Re: Did Peter walk on water?

Date: Wed Sep 25 2002 - 23:36:16 EDT

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    Terry wrote,

    << 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
    naturalistic philosophy.


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