Re: Did Peter walk on water?

From: George Murphy (
Date: Sat Sep 28 2002 - 12:29:04 EDT

  • Next message: Jay Willingham: "Re: AiG bites the dust" wrote:
    > To my post,
    > << 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.
    > George commented,
    > >> 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
    > his denial.)>>
    > I hope no one tries to build up my importance by airing my failures.
    > It is true that Matt does not tone down Peter's denial, but the passion
    > tradition was a unit and one of the most well-rooted historical parts of the
    > gospels. I suggest that Matthew was constrained by the tradition to mention
    > it.
    > >>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
    > seems safe 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
    > feature.>>
    > Yes, the agreement of John with Mk-Mt testifies to its historicity.
    > << 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.>>
    > I don't see how language or even theology can help us determine whether the
    > story is historical or not. For example, the use of "apokritheis...eipen"
    > (having answered...he said) in v. 28 is a Mattheanism, but so what? The same
    > Mattheanism is found in 26:3 at the beginning of the story of Peter's denial.
    > Would we judge the latter as fictional haggadah because it begins with this
    > Mattheanism?
    > Similarly, one's theological interests may make one select material or
    > emphasize some material over other, but on what basis can we say that because
    > a writer has a particular theological interest or focus that some of the
    > material supporting that interest was therefore invented by him?
    > <<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 rescued
    > and
    > rebuked by Jesus.">>
    > The story of Peter walking on the water is directly tied to the preceding
    > story about the storm, why wouldn't there be echoes of the preceding story?
    > Gundry cites the reference to the wind in v. 30 as harking back to its
    > mention in v. 24, the "becoming afraid" as harking back to Matthew's
    > insertion of "from fear" in v. 26. Well, of course the wind is in both, it is
    > the same storm; and, of course seeing a ghost or high waves coming at you
    > would cause fear. For Peter's "Lord, save me," Gundry goes all the way back
    > to the storm in 8:25 to find the "echo"in the disciples' "Lord, save us." And
    > for the Mattheanism, "one of little faith" in v. he goes back to 8:26, where
    > Jesus used the same word under similar circumstances. But, don't people use
    > the same words under similar circumstances? I don't find this kind of
    > reasoning at all compelling.
    > Part of his "heavily Matthean diction" is "Petros", which is actually used
    > more often in John. Another part is "lego(omega)n" , which is used just as
    > often in Luke (both 48 times). And what about "legon" in Matt 16:13 along
    > with "apokritheis...eipen" and "Petros" in 16:16? Isn't that story also
    > presented with "heavily Matthean diction"? Does that mean the great
    > confession of Peter, which is found in Mark 8 and Luke 9) is a fictional
    > haggadah? And, if you were making up a story to insert in an historical
    > account, wouldn't you take some pains to avoid a heavy use of your unique
    > diction? What modern historian does not use his own diction? and where it is
    > heavy, does that section become fiction?
    > I have already commented on the meaninglessness of the use of theological
    > motifs.
    > The "possible allusions to the Old Testament" could be found in numerous
    > sections of Matthew which one would not suppose are unhistorical. And
    > "possible" does not add to probability in any case.
    > Matthew's gospel is Targumic, but haggadic? The story has a weak historical
    > foundation, but I do not see where Gundry's arguments constitute genuine
    > evidence that the story is fiction.

            The use of an author's distinctive diction and theology in a
    passage certainly
    is significant, though of course that in itself does not constitute
    proof that he or she
    composed that passage with no factual background. The situation with
    the present
    passage is as follows.
            As noted, Mk & Jn show that there was a very early Christian
    tradition about
    Jesus walking on the sea. Either this tradition knew nothing of
    _Peter_ walking on the
    water as well, or both Mk and Jn, for their own theological reasons,
    didn't include this
    part. Mt used Mk as one of his sources, but where did he get the
    part about Peter?
    >From some 3d independent account which mentioned Peter? From some
    >Ur-Mark which
    included a fuller version than included in our present Mark? Either
    is possible, but
    not _a priori_ more so than the suggestion that Mt himself composed
    the story as a
    theological elaboration - if you don't like the term "haggadaic
    midrash" - on the story
    from Mk.
            What I find questionable - here, with Jonah, and with many
    other texts - is the
    assumption that there must be overwhelming evidence in order to get
    us to believe that a
    biblical text is not a record of "history as it really happens."
    This assumption,
    especially when combined with "might have been" arguments, allow one
    in principle to
    examine the historicity of biblical texts without in fact ever
    concluding that any
    aren't accurate history. That may seem an advantage to some but I
    think it dodges a lot
    of hard questions.

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