the initiative. For the fourth gospel, there is first of all a step of the disciple, a quest on his part.

rhabbi (Rabbi)
The Hebrew word "Rabbi" literally means "my great one" and refers to a specialist in the Law. Of the fifteen uses in the Gospels, eight are found in John. Why does the evangelist use a Hebrew word in his Greek text? It is not to better reflect the original scene, because it would have been in Aramaic, and therefore it would have been necessary to say: Rabbouni. The use of "rabbi" developed with the rise of rabbinism, following the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. Thus, it is to be believed that, for the audience of the gospel, this term had a certain resonance. What is clear is that putting this term in the mouths of the two disciples who want to follow Jesus signifies the recognition in the latter of this promised prophet, similar to Moses, who will explain everything (see John 4:25), thus of the true teacher of the Law.

meneis (you are staying)
The term "stay" may seem trivial. But it is not in the Evangelist John. Very often it expresses communion and community of life. Let us consider a number of examples:
  • 5: 38: "and you do not have his word abiding (menō;) in you, because you do not believe him whom he has sent"
  • 6: 56: "Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide (menō;) in me, and I in them"
  • 8: 31: "Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, "If you abide (menō;) in my word, you are truly my disciples"
  • 14: 10: "Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who abides (menō;) in me does his works"
  • 14: 17: "This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides (menō;) with you, and he will be in you"
  • 15: 4: "Abide (menō;) in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me"
  • 15: 9: "As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide (menō;) in my love"

For the two disciples, to stay with Jesus means to make communion with him, to enter into a community of life with him.

v. 39 He said to them, "Come and you will see." So they went and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day. It was about four in the afternoon.

Literally: He says to them, Come (erchesthe) and you will see (opsesthe). Therefore they went and saw where he says and with him they stayed that day. Hour was about tenth (hōra ēn hōs dekatē).

erchesthe kai opsesthe (come and you will see)
The expression is surprising. Of course, one could say that it is the logical continuation of the above: where do you live? We, if we had to answer such a question, we would probably have answered with our physical address. But knowing that the conversation was on a theological level, we might have expected the evangelist to put into Jesus' mouth a discourse on his mission that would have explained where he lives. Moreover, the word "see" very often has a theological meaning in the fourth gospel. Let us look at some examples.
  • 1: 34: "And I myself have seen (horaō) and have testified that this is the Son of God"
  • 4: 45: "When he came to Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him, since they had seen (horaō) all that he had done in Jerusalem at the festival; for they too had gone to the festival"
  • 6: 14: "When the people saw (horaō) the sign that he had done, they began to say, 'This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world'"
  • 6: 30: "So they said to him, "What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see (horaō) it and believe you? What work are you performing?"
  • 12: 21: "They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, 'Sir, we wish to see (horaō) Jesus'"
  • 14: 9: "Jesus said to him, 'Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen (horaō) me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'?'"
  • 19: 35: "He who saw (horaō) this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth"

In fact, Jesus does not directly answer the question asked. Rather, he says, "Come". Again, when we look at the vocabulary of the fourth gospel, the word "come" does not necessarily have a physical meaning. It must be interpreted as a movement of faith. Let us look first at some very clear examples from the discourse on the bread of life.

  • 6: 35: "Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes (erchomai) to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty"
  • 6: 37: "Everything that the Father gives me will come (erchomai) to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away"
  • 6: 44: "No one can come (erchomai) to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day"
  • 6: 45: "It is written in the prophets, 'And they shall all be taught by God.' Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes (erchomai) to me"
  • 6: 65: "And he said, "For this reason I have told you that no one can come (erchomai) to me unless it is granted by the Father."

In my opinion, it is in the same vein that one should read many other passages such as the following.

  • 3: 2: "He (Nicodemus) came (erchomai) to Jesus by night and said to him, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God"
  • 3: 26: "Rabbi, the one who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you testified, here he is baptizing, and all are going (erchomai) to him"
  • 4: 30: "They (the Samaritans) left the city and were going (erchomai) to him"
  • 4: 40: "So when the Samaritans came (erchomai) to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days"
  • 5: 40: "Yet you refuse to come (erchomai) to me to have life"
  • 7: 37: "On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, "Let anyone who is thirsty come (erchomai) to me"
  • 8: 2: "Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came (erchomai) to him and he sat down and began to teach them"
  • 10: 41: "Many came (erchomai) to him, and they were saying, 'John performed no sign, but everything that John said about this man was true'"

Jesus therefore invites them whoever wants to be his disciple to enter into a process of faith. The term "journey" refers to an experience that intensifies over time. And this first week will end with the wedding feast at Cana: "This was the first of the signs of Jesus, and he did it in Cana of Galilee, and he manifested his glory, and his disciples believed in him" (2:11).

This idea of entering into a process, of first experiencing living with Jesus, is a characteristic of the Gospel according to John. It is totally different from what we find in the synoptic narratives where we have the dry commandment: "Follow me".

  • Mark 2: 14: "As he was walking along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, "Follow (akoloutheō) me." And he got up and followed him" || Luke 5: 27; Matthew 9: 9
  • Mark 10: 21: "Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, 'You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow (akoloutheō) me'" || Luke 18: 22; Matthew 19: 21
  • Luke 9: 59: "To another he said, 'Follow (akoloutheō) me.' But he said, 'Lord, first let me go and bury my father" || Matthew 8: 22

The idea that faith is a process in which one first experiences a community of life with Jesus, and only at the end is one able to say as Thomas did: "My Lord and my God", this idea may have matured in this community of the beloved disciple, probably at the source of the fourth gospel. On the subject one can read with interest Raymond E. Brown's book, The Community of the Beloved Disciple. New York: Paulist Press, 1979). The impression that emerges from this Christian community is that of a loosely structured group, where the emphasis is on interpersonal relationships, and thus on the experience of living in community. Shouldn't those interested in the Christian path be told, "Come and see"?

hōra ēn hōs dekatē (hour was about tenth)
In the Jewish world, the day was divided into twelve periods (John 11:9: "Jesus answered, 'Are there not twelve hours of daylight? If anyone walks by day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world") which ended with the setting of the sun and began with its rising. Why this mention of time? There are other examples in the fourth gospel:
  • John 4: 6: "Jacob's well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. The hour was about (the) sixth"
  • John 19: 14: "Now it was the day of Preparation for the Passover; and the hour was about (the) sixth. He said to the Jews, 'Here is your King!'"

Wouldn't this mention of the time have a symbolic value? This is what Boismard (op. cit., p. 98) proposes:

According to a widespread and well-known interpretation, especially by Philo of Alexandria (Vit. Mosis 1:96), "ten" was the perfect number. The tenth hour would thus symbolize the perfect hour in the history of the world, the hour when the coming of the Kingdom begins, when Jesus recruits his disciples and allows them to "abide with him" (cf. Jn 14:2-3, which would mark the fulfillment of this "tenth hour").

v. 40 Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, was one of two disciples who listened to John and followed Jesus.

Literally: Was Andrew the brother of Simon Peter one of the two having heard from John and having followed him.

Andreas (Andrew)
Andrew is so little known that he must be presented as Simon Peter's brother. Yet the two are rarely seen together. His name appears especially when it comes to listing the Twelve. Yet Mark and John make him one of the first two disciples of Jesus. And it is the fourth gospel that puts him in the limelight the most: first of all, he is the one who introduces his brother Simon to Jesus, then he intervenes during the scene of Jesus feeding the crowds to present the little food available, and finally he plays the role of intermediary with Philip in front of the Greeks. We also know from the evangelist John (1: 44) that he is originally from Bethsaida, where Philip and Peter also come from. Even if Bethsaida is not part of the ten cities of the Decapolis, it is nevertheless found on a very Hellenized territory. It is therefore not surprising that Andrew is a Greek name. Is it for this reason that the evangelist gives him this place, especially that of ambassador to the Greeks, when we know that the writing of the fourth gospel was probably finalized in Ephesus, a city of Greek culture. Apart from our verse, here are the references to Andrew in the New Testament.

  • Mark 1: 16-17: "As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea - for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, 'Follow me and I will make you fish for people.'" || Matthieu 4: 18
  • Mark 1: 29: "As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John"
  • Mark 3: 16-19: "So he appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); James son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder); and Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. Then he went home" || Matthew 10: 2-4; Luke 6: 13-16
  • Mark 13: 3-4: "When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, 'Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?'"
  • John 1: 44: "Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter"
  • John 6, 8-9: "One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, said to him, 'There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?'"
  • John 12: 22: "Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus"
  • Acts 1: 13: "When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James"

ek tōn dyo (one of the two)
Andrew is one of the two disciples. Who is the other one? It is probable that it is Philip. The reason is twofold.

  1. First of all, Andrew and Philip almost always appear together in the Gospel according to John. At the scene of Jesus feeding the crowds, they are the only two to intervene, Philip expressing the impossibility of feeding the crowd with so little money, Andrew showing how little food they have (see 6:5-9). When the Greeks want to see Jesus, they first go to Philip, then Philip goes to Andrew, and both go together to Jesus (see 12:21-22). Even in the Synoptics, Andrew and Philip appear one after the other when the list of the Twelve is drawn up (see Mark 3:18).

  2. The evangelist then uses a parallel structure in the way he introduces the account of Jesus' encounter with the first two disciples (1:37-39), Simon (1:40-42), and Nathanael (1:45-49), especially through the testimony of a third person.

    1: 371: 41-421: 45
    The two disciples heard his (John the Baptist) words and followed Jesus.He (Andrew) first meets his brother Simon and tells him: "We have found the Messiah" - which means Christ. He brought him to Jesus.Philip met Nathanael and said to him, "He of whom Moses wrote in the Law, and the prophets, we have found him: Jesus, the son of Joseph of Nazareth."

    Thus, it was John the Baptist who introduced Andrew and Philip to Jesus. In turn, each of them will introduce one person to Jesus. One could object the "follow me" addressed to Philip by Jesus himself in v. 43, but here it is rather about Jesus' call to accompany him to Galilee: "The next day Jesus resolved to go to Galilee; he met Philip and said to him, 'Follow me'".

having heard from John and having followed him
What is quite clear with this verse is that the first disciples of Jesus were first the disciples of John the Baptist. Without John the Baptist, there might not have been a Christian movement.

v. 41 He goes first to find his own brother, Simon, and says to him, "We have found the messiah", which means "anointed" or "Christ".

Literally: He finds this one first the brother his own, Simon, and says to him, We have found the Messiah, who is translated, Christ.

christos (Christ)
We will refer to the glossary for an analysis of the title of Christ. Suffice it to recall that the evangelist John is the only one to use the Greek word messias (messiah), here and in the account of the Samaritan woman (4:25): "The woman said to him, 'I know that the Messiah is to come, the one called Christ. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.'"). Of course, this word does not exist in the Greek language, because it is a transliteration of the Hebrew word māšîaḥ, messiah, literally: anointed. Therefore, the evangelist must translate it for his audience: which means christos, i.e. anointed. This messiah was part of the Jewish imaginary world, either in the person of this descendant of King David who would restore the kingdom of Israel to righteousness, or in that of this new Moses who would complete God's revelation. In any case, the evangelist wishes to identify this object of hope with the person of Jesus. After the identification of Jesus as the Lamb of God by John the Baptist, there is now the identification of Jesus as Christ.

v. 42 He brought him to Jesus. Fixing his gaze on Simon, Jesus said to him, "You are Simon, son of John. From now on, you will be called Cephas", which means Peter.

Literally: He led him towards Jesus. Having looked at him Jesus said, You are Simon the son of John, you will be called Cephas, which means Peter.

emblepsas (Having looked)
The expression emblepsas (to look at) with a dative is used by the evangelists to say that the main actor loves or chooses someone, or expresses an important message: it describes a moment of great intensity. Let's give some examples.
  • Mark 10: 21: "Jesus, looking at him (emblepsas autō), loved him and said, 'You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me'"
  • Mark 10: 27: "Jesus looked at them (emblepsas autois) and said, 'For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible'"
  • Luke 20: 17: "But he looked at (emblepsas autois) them and said, 'What then does this text mean: 'The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone'?'"
  • John 1: 36: "and as he looked at Jesus (emblepsas tō Iēsou) walk by, he exclaimed, 'Look, here is the Lamb of God!'"
  • Mark 14: 67: "When she saw Peter warming himself, she looked at him (emblepsasa autō) and said, 'You also were with Jesus, the man from Nazareth.'"
  • Luke 22: 61: "The Lord turned and looked at (eneblepsen tō) Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, 'Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times'"

Simōn (Simon)
On what is known about Simon's history, Meier should be consulted. We note here that the evangelist identifies Simon's father, a man named John (he will also do so later: John 21:15-17). Matthew will do the same, but under the name Jonah, using the Aramaic transliteration of Bariōna, i.e. son of Ioana (Mt 16:17). John or Jonah are two variants of the same name, as are Jesus and Joshua.

Kēphas (Cephas)
Let us note immediately that the Aramaic word "Cephas" is translated literally by "rock", not by stone as the evangelist writes. But the Christian community has retained the translation of stone. When we analyze these different names, we note the following:

  • In the Gospels, the narrator uses Peter's name primarily after Simon's call to discipleship, as if this name now expresses his relationship with the other members of the Twelve.
  • In the Gospels, Jesus continues to address him as Simon.
  • The evangelist John mainly uses the name Simon Peter, which he is the only one to use, except in two cases, Luke 5:8 and Matthew 16:16.
  • Paul uses only the name Cephas, except in the Epistle to the Galatians, where he uses the name Peter a few times.
  • The Acts of the Apostles uses only Peter's name, with the exception of Acts 10:5.18 where the centurion Cornelius hears the angel of the Lord inviting him to Joppa to "Simon, who was surnamed Peter".

One can hardly deny the historical value of the fact that Jesus gave Simon a new name, that of Cephas. This new name expresses the role he will play in the mission entrusted to him: he will be the rock or the foundation of the new community. This name of Cephas seems to be well known by the young Christian community, since Paul uses it, for example, in his letter to the Corinthians, written around the year 55, about 25 years after the death of Jesus. But this name of Aramaic origin represented a difficulty for people of Greco-Roman culture, so that it was the name of Peter which imposed itself and which is widely used by the Gospels, written between the years 67 and 95.

  1. Analysis of the narrative's structure

    1. The first two disciples of Jesus: Andrew and Philip (vv. 35-39)

      v. 35 Introduction or setting 1) characters, 2) time and 2) place:

      1. two disciples of John the Baptist,
      2. the next day,
      3. same place

      v. 36 Identification of the "hero": John the Baptist sees Jesus and says "Behold the Lamb of God".

      v. 37 Response of the two disciples

      • The two disciples hear John the Baptist
      • They begin to follow Jesus

      v. 38-39 Jesus' dialogue with the two disciples

      • 38a Question from Jesus
        • Jesus finds out that he is being followed
        • He asks what they are looking for
      • 38b Response from the desciples: "Teacher, where are you staying?";
      • 39a Response from Jesus : "Come and you will see"

      v. 39b Conclusion of the dialogue

      • The two disciples go to the house of Jesus
      • It is 4 o'clock in the afternoon

    2. The third disciple of Jesus : Simon, Andrew's brother (v. 40-42)

      v. 40 Introduction : presentation of the messenger (summary of the above)

      1. Andrew, brother of Simon Peter
      2. He heard John the Baptist
      3. He has followed Jesus

      v. 41-42a Identification of the hero by Andrew

      • The talk: we have found the Messiah
      • The action: he brings Simon to Jesus

      v. 42b Jesus gives Simon a new identity

      • Jesus expresses his choice by looking at Simon
      • Reminds him of his current identity: Simon, son of John.
      • Gives him his new identity: Cephas, the founding rock

    • Between the story of the first two disciples and that of the third, there are similar and different elements.

      Similar elements :

      • In both stories, an intermediary or messenger is needed to introduce Jesus, whom one takes the time to identify:
        • in the first case, it is John the Baptist and it takes place on the third day of his preaching,
        • in the second case, it is Andrew, Simon's brother, who introduces Jesus to his brother the next day.
      • In both stories, the intermediary explicitly identifies Jesus,
        • in the first case under the name of the Lamb of God,
        • and in the second case under that of messiah.

      Different elements :

      • In the first story,
        • There is a process of discipleship and dialogue with Jesus, an image of a spiritual experience and a free commitment.
      • In the second story,
        • it is only a simple intervention of Jesus to give a new identity to Simon, a sign of his new role: we have above all a functional presentation.
      • It is as if the first story presented a biography of every disciple, and the second story presented the second phase of a disciple's life as Jesus assigns roles in mission. In doing so, the evangelist avoids repetition and describes the continuum of the disciple's life in two stages.

  2. Context analysis

    1. Immediate context (1: 19 - 2: 11)

      As we have already noted, the evangelist presents to us over a period of one week the first events of Jesus' ministry.

      • Day 1 (1: 19-28): Testimony of John the Baptist
      • Day 2 (1: 29-34) "the next day": an implicit reference to the baptism of Jesus.
      • Day 3 (1: 35-39) "the next day": two disciples of John the Baptist follow Jesus
      • Day 4 (1: 40-42): Even if the word "next day" is not mentioned, we must assume a different day because verse 39 ends with "and they stayed with him that day. It was about the tenth hour (4 p.m.), when it is early evening. On this day four, the middle or center of the week, we are presented with the account of Simon's call.
      • Daye 5 (1: 43-51) "the next day": it is the story of Nathanael's vocation.
      • Day 7 (2: 1-11) "on the third day", i.e. two days after day five: it is the wedding in Cana. The mention of the third day is certainly an allusion to the third day of Christ's resurrection: for the wedding at Cana ends with the mention that he "manifested his glory and his disciples believed in him". This sums up in one week the ministry of Jesus, which ends with his rise in glory.

      Since the evangelist began his gospel with the expression "In the beginning" (1:1), and thus with an allusion to Genesis and the creation of the world in one week, by also spreading Jesus' ministry over one week he intends to proclaim that in Jesus a new creation is taking place, a creation that reaches its culmination with his resurrection.

    2. General context (the whole of the Gospel)

      This general context is the whole gospel. It is not easy to find a structure in it. Someone like R.E. Brown (The Gospel According to John. New York: Doubleday (Anchor Bible, 29), 1966-1970, 2 v.) divides the gospel as follows: Prologue (1: 1-18), the book of signs (1: 19 - 12: 50), the book of glory (13: 1 - 20: 31) which includes the Last Supper, the passion narrative, the risen Lord which ends with a conclusion (20: 30-31), and an epilogue (21: 1-25: the miraculous catch). For his part, Boismard (M. E. Boismard, A. Lamouille, Synopse des quatre évangiles, T. III - L'évangile de Jean: Paris, Cerf, 1977, p. 80) proposes a division into eight units (1: 19 - 20: 1-31), preceded by the Prologue and ending with a conclusion (21: 1-14). We propose an integration of these two structures.

      Prologue : 1: 1-18

      Book of the Signs of Jesus (1, 19 – 12, 50)

      Sign 1 (1: 19 - 2: 12) : Cana

      • First week in the Jordan Valley: John the Baptist identifies the Lamb of God and the first disciples join Jesus.
      • The wedding wine of Cana signs new times

      Sign 2 (2: 13 - 4: 54): healing of a child in Capernaum

      • The Passover of the Jews
      • In Jerusalem: the vendors driven out of the temple and dialogue with Nicodemus
      • In Samaria: dialogue with the Samaritan woman
      • In Galilee: healing of a Child

      Sign 3 (5: 1-47): healing of a paralytic

      • Pentecost
      • In Jerusalem: healing of a paralyzed man at the probatic pool

      Sign 4 (6: 1-71): feeding of the crowds

      • Second Passover of the Jews
      • In Galilee: Jesus feeding the crowds and discourse on the bread of life

      Sign 5 (7: 1 - 10: 21) : healing of the blind from birth

      • Festival of Booths
      • In Jerusalem, in the temple to teach
      • Healing of the blind child from birth
      • Jesus proclaims himself the good shepherd capable of guiding his flock.

      Sign 6 (10: 22 - 11: 57) : ressuscitation of Lazarus

      • Festival of Dedication
      • In Jerusalem, then in the Jordan River, and finally in Bethany.
      • Ressuscitation of Lazarus

      Transition to passion narrative (12: 1-50)

      • Six days before the Passover of the Jews
      • At Bethany, anointing of Jesus' feet by Mary
      • The next day, triumphal entry into Jerusalem
      • Greeks want to see Jesus, and the latter talk about the grain that must die.

      The Book of the Glory of Jesus

      Last Supper (13: 1 - 17: 26)
      The passion narrative (18: 1 - 19: 42)
      The Risen Lord or 7th sign (20: 1-31)

      Epilogue (21: 1- 25)

      The beginning of the group of disciples therefore belongs to the unit around the first sign of Jesus. It is quite logical to begin the gospel story with this formation of a group of disciples. However, the disciples are very little identified in John's gospel. And Jesus is often alone. Consider the disciples he mentions.

      1. Andrew will return in the scene of Jesus feeding the crowds (sign 4) and in the transition story to the passion narrative.
      2. Philip will return in the same two scenes.
      3. Simon Peter plays an important role during the Jesus feeding the crowds (sign 4) by proclaiming his faith in spite of the difficulty of believing, only to return at the last supper, the passion and the resurrection narrative.
      4. Judas Iscariot is first named in the account of Jesus feeding the crowds (sign 4), but he only really intervenes in the story of the transition to the passion, and then in the last meal and the passion narratives.
      5. Thomas appears first as Jesus prepares to go to Bethany (sign 6), then returns at the Last Supper, and then in the resurrection narrative; he is mentioned in the epilogue.
      6. Nathanael, whose encounter with Jesus is recounted by the evangelist, does not return until the epilogue.
      7. The sons of Zebedee will only be mentioned in the epilogue.
      8. Never does the evangelist refer to the disciples mentioned in the Synoptics: Bartholomew, Jude of James (or Thaddaeus), James of Alpheus, Matthew or Simon the Zealot.
      9. On the other hand, he introduces a certain "disciple whom Jesus loved" who does not seem to belong to the group of the Twelve and who makes his first appearance at Jesus' last supper.

  3. Parallels

    The text in italics designates the passages specific to an author, the text in red the passages or identical words in the three synoptics, the text in blue what is common to the four gospels, the text in plum the words common to Mark, Matthew and John, the text in turquoise the words common to Matthew and John.

    Mk 1: 16-20Mt 4: 18-22Lk 5: 1- 11Jn 1: 35-51
    16 As he was passing by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew, the brother of Simon, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, "Come after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men". 18 And immediately having left the nets they followed him. 19 And having gone forward a little, he saw James, the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, and they in the boat, preparing the nets; 20 and immediately he called them. And leaving their father Zebedee in the boat with his hired servants, they went away after him.18 Then walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, the one called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. 19 And he says to them, "Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men. 20 Then, them, immediately having left the nets, they followed him. 21 And having gone forward from there, he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in their boat, with Zebedee their father, preparing their nets, and he called them. 22 Then, them, immediately having left the boat and their father, they followed him.1 Then, it came to pass, as the crowd was pressing upon him to hear the word of God, and he himself having been standing by the lake of Gennesaret, 2 and he saw two boats having been standing by the lake; then, the fishermen had gone out of them, they were washing their nets. 3 Then, having embarked into one of the boats, which was to Simon, he asked him to put off a little from the land. Then, having sat down, from the boat he was teaching the crowds... 10 Then, likewise also James and John the sons of Zebedee, who were partner with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men". 11 And having brought the boats to the land, having left all, they followed him.35 The next day again John has been standing with two of his disciples. 36 And having looked at Jesus walking, he says, "Behold, the Lamb of God! 37 And the two disciples heard him speaking, and they followed Jesus. 38 Then, Jesus, having turned and having beheld them following, he says to them, "What do you seek?" Then, them they said to him, "Rabbi," which is to say, being translated, Teacher, where are you staying?" 39 He says to them, "Come and you will see". Therefore they went and saw where he stays, and they stayed with him that day. It was about the tenth hour. 40 Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, was one of the two having heard from John and having followed him. 41 First he himself finds his own brother Simon, and he says to him, "We have found the Messiah"--which is transslated Christ. 42 He led him to Jesus. Having looked at him, Jesus said, "You are Simon, the son of John. You will be called Cephas," which means Peter. 43 The next day he wanted to go forth into Galilee, and he finds Philip, and Jesus says to him, "Follow me." 44 Then, Philip was from Bethsaida, of the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip finds Nathanael, and says to him, "of whom Moses wrote in the Law, and the prophets, we have found, Jesus, the son of Joseph of Nazareth." 46 And Nathanael said to him, "Out of Nazareth is any good thing able to be?" Philip says to him, "Come and see." 47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming towards him and says concerning him, "Behold, truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit." 48 Nathanael says to him, "From where do you know me?" Jesus answered and said to him, "Before (the action of) Philip summoning you, I saw you being under the fig tree." 49 Nathanael answered him, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God, you are the King of Israel." 50 Jesus answered and said to him, "Because I said to you that I saw you under the fig tree, you believe? Greater things than these you will see." 51 And he says to him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven having been opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending over the Son of Man.

    A number of observations need to be made.

    • Matthew simply copies Mark's story by making a number of stylistic improvements. For example, in Mark the term "immediately" is applied first to Simon and Andrew's response and then to Jesus' call to the sons of Zebedee. Matthew is more consistent in applying it in both cases to the disciples' response to Jesus' call. Likewise, Mark uses the term "following" for the response to the first call and then the term "go away after him" for the second call. Matthew is more consistent and systematic in using "follow" in both cases. But the main lines of the two accounts are the same:
      • It is Jesus who takes the total initiative to choose his disciples.
      • Those called are all fishermen
      • He calls them to follow him to be fishers of men.
      • The response of those called is immediate
      • The answer involves abandoning one's professional activity and family relationships.
      • The first to be called are Simon and Andrew, followed by James and John, the sons of Zebedee.
      • Being a disciple means physically following Jesus
      • The scene takes place on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.

    • Luke's account, a miraculous fishing scene, is from another source, a source he shares with Jn 21:1-14. Nevertheless, similar elements can be found with Mark's account.
      • It is Jesus who takes the total initiative to choose his disciples.
      • Those called are all fishermen
      • The call is to become fishers of men
      • The first one called is Simon
      • The call implies leaving things behind
      • Being a disciple means physically following Jesus
      • The scene takes place on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, also called Lake Gennesaret.

    • But Luke's story has different elements:
      • It is only Simon who is explicitly challenged
      • Andrew is never mentionned
      • There is no mention that the response is immediate.
      • Leaving things behind implies a radical dimension with the word "all".
      • To be fishers of men is made clear by the fact that the crowd was listening to the word of God and that Jesus, in the boat, was teaching: those called will therefore have the responsibility in turn to preach the word of God and to teach.

    • John's story is from a completely different source. Apart from the mention of Simon and Andrew, and the fact that being a disciple implies following Jesus, and apart from similarities with Matthew regarding the introduction of Peter's nickname, everything is different:
      • The first one called is not Simon, but Andrew and Philip.
      • James and John, sons of Zebedee, are totally ignored, and if it were not for their quick mention in the epilogue (Jn 21:2), one would not know that they exist.
      • Nathanael receives a treatment of choice, which does not exist in the synoptic narratives.
      • The scene takes place not on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, but on the west bank of the Jordan River, south of the country, around Bethany/Bethabara
      • There is no knowledge of the disciples' trade.
      • It is no longer an initiative of Jesus; on the contrary, Jesus seems surprised to be followed.
      • Jesus needs to be introduced, first John the Baptist who introduces him to Andrew and Philip, Andrew who introduces him to his brother Simon, Philip who introduces him to Nathanael.
      • Since there is no peremptory call, becoming a disciple appears to be a process that requires a time spent in the person of Jesus ("Come and see").
      • Becoming a disciple implies faith: "We have found the Messiah" - which means Christ. "He of whom Moses wrote in the Law and the prophets, we have found him: Jesus, the son of Joseph of Nazareth"; "Rabbi, you are the Son of God, you are the King of Israel"; "You are the Son of God, you are the King of Israel".
      • On the other hand, it is never explicitly mentioned that one must leave one's professional activity and family relationships to be a disciple.

    • In the end, there is little in common between the four gospels:
      • First of all, Simon was among the first to follow him.
      • Then there is the very fact that being a disciple implies physically following Jesus.

    • What is the take away from the comparisons for our analysis of John
      • Most of the best biblical scholars agree that, despite being the latest of the gospels (final writing around 90 or 95), the Gospel according to John contains more reliable historical elements than those in the Synoptics. Thus, on the place and the way the group of disciples was formed, it is better to rely on John who places it on the west bank of the Jordan River, in the south of the country. Moreover, the first disciples of Jesus were first disciples of John the Baptist. Mark's location of the scene around the Sea of Galilee has a catechetical purpose: Jesus centered his ministry in Galilee and went to Jerusalem, Judea, only to die there; let us remember that the word Galilee means Circle of the Gentiles, and therefore was important for an evangelist who probably spoke primarily to the Greco-Roman people of Rome.
      • Becoming a disciple is above all a faith journey of someone seeking, and therefore requires a spiritual experience of a community of life with Jesus.
      • One becomes a disciple because someone has introduced us to Jesus, has made him known to us.

  4. Intention of the author when writing this passage

    • The author must first rectify people's perception of John the Baptist. At the time of the writing of the gospels, the group of Baptists was still large. Think of Apollos, an eloquent man versed in the Scriptures who, according to the Acts of the Apostles (18:25), knew only John's baptism. The Acts of the Apostles (18:25) even mentions that Apollos was at Ephesus (18:24), where the final writing of the Gospel according to John probably took place. This is why the Prologue insists that John the Baptist "was not the light, but had to bear witness to the light" (1:8), or again, "John bears witness to him and says, 'Of him I said, 'Whoever comes behind me has passed before me, because before me he was." (1: 15). Later, in the Baptist's discussions with the Jews, the evangelist presents him to us as one who confesses that he is neither Elijah nor Christ nor the prophet (1:20-21). And when we begin our passage, John the Baptist is all centered on Jesus, whom he designates as the Lamb of God.

    • Then the evangelist insists that one only becomes a disciple of Jesus because someone has introduced us to him. The testimony of another is the foundation for coming into contact with Jesus. It was the role of the Baptist for Andrew and Philip, it was the role of Andrew for Simon, it was the role of Philip for Nathanael.

    • The disciple is first of all someone who is searching and is open to every word that can fill this search: "What are you looking for," Jesus asks. It was when they heard Jesus being referred as the "Lamb of God" that Andrew and Philip turned to him. The symbolism could have several meanings: the new Moses according to the image known in the Jewish world, or the savior in the image of the coming out of Egypt when the blood of the Lamb had spared the people from the destroying angel. The very fact of giving Jesus the title of "Rabbi" or Teacher, expresses their desire for light, their desire to be taught, their desire for a way. Simon opened himself to his brother's words when he said, "We have found the Messiah"; if his whole being was not directed towards this Messiah, he would not have been interested in his brother's words. Finally, we can say the same thing about Nathanael to whom Philip says, "He whom Moses wrote in the Law, and the prophets, we have found him: Jesus, the son of Joseph, of Nazareth." (1: 45). Jesus in John will later cry out: "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me" (7:37).

    • The disciple is the one who accepts to walk (come and see) with Jesus and to get to know him, and thus to live with him a form of community life and intimacy: "So they came and saw where he stayed, and they stayed with him that day. There is no doubt that the evangelist John has his own community in mind when he writes: "By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (13:35).

    • The turning point in a disciple's life is to begin to believe and to proclaim his faith: "We have found the Messiah"". Later Nathanael would write: "Rabbi, you are the Son of God, you are the King of Israel" (1:49). And the week will end with the sign of Cana: "He manifested his glory and his disciples believed in him" (2:11).

    • At the same time, although it is up to the disciple to agree to go to Jesus, it is the latter who assigns the roles in the mission. Simon will receive a new name from Jesus, an expression of his role as the foundation of an entire community.

  5. Current situations or events in which we could read this text

    1. Suggestions from the different symbols in the story

      The symbols in this story are extremely numerous. Let's choose a few of them.

      • A whole symbolic world has developed around the figure of the Baptist: he is the precursor, the herald, the go-between, the voice of the desert. We all have our John the Baptist, i.e., people who have served as a transmission belt for what we are today, who have made us discover people who will become the pillar of our lives, people who open us up to a part of reality. In philosophy, it was a professor who introduced me to the Canadian philosopher and theologian Bernard Lonergan, who has had such a great influence on my intellectual life. It is a brother in religious life who created a turning point in my professional life by orienting me towards exegesis and biblical studies. It is a friend who one day spoke to me about Etty Hillesum and who opened me to a word that is so contemporary, so profound, so vital. Everyone has his own list. The important thing to remember: we are dependent on others who play the role of mediators.

      • There is a corollary to what we have just said: a mediator or precursor only exists because he has dared to speak. What would have happened if John the Baptist had not dared to speak? If really, as the most serious biblical scholars say, Jesus first left his profession when he heard the Baptist's preaching, it simply means that without John the Baptist we would not have had this Jesus travelling through Palestine and proclaiming the Reign of God. Just thinking about it, we can be shivering. According to our story, without John the Baptist, who referred to Jesus as the Lamb of God, Andrew and Philip would never have become disciples of Jesus. Without Andrew, Simon would not have become a disciple. Without Philip, Nathanael would not have become a disciple. As Paul of Tarsus says: "And how can one believe without first hearing him? And how can we hear without a preacher?" (Romans 10:14). So let's talk. This thought even accompanies me for this web page which appears to me as half a drop of water in the sea. But who knows what God can do with half a drop of water.

      • "Following Jesus". To speak of "following" refers us to a path. We are not talking about obeying, but about accompanying someone on a path. It is the path of life with all its events. To walk is to learn, including learning from one's mistakes. To walk is to refuse to stay in the same place and to remain static. To walk is to grow. Of course, today, Jesus is no longer physically among us. But as we meditate on the New Testament and its best witnesses, we try every day to be like him, to continue his work in our little world. We will never be able to say: we have arrived, we have no more road to travel.

      • "Where are you staying?" This question is like saying: "Who are you?". Answering this question takes a lifetime. Unless we are totally disconnected from reality, our faith in Jesus is assailed by the harshness and scandals of life. With each shock of life, we must renew our answer. It is a sign of maturity to be able to respond by integrating all the sufferings and failures of this world. It is a question of being able to bring together the one who breathes life and light with the crucified one.

      • "The Messiah". This is a symbol that is still widely used today, especially in the political world. Things haven't changed much since antiquity. There is something beautiful and healthy in the search for a messiah: it is a sign of a desire for change, a desire for a better world. But the challenge is to find the messiah who will be a true source of liberation, not an illusion or a simple band-aid. It certainly took a long evolution for even the followers of Jesus to accept to move from a political messiah to a messiah of inner transformation (see this echo of the somewhat naive prayer of the young Christian community in Acts 1:6: "Lord, is it now time for you to restore the kingdom of Israel?".

        "Cephas" (rock), which will become "Peter" in English through the Greek "Petros". This is the role that Jesus assigns to Simon and that will continue in the Christian community. To speak of rock is to speak of foundation, of foundation stone. We all need people we can count on. These are our reference points. But there is something both moving and consoling to realize that the one who has been the pillar and the rock of the Christian community is someone who has denied Jesus. At times he has been afraid and weak, but he has risen up and loved much. That was enough for him to become a rock. That is why the Christian community is not a community of pure or flawless people, but a community of forgiven people who have risen up and want to learn to love every day.

    2. Current situations or events in which we could read this text

      • In several countries, people are taking to the streets to demonstrate against government austerity measures. All opposing groups are putting forward good arguments. Everyone wants the good of humanity. Can today's gospel offer a relevant word? Doesn't it ask, "What are you looking for?".

      • In the same vein, a societal debate has begun on pension funds. Western civilization is aging. The question then arises: how can we support the growing number of retired people? Who should bear the costs? The question of intergenerational justice is raised. The solution involves technical elements. But doesn't it nevertheless touch on fundamental orientations and values on which the gospel has a say? In particular, cannot the search for security easily become biased? Life is a journey, the gospel reminds us, a continuous journey where one can never say: I have arrived.

      • We are witnessing a phenomenon that seems to be spreading outside of developed countries, as we saw in China on that "Black Friday" following the American Thanksgiving holiday: people stormed store counters to the point of using brawling to snatch the items on sale. We have something similar for Boxing Day. What does that mean? Doesn't the gospel seem "disconnected" when it talks about following a guide and finding what you are looking for?

      • A mother worries that her daughter has symptoms of multiple sclerosis and is waiting for a brain scan using a magnetic resonance imaging machine. What else can we say but: This is life? To claim to have found the Messiah, as Andrew does, is it only about someone far away in the sky? Did this messiah not heal? What healing can this mother hope for?

      • On Christmas Eve, naked in the snow and half-dead, a six-year-old First Nations girl was found: she appeared to have been severely beaten. She had gone skating with friends and was kidnapped. Her assailant, a twenty-one year-old man, has just been arrested and charged with sex crimes and attempted murder. When the girl finally opened her eyes a little on Christmas Day, she asked to see Santa Claus. There is something immensely touching and sad in this scene. It's a reflection of our world. Where in all of this can we place the man whom Andrew, Philip, Simon and Nathanael wanted to follow? Did the Lamb of God not want to take on all our misery? But the way of the lamb is not the way of the lion, and it is the way God wanted. What a mystery!


-André Gilbert, Gatineau, December 2014