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Jesus and the Sea

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July 14, 2010 Tags: Christ & New Creation
Jesus and the Sea

Today's entry was written by Pete Enns. You can read more about what we believe here.

In the Gospels, there are two incidents where Jesus shows his power over the sea. He calms a raging storm of wind and waves (Matthew 8:23-27, Mark 4:36-41, Luke 8:22-25) and he walks on sea in the midst of a storm (Matthew 14:22-33, Mark 6:45-51, John 6:15-21). These are not just simply a “display of power.” Like all of the miracles, these two draw upon some aspect of Yahweh’s activity in the Old Testament and Israel’s messianic expectation.. These two Gospel stories tie into an Old Testament and ancient Near Eastern theme we looked at together a few weeks ago: Yahweh tames the watery chaos. Keeping that theme in mind will help us appreciate more the theological depth of Jesus’ acts that might otherwise be missed.

Jesus makes the wind and waves stop

Up to this point Jesus’ ministry has been characterized by some healings (which were enough to make the people take notice) and some powerful and challenging speeches, such as the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7. But this act of calming the storm raises the ante: it shows that the healer and teacher also controls the elements of the created order—specifically, the sea. This act is infused with theological significance.

Jesus and his disciples get into their boat, and without warning find themselves surrounded by violent wind and frothy waves that surely signal their doom. They wake the napping Jesus and complain that their end is near. Jesus chides them for their lack of faith—which here means “trust”—and “rebukes” the wind and waves (Matthew 8:26), and returns the sea to utter calm.

Putting the sea back in its place and keeping people from harm is an unmistakable allusion to God’s work in the Old Testament. God tamed the watery chaos in Genesis 1, bringing the swirling, chaotic, primeval waters under control. Psalm 104:7 puts it this way: “At your rebuke, the waters fled.” As we saw in some of my earlier posts, this “defeat of watery chaos” is also seen in the flood story and the crossing of the Red Sea: divine deliverance from a watery threat.

Rebuking the raging sea and saving those on the boat forges a theological connection between Jesus and the mighty acts of Yahweh. The chaos-tamer is among them. This sets Jesus apart as one who truly has the right to be heard. The disciples put it well: “What kind of man is this?”

The disciples knew Jesus well enough to turn to him for help (Matthew 8:25, “Lord, save us!”). But they are only now beginning to understand that he is more than they thought. Their rabbi and companion, napping from exhaustion, can wake up and rebuke the water back to its place.

Jesus Walks on Water

Jesus controls the water in another way, by walking on it in the midst of a storm (see John 6:18). This, too, calls to mind Yahweh’s activity in the Old Testament, and one exchange with Moses in particular.

Note that in the previous passage, Jesus had just fed 5000 people. He told the disciples to go on ahead in the boat and cross the sea. He dismissed the crowd and then went into the hills to pray. Jesus needed to remove himself from the crowd. It is very likely that they intended to make him their king, i.e., their messiah in the sense of a military/religious leader who would rid Jerusalem of the hated Romans. That was the Jewish messianic expectation at the time.

This confusion over the kind of king Jesus would be is a common theme in the Gospels, and much of Jesus’ ministry was taken up with reorienting people’s expectations about his messianic role. It was important that the disciples not be mistaken, and so here Jesus gives them a glimpse of the kind of messiah he is: he walks out to them in the midst of wind and waves, without hesitation, without fear.

Jesus tells them, “It is I; don’t be afraid.” On one level Jesus is simply saying, “It’s only me, don’t be afraid.” On another level, however, it is a far more potent declaration. The Greek here is ego eimi, the same phrase translated “I AM” in the so-called “I AM” sayings in John (I am the bread of life, the good shepherd, before Abraham was, I am, etc.).

This self-designation recalls Yahweh’s words to Moses in Exodus 3:14, “I am who I am…tell them ‘I AM’ sent you.” By walking on the water amid the storm and declaring, “I AM,” Jesus is showing the disciples what he says elsewhere in John, “anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (14:9).

The theological power of these episodes is more fully appreciated when we keep before us the Old Testament “taming the water” theme they echo. This helps us see that the purpose of these two episodes was not simply to calm a storm for its own sake or to help the disciples get to the other side of the lake safely. It was to show the disciples what kind of messiah Jesus was. Israel’s God—the chaos tamer who rebukes the water—was here among them. The long-awaited messianic age has dawned, with more power and authority than anyone had expected. As Jesus says in John 8:46-47, to listen to him is to belong to God. Controlling the water shows his disciples—and us—that Jesus is worthy of our attention.

Pete Enns is a former Senior Fellow of Biblical Studies for The BioLogos Foundation and author of several books and commentaries, including the popular Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament, which looks at three questions raised by biblical scholars that seem to threaten traditional views of Scripture.

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Rich - #22508

July 19th 2010

penman, gingoro:

Let’s distinguish between the few dozen or so *current* TE/EC leaders, and the thousands of people in the rank and file of TE.  By TE leaders I include (in a list that is not meant to be complete):  all the contributors to *Perspectives on an Evolving Creation*; Ken Miller; Francisco Ayala; Francis Collins; Denis Lamoureux; Denis Alexander; Steve Matheson; Randy Isaac; John Haught; Howard Van Til; Darrel Falk; Karl Giberson; the other frequent columnists of Biologos. 

I’d be interested in knowing which New Testament and Old Testament miracles the TE leaders accept, and their rationale for excluding some and accepting others.  Maybe someone should do a survey, and report it on a separate thread.

A parallel set of studies for ID proponents and YECs would be interesting as well.

I stress that I’m not judging people by how many miracles they accept.  One could be a good Christian, perhaps, while believing in very few miracles.  I am puzzled, however, by vagueness coming from people who explicitly identify themselves as evangelical Christians.  What is the reason for less than perfect forthrightness?

gingoro - #22511

July 19th 2010

Rich @22508

“Let’s distinguish between the few dozen or so *current* TE/EC leaders, and the thousands of people in the rank and file of TE.”

Yes that has some interest but at this point I don’t much care about their position on this topic in that it is not likely to change my mind in the least.  Maybe that makes me old fashioned, simple and stupid but that’s the way it is.  When you get to be an old fart like me, you tend to call it as you see it.
Dave W

Rich - #22516

July 19th 2010


I don’t think you are simple or stupid, and old-fashioned is not for me a term of criticism.

I certainly agree that you should make up your own mind without worrying about what the “opinion leaders” say.  Indeed, you and I joined hands on that issue when responding to a previous column where we were advised to accept whatever the experts said.

However, opinion leaders have influence on many, and I’m trying to discern exactly what their teaching about Biblical miracles is.  And so far, I’m having trouble doing so.  Either I’m not looking in the right places, or they are making their views awfully hard to find.

penman - #22578

July 20th 2010

Thanks - I am not alone on BioLogos!!

Incidentally I know I’m not alone outside of BioLogos. My closest TE colleague, not active on these forums, would full-bloodedly embrace Jesus’ miracles. And another colleague, who has no problems with evolution at the pre-human level (more cagey about humans), would also be a resounding supernaturalist on Gospel signs & wonders. So we do exist. I was puzzled why no one HERE took up Rich’s challenge - although you (Gingoro) evidently did, & I missed it! Sorry.

The important point is that some (at least) embrace evolution, not because of scepticism about God’s ability & willingness to act in ways that transcend “nature” (to put it that way), but because they actually find the evidence for evolution convincing.

Or at least the General Theory - biodiversity based on common descent with modification. I appreciate that Rich has serious questions about the Special Theory (natural selection as sole or primary mechanism of change). Unless I’ve misunderstood. I’m quite sympathetic to the view that there may well be other crucial mechanisms, e.g. some principle of self-organisation. Still reluctant to invoke biological miracles, though (shoot me down if you will!)

Rich - #22583

July 20th 2010


I think your comments are moderate and in a dialogical spirit.  Thank you.

I’m actually “reluctant” to invoke miracles as well.  But I don’t have the antipathy to the idea that some TEs seem to have.  I don’t *assume* that natural causes can explain origins.  They *may*; and if they do, I have no problem with that.  But I don’t see why they *must*.  I don’t see why Christian evolutionists need to take that element from the atheist evolutionists’ playbook.  For the atheist, there couldn’t possibly be anything other than natural causes operating; the Christian has the option of going all-natural, or of positing other factors.  I have nothing against Christian scientists tentatively exploring purely natural options, but any decision that God “must have” or “would have” used only natural processes is a theological commitment that cannot be validated by science, and has to be defended in the realm of theology.  I haven’t yet seen a theological defense of the “must have” or “would have” that convinces me.  All of them seem to me to be just restatements of Darwin’s demand for naturalism.

penman - #22591

July 20th 2010

I actually agree with the thrust of what you’ve said. I shrink from dogmatizing about what God “must” or “cannot” have done. I can see no theological reason forcing us to say that evolution must have occurred by wholly natural means.

But I’m reluctant to invoke biological miracles in the pre-human history of life because of my understanding of the biblical function of miracles as signs to eyewitnesses. I wouldn’t put it beyond the category of reluctance (no Absolute Dogma), but the reluctance is theologically deep.

Science, as I see it, doesn’t address the question of miracle at all; its maximum concession is that it might run against phenomena for which no naturalistic explanation is forthcoming. But it might still say, “Maybe, given time, we can explain it.” Christians might have reasons (from divine revelation) for affirming that X is a miracle (eg the resurrection).

But on the evolution of pre-human life, why should we rule out other natural mechanisms alongside natural selection? Natural selection itself seems well settled as explanatory of much of the evidence. But omni-explanatory? That seems like an ultra position. Still, my instinct is to look for other natural mechanisms rather than miracles.

klompenmaker - #22665

July 20th 2010

Let me chime in as another EC (or TE to use the term preferred by others) who embraces evolution as a biological process and who affirms New Testament miracles.  I think that Jesus cast out demons and healed people, fed the multitudes, and also believe in his virgin birth and bodily resurrection.

gingoro - #22892

July 22nd 2010

Rich @22516

“However, opinion leaders have influence on many, and I’m trying to discern exactly what their teaching about Biblical miracles is.  And so far, I’m having trouble doing so.  Either I’m not looking in the right places, or they are making their views awfully hard to find.”

I understand what you are driving at.  I thought that your implication was that holders of the ec/te position generally hold to a no miracle position. 

Sorry I snapped.  When other events in my life become stressful I tend to loose sleep and then my stuttering becomes bad.  In boarding school as a child in grade 1 or 2 the headmaster told me, in essence, that since I stuttered therefore I was stupid.  My teacher in grade 1 thro 4 treated me that way and told my parents I would never amount to anything and would not finish high school. 

penman - #22899

July 22nd 2010

klompenmaker - #22665



My sense of isolation diminishes. Thanks for adding your voice! Since three of us have now spoken, maybe Rich feels a little more encouraged…

Ray Ingles - #22943

July 22nd 2010

Rich - “Just as evolutionary biologists often disagree violently with each other, behind closed doors, but put on a front of unity behind the name of Darwin in public, in order to avoid giving comfort to those they disdainfully call ‘creationists’

Um… examples?

Rich - #22996

July 22nd 2010

Ray Ingles:

If you read the debates all the time, as I do, you’d have seen this phenomenon many times.  I don’t have references at my fingertips (I don’t keep a list of references for what I consider to be obvious facts, e.g., I don’t have a list of references for Columbus coming to America in 1492); however, I do have one very recent one, an e-mail conversation between several Darwinists (biologists, philosophers, etc.) in which one of them chides another for a statement that will give comfort to creationists:

*The Altenberg 16: An Expose of the Evolution Industry* (2010), pp. 35-36.

But let’s keep the subject on Jesus’s miracles.  Are you a TE?  And do you believe that he walked on the water?  Do you accept all the miracles in the NT?  And the OT?  Or none?  Or some?  And if some, what are your criteria?

Greg Myers - #23001

July 22nd 2010

Rich, in a worldview informed by science, there is no worry that facts will give comfort to creationists.  There is sometimes worry that they way something is worded will be seized upon by creationists, and twisted into a claim not supported by what the author meant or the data supports.

Besides, there is no organized group of people who accept evolution - it is simply an accepted fact, based on the overwhelming (and ever-growing) body of evidence.

As for miracles, there is no credible evidence that any miracles occurred.  And since the promise that Jesus’ disciple would do greater miracles is not born out (even in the gospels and Book of Acts), no reason to think they occurred, either.

Martin Rizley - #23117

July 23rd 2010

The greatest of all miracles is that of the ‘new birth.’  During Jesus’ entire ministry, there were relatively few people converted.  He experienced great popularity for a time as a miracle-worker and (according to popular expectation)  a potential political Messiah.  But the time came when the great majority of His professed disciples fell away, and on the day of His death, the crowds in Jerusalem called out for Him to be crucified.  Only a handful of committed disciples remained at the end.  But on the day of Pentecost, when Peter stood up to preach, 3000 people were added to the church that very day!  The pattern of dramatic miraculous conversions continued throughout the book of Acts, as Christianity spread like wildfire throughout the Mediterranean world.  What Jesus never saw during His lifetime (the genuine conversion of multitudes through the new birth), the apostles saw in theirs.  So, yes, the prophecy of Jesus’ was fulfilled—His disciples did do “greater miracles” than He—but in the spiritual realm.

gingoro - #23277

July 24th 2010

Ray Ingles @22943

“Um… examples?”

When Gould came up with the theory of punctuated equilibrium back in the dark ages before the internet I clearly recall other evolutionary scientists suggesting that the problems that lead to Gould’s idea should have been kept quiet so as not to give comfort to ignorant Christians or YEC folks.  Unfortunately that record has not been preserved on the web, at least I can’t find it. 

Even though I have accepted a fairly old earth (4.x billion years) since my teens those comments kept me from seriously looking at evolution because just like YEC scientists I felt those scientists were not to be trusted. 

I worked in compiler development for many years and frequently I saw managers and technical folk cover things up beyond their own lab and many times even from their own higher management.  I see no reason that scientists are likely to be more ethical than programming engineers.  In fact when I quit my position over the issue, my successor was criticized for not telling enough lies.

Dave W

Greg Myers - #23360

July 25th 2010

Martin, when you write

So, yes, the prophecy of Jesus’ was fulfilled—His disciples did do “greater miracles” than He—but in the spiritual realm.

surely you see this as special pleading.  The context is clear - Jesus’ disciples will perform miracles.  Surely conversions are more similar to what Jesus demonstrated than anything else - surely not “greater” but “similar.”  Just before this, Jesus says “Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.”  The context is not conversion, but miracles.

Bob Jones - #31284

September 22nd 2010

I think the tie in is even tighter:

In prophetic recapitulation, each shadow looks like the ante-type, and as such may look like each other. Jesus saw shadows of the eternal reality being played out in front of him, and consciously stepped into them and finished them.

Example: When he saw Zacheaus (Pure) who was a tax collector (representing one who serves mammon or sin) in a tree, he saw himself on the cross bearing our sin. He invited himself to dinner because when he came off the cross, he was to go to the wedding feast of the lamb.

Likewise, the parting of the waters of creation is the separation of law and grace. Water is the word which can judge, as in the storm and flood, or give life.  The disciples are facing the storm (judgment) while Jesus is asleep (dead) and as he rises from the dead brings peace to the water by reconciling law and grace.  He is intentionally painting a picture of the cross.

The two trees of the garden in Genesis are revealed to be one tree in the garden of Rev.  The trees of life and death in Genesis are Christ as approached in faith or rebellion.  The tree with two roots has one trunk.  Law and grace reconciled.

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