Well Gumby, I'm back, as promised. I want to deal with your claim that "The Gospel accounts differ as to the timing of John's imprisonment." You are mistaken on this. The answer lies in looking at the Mark 1:14-17 and John 1:40-44 accounts more closely, and within th proper time frames.
But before we do this, I want you to do something. Stretch out your right arm and point your index finger at something. Now notice that there are three more fingers pointing right back at you (i.e your own). The analogy here is, be careful when we point our finger at something or someone with an accusation or claim. If it turns out to be false, then we are three times as guilty by our own hand. "Judge not, lest you yourself be judged."
Now, a word about the "Burden of Proof". You have, in effect, said that the Bible contradicts itself when it comes to the books of Mark and John respecting the timing of John's imprisonment. If I can demonstrate to you that there is a logical, plausible and reasonable explanation that the two accounts do not contradict each other, then the Burden of Proof passes to you that you have to prove that they do. The only way either one of us can make a case, one way or the other, is with a "preponderance of the evidence".
So here goes.
Firstly, it wouldn't hurt to take a lesson in Geography. Spend a few minutes looking at some maps of the areas where John the Baptist and Jesus conducted their ministries. There is a pretty good map of the Land of Palestine in New Testament times at the following site: www.ccel.org
Notice the scale of the map, then use a ruler to determine how far apart different location are from each other. For example, John the Baptist set up his headquarters near Jericho, which John 1:28 says was "At the River Jordan, near Bethany-across-the-Jordan, or Bethabara." This was just north of the Dead Sea. The River Jordan connects straight north to the Sea of Galilee, a distance of approximately 65 miles "as the crow flies". The next thing to notice is how Palestine was divided up. In the North was the area of Galilee, where Jesus lived and spent most of his time during his ministry. South of Galilee is the territory of Samaria, and still further South is the land of Judea. Judea is where Jerusalem is located, and Bethlehem where Jesus was born, and also where John baptised and his disciples focused their activities. Jesus grew up in Nazareth, which appears to be about 20 miles west of the southern tip of the Sea of Galilee. Cana is less than 10 miles north of Nazareth. So when Jesus travelled from his home in Galilee to John in Judea to get baptised by John, he had to travel about 65 miles South. And when Jesus came out of the Wilderness after 40 days, and he saw John the Baptist who had been meeting with the priests and Levistes from Jerusalem, and he went to the wedding at Cana three days later, Jesus had to travel North and then West about 75 miles total. In those days, most people walked everywhere. That must have been some hike for 3 days under that hot, desert sun! Do you see now how geography can put things in better perspective?
When Jesus met John the Baptist after coming out of the Wilderness, and met Andrew and Cephas (Peter) and then Philip (as well as Nathaniel) John 1:14 says: "Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter." Bethsaida is located at the northern tip of the Sea of Galilee on lake Genesareth. This suggests that these guys accompanied Jesus on the way to the wedding at Cana, but really, they were on their way back home to Bethsaida. Remember too, that Andrew and Peter were fishermen, and they fished in the Sea of Galilee, so they lived where they worked.
It was after the wedding in Cana that Jesus, his mother, his brothers and his disciples went to Capernaum (about 15 miles east, on the N.W. end of the Sea of Galilee) and stayed there for a few days (John 2:12). Now it was the Jewish New Year on Nisan 1 (i.e. March 16), and on Nisan 8 (March 23) the Jewish Passover was celebrated. Jesus went down to Jerusalem (about 95 miles South and West from Capernaum) to celebrate the Passover, and that was when he cleansed the Temple of the buyers and the sellers (John 2:13-16). Then after this, Jesus and his disciples went into the land of Judea, and preached and baptised people (John 3:22). Remember, this is also John's territory for his work. John 3:22 tells us that at this time, John the Baptist was baptising at Aenon near Salem (which is believed to be in the heart of the Jordan valley). It is at this point that John 3:24 tells us "FOR JOHN HAD NOT YET BEEN PUT IN PRISON." For the next several months, Jesus disciples and John the Baptist were separately baptising in JUDEA.
It was some months later (one Chronology has it in November of the same year as the Passover Jesus attended in Jerusalem) that John was arrested. (Mark 1:14; Luke 3:14). Mark 1:14 says: "NOW AFTER JOHN WAS ARRESTED, Jesus came into GALILEE preaching the gospel of God.....". Luke 3:14 explained why John was arrested: "But Harod the tretarch, who had been reproved by him for Herodias, his brother's wife, and for all the evil that Harod had done."
Let me reiterate: "AFTER JOHN WAS ARRESTED, JESUS CAME INTO GALILEE" Jesus did this when he heard that John had been imprisoned. It makes perfect sense that when John got arrested, that Jesus and his disciples would remove themselves from the area of Judea where Harod was, and go back to their home territory. For the next six months, Jesus and his disciples spent most of their time in the area of Galilee, with short visits to Tyre and Sidon, north of Galilee, and the area of Decapolis, east of Galilee where 4,000 were fed.
It was during this period in Galilee that Jesus called his disciples:
"And passing along by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net in the sea; for they were fishermen."
"And Jesus said to them: 'Follow me and I will make you become fishers of men' " (Mark 1:16,17)
By one Chronology, this occurred March 12, about 4 or 5 months after the arrest of John the Baptist. Then, by the same Chronology, on April 3 (some 3 weeks later) Jesus selected the 12 apostles:
"And he went up on the mountains, and called to him those whom he desired; and they came to him."
"And he appointed twelve, to be with him, and to be sent out to preach." (Mark 3:13, 14)
While Jesus had been preaching to "come, follow me" and he had a number of disciples or followers, it was at this time when he appointed the 12 apostles that this effectively became a call to preach and teach and baptize FULL-TIME.
So, to the question "Where was John the Baptist when Jesus chose Andrew and Peter?", the answer is "In prison", if you mean when he chose them as amongst the 12 Apostles for full-time work. John was also in prision when Jesus told them "Follow me and I will make you become fishers of men", because they were in Galilee at the time. On the other hand, what about when Jesus came out of the wilderness and saw John the Baptist, and met Andrew and Peter and Philip, and told Philip "Follow me."? Then John was not in prison, because they were in Judea, and they all had to return to Galilee, and then Jesus had to come back to Judea to celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem, and work with his disciples in Judea for a period of time, and then later go back to Galilee when he heard that John had been arrested. It was after all this that Jesus chose his 12 apostles IN GALILEE.
I would now refer you to an excellent site for the New Testament Chronology which I have been referring to. You could literally spend days there, as it gets into tons of dating issues and theories, and why his dates were, in the end, selected. Even if you prefer another Chronology that doesn't agree precisely with his dates, it seems pretty clear that there is a kind of relative progression or sequencing of events that are pretty consistent from one system to another. The site is: doig.net Also, to demonstrate the "Harmony of the Ministry of Jesus" (in terms of Chronology) it lists all of the events that transpired in a chart, and to the right, three side-by-side columns for Mark, Luke and John, and cites chapter and verse where each passage tells about the event. There is one other Chronology that is pretty good that can be found at mb-soft.com that is worth looking at.
Having said all of the above, I would also like to say that most of my difficulties with the Bible have to do with quite a large number of EXTERNAL evidences (eg. historical, scientific, archaeogical, anthropological, etc.) rather than disprove many of the things written in the Bible in terms of comparing one passage with another to show a contradiction.I have already alluded to some of them earlier. However, when it comes to all these so-called contradictions within the Bible itself, I find them more apparent than real. I would rather take the position that "the Bible is logical and consistent within itself" and then test it against external evidences. There lie the real questions and problems, as I see it.
This has been a real learning experience for me, and I do hope it is of some use to other readers here as well.
Over to you, Gumby.