Someone emailed and asked:
When Christ called James and John the sons of Zebedee, they were in a ship with their father. The word ‘left’, according to Strong is #863 which pretty much means ‘to leave or separate’. Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon expanded definition has ‘to depart from one and leave him to himself so that all mutual claims are abandoned’.
This word origin is #575 meaning is of separation. “Of separation of a part from the whole”; but what caught my eye was “of any kind of separation of one thing from another by which the union or fellowship of the two is destroyed”.
Now come the questions...
When they left their father does this convey his feelings toward them? or could it mean the 2 brothers leaving their lifestyle to follow Christ?
No, not every time such a word is used does the FULL meaning apply so rigidly, and though it may in a sense, it does so only in the limited context of that passage.
For example: If I said that someone “wolfed his food down”, the meaning is eating quickly and voraciously—but I would not imply that the person was feeding off a carcass on the ground and ripping and chewing off chunks of flesh with his teeth, his face covered in blood. Thus, a word may have its origins in another word; and that origin gives us the general flavor—but not always in its full impact if context does not suggest it. Let’s look at the passage:
“21And going on from thence, He [Christ] 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. 22And they immediately left the ship and their father, and followed Him.” (Matthew 4)
[“from thence" is redundant and improper. The word thence means, “from there”. Due to poor usage, incorrect words or expressions become “colloquially accepted”—that is, error comes to be considered truth. Technically, a person does not “invest in” anything, because invest contains the word “in”; thus, he simply “invests”. It becomes awkward to then discuss “in what” a person “vested”. When a person invests another with authority, that surrogate “puts on” like a vest, that other person’s authority. So it is when a person invests money: He “puts on” that company in which he sinks his money.]
The passage says that they left their nets and their father; that is clear. They left their nets as their occupation at the moment. We see other times that they used their ships and their nets at Christ’s Command, and they also returned to fishing, at least briefly, after Christ’s Death and Resurrection, before He appeared again unto them in Galilee.
Therefore, by “reading ahead” (which is often necessary for proper translation as well as interpretation) and by consulting the parallel Gospels, we learn that once-and-for-all severance is not the intended meaning of the word in this passage. They left their father as employer; and, if they had been living under his roof and under his authority, then if their following Christ inferred their wandering with Christ full time and sleeping wherever He slept, at the local KOA campground, etc., then it also means leaving their father’s roof and authority (to some degree; even as James and John would have done had they each married a wife). Since Peter was married, this does raise the question how often he saw his wife and how the bills were paid and household needs met. Presumably, other relatives helped, or maybe Peter had sons old enough to use his boat to continue fishing to support the family; or maybe Peter had employees of his own who continued the enterprise. Scripture says that he who puts his hand to the plow and looketh back is not fit for the Kingdom of Heaven. To plow straight one must look forward, with ones focus on a singular object ahead. We see no evidence that Peter looked back; but that does not necessitate total abandonment of his wife (and possible children), for that would violate other laws and principles of Scripture (I Timothy 5:8). How Peter juggled it all, we don’t know. Maybe Christ gave him or other disciples “the day off” every now and then. I have never thought of this before, so I have not researched it and there may be information out there to which I am not privy.
Remember: No verse of Scripture is an island unto itself. Scripture does not contradict itself; contradictions are in confused (or wicked) minds. If there seems to be a contradiction, the true meaning is being missed. For example, Christ said,
“If any man come to Me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.” (Luke 14:26)
If taken literally, this directive violates established Scriptures—even Commandments concerning loving and honoring your father and mother, brother, etc.: If a man hates his brother whom he has seen he cannot love God whom He has not seen (I John 4:20); later commands to love the brethren* [kinsmen*] (I John 3:14), etc. It would also contradict Christ’s own declaration and reiteration of God’s Law: “Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour [kinsman] as thyself” (Matthew 19:19); and “love one another” (John 3:34). It would also be at odds with “For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it” (Ephesians 5:29); and “And this Commandment have we from Him, That he who loveth God love his brother* also” (I John 4:21).
[* Adelphos, “from the same womb”. The word only has a “spiritual / figurative” meaning in confused minds who do not realize that God’s Family is a closed system, peopled only by His children. Adoption does not refer to bringing aliens in (which God forbade; see also Hebrews 12:7,8), but the coming of age (placing as a son) of a legitimate child; or like the Prodigal, the re-instatement to a place of honor of a formerly disgraced child. Adoption does not pertain to all peoples, but to God’s people: true Israel. See my books, S.T.E.C. on Romans and S.T.E.C. on Hebrews; as well as my various booklets, Apologetic Expositions....]
Thus, clearly Christ’s declaration of hating ones mother, father, brothers, sisters, own life, etc., is a “comparative analogy”: Your love for God should be so strong that it makes your love for anyone else pale by comparison. So also is the light of the moon and stars relegated to the background when the light of the sun appears. Or, it could possibly also be referring to hating the “sin nature” in family and even oneself—whatever carnal inclination that interferes with complete obedience and allegiance to God.
While it is true that the Greek word for “hate”, #3403 mis-eh-o (long o) can mean “love less”, that is not the meaning unless context clearly indicates it. God did not merely say that He “loved Esau less” in Romans 9:13 (the Greek word is mis-eh-o). Two passages in the Old Testament clearly indicate the meaning of the Hebrew words for hate: Genesis 27:41 (in which Esau hated Jacob for his treachery) and Malachi 1:2,3 (which Romans quotes; in which God declares that He hates Esau and his heritage / ‘mountain’). The Hebrew word used in Genesis is #7852 sawtahm,* “to lurk for, that is, persecute:—hate, oppose self against”; this clearly shows the enmity in Esau’s heart (God hated Esau, not for what he did, but for his nature; God hated Esau in the womb, before he had done good or evil). The Hebrew word used in Malachi is #8130, sawnay, “to hate (personally):—enemy, foe, (be) hate (-ful, -r), odious, X utterly.” There is no ambiguity here. Also, the prophecy of Obadiah against Esau / Edom clearly does not portray that God is merely “less fond” of Esau.
[* —which clearly is etymologically related to #7854 sawtawn, which can generically refer to an “opponent” or Satan himself, from the verb #7853 sawtahn, “to attack, (figuratively) accuse:—(be an) adversary, resist”.]
In the parallel passage in Matthew 10:37 Christ clearly explains,
“He that loveth father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.”
This is no surprise, since Jesus is God [which is what Christ implied]. Christ also later declared,
“37... Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. 38This is the First and Great Commandment. 39And the Second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour [kinsmen*] as thyself.” (Matthew 22)
[* The contextual / extended / implied meaning of neighbor in this and all similar passages is “kinsman”. God commanded His people to be segregated—separate from aliens. God divided the land up among the tribes of His people and commanded them to drive the aliens out. Christ spake only in parables in public because the truth was only meant for His sheep, and the Holy Spirit would draw them to inquire as to the meaning; the rest either heard an entertaining story (and sometimes got a free meal and a miracle-show) or heard what to them seemed as nonsense. Christ even purposely spoke hard things to offend some so that they would STOP following Him (John 6:66). Goats [wild, lawless] / chaff [dead outer woody layer] are unregenerate (non-elect) sheep / wheat (God’s people). Tares, dogs, swine are aliens.]
Regardless, James and John left their employment (in addition to their standard living arrangement and family duties which they owed to their father for being under his roof and employ). It is not that that relationship of employer-employee could never be re-established, but for all intents and purposes of drawing a paycheck from their father, and duties owed to him for living under his roof, that relationship was severed as they left their job and home and followed Christ. From the narrative, it does not seem as if they merely asked for the weekend off. They left their father’s employ as fishermen to be employed by Christ to fish for men (Israelites). “If any man be in Christ he is a new creature; old things are passed away, behold all is become new.” (II Corinthians 5:17)
There is nothing to suggest that James and John left their father as their progenitor / patriarch. We often see their mother interceding to Christ on their behalf (with or without their knowledge or enticement). Scripture does not say that they “left (utterly abandoning) their mother and father”, but only their father in relation to the nets. This does not mean that they did not leave the boat too. But the job at which they were currently employed was mending the nets.
The implication is that they left the profession of fishing.
Ephesians 5:31 itself says,
“For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh.”
This Greek word translated “leave” seems even stronger: #2641 kataleipo (long o), “to leave down, that is, behind; by implication to abandon, have remaining:—forsake, leave, reserve”. The Greek word used in Matthew 4 of James and John, which more literally means, “to leave off / away”, is #863 aph-i-ey-mi*1 and the prefix ahph (from ahpo; short o or aw sound) seems etymologically related to our English*2 “off” and means.
[*1 The Greek aph-i-ey-mi is also more complex, in that the word can refer to leaving in two ways” “leaving on ones own” and “being sent off / away”. It means, “From #575 [apo] and hi-ey-mi (to send; an intensive form of eemi [to go]); to send forth, in various applications:—cry, forgive, forsake, lay aside, leave, let (alone, be, go, have), omit, put (send) away, remit, suffer, yield up.”
*2 —as about 95% of all Germanic (Anglo-Saxon, Frankish, etc.) words are; and as Celtic / Cymric / Cornish are also. Ancient Greek derived from Hebrew; and Roman from Greek. See: The Affinity Between the Hebrew Language and the Celtic: Being a Comparison Between Hebrew and the Gaelic Language or the Celtic of Scotland (1872) Thomas Stratton, M.D., R.N., 75pp., stapleback, 8.00 + P&H; English Derived from Hebrew (1869) R. Govett, 130pp., pb., 12.00 + P&H; Hebrew and English Some Likenesses Psychic and Linguistic (c.1920) Courtenay, 134pp., comb-bound, 12.00 + P&H.]
The leaving would not infer hard feelings or hostility. The meaning of the word is one of intent and direction in action, not of motivation. Some may think that James’ and John’s father might have had hard feelings; which notion is foreign to the narrative and improperly projecting ones own thoughts into Scripture. One can imagine that a father would be irate that his sons—his employees upon whom he daily depended for his livelihood—just up and left him. However, there is nothing in the narrative to suggest hard feelings (though there is also nothing in the narrative to suggest that there were not hard feelings on the part of Zebedee their father). However, Jesus was also a cousin of James and John (and other of the disciples), and therefore, Zebedee most probably knew Jesus’ character and possibly sensed something “other worldly” about Him; and he was happy that his sons would be in good hands and come under such good influence; and possibly their father knew that finding 2 more hired hands would not be difficult. Why must people assume the worst? —only because of their own nature, or their own past experience. But all that must be left behind, if it interferes with understanding the Scriptures being considered.
If one becomes a monk, that is a good picture of the meaning (not that anyone should become a monk). It does not mean that the novice monk hates his family as if despising his own people, but that he “hates” his old life—to the extent that he abandons it in exhange for a new life.
Likewise “for this cause shall a man leave his father and mother and cleave unto his wife”, indicates a severance with the old life—but not in every single way. Only in the way being discussed: becoming a man, head of his own house, moving out of his father’s house into his own; joining with his own wife to start his own family, becoming the patriarch / authority of his own house—not to the utter abandonment of his mother and father (which would violate God’s specific Command), but with a change of priority and direction.
Again, even though kataleipô is a stronger word than aph-i-ey-mi, it does not infer the full meaning of the word in every case, but often only the limited degree that is intended in the passage. Neither word necessitates a permanent and complete leaving except for the moment or the immediate future. It may also be only uni-directional. James and John left their home, but their mother followed Jesus, in a different manner, and was in contact with her sons; as was Jesus’ mother Mary. We get another glimpse of how Peter’s wife may have gotten along in his absence, in Matthew 8:14; it seems that Peter’s mother-in-law came to live with her daughter, Peter’s wife. Mary often informed Jesus of certain needs; and Peter’s family informed them that his mother-in-law was greatly sick with fever. Thus, the “abandonment” is not one of “I never want to see you again”, but “I have been called by God in a different direction, for now”.
If a man who gets married and leaves his mother and father, but his later parents in advanced age or poor health or some other need (such as if their house burned down) then the relationship may change a little. Most likely most likely the father and mother may “live under his roof”; but the practical aspects of the chain of authority would change; as the young man marrying a wife is now his own man and rules his house as he sees fit under God; and when parents age they revert in many ways back to a child-like state and by degrees have to relinquish their will and authority as they are no longer able to care for themselves. While the father-son relationship will always exist, in practical terms it changes a little to that of the son being the landlord and the father being the tenant, or the father being in an assisted living facility and the son being that facility. We also see that upon His crucifiction Christ entrusted the care of His mother Mary to John. That certainly is not a picture of utter abandonment.