We use cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more
Select Bible Use this Lookup to open a specific Bible and passage. Start here to select a Bible.
Make selected Bible the default for Lookup tool.
Book: Ch.V. Select book from A-Z list, enter chapter and verse number, and click "Go."
  • Previous Result
  • Results
  • Look It Up Highlight any word or phrase, then click the button to begin a new search.
  • Highlight On / Off
  • Next Result

The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

The Walking on the Water (Mt 14:22–33 ǁ Mk 6:45–52 ǁ Jn 6:16–21 )


Mt 14:22–33 Mk 6:45–52 Jn 6:16–21
22Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side while he dismissed the crowds. 23And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came he was there alone, 24but by this time the boat, strained by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. 25And early in the morning he came to them walking on the lake. 26but when the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified, saying it was a ghost, and they cried out in fear. 27But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’ 28Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water. 29He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. 30But when he noticed the strong wind he became frightened and, beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ 31Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ 32When they got into the boat the wind ceased, and those in the boat worshipped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’ 45Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side to Bethsaida while he dismissed the crowd. 46After saying farewell to them he went up the mountain to pray. 47When evening came, the boat was out on the lake, and he was alone on the land. 48When he saw that they were straining at the oars, for the wind was against them. early in the morning he came to them walking on the lake. He intended to pass them by, 49but when they saw him walking on the lake they thought it was a ghost and cried out. 50For they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said to them, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’ 16When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake 17got into a boat, and started across the lake to Capernaum. It was now dark and Jesus had not yet come to them 18The lake became rough because a strong wind was blowing. 19When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the lake and coming near the boat and they were terrified. 20But he said to them, ‘It is I; do not be afraid.’
51Then he got into the boat with them and the wind ceased and they were utterly astounded, 52for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened. 21Then they wanted to take him into the boat with them, and immediately the boat reached the land towards which they were going.

The three evangelists who narrate this incident all use it to express their own theology. It is arguable that John's account is the closest to the oral tradition that lies behind them. Luke omits the story, perhaps because, along with other pericopes in the central section of Mark's gospel, he considers them unnecessary duplication. Before the content of the passage is discussed two preliminary problems must be aired.

The position of the incident is significant. It is rare that John and the Synoptics share any sequence of incidents, but in this case in both traditions the episode follows the miraculous feeding. In the case of John this is decidedly awkward, in that it splits the feeding (Jn 6:1–14 ) from the bread of life discourse ( 6:22–71 ); normally the related discourse in John follows immediately the miracle on which it comments. This suggests that the juxtaposition of the two incidents was considered significant in the previous oral tradition. This juxtaposition may have paschal overtones. Jn 6:4 mentions that the Passover was near, and in both the original Exodus incident and its liturgical commemoration the gift of manna and the crossing of the sea are associated. The OT typology is only slightly altered in the gospel accounts: the order of events is reversed, with the manna coming before the crossing, and Jesus does not cross the sea from one side to the other, but walks towards his distressed disciples in the middle of the sea.

The similarity between the accounts of John and Mark is notable especially in the order of the narration:

  • 1. The disciples start off across the sea;

  • 2. it is evening;

  • 3. the disciples are in difficulty with the wind;

  • 4. the distance covered (John) and time passed (Mark) is mentioned;

  • 5. they see Jesus walking on the sea and are terrified;

  • 6. Jesus says, ‘It is I; do not be afraid’;

  • 7. they want to take him (John), actually take him (Mark), into the boat and all is well.

The exact verbal similarity is also striking, not all of it dictated by a scene of rowing on the sea. Matthew has an addition link with John in the description of the distance in stades (NRSV miles).

It has been commented that in John Jesus is walking epi the sea, which could be translated merely ‘at’ or ‘beside’ rather than ‘on’. In this case there would not necessarily be any miracle involved, and the original lesson would be that without Jesus the disciples are helpless and distressed (John symbolizes their distress by ‘it was now dark’, 6:17 , as in 8:12; 12:46, cf. 13:30 ). This would accord with their reaching land ‘immediately’, before they succeed in their intention of taking Jesus into the boat. But it would be difficult to account for the terror of the disciples, unless it is at the theophanic appearance of Jesus. The significance of Jesus walking on the sea comes from its scriptural echoes (see MT 14:23–36 ). In Israel the sea was always regarded as a frightening evil power, controlled and dominated only by the Lord (see also MK 6:45–62). Jesus' self- identification is made in the words egō eimi, which, at least for John, have the special significance of the divine name (see JN 6:16–21 ).


Despite sharing oral tradition and a number of similar words with John, Mark's narrative is unmistakably written by him. The style includes many of his typical features (see E.1): the characteristic ‘immediately’ (vv. 45, 50 ), the afterthought explanation with gar (vv. 48, 50, 52 ), double expressions (v. 45 , ‘to the other side, to Bethsaida’; v. 50 , ‘spoke to them and said’; ‘take heart, do not be afraid’; v. 52 ‘they did not understand, their hearts were hardened’), and others invisible in translation. It is reasonable to assume that he himself composed the narrative from oral tradition. Boismard maintains that the narrative existed in different versions in Document A and Document B (see C.3) on the grounds that, if Jesus was alone on the shore ‘when evening came’ (from the supposed Document B), he could not be said to wait to come to them till ‘early in the morning’ (from the supposed Document A). John lacks the latter element, so used only Document B. In fact, however, John has traces of the disciples' prolonged wait in the form of the 3 or 4 miles' rowing.

With typical Markan irony (see E.1 and cf. Camery-Hoggatt 1992: 147) the climax of the story is the failure of the disciples to understand about the loaves. Mark many times stresses the incomprehension of the disciples. On this occasion, despite their utter astonishment, he links it to the miracle of the loaves, which included ( 6:37 ) one of the worst examples of their sarcasm to Jesus. Just as, in the second half of the gospel, they thrice fail to understand the formal prophecies of the passion, so in this first half their failure to understand is three times noted on the lake (also 5:41; 8:17–21 ).


Matthew makes some minor adjustments, though he does not file the story down as much as he does many of the healing miracles. He omits Mark's v. 48c, perhaps because it suggests the unworthy thought that Jesus intended to neglect his followers (who no doubt, as in the calming of the storm, see Mt 8:23–7 , stand for the Christian community), and that he changed his mind. He omits also Mark's v. 50a because he dislikes such afterthought explanations. Matthew's most important change, however, is the introduction of Peter's walking on the water. Typically for Matthew, Peter starts well and then comes a cropper (as at Caesarea Philippi and at the trial-scene), but at least his enthusiastic leadership comes to view, and his trust in Jesus merits a controlled compliment from the Lord. As in Mark, the disciples may stand for the community who have difficulty in accepting the full message of Jesus, especially with its implications of persecution, perhaps in Matthew Peter stands for the community, enthusiastic but still too hesitant and repeatedly failing. But the disciples' final confession—so much at variance with Mark's conclusion—leaves little to be desired: it is already at least as full as that of the centurion at the foot of the cross in Mark. The repeated ‘Lord’ (vv. 28, 30) and ‘worshipped him’ are also hints of the reaction proper to the divine.

  • Previous Result
  • Results
  • Look It Up Highlight any word or phrase, then click the button to begin a new search.
  • Highlight On / Off
  • Next Result
Oxford University Press

© 2020. All Rights Reserved. Cookie Policy | Privacy Policy | Legal Notice