John 1:29-51 — Calling of the Twelve Apostles — LeGrand Baker

John’s gospel is written after the same pattern as the plan of salvation, which was also the sequence of events portrayed in the ancient Israelite temple drama. The gospel begins by showing that Jesus is Jehovah, the Creator God who came to this mortal world to keep his premortal covenants. As it describes the events of his mortal life, it is study in contrasts between Jesus’s friends and his enemies—their response to him, and his response to them. Then it tells of his resurrection and ultimate triumph over death and hell. John concludes,

31 But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name (John 20:31).

John dedicated much of his gospel to portraying the Savior’s kindness and compassion. Not only did John identify himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” but he also showed Jesus’s complete devotion to his apostles and to his other friends. People he loved were the most important part of Jesus’s life, just as they are the most important part of ours.

The ending of the first chapter of John is about how he established friendships with some of the people who would be most important to him in this life. John treats these friendships with great reverence, telling us what we need to know while only suggesting the sacred subtexts.

John’s gospel gives us the most information about how the Savior met his apostles. However, it is Luke that tells us that Jesus spent “all night” discussing their selection with his Father, before the apostles were actually called.

12 And it came to pass in those days, that he went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God.
13 And when it was day, he called unto him his disciples: and of them he chose twelve, whom also he named apostles;
14 Simon, (whom he also named Peter,) and Andrew his brother, James and John, Philip and Bartholomew,
15 Matthew and Thomas, James the son of Alphæus, and Simon called Zelotes,
16 And Judas the brother of James, and Judas Iscariot, which also was the traitor. (Luke 6:12-16) {1}

It was John the Baptist who first told the future apostles that Jesus was “the Lamb of God.”

29 The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.
30 This is he of whom I said, After me cometh a man which is preferred before me: for he was before me.
31 And I knew him not: but that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water.
32 And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him.
33 And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost.
34 And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God.
35 Again the next day after John stood, and two of his disciples;
36 And looking upon Jesus as he walked, he saith, Behold the Lamb of God!
37 And the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus.

Scholars have long since assumed that the unnamed disciple mentioned here is John. That is easy to deduce because John never calls himself by name in his own gospel. He identifies himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7, 20), and that “other disciple” (John 20:2–8, and probably here also).

38 Then Jesus turned, and saw them following, and saith unto them, What seek ye? They said unto him, Rabbi, (which is to say, being interpreted, Master,) where dwellest thou?
39 He saith unto them, Come and see. They came and saw where he dwelt, and abode with him that day: for it was about the tenth hour.
40 One of the two which heard John speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter ‘s brother.
41 He first findeth his own brother Simon, and saith unto him, We have found the Messias, which is, being interpreted, the Christ.
42 And he brought him to Jesus. And when Jesus beheld him, he said, Thou art Simon the son of Jona: thou shalt be called Cephas, which is by interpretation, A stone.
43 The day following Jesus would go forth into Galilee, and findeth Philip, and saith unto him, Follow me ( John 1:29-43).

Matthew and Luke tell the story differently, but their account of Peter, Andrew, James, and John just walking away from their businesses to follow Jesus only make sense in light of the background to their prior commitments as John tells it. They report,

18 And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers.
19 And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.
20 And they straightway left their nets, and followed him.
21 And going on from thence, he saw other two brethren, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in a ship with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and he called them.
22 And they immediately left the ship and their father, and followed him (Matthew 4:18-22).

1 And it came to pass, that, as the people pressed upon him to hear the word of God, he stood by the lake of Gennesaret,
2 And saw two ships standing by the lake: but the fishermen were gone out of them, and were washing their nets.
3 And he entered into one of the ships, which was Simon’s, and prayed him that he would thrust out a little from the land. And he sat down, and taught the people out of the ship.
4 Now when he had left speaking, he said unto Simon, Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught.
5 And Simon answering said unto him, Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net.
6 And when they had this done, they inclosed a great multitude of fishes: and their net brake.
7 And they beckoned unto their partners, which were in the other ship, that they should come and help them. And they came, and filled both the ships, so that they began to sink.
8 When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.
9 For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the draught of the fishes which they had taken:
10 And so was also James, and John, the sons of Zebedee, which were partners with Simon. And Jesus said unto Simon, Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men.
11 And when they had brought their ships to land, they forsook all, and followed him (Luke 5:1-11).{2}

The next friend John tells us about is Nathanael. {3} This is one of those wonderful stories where John leaves out the most sacred parts, but gives his initiated readers just enough information that they can fill in some of the blanks. (John does the same thing in chapter 3 where he tells about the Savior’s conversation with Nicodemus.)

44 Now Philip was of Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.
45 Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.
46 And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see.
47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!
48 Nathanael saith unto him, Whence knowest thou me? Jesus answered and said unto him, Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee.
49 Nathanael answered and saith unto him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel.
50 Jesus answered and said unto him, Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these.
51 And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man ( John 1:44-51).

If there is a subtextual story in this conversation between the Savior and Nathanael. A key to that subtext is probably found in the first meeting of David Whitmer and the Prophet Joseph. At Joseph’s request, Oliver Cowdery had written to his friend David and asked if he and Joseph could come and live with the Whitmers while they continued to translate the Book of Mormon. The family agreed but David was delayed (only slightly) by tasks that had to be finished on the farm before his father could spare the horses and wagon to go fetch Joseph and Oliver. {4}

When David left home, Joseph knew he was coming and told Oliver about David’s progress. Here is the account in David’s own words.

When I arrived at Harmony, Joseph and Oliver were coming toward me, and met me some distance from the house. Oliver told me that Joseph had informed him when I started from home, where I had stopped the first night, how I read the sign at the tavern, where I stopped the next , etc., and that I would be there that day before dinner, and this was why they had come out to meet me; all of which was exactly as Joseph had told Oliver, at which I was greatly astonished. {5}

Like Nathanael, David was surprised at this reception and even more surprised to learn that Joseph had known just when he would arrive. But when Oliver told him how Joseph had described his journey and how he read the sign at the tavern (something that only David would have known), David became convinced that Joseph was a prophet and was more eager than ever to help.

It seems likely to me that there must be a somewhat similar, untold and very sacred event that happened while Nathanael was sitting under the fig tree. The memory of that event caused him to testify “ Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel.”


{1} There are two other lists of the Apostles. However, none of them are exactly the same, Matthew 10:1-6 and Mark 3:13-20)

{2} Matthew tells about his own call in similar terms.

9 And as Jesus passed forth from thence, he saw a man, named Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he saith unto him, Follow me. And he arose, and followed him.
10 And it came to pass, as Jesus sat at meat in the house, behold, many publicans and sinners came and sat down with him and his disciples.
11 And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners? (Matthew 9:9-11).

Mark and Luke repeat the same story (Mark 2:14-15, Luke 5:27-32), but Matthew is not mentioned by John.

{3} The LDS Bible Dictionary identifies Nathanael as Bartholomew in the lists of the apostles.

Nathanael. God has given. His friendship with Philip and call to be a disciple are found in John 1:45–51; see also 21:2, where we learn that he belonged to Cana in Galilee. He is generally identified with Bartholomew, on the ground that Nathanael is always mentioned along with apostles, as though of apostolic rank, and that whereas the Synoptists (Matt. 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:14) mention Bartholomew (associating him with Philip) and never Nathanael, John mentions Nathanael and never Bartholomew. (Bible Dictionary | Nathanael:Entry)

{4} For background of the story see my Joseph and Moroni, pages 75-88.

{5}Andrew Jenson, L. D. S. Biographical Encyclopedia, 4 vols. (Salt Lake City: Andrew Jenson Historical Company, 1901), 1:267.


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