Jesus—with Peter—walking on the water in Matthew 14

The Sunday lectionary reading for Trinity 10 in Year A is Matt 14.22–33, Matthew’s distinctive account of Jesus walking across the water and Peter’s response to it. I am finding this recent, sustained immersion in Matthew’s narrative very interesting. We have often noted how Matthew’s accounts are more compressed than the other gospels, particularly Mark, and that he compensates for that by including additional episodes. But the compression itself actually gives the narratives an intensity and power that I had not expected.

In the previous episode, Jesus has been seeking solitude (with his closest followers) after hearing the news of John the Baptist’s death, with all its discouragement and foreboding. But, just as he postponed the urgent task of responding to Jairus’ daughter in order to attend to the needs of a woman in Matthew 9, so he postpones the meeting of his own urgent need to respond to the desires of the crowd.

He took command in feeding them, and now he takes command in dismissing both them and the disciples, so that he will be truly alone. There is one fascinating detail here: once all have eaten and are satisfied, Jesus ‘immediately’ dismisses them. This pericope is the only place in the whole of Matthew where Jesus acts ‘immediately’—a contrast to Mark where the term occurs ten times in his first chapter! Jesus has been postponing his own need for solitude and reflection, and his desire to be alone with his Heavenly Father can wait no longer. This time, the phrase κατ᾿ ἰδίαν ‘by himself’ means that he is, physically, truly alone.

In Matt 14.15, evening (that is, the time after sunset but before complete darkness; compare Mark 1.32) was approaching and this prompts the debate about feeding the crowd. Now, evening has come; some considerable time must have passed, so R T France translates this ‘well into the night’. This need not make seeing the boat impossible if the darkness is moonlit.

Matthew tells us that the boat was ‘many stadia’ from the land, and John 6.19 (interestingly) supplies more specific detail, that they had rowed ‘twenty five or thirty stadia’, translated as ‘three or four miles’. It is slightly odd that they are so far out, since ‘crossing’ the top of the Sea of Galilee means running not far from the shore. But Matthew points out that the problem is the wind blowing them off course. The simple sails of boats of the time would make tacking into the wind that modern sailing boats undertake with ease a real challenge, so they would have had to rely on oar power. And it is worth noting that this casual, corroborated geographical detail rules outa  ‘naturalistic’ explanation of Jesus walking on submerged stones near the shore before anyone even thought of it!

The ‘fourth watch of the night’, when Jesus came towards them, is a Roman term covering the period of around 3 am to 6 am, so the light of dawn would be approaching. Fishermen on the lake would often work at night, when the fish come to the surface without fear of predators, and we have several episodes where night working is evident or assumed (‘We have toiled all night’ Luke 5.5). In the dim light of dawn, it is not surprising that the disciples cannot make out the figure that approaches them.

Both Matthew and Mark repeat the fact that Jesus is ‘walking on the lake’, but the remarkable nature of this act is enough to record without any further elaboration. In fact it is such a powerful image that ‘walking on water’ has become proverbial in popular culture as a way of saying someone is remarkable. Despite this, there appears to be little symbolic freight attached to it; like many of his miracles, Jesus is using his power to meet a need or address a situation, rather than as any kind of ostentatious display of power for its own sake. As we noted previously, Jesus is no magician.

There is theological significance to this, and in fact Mark draws this out more explicitly than Matthew. In his expanded phrase ‘he meant to pass them by’ (Mark 6.48), he drops a heavy hint that we should hear echoes of Job 9.8, 11: ‘He treads on the waves of the sea…when he goes by, I cannot perceive him’. But the reaction of the disciples once Jesus climbs into the boat leave us in little doubt as to the significance of his action in their perception.

If Jesus’ actions have theological meaning, the disciples response lacks it! They are terrified, and think this is a ‘ghost’; the word here, phantasma, occurs nowhere else in the NT, and has no theological sense to it. Curiously, Matthew articulates their impression in reported speech, where Mark simply describes what they are thinking; this is unusual, as Matthew’s abbreviation of Mark’s narratives usually means the reverse. It is a frequent and sobering aspect of all the gospel accounts that Jesus is enigmatic, puzzling, even terrifying almost as often as he is encouraging and reassuring. Though he is truly ‘one of us’ in the incarnation, he is just as truly quite other than us, the master whom we can never quite master.

There are numerous variations in wording and style between the three accounts in Matthew, Mark and John, though (as is typical with the different gospels) their wording converges when it comes to reporting Jesus’ speech: ‘Take heart; it is I; fear not’. John trims off the first encouragement, in order to put the ἐγώ εἰμι ‘I am’ in the most prominent place, as we might expect. It is not very clear from Matthew’s account whether we should see, in this, an echo of the ‘divine name’ in Exod 3.14, not least since this phrase is the natural one a person would use to give reassurance about their identity. But of course we read these words in a different light following the resurrection and ascension than the disciples would necessarily have taken them at the time.

In Mark and John, Jesus’ assuring words lead straight into his reception into the boat; only in Matthew do we read this additional episode of Peter, impulsively, wanting to join Jesus on the water. Two things are particularly striking about this episode.

First, this is the point where the narrative becomes much more laden with symbolic significance—so much so that, for example, John Ortberg could title his best-selling book on discipleship after this episode (If you want to walk on water, you’ve got to get out of the boat).

  • Life is a storm, yet Jesus calmly walks on the surface.
  • We think we can follow him, though it looks impossible.
  • Then he himself calls us, and as we hear his voice, we are filled with courage.
  • We step out of the metaphorical boat of our safe assumptions and self-made protection in order to follow him.
  • Our faith fails as we are distracted from looking at Jesus and instead look at the wind and waves around us, and we feel as though we are drowning.
  • Yet Jesus reaches out and rescues us, and takes us once again to a place of safety.

The powerful symbol of the waters that threaten to overwhelm us is a common motif in the Psalms, appealing as it does to that archetypal sense of troubles that overwhelm us as the waves of the sea overwhelm a drowning person, especially poignant in a culture which, on the one hand, depends on fishing, but on the other probably does not do swimming. I love the way that the picture above picks this up, offering an unusual drowning-Peter’s-eye view of Jesus’ outstretched hand.

One of my favourite scenes in my favourite film(s), the Lord of the Rings, comes near the end of the first film in the trilogy. Frodo has decided that he can trust no-one else in the fellowship, so jumps in a boat and pushes off from the shore. Samwise Gamgee runs down the shore, shouting at him. ‘I am going to Mordor alone!’ cries Frodo, to discourage him. ‘Yes, you are—and I am going with you!’ insists Sam in reply. He launches himself into the water after Frodo, with more determination than faith, only to realise that he cannot swim. As he sinks beneath the water, a hand reaches down to pull him out, and the two are reunited for the beginning of their epic trip together as Frodo hauls Sam into his boat. What makes this image more powerful is that it is repeated, in reverse, at the end of the third film as Sam reaches a hand down to rescue Frodo from the destructive power of the molten lava in Mount Doom.

And here is the second point about this narrative, and the paradox: it is not at all clear that this is how we are meant to read the episode!

No obvious reason is given for Peter’s impulsive action. Jesus comes to them across the water to offer comfort and encouragement, and he has no other way to get to them—but what purpose is served by Peter doing the same? The episode fits well with the general depiction of his character—speaking before he has thought through the implications of what he says, and acting on impulse. R T France comments:

It is not so clear, however, whether Matthew intends us to see Peter in this incident as an example of valid faith which went wrong, or as from the beginning taking a foolhardy risk either to impress the others or simply as a childish search for exhilaration… The eventual failure of the experiment perhaps suggests that Matthew does not intend it to be taken as a model for others to follow, but rather as a cautionary tale. (NICNT, pp 567–568).

Peter is actually rather prominent in this section of Matthew’s gospel, and whilst Matthew generally softens the failures of the disciples as a whole compared with Mark, he leaves Peter’s failure on display for all to see. Peter gets a sharper rebuke in Matt 16.22f than in the other gospels, and his denial of Jesus in the courtyard fails to be given the customary Matthean abbreviation (Matt 26.69f).

Additional note: I am grateful to online friend James Oakley, who previously preached on this assuming that Peter was being reckless—though now thinks he might change his mind! But one thing that influenced him was John Calvin’s reading:

‘If it is thou,’ he says, ‘bid me come to thee.’ But he had heard Christ speaking. Why then was he doubtful and bewildered? In his small and weak faith there breaks out a thoughtless wish. He should have kept to his proper limits and rather sought from Christ an increase of faith so that by its leading and guidance he might at last rise above all seas and mountains. But as it is he wants to fly without the wings of faith, and without Christ’s voice having a genuine firmness in his heart, to make the waves solid under his feet. There is no doubt that his desire sprang from good principle, but because it degenerated into a faulty excess it ceased to be praiseworthy. This is why Peter quickly suffered for his rashness. By this example believers are taught to beware of over-much rashness. Whithersoever the Lord calls we must energetically run; but anyone who goes too far will experience at last the unhappy outcome of transgressing his limits.

We might ask why Christ grants Peter’s wish. By doing so He seems to approve it. But the solution is easy. God often looks after us better by denying what we ask. But sometimes He gives way to us so as to convince us of our foolishness by experience. Thus by yielding to them more than is expedient He daily trains His believers in sobriety and moderation for the future. Add that this was profitable for Peter and the rest and is profitable for us today. Christ’s power shines forth more brightly in Peter when He makes him His comrade than if He had walked on water alone. Yet Peter knew, and the others saw plainly, that because he did not abide in a firm faith and rest on the Lord’s Word the secret power of God which had made the water solid failed. But Christ deals kindly with him, for He did not want Him to sink completely. Both these things concern us also. Just as Peter began to sink as soon as he was overtaken by fear, so our frail and transient fleshly ideas sometimes cause us to sink in the course of our activities. Yet the Lord pardons our weakness and stretches out His hand lest the waters should swallow us up. We must also observe that when Peter saw that his temerity had turned out badly, he committed himself to Christ’s mercy. Wherefore we also, even when we are suffering a punishment we deserve, must flee to Him to have mercy on us and give us the help we do not deserve. (Commentary on Harmony of the Gospels, Volume 2, page 153)

(There is some reflection on the ambivalence of the whole narrative in scholarly debate about the phrase ‘he walked on the water to come/and came to Jesus’. Are the verbs there to express the fact that he succeeded in walking across the water and reaching Jesus, or merely that he attempted to do so and failed?)

Further additional note: Another online friend, David Moscrip, has suggested that our debate about the interpretation of this narrative actually echoes the narrative itself. We get focussed on the person of Peter in the story, his actions, his responses, and whether he was a good example or a dire warning—and, in the narrative itself, we take our eyes off the person of Jesus. So Peter in the story demonstrates what we often do in interpreting the story! Our interpretation becomes ‘fractal’—geometric images that represent themselves in miniature!

The lesson of both the story and our interpretation of the story is: keep your eyes on Jesus!

The closing dynamics of the story are important, and easily misunderstood. Jesus’ rebuke to Peter ‘Why did you doubt?’ sounds more than a little ironic, given that they were in the middle of the sea, in the near-dark, in a storm. Peter had good reason! But we should not take this as a rejection of doubt, or questioning, in the usual sense; the Greek term here distazo occurs only here and in Matt 28.17 in the New Testament, and has a sense not of asking questions but of being in two minds. The notion here is similar to that expressed in James 1.6–8, which also (coincidentally!) mentions waves.

Four times Jesus rebukes his disciples for being ‘you of little faith’. The term here, oligopistos, comes in Matt 6.30, 8.26, here in 14.31 and in 16.8, (and only once elsewhere in Luke 12.28) and he uses the related term oligopistia in Matt 17.20 in relation to ‘faith the size of a mustard seed’. Some have suggested that, rather than being a rebuke, this is a gentle encouragement to have faith. I am not persuaded by this, not least since this is Matthew’s softening of Mark’s recording of Jesus saying ‘You of no faith!’ (see Mark 4.40).

If Peter had had even faith the size of a mustard seed, he would have succeeded in his quest. R T France sums up:

The faith which can move mountains would have kept Peter safe, if he had not allowed his obedience to Jesus’s call to be overwhelmed by his very natural perception of the danger to which he had rashly exposed himself. It is thus an illustration of the vulnerability of the disciple who allows doubt, the natural human perspective, to displace the faith which relies on the supernatural power of God. (NICNT p 567)

Perhaps the best way to resolve this ambiguity is to note, once again, that we need to read not anthropocentrically, focussing on the action of the human characters as examples to follow or warnings to avoid, but theocentrically, focusing on the person and actions of Jesus. Whether we are reckless like Peter, or fearful like the other disciples, it is Jesus who is lord of creation and who is more powerful than anything that threatens us. It is to him that we bow down in awed worship.

(In this summer break, we are not producing weekly video discussions, but they will resume in September.)

Note: from next week I will no longer allow anonymous (as opposed to pseudonymous) comments.

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67 thoughts on “Jesus—with Peter—walking on the water in Matthew 14”

  1. Matthew’s account is the nail in the coffin of any belief that an unusual natural phenomenon was at work; Peter sank as his faith failed him. No physics can ever explain that.

    Can we walk on water today? Jesus said that “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to a mountain ‘move from here to there’ and it will move” (Matthew 17:20). I did not try it while on a tourist boat on the Sea of Galilee, although I doubt I could have done it even if I had the faith, because my reasons would have been egotistical. That is presumably why no plaque can be found on the jetty inscribed with the names of anybody who has succeeded. Nevertheless this incident is so well known that people who have never opened a Bible still refer to it implicitly, and if they say that some footballer walks on water then they know it is not really true but a compliment to his goalscoring skills.

    Within the church, Christians should not cheapen the word ‘miracle’ by applying it to lesser things, or to good things that are not unusual. The birth of a child is a wonderful thing for a couple, to take an example I have heard described as a miracle; but the birth of Jesus Christ involved a genuine miracle.

    • This incident is instructive in establishing that miracles are not a prop to faith and do not create faith.
      Peter was himself the miracle; it was he who was walking on water, an act unprecedented in human history. But rather than the miracle creating faith in him, his faith failed even as he walked on the water.
      The miracle rewarded Peter’s faith in obeying the Lord’s call and stepping out. This is what miracles are, when they occur. Rewards of faith.

  2. This incident of Jesus walking on water coming after the feeding of the 5 thousand goes together. One compliments the other. One can see how Jesus calmed the restless sea of people by casting bread upon it. He managed the sea as easily as he passed over the crowds. Later, after watching the crowd make their way home, through the eye of the Spirit, from the mountain top, he descended once again to go out to the disciples as The Bread upon the water.

    The same twinning of events to highlight and enhance is seen in the storm stilled /the demoniac calmed. and others.

    • You seem to be alluding to Eccl 11:1-2:

      Cast your bread upon the waters,
      for you will find it after many days.
      Give a portion to seven, or even to eight,
      for you know not what disaster may happen on earth.

      I’m wondering how you understand this in its context. Many interpreters consider this to be metaphorical for being generous – perhaps compare and contrast with the parable of the shrewd steward in Luke 16.

      • Hi David, I have not yet thought about it. The verse popped into my head as a possible prophetic word; Jesus as the bread upon the waters. For it to be an injunction to be generous misses the point entirely. Jesus said: scripture? it’s all about me! 🙂 So, Ecclesiastes needs to be meditated upon in conjunction with 4000/seven loaves/seven baskets – probably. Like all these things, there is not one satisfying answer. It is only understood in the moment when we have to decide to ‘turn to our left or right’ so to speak. Trying to work out a universal truth would be to live by the letter only.
        …I’m just fascinated that Jesus up a mountain in the dark, on his own, seems to be the chiastic centre between these two passages.

  3. Was Peter being foolhardy? Or was he, as I have come to believe, learning that he was supposed to emulate whatever he saw Jesus doing? This fits the pattern of Matthew’s Gospel, where Matthew 9.8 attributes the power to heal the sick to “human beings” (NRSV) rather than to anything to do with Jesus’ divine status. Similarly, the description of Jesus’ ministry of healing is repeated in his instruction to the Twelve at 10.1. Finally, at Matthew 28.20 Jesus commands the disciples to pass on to new disciples all the commands he has given them. Matthew is not necessarily suggesting that walking on water is going to be a regular practice – more that disciples should follow Jesus.

    • Peter strikes me not as foolhardy but more head-strong and a risk taker. He was, after all, possibly the only disciple who tried to follow Jesus into the grounds of the High Priest’s house.

  4. It was a Miracle – Praise God !

    A few points, Ian.

    (1). “the word “phantasma” [ghost, spirit, apparition] …has no theological sense to it” (cf. Matt. 14:26).

    Granted – but would it have any parapsychological sense, or would your statement amount to a denial of the ontological existence of ghosts ?

    (2). “Though he was truly one of us in the incarnation …”.

    Hebrews 2:14 : “Since the children are sharers in flesh and blood, he also himself ‘in like manner’ [Gk. paraplesios] partook of the same …”

    The ‘Expositor’s Greek Testament’ (Edited by W. Robertson Nicoll) states with respect to ‘paraplesios’, :

    “It means not merely ‘in like manner, but in absolutely the same manner, as in Arrian vii. 1,9..Herod. 3:104..”.

    Likewise, the ” Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament” states on Heb. 2:14 :

    “Jesus took on flesh and blood in the same way as others …in spite of the ambiguity of the expression ‘[paraplesios’], the thought is not simply of a ‘similarity’.”

    Hence, Wolfhart Pannenberg writes :

    “The conception that at the incarnation God did not assume human nature in its corrupt sinful state but only joined Himself with a humanity absolutely purified from all sin contradicts not only the anthropological radicality of sin, but also the testimony of the New Testament [e.g. Heb. 2:17] and of early Christian theology that the Son of God assumed sinful flesh and in sinful flesh itself overcame sin” [cf. Romans 8:3-4].

    “Jesus – God and Man.”, p. 362.

    Apparently, Pannenberg’s assessment that Jesus shared our Post-lapsarian human nature would also be supported by Karl Barth, Thomas F. Torrence, Colin Gunton, and the Roman Catholic scholar, Thomas Weinandy.

    (3). Matthew 14:23 has a parallel with John 6:15, but in the latter, the Greek word ‘monos’ is used, which means ‘alone’, ‘solitary’, ‘without a companion’. Whilst we all readily grasp the definition of ‘monos’ in John 6:15, many Christians are very resistant to accepting its obvious, face value meaning in John 17:1-3 ( via the variant, ‘monon’)

    • “The two shall become one”
      A mystery that speaks of the union between Jesus and the church.
      It is derived from the sublime majesty of the Mystery of God– one in power and might. One in purpose. One = The Father. The Son. The Holy Spirit.
      We can rest in the Father and contemplate Jesus and His Spirit.
      We can commune with Jesus and observe the Father and the Spirit.
      We can be lifted in the Spirit and worship the Father and the Son.
      There is no objective, intellectual way of experiencing God beyond these ways.
      Anything in scripture is written from one of these standpoints.
      In Revelation for instance, John was “in the Spirit” and saw Jesus among the lamp stands with the Spirit in His right hand. John was in the Father’s house, just past the front door, in the atrium. Therefore Jesus was the only ‘man’ to be seen.
      After this introduction John was invited further in and up to the throne. As one would do in a palace villa. When confronted by the One (the Father) on the throne John could only see The Father on the Throne and Jesus as the Lamb. The Spirit thus became in the narrative torches before the throne.
      Later on John is with Jesus and sees the mighty ‘Angel’ the Spirit. The Father is the Voice.

      We never see all three together. They rotate in symbolic turn. John is always with Jesus, with the spirit or with the Father.
      It’s not complicated, its sublime. Complicated is trying to be objective and reductive.

      • Steve –

        Are you trying to tell me that Augustine, Hilary, Ambrose and Bede made the mistake of thinking that Jesus was speaking objectively when He said that the Father is the only {Gk. monon] true God, which then pressurized them into changing the biblical text so as to erroneously read :

        ” that they may know You [the Father] and Jesus Christ as the only true God” ?

        (cf. Augustine’s ‘Tractates on the Gospel of John’, Tractate CV, ch. 17.; and H.A.W. Meyer’s “Commentary on John”; ch. 17).

          • All I’m saying Geoff, is that it’s wrong to tamper with the facts in order to salvage a much cherished, pre-supposed theory.

        • Dear Pelegrino, Jesus, God in Flesh, had to grow in body and mind until He was empowered by the Spirit at his baptism. The Spirit “remained” on Him. They spoke of what they knew, their God as Father. By being both in the flesh and in the Spirit Jesus could objectify God as His Father. By praying to the Father is is clear He knew He was the LORD.
          Thanks for asking, but as I’ve made a point in life of never reading the great and good, you mention, I’m probably beyond help!
          Ask the Holy Spirit who Jesus is—not St. Custard or St. Trinian! Tee Hee.
          PS. Why so entrenched art thou? But hey, I’ve never seen any commenters on this blog change their mind on anything, so i’;m not holding my breath

          • Thanks, Steve –

            It’s all so easy for you, Steve, but I’m still stuck on books like :

            “Rocket Science for Dummies”. 🙂

          • As HJ said, your objection assumes that God can only be one person. Jesus affirms that He is God, “Before Abraham was, I am.” (John 8:58) As stated above, Jesus also affirms that He and the Father are not the same person (John 17:5). It follows that God is one infinite act of Being who exists as more than one person.

            As for “pre-existence” of humans, this is entering the field of predestination and God’s foreknowledge “prior” to creation. When God establishes His eternal plan of ‘predestination,’ He includes in it each person’s free response to his grace. Thus, anyone who is finally saved will have been predestined by God because it was God’s predestined plan and God’s grace that went before him and enabled him to be saved.

            Note that at the creation God created time, matter and space – and humans. These did not literally possess a real, pre-existence before this. God exists outside of time, space and matter and continually upholds creation and creates. He is transcendent and imminent. Scripture informs us that it was the Word – Christ – who created, i.e., He is God. So, it is not logical to apply this concept of pre-existence in the Mind of God to Christ.

            We’re dealing here with Christians, through grace and faith, being adopted as sons of God through the merits of Christ and sharing His glory – and God foreknowing this.

          • Happy Jack;

            Ask your Spiritual Adviser (if he is a Theologian) what ‘Wisdom Christology’ is.

            Quite a few of the pre-A.V. Bible versions seem to have recognized that the ‘Logos’ / ‘Word’ in John 1:1 was a reference, not to a second person alongside God, but to our Heavenly Father’s powerful, creative utterance, manifested in the Genesis Creation :

            For example, compare the ‘Bishop’s Bible’ (John 1:1-3)

            “In the beginning was the word and the word was with God : and that word was God. That same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by it : and without it, was made nothing that was made.”

        • @ Pellegino

          And then a few verses later we have Jesus saying: And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.

          Jesus says he shares in God’s glory and was with God before the world was made. Since He is addressing the Father and refers to the glory He shared with the Father before creation, the natural conclusion is that the personal relationship expressed refers to a relationship that is eternal.

          The Bible says God shares His glory with no one (Isa. 42:8) and that He was alone when he made the world (Isa. 44:24). So Jesus and the Father must be the same person.

          Moreover, John 12:28 describes Jesus praying to the Father saying, “Father, glorify thy name.” John then tells us a voice came from heaven and it said, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” At both Jesus’ baptism and Transfiguration the Father speaks in a voice other people can hear which declares that Jesus is His beloved Son (Matt. 3:17, Matt. 17:5). These conversations, apparently between persons, would not likely happen if God was just one person.

          The New Testament firmly teaches not just that Jesus is God, but that there is only one God. Jesus described God as “the only God” (John 5:44) and “the only true God” (John 17:3).

          Your objection assumes that God can only be one person. Jesus affirms that He is God, Before Abraham was, I am.” (John 8:58) As stated above, Jesus also affirms that He and the Father are not the same person (John 17:5). It follows that God is one infinite act of Being who exists as more than one person.

          • Yes and amen HJ.
            And I would add we only ever see one person + two symbols:
            Dove, torch, stars, voice , cloud, Angel, fire, Temple &c.
            The focus is usually on , e.g.: Jesus + a dove , voice.
            At other times , if say Jesus is portrayed symbolically as a lamb then the One on the throne is the human looking illuminated by torches.
            Controversially, if the Holy Spirit is the human looking person (the Angel surrounded by a rainbow) then Jesus is the scroll in His hand and the Father is the Voice. Or say, Jesus is the Rock, Moses heard the Father and saw the Water (Spirit).
            I’m visual. That’s how it looks to me!
            But, I suspect I have cut across Roman doctrine, so apologies from a free thinker!

          • To Happy Jack;

            Your argument falls down in several places. Consider :

            (1). The glory that Jesus received from the Father , has been given to believers, and future believers (John 17:20-22).

            (2). Believers therefore, are already glorified (Romans 8:29-20).

            (3). Believers were also chosen before the creation of the world (Eph. 1:4).

            (4). Believers received grace before the beginning of time (2 Tim. 1:9).

            However, believers did not literally possess a real, pre-existence, but only an ideal, pre-existence in the mind, purposes and plan of God. The same may be true of the Johannine Messiah, and thus Jesus in John 17:5 may be speaking propletically, not literally.

            For example, in Mark 10:6, Jesus does not say that He created Mankind male and female , but rather, God alone did.

            Only the Father, Who is : “Kurios ho Theos ho Panto-krator” (‘The Lord God Almighty’ = “Ho On” (Ex. 3:14 LXX; Rev. 4:8 = ‘The One Who Is’), is the sole Creator of the physical creation; cf. Rev. 4:8).

            (5). The Jews believed that their Messiah had an an ideal pre-existence in the mind, plans, and purposes of God, before the creation of the world (cf. Talmud, Pesachim 54a; Tanchuma, Nasso 11; et al). Consequently, Jesus was the “Lamb slaughtered before the world was founded” – in the mind, plans, and purposes of God. (Rev. 13:8; CJB).

            (6). John 5:44 reads :

            ” Him Who alone is God”.

            As Jesus and the Jews believed that the Father alone is the only true God (see John 8:41, 54; John 17:1-3), then John 5:44 = John 17:1-3.

            What you trying to do, Jack, is nullify, negate and contradict the Word of God for the sake of your traditions.

            (7). John 8:58 can be translated in a past, progressive tense. Furthermore, the Jews never accused of Jesus claiming to God in John 8:58, but rather of claiming to be the Messiah. (Compare John 8:58 with John 10:24 ff). When The Jews do eventually accuse Jesus of being ‘God’ in John 10:33-36, Jesus categorically denies it – and claims instead, to be ‘The Son of God’.

            Moreover, God is never called “Ego eimi” in the New Testament, but rather “Ho on”; as in the LXX of Ex. 3:14. See for example, Rev. 4:8, et al.

          • “The Bible says God shares His glory with no one (Isa. 42:8) and that He was alone when he made the world (Isa. 44:24). So Jesus and the Father must be the same person.”


            And Jesus will most certainly have known that when he said: “glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.”

            John 8:58 is also decisive and deliberately worded.

            In a whole range of ways, Jesus appropriates to himself the qualities attributed in the Old Testament to God.

            The clear metanarrative is an incitement for people to make up their own minds to the question “Who do people say I am?”

            Jesus is doing this consciously.

            Yes, Jesus – the Word – is God.

            This is the Christian religion. There is no alternative Christian faith that denies Jesus is God. The three persons of the Godhead are One God. They have been since the beginning, and they are in all eternity.

            One can go to the Jehovah’s Witnesses for that. Or to Unitarianism, which is not an optional alternative to Christianity. It is its own religion, outside of Christianity.

            It misses the key point of who Jesus is. The manifestation of the God who personally bleeds and dies for us, goes all the way to the Cross for us, devotes and is ‘with us’ to the point of no turning back.

            God did not do all this by proxy.

            The Word was God (not ‘a’ god, as JWs have argued). Was there from the beginning. And became flesh to live among us. Immanuel. God with us. What do you think that name means?

            If you don’t get this, you don’t get Christianity.

            Of course, there are many other ways we can fall by the wayside (as people will say to me, so I’ll pre-empt them). But regardless of me, Jesus is the eternal and ever-living God. The Three Persons share consciousness and divinity. They are eternal community together. They are one God.

          • Susannah;

            The incident recorded in John 8:58, is picked up again for discussion, in John 10:24. it is obvious that the Jews took ‘ego eimi’ as a veiled reference to being the Messiah (as it also does in John 4:25-26). When Jesus was eventually accused of claiming to be ‘God’, just a few verses later in John 10:33-36, Jesus completely denies the claim , and confirmed John’s original conclusion to his Gospel, in John 20:31.

            However, as neither yourself, nor Roman Catholics base your belief systems upon the Bible, per se, attempting to demonstrate Scriptural arguments to you both, is a totally futile endeavour. The Bible is simply not your ‘currency’

            God bless you.

          • I don’t assume, Happy Jack – Jesus “the Truth”, tells me that the Father is “the only True God” (John 17:1-3).

            The resurrected Jesus also tells me that the Father is my God (John 20:17) –

            which is why Messiah Jesus is never called ‘God’ in the book of Revelation, and why Messiah Jesus refers to the Father as “My God” (Rev. 3:2; Rev. 3:12; cf. John 20:17).

  5. Thank you Ian for the conclusion you draw.
    Our default mode of reading centres on Peter (and subjectively ourselves) and not Jesus, on who Jesus is, Sovereign LORD GOD of creation.
    Or, to put it another way, in the Gospel of Matthew, from the outset Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us, as OT fulfillment after four centuries of silence from God, God immediately shows up. Immanuel, Jesus, God with us, who will save his people from their sins, (including unbelief).
    And the remainder of history, registered in Matthew, is an extrapolation and absraction of evidence in the key of Emmanuel, God with us, in human flesh.
    Matthew has an Emmanuel hermeneutic.

    DA Carson: “Jesus calls Peter a “man of little faith”, and his rhetorical question helps both Peter and the reader recognize that doubts and fears quickly disappear before a strick enquiry into their cause.
    “Thus Peter here is both a good example and a bad example. His cry for help is natural and Jesus rescuing him is akin to God’s salvation in the OT (Pss 18:16; 69:1-3; 144:7)
    “The climax is not the stilling of the storm. The final response is of the disciples is to confess and worship Jesus.” D.A. Carson in Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary, Volume 2: New Testament.

    It’s not about us, or Peter, it is all about Jesus. When will we ever learn?
    That reminds me of a song from years ago, by Paul Oakley; “It’s all about you Jesus, it’s not about me, as if you should do things my way, You alone are God and I surrender to your ways.”

    • Geoff;

      God (the Father) is with us in the person of His Son, Who was born directly from our Father God, via the virgin Mary (Luke 1:35; Matt. 1:20. As Paul put it :

      “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself” (2 Cor. 5:19).

      This is different from saying :

      “Christ was God, reconciling the world to Himself”;

      or, “Christ was God, reconciling the world to the Father.”

      When Jesus raised up the only son of the widow of Nain, the people glorified God (their heavenly Father) saying :

      ” A great prophet [i.e. Jesus] is arisen among us : and God [our Father] has visited His people”.

      (Luke 7:16; cf. Matt. 9:8).

      • @ Pellegrino


        Jesus walking on water (as is the calming of the storm) is recorded to demonstrate the importance of faith in Him, and to anchor that faith in His miraculous demonstration of His Divinity: i.e., control of the elements.

        St. Chrysostom in his sermon notes on The Book of Job, taught that Job 9:8 was a prophecy of Christ walking on the water. Job 9:8 says, “He alone (i.e., God) stretches out the heavens and treads on the waves of the sea.” Job 9:10 says, “He (i.e., (God) performs wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles that cannot be counted.”

        • To Happy Jack;

          It all depends on what you mean by ‘Divinity’.

          Josephus (Ant. 3:180; 8:34) and Philo (VitaMos. 1:158) both describe Moses as ‘divine’, but only God (i.e. the father) has real Divinity.

          Jesus’ words in John 17:1-3 are probably the strongest words in the entire Bible, in support of Jewish, and also Christian, Unitarian Monotheism. The problem is, as was the case in Jesus’ day, many people have very deep emotional attachments to their religious traditions (Mark 7:9). As a consequence, and God willing. many people may be much better Christians, than they are theologians !

          • @ Pellegrino

            And when did Josephus and Philo become part of Sacred canon? HJ must have missed that!

            Both, in different ways, assign Moses the status of “divine man”, a distinct meaning in Hellenistic-Jewish thought, and very elusive at that, not the God Incarnate of Christianity. The New Testament portrayal of Jesus is very different to a “divine man Christology.”

          • Dear Happy Jack :

            The telling fact, Happy Jack, is how you have to express your beliefs in totally, non-Scriptural language;

            e.g. “Mother of God”; “the Assumption of Mary”; “The Immaculate conception of Mary ( herself); “the God-Man”; “God the Son”; “Triune God”, etcetera ;

            Whereas the first Christians in the book of Acts could easily express their Apostolic Faith, in lucid, explicit Scriptural language.

            Amazing, isn’t it ?

          • @ Steve

            You choose:

            … and eventually it returns a soggy mess!

            … feed the ducks to fatten them before roasting them!

            … do a good deed without expecting a reward for it as some day you will need help and find it waiting for you,

        • Good points well made, Jack. Pellegrino seems to avoid answering this in favour of focusing on your Catholicism. QED.

  6. I’m not sure Jesus dismissed the crowd “immediately” so He could be on his own. He does take some time to be on his own after he dismisses them, but in human terms the main urgency was probably their safety and well-being.

    As a mountaineer I’m well aware that you need to think in advance and consider contingencies if you’re out in wild places.

    We’ve already been told that these crowds had gone out to a “remote” place, and it was getting late – “as evening approached”. Indeed in Mark the disciples are anxious about the well-being of the crowds: “This is a remote place and it’s already very late… send the people away.” They would need “lodging” (Luke). John also suggests that the episode ended because of possible over-enthusiasm of the crowd, who might want to politicise the situation. But that’s not mentioned in the other gospels.

    So the prospect of darkness overtaking them (as well as food) creates concern among the disciples. And the weather is going to be windy enough soon. A “strong wind” (John 6) was on the way.

    Of course, the practice of being quiet with God lies close to the heart of our calling as Christians, and Jesus demonstrated that for us. In addition, if he was mindful of John, then being out there alone would be resonant too.

    But I think the crowd was summarily dismissed because the miracle had happened, they had eaten, and in their own interests they needed to get going. Basic health and safety.

    With regard to Peter, it’s interesting that neither Luke nor John mention Peter’s episode on the water. Was that so as to focus completely on Jesus?

    • Hi Suzannah,
      I can’t help thinking about the rowers facing the approaching apparition. Their faces changing from fear to terror as Peter is trying to steer with his back to Jesus. What? Thinks Peter. What are they looking at? Then over his shoulder he hears , “fear not…” Before the disciples can think Peter gets out, leaves off steering and the boat swings wildly broadside. They fall about, arms , legs, oars. Suddenly Jesus and Peter are in the boat and a dead calm descends. A blue sky appears like a hole above them as they watch the storm flee in all directions.

      • Like I said before, you are so visual. You really bring scenes to life. You’d be great at imagining illustrated comic books about the Bible narratives.

        Not sure about the blue sky though – it was night, wasn’t it?

        • ooops!
          blue sky thinking!
          I’ve written 14 short Bible stories. This one would work well as N°15, centred on Jesus up the mountain all alone.

    • Hello Susannah,
      It is suggested that ultimately Luke’s focus was on Jesus as seen in recording of the Emmaus Road episode where Jesus explains that the whole of the OT, the scriptures, was about him. The sublime seminar of all seminars. There, mention of the OT categeories, represented the Hebrew division of OT. (I have scholarly authority for that somewhere, but just can’t think where at the moment and my books aren’t to hand)
      And John is all about the divinity of Jesus and all the unbelief, hostility and opposition, as blasphemy, he encountered in response. Nothing changes. Just like today.

      • Thank you Geoff.

        “the Emmaus Road episode where Jesus explains that the whole of the OT, the scriptures, was about him. The sublime seminar of all seminars.”

        I love that!

    • @ Susannah C

      “Do not be afraid … Take courage. I am here!” (Matthew 14:27)

      As Geoff pointed out above, “It’s not about us, or Peter, it is all about Jesus.” This inclusion by Matthew isn’t focussed on Peter and his faith, or lack there of, for its own sake. Ultimately it’s focus is Christ; the need for faith and trust in Him.

      Peter boldly responds to Jesus, “Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.” Jesus replies, “Yes, come.” Peter trusts Jesus enough to step out of the boat and he walks on water toward Him. It’s when Peter notices how powerful the wind and waves are that in his terror he takes his eyes off Jesus. He’s afraid and he sinks. He calls to Jesus, “Lord save me.” Jesus immediately reaches out His hand and catches him.

      After Peter was safe Jesus rebuked him for his little faith. This rebuke is to help Peter and the other disciples understand that confidence in Him in all their coming trials and doubts is absolutely necessary.

      • One should not add to the law, but sometimes it is difficult not to wish for prohibitions on guitars in worship and football before the cricket season ends.

          • Seesaw all the way, a superb series. This England team is clearly better in English conditions, and lost narrowly in one Test through dropped catches and another through hubris taking on the short ball. What would happen if these two teams met in Australia, I have no idea. But when we do next go there, we shall have a much changed bowling attack.

          • Robbed? What would you expect from a bunch of convicts… Although it was in fact our own weather what robbed us.

    • @ Susannah C

      The Gospel of John records Jesus’ reason for withdrawing:

      “After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, (the feeding of the five thousand) they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.”

  7. Apologies Pellegrino; mistaken, double post.
    But what that about cherished theories turning into concrete unbelief as opposed to revealed reality turning into delighted and experiential confession, doxology and devotion of Jesus in whom the fullness of God dwells bodily.

    • Yes – God does dwell within Jesus :

      “For in the Messiah the entire fullness of God’s character and mind dwell bodily, and you have been filled by Him Who is the head over every ruler and authority.” Col.2:9.

      As God’s Agent-Son, Jesus is the super-exalted sinless Man, Who perfectly fulfilled God’s plan for mankind in Psalm 8:3-8. Jesus currently has a functional equality with God, until the Son hands over the victorious Kingdom to God, Who will then rule directly over all (cf. 1 Cor. 15:23-28). However, all of this is still accommodatable with a Jewish, unitarian, monotheistic system of thought. As Anglican Canon, Dr. Anthony E. Harvey noted :

      ” there is no unambiguous evidence that the constraint of [Jewish] monotheism was effectively broken by any New Testament writer.”

      The Essay : “The Constraints of Jewish Monotheism”; published within the the book, “The Constraints of History”.

      • It is clear that Pellegrino pays no heed to scripture, adhereance to his nor sola scriptura creed, as far as the Matthew hermeneitic, of Immanuel is concerned reading it though a unitarian lens, hostile and in entrenched opposition to the Deity of Jesus.

  8. As far as I am aware, no one has picked up on what follows the word ‘immediately’.Interpretations have focused on the term, either for reasons of Jesus’ need of solitude or corncerns for the safety and well-being of the disciples : But Jesus we are told *made* the disciples get into he boat. Why? This is hardly a statement from someone whose primary concern at this juncture is, for example, their safety and well-being! “Immediately Jesus *made* them get into the boat [22 a].” Now inclusion of ‘made’, may fit directly with Jesus’s need for rest and tranquility but hardly with the disciples’ well-being. There is surely something more!
    Following through the rest of the passage:
    (a) — “and go on ahead of him (Jesus) *to the other side* [22b] – “while he dismissed the crowd” [ 22c].
    (b) “After he had dismissed them, he went up *on a mountainside by himself to pray*.
    (c)” When evening camre he was there *alone*, but the boat was already *a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it*.
    Was Jesus not aware of the possibility of a storm arising? And was not part of the reason for his being alone and in prayer to *pray for the disciples* in particular *knowing* that they might be facing a storm?

    So why in the first place did he *make* them go?

    It was the Lord God who created the seas [Genesis 1: 10]. And yet, there is much subsequent Biblical material that highlights in Hebrew thought the sea as being populated by hostile spiritual forces. While Psalm 89 : 9-10 reminds us that ‘God rules over the surging sea’, Isaiah 27:1 speaks of “that day, the Lord will punish with his sword —-the Leviathan the gliding serpent, Leviathan the coiling serpent; *he will slay the monster of the sea*.” Moreover, the sea represents in Scripture the pangs of death. Entombed in the belly of the great fish, Jonah cries out :”In distress, I called to the Lord and he answered me. From the dephs of *sheol* I called for help – Death and resurrection -the’sign of Jonah’ [Jonah 2: 2] !
    So what does this signify? To me it highlights that Jesus in putting his disciples through a TEST; not only a test of their faith but also for the primary purpose of acknowledging in humble submission that he is also the Lord of all creation as well as their lives! ” Then those who were in the boat *worshipped* him,saying “you are truly the Son of God.[33]”

      • Hello Colin,
        Carson again: Although the Greek words for “It is I” (“I am”) can have no force than that, any Christian after the Resurrection and Ascension would also detect echoes of “I Am,” the decisive self- disclosure of God (Exodus 3:14) Isaiah 51:12; cf. John 8:58.
        Once again we find Jesus revealing himself in a veiled way, that will prove especially rich to Christians after his resurrection.”

        • Thanks for that response Geoff. However within the space of one day it would seem that Biblical exposition has been overtaken by ‘good dress sense” ! Modern life really is becoming a drag !

        • Dear Geoff;

          God is never called ‘Ego eimi’ in the New Testament.

          Rather, the New Testament uses the Septuagint Greek translation of Exodus 3:14b – “HO ON” (cf. Rev. 4:8; et al): Thus, Ex. 3:14b reads :

          ” ‘HO ON’ has sent me [Moses] to you” = “‘The One Who Is’ has me to you “. (cf. Ex. 3:14b; NET Septuagint).

        • Geoff;

          ‘Ego eimi’ in John 8:58 is probably a veiled reference to ” I am the Messiah”, as confirmed by the Jews in John 10:24 (which alludes to John 8:58). When the Jews do eventually accuse Jesus of claiming to be ‘God’ in John 10:33-36, Jesus clearly denies it, and says He is the “Son of God” – which is in full agreement with the whole purpose of John’s Gospel, which John himself expressed, in John 20:31.

  9. It’s interesting that Matthew uses “euthus” three times of Jesus’ actions in this one pericope, which is the only place it features in his Gospel: 1. As you note, to send the disciples away; 2. To reassure them they should not fear; 3. To reach out and pull Peter out of the waves.

    I am also seeing an interesting variation in the words Matthew uses for the lake. When Jesus walks on it, “thalasses” (which I think can also be “sea”, summoning up the symbolic echoes of chaos and danger; when Peter speaks of, and then walks on the same waves, “hudata” (literally “water”…

  10. “The only one in the Old Testament said to trod upon the waters was God Himself”.

    And Peter had done something not even the greatest of OT prophets had done by walking on water. It may be a reminder of the Israel passing through the Red Sea or the Jordan crossing. A Rabbinical story (but it is not certain that it was as early as Jesus time) said the first Israelite to cross the Red Sea, began to sink in the waves, but was rescued by Moses’ rod, which divided the Red Sea.
    For Jesus’ rescue cf. Psalm 18:16, Psalm 144:7
    Craig Keener: The NIV Bible Background Commentary, New Testament

    • The closest any OT prophet came to this was when Elijah caused an axe head to float. But then all of Elijah’s miracles are microcosms of Jesus’ miracles.

  11. Ian, thank you for another rich and helpful post.
    I’m thinking about how Jesus asked the disciples to meet the crowd’s hunger, then He took the initiative, then had them distribute the food. He taught the disciples to combine their dependance on Him with using their own initiative. Then soon after, struggling against a storm, they are dependent on Jesus and overwhelmed. When Jesus got into the boat, the wind ceased, and safe passage became possible. There seems to be a blend of using our own initiative whilst being dependent on Jesus. In this context, Peter’s excursion seems to echo the same theme. Jesus approved of his initiative, yet Peter needed to be dependent on Jesus.


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