Below is a rough translation and some initial comments regarding Luke 5:1-11, the Revised Common Lectionary’s Gospel Reading for the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany. Your comments are always welcomed.
1Ἐγένετο δὲ ἐν τῷ τὸν ὄχλον ἐπικεῖσθαι αὐτῷ καὶ ἀκούειν τὸν λόγον τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ αὐτὸς ἦν ἑστὼς παρὰ τὴν λίμνην Γεννησαρέτ,
Yet in the becoming the crowd to press against him and to hear the word of God 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 woodenly, which means that it is awkward and needs some refining for a final translation. One translation challenge is how to begin the verse. One possibility is to begin with the imperfect verb ἦν (to be) and the perfect participle ἑστὼς (to place), 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 (to become), which it translates quite often as “It came to pass.” And then there is the postpositive conjunction δὲ, used throughout this pericope in various ways. [“Postpositive” means that it is often in the second position but is translated in the first position. So, even though it usually appears as the second word in Greek, it is usually translated as the first word in English.] δὲ could be translated “Then,” “But,” or “And” as a way of connecting or contrasting a thought to a previous thought. The connection is lost in the NRSV’s choice of “Once ...” which makes the timing of this story random. I typically translate δὲ as “yet” in the rough translation, in order to keep it more neutral than ‘and’ or ‘but.’
2. Additionally, the only noun in the nominative case here is αὐτὸς (he). The nominative case usually indicates the subject of the sentence. In this verse, it appears quite late and corresponds with the 3rd person singular ἦν (was). The verbs ἐπικεῖσθαι and ἀκούειν are in the infinitive mood, so “to press” and “to hear.” And τὸν ὄχλον (the crowd) is in the accusative case, which would normally be the object of a verb. Luke's complex and excellent Greek is challenging for those of us with rudimentary skills.
3. The phrase “Word of God” may appear normal and customary to Christian people today, but it is not as normally or customarily used in the gospels as we may assume. At most, it appears once in Matthew – in 15:6 – but it is contested as some manuscripts have “law of God” and others “commandment of God”; it appears once in Mark (7:13); and once in John (5:35). Luke has it four times – here, 8:11, 8:21, and 11:28. The book of Acts has it 12 times.
2 καὶ εἶδεν δύο πλοῖα ἑστῶτα παρὰ τὴν λίμνην: οἱ δὲ ἁλιεῖς ἀπ' αὐτῶν
ἀποβάντες ἔπλυνον τὰ δίκτυα.
And he saw two boats having stood 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 “stood” is not easy to translate, especially because it is active and not passive. It is the same verb used in v.1 to describe Jesus’ position next to the lake. For a boat, I would typically say “moored” but I’m going for consistency.
3 ἐμβὰς δὲ εἰς ἓν τῶν πλοίων, ὃ 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.
3. What an interesting scenario here, with the lake and a boat as the makeshift place for Jesus to sit and teach, as opposed to the synagogue in Nazareth where he did the same. I could almost stop with this verse and imagine this text as a way of reframing what holy space looks like, or what a church of the people can be. By the way, unlike in the Synagogue, there is no scroll of Isaiah for Jesus to read, yet he can still teach. Hmm…
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: AAImpv 2p, χαλάω, 1) to loosen, slacken, relax 2) to let down from a higher place to a lower
1. Oh, now he’s meddling.
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” (Ἐπιστάτα) – Only Luke uses this term and he uses it 7 times, 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, perhaps related to the healing of 4:38-39. And it is reasonable to assume that at Jesus’ request in v.3 Simon moved from being outside of the boat, cleaning his nets, to guiding it offshore for Jesus to teach, with the nets on board.
2. The livelihood of fishing depended on the meticulous activity, at the end of the day, of keeping nets clean - removing corrosives and gunk, mending, and drying, ready to be used again on the next day. It is no small thing that a fisher like Simon, after doing this kind of finishing 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,
1. The language has changed from the singular Simon to “they.”
7 καὶ κατένευσαν τοῖς μετόχοις ἐν τῷ ἑτέρῳ πλοίῳ τοῦ ἐλθόντας
συλλαβέσθαι αὐτοῖς: καὶ ἦλθον, καὶ ἔπλησαν ἀμφότερα τὰ πλοῖα ὥστε
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, seems to be a sign of abundance. In itself, this amazing event seems kind of mundane – perhaps not to the fishers who depend on their catch for their livelihood, but relative to healing, exorcising, or raising the dead it seems to be a small thing. So, is it asking for an allegory?
4. I don't generally look for allegorical meanings in stories, even amazing stories of healings, exorcisms, or miracles, because allegory seems to go off the rails and become a way of making the Scriptures say what we want them to say. But, I also try to be self-conscious about assuming in stories that Jesus is a magical figure who is "fully divine" in the sense of knowing everything, reading minds, and doing hocusy pocusy things, simply because he can. So, here is a challenge. A carpenter like Jesus tells seasoned fishers like Simon et al, to drop their nets after a fruitless night of already doing so and, boom!, more fish than one can imagine! Is this magic Jesus? Is this allegorical Luke?
5. In terms of source criticism, the other synoptic gospels do not have this story. The post-resurrection addendum of John 21 has a similar story of Jesus calling from the shore for the fishers to drop their nets on the right side of the boat and, again, more fish than one can imagine. And, again, Simon is the chief respondent to the event. My suspicion is that this is the same story - perhaps popular among fishing communities - and that is it employed in different ways by Luke and John.
6. For me, before the topic changes to Simon's response in the next verse, I need to stop long enough here to consider how telling a story like this plays into Luke's narrative, his theology, and my own understanding of who Jesus is. Particularly as this text comes during the season of Epiphany, when the church looks for manifestations of Christ, I have to ask myself what, exactly, is being made manifest here?
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. This verse also seems to indicate that this great haul has meaning beyond a lot of fish in a net. Perhaps what Simon Peter sees is nothing more than that Jesus just did something marvelous, so he must be more than just a compelling teacher. Or, perhaps Simon sees a glimpse of glory behind the haul.
3. 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.
4. Luke uses the word ἁμαρτωλός (sinner/s) 18x, much more than the other gospels. Sinners are people with whom Jesus eats and drinks (and is criticized for doing so), they are called, sometimes they repent, sometimes they seem to be notorious, and it was by the hands of “sinful men” that Jesus was put to death.
5. And just a side note, to follow up on v.7, n.5: In John's c.21 story, the great catch is followed eating, then the conversation where Jesus asks Simon 3 times, "Simon, do you love me?"
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). Here it is a noun, and since it is in the nominative case, as the subject of this phrase, “For amazement seized him and all who were with him.” This is the same verb used in 4:36, naming the crowd’s reaction to Jesus commanding unclean spirits to leave their victim. I think the word only refers to amazement, without necessarily indicating whether that amazement is compelling or repelling. “Amazed” often sounds compelling, while “astounded” can sound repelling. I’m not sure if the word itself carries either meaning or if the nature of the response indicates whether this is a positive or negative reaction. Since the “for” indicates that this amazement is the reason Simon told Jesus to leave him, it remains ambiguous – similar to how Rudolph Otto describe the mysterium tremendum et fascinans as both a compelling and repelling mystery of the numinous.
2. θάμβος is different from the reaction of the Nazareth synagogue crowd in 4: 22, which is the verb θαυμάζω. I do not know how Greek readers would understand to be the difference.
3. 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). The subject of this sentence is “amazement,” the verb is "surrounded" or "seized" and the object of the verb is “him.” I think a smooth translation should be something like, "Amazement captivated him ..."
10 ὁμοίως δὲ καὶ Ἰάκωβον καὶ Ἰωάννην υἱοὺς Ζεβεδαίου, οἳ ἦσαν κοινωνοὶ τῷ
Σίμωνι. καὶ εἶπεν πρὸς τὸν ΣίμωναὁἸησοῦς, 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 there were crews in both boats. Maybe Simon, James, and John were the boat owners, and others the hired hands. Maybe they were the boat users and other the temp hands. Or, maybe they are just the ones who factor into Luke’s story by name later.
3. I don’t know enough about the Galilean fishing industry to know how it works, but I do wear a way cool Greek Fishing Hat during the winter! KC Hanson knows a lot about that industry and you can read about it here. Hanson notes,
Both the physical and social geographies of Galilee are heavily impacted by an inland waterway known by various names in antiquity, but most commonly as the Sea of Galilee. This body of water is currently approximately 7 miles wide and 12.5 miles long, but the dimensions may have been slightly different in antiquity (Freyne 1992:900; Josephus, War 3.506). The importance of fish in Palestinian society is signaled by several geographical names (Wuellner 1967:28-33). Jerusalem had a "fish gate" (Neh 3:3). The capital of Gaulanitus was Bethsaida ("Fishing Village" or "Temple of the Fish-God"), located on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee (Mark 6:45). And the Greek name for the town of Magdala on the western shore of Galilee was Tarichaeae ("Processed-Fishville").
4. 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’sboat. Or, again, that they are lifted up because they will figure more prominently in the remainder of Luke’s story than the other, unnamed people present.
5. “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).
6. “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” (ἀκολουθέω). 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! And, of course, later perhaps this person could come around and follow Jesus.
3. As a child we would sing in church, “I will make you fishers of men,” demonstrating that we knew our Bible and embraced non-inclusive gender language. But, while singing we would gesture as if we were casting our line with a rod and reel. It was fine, a nice children’s moment and I probably benefitted from those kinds of songs more than I realize. But, it also fed into a kind of “personal evangelism” model that I was taught, since I knew full well that casting a line from a rod meant catching one fish at a time, two at the most (since we usually baited two hooks on our line when we went fishing.) It would have been a little more accurate narratively to gesture throwing a dragnet into the water, just as it might have been more accurate to imagine evangelism as more of a movement, a group phenomenon, calling a people to turn around and participate in the Reign of God at hand, rather than a personalized approach. Even here, as Jesus is addressing Simon, James and John are parts of the response. I think the intensely personal approach to evangelism and faith are how American individualism invites us to read, hear, and gesture these stories.