ZEBEDEE zĕb’ ə dē (Ζεβεδαι̂ος, G2411. Meaning is uncertain, although it has been suggested that the name is derived from the Heb. זְבַדְיָ֖ה, “gift of Yahweh”; LXX, Ζαβδί). A Galilean fisherman, husband of Salome, father of the Apostles James and John (Matt 4:21; 10:2). Perhaps resided in Bethsaida or Capernaum.

Zebedee appears in all four gospels as the father of two of Jesus’ most prominent disciples, James and John, who with Peter stood at the center of the Twelve. The three were privileged to witness the Transfiguration (Matt 17:1-8), the raising of Jairus’ daughter: “He permitted no one to enter with him, except Peter and John and James” (Luke 8:51), and the private sorrow in Gethsemane (Matt 26:37). Zebedee, therefore, became known not because of his deeds (at least, none are recorded), but because he was the father of two famous sons who were among the Lord’s Twelve Apostles, one of whom wrote the beloved gospel according to John.

Zebedee and his two sons operated a thriving fishing business on the Sea of Galilee in partnership with another set of renowned brothers, Andrew and Peter (Luke 5:7-10). It must have been one of the larger public establishments of Capernaum because there were hired men (Mark 1:20). No doubt Zebedee was a man of means and influence, so much so that some believe he marketed some of his choice produce among the elite in Jerusalem (John 18:16).

The fishing business was radically changed the day that the call came to the two brothers. The picture we have from the gospels portrays Zebedee in a boat with his two sons and hired men, mending their nets on the shore of the Sea of Galilee when Jesus came by. “And...saw...James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in a boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him” (Matt 4:21, 22; Mark 1:19, 20). Although it must have harmed the fishing business somewhat, there is no record that he protested their forsaking a profitable business which one day would be theirs. On the contrary, there is reason to believe he continued the business because after the Resurrection Peter said: “I am going fishing” (John 21:3). It is possible that the business furnished much financial support for Jesus and His disciples during the years of our Lord’s ministry.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

The father of the apostles James and John (Mr 1:19) and a fisherman on the Sea of Galilee (Mr 1:20), the husband of Salome (Mt 27:56; compare Mr 16:1).

See James; Salome.