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Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges
Luke 5



Verse 1

1. ἐπικεῖσθαι αὐτῷ. With this section compare Matthew 4:18-22; Mark 1:16-20. St Mark (as is his wont) uses stronger words (ἐπιπίπτειν, θλίβειν) to express the physical inconvenience, and adds that sometimes at any rate, the multitude pressed on Jesus with a view to touch Him and be healed (Luke 3:9-10).

καὶ ἀκούειν. The more probable reading is not τοῦ but καἰ, ‘and listened to.’

τὴν λίμνην Γεννησαρέτ. “The most sacred sheet of water which this earth contains.” Stanley. St Luke alone, writing for the Greeks, accurately calls it a lake. The Galilaean and Jewish Evangelists unconsciously follow the Hebrew idiom which applies the name yam ‘sea,’ to every piece of water. Gennesareth is probably a corruption of the old Hebrew name Kinnereth, but the Rabbis derive it from ganne sarim, ‘gardens of princes.’ This same inland lake is generally called ‘the Sea of Galilee’ (Matthew 15:29, &c.). In the Old Testament it is called “the Sea of Chinneroth” (Joshua 12:3) from its harplike shape. St John calls it “the Sea of Tiberias;” because by the time he wrote Tiberias—which in our Lord’s time had only just been founded by Herod Antipas—had grown into a flourishing town. Gennesareth is a clear sweet lake about thirteen miles long and seven broad, with the Jordan flowing through it. Its fish produced a valuable revenue to those who lived on its shores. The plain of Gennesareth, which lies 500 feet below the level of the Mediterranean, is now known as El Ghuweir, ‘the little hollow.’ It is so completely a desolation, that the only inhabited places on the western shore of the Lake are the crumbling, dirty, earthquake-shaken town of Tiberias and the mud village of El Mejdel, the ancient Magdala. The burning and enervating heat is no longer tempered by cultivation and by trees. It is still however beautiful in spring, with flowering oleanders, and the soil is fruitful where it is not encumbered with ruins as at Khan Minyeh (Tarichaea) and Tell Hûm (Capernaum). In our Lord’s time it was, as Josephus calls it, “the best part of Galilee” (B. J. III. 10, § 7) containing many villages, of which the least had 15,000 inhabitants. Josephus becomes quite eloquent over the descriptions of its rich fruits nearly all the year, its grateful temperature, and its fertilising stream (Jos. B. J. III. 10, §§ 7, 8), so that, he says, one might call it ‘the ambition of nature.’ It belonged to the tribe of Naphtali (Deuteronomy 33:23) and the Rabbis said that of the “seven seas” of Canaan, it was the only one which God had reserved for Himself. In our Lord’s time it was covered with a gay and numerous fleet of 4000 vessels, from ships of war down to fishing boats; now it is often difficult to find a single crazy boat even at Tiberias, and the Arabs fish mainly by throwing poisoned bread-crumbs into the water near the shore. As four great roads communicated with the Lake it became a meeting-place for men of many nations—Jews, Galilaeans, Syrians, Phoenicians, Arabs, Greeks and Romans.

Verses 1-11


Verse 2

2. πλοῖα, ‘boats.’

ἑστῶτα, drawn up close to the shore, or lying at anchor.

ἔπλυνον τὰ δίκτυα. They might have been listening to Christ even while they continued their work. If ἔπλυναν be read, the aor. can only be used in an incorrect sense. If we combine these notices with those in Mark 1:16-20; Matthew 4:18-22, we must suppose that during a discourse of Jesus the four disciples were fishing with a drawnet (ἀμφίβληστρον) not far from the shore, and within hearing of His voice; and that the rest of the incident (here narrated) took place on the morning after. The disciples had spent the night in fruitless labour, and now Peter and Andrew were washing, and James and John mending, their castingnets (δίκτυα), because they felt that it was useless to go on, since night is the best time for fishing.

δίκτυα. ‘Castingnets’ (from δίκω I throw, funda, jaculum) as in Matthew 4:20; John 21:6. In Matthew 4:18 we have the ἀμφίβληστρον or drawnet (from ἀμφὶ and βάλλω, I throw around); and in Matthew 13:47, σαγήνη, seine or haulingnet (from σάττω ‘I load’).

Verse 3

3. ἐπαναγαγεῖν. The technical word for putting out to sea, 2 Maccabees 12:4.

καθίσας. The ordinary attitude (as we have seen, Luke 4:20) for a sermon.

Verse 4

4. ὡς δὲ ἐπαύσατο λαλῶν. The aorist implies that no sooner was His sermon ended than He at once thought, not of His own fatigue, but of His poor disappointed followers.

χαλάσατε, ‘let ye down.’ The first command (ἐπανάγαγε) is in the singular, and is addressed to Peter only as “the pilot of the Galilaean Lake.”

Verse 5

5. ἐπιστάτα. The word is not Rabbi as in the other Evangelists,—a word which Gentiles would not have understood but Ἐπιστάτα (in its occasional classic sense of ‘teacher’) which is peculiar to St Luke (Luke 5:5, Luke 8:24; Luke 8:45, Luke 9:33; Luke 9:49, Luke 17:13), who never uses Rabbi. These are the only places where it occurs.

Verse 6

6. πλῆθος ἰχθύων πολύ. Of this—as of all miracles—we may say with St Gregory Dum facit miraculum prodit mysterium—in other words the miracle was an acted parable, of which the significance is explained in Matthew 13:47. Banks of fish, suddenly congregated, are not uncommon in the Lake of Gennesareth (Tristram, Nat. Hist. of the Bible, 285) and the miracle consisted in causing this result at this moment.

διερήσσετο, ‘were beginning to break.’ Contrast this with John 21:11, οὐκ ἐσχίσθη. This breaking net is explained by St Augustine as the symbol of the Church which now is: he compares the unrent net to the Church of the future which shall know no schisms.

Verse 7

7. κατένευσαν. It is one of the inimitable touches of truthfulness in the narrative that the instinct of work prevails at first over the sense that a miraculous power has been exerted.

τοῖς μετόχοις, ‘fellow-workers.’

ἐν τῷ ἑτέρῳ πλοίῳ. St Luke uses ἕτερος for ‘another of two,’ much more frequently and with stricter accuracy than the other Evangelists.

Verse 8

8. ἰδὼν δὲ Σίμων Πέτρος. Apparently it was only when he saw the boats sinking to the gunwale with their load of fish that the tenderness and majesty of the miracle flashed upon his mind.

ἔξελθε ἀπ' ἐμοῦ. The word implies leave my boat and go from me. Here again is the stamp of truthfulness. Any one inventing the scene would have made Peter kneel in thankfulness or adoration, but would have missed the strange psychological truthfulness of the sense of sin painfully educed by the revealed presence of divine holiness. We find the expression of analogous feelings in the case of Manoah (Judges 13:22); the Israelites at Sinai (Exodus 20:19); the men of Beth-shemesh (1 Samuel 6:20); David after the death of Uzzah (2 Samuel 6:9); the lady of Zarephath (1 Kings 17:18); Job (Job 42:5-6); and Isaiah (Isaiah 6:5). The exclamation of St Peter was wrung from a heart touched with a sense of humility, and his words did not express his thoughts. They were the cry of agonised humility, and only emphasized his own utter unworthiness. They were in reality the reverse of the deliberate and calculated request of the swine-feeding Gadarenes. The dead and profane soul dislikes and tries to get rid of the presence of the Divine. The soul awakened only to conviction of sin is terrified. The soul that has found God is conscious of utter unworthiness, but fear is lost in love (1 John 4:18). It is absurd to suppose that Peter was thinking of the danger which Jesus might incur from being on board with a criminal! (Hor. Od. iii. 2. 26).

ἀνὴρ ἁμαρτωλός. The Greek has two words for man—ἄνθρωπος, a general term for ‘human being’ (homo); and ἀνήρ for ‘a man’ (vir). The use of the latter here shews that Peter’s confession is individual, not general. When Barnabas (that may have been the writer’s name, though he could not have been the ‘Apostle’) says that the Twelve before their call were ‘sinners above all sin’ (Ephesians 5), he is guilty of one of the follies which so greatly discredit that early Christian writing. The confessions of holy men are always strongly expressed, and Peter’s sense of sin was that which often fills the heart of those whom the world justly regards as saints.

κύριε. The word often means no more than ‘Sir.’ It must be remembered that this was the second call of Peter and the three Apostles,—the call to Apostleship; they had already received a call to faith. They had received their first call on the banks of Jordan, and had heard the witness of John, and had witnessed the miracle of Cana. They had only returned to their ordinary avocations until the time came for Christ’s full and active ministry.

Verse 9

9. θάμβος περιέσχεν αὐτόν, ‘astonishment seized him.’

Verse 10

10. κοινωνοί, ‘associates’ in profits, &c. comp. Luke 5:7.

μὴ φοβοὺ. Accordingly, on another occasion, when Peter sees Jesus walking on the sea, so far from crying Depart from me, he cries “Lord, if it be Thou, bid me come to Thee on the water” (Matthew 14:28); and when he saw the Risen Lord standing in the misty morning on the shore of the Lake “he cast himself into the sea” to come to Him (John 21:7). These blessed words μὴ φοβοῦ, so characteristic of the Gospel (Matthew 10:26; Matthew 10:31; Matthew 14:27; Matthew 28:5; Mark 5:36; Mark 6:50) seem to be favourite words with St Luke (Luke 1:13; Luke 1:30, Luke 2:10, Luke 8:50, Luke 12:4; Luke 12:7; Luke 12:32, Luke 24:36; Acts 18:9; Acts 27:24).

ἔσῃ ζωγρῶν. Literally, ‘thou shalt be catching alive (ζωός, ἀγρεύω). If the Emperor Julian had attended to the meaning of the verb his sneer that the ‘men’ so ‘caught’ would die, like fishes out of water, would have become pointless. In Jeremiah 16:16 the fishers draw out men to death, and in Amos 4:2; Habakkuk 1:14, “men are made as the fishes of the sea” by way of punishment. Here the word seems to imply the contrast between the fish that lay glittering there in dead heaps, and men who should be captured not for death (James 1:14), but for life. But Satan too captures men alive (2 Timothy 2:26, the only other passage where the verb occurs). From this and the parable of the seine or haulingnet (Matthew 13:47) came the favourite early Christian symbol of the ‘Fish.’ “We little fishes,” says Tertullian, “after our Fish (ΙΧΘΥΣ, i.e. Ἰησοῦς Χριστὸς θεοῦ Υἱὸς Σωτήρ) are born in the water (of baptism).” The prophecy was first fulfilled to Peter, when 3000 were converted by his words at the first Pentecost. In a hymn of St Clement of Alexandria we find “O fisher of mortals who are being saved, Enticing pure fish for sweet life from the hostile wave.” Thus, He who “spread the fisher’s net over the palaces of Tyre and Sidon, gave into the fisher’s hand the keys of the kingdom of heaven.” “He caught orators by fishermen, and made out of fishermen his orators.” We find a similar metaphor used by Socrates, Xen. Mem. II. 6, “Try to be good and to catch the good. I will help you, for I know the art of catching men.”

Verse 11

11. ἀφέντες πάντα. The sacrifice was a willing one, but they were not unconscious of its magnitude; and it was the allusion to it by Peter which called forth the memorable promise of the hundredfold (Luke 18:28-30; Mark 10:29-30). We gather from St Mark that Zebedee (Zabdia) and his two sons had hired servants (Luke 1:20), and therefore they were probably richer than Simon and Andrew, sons of Jona. The miraculous draught of fishes was not the sole cause why these Apostles ‘forsook all and followed Christ.’ We see from St John that they were, so to speak, awaiting their call even now; and further than this the fragmentary indications of the Gospels clearly suggest the inference that the sons of Zebedee were first cousins of our Lord. He had probably known them and others of the Apostles for many years. See my Life of Christ, I. 140–159, 251.

Verse 12

12. ἐν μιᾷ τῶν πόλεων, ‘in one of the cities.’ Probably the village of Hattin, for we learn from St Matthew’s definite notice that this incident took place on descending from the Mount of Beatitudes (Kurn Hattin), see Matthew 8:1-4; Mark 1:40-45. St Mark seems to imply that it was in a house. Chronologically the call of Matthew, the choosing of the Twelve, and the Sermon on the Mount probably intervene between this incident and the last.

ἐγένετοκαί. See note on Luke 2:15. The paratactic (comp. Luke 5:17) arrangement of