did Peter walk on water?

From: bivalve (bivalve@mail.davidson.alumlink.com)
Date: Mon Sep 30 2002 - 20:31:50 EDT

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    >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.<

    I would argue that indeed overwhelming evidence is necessary to
    legitimately conclude that a biblical text, or any other potentially
    historical record, is not a record of history as it really happened.
    Much less overwhelming evidence is needed to suggest that it might
    not be history as it really happened. In many cases, the independent
    evidence on the historicity of scripture passages (for or against) is
    underwhelming. However, the NT in particular asserts the importance
    of the Gospel as real history. The addition of fictional
    embelishments to a narrative, no matter how theologically useful,
    raises questions about the general reliability. It does not mean
    that one must immediately throw out everything, but does require

    The only solid criterion for deciding historicity is comparison with
    historical and modern evidence. Taking the specific example of Peter:
    The event claims to be miraculous, so scientific evidence that people
    do not normally walk on liquid water is not disproof. It does mean
    that some evidence of the likelihood of miracles in this situation
    would be helpful. As an illustration of the accessibility of Jesus's
    power to us through faith, it has function as a sign, supplementary
    to the main sign of Jesus' power over the Sea.
    There is no contrary evidence, i.e. witnesses that assert that Peter
    was seen to stay in the boat the whole time. John also records his
    readiness to hop overboard.
    It is part of an overall account of historical events.
    It suits the purpose of the author, which would be expected of
    fiction and of much historical writing.
    It matches the style of the author, which would be expected of
    anything not directly copied from another source.

    The various biographies posted to this list not long ago are, in
    almost every case, from a single source. To the extent that they
    show distinctive styles, they are written in the style of each
    individual, and they address the theological and personal interests
    of the author. Yet I do not think they are fictional. I do not find
    the cited criteria for detecting midrash in the Scriptures any more
    convincing than the existing criteria for detecting ID in biological
    systems. Both sets of criteria point out things worthy of
    investigation, for midrash or ID, but as proof leave much to be

    Incidentally, the uses of the word midrash in Chronicles do not seem
    to have the connotation found in later Judaism; in fact, it seems to
    be cited as a source for historical information, though probably with
    theological commentary.

    Part of the difficulty is that some liberal critics (for want of a
    better term) consider highly underwhelming evidence as sufficient
    reason to reject the historicity of Scripture; the Jesus Seminar
    being a notorious example. It is no wonder that questioning the
    historicity of minor details arouses the suspicion that one is trying
    to throw out the entire Bible. Thus, it is important to distinguish
    between a call to examine the texts carefully, being open minded
    about the literary genre, and an assumption that they must be
    deliberate falsehoods.

         Dr. David Campbell
         Old Seashells
         University of Alabama
         Biodiversity & Systematics
         Dept. Biological Sciences
         Box 870345
         Tuscaloosa, AL 35487 USA

    That is Uncle Joe, taken in the masonic regalia of a Grand Exalted
    Periwinkle of the Mystic Order of Whelks-P.G. Wodehouse, Romance at
    Droitgate Spa

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