John and Matthew on the calling of the first disciples

Sam Shamoun

Jalal Abualrub has posted an article written by a Muslim named Omar Alhabeshi which seeks to attack the accuracy of the Gospels. Alhabeshi claims that there are some chronological errors between Matthew and John regarding Jesus’ meeting with his disciples.

Alhabeshi begins his article by first mentioning the Christian view of the Holy Bible:

Most Christians believe the bible to be an error free book. And they think that there exists no contradiction in the bible. But critical examination of the bible has resulted in exposing the Christian’s claim that the bible is a perfect word of God.


As Alhabeshi’s article will help us demonstrate, these so-called critical examinations have failed to produce a genuine contradiction or error within God’s true Word, the Holy Bible.

Alhabeshi now produces what he believes to be the evidence that the Holy Bible is imperfect:

Lets see these clear contradictions,

First when we come to read chapter 4 of the gospel of Mathew we read

"12When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he returned to Galilee. 13Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali— 14to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah:
 15"Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
      the way to the sea, along the Jordan,
      Galilee of the Gentiles—
 16the people living in darkness
      have seen a great light;
   on those living in the land of the shadow of death
      a light has dawned."[e]
 17From that time on Jesus began to preach, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near."
 18As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19"Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." 20At once they left their nets and followed him.

 21Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, 22and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him."

From the above passage one can easily notice
1-Jesus called the disciples Simon and his brother Peter AFTER HE HEARD THAT JOHN HAD BEEN PUT IN PRISON.
2-No body directed the two brothers (Simon and his brother Peter) to follow Jesus.Its Jesus him self who told them to follow him.
3-Jesus called the two brothers at the same time. And they followed him at the same time (Mathew 4:20).


We just want to mention one thing at this point. Please note carefully that Matthew DOES NOT say that this was Jesus’ first meeting with the disciples, that it was here that Christ and his followers met for the first time. More on this shortly.

Alhabeshi continues:

Now lets move to the gospel of John’s version of this same story and see what will happen.

John 1:35-42 reads as following

"35The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. 36When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, "Look, the Lamb of God!"
 37When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. 38Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, "What do you want?"
      They said, "Rabbi" (which means Teacher), "where are you staying?"
 39"Come," he replied, "and you will see."
      So they went and saw where he was staying, and spent that day with him. It was about the tenth hour.
 40Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. 41The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, "We have found the Messiah" (that is, the Christ). 42And he brought him to Jesus.
      Jesus looked at him and said, "You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas" (which, when translated, is Peter[j])."
(Source )

From the above verses from the gospel of John we can point out
1-Jesus began to collect disciples while John was not yet imprisoned. (John 3:22-30 talks about John’s testimony about Jesus. It means that John was not yet put in prison. And John 3:24 (It says, "This was before John was put in prison.") specifically informs us that John was not imprisoned till that time)
2-Jesus first got Andrew (Simon’s brother) then Simon (John 1:40)(He didn’t get them at the same time as stated in Mathew 4:20).
3-Andrew followed Jesus after hearing John’s word (John 1:35-37)(in other words Andrew was directed by John to follow Jesus).


Let us quote the part of John 1 that Alhabeshi conveniently omitted:

"‘I baptize with water,’ John replied, ‘but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.’ This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing. The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, "A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me." I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.’ Then John gave this testimony: ‘I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, "The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit." I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.’ John 1:26-34

John states that he had seen the Spirit come upon Jesus which was the sign from God that he is the Christ. And now let us compare this to what Matthew wrote:

"‘I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.’ Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ Jesus replied, ‘Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then John consented. As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’" Matthew 3:11-17

"Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. ‘The tempter came to him and said, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.’ Jesus answered, ‘It is written: "Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God."’ Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. ‘If you are the Son of God,’ he said, ‘throw yourself down. For it is written: "He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone."’ Jesus answered him, ‘It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test."’ Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. ‘All this I will give you,’ he said, ‘if you will bow down and worship me.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’ Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him." Matthew 4:1-11

The Spirit came upon Christ at his baptism by John and from there he entered the wilderness to be tested. This clearly shows that the events of Matthew 3:15-4:11 took place before John 1:29-42.

The Gospel of John then tells us that Jesus returned to Galilee to attend a wedding at Cana (cf. John 2:1-11). Afterwards he returned once again to Jerusalem for the Passover feast:

"After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother and brothers and his disciples. There they stayed for a few days. When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem." John 2:12-13

Having spent some time in Jerusalem Jesus returned to Galilee:

"After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and baptized. Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were constantly coming to be baptized. (This was before John was put in prison.) An argument developed between some of John's disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing. They came to John and said to him, ‘Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan—the one you testified about—well, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.’ To this John replied, "A man can receive only what is given him from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said, "I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of him." The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom's voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less. The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all. He testifies to what he has seen and heard, but no one accepts his testimony. The man who has accepted it has certified that God is truthful. For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit. The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him.’" John 3:22-36

Notice that John the Evangelist clearly says that Jesus did these things BEFORE the imprisonment of the Baptist.

"The Pharisees heard that Jesus was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John, although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. When the Lord learned of this, he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee… Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me everything I ever did.’ So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers. They said to the woman, ‘We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.’ After the two days he left for Galilee. (Now Jesus himself had pointed out that a prophet has no honor in his own country.) When he arrived in Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him. They had seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, for they also had been there. Once more he visited Cana in Galilee, where he had turned the water into wine. And there was a certain royal official whose son lay sick at Capernaum. When this man heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to him and begged him to come and heal his son, who was close to death. Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders,’ Jesus told him, ‘you will never believe.’ The royal official said, ‘Sir, come down before my child dies.’ Jesus replied, ‘You may go. Your son will live.’ The man took Jesus at his word and departed. While he was still on the way, his servants met him with the news that his boy was living. When he inquired as to the time when his son got better, they said to him, ‘The fever left him yesterday at the seventh hour.’ Then the father realized that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, ‘Your son will live.’ So he and all his household believed. This was the second miraculous sign that Jesus performed, having come from Judea to Galilee." John 4:1-3, 39-54

This is where Matthew 4:12-23 comes into play. Note carefully what Matthew says:

"WHEN Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he returned to Galilee." Matthew 4:12

The phrase "when" implies that some time transpired before Jesus returned home which indicates that Christ was somewhere else during this period. Matthew is basically stating that Christ’s return to Galilee didn’t happen right away, right after Jesus’ temptation, but may have taken place months or even years after this incident. In fact, the wording allows for a number of events to have taken place between Jesus’ wilderness sojourn and subsequent return to Galilee, such as the ones recorded in John 2-4.

In light of the foregoing this is what we get when we try to piece all these events together:

  1. Jesus goes up to the Jordan to be baptized by John where the latter then sees the Spirit come down upon Christ.
  2. Jesus then spends forty days in the desert to be tempted by the Devil.
  3. After this period Jesus returns to Judea where John then testifies that he had seen the Spirit descend upon Christ.
  4. It is at this point where Jesus meets some of his disciples for the first time.
  5. Jesus returns with his disciples to Galilee to attend a wedding.
  6. Christ and his followers go back to Jerusalem to observe Passover there.
  7. Having heard that John had been arrested and sensing that the Pharisees were starting to get hostile Jesus returns to Galilee.
  8. This is where Matthew 4:12-22 begins. At this point Jesus regathers some of his followers who had returned to their daily lives and careers in order to continue his Galilean ministry.

This helps explain why Simon, Andrew, James and John could just pick up and leave behind their careers and families immediately… this was not their first encounter with Christ! They had already met Jesus in Judea some time after his baptism and wilderness experience and had had made a commitment to him.

What this essentially means is that both John and Matthew have omitted certain material and have telescoped or summarized their reports. Neither author is giving an exhaustive list of all that Jesus did, but a summary of those specific aspects of his life and ministry which they wanted to include in their narratives. John himself says that he didn’t record everything Christ had said or done:

"Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name." John 20:30-31

"This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true. Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written." John 21:24-25

In light of John’s own statements we shouldn’t expect that he (or even any other writer for that matter) is giving us an exhaustive record of everything that occurred, but a summary of them.

Alhabeshi posts some questions in a table which we would like to answer:

Now lets see the clear contradictions between the gospel of Mathew and the gospel according to John.

1-Was John the Baptist imprisoned when Jesus got his disciples Andrew and Simon?


Jesus met his disciples for the first time before John’s imprisonment and then joined them in Galilee after John had been put in prison to resume his Galilean ministry.

2-Did Jesus found the disciples Andrew and Simon at the same time?


Not at their first meeting, but in Galilee when Jesus regathered them.

3-How did Andrew follow Jesus?


The way the Gospel of John says, namely that Andrew followed Jesus after hearing John the Baptist say that Christ is the Lamb of God. He then reunited with Christ when they returned home to Galilee after John’s imprisonment.

As it stands neither Mathew nor John made grave errors, they simply telescoped and summarized their stories. Both versions are accurate historical summaries which can be harmonized to show that neither version contradicts the other. This is why Bible-believing Christians accept both accounts as the perfect Word of God which he inspired through human agents who were guided by the Holy Spirit:

"Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit." 2 Peter 1:20-21

The Quran’s Chronological Errors

It is time to turn our attention to the Quran to see whether it can stand the criticisms and tests that Muslims often put the Holy Bible through. It must always be kept in mind that Muslims claim that Allah dictated the Quran to Muhammad through the angel Gabriel, which means that not only are there not multiple authors but that there is actually no human element involved in the revelation of the Quran. With the foregoing in perspective we would not expect to find the same stories retold and especially retold with major verbal variations and contradictions. But this is precisely what we find occurring all throughout the Quran, stories have been retold by the author which contain major discrepancies in wording and chronology. For the sake of brevity we will limit ourselves to only one example.

The Quran claims that the Israelites repented of their sin of worshiping the golden calf before Moses came down from the mountain:

And the people of Moses made, in his absence, out of their ornaments, a calf - a lifeless body, producing a lowing sound. Did they not see that it spoke not to them, nor guided them to any way? They took it for worship and they were transgressors. AND WHEN they were smitten with remorse and saw that they had indeed gone astray, they said, ‘If our Lord have not mercy on us and forgive us, we shall surely be of the losers.’ AND WHEN Moses returned to his people, indignant and grieved, he said, ‘Evil is that which you did in my place in my absence. Did you hasten to devise a way for yourselves without waiting for the command of your Lord?’ And he put down the tablet and seized his brother by the head, dragging him towards himself. Aaron said, ‘Son of my mother, the people indeed deemed me weak, and were about to kill me. Therefore make not the enemies rejoice over my misfortune and place me not with the unjust people.’ S. 7:148-150 Sher Ali

Yet another Sura says that they refused to repent and would only do so when Moses returned to them:

(Allah) said: "Verily! We have tried your people in your absence, and As-Samiri has led them astray." Then Musa (Moses) returned to his people in a state of anger and sorrow. He said: "O my people! Did not your Lord promise you a fair promise? Did then the promise seem to you long in coming? Or did you desire that wrath should descend from your Lord on you, so you broke your promise to me (i.e disbelieving in Allah and worshipping the calf)?" They said: "We broke not the promise to you, of our own will, but we were made to carry the weight of the ornaments of the [Fir'aun’s (Pharaoh)] people, then we cast them (into the fire), and that was what As-Samiri suggested." Then he took out (of the fire) for them a statue of a calf which seemed to low. They said: "This is your ilah (god), and the ilah (god) of Musa (Moses), but [Musa (Moses)] has forgotten (his god).’" Did they not see that it could not return them a word (for answer), and that it had no power either to harm them or to do them good? And Harun (Aaron) indeed had said to them beforehand: "O my people! You are being tried in this, and verily, your Lord is (Allah) the Most Beneficent, so follow me and obey my order." They said: "We will not stop worshipping it (i.e. the calf), until Musa (Moses) returns to us." S. 20:85-91 Hilali-Khan

So now what exactly occurred? Did the Israelites repent even before Moses returned to them or refused to repent at all until he came back from his meeting with God?

For more on this issue we recommend the following rebuttal to a Muslim attempt at harmonizing these discrepancies:

Responses to Jalal Abualrub
Articles by Sam Shamoun
Answering Islam Home Page