John's Gospel

The Way It Happened

John 6:21, Did Jesus Walk On Water?

Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading.

//Did Jesus really walk on water? One of the four gospels, the one claiming eye-witness testimony, is ambiguous on the topic. Today’s verse can be read one of two ways: Either they took him into the boat, and immediately found themselves at land, or as they began to receive Jesus into the boat, they hit land.

Context helps, so let’s back up two verses to this one:

When they had rowed three or three and a half miles, they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were terrified. –John 6:19

Sounds clear, doesn’t it? The problem is, the Greek word used for “on the water” is precisely the same word used in verse 21:1, where it is more precisely translated “by the sea”:

Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Tiberias. –John 21:1

So was Jesus on the water or on the seashore? Translators of this story understandably chose to reinforce the oral legend described in other gospels, but this isn’t necessarily what John wrote. We may never know for sure what John meant to say.

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12 Comments

  1. If they just saw Jesus on shore, why would they be terrified?

  2. Lee Harmon

    Presumably, they didn’t know they were near land. They went to pick him up and wham! Ran aground.

  3. An interesting take, Lee. Do you think they could have seen a man walking in the dark miles away, and on a “stirring sea” at that? Also, do you think it would be wise to come to this conclusion even though it does not correlate with three other biblical accounts?

  4. Lee Harmon

    hmmm, well technically Israel, I’m not coming to a conclusion…I’m happy with a mystery. ;) I just enjoy reporting on oddities to make people think.

  5. Comparing 6:21 with 21:1 is a bit misleading. While the phrase “… on the sea” is included in both, John 21:1 doesn’t include the word ‘peripateo’ or ‘walking.’

    The two verses are not saying the same thing. And even if they were, the meaning would be determined by the context … Which leaves little doubt what John was saying. Which is why the vast majority of Christians throughout history have seen little reason to call the passage into question.

    Clark

    • Lee Harmon

      The “context,” Clark, is that John takes pains to point out that when they steered over to pick up Jesus, they immediately bumped into land.

      Given how often and how directly John contradicts other stories in the Synoptics, and how often he prefers to leave the factuality of his stories ambiguous, it’s quite reasonable to imagine he does the same thing here … purposefully providing ambiguity, so that we have the basic facts and may interpret it as we wish. Those who embrace nature miracles can go with “walk on water.” Those who prefer realism and who can’t appreciate the Bible stories as inspirational myth can stick with “walk on the seashore.”

      Please understand it’s never my intent to destroy a person’s faith. But as a liberal Christian, I do not find it necessary to dismiss potential brethren merely because they have outgrown miracle stories. I like John’s ambiguity, and could never be a Christian if it meant I had to believe in the impossible.

      • Lee … I believe Luke 1:37 says something about nothing being impossible with God.

        And I think the last paragraph of your comment speaks volumes. You may not intend to destroy peoples faith, but you certainly seem to be encouraging them to “outgrow the miracles” of Christ which can only be detrimental. I strongly assert that when you rob Christ of His deity, you offer a faith that has no power of salvation.

        If that is your definition of “liberal Christianity”, it certainly doesn’t seem very appealing to me.

  6. Lee Harmon

    Clark, your comments are welcome and appreciated. Please don’t ever think otherwise! However, I will continue to encourage people to follow the dream Jesus left behind of a Kingdom of Heaven on earth. If some of these Christians can only do so by first recognizing that it is ok to disbelieve in nature miracles, then so be it … a small concession, in my opinion. Many of my connections fall into this category.

    While I appreciate you as a brother in Christ, I cannot endorse your brand of exclusive Christianity. Yet I’d like to think–regardless of our differing beliefs–that we can unite in purpose under Jesus’ direction.

    • Lee,

      With all due respect, a person can believe in the miracles of the Bible AND also believe heaven is available in some capacity in the here and now. The two ideas are not mutually exclusive.

      Furthermore, there is nothing exclusive about my “brand” of Christianity as it is available to everyone.

      Clark

  7. Lee Harmon

    Of course they can, Clark! That’s the beauty of it; beliefs do not need to get in the way.

    I believe from experience that your brand of Christianity IS exclusive. It is not reasonable to expect everyone to be able to believe in nature miracles, and it is hardly necessary to exclude those who cannot. Many people, like me, have studied the Bible just as carefully and reached different conclusions about what it expects us to believe. For example, there are people who believe you can’t be a Christian unless you disbelieve in evolution!! You are just not quite as exclusive as that, when you pick other events in the Bible and require belief in them literally.

  8. Lee, you call into question or…doubt
    things which a true believer accepts by faith. God who created the universe can surely do anything else – I can’t question any miracle. However, you are either a doubting thomas or just a non-believer – i.e one who really believes that you are right instead of God being right. Good luck with that one

  9. Lee Harmon

    Yes, Manny, you may call me a disbeliever if you wish. I’m not very good at believing stuff. However, the comment that I think “I am right instead of God being right” hardly fits merely because we have a different interpretation of a 2000-year-old book!!

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