From: george murphy (email@example.com)
Date: Thu Sep 26 2002 - 11:09:00 EDT
> 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.
Perhaps, although the fact that Mt gives Peter a place in the story at
all might be seen as consistent with his emphasis on the importance of Peter.
(Mt does not, after all, tone down the most negative story about Peter, that of
Jn as well as Mk & Mt, have an account of Jesus walking on the sea
following the feeding of the 5000. Johannine-synoptic agreement suggests that
the accounts go back at least to very early Christian tradition, & it
to say that the first Christians knew of such a story. & of course it is Jesus
walking on the sea (not simply "on the water") that is the most important
The question then is whether Peter also walked on water or whether, for
one reason or another, this part of the story is a Matthean creation
to make some
theological point. One way of getting at that question is to look at the
language & theology in the part of the story about Peter & see if it reflects
distinctively Matthean usage - favorite words, concepts, &c.
One biblical scholar who has done such work is Robert Gundry, whose
_Matthew: A Commentary on his Literary and Theological Art_ (Eerdmans, 1982)
deals with such questions for the entire gospel. His conclusion about the
Petrine part of our text may be worth quoting (p.300);
"The several echoes of the story about the earlier storm and the
preceding part of the present story, the heavily Matthean diction, the
theological motifs characteristic of Matthew, and the possible allusions to the
OT make it difficult to resist the conclusion that Matthew did not draw the
material in vv 28-31 from tradition, but composed it as a haggadic midrash on
discipleship: confessing Jesus as Lord, obeying Jesus' command, being guilty of
little faith in persecution, crying out for deliverance, and being recued and
rebuked by Jesus."
George L. Murphy
"The Science-Theology Interface"
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