Mark 1:17 Commentary | Fishers of People

Mark Commentary

Mark 1:17 Text & Translation

17 καὶ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Δεῦτε ὀπίσω μου, καὶ ποιήσω ὑμᾶς γενέσθαι ἁλιεῖς ἀνθρώπων.1

And Jesus said to them, “Come, [follow] after Me! And I will make you to be fishers of people.“ (Mk 1:17, AT)


The Greek text literally says, “Come, after me!”  Metaphorically, this of course refers to following Jesus as His disciple.2

Albeit with different Greek words,3follow me” occurs frequently in the Gospels as the typical call/summons to Christian discipleship (cf. Mk 2:14; Jn 21:19, 22;4 Mk 1:20; 2:14, 15; 3:7; 5:24; 6:1; 8:34; Mk 9:38, NRSV; 10:21, 28, 32, 52; 15:41).5

Discipleship entails both the imitation of6 and servitude to7 their Master8 in “fulltime ‘apprenticeship’”.9

Many of us have played the game, “Follow the Leader”. As you may recall, the leader walks in front while everyone else imitates them.

Similarly, Jesus calls Simon and Andrew to “be with him and learn what he teaches and do what he does (cf. [Mk 3:14]).”10 They will not merely sit in a classroom and learn abstract concepts.

They need to learn not only to understand Christ’s teaching, but to exemplify Christ’s teaching. As we’ve said, there’s a difference between belief that and belief in.

Following — an action verb — entails not merely agreeing, but imitating.

OT Fishing

In the Old Testament, there are several passages where we read of people being fished (Jer 16:16, Ezek 29:4-5;11 Hab 1:14-15)12. However, the metaphor is always negative and/or about divine judgment (cf. Jer 16:16; Am 4:2;13 Eze 38:4 cf. Mt 13:47-50;14 Eze 47:1015

For example, in Habakkuk we read:

You have made people like the fish in the sea, like the sea creatures that have no ruler. The wicked foe pulls all of them up with hooks, he catches them in his net, he gathers them up in his dragnet; and so he rejoices and is glad. (Hab 1:14-15, NIV)16

Here, the Babylonians (Hab 1:6f.) rejoice as they exile the people of Judah from the Promised Land — metaphorically catching them in a fishing net and dragging them off to a foreign land.

In Amos, through the prophet, the LORD says:

The Sovereign LORD has sworn by his holiness: “The time will surely come when you will be taken away with hooks, the last of you with fishhooks. (Amos 4:2, NIV)

Here, the exile of Israel (Amos 4:5, 12) — due to their lack of repentance (Amos 4:9, 10) — is being depicted as God’s people being fished out of their land.

In Ezekiel, we find:

3 Speak to him and say: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: “ ‘I am against you, Pharaoh king of Egypt, you great monster lying among your streams. You say, “The Nile belongs to me; I made it for myself.” 4 But I will put hooks in your jaws and make the fish of your streams stick to your scales. I will pull you out from among your streams, with all the fish sticking to your scales. 5 I will leave you in the desert, you and all the fish of your streams. You will fall on the open field and not be gathered or picked up. I will give you as food to the beasts of the earth and the birds of the sky. (Eze 29:3-5, NIV)17

Here, the LORD again uses the fishing metaphor to announce divine judgment.

We’ve discussed how fishermen near the Sea of Galilee in the first century often had a booming business. But, in the Old Testament, being a fisherman for people was apparently bad news.

In Jeremiah 16, the LORD says:

16 I am now sending for many fishermen, says the LORD, and they shall catch them; and afterward I will send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain and every hill, and out of the clefts of the rocks. 17 For my eyes are on all their ways; they are not hidden from my presence, nor is their iniquity concealed from my sight. 18 And I will doubly repay their iniquity and their sin, because they have polluted my land with the carcasses of their detestable idols, and have filled my inheritance with their abominations. (Jer 16:16-18, NRSV)18

Once again, the LORD uses a fishing metphor to convey how — because of their sins — He will “hurl” His people out of the Promised Land (Jer 16:13, NRSV)

So, in the Old Testament, fishing for people is not the most pleasant of metaphors. In light of this background, what does Jesus mean when He tells the disciples that they will be fishers of people?

NT Fishing

It is not impossible that the fishing Jesus calls Simon and Andrew to do also involves divine judgment (cf. Mk 6:11).19 But, in this context, there seems to be a more positive connotation20 (but see Mt 13:47-50).

This fishing could refer to rescuing people from judgment21 – not for judgment.22

Waters were often seen as symbols of evil and chaos (cf. Ps 74:13) or “the underworld, the place of sin and death”.23 Fishing people out of chaotic waters means salvation.

Nonetheless, fishing usually ends with fish being caught, cooked, and eaten. So, it’s important not to press the metaphor too far.

Fishing for/catching people likely means bringing people into the kingdom of God,24 rescuing them from the “kingdom of darkness”.25

Once fish are caught, their lives are changed forever,26 they “cannot go on as before”.27

Perhaps this is even an image of the old self dying and becoming new in Christ (Rom 6:1-11;28 esp. Rom 6:3, 4, 5-7f. cf. 2 Cor 5:17).

In any case, as He often does,29 Jesus uses familiar vocabulary and gives it new meaning.30

Go Fish

Leaving their past behind, the disciples are commanded to be completely dedicated to Christ31 – proclaiming the arrival/nearness of the Kingdom/reign of God and the necessity of “radical repentance”.32

Jesus will train them to be fishers of people – “a hard species of creature to catch”.33 And this will be a “slow and painful” process (cf. Mk 8:14-21, 13:13, 14:37, 14:50).34

The disciples do not always understand (Mk 8:17, 18, 21), they will be hated by everyone (Mk 13:13), they will fall asleep on the job (Mk 14:37), and eventually desert their Master (Mk 14:50).35

Thus, as we go fishing for people — preaching repentance (Mk 6:12) and faith in the Gospel (Mk 1:15) — let’s not be discouraged if it takes us some time to figure things out.

And let’s not be surprised when we face opposition (2 Tim 3:12; Rom 8:17; Ac 14:22). We’re not greater than Jesus; if they hated our Master, will they not hate His servants (cf. Jn 15:18-20; Mt 10:24-25)?

Paradoxically, Paul calls suffering for the Lord grace (Php 1:29)! And he would know (cf. 2 Cor 11:24-28)! Jesus and James say it’s cause for joy (Mt 5:11-12; Jas 1:2-4; cf. Ac 5:41-42; Rom 5:3-5, 1 Pet 4:13)!

But that’s a topic for another day. At this point, suffice it to say that though Simon and Andrew may have had a good business, now they will be about God’s business!

Let’s be about God’s business, as well! Go Fish!


Simon and Andrew were fishers of fish; Jesus calls them to be fishers of people. That is, to catch people (once again, they were using nets not rods) and bring them into the inbreaking kingdom of God as they preach the Good News of Christ the King.

For more commentary on Mark, please visit the Book Study Overview page. For the sources cited, please see the bibliography.


  1. Barbara Aland et al., eds., The Greek New Testament, Fifth Revised Edition (Stuttgart, Germany: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2014), Mk 1:17.
  2. UBS, 40
  3. “‘Come, follow me’ or literally ‘Come after me’ (δεῦτε ὀπίσω μου) offers one of several expressions for following Jesus (cf. ἀκολουθεῖν—[Mk 1:18; 2:14–15; 8:34]; ἔρχεσθαι ὀπίσω—[Mk 8:34] v.l.; ἀπέρχεσθαι ὀπίσω—[Mk 1:20]”. Guelich, 50
  4. Gurtner, 93; cf. Brooks, 48
  5. Stein, 78; cf. Guelich, 50
  6. Brooks, 48
  7. Stein, 78
  8. Guelich, 50; Strauss, 83
  9. France, 96
  10. Schnabel, 53
  11. UBS, 40
  12. Kernaghan, 44; cf. Witherington, 85; Lane, 67 FN
  13. English, 53; Witherington, 85; Lane, 67; Brooks, 48
  14. Stein, 78
  15. Garland, 69; cf. Guelich, 51; France, 96; Strauss, 83; Schnabel, 53-54. The metaphor is also negative in rabbinic literature (English, 53)
  16. Kernaghan, 44; Witherington, 85; Lane, 67 FN; Schnabel, 53-54
  17. UBS, 40; English, 53; Witherington, 85; Lane, 67 FN
  18. UBS, 40; English, 53; Witherington, 85; Lane, 67; Brooks, 48
  19. “It is certainly possible that Jesus was calling Simon and Andrew to play a role in preparing for the judgment at the end of this age when the kingdom of God arrives in all its fullness, but at this point it is difficult to be certain. In the early chapters of Mark forgiveness is a more prominent theme than judgment.” Kernaghan, 44.

    “In the context of ‘good news’ this can hardly be Jesus’ meaning, nor does it correspond to the task the disciples will be given later in the gospel; the gesture of condemnation in 6:11 is not the primary purpose of their mission.” France, 98

  20. Kernaghan, 44; Stein, 78; France, 96
  21. Witherington, 85 cf. Bock, 411; Lane, 67; Brooks, 48; France, 96
  22. France, 96; cf. Strauss, 83
  23. Witherington, 85
  24. Gurtner, 93; Strauss, 83
  25. Witherington, 86; cf. Strauss, 83
  26. Bock, 411
  27. Garland, 69
  28. Garland, 69
  29. He also uses familiar terms like “farmer, builder, reaper, shepherd, steward, servant” etc. (Cole, 112).
  30. English, 53; Guelich, 51; cf. Schnabel, 54
  31. Witherington, 85
  32. Lane, 68 cf. Mk 3:14-15, 6:7-13, 30; Stein, 78
  33. Witherington, 85; cf. Strauss, 83
  34. Edwards, 50
  35. Edwards, 50
About @DannyScottonJr 455 Articles
Imperfect Servant ✝?⛪ | Husband | Princeton U. Alum | M. Div. | Assistant (to the) Pastor | Sound Doctrine & Apologetics @catchforchrist