The name Zebedee most likely means “gift of Yahweh” and appears 11 times in the Gospels. Let’s find out a little bit more about this man, how he fits into the Bible and what we can learn from his life.
But first, who was Zebedee in the Bible?
Zebedee was a fisherman and the father of James and John, two of Jesus’ disciples – the passionate brothers who were referred to as Sons of Thunder. It is likely that he was a God-fearing man.
Zebedee was a Fisherman
During Bible times, sons were trained up to continue in the family profession. Our first glimpse of Zebedee is in a fishing boat with his sons, James and John, when Jesus calls them to follow Him. It is likely that his was a well-established and successful business as there were hired servants in the boat helping.
Matthew 4:21 (ESV) And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them.
Mark 1:20 (ESV) And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.
Zebedee was a Father
All 11 scripture references that mention Zebedee are in connection with him being the father of James and John. Zebedee’s relationship with his two sons was an easy way for the authors to indicate who they were talking about, especially in a group of 12 men besides Jesus.
As a father figure, we see him spending time with his sons as they worked together in the boats. Despite the presence of servants, he and his sons were working on the nets, mending them. From this we deduce that Zebedee was not only a hard worker but a good role model to his sons and an active part of their lives.
Possibly the most important action of Zebedee’s was his decision not to act when his two sons were called by Christ to follow Him and become fishers of men. He was right there but there is no record in the scriptures of him trying to stop them or trying to change their minds, despite the financial impact it most likely had on his family fishing business.
From these accounts, we see Zebedee as a father who likely trusted The Father.
Zebedee was a Husband
Scripture implies another relationship by mentioning Salome, the mother of the sons of Zebedee. This connection would undoubtedly make her the wife of Zebedee. She would be more easily recognized by the relation to the two sons though, due to their better-known role as Jesus’ disciples.
While the Bible doesn’t describe the couple together, it does paint a picture of the type of woman Salome was which helps us see Zebedee more clearly.
In Matthew 20:20, Salome approached Jesus to ask that her sons receive a special position in Heaven with Jesus in the eternal kingdom – while this request indicates a selfish ambition, it did show her faith in who Jesus was. We also see Salome follow Jesus and serve Him in Galilee in Mark 15:40. She was also one of the women present at Jesus’ crucifixion (Matthew 27:55) and again in the group of women that wanted to anoint his body in the tomb (Mark 16:1).
Zebedee was the husband of a woman who loved Jesus and served Him to the end. It is likely that she did this with the full support and understanding of her husband.
Did Zebedee Follow Jesus?
While we can’t be 100% sure about Zebedee and his heart for The Lord, the scriptures paint a picture of his whole family following and serving The Lord right to the very end of Jesus’ ministry on earth.
Zebedee was a witness to Jesus’ life and ministry. He watched his sons respond to Christ’s call and his wife serve and worship him too.
What about you? Have you heard the call of Christ? Will you “jump out of the boat” and follow Him?
Revelation 3:20 (ESV) Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in…