Jesus A Fisherman? (Are There Any Fish Stories?)

In the first century, many people made a living by fishing. Josephus estimates that there were 230 fishing boats in the Galilee in his time.

With Jesus living in Galilee, is it possible that he also was a fisherman? Working on one of those many boats fishing for a living.

Jesus is often pictured in a boat, with many of his disciples being professional fishermen. With legendary stories of amazing catches, but Jesus was not a fisherman by trade but a carpenter.

But with many references to fishing, it does raise the question of if Jesus was not a fisherman. Why is he so closely associated with fishermen?

If Jesus was not a fisher, why did he tell Peter and Andrew how to catch fish?

Even his diet. If Jesus didn’t catch fish for a living, why did he eat so many fish?

These are all good questions.

Questions which can help us better understand the life of Jesus by contemplating.

Let’s start with context.

Fishermen in Jesus’ Day and Culture

Galilee, where Jesus lived after John the Baptist was arrested, was a prominent fishing region.

As shown by Josephus’s declaration of 230 fishing boats trolling the waters.

This is shown by the many fishermen included among the 12. At least 4, James, John, Peter and Andrew, were all called while fishing. But possibly more if you include Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael (Bartholomew) from Cana in Galilee and, as John puts it 2 others. But most likely, these “2 others” are James and John, as we can assume from later in the story, as it is alluded to that John is also present.

Beyond the four, though, it is entirely possible these other two included in the fishing trip in John 21 were merely helping out, which was not uncommon for labourers to be hired from the general population to help pull the nets in or be that extra pair of hands on the boat.

The whole region included many fishing villages and towns beyond Capernaum, where Jesus lived in. Many of which Jesus did visit during his ministry.

  • Bethsaida (Mk 6:45; 8:22; Lk 9:10)
  • Capernaum (Mk 1:21; 2:1; 9:33; Matt 4:13; 8:5; 11:23; 17:24; Lk 4:23, 31; 7:1; 10:15)
  • Gennesaret (Mk 6:53)
  • Magdala/Magadan/Tarichaeae (Matt 15:39)
  • Gerasa (Mark 5:1)
  • Tyre and Sidon (Mk.7:24,31)

Crosson even proposes that this was part of Herod Antipas’s plan to increase his kingdom’s wealth. The many taxes, fishing licences and tolls I place were all part of the plan.

In the first century, there were 4 ways of catching fish.

  • Angling —a rod with hooks on a flaxen line
  • Casting with flaxen nets
  • Fish traps
  • Pronged tridents

The two mentioned in the gospels were nets and angling. The most popular ways among Galilean fishermen.

Casting could be done from the shore, but casting nets from boats was also popular, which it appears was what the apostles did.

There were two classes of fishermen. Those who owned and worked the boats and the hired hands.

We see this from both historical sources and also in the gospels. James and John, along with their father, were slightly more successful with a hired hand working alongside them.

But there were also many vessels that were leased out. With the catch being shared among the owner of the boat and the fishermen doing the actual fishing.

To learn more about fishing in the times of Jesus, check out The Galilean Fishing Economy and the Jesus Tradition.

Yes, Jesus, living around the Tiberius Lake (Galilee) was exposed to the fishing industry.

But did he ever get to catch any fish?

When Did Jesus Catch Fish?

Jesus grew up in Nazareth, a landlocked community about 25 km (15 miles) from the Sea of Galilee. Not much fishing happening there.

But once he moved to Capernaum, this all changed.

Here, we have Jesus instructing Simon to cast his net on the other side of his boat. Resulting in a miraculous catch of fish (Mk.1:16-20, Matt.4:18-22, Lk.5:1-11).

Another incident happens when Peter is questioned about Jesus paying the temple tax. Where Jesus tells Peter to cast his line into the water. Catching a fish with a coin in his mouth to pay the temple tax (Matt.17:24-27).

The last time very similar to when Jesus called Peter was after the resurrection.

Peter is again fishing all night but catches nothing. Then Jesus appears on the shore, unknown to them and tells them to cast the net on the other side. Miracles catch, and Peter instantly remembers his first time and who was involved. (Jn.21).

None of these stories have Jesus directly catching fish, but he is around when it happens.

Even telling the professionals how to get it done.

Jesus Teaching about Fishing?

Not nearly as common as farming stories, but Jesus did use fishing in his teaching.

The only recorded time is in Matthew 13:47-52 where Jesus compares the end of the age with fishermen sorting fish. Collecting all the good ones while throwing the bad ones away.

Maybe despite the thriving fishing industry, farming was a better connection with the many who came to hear his teaching.

Conclusion

While our sources don’t explicitly label Jesus as a fisherman, there is evidence that He had a substantial understanding of the trade and often found himself in the company of fishermen.

His teachings at times, involved examples from fishing.

He also gave “fishing tips” to professional fishermen resulting in miraculous catches.

It’s important to note that Jesus used fishing as a metaphor in His teachings, not as a profession.

Therefore, while He demonstrated knowledge of and association with fishing, it wouldn’t be accurate to categorize Jesus Himself as a fisherman in the occupational sense.

Ryan Nickel

Two loves of my life beyond my wife and 4 children are history and the person of Jesus. From childhood, I was captivated by history and still love reading and learning about the past. One life in particular that intrigues me in history is the person of Jesus. It's fascinating to think about how the course of human history was changed by a carpenter turned preacher. Both in our times and also in his. I attempt to process all I am learning about him through conversations, writing and shooting videos about the life and teachings of Jesus. With each word drawing me closer into his life. Ryan Nickel has been part of range of churches, including Baptist, Evangelical Free and Church of Christ. In 1999 I graduated from Peace River Bible Institute with a Bachelor of Religious Studies.

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