The call of the first disciples: A literary and redactional study of Luke 5:1-11

James C Polich, Fordham University


Researchers of the Third Gospel have long recognized that the narrative of Peter's call at Luke 5:11-11 combines three distinct traditions: the introduction (vv. 1-4a) derives from Mark 4:1; the story of the great catch of fish (vv. 4b-9) comes from Luke's special source; the call of the disciples (vv. 10-11) is based on Mark 1:16-20. Most scholars agree that the story of the great catch roots Peter's call in an epiphany-miracle which reveals Jesus' power as Lord and symbolizes the disciples' commission to "catch" men and women for the kingdom. Yet there has been little attention to the strange singular-plural alternation in Greek verbs and participles of vv. 5-11. This numerical shift reveals Luke's attempt to make Peter a central figure in a story which originally featured a plurality of personnel. Luke's alternation of verbal number enables him to spotlight Peter (singular verbs), while at the same time incorporating other disciples as respondents to Jesus' commission (plural verbs). This dissertation tests the thesis that Luke 5:1-11's shift of emphasis, from the disciples at large to Peter and back to the disciples, comprises the normative portrait of Peter in Luke-Acts. The singular-plural shift of emphasis accounts for the awkward insertion of James and John in the catch-story of Luke 5:1-11 and is especially apparent in redacted Marcan passages (cf. Luke 8:45 (diff. Mark 5:31); 9:32 (diff. Mark (9:4); 22:8 (diff. Mark 14:13); 22:55,58,60-61 (comp. Mark 14:66-72)) as well as in Luke 22:31-34; 24:12,24. The same alternating pattern obtains in the Acts of the Apostles. At Pentecost Peter stands "with the Eleven," and the plural we of his discourses implies all the apostles' involvement in a total evangelizing venture (Acts 2:32; 3:15; 4:9; 5:29,32; 10:39,41-42). Luke also portrays the miracles in Acts as the collaborative effort of all the apostles, not as an isolated Petrine function. Luke's Petrine portrait reveals Peter in solidarity with the apostolic circle. Luke-Acts does not enthrone Peter as the Prince of the Apostles but limits his authority to a unique, unrepeatable function in the post-Easter church. The alternating, singular-plural pattern, first developed in Luke 5:1-11 and applied consistently throughout Luke-Acts, is the means by which Luke successfully balances Peter's centrality with the collegiality of the apostolic community.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Polich, James C, "The call of the first disciples: A literary and redactional study of Luke 5:1-11" (1991). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9127043.