Where did Andrew and Simon Peter come from?

Posted on Sep.18, 2009. Filed in Mark, John. Average rating: 3.0 / 10 (Rate It).

Andrew was Jesus’ first disciple. His brother Simon (a.k.a. Peter) was arguably the most important, identified by Jesus as the rock on which his church would be built. But where did Andrew and Simon Peter come from?

According to Mark, Andrew and Simon Peter were from Capernaum:

“They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching … As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.” [Mark 1: 21-22a, 29, NRSV]

Luke confirms this, although whereas Mark has Jesus enter Andrew and Simon’s house “as soon as” they left the synagogue at Capernaum, Luke just says “after”, perhaps leaving enough time for a journey from the synagogue to a house somewhere else:

“He went down to Capernaum, a city in Galilee, and was teaching them on the sabbath. They were astounded at his teaching … After leaving the synagogue he entered Simon’s house.” [Luke 4:31-32a, 38a, NRSV]

Matthew also appears to suggest that Andrew and Simon lived at Capernaum, saying that Jesus entered Peter’s house in Matthew 8:14 having first said that he entered Capernaum in Matthew 8:5, but this is less clear even than Luke.

In narrating the call of Philip, however, John goes against all this evidence, saying that Andrew and Simon Peter were from Bethsaida:

Bethsaida: “Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.” [John 1:44, NRVS]

So were Andrew and Simon Peter from Capernaum, or from Bethsaida?

N.B. All posts are written in a style sympathetic to the claim of Biblical error, even in cases where the author ("Errancy") disagrees with the claim. See the About page for the site's philosophy.

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  1. 1

    The location of Capernaum is well known. It was a town large enough to have a synagogue. The town is a ruin today, but the ruins of a synagogue have been found in it (probably the ruins of two synagogues, one on top of the other).

    The location of Bethsaida is not known. The name just means “House of Fish”. There may have been more than one fishing village named Bethsaida (just as there are many coastal towns named “Newport”). Being a small village, it might not have had a synagogue.

    After Jesus fed the 5000, the disciples went to the boat (leaving Jesus) and begin to cross the sea. Jesus later walks to them on the water. But the item to notice here is that John identifies the destination of the disciples as Capernaum (John 6:17). But Mark identifies it as Bethsaida (Mark 6:45). As such, there must have been a fishing village named Bethsaida near the larger town of Capernaum. The nearest synagogue to the village of Bethsaida may have been the one in Capernaum. So Andrew and Peter lived in Bethsaida, but went to the synagogue in Capernaum.

  2. 2

    My “New Bible Atlas” shows a Bethsaida quite clearly, close to Capernaum at the northern tip of the Sea of Galilee, but three or four miles to the east and across the Jordan. The precise location of this Bethsaida is controversial, but both candidate sites are in this area.

    Whether this is the same Bethsaida mentioned in the verses above I’m not sure, but place names only work if different places in the same area have different names, so I’d want a good reason to think otherwise.

    If it is the same place, then that isn’t necessarily a problem. Mark 1:29, “As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew” shouldn’t be taken too literally; it doesn’t mean that the same door that was the exit to the synagogue was the entrance to Simon and Andrew Peter’s house. If as soon as they left the synagogue they set off on a journey of a few miles to Simon and Andrew’s house and they completed that journey without interruption, then I think I’d allow that Mark 1:29 were true.

    If there were another, closer Bethsaida, then a harmonisation involving a short journey would only be more plausible.

    Either way, this certainly isn’t a clear-cut contradiction.

  3. 3

    The Et-Tel site is commonly identified with Bethsaida Julias. Et-Tel is probably the location your Bible Atlas is identifying as Bethsaida.

    But some scholars believe that Bethsaida Julias is a different site. To further complicate things some scholars believe that there is a second Bethsaida, Bethsaida of Galilee, and that this Bethsaida, not Bethsaida Julias, is the home of Peter and Andrew. And, of course, there is controversy about where this second Bethsaida is located or whether it even exists. There is nothing definitive at any site to identify it as a town named “Bethsaida”, let alone as the town named Bethsaida that was the home of Andrew and Peter.

    So that’s why I said we don’t know where Bethsaida is. But it probably is the Et-Tel site.

    (BTW, I’m no archaeologist. This is just a condensation of bits and pieces of the Wikipedia article on Bethsaida. So there’s, ipso facto, some controversy about its truth. Still, this isn’t the sort of topic that Wiki wars are fought over.)

    With that said, we do know that, wherever Bethsaida was, both Bethsaida and Capernaum could be described as the destination of the disciples on the night that Jesus came walking to them on the water. As such, Bethsaida must have been quite close to Capernaum. And, in that case, your point about not taking “as soon as” (or “immediately” in the NASB) too literally is operative.

  4. 4

    Yes, it’s Bethsaida Julias shown in my Atlas (and there are two possible sites for it, one of which is Et-Tel), and yes, opinion is divided as to whether this is the Bethsaida referred to in the gospels.

    One point against the idea that there was another Bethsaida, a small fishing village very close to Capernaum, and that that’s where Andrew and Simon Peter were from: John 1:44 refers to Bethsaida as “the city” rather than “the village” of Bethsaida. If there were two Bethsaidas, then it seems that Andrew and Simon Peter were from the larger of the two, which I think would be Bethsaida Julias.

    However, perhaps if Was Bethsaida a Village or a City? can be cleared up then this point will be overturned.

    In any case, as I said above, I think Matthew, Mark, and Luke are consistent with Andrew and Simon Peter being from Bethsaida Julias; this claimed contradiction isn’t a big deal.

  5. 5

    Using Google maps the distance from Et-Tel following existing roads to Capernaum is about 10 km. That might be close enough that you can imagine Peter and Andrew living in Bethsaida and attending synagogue in Capernaum. But they’re only barely close enough for this to be the case. The two also seem far enough apart to treat as separate destinations (contrary to Mark 6 and John 6)

    Et-Tel is well off of the sea. This seems strange for a fishing village. I don’t know where the other sites are relative to the sea and relative to Capernaum. If Et-Tel is Bethsaida, the land must have changed a bit in the last 2000 years.

  6. 6

    Do we need to think that Andrew and Simon Peter were regulars in Capernaum? Or could they just have gone there on this occasion because they were following Jesus?

    Also, I’m not sure that Bethsaida Julias was a fishing village/town/city. If it’s where Andrew and Simon Peter (fishermen) lived, then I suppose it would have needed to be fairly close to the shore, but I think the name may mean “House of the Hunters” rather than “House of Fish”.

  7. 7

    I don’t think we need to think that Andrew and Peter were regulars at Capernaum. So that’s a good point.

    Taking that course does, however, require that you read “As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house…” to mean that they went straight to the house without stopping anywhere in between (or something of that sort). It cannot indicate a short passage of time. The walk would have taken a good two hours.

    In contrast, the leading contender for the location of Bethsaida of Galilee is a place called Tabgha. It is considerably closer to Capernaum than Et-Tel. Google Maps separates them by 2.5 km on existing roads. That’s about a 30 minute walk.

    Either way, there’s also the point about Capernaum and Bethsaida both being given as the destination of the disciples on the night that Jesus came walking to them. I don’t think, even assuming Bethsaida was at Tabgha, you can imagine the two towns as being literally adjacent to one another.

    I suppose John might have been giving an approximate destination more likely to be known by his readers. Or perhaps they were headed for a secluded landing somewhere between the two locations.

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