Saturday, January 21, 2012

Were Peter and Andrew called before or after John the Baptist was arrested? Reconciling the synoptic gospels with John


3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Mark 1:14-20
After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God.
In the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), the vocation of not only Peter but also Andrew as well as of James and John occurs while the soon-to-be apostles are fishing and after John the Baptist has been arrested. However, St. John very clearly states that both Andrew and Peter (and perhaps John as well) were called by Jesus while they were with St. John the Baptist – at least, Andrew was with the Baptizer, and then he went and brought Peter to Jesus.
Now, at first glance, it would seem that these two accounts are incompatible; however, we will quickly notice that there were two occasions in which Christ called these men. The first calling of Andrew and (probably) John and Peter as presented in St. John’s Gospel occurred a full year before the second calling of the apostles which is given.
Were Peter and Andrew called by Jesus before or after the arrest of St. John the Baptist?

The historical truth of the Gospels
Consider the following words on the historicity of the Gospels, from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
“The Church holds firmly that the four Gospels, ‘whose historicity she unhesitatingly affirms, faithfully hand on what Jesus, the Son of God, while he lived among men, really did and taught for their eternal salvation, until the day when he was taken up.’” (CCC 126, Dei Verbum [Vatican II] 19)
The historical reliability of the Gospels is “unhesitatingly” affirmed by the Church, because they record what our Savior “really did and taught” during his life on earth. Note, especially, the choice of the word “unhesitatingly” – there is no qualification, delay or condition placed upon the Church’s affirmation of the historical verity of the Gospels.
As is the case with all of Sacred Scripture, the Gospels must convey that truth which the writers (whether the human beings or God himself) intended to convey – and that truth which the Gospels teach is the historical life of Christ. Hence, there can be no doubt that the Gospels accurately record Jesus’ historical life.
Finally, consider the following quote from Pope Pius XII:
“For as the substantial Word of God became like to men in all things, except sin, so the words of God, expressed in human language, are made like to human speech in every respect, except error.” (Divino Afflante Spiritu)
Thus, if St. John tells us that Jesus called Andrew from the side of St. John the Baptist, then this must have indeed occurred. And, further, if the Beloved writes that Andrew led Peter to Jesus, so it was.
However, on the other hand, if the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) say that Peter and Andrew (as well as James and John) were called while they were fishing and after the arrest of St. John the Baptist, so it was.
Hence, we must reconcile these two (seemingly contradictory) accounts.
How many times did Jesus cleanse the Temple?
A further point which may give rise to confusion is the fact that St. John records the cleansing of the Temple to have occurred at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, even before St. John the Baptist has been arrested (cf. John 2:13ff.).
However, the synoptic gospels place the cleansing of the Temple in the final week of Jesus life on earth. It seems that this was the last straw which led the Sadducees to unite against our Savior and to conspire to put him to death.
How can we reconcile John with the other three Evangelists? The clear answer is that there must have been two cleansings of the Temple: The Lord Jesus cleansed the Temple once during his first year of public ministry, and he cleansed it a second time in the final days before his death.
As Alcuin says (in the Catena Aurea): “The Gospels mention two journeys of our Lord to Jerusalem, one in the first year of His preaching, before John was sent to prison, which is the journey now spoken of [by St. John]; the other in the year of His Passion.”
It was in his first journey in the first year of his ministry that Jesus cleansed the Temple the first time (as recorded by St. John). In the last week of his ministry he again cleansed the Temple (as recorded by Sts. Matthew, Mark, and Luke).
What Jesus did before and after John was arrested
There are times when the gospels are not entirely clear as to the historical order of events – when this occurs, we are not necessarily bound to assume that they are related in chronological order. However, at other times, the gospel writers specify chronology, and then we must affirm that the historical chronology given is true. When there is an apparent contradiction, we must try to understand how the gospels are all in harmony.
In Mark (as well as Matthew and Luke), it is very clear that John the Baptist had already been arrested when Peter and Andrew as well as James and John were called by Jesus: after John had been arrested (Mark 1:14). However, in John, it is equally clear that the Baptist had not yet been arrested when Andrew and Peter were called, since it is John the Baptist who says to Andrew, Behold, the Lamb of God.
The only logical conclusion must be that there were two vocations, two callings of these apostles. Jesus had called Andrew and Peter first when they were still disciples of John the Baptist and then, some time later, called them a second time while they were fishing (after the Baptist had been arrested).
This, however, means that some amount of time passed from Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan and fasting in the desert (cf. Mark 1:13) and the arrest of John and calling of the disciples (cf. Mark 1:14). So, just how much time did pass between Mark 1:13 and 14?
The time after Jesus’ baptism and before John’s arrest
A full year passes between the fast in the desert and the arrest of the Baptist. This time period is recalled only by St. John, comprising the first three chapters of St. John’s Gospel. Consider the commentary of Fr. Cornelius a’ Lapide on Matthew 4:12:
“Matthew, Mark, and Luke all omit the embassy of the Jews to John the Baptist, asking him if he were the Messiah. To this first year of Christ’s ministry pertain also the turning water into wine, the driving the buyers and sellers out of the temple, and the discourse with Nicodemus. These all took place before the imprisonment of the Baptist, and are related only by S. John. For before his imprisonment Christ had committed to John the work of preaching, but now He took that office upon Himself.”
And, speaking of the passage of a year between Mark 1:13 and 14, St. Bede the Venerable (cited in the Catena Aurea) writes:
“Let no one, however, suppose that the putting of John in prison took place immediately after the forty days' temptation and the fast of the Lord; for whoever reads the Gospel of John will find, that the Lord taught many things before the putting of John in prison, and also did many miracles; for you have in his Gospel, This beginning of miracles did Jesus; and afterwards, for John was not yet cast into prison. Now it is said, that when John read the books of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, he approved indeed the text of the history, and affirmed that they had spoken truth, but said that they had composed the history of only one year after John was cast into prison, in which year also he suffered. Passing over then the year of which the transactions had been published by the three others, he related the events of the former period, before John was cast into prison.”
And thus, it is clear that there need be no contradiction between the calling of Peter and Andrew as related in the synoptic gospels and that of St. John – for there were two callings, which took place roughly one year apart. And it was fitting that our Savior should call these apostles twice, for they were disciples of the Baptist and did not begin to follow Christ publicly until after the Precursor had been arrested and so run his course.

15 comments:

Louuis said...

I don't see why it is necessary to assume that Jesus cleansed the temple twice, in order to reconcile John - it seems easier, and more reasonable, to simply say that John has some reason for relating that particular event from Jesus's life early in his gospel, even though it happened later. Nor does this imply falsehood in the gospel, as John does not assert temporal continuity, but simply says, "the passover was at hand."

A strong reason for believing that there was only one cleansing, is that the cleansing only makes historical sense in light of Jesus's triumphal entry into Jerusalem, with all the crowds supporting him, and hailing him as the son of God. It is inconceivable that the pharisees would allow anyone to do what Jesus does to the temple, their sacred place, unless they were in great fear of the crowds - and this in fact is mentioned by all the synoptics.

If Jesus cleansed the temple while he was relatively unknown in Jerusalem, how is it possible to account for the remarkable passivity of the Jews and Pharisees?

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Louuis,
You (unwittingly) give another reason why there had to be cleansings ... in John the Jewish authorities are relatively passive, but in the synoptics they are quite aggressive.

And the reason they were passive in John is because this was the first cleansing before Jesus was well known, while John was still alive. At this time (early in the ministry) Jesus was not seen as a great threat -- but all this changed later.
Further, John makes no mention of large crowd support ... which our Savior did have in the second cleansing late in his ministry.

Louis said...

Now hold on, clarify this for me: why must we assume that because John does not mention the reaction of the Jewish Authorities, that therefore there was no reaction?

Does believing in the infallibility of scripture mean that if something is not mentioned, then it did not happen?

And further, how is it conceivable that someone who was not well know, and did not have the support of the crowds, could go into the sacred place of the Jews, and perform an action as disruptive as Jesus did, without severe punishment by the Jewish authorities?

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Louis,
Please understand ... I'm not saying it couldn't possibly be the case ... what I am saying is that there are good reasons to think that there were two Temple cleansings (and this seems to be the general opinion of the Church Fathers and Catholic Doctors).

Now, the way that the cleansing of the Temple is presented in John is very different from the manner it is presented in the synoptics ... and they seem to have occurred at different times ... therefore, it is most reasonable to conclude that there were two cleansings.

What you call "inconceivable" is the opinion held by saints and theologians for nearly 2,000 years (and still held by many today) ... perhaps a bit more humility is in order?

Dan said...

I believe that John's sending of his disciples to Jesus to ask Him if He was the "expected One," was John's gentle way of turning their attention to Jesus.

John knew that he himself, must decrease, and Jesus must increase.

Anonymous said...

The account of the calling of the apostles in the synoptics - Peter & Andrew abandoning their nets; and James and John abandoning their father Zebedee and his boat; make much better sense if these men had already heard Jesus preach and teach for some time before the episode described in the synoptic gospels.
TeaPot562

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Dan,
I completely agree!
I wrote an article on this a while back -- http://newtheologicalmovement.blogspot.com/2010/12/did-john-baptist-doubt-that-jesus-is.html

Peace! +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@TeaPot,
Thank you for bringing this point up ... I had intended to mention it as well, but forgot.
Certainly, the calling in the synoptics makes much more sense when read in light of John! +

Morrie said...

Great Point.

Anonymous said...

Father, have you ever written on the time that Jesus was found by the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph in the temple? I have always wondered what the rabbis must have thought about Jesus, amazing them with his knowledge of the Torah, and then telling his Mother, in front of them, that she had no causes to worry as He was in HIS Father's house! Who did they think this boy was as He left with Mary and Joseph?!
Woody

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Woody, I don't recall having written on the finding in the Temple ... though, you are right that it would be a great topic to consider!

I touched on something of this point in an article around Christmas time in which I explained that the general tradition of the Church is that Christ had full use of free will and reason, and that he knew all things in his humanity, from the first moment of his conception.
While yet an embryo, and infant, a child, and a young boy -- Christ was already a perfect man.

http://newtheologicalmovement.blogspot.com/2011/12/when-did-christ-reach-age-of-reason.html

Peace to you! +

Anonymous said...

st Thomas Aquinas says apostles were called by Christ 3 times-(comm on the Gospel of John ch 1 #308)--call for knowledge,diction of the office and apostleship

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Anonymous (1:18pm),
Please use a pseudonym at least.

You are right, St. Thomas distinguishes the calling in Matthew and Mark from that in Luke -- since Luke mentions the large catch of fish.

I don't know whether we have to hold this or not ... it does not seem to be necessary to hold that they were two (to make up a total of three) callings.
St. John Chrysostom says that Luke and Matthew (and Mark) tell of the same single calling -- the second one, after John was imprisoned.
Fr. Cornelius a' Lapide says the same.

As far as I am concerned, either two or three callings seems possible -- so long as we maintain that John related a prior calling which occurred about a year before the second (given in today's Gospel from Mark) and after John was already arrested.

Thanks for the citation to St. Thomas! +

Anonymous said...

Finding in the temple: always perplexed me until, I figured if your lost or left behind, you need to stay in one place so your parents can find you....

So consequently when Jesus said "Didn't you know I would be in my Fathers House" was not a smartsy/immature comment as it seems, it was actually an intellegent comment.

RB2

Jeff Krouse said...

I am in the process of constructing a harmony of the Gospels and have been generally disappointed with any work done on this subject. I myself leaned toward a single Temple cleansing and omitted the Johannine account--until in trying to piece together Jesus' movements after his baptism between the 4 Gospels, it became clear that a visit to Jerusalem was necessary to incite the negative attention of the Pharisees in John 4:1. Otherwise, his only movements, other than in the area of John the Baptist after his baptism and a time in the wilderness to be tempted, were to the wedding in Cana. A location is also needed for his encounter with Nicodemus, who was presumably in Jerusalem. Without this plot progression, it is hard to imagine how or why the Pharisees would have gotten wind of Jesus up near John the Baptist in the Judean wilderness. Certainly they may have sent envoys as they did to John in all 4 Gospels, but such is not reported, and Jn 4:1 also begs the question as to why the attention of the Pharisees should motivate Jesus to leave the area for safer turf. An early Temple cleansing and concomitant arguments (Jn 2:13-25) provide some reason as to why the Pharisees should now turn their sights upon Jesus with ill intent, and why Jesus should be so motivated as to leave his baptism ministry and return to Galilee.

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