Jesus showed us the way through many sermons, using phrases that were left to be understood by those who have ears. In this SpiritualRay article, we shall be explaining what is the meaning of ‘fishers of men’ phrase in an elaborate manner.
Lost in Translation!
‘Fishers of men’ in the Greek language is halieis anthrôpos. The word ‘halieis’ is used for someone who works at the sea, or someone who has to do with the sea. ‘Anthrôpos’ means mankind or humanity. Therefore, the accurate meaning of the phrase may be described as working at the sea to catch (save) humanity, not how it is usually misunderstood that Jesus is referring to catch men physically. It is more about their spiritual salvation.
The Holy Bible has answers to every possible dilemma that this world can put on our way to seek the truth. It is just that the answers are not as direct as we wish them to be and are often misinterpreted by many. Jesus always answered questions using another question, or by means of parables. He also said in Matthew 13:9 ESV, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” By saying this, He didn’t address the physical deafness, but the spiritual deafness of the people. This spiritual deafness is something we experience even today. Our thoughts are overpowered by worldly customs and beliefs. Therefore, the words that were uttered by our Savior more than two thousand years ago are often misunderstood, manipulated, and even falsely portrayed by the non-believers.
The phrase ‘fishers of men’ is interpreted in various ways by many. While some say that this phrase was used by Jesus because he was talking to Andrew and Simon Peter, as both were fishermen, others say that the link goes back to the Old Testament, in Jeremiah 16:16, where God promises to send many fishers to help the people on earth. All these interpretations will be discussed in details in the following sections.
The Origin of the Phrase ‘Fishers of Men’ in the Bible
The following excerpt is from Matthew 4:18-20 as written in the English Standard Version of the Bible.
18 While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen.
19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him.
When Jesus commanded Simon and Andrew to follow Him, promising that He will make them fishers of men, He didn’t imply that He will teach them how to catch men, in the literal sense. Most of the non-believers mock at Christians for this phrase, as to how they forcefully catch people and compel them to convert their religion to Christianity. When a fisherman goes fishing, he lures the fish with a bait, pulls it out of its natural world, and captures it in the net. But this is not what this phrase really means.
I came across this beautiful line on the Internet as I was researching on this subject. It says, “When you fish, you bring the fish out of the water. But when men are converted, they are put into the water of Baptism.” Unlike the actual process of fishing, where the fish is taken out of the sea of life, here humanity is saved from the sea of sins and renewed in body, mind, and spirit through the waters of Baptism, which is done by none other than the ‘fishers of men’ who are empowered by none other than Christ Jesus.
If you would have noticed, Jesus chose men who were not exactly fit to be spiritual leaders at the time. They were poor, uneducated, weak, self-centered, and clearly lacked the qualities that a true teacher should possess. However, Jesus told them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” He did not choose them based on what they already were, but what He could make out of them if they decided to follow His footsteps. This is the love of the Lord, for when you decide to follow His will, He blesses you with a gift of transformation, such that it is not only you who sees the light, but you become the light for others to guide them through darkness.
The Link With Jeremiah 16:16
The following excerpt is taken from Jeremiah 16:16, from the English Standard Version of the Holy Bible.
16 Behold, I am sending for many fishers, declares 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.
Many experts believe that Jesus used the phrase ‘fishers of men’ in relevance with the aforementioned verse of the Old Testament. In doing so, He is announcing to these men that the promised one has come to save the people on earth. When analyzing the two verses―Jeremiah 16:16 and Matthew 4:18-20―it may be implied that Jesus was actually asking Simon and Andrew to follow his footsteps and take part in the process of hunting sinners and catching lost souls, in the same way that they caught fish in the net.
Many experts doubt if Jesus used this phrase to make a connection with the Old Testament prophecy, or if it was just his way to connect with them using words that matched their occupation; only now, they had to use their skills for a higher purpose, which is to save mankind for which the Lord will give them the strength and knowledge that is needed.
How Do We Become ‘Fishers of Men’
As has been clarified in the section above, to become fishers of men is to be the light that draws those who are caught in the waves of darkness, who fail to see the light, who fail to see the Lord, and hence, are deprived of the eternal life. You cannot call yourself a true Christian unless you obey His commandments, follow Him, and gather the lost ones to His light. While most of us leave it to the Church authorities, the pope, bishop, pastor, and preachers, we fail to follow the very essence of being a Christian, which is to spread the word of the Lord, to give others the privilege that we have experienced, which is to be a child of the one true God.
How do we do so without imposing our religion on the non-believers? For those who do not know Christ, the whole process of sharing the word of the Lord seems to be a net to trap them in a way that they will have no choice but to forcibly change their faith. This is the wrong approach. As much as it is true that we are all lost without Christ, it is also true that religious beliefs are something that cannot be forced on others. You have to be a living example, a living light to others.
When fishermen fish, they use light to attract fish towards them. Similarly, as a true Christian, it is our responsibility to be like Jesus. To be as loving, compassionate, helpful, and forgiving as He is. When others would see the peace and tranquility in you, in spite of you sharing the same challenges and difficulties that they do in this sinful world, they will be bound to draw near you and seek your way to eternal peace and happiness―which is nothing else but the word of God.
Therefore, by using the phrase ‘fishers of men’ to call out Simon and Andrew, who were among the twelve disciples, Jesus was preparing the way that saves not only the Israelites, but the entire nation from the clutches of sin, disbelief, and the suffering that comes along with it. John 3:16 in the English Standard Version says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” And being a Christian, it is our responsibility to become the fishers of men who carry on his message and spread His love to the entire nation by being a living example of peace, love, kindness, and joy.