Why does the Gospel of Mark, generally agreed to be our earliest gospel, introduce Andrew as an equal to Simon Peter at the time Jesus calls them both but then drop him from the lime-light for most of the subsequent narrative?
I have always felt a bit sorry for Andrew. He seems to have been elbowed out by the other three, Peter, James and John, whenever Jesus wanted to share something special with his inner-circle. James and John could always be included as brothers, so why was Peter’s brother left out at special events like
- the raising of the daughter of Jairus (Mark 5:37);
- the Transfiguration (Mark 9:2);
- the time Jesus wanted his closest companions with him in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:33).
Even when Jesus ordained his special band of Twelve he gave James and John a collective title, “Sons of Thunder”, but dropped Andrew to fourth place as if he was no longer kin to Peter.
And Simon he surnamed Peter; And James the son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James; and he surnamed them Boanerges, which is, The sons of thunder: And Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Canaanite . . . (Mark 3:16-18)
So if Andrew was not to play any meaningful role, even as a hanger-on, with Jesus in the Gospel what was the point of him starring in the scene of the very first call?
Now as [Jesus] walked by the sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. And Jesus said unto them, Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men. And straightway they forsook their nets, and followed him. (Mark 1:16-18)
Andrew’s response to Jesus’ call was no less admirable than was Peter’s.
There is one exception after this call where the Gospel does give Andrew a place beside Peter, James and John. For the first time since the opening scenes of the Gospel when Jesus called these four do we see them all performing together:
And as [Jesus] sat upon the mount of Olives over against the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign when all these things shall be fulfilled? (Mark 13:3-4)
I have finally come across an explanation that just might make sense of this and give some well-deserved consolation to Andrew. (Regular readers know I’m currently reading Karel Hanhart’s The Open Tomb and will suspect this is my source. They will be correct.)
Simon (later named Peter) is a Hebrew name. He will become the leader of the Twelve.
Andrew, the name of his brother, “is a Greek name par excellence”.
That’s surely at least slightly odd. But we recall Mark loves these little word-plays. In a recent post we saw how he combined an Aramaic “Bar” with the Greek “Timaeus” to form a Jewish-Greek hybrid name presumably for a symbolic purpose.
Here’s Hanhart’s suspicion to explain what is going on here:
Mark reflects the situation of the ecclesias in the Diaspora, especially those under Pauline influence, in which Gentile members were emphatically regarded as having the same rights and privileges as Judean members. The number four has the symbolic meaning of the four corners of the earth. Since Mark wanted to depict in Capernaum the very beginnings of the worldwide Ecclesia, the Gentile Andrew was at the very outset “honored” as being the brother (adelphos) of Peter and having equal status.
Of course. Well, at least it makes sense if we accept (as I believe we should) the many indications that the Gospel of Mark was a highly symbolic narrative. But why leave him out so much?
Yet, he had, of course, to be omitted in those parts of the Gospel dealing with Jesus’ ministry [prior to the preaching to the Gentiles]. Mark wanted to convince his readers that from the very beginning Jesus intended to form a community of Judeans and Gentiles, “reconciled.” (p. 233)
Why his inclusion with the other three when they wanted to ask Jesus about the time when Jerusalem would no longer be the centre of worship? I guess that’s fairly obvious. This was the prophecy that looked beyond the mission of Jesus primarily to the Jews and the time when the Kingdom of God would unite all peoples, Jew and Gentile, as one.
So the real question is why did Peter have a brother with a Greek name who made a highly honoured appearance at all. I think it highly likely that the answer lies in the symbolic function of so many names in Mark’s Gospel.