Occupations of the 12 Disciples

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What were the occupations of the 12 disciples?

The Sea of Galilee offered fishermen a livelihood for many generations. Perhaps that is why at least seven of the disciples were fishermen. The calling of the Jewish fishermen was the first step by which God would bring the light of the Gospel to shine on all people.

Much of a fisherman’s day was spent mending or washing his nets. Andrew was doing just that when Jesus called him as a disciple (Luke 5:2). His brother, Peter, watched Jesus climb into his boat, then preach to the people. He realized that Jesus was not only a prophet, but someone to whom he would surrender his life. James and his brother, John, were mending nets with their father when Jesus called them. These two “sons of Zebedee” were not just fishermen. As business owners, they hired other men to work for them.

While fishing was a respectable vocation, not all the occupations of the 12 disciples were viewed favorably. When Jesus first called Matthew, the disciple was sitting at the tax collector’s booth (Matthew 9:9-13). Matthew belonged to the class of Jewish tax collectors (mokhsa) who extorted money from travelers. Publicans or tax collectors were despised, regarded as traitors to their own people. Their money was considered unclean and those taxed would avoid asking for change. A publican’s money could not be tithed to the temple. Publicans were forbidden to testify in court. A good Jew would not even associate with publicans in private life. Jesus upset the Pharisees when He enjoyed a meal at Matthew’s house (Matthew 9:10-13).

While not strictly a profession, Simon the Canaanite, earned the title of zealot. His fierce loyalty to his faith and Israel was evident. The zealots were a religious sect, zelotes, from the Greek ‘zealous one.’ Zealots would attempt to arouse rebellion among the Jews. Like others, Simon stubbornly insisted that the Jews must rebel against the Roman (Pompey’s) invasion of Palestine in 63 B.C. This invasion had destroyed the Jews’ hopes of restoring their own government once again. Zealots, like Simon, engaged in politics and anarchy in hopes of instigating a revolution that would overthrow the Roman government. When Simon joined Jesus as a disciple, he remained zealous, but with a new allegiance and loyalty to Jesus, rather than a political revolution.

Occupations of the 12 Disciples - Unknown
Not all the occupations of the 12 disciples are known. Thomas and Bartholomew (Nathanael) may have been fishermen, who joined the other five disciples, returning to their profession after Jesus’ crucifixion (John 21:2-3). It is possible that these disciples had learned the fishing trade as young men. This time the risen Christ would show Himself not to all Twelve, but to only seven of them. In all likelihood Philip, James (the son of Alphaeus), and Judas (Thaddaeus) were tradesmen of some sort. Regardless of their professions, eleven of the disciples immediately left behind everything to follow Jesus. Judas Iscariot, chosen by Jesus as treasurer, appears to be the only disciple who struggled continually with financial insecurity.

The skills needed in the occupations of the 12 disciples became applicable to the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20). Fishermen often worked long into the night, using two types of nets. The circular net, about 15 feet (4.5 meters) in diameter with fine mesh, was cast in shallow water. The long net—sometimes nearly 328 feet (100 meters) long and 8 feet (2.5 meters) wide—was a dragnet in deeper waters. A well-flung net would drop over a school of fish, bringing in everything it had trapped. The disciples would be “casting their nets” in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. The Lord would provide the miraculous catch.

The once prosperous Matthew, along with the other disciples, learned that God would meet their every need as they preached. “Do not take along any gold or silver or copper in your belts; take no bag for the journey, or extra tunic, or sandals or a staff; for the worker is worth his keep” (Matthew 10:5-10). Jesus sent these ordinary men out, endowed with His own power and authority. As long as they relied on His strength, they were unstoppable. “Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it” (Mark 16:20).



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