Fishing for Men: Calling Jesus’s Disciples

7 minute read

This post is part of the series “Fishing for Men”

  1. Fishing for Men: Naming Jesus’s Disciples

  2. Fishing for Men: Calling Jesus’s Disciples 👈 you are here

Now that we know Jesus’s disciples names, let’s look at where they all came from1.

We tend to think of Jesus’s disciples as fishermen; after all, several of them were fishermen, and Jesus says he will make them “fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19, Mark 1:17, Luke 5:10). But He called twelve disciples, and not all of them had the same backstory.

Let’s quickly distinguish between the disciples I’m talking about here and the many, many people who followed Jesus throughout His life. These are the twelve whom Jesus specifically named apostles (Matthew 10:2, Mark 3:14, Luke 6:13). The gospels consistently refer to “the twelve” separately from the other disciples2. We know from Luke 10:1 there were at least seventy-two people He trusted to go ahead of Him, but these twelve were separate even from those. Unlike so many people through the gospels, these twelve get names.

With that out of the way, let’s get going.

Simon and Andrew

Matthew 4:21–22; Mark 1:19–20; Luke 5:1–11; John 1:35–42

Jesus calls Simon and his brother Andrew at the same time. He has already begun his preaching career, and he finds himself speaking to a huge crowd by the Sea of Galilee. The custom in those days was for the teacher to sit and his audience to stand, but sitting on the shore would ensure only that nobody could see or hear.

Jesus sees a couple of fishing boats, and he asks if they would put out into the lake and let Him teach from there. The fishermen are a little perturbed, as they’ve had a bad night of fishing and caught only a few scrawny fish—they’re still working, and this guy wants to use their boat for teaching!

But they let Him anyway, and afterward He thanks them by having them let down their nets once more. They haul up a catch so enormous it starts to capsize their boat, and they have to call over to the other boat Jesus had seen. While they stand amazed, Jesus says, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

They do, and He does.

John, of course, tells the story differently. In his telling, Simon and Andrew were disciples of John the Baptist. John sees Jesus walking toward him one day and exclaims, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” The next day, Andrew and another man are standing with John when John sees Jesus again and repeats, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” Andrew and the other disciple immediately follow Jesus, but Andrew also goes to get his brother Simon to tell him they had found the Messiah. We never learn who the other man, one of Jesus’s first two disciples, is.

John reminds us that Simon and Andrew are from Bethsaida in Galilee.

James and John, Sons of Zebedee

Matthew 4:21–22; Mark 1:19–20; Luke 5:1–11

James and John are the men in the other fishing boat, the ones Simon and Andrew had to call over to help with the miraculous massive daytime catch. It seems the four were frequent partners, and since they all witness the miracle and hear Jesus’s call, they all drop everything to follow Him.

Philip and Bartholomew

John 1:43–51

Having called Andrew and Simon (John 1:35–42), Jesus goes to Galilee, finds Philip as if He were there just to look for him (maybe He was), and says, “Follow me.” Philip, like Andrew, understands that Jesus is the one prophesied, and he goes to tell Nathanael (Bartholomew3).

When Nathanael arrives, Jesus says something remarkable: “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” Jesus variously commends the disciples, but he also rebukes them. Here, he declares that “there is no deceit” in Nathanael—high praise indeed from the Lord of Truth.

John also tells us that Philip, like Simon and Andrew, is from Bethsaida.


We never get a specific origin story for Thomas; he is first called out in the lists of names when Jesus calls the twelve (Matthew 10:2, Mark 3:14, Luke 6:13).


Matthew 9:9, Mark 2:14, Luke 5:27–28

Jesus is in Nazareth after being run out of the country of the Gadarenes due to the whole demon-pig incident (Matthew 8:28–34), and he sees Matthew at work (“sitting in a tax booth”). He simply calls, “Follow me,” and Matthew follows.

We learn from Mark that Matthew is also known as Levi, and his father’s name is Alphaeus, which will become important in two seconds.

James, Son of Alphaeus

James, like Thomas, never gets an origin story. But unlike Thomas, we know who his father was: Alphaeus, also the name of Matthew/Levi’s father. So we can guess that James is Matthew’s brother, and probably he was called the same way as Simon/Andrew, James/John, and Philip/Bartholomew: enthusiastic one-on-one evangelism!


Thaddaeus, also called Judas and Lebbaeus3, also never gets an origin story. However, we can infer a little bit about him.

We learn that he is the “son of James” (Luke 6:16, Acts 1:13), but he may actually have been the brother of James and the son of [drum roll] Mary and Joseph! How the heck did we get there?

Well, “Judas” sounds a lot like “Jude”, and there’s a book of Jude in the New Testament in which the author calls himself “Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James.” (Jude 1:1) The author clearly thinks that’s enough to identify himself, and there’s a very, very famous James who has his own New Testament book: the half-brother of Jesus, one of Joseph and Mary’s biological children (see Matthew 13:55 and Mark 6:3 for other siblings of Jesus). It would make sense that Jude the apostle wrote the book of Jude, but that means there has to be a Jude the apostle, so that must be Thaddaeus.

One possible reason the gospels call him Thaddaeus instead of Judas would be to avoid any confusion with Judas Iscariot, the betrayer—I imagine it would be a lot like people named Adolf in the years following the conclusion of World War II or people named Alexa following the introduction of the Amazon device. It’s your name, but suddenly its associations make it unpalatable, so you start going by something else.

Simon the Zealot

Simon never gets an origin story, but of all the disciples, only Simon gets an explicit political affiliation. The Zealots were a Jewish political movement aiming to overthrow the Roman occupation of Judea.

It makes me wonder how Simon, who wanted to violently overthrow the Roman government, and Matthew, who was literally employed by the Roman government, got along. Jesus is big on knocking down walls and flipping the world on its head.

Judas Iscariot

Judas Iscariot never gets an origin story; you can imagine why the authors didn’t want to spend too much time on how he first met Jesus.

But we learn a little; “Iscariot” may be a reference either to his home town (Kerioth) or to a group of Jewish assassins known as the Sicarii. In the latter case, Judas Iscariot would also be a member of the Zealots along with Simon the Zealot.

Getting to Delight

Why do we care where the disciples came from?

Picture these initial meetings. What would it be like to meet Jesus? Would you recognize Him immediately as the Messiah, the prophesied One? Would you be skeptical? Would you just see another face in the crowd? If a crazy man said, “Follow me,” would you drop everything and follow? Or would you be the one saying, “I have to go do something first. I’ll follow when it’s convenient for me.”?

Reading about the disciples’ first meetings with Jesus puts us in their shoes.

We also care because of the differences among them: four fishermen, two random dudes from Bethsaida, a tax collector working for Rome and his brother, possibly one of Jesus’s half-brothers, one or two extreme political activists, and Thomas.

That’s four dirty, smelly, atrociously poor laborers; two average Joes; two relatively well-off folks; a sibling of the Son of God; a pair of terrorists… and Thomas. And Jesus says to each, “Follow me.” And they don’t just follow; they do it together.

Let’s knock down some walls.

  1. This question—where each disciple came from—is what I was originally trying to answer when I got sidetracked by the different lists of disciples

  2. Matthew 10:1,2,5; Matthew 11:1; Matthew 19:28; Matthew 20:17; Matthew 26:14,20,47; Mark 4:10; Mark 6:7; Mark 9:35; Mark 10:32; Mark 11:11; Mark 14:10,17,20,43; Luke 8:1; Luke 9:1,12; Luke 18:31; Luke 22:3,47; John 6:67,70,71; John 20:24 

  3. Confused? Read about the names of the disciples 2

This post is part of the series “Fishing for Men”

  1. Fishing for Men: Naming Jesus’s Disciples

  2. Fishing for Men: Calling Jesus’s Disciples 👈 you are here