The Ghari translation uses different terms for “fishing”: with nets when fishing for fish and with a line when fishing for men. (Source: David Clark)

The translation for “fishing” (when referring to catching fish) in Ojitlán Chinantec is “catching water animals” and in Aguaruna “killing fish.” (Source: M. Larson / B. Moore in Notes on Translation February 1970, p. 1-125.)

Click or tap here to see a short video clip showing the different kinds of fishing with a net in biblical times (source: Bible Lands 2012)

See also cast a net.

fishers of men

The Greek that is translated as “(I will make you) fishers of men (or: people)” in English is rendered in Martu Wangka as “before you used to work getting fish for people, now i think you should do another work getting people and teaching them to be my relatives” (source: Carl Gross).

In Galela it is translated as “. . . you teach people to follow me, which is similar to you netting fish to gather them in” (source: Howard Shelden in Kroneman 2004, p. 501).

complete verse (Matthew 4:19)

Following are a number of back-translations of Matthew 4:19:

  • Uma: “Yesus said to them: ‘Come follow me! You will no longer fish, searching for fish. From now on I give you the work of teaching people to believe in me.'” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “So-then Isa said to them, ‘Come and follow me. Your work is to get/catch fiish. But if/when you follow me, I will teach you to get people to follow me.'” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “Jesus said to them, ‘So you are catchers of fish? Come with me and people (by contrast) you will be able to get so that they will follow (-as-disciples) me.'” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “He said to them, ‘Until now, you have been net-fishing fish. Become my disciples so I will teach you to persuade people.'” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “Jesus said to them, ‘Come with me, for I will make you to be like it’s now men you’re fishing for.'” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
  • Tenango Otomi: “Upon seeing them, Jesus said: ‘Listen men, let’s go together. Now it will not be fish that you meet up with, rather I will teach you to meet up with people,’ he said.” (Source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation)

formal pronoun: Jesus addressing his disciples and common people

Like many languages (but unlike Greek or Hebrew or English), Tuvan uses a formal vs. informal 2nd person pronoun (a familiar vs. a respectful “you”). Unlike other languages that have this feature, however, the translators of the Tuvan Bible have attempted to be very consistent in using the different forms of address in every case a 2nd person pronoun has to be used in the translation of the biblical text.

As Voinov shows in Pronominal Theology in Translating the Gospels (in: The Bible Translator 2002, p. 210ff.), the choice to use either of the pronouns many times involved theological judgment. While the formal pronoun can signal personal distance or a social/power distance between the speaker and addressee, the informal pronoun can indicate familiarity or social/power equality between speaker and addressee.

Here, Jesus is addressing his disciples, individuals and/or crowds with the formal pronoun, showing respect.

In most Dutch translations, Jesus addresses his disciples and common people with the informal pronoun, whereas they address him with the formal form.

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 .