John's Gospel

The Way It Happened

John 6:19-21, Jesus Walks On Water

When they had rowed about three or three and a half miles, they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were frightened. But he said to them, “It is I; don’t be afraid.” Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading.

Here is one of the verses in John that continues to set scholars at odds. Did Jesus walk on the water to the boat, or did the disciples intend to take him into the boat, but run ashore before they could? Given how John seems to contradict the other Gospels at every opportunity, we can’t assume he doesn’t mean to do the same, here. Indeed, the Greek word for the phrase on the water in verse 19 is precisely the word used in verse 21:1, where it is correctly interpreted by the sea. Jesus appears in that verse on the seashore, not walking on water. Translators of this verse understandably chose to reinforce the oral legend described in other gospels, but this is not necessarily what John wrote.

Ultimately, we must decide whether or not John presents the story as a miracle. John always calls his miracles signs, and like Revelation’s seven seals, trumpets, and bowls of wrath, John uses the same literary device in his Gospel with seven I AM’s and seven signs. So, what are the signs? They appear to be:

[1] The wedding feast (2:1-12)
[2] The restoration of the nobleman’s son (4:46-54)
[3] The Sabbath healing of the lame man (5:1-16)
[4] Feeding the multitude (6:1-71)
[5] The Sabbath healing of the blind man (9:1-41)
[6] Restoring Lazarus to life (11:1-44)
[7] The resurrection (chapter 20)

Note the careful organization: 1 relates to 7, 2 relates to 6, 3 relates to 5, with 4 the central miracle of the Gospel. But where does that leave walking on water?

Maybe Jesus didn’t.

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