Tuesday, February 5, 2013

A Boatload of Fish

Below is a rough translation and some initial comments regarding Luke 5:1-10, one of the options for a Gospel Reading for Sunday, February 10, 2013. Your comments are always welcomed.

1 Ἐγένετο δὲ ἐν τῷ τὸν ὄχλον ἐπικεῖσθαι αὐτῷ καὶ ἀκούειν τὸν λόγον τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ αὐτὸς ἦν ἑστὼς παρὰ τὴν λίμνην Γεννησαρέτ, 
Then the crowd began to press against him and to hear the word of God while he was having stood beside the lake of Gennesaret,
Ἐγένετο: AMI 3s, γίνομαι, 1) to become, i.e. to come into existence, begin to be, receive being
ἐπικεῖσθαι: PMInf, ἐπίκειμαι, 1) to lie upon or over, rest upon, be laid or placed upon 
ἀκούειν: PAInf, ἀκούω, 1) to be endowed with the faculty of hearing, not deaf
ἦν: IAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
ἑστὼς: PerfAPart nsm, ἵστημι, 1) to cause or make to stand, to place, put, set 
1. I’ve translated this fairly closely, which means that it is awkward and needs some refining for a final translation. One translation choice is how to begin this verse. One possibility is to begin with the imperfect verb ἦν and the perfect participle ἑστὼς, which describe Jesus vis-à-vis the lake. The NRSV begins this verse, “Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake ....” The KJV, on the other hand, begins with the verb Ἐγένετο, which it translates quite often as “It came to pass.” And then there is the conjunction δὲ, used throughout this pericope in various ways. It could be translated “Then,” or “And” as a way of connecting this story to the previous story. That would be quite a contrast to the NRSV’s “Once ...” which makes the timing of this story random.

2 καὶ εἶδεν δύο πλοῖα ἑστῶτα παρὰ τὴν λίμνην: οἱ δὲ ἁλιεῖς ἀπ' αὐτῶν 
ἀποβάντες ἔπλυνον τὰ δίκτυα. 
And he saw two boats that had been moored by the lake; and the fishers, having gone out of them, were washing the nets.
εἶδεν: AAI 3s, ὁράω, 1) to see with the eyes  2) to see with the mind, to perceive, know
ἑστῶτα: PerfAPart apm, ἵστημι, 1) to cause or make to stand, to place, put, set
ἀποβάντες: AAPart npm, ἀποβαίνω, 1) to come down from, i.e. a ship  2) to turn out, result, to be the outcome
ἔπλυνον: IAI 3p, πλύνω, 1) to wash: with reference to clothing
1. The perfect participle for “moored” (or “stood”) is not easy to translate, especially because it is active and not passive.

3 ἐμβὰς δὲ εἰς ἓν τῶν πλοίων,  ἦν Σίμωνος, ἠρώτησεν αὐτὸν ἀπὸ τῆς γῆς 
ἐπαναγαγεῖν ὀλίγον, καθίσας δὲ ἐκ τοῦ πλοίου ἐδίδασκεν τοὺς ὄχλους.
Then having boarded into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out from the land a little, then having sat down, he was teaching the crowd out of the boat.
ἐμβὰς: AAPart nsm, ἐμβάλλω, 1) to throw in, cast into 
ἦν: IAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
ἠρώτησεν: AAI 3s, ἐρωτάω, 1) to question  2) to ask  2a) to request, entreat, beg, beseech
ἐπαναγαγεῖν: AAInf, ἐπανάγω, 1) to lead up upon  1a) a ship upon the deep, to put out  2) to lead back  3) to return
καθίσας: AAPart nsm, καθίζω, 1) to make to sit down  
ἐδίδασκεν: IAI 3p, διδάσκω, 1) to teach
1. I don’t know whether to use ‘launch’ or ‘put out’ for ἐπανάγω here and in the next verse. I want to use nautical terms to talk about nautical things, but without sounding like a landlubber trying to pass. (Which might be what Jesus is doing in this text, btw.)
2. While Simon is not yet a ‘disciple,’ so to speak, we have met him already in c.4, when Jesus is at his house and heals his mother-in-law – if we assume it is the same Simon.

4 ὡς δὲ ἐπαύσατο λαλῶν, εἶπεν πρὸς τὸν Σίμωνα, Ἐπανάγαγε εἰς τὸ 
βάθος καὶ χαλάσατε τὰ δίκτυα ὑμῶν εἰς ἄγραν. 
Then as he finished speaking, he said to Simon, put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.
ἐπαύσατο: AMI 3s, παύω, 1) to make to cease or desist  2) to restrain a thing or person from something  3) to cease, to leave off 
λαλῶν: PAPart nsm, λαλέω, 1) to utter a voice or emit a sound 
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak  
Ἐπανάγαγε: AAImpv 2s, ἐπανάγω, 1) to lead up upon  1a) a ship upon the deep, to put out 
χαλάσατε: χαλάω, 1) to loosen, slacken, relax  2) to let down from a higher place to a lower

5 καὶ ἀποκριθεὶς Σίμων εἶπεν,Ἐπιστάτα, δι' ὅλης νυκτὸς κοπιάσαντες οὐδὲν 
ἐλάβομεν, ἐπὶ δὲ τῷ ῥήματί σου χαλάσω τὰ δίκτυα. 
And Simon having answered him said, Master, having toiled through all night we caught nothing, yet at your word I will let down the nets.
ἀποκριθεὶς: APPart nsm, ἀποκρίνομαι, 1) to give an answer to a question proposed, to answer
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak  
κοπιάσαντες: AAPart npm, κοπιάω, 1) to grow weary, tired, exhausted
ἐλάβομεν: AAI 1p, λαμβάνω, 1) to take  1a) to take with the hand, lay hold of, any person or thing  in order to use it 
χαλάσω: FAI 1s, χαλάω, 1) to loosen, slacken, relax  2) to let down from a higher place to a lower
1. “Master” – Luke uses this term 8x, always with reference to Jesus by the disciples. It means something more like “boss” or “superintendent” than a slave-owning master. It is interesting that Simon uses the term now, not after this astonishing event. It indicates that he already recognizes Jesus’ authority in some way. And it is perfectly reasonable to assume that he was in earshot of Jesus’ teaching, even though he was outside of his boat cleaning his nets.
2. The activity of fishing depended on the difficult, meticulous activity of keeping the nets clean of corrosives (although the Lake Genneseret [or Sea of Galilee elsewhere] is freshwater) and gunk, mended, and ready to be used again on the next day. It was an act of honor that a fisher like Simon, after doing this kind of work, would let a non-fisher like Jesus direct him back into the depths to try again.

6 καὶ τοῦτο ποιήσαντες συνέκλεισαν  πλῆθος ἰχθύων πολύ, διερρήσσετο δὲ 
τὰ δίκτυα αὐτῶν. 
And when they had done this they caught a great fill of fish, so that their nets were breaking.
ποιήσαντες: AAPart npm, ποιέω, 1) to make  1a) with the names of things made, to produce, construct,  form, fashion, etc.
συνέκλεισαν: AAI 3p, συγκλείω, 1) to shut up together, enclose  1a) of a shoal of fishes in a net 
διερρήσσετο: IPI 3s,

7 καὶ κατένευσαν τοῖς μετόχοις ἐν τῷ ἑτέρῳ πλοίῳ τοῦ ἐλθόντας 
συλλαβέσθαι αὐτοῖς: καὶ ἦλθον, καὶ ἔπλησαν ἀμφότερα τὰ πλοῖα ὥστε 
βυθίζεσθαι αὐτά. 
And they signaled to their partners in the other boat which had come to haul with them; and they came, and they filled both boats so that they began to sink.
κατένευσαν: AAI 3p, κατανεύω, 1) to nod to, make a sign  2) to indicate to another by a nod or sign what one wishes him to do 
ἐλθόντας: AAPart apm, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come
συλλαβέσθαι: AMInf, συλλαμβάνω, 1) to take together, to enclose in the hands; to take or seize altogether, enclose and take, to take with, to help.
ἦλθον: AAI 3p, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come
ἔπλησαν: AAI 3p, πίμπλημι, to fill, fill up.
βυθίζεσθαι: PPInf, βυθίζω, 1) to plunge into the deep, to sink
1. I cannot help but to see Jesus just laughing uproariously at these fishers, scrambling to get the nets in the boats, signaling for help, caught between being amazed and being too busy to be amazed.
2. The term μετόχοις “partners” is new to me. It shows up in Luke here, and in the letter to the Hebrews 5x. It is often translated ‘partakers.’
3. The ridiculously successful haul of fish, especially after these same fishers had toiled all night and caught nothing, is a sign of abundance.

8 ἰδὼν δὲ Σίμων Πέτρος προσέπεσεν τοῖς γόνασιν Ἰησοῦ λέγων, Ἔξελθε ἀπ' 
ἐμοῦ, ὅτι ἀνὴρ ἁμαρτωλός εἰμι, κύριε: 
And having seen/understood, Simon Peter fell on his knees saying to Jesus, “Go away from me, because I am a sinner, Lord;”
ἰδὼν: AAPart nsm, ὁράω, 1) to see with the eyes  2) to see with the mind, to perceive, know 
προσέπεσεν: AAI 3s, προσπίπτω, 1) to fall forwards, fall down, prostrate one's self before,  in homage or supplication: at one's feet 
λέγων: PAPart nsm, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak 
Ἔξελθε: AAImpv 2s, ἐξέρχομαι, 1) to go or come forth of
εἰμι: PAI 1s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present 
1. Something about Simon Peter seeing/understanding the meaning of the great haul of fish leads him to see his own sinfulness with astonishing clarity. This verse is reminiscent of John Calvin’s claim that corresponding with seeing God’s glory is also an awareness of human sinfulness.
2. It would be interesting to know what Simon means when he calls himself a ‘sinner.’ Whatever Simon has in mind by this statement does not deter Jesus from calling him to become a fisher of people. Jesus does not tell him to repent; He does not tell him to go and sin no more; he does not tell him to sell all that he has. Simon says that he is a sinner and Jesus calls him to become a fisher of people. Boom.

9 θάμβος γὰρ περιέσχεν αὐτὸν καὶ πάντας τοὺς σὺν αὐτῷ ἐπὶ τῇ ἄγρᾳ τῶν 
ἰχθύων ὧν συνέλαβον, 
For amazement surrounded him and all those who were with him at the catch of fish which they hauled.
περιέσχεν: AAI 3s, περιέχω, 1) to surround, encompass, to seize
συνέλαβον:  AAI 3p, συλλαμβάνω, 1) to seize, take: one as prisoner 
1. θάμβος can be an adjective (amazed) or a noun (amazement). I am reading it as a noun, and since it is in the nominative case, as the subject of this phrase, “For amazement seized him.” Many translations treat περιέσχεν (see definitions above) as if it means ‘to be’, rendering it “he was astonished” (KJV) or “he and all who were with him were amazed” (NRSV).

10 ὁμοίως δὲ καὶ Ἰάκωβον καὶ Ἰωάννην υἱοὺς Ζεβεδαίου, οἳ ἦσαν κοινωνοὶ τῷ 
Σίμωνι. καὶ εἶπεν πρὸς τὸν Σίμωνα Ἰησοῦς, Μὴ φοβοῦ: ἀπὸ τοῦ νῦν ἀνθρώπους ἔσῃ ζωγρῶν.
And likewise also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were companions of Simon.  And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not fear; from now on you be catching people.
ἦσαν: IAI 3p, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present 
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak  1a) affirm over, maintain 
φοβοῦ: PMImpv 2s,
ἔσῃ: FMI 2s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
ζωγρῶν: PAPart nsm, ζωγρέω, 1) to take alive  2) to take, catch, capture
1. In this verse, Luke uses κοινωνοὶ (companions) and not μετόχοις (partners) to name the relationship between Simon, James, and John.
2. This cannot be an exhaustive list, since the crews of both boats were plural. Maybe P,J,&J were the boat owners, and others the hired hands. Maybe they were the boat users and other the temp hands. I don’t know enough about the Galilean fishing industry to know. But, I do wear a way cool Greek Fishing Hat during the winter!
3. James and John were ‘likewise also,’ surrounded by amazement at the haul of fish. But, of course, that is redundant because v.9 already said that everyone with Simon was surrounded by amazement. I can only guess that James and John were, perhaps, in the other boat and the referents of v.9 were those in Simon’s boat. Or, that they are lifted up because they will figure more prominently in the remainder of Luke’s story than the other, unnamed people present.
4. “Do not fear.” We’ve heard this phrase in Luke before – in the Christmas story repeatedly. It is the assurance that is often given when on realizes the presence of the holy and it often comes when one is amazed (θάμβος, v.10).
5. “From now on you will catch people.” I wonder if Luke is remembering this declaration in Acts, when he makes occasional reference to the ‘thousands’ or ‘many’ that were saved/added to the church on various occasions. The kind of abundance signaled in this story stands in a paradoxical relationship to the kind of scarcity of disciples in many other of Luke’s stories.

 11 καὶ καταγαγόντες τὰ πλοῖα ἐπὶ τὴν γῆν ἀφέντες πάντα ἠκολούθησαν 
And when they had brought the boats to the land, they left all and followed him. 
καταγαγόντες: AAPart npm, κατάγω, 1) to lead down, bring down  2) to bring the vessel from deep water to the land
ἀφέντες: AAPart npm, ἀφίημι, 1) to send away  1a) to bid going away or depart
ἠκολούθησαν: AAI 3p, ἀκολουθέω, 1) to follow one who precedes, join him as his attendant,  accompany him
1. Robert Scharlemann has written very insightfully about what he calls “acolouthetic reason,” based on the word for “follow” here. He argues that it is a different kind of reasoning than what has long been defined as knowing, doing, and feeling in the areas of philosophy, ethic, and aesthetics. Acolouthetic reason is immediate, non-reflective reason when the call elicits a response not mediated by weighing the cost or considering the options. The costs and the options come, in time, but the call and response is prior to that, not a result of it. I find Scharlemann’s argument very similar to what Schleiermacher called “the feeling of absolute dependence,” which is prior to knowing and doing.
2. A part of me hopes that there was at least one hard-hearted sinner among the fishers, to deal with two boatloads of fish and not to let them just sit there and rot. Yuck!


  1. Amazement: This word reminded of the Pentecost story in Acts. The fullness of the fish in the nets and the fullness of the gifts of tongues has a similar quality about it.

    Simon's response to Jesus: My pastor suggested an interpretation that had been in my mind, as well, that Simon's initial response was actually one of sarcastic compliance. "Oh you think you should put out again? Well, we WERE just out all night and caught nothing, but what do I know, it's not like I've spent my whole adult life fishing or anything; YOU think we should go out again, so clearly YOUR opinion is what matters," etc, etc. Such an interpretation is quite believable to me, and also better explains Peter's confession of sin than mere disbelief.

    I didn't notice till you pointed it out, but I *love* the fact that Jesus calls him to his ministry immediately upon his self-identification as a sinner. It says to me that simply being aware that you are a sinner is the necessary and sufficient condition to participate in the work of the Reign. (I'm coming from a mimetic theory standpoint here, where everything is about patterns of desire.)

    What happened to the fish? Oh, I never wondered about that before! I think they must have been left for anyone who wanted or needed them: a little sign of the Jubilee, when all crops must be left as public property, transposed into piscine terms. :)

  2. I really appreciate the way you've taken the abundance of the catch of fish and made it a "free fish" day! The abundance of Pentecost is a nice contribution.
    Thanks for chiming in.


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