"I noticed in John's gospel that Simon seems called to be a disciple after Andrew introduces him to Jesus. But in Luke it happens after he catches a boatload of fish. Why the discrepancy?"
For years this column has exposed and discussed many of the contradictions and discrepancies found in the Bible. We've looked at the different creation stories, who really killed Goliath, and even minutia about the Law. But for once, this apparent discrepancy isn't a discrepancy at all. Instead in the accounts of John and Luke we read two parts of the same story.
John reports, "One of the two was . . . Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, 'We have found the Messiah.' . . . He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, 'You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas' (which is translated Peter)" (John 1.40-42).
But in Luke we read: "When [Jesus] had finished speaking, he said to Simon, 'Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.' Simon answered, 'Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.' When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, 'Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!' For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, 'Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.' When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him" (Luke 5.4-11).
Often, when we read two very different accounts of the same event in the Bible we can legitimately conclude there is simply a discrepancy or a contradiction. However, in this case and in a few others, what we read is not authors who miswrote, but authors with differing teachings.
Of the four gospels, John's is clearly the most theological. The author even states that the book was written for the sole purpose ". . . so you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name" (John 20.31). Thus, when we read John's version of Simon's encounter with Jesus we understand that the author is trying to show the authority of Jesus (in the renaming of Simon to Peter).
Luke's gospel, however, was written to reflect an accurate account of Jesus' ministry: "I decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you" (Luke 1.3a). In other words, Luke was more interested in getting the story written down than in trying to show what Jesus' actions meant.
So, our two passages tell a single story, that is, the protracted calling of Simon Peter. In John we read of Simon's first meeting with Jesus. Andrew, Peter's brother, has met Jesus and in his excitement he goes and invites his brother to meet him too. Simon does and comes away with a new nick-name. When we turn to Luke, it's clear Simon has already met Jesus at least once, since the name change to "Simon Peter" has already taken place. But when Peter meets Jesus, this time, there's a miracle and a calling involved. According to Luke, Peter catches an astounding amount of fish at Jesus' instructions and he's impressed enough to abandon his career path to follow Jesus. Thus we have two accounts that make one story without discrepancy.
The four gospels were written by different men who were acquainted with Jesus in different ways. Their stories differ significantly because they tell the story from varying motives. Matthew wrote for a Jewish audience, Luke for non-Jews. John wrote for the sake of conversion and Mark's account probably reflects Peter's recollections.
There is a saying that if you get three people together you will get four different opinions. In the gospels we read four writers who wrote from different viewpoints. It would be surprising-indeed, outright suspicious-if they all chose to write about all the same events from the same perspective. For once, in this case, there are no discrepancies.