Are the stories in the Bible straightforward reporting of fact? It is possible that there is no such thing.
Hopefully most readers (and movie viewers) understand that the way you tell a story shapes the message. That is, the same events can be told by different storytellers and different morals and themes can be emphasized. Everyone reporting an event or telling a story must choose things like what to include and exclude, what order to tell it in, what parts to emphasize, and how to comment on the story beyond simple reporting.
The call of the first disciples is a perfect example of the difference the storytelling can make. You’d almost think Mark and the Fourth Gospel are telling of completely different events.
Mark and John have very different versions of the calling of the initial disciples. It is not that the two ways of telling the story cannot be harmonized (they can, in basic outline). It is, rather, that they give different backgrounds and make different points. In John, the initial call story is about evidence for the exalted identity of Yeshua. In Mark, the initial call story is about Yeshua’s dramatic authority and the model of disciples leaving all kinships and vocations to follow.
Most readers are more familiar with the story as told in Mark and followed in Matthew and Luke. It is about Yeshua coming to the Lake in Galilee and saying to Andrew and Simon, “Come with me and I will make you catchers of men.” He then goes to another place on the lake and says to James and John, sons of Zebedee, and calls them away from their boat.
Mark has just narrated the message of Yeshua that the kingdom of God is drawing near and people should repent and believe. Mark is just about to show Yeshua on a mission to heal and defeat demonic powers. The call of the disciples comes in between.
People in a synagogue are about to be astounded in Mark’s account by the strange authority with which Yeshua speaks. His authority forces demonic powers to listen. It drives out illness and disability. It declares the kingdom with certainty. This Yeshua knows and has miraculous authority to back up his knowledge.
So, when Yeshua says to a person, “Follow me,” it has an authority than cannot be denied. You can bet that Mark wants his contemporaries, the people in his time a generation after Yeshua, to know that authority.
I have argued elsewhere that Mark’s gospel presents Yeshua in a way that speaks both to the Jewish and Greco-Roman world. Mark’s thesis is in the first verse of his gospel: the beginning of the gospel of Messiah Yeshua, the Son of God. Roman emperors were referred to as sons of deity. To Jewish ears, Son of God suggested Davidic kingship quite possibly.
Mark is saying to his generation, “The actual Son of God calls you to expand your idea of vocation and kinship. Do not cling to your family and job. Serve the real king.”
The story in the Fourth Gospel is quite different. It starts during the career of John the Baptist. The Baptist bears witness to the identity of the True Light, that all might believe in him. The Baptist proclaims the Coming One who is much greater. The Baptist points to Yeshua and cries out that he is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
Then, in 1:35 and following, the Baptist points Yeshua out specifically to two disciples. One of them is Andrew. The other is not named. Some speculate that the other is John, son of Zebedee.
Andrew then goes to his brother, Simon also called Peter, and tells him about Yeshua. Andrew and Peter have a powerful encounter with Yeshua.
Next, Yeshua goes into Galilee and finds Philip. Philip is from the same small town as Andrew and Peter. All the personal relationships are connected. Then Philip finds Nathanael and the circle grows.
We find in the Fourth Gospel that the Baptist’s work was still going on in the early days of Yeshua’s work. The Baptist’s disciples worry that all the disciples are now going over to Yeshua. The Baptist explains that this is fitting, that he must decrease and the Coming One increase.
So, in the Fourth Gospel, the formation of Yeshua’s disciple group is an outgrowth of the work of John the Baptist. The prophetic movement of the Baptist is passing to a new and greater teacher. And the disciples who come to Yeshua have already learned from the Baptist who Yeshua is.
The Fourth Gospel emphasizes the exalted identity of Yeshua. Mark emphasizes the authority of Yeshua. The Fourth Gospel waxes long about the mysterious transcendence of the Son. The gospel of Mark shows rather than tells and shows Yeshua commanding illness and evil to flee.
So, in the Fourth Gospel, the disciples are drawn to Yeshua by what? They are drawn by their knowledge of who he is.
And in Mark, the disciples are drawn by what? They are drawn by his irresistible authority.
Now the two version can be basically reconciled. There are some difficulties to work out. When did Yeshua’s group start baptizing and how long did they continue? Did Yeshua’s movement start in Judea or Galilee? Reconciling the two accounts is not without problems.
But we can suggest that when Yeshua came to the Lake of Galilee, Andrew and Peter already knew Yeshua. They responded as they did because of who Yeshua was. But Mark did not wish to emphasize this aspect. He emphasized the equally valid perspective that Yeshua’s authoritative call persuaded them. The one who speaks and demons listen also calls people to lay aside their interests and join in the work.
Those of us who are predisposed, unlike historians and secular biblical scholars, to take the reporting in all four gospels as true stories, can see how they may be reconciled.
Yet even so, we can see how the same events can be made to serve different messages. And for those of us who accept both messages, we can see more than one reason to be disciples. We follow because we are persuaded Yeshua is the True Light who will conquer the darkness. And we follow because Yeshua is the One with all authority, who will dispel the forces of evil and suffering. Following him in the Fourth Gospel means knowing who he is and through him having union with God. Following him in Mark means joining in the work of defeating evil and suffering.