t f p g+ YouTube icon

Jesus and the Sea

Bookmark and Share

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.

View the archived discussion of this post

This article is now closed for new comments. The archived comments are shown below.

Page 1 of 2   1 2 »
norm - #21743

July 14th 2010

Revelation defines for us whom the waters and Seas typically represent in scripture. They are Gentile peoples outside of Israel. In Gen 1 the dividing of the waters may be understood as separating God’s people out of Gentile watery Darkness. Christ taming the raging Sea is an image of his control of the Gentile world at large that He encounters on His visit across the Sea.


Eze 31:3-8 Behold, Assyria was a cedar…  The WATERS NOURISHED IT; THE DEEP MADE IT GROW TALL, making its rivers flow … no tree in the garden of God was its equal in beauty.

Eze 32:2 … Pharaoh king of Egypt …you are like a DRAGON IN THE SEAS; you burst forth in your rivers, TROUBLE THE WATERS

Eze 32:13 I will destroy all its BEASTS FROM BESIDE MANY WATERS;

Eze 47:9 And wherever the river goes, … THE WATERS OF THE SEA MAY BECOME FRESH

Dan 7:2-3 …  and behold, the four winds of heaven were stirring up the GREAT SEA.  And FOUR GREAT BEASTS CAME UP OUT OF THE SEA,


Rev 21:1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth…and THE SEA WAS NO MORE.

brian - #21747

July 14th 2010

Correct, even more so seen in Ps 29 (if one knows the background of the Baal Cycle!).

Rev. Scott Mapes - #21762

July 14th 2010

Of course, these two views on the meaning of the taming of the waters (in both creation and in Jesus’ ministry) should not be seen as conflicting but rather as complementary.  A “both-and” approach to hermeneutics is often preferable to an “either-or” schema—Hegelian dialectics notwithstanding.

gingoro - #21802

July 14th 2010

I once read an article by Gabelein who was the principle at Sunnybrook school in NY. He was that the great Christian words are not either/or but both/and. For example “Love God and your neighbor”.  Seems very wise to me.
Dave W

Rich - #21931

July 15th 2010


I like your writings here on the Bible; they’re the best thing on Biologos.  But I want to ask you a tough question.  Let me preface it.

Your article here appears to argue a both/and position.  That is, it appears to treat the events described both as real historical events and as events with deep symbolic resonance.

In the past, I have seen some theistic evolutionists act, well, kind of squirmy when such episodes are brought up.  I remember watching one debate, where people kept asking a Protestant minister who was also a TE whether he though Jesus actually walked on the water.  Every time the phrase “walked on the water” was used, the minister corrected people with “he walked on the SEA”, and went into a learned discourse about sea-symbolism in the Old Testament.  By the end, no one could tell what the minister believed about the historicity of the story. 

Of course, for the average Joe, if Jesus walked on the sea, he also walked on the water, so the historical question is the same.  Let me put it this way.  If we had an undamaged, clear videotape of the incident, and played it back today, what would we SEE?

I won’t be offended by any reasoned answer, but you can plead the 5th if you wish.

Eric K - #21945

July 15th 2010

Shows that the I AMs are not just Johannine, but also occur in great narratives like this.  Well written.

norm - #21952

July 15th 2010


That’s a good question and one that needs deeper exploration.  My personal belief is that the Hebrew literature emphsized these images as threads that can be followed throughout scripture thus illustrating a continuity of prophetic intent. Thus Christ walking on the Sea was indeed meant to illustrate a message regarding His authority over the Gentiles he was about to visit. These patterns hold up throughout scripture and are “sign post” so to speak to the faithful.

Karl A - #22063

July 16th 2010

So Norm, do you believe Jesus actually walked on the sea?

Mike - #22121

July 16th 2010

Thank you for this beautiful reminder that Jesus himself claimed and displayed to the disciples, and to us, both His power and dominion over His created order. He is as you say, and as He himself declared the “Ego Eimi” of history and eternity. 

“Revelation defines for us whom the waters and Seas typically represent in scripture. They are Gentile peoples outside of Israel. In Gen 1 the dividing of the waters may be understood as separating God’s people out of Gentile watery Darkness. Christ taming the raging Sea is an image of his control of the Gentile world at large that He encounters on His visit across the Sea”

This is not the reasoning of Scripture, but opinion. The reality is that Jesus was displaying His power and dominion over the cosmos, which happens to include both Jew and Gentile. The disciples in the boat were Jews not Gentile believers; As was the case of the OT narrative accounts. This idea that Jesus was displaying his power over the gentile world is foolish. It was the superstitious fear of the men in the boat that Jesus meant to undue, so that they would put an end to their irrational behavior and believe in his divine nature! Remember the context was miracle after miracle. Next event is the water chaos.

Rich - #22243

July 17th 2010

Karl A (22063):

I predict that you will never get a direct answer to that question from any Biologos columnist or from any commenter on the threads who has self-identified as pro-Darwinian and Christian.

In the case of Pete Enns, to be fair to him, the point of his column was not to raise that question at all, so he has the right to decline to answer it in this context.  Still, it is very interesting how few TE supporters clearly distinguish their position from Deism *in practice* (as opposed to in theory).  I bet there is not one living, breathing TE who believes in the literal occurrence of as many miracles as Calvin or Luther did.  And I say that not in condemnation, but as what I take to be an accurate characterizaton of a seismic shift in the understanding of Christianity since the Enlightenment.  It seems to me that most TEs embrace the Enlightenment with very few reservations, that most YECs are hostile to many of the Enlightenment’s major emphases, and that most ID people fall somewhere in the middle.  Thus ID people are hit angrily from both sides, for giving in too much to the Enlightenment by the YECs, and for being insufficiently deferential to it by the TEs.  It’s hard being in the moderate middle.

gingoro - #22246

July 17th 2010

Rich @22243

“I bet there is not one living, breathing TE who believes in the literal occurrence of as many miracles as Calvin or Luther did.” 

It would not surprise me that Terry Gray, on the ASA blogs,comes pretty close.  What about you Rich, how close do you come.  Of course the question is close to impossible to answer since we don’t know Calvin or Luther’s minds nor do we know if they believed in extra biblical miracles. 
Dave W

Rich - #22247

July 17th 2010


I don’t know for sure what Terry Gray believes.  I don’t remember him speaking up for all the miracles in the Bible when several opportunties presented themselves, but if he did, that wouldn’t surprise me as much as any if any of the others had, because, if I remember aright, he believed in special intervention to create the first life and I think also to create man.  That’s two violations of “naturalism”.  So if he is going to allow naturalism even prior to the history of Israel, it wouldn’t surprise me if he allowed a very large number of miracles recorded in the Bible. 

My point is that I think I see a direct correlation (it’s hard to say so scientifically, because TEs are often so evasive one can’t get data) between *complete* naturalism pre-Adam (no interventions between the Big Bang and man), and a hesitancy to accept many Biblical miracles.  It isn’t a perfect correlation, but I think I see it. 

You’re right; I can’t read Luther and Calvin’s minds.  However, based on what I’ve read of them, I think they believed in the literal occurrence of every miracle story recorded in the Bible.  If I’m wrong, some historian here can correct me with reference to their works.

Martin Rizley - #22258

July 17th 2010

If TE’s on the Biologos website are not forthcoming with an answer to the question “Did Jesus walk on the water?” then I believe that they are being fundamentally dishonesty and lacking in integrity if their alleged purpose as writers on this website is to ‘reform’ evangelicalism from within.  To deny the miracles of Jesus is to reject evangelicalism outright, in favor of theological liberalism.  You cannot ‘reform’ a system from within, if your own beliefs lie fundamentally outside the system.  That would be like me starting a website aiming to “reform” Catholicism from within, when in fact I am not Roman Catholic and do not believe that the Pope is the head of the church.  That would be an act of sheer hypocrisy and deception on my part.  If people claim not to know if Jesus walked on water, let them be forthright in saying, “I don’t know for sure if Jesus walked on the water.”  Then at least we’ll have a better idea where they are coming from theologically.  Everyone should be willing to lay his cards on the table

Rich - #22285

July 18th 2010


I add, not necessarily in disagreement with you, but by way of qualification, that I don’t mean to imply that anyone who doesn’t accept the literal truth of Jesus’s walk on the water is a bad Christian.  Genuine Christian faith may be possible without belief in that particular event as a fact of history.  I’d just like it made more clear what the criteria are for saying that this Biblical miracle didn’t really happen, and that some other Biblical miracle did.

I’d also like more clarity on why so many TEs think it would be destructive the whole fabric of modern science, and set American science education back to Third World standards, if it were allowed as possible that God prehistorically intervened in half a dozen places (the creation of life, the Cambrian explosion, etc.), but that modern science and science education are not threatened at all by nationally renowned scientists, holding high academic and administrative positions, who believe that an ancient Galilean, in historical times, got up from the dead, walked around and talked to people.

Martin Rizley - #22344

July 18th 2010

Rich,  I didn’t say anything, you will notice, about who is and who is not a Christian.  I am sure we would get a hundred different answers to that question on this website.  I am talking about something that I hope we would have less disagreement about—what does it means to be an honest person?  How does one avoid deceiving others?  In my view, to refuse to answer honestly a question someone asks about your beliefs, because you are afraid that an honest answer might jeopardize your ability to influence the people you want to influence, is hyprocrisy pure and simple.  It is the very method that cult members use, who keep their more radical beliefs hidden from view when they are trying to proselytize others.    It is this very form of dishonesty that the apostle repudiated when he wrote, ‘We have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God.  On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly, we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God” (2 Cor. 4:2).  As I said, we owe it to each other to be straightforward and honest with others when questioned about our beliefs.

Rich - #22387

July 19th 2010


We’re in complete agreement on this point.  I have no quarrel with Pete Enns if he doesn’t wish to answer my question here; it wasn’t, strictly speaking, the topic of his thread.  Nonetheless, because the subject was miracles, I thought it might be a good place to raise the more general question.  I detect in TEs two differing tendencies:  (1) to get rid of as many miracles as possible; (2) to retain the Resurrection and maybe a few other favored miracles, without any coherent principle of interpretation that could justify the exceptions.

I also detect another tendency in TEs.  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”, so I have notice that TEs who disagree with each other over miracles (and I know such disagreements exist), always soft-pedal or pass over those differences when publically commenting in front of either YEC or ID people.  I’ve never seen a TE publically agree with a conventional believer who is criticizing another TE for a liberal view of miracles.  I dislike such tribal behavior.

penman - #22403

July 19th 2010

Well, here’s a TE (or EC) who thinks Jesus literally walked on the water/sea - in other words, yours truly. And performed all the other miracles recorded of Him in the Gospels. If His human life began as a virgin conception & culminated in resurection, I don’t see why I should have any problems with the other miracles between.

It isn’t disbelief in the miraculous that has made me a TE. The evidence of geology, genetics, etc, has done that. Plus my understanding of the kind of literature we’re dealing with in early Genesis.

As for divine actions transcending nature prior to the fall-redemption narrative in Scripture: I accept that the divine image in humanity is the product of a supernatural act by God. This is partly for philosophical reasons (which may be a bit weak), partly because of the different way this is portrayed in Gen.1. The language seems to invest the emergence of image-bearing humanity with a special intensity of divine involvement, conspicuously absent from the account of the emergence of the other described life-forms. Adam as God’s son (Luke 3:38) also suggests a distinct act of “fathering” by God.

So there you have it. Cards on the table!

Rich - #22461

July 19th 2010


Thanks.  You are the first TE I’ve known to be so unequivocal in your public embrace of NT miracles.

I agree with you about the literary character of Genesis.  I have no objection to evolution on Genesis grounds.  In fact, I have no objection to evolution as such.  The neo-Darwinian formulation of evolution is another matter; regarding that I have both scientific and theological criticisms.  But evolution as such is no problem at all for me.  Of more concern to me is the source of the belief that evolution *must* have occurred *solely* through natural processes, a belief which is at present utterly indemonstrable by science and has no basis in any traditional Christian theology known to me.  Hence my question about TE attitudes toward “intervention”.  It seems to be of a piece that those who are determined to get God out of evolution, and explain everything naturally, would also be skeptical of Biblical miracle reports.  And, for many TEs, that seems to be the case.  Thanks for adding a dissenting position.  And now get ready for Martin’s follow-up questions! 

penman - #22471

July 19th 2010

I must admit I’m a bit surprised that no one else seems to have said what I said in my last post. Surely I can’t be alone?

A book that was very influential on my intellectual journey was Gordon Glover’s Beyond The Firmament. As I recollect, he was sceptical about miracles specifically in the pre-human phases of life, on the grounds that no humans were around to witness the miracles, which (he argues) would make them redundant in terms of the biblical rationale for miracles (signs to humans). But I have no recollection of his being sceptical about the recorded post-fall miracles of either Old or New Testament. If Gordon is listening in, maybe he can clarify!

Then you have our evolution-friendly evangelical forefathers, theological giants like James McCosh & B.B.Warfield - not exactly noted for their scepticism about Jesus’ miracles.

So I wish someone else would add a voice & divest me of the position of being a mere dissenting voice!

gingoro - #22496

July 19th 2010

penman @22471

“I must admit I’m a bit surprised that no one else seems to have said what I said in my last post. Surely I can’t be alone?”

I answered Rich’s earlier question about God’s interventions in the history of the universe and assumed that my positive answer would cover the miracle question as well.  But to be clear yes I believe that Jesus walked on water to use the gospels description and that it was a miracle and thus a sign pointing to his divinity to help the disciples believe Yesus was who he said he was. 

“As I recollect, he was sceptical about miracles specifically in the pre-human phases of life, on the grounds that no humans were around to witness the miracles, which (he argues) would make them redundant in terms of the biblical rationale for miracles (signs to humans).”

I agree with Glover in terms of the meaning of the word “miracle” and that is why I talked about interventions in my previous posts. 

One wonders if we are in a tiny minority of Christians who comment or write the main posts on BioLogos who do believe it was a miracle and not just some kind of mirage, vision etc. 
Dave W

Page 1 of 2   1 2 »