Monday School: Walking on water

It’s Monday! Time once again for Monday School. And yes indeedie – it is still “The Rational Corrective To All That Nonsense They Tried To teach You Yesterday!” even though it’s taught by someone who sometimes can’t resist using silly phrases like “yes indeedie.”

Today’s Lesson: Jesus Walked On Water, For Christ’s Sake! How Can We NOT Believe He Was GOD?!

Whoa! I’m not the smartest person on the planet but experience has taught me a few things that I think we all ought to remember:

– Always blow on a spoon of hot soup before shoveling it into our mouths, for example.

– Always turn on a light before attempting to walk down the basement steps while carrying a heavy appliance.

Perhaps most important of all:

– Always check, double-check and then triple-check what the Bible says before believing a single word of it.

In the case of its story about Jesus walking on water, here are a few things to ponder before giving your life over to him (and/or 10% of your salary to your local church):

1) The Bible is just words on paper. It may be expensive paper, and some of the words may be printed in red, but that doesn’t change the fact that we shouldn’t believe everything we read. Indeed, we should only believe those things that are supported by logic and evidence. The Bible’s story about Jesus’s walk on water is supported by neither.

2) That story actually appears in only three of the four Gospels. Whoever wrote the Gospel of Luke seems to have either never heard of it or discounted it or didn’t think it important enough to mention. Since Bible scholars tell us that Luke had the Gospel of Mark in his or her possession and Mark does mention the story, it seems that the author of Luke discounted it or thought it unimportant. Why should we disagree?

3) The story differs in the three Gospels that include it.

The version offered by the Gospel of Mark (6:45-51) is fairly simple: “And straightway he [Jesus] constrained his disciples to get into the ship, and to go to the other side before unto Bethsaida, while he sent away the people. And when he had sent them away, he departed into a mountain to pray. And when even was come, the ship was in the midst of the sea, and he alone on the land. And he saw them toiling in rowing; for the wind was contrary unto them: and about the fourth watch of the night he cometh unto them, walking upon the sea, and would have passed by them. But when they saw him walking upon the sea, they supposed it had been a spirit, and cried out: For they all saw him, and were troubled. And immediately he talked with them, and saith unto them, Be of good cheer: it is I; be not afraid. And he went up unto them into the ship; and the wind ceased: and they were sore amazed in themselves beyond measure, and wondered.”

The version offered by the Gospel of John (6:16-21) is a bit different but still fairly simple: “And when even was now come, his disciples went down unto the sea, And entered into a ship, and went over the sea toward Capernaum. And it was now dark, and Jesus was not come to them. And the sea arose by reason of a great wind that blew. So when they had rowed about five and twenty or thirty furlongs, they see Jesus walking on the sea, and drawing nigh unto the ship: and they were afraid. But he saith unto them, It is I; be not afraid. Then they willingly received him into the ship: and immediately the ship was at the land whither they went.”

The version offered by the Gospel of Matthew (14:23-34), however, is rather more elaborate: “And straightway Jesus constrained his disciples to get into a ship, and to go before him unto the other side, while he sent the multitudes away. And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone. But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary. And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea. And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear. But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid. And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water. And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt? And when they were come into the ship, the wind ceased. Then they that were in the ship came and worshiped him, saying, Of a truth thou art the Son of God. And when they were gone over, they came into the land of Gennesaret.”

The Gospel of Matthew’s special emphasis on Peter in this story is unique. According to the Jesus Seminar’s The Five Gospels: What Did Jesus Really Say?, whoever wrote this Gospel was putting words in the mouth of Jesus. Why these particular words? Well, whoever wrote Matthew seems to have had an agenda, part of which involved boosting Peter and the church he allegedly founded. Remember, this is the Gospel that also quotes Jesus as saying “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (16:18-19).

The other Gospel writers seem to have missed this encounter between Jesus and Peter. According to The Five Gospels, this is because the words Jesus utters were an invention of Matthew that “undoubtedly reflects Peter’s position in Matthew’s branch of the emerging Christian movement” (p. 207).

Bottom Line: Whoever wrote the Gospel of Matthew wasn’t above inserting things to advance a personal agenda. Such personal insertions are scattered throughout all four Gospels and they undermine the Bible’s credibility wherever they occur (as well as the Bible’s credibility in general). If we have good reason to believe that the authors of the Gospels invented at least part of the story about Jesus’s walk on water, how can we trust anything they say in that story?

Extraordinary stories require extraordinary proof. Those stories require even more proof once we find that any part of them is probably an invention. In the case of this extraordinary story, however, we have NO evidence. On what basis might a reasonable person conclude that it’s true?
4) This walking on water story isn’t unique to Jesus. As with virtually everything else associated with him, this story pops up in other myths and religions.

For example, “ORION was a handsome Giant who was gifted with the ability to walk on water.” And “Zeus gave Tros in exchange for his son a pair of white prancing mares, deathless and able to walk on water….”

According to Jesus of Myth and Miracle, “With the mariner miracles we are again in the territory of Dionysus a god of the sea who is renowned for his seafaring miracles. The case of calming the troubled waters (Mark 4:37-41) is a universal feature of gods of order, common to Ba’al and Yahweh and also the subject of Jewish myth in the Talmud concerning a Jewish boy who prays to Yahweh when the idols fail the mariners (Ranke-Heinmann 1992 95).”

According to Wikipedia, “In ancient Egyptian Mythology the God Horus walked on water, and in ancient Greek Mythology the giant hunter and son of the gods Orion walked on water. Both Hindu and Buddhist traditions have stories about walking on water.”

According to The Internet Sacred Text Archive, here’s the version of the walk-on-water story that was associated with Buddha: “SOUTH of Savatthi is a great river, on the banks of which lay a hamlet of five hundred houses. Thinking of the salvation of the people, the World-honored One resolved to go to the village and preach the doctrine. Having come to the riverside he sat down beneath a tree, and the villagers seeing the glory of his appearance approached him with reverence; but when he began to preach, they believed him not.

“When the world-honored Buddha had left Savatthi Sariputta felt a desire to see the Lord and to hear him preach. Coming to the river where the water was deep and the current strong, he said to himself: ‘This stream shall not prevent me. I shall go and see the Blessed One,’ and he stepped upon the water which was as firm under his feet as a slab of granite. When he arrived at a place in the middle of the stream where the waves were high, Sariputta’s heart gave way, and he began to sink. But rousing his faith and renewing his mental effort, he proceeded as before and reached the other bank.

“The people of the village were astonished to see Sariputta, and they asked how he could cross the stream where there was neither a bridge nor a ferry. Sariputta replied: ‘I lived in ignorance until I heard the voice of the Buddha. As I was anxious to hear the doctrine of salvation, I crossed the river and I walked over its troubled waters because I had faith. Faith. nothing else, enabled me to do so, and now I am here in the bliss of the Master’s presence.’

“The World-honored One added: ‘Sariputta, thou hast spoken well. Faith like thine alone can save the world from the yawning gulf of migration and enable men to walk dryshod to the other shore.’ And the Blessed One urged to the villagers the necessity of ever advancing in the conquest of sorrow and of casting off all shackles so as to cross the river of worldliness and attain deliverance from death. Hearing the words of the Tathagata, the villagers were filled with joy and believing in the doctrines of the Blessed One embraced the five rules and took refuge in his name.”

If we’re going to believe that Jesus walked on water just because the Bible says so, why shouldn’t we believe these other stories, too? If we reject these other stories, why shouldn’t we also reject the Bible’s?
5) So what if Jesus DID walk on water? Matthew 24:24 and Mark 13:22 both quote him as saying that false Christs and false prophets can perform miracles, too.

6) If walking on water really is the sign of a divinity whom we ought to worship, why don’t we worship everything that walks on water?


“MIT researchers report in the Aug. 7 [2003] issue of Nature that they now understand how the insects known as water striders skim effortlessly across the surface of ponds and oceans.”MIT News Office

“The mystery of how a type of lizard ‘walks’ on water may have been solved, a group of US scientists believe. The basilisk lizard – also known as a Jesus lizard – has a seemingly miraculous ability to scurry across liquid, apparently at odds with the usual laws of physics.”The BBC

“Everyone loves their pet dog – but can your dog walk on water? Mine can.”Aqua (At least we have a picture of this!)

If you still believe Jesus really walked on water and deserves to be worshiped, please tell us why.



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