God Walks on Water, Jesus Walks on Water

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Jesus walked on water. Most people are familiar with this story. It may even be one of Jesus’ most remembered miracles, aside from rising from the dead or turning water into wine. But too often I read over it quickly and take it for granted. But this week I noticed a connection I haven’t seen before and I was able to see the profound message of the miracle in a new light.

 I’ve been slowly working my way through John in the Greek text, and today I came to the passage in 6:16-21 where John records this miracle:

“When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were frightened. But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Then they were glad to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going.” ESV

The text reads in v.19, θεωροῦσιν τὸν Ἰησοῦν περιπατοῦντα ἐπὶ τῆς θαλάσσης[1], “they saw Jesus walking upon the lake.” Readers should understand this to mean that Jesus walked on the water, literally. Mark indicates that the boat was ἐν μέσῳ τῆς θαλάσσης, “in the middle of the lake,” and that Jesus came to them περιπατῶν ἐπὶ τῆς θαλάσσης, “walking upon the lake” (Mk. 6:47-48). Matthew also records that Jesus came to them by night περιπατῶν ἐπὶ τὴν θάλασσαν, “walking upon/over the lake” (Matt. 14:25-26).

But why would Jesus do this? Was he using his divine power to take a shortcut to the boat? Was he simply showing his disciples another miracle? What are we to make of it?

The reason I’ve quoted the Greek text above is to bring attention to the repeated phrase, ἐπὶ τῆς θαλάσσης, “on/upon the lake”. It is used by all three authors in explaining the miracle. Here is why that’s significant. There is an important translation of the original Hebrew Old Testament into Greek called the Septuagint. The Septuagint would have been the main Old Testament read (or heard) by Greek-speakers, and many of the authors of the New Testament would have been well-acquainted with and influenced by its contents. In the Septuagint, there is a verse that describes God as being the one who has “stretched out the heavens and walks on the sea.” In that verse (Job 9:8), the exact same phrase is used: περιπατῶν ὡς ἐπʼ ἐδάφους ἐπὶ θαλάσσης[2]. Job tells us that God alone (μόνος) is the one who “walks on the sea as if it were a firm foundation.”

Thus, when we read that Jesus walked on water, we aren’t just reading a report of a memorable miracle. We are gaining the insight, along with Jesus’s disciples, that the One walking on the water towards them is the very God who “stretched out the heavens!”


[1] Holmes, M. W. (2011–2013). The Greek New Testament: SBL Edition. Lexham Press; Society of Biblical Literature. All GNT quotations.

[2] Swete, H. B. (1909). The Old Testament in Greek: According to the Septuagint (Job 9:8). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Oil Painting by Yim Mau-Kun

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