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§ 177. Christ Walks upon the Waters. (John, vi., 16; Matt., xiv., 2; Mark, vi., 45.)

Dismissing the disciples at evening, he commanded them to sail across to the western shore, in the direction of Bethsaida and Capernaum. They departed, but sailed for a while slowly along the shore, expecting Christ to come to them after he had dismissed the multitude; but they waited in vain. It was now dark; they became aware that their expectations would not be fulfilled, and took their way for the other shore. But the wind was against them; they had to contend with storm and waves. After struggling with the elements in great anxiety for more than an hour and a half in the open sea, they strove again to reach the shore which they had left. While they were toiling to accomplish this, suddenly, between three and six in the morning, Christ appeared to them walking on the waters, and approaching the vessel.473473   If it were even grammatically possible to translate ἐπὶ τῆς θαλάσσης “along the sea,” and ἐπὶ τὴν θάλασσανtowards the sea,” although the connexion be unnatural (thus supposing that Christ had gone in a half circle to the other side of the shore, and so reached the disciples, who had slowly toiled along the shore); if this, I say, were grammatically possible, such a construction is directly opposed to the tenor and intention of the narrative. This is most obvious in John’s account, which is the most direct and simple, and has least of the miraculous about it. Suppose the disciples to have sailed 25 or 30 furlongs, not across, but along the sea, and then, seeing Jesus on the shore, to have taken him in; how will this agree with John’s statement (vi., 21), “immediately the ship was at the land, whither they went?” If they saw Jesus, then, on the shore, it must have been the western shore; and what meaning could there be, in that case, in their taking him into the vessel? Cf. Lücke’s excellent remarks, in loc. 265Bewildered with fear, they did not recognize the Saviour amid the storm and darkness, but thought they saw “a spirit.”474474   Not a likely thought, if Jesus was walking on the shore; it could have been nothing strange, especially towards Easter, when so many were travelling towards Jerusalem, to see a man walking on the lake-side towards morning. But Christ called to them, “It is I; be not afraid.” The well-known voice turned their fear into joy. They sought, longingly, to take him into the vessel; but, before they could succeed in it, they were wafted to the shore by a favourable wind. This, too, was full of import to them; as soon as Christ made himself known, every thing took a joyful turn.475475   I follow John’s account, as most naturally explaining itself.


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