Category Archives: Research

Walking on Water

I began this entry with a certain idea, but after several iterations, I couldn’t get it to work. Such is the nature of writing sometimes.

Doing this writing thing for a while, I’ve learned when something can’t be fixed no matter how many times I try, it’s time to toss it out. Like a soup with too many ingredients, it becomes muddled and unappetizing.

No one likes to read drivel anymore than I like writing it.

So here I am, starting over. Except for the title. That I decided to keep as is.

Many of the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) contain many of the same stories of Jesus’ life and ministry. One of them (with the exception of Luke) is when Jesus walked on water. Because I wanted to know the insight of each author of the miracle, I wrote a quick summary of each.

I soon discovered they don’t match.

They all agreed that after feeding five thousand with two fish and five loaves, Jesus stayed behind while the disciples took a boat out on the lake. A gale picked up and the disciples struggled with the wind and waves. They then saw Jesus walking toward them on the water. They initially thought he was a ghost. He assured them he’s no ghost, stepped into the boat, the wind calmed down, and they were astounded.

Here’s where they differ:

Only Matthew mentions how Peter stepped out of the boat and walked on water toward Jesus, got distracted by the wind and the waves, and sank. Jesus reached into the water to pull him out and basically tells him his faith is lacking.

Mark states that Jesus had intended to walk past them to the other shore, but seeing their struggles steps into the boat and calms the wind and waves.

While both Matthew and Mark state Jesus told them to take the boat and he would stay behind, John says they waited for Jesus, but when he didn’t return after night fell, they took the boat across.

I noticed other minor differences, but those are the most striking.

What does all that mean, exactly? Are they merely distinctions without a difference? Do they, if not prove, at least suggest that perhaps the story isn’t as authentic as Christians claim (how’s that for a provocative question)?

As to the last question, if the disciples had embarked upon an elaborate deception of Jesus walking on water, they would have done a better job of keeping the story straight. After all, keeping track of a lie is much more difficult than the truth.

Subterfuge becomes even more difficult when multiple people are involved.

I work for an engineering firm, and one of our duties is to submit projects—such as a site plan for building improvements—to the governing municipality. Multiple departments look over the project, which includes public works, fire, engineering, and forestry. Each department looks at the same documents, but they all see it from a different perspective. The fire department wants to know if enough fire hydrants cover the entire site. Forestry wants to make sure the whole site won’t be covered in asphalt or concrete. Public works focuses on whether or not each building will be served with water and wastewater. Engineering wants to know where storm water will be collected and be assured the site or neighboring properties won’t be flooded.

The same holds true for what each disciple noticed and focused on during a particular event (as well as what they wanted to convey to their audience). Matthew was particular about the details, such as the actual time and Peter’s experience. Mark’s focus tended toward the macro and less on the finer details. John wrote his much later, so some of the details had likely fuzzed over the years.

The fact so many of the details differed actually proves their authenticity. If it was a conspiracy to deceive literally and ultimately billions of people, they would have worked much harder to make sure they agreed on the finer details.

If anything, those differences in detail add to the richness of scripture, and they show the humanness and individual perspectives of the writers. Plus, if you’ve ever talked to people after attending an important event, their perspectives would also differ based on many factors such as where they were and their emotional state at that time.

In the end, though, the writers invariably agree on the most important of details: Who Jesus is and what he did.