10.01.14 Jn. 6:16-18; Mk. 6:48a; Jn. 6:19a; Mk. 6:48b-52; Jn. 6:21b (See also Mt. 14:23b-27)
Sea of Galilee
JESUS WALKS ON WATER
Jn. 16 When evening came, His disciples went down to the sea, 17 got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. Darkness had already set in, but Jesus had not yet come to them. 18 Then a high wind arose, and the sea began to churn.
Mk. 48a He saw them being battered as they rowed, because the wind was against them. Around three in the morning …
Jn. 19a After they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea …
Mk. 48b … and wanted to pass by them. 49 When they saw Him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost and cried out; 50 for they all saw Him and were terrified. Immediately He spoke with them and said, “Have courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” 51 Then He got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. They were completely astounded, 52 because they had not understood about the loaves. Instead, their hearts were hardened.
Jn. 6:21b And at once the boat was at the shore where they were heading.
This had to have been an incredible moment. The disciples were rowing across the Sea of Galilee in the middle of the night when a storm arose. They were struggling against the wind when suddenly they saw a figure of a man walking across the water. Who would not have been scared to death in that situation?
“Around three in the morning.” Literally, “about the fourth watch.” According to Roman reckoning, the night was divided into four segments. The fourth watch observed the dawning of the sunrise, but the day began at 6:00 p.m. according to the Hebrew reckoning.
This walk on the water no doubt left an indelible impression on the disciples. While God previously performed miracles through Moses and Elijah, in the first century the Jews believed that incredible feats were performed by the prophets themselves. God had divided the waters through Moses so the Hebrew children could escape from the pursuing Egyptians (Ex. 14). Likewise, God performed a similar miracle through Elijah, dividing the waters of the Jordan River so he, Elijah, and Elisha could cross on dry ground (2 Kg. 2:8). Now Jesus performed a greater miracle.
“Walking on the sea.” Both the ancient Jews and their Greek neighbors believed that only God (or gods) had control over the winds and waters. It is understandable then that some became confused about Jesus’ identity. Certainly, no mere mortal could do such a thing! To any Greek observers, if Jesus could tell the winds to be still and walk on the waters, then certainly He was more powerful than Zeus, the Greek god of the winds, as well as Poseidon, the Greek god of the waters and earthquakes. In the 8th century B.C., the Greek poet Homer wrote a play with this description of Poseidon driving a chariot across the sea.
As he went on his way over the waves the sea-monsters left their lairs, for they knew their lord, and came gamboling around him from every quarter of the deep, while the sea in her gladness opened a path before the chariot. So lightly did the horses fly that the bronze axle of the car was not even wet beneath it; and thus the bounding steeds took him to the ships of the Achaeans.
Homer, The Odyssey 13:20-31
The Greeks knew the literary works by Homer as well as the Jews knew the Scriptures. In his writings, Homer created adventure stories in which there was great conflict that caused the gods and goddesses to take sides and intervene. Therefore, the personality and character of these pagan deities were well preserved by the first century. Greek and Roman theaters had countless performances of his plays and the characteristics of the gods had permeated into the daily conversation of the common people.
Therefore, when Jesus walked on the water or calmed the sea, the Greeks who may have witnessed these events were just as stunned as were the Jews. The stroll that Jesus took across the water was even more profound when considering that all of them believed that the abyss was right below Him – the bottom of the sea was one of the three gates to hell because it was believed that the place of the dead and demons was on the bottom of the sea. In their thinking, that was paramount of having the ultimate authority over dead and the demons. Obviously, whoever this Jesus was, He most certainly had a firm command over Poseidon and the sea monsters of the deep. Today we know that there are no demons on the bottom of the Sea, but the fact remains that Jesus exercised His power over demons whether they were real or imagined.
As if the influence of the Greek culture upon the Jews was not enough to cause great consternation, the Jews remembered the words of Job who referred to God walking on the water. Note the English translation as well as the Septuagint edition.
He alone stretches out the heavens
and treads on the waves of the sea.
When the Septuagint translators worked on this passage, they wrote it as follows:
The one who alone has stretched out the heavens,
and who walks on the sea as on firm ground.
Job 9:8 (LXX)
Without speaking a single word that He was God, this action profoundly declared that Jesus was God. He did not have to proclaim it because the disciples could see it. In addition, He performed the messianic miracles that the Jews believed only the Messiah could do. His daily life, character, actions, kindness, and compassion all revealed the characteristics of the expected “Anointed One” the rabbis had been teaching for years. Amazingly, it appears that James, the brother of Jesus, and Thomas continued to have difficulties believing that Jesus was Deity until after the resurrection.
Then Jesus said in verse 50, “It is I.” These three small words in English are not identification, but an awesome formula of revelation for the disciples, literally “I AM” (Gk. ego eimi). Jesus did not have to claim His divinity; He demonstrated it in contrast of what everyone understood.
Critics have said that the claims of divinity by Jesus were typical of various political figures of that time. They point to Caesar who not only claimed to be a god, but also claimed to have been born of a virgin and endowed with supernatural powers. For all the claims pertaining to his so-called deity, there were no witnesses who received a healing by him. Jesus, on the other hand, had hundreds if not thousands of healings and countless witnesses. As with any good emperor, the very egotistical Augustus claimed to have a variety of supernatural powers that were recorded by Philo, including the ability to calm torrential storms.
This (Augustus) is the Caesar who calmed the torrential storms on every side, who healed the pestilences common to the Greeks and barbarians, pestilences which descending from the south and east and coursed to the west and north sowing the seeds of calamity over the places and waters which lay between. This is he who not only loosed but broke the chains which had shackled and pressed so hard on the habitable world. This is he who exterminated wars both of the open kind and the covert which were brought about by the raids of brigands. This is he who cleared the sea of pirate ships and filled it with merchant vessels. This is he who reclaimed every state to liberty, who led disorder into order and brought gentle manners and harmony to all unsociable and brutish nations … He was also the first and the greatest and the common benefactor.
Philo, On the Embassy to Gaius 145-149
Philo (15 B.C. – A.D. 50), who lived during the life of Christ, described Caesar Augustus as the savior of humanity, one who would control nature as if he were god himself. The Romans and Greeks knew their leaders made such claims, but it is difficult to know how many seriously believed their emperors were deified. No doubt many superstitious people did. Jesus, however, performed miracles beyond the claims of Caesar. Consequently, His reputation quickly spread internationally, especially since many caravans traveled along the Via Maris that went through Capernaum.
“And at once the boat was at the shore where they were heading.” This phrase is truly a mystery because of the phrase “at once,” also means, “immediately.” Nearly all miracles were accompanied either by a teaching of the lordship of Jesus or an association of His lordship, but not in this case. Some scholars have suggested that possibly the trip was unusually short due to favorable winds after a long day. That may be the best answer. Regardless, they landed at the plain of Gennesaret, a few miles south of Capernaum.
Finally, a Dead Sea Scroll fragment discovered in cave 7 has been the subject of academic debate. Known as DSS 7Q5, and at times referred to as the “Jesus Papyrus,” the small papyrus fragment is the size of a man’s thumb. Some scholars believe it contains a portion of Mark 6:52-53, while others believe it is too small to make that determination. Scholars who argue for the position of Markian copy state that there are no other possible passages the fragment could match. Others disagree. Until related fragments are identified that once were a part of 7Q5, and thereby a larger portion of the text to be revealed, no clear conclusion will be attained.
10.01.14A. THE DEAD SEA SCROLL FRAGMENT 7Q5, KNOWN AS THE “JESUS PAPYRUS.” The “Jesus Papyrus” DSS 7Q5, is of Mark 6:52-53. It is believed this Dead Sea Scroll fragment was written shortly before the Romans destroyed the Essene community of Qumran. Critics argue that the fragment is too small to calculate a definitive date of its writing since the entire translation depends on the reading of one questionable letter. However, if authentic, it is one of the earliest portions of the gospels. Hence, the mystery continues. Photograph courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.
. See Appendix 16 for additional details on the time divisions of the day.
. Wessel, “Mark.” 8:676; Barclay, “Matthew.” 2:105.
. cf. Job 9:8; 38:16; Ps. 77:19; Ben Sirach 24:5-6.
. Finegan, Myth and Mystery. 159. As mentioned previously, there was a wide range of theological opinions on just about everything among the various Jewish sects. Some believed the three gates to hell were 1. Banias, the most pagan worship site in Israel, 2. the desert (Num. 16:33), and 3. the bottom of any sea (Jonah 2:20). Others believed that one of those gates was in Jerusalem (Isa. 31:9) instead of Banias. See also Lightfoot, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica. 2:110.
. Smith, Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament: Matthew. 187.
. Henry, “John.” 3:171.
. Gilbrant, “Matthew. 309.
. http://www.preteristarchive.com/BibleStudies/DeadSeaScrolls/7Q5_mark.html Retrieved November 15, 2012. There are numerous websites and articles on DSS 7Q5. It appears that all too often the opinions expressed by writers are based (or biased) upon their theological viewpoint of the Bible. In 1972 Jose O’Callaghan, a Spanish papyrologist made the original association of 7Q5 to Mark 6:52-53, a view that a decade later was supported by German scholar Carsten P. Thieder. Thiede then published The Earliest Gospel Manuscript? The Qumran Fragment 7Q5 and its Significance for New Testament Studies (London: Pasternoster, 1992).