Translation commentary on Matthew 4:19

And he said to them: once again Jesus is not mentioned by name in the Greek text, but Good News Translation and other translations do so at the beginning of this verse for the sake of clarity.

Follow me (so most modern English translations) is translated “Come with me” by Good News Translation, Bibel im heutigen Deutsch, 1st edition, and Bible en français courant. The call is a call to discipleship. The Jewish rabbis had disciples who went with them, observing their actions and listening to their words in all possible circumstances. This now becomes the responsibility of Jesus’ disciples to him.

Some translations make the meaning of Follow me completely explicit with “Come be my disciples.” It is important not to give the impression that Jesus is suggesting they simply walk behind him, which is one of the meanings of “follow.”

A number of translations have attempted a dynamic equivalent of I will make you fishers of men. For example, An American Translation and Moffatt render “I will make you fish for men”; Barclay “I will make you fishermen who catch men”; and Phillips “I will teach you to catch men.” One problem in English is that the construction of fishers of men is an extremely awkward one. The idea of “catching men” usually had negative connotations in rabbinic and Greek literature, as it does in Jeremiah 16.16, but Jesus changes it to the positive concept of bringing men to salvation. Men, of course, refers to both men and women, and so “people” may be a better equivalent.

In different languages the literal sense of “fisher” is one who catches, traps, or even kills fish. When used with “men” as the object, it can seem that Jesus wants Simon and Andrew to catch, trap, or kill men. Very often, therefore, translators use a simile to escape the dilemma, as in “I will teach you to bring people to salvation (or, to follow me) in the same way you have been catching (or killing, or trapping) fish” or “just as you now catch fish, I will teach you how to catch people’s hearts so they follow me.”

Quoted with permission from Newman, Barclay M. and Stine, Philip C. A Handbook on the Gospel of Matthew. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1988. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

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