Date: Wed Sep 25 2002 - 23:36:16 EDT
<< Can't we just say yes to Walter's simple
question and then ask the "deeper" questions -- What do we learn
about Christ? What do we learn about faith? Why is this passage here?
Why are there differences in the different gospel accounts? Etc. >>
Walter's simple question is, Did Peter walk on water?
In the light of Paul's statement that if the resurrection did not happen we
are the most to be pitied men, and since the boundary between fable and fact
has to lie somewhere, Walter also asked, "Just where do we think that is
Biblically? Is not that important also?'
Distinguishing fact from fable is important; and, more than one writer in the
NT speaks of the difference between them. But, there is no biblical
revelation which tells us that the writers of history qua history in the
Bible received their historical information by divine revelation. Rather,
nearly every historical book in the Bible makes reference to the human
sources upon which it was based (as opposed to the prophets who regularly
implied they received their message by direct divine revelation).
Consequently, distinguishing between historical fact and fable in the Bible
is in principle no different from distinguishing between historical fact and
fable in any other book: it is a matter of external testimony, such as
eyewitnesses or less, and internal considerations, such as the tendencies and
style of the author.
Externally, one would like to have had the incident of Peter walking on the
water mentioned in Mark, which traditionally has been thought to derive
essentially from the memoirs of Peter, or in Luke, whose preface, tells us he
took extra pains to get his facts straight from the eyewitnesses. Matthew is
the weak sister of the three, and is the only one reporting the incident.
That does not put it in doubt, but it doesn't help matters much.
Internally, one can see that Matthew usually adjusts the statements in Mark
so as to omit or tone down things that seem to be unfavorable to the
disciples (See Alfred Plummer, The Gospel according to St. Matthew, repub
Eerdmans, p xiv), so it is historically confirming when he tells of an
incident that Mark does not even mention and yet is detrimental to the
reputation of Peter (in that his faith is pronounced small). Similarly,
Matthew emphasizes the primacy of Peter; so, it runs against his tendency to
report that which would degrade him. The story is also in keeping with the
impetuosity of Peter as we meet him in all of the gospels.
No doubt much more could be said, but the upshot, in my opinion, is that it
is probably historically accurate to say that Peter walked on the water. At
least that would be the presumption if the data is looked at apart from
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