Matthew 14: 22-33

I propose a biblical analysis with the following steps: a study of each Greek word of the evangelical text, followed by an analysis of the structure of the narrative and its context, to which is added a comparison of parallel or similar passages. At the end of this analysis and as a conclusion, I propose to summarize what the evangelist meant, and I end up with some suggestions on how this Gospel could shed light on our current situation.


Summary

The story

The disciples just had a memorable moment when Jesus fed 5,000 men, not counting women and children. Jesus immediately compelled the disciples to leave by boat for the other side, while he would take care to send the crowd away. After the crowd was sent away, Jesus isolated himself in the mountain to pray. As for the disciples' boat, after a few miles, it had to face the onslaught of the waves because of a headwind. At this point, between 3:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m., Jesus joins his disciples. But now there are cries of fear among the disciples, for it is as if a spectre had come from the world of the dead. By his words, Jesus identifies himself with "I am", the Old Testament expression for God, and invites them not to be afraid and be confident. But Peter, wanting to be sure the spectre is Jesus, asks for a command to join him on the water, which Jesus does. When Peter starts walking on the water towards Jesus, he begins to sink as soon as he sees the power of the wind. Jesus rescues him by reaching out his hand and grabbing him, blaming him for his lack of faith. Once everyone is in the boat, calm is restored. The disciples then proclaim their faith and recognize the authority of Jesus as the Son of God.

The vocabulary

In the section of verses 22-27, Matthew essentially takes up the text of Mark's gospel, and thus its vocabulary. However, he makes some alterations.

  • V. 22: Thus, at the beginning of the account, to say "immediately", he replaces Mark's euthys with eutheōs which he prefers, even though the two words are synonymous.
  • V. 22: He modifies the expression "his disciples" by "the disciples". Why did he change the expression "his disciples" to "the disciples"? There are two possible explanations: either the disciples always designate for him the restricted group of the Twelve, or, more probably, to generalize the expression, i.e. any disciple, and thus allow his community of Antioch to identify itself with it.
  • V. 22: As he often does, "the crowd" becomes "the crowds" on his pen, not only to accentuate the impact of Jesus' preaching, but to refer to diverse groups, and therefore to the various nations.
  • V. 23: He adds kat'idian (apart) in the description of Jesus going into the mountain to pray, in order to express the situation and the unique identity of Jesus, which he emphasizes more than the other Synoptics
  • V. 23: He modifies Mark's sentence which mentions afterwards that evening has come, that the boat is in the middle of the sea, and that Jesus is alone on the land. After mentioning as Mark did that evening has come, he prefers to focus immediately on Jesus who is alone (monos), and adds "he was there (ekei)" a way of emphasizing that Jesus is always in the same place as his place of prayer, and therefore always in the world of God, accentuating the separation with the disciples; ekei is an adverb that is part of the Matthean vocabulary. In doing so, Matthew is moving away from Mark who put Jesus on the lakeshore when evening came, and no longer on the mountain, a situation that Matthew probably found incomprehensible.
  • V. 24: "the boat, being already several stadia distant (apeichen) from (apo) the land". This is what we find in Matthew instead of "the boat was in the middle of the sea, and he alone on the land" of Mark. If we believe M.E. Boismard, "to be far from" (apeichen apo) is not Matthew's, but Luke's, who would have given a final touch to the edition of Matthew's gospel, because apeichen apo is a Lucan expression, the most striking example of which is Lk 24:13 (Emmaus, 60 stadia away from Jerusalem).
  • V. 24: "already (ēdē) distant". This is not a frequent word in Matthew, but nevertheless he sometimes adds it to the source he receives from Mark, as is the case here. The word can mean that a large quantity has been reached, and so Matthew intends to show the gap between the community of disciples in the boat and Jesus himself, a gap that is now representative of the Christian community.
  • V. 24: "several (polys) stadia". The adjective "several" appears frequently in Matthew, and he sometimes adds it to the source he receives from Mark, as is the case here. For Matthew, this great distance symbolizes the gap between a transcendent Jesus, whom Matthew looks at with Easter eyes, and the community of disciples in the boat.
  • V. 24: "(the boat) being tormented by the waves (kyma)". Matthew makes two changes in relation to Mark: first, it is not the disciples who are tormented, but the boat is tormented, and second, the torment does not come from having to row against the wind, but from the waves that hit the boat. The Jewish people are not a seafaring people, and the waves are frightening and are associated with the forces of evil. And since the boat is associated with the ecclesial community, for Matthew it is the ecclesial community that suffers the onslaught of the waves and the forces of evil.
  • V. 26: "They cried (krazō)". Matthew takes up the idea of the desperate cries of Mark who uses anakrazō (to cry out), but since anakrazō is not part of his vocabulary, he prefers the verb krazō.
  • V. 26: "of fear (phobos)". Even though the word appears only three times in his gospel, each time it is a touch of its own, and what he does here is to clarify why the disciples were crying out.

In the section of vv. 28-31, Matthew moves away from Mark to insert one of his compositions about Peter who wants to follow Jesus on the water, but fails for lack of faith, and must therefore be rescued by Jesus. The peculiarities of his style and vocabulary are clearly shown: the expression "answering and say", the words "Lord" which he often adds to his sources, "command" (keleuō) which he is almost alone in using in the gospels, "the waters" (hydōr), a plural that he alone uses to speak of the sea, "to look at" (blepō) which he uses more than the other evangelists, "to submerge" (katapontizō); ) which appears only in Matthew throughout the New Testament, the expressions "save me" which are found only in Matthew and "stretch out your hand" which he uses more than the others, the word "little faith" (oligopistos), almost exclusively Matthean, the verb "to doubt" (distazō) which appears only in Matthew throughout the Bible, the verb "to prostrate oneself" (proskyneō) of which he is the greatest user, finally the expression "of God the son" which is found only in Matthew.

Structure and composition

The story of walking on water is inseparable from the story of Jesus feeding the crowd that it is commenting on and extending. Matthew essentially takes up Mark's text, and if Boismard is right, Mark's text is a fusion of two versions of the narrative, one of which is at the source of John's account of the walking on water. So we end up with a text of a certain complexity. And to this Matthew will add an episode of his own around Peter. Thus, the story can be divided into four moments: 1) the execution of the initial plan where the disciples leave in a boat and face the headwind, while Jesus sends the crowd away, 2) the interaction between Jesus walking on the water and the disciples, 3) the interaction between Peter and Jesus, and 4) a conclusion when everyone is gathered.

This story belongs to the second part of Matthew's gospel when, faced with the prospect of his approaching death, Jesus focuses his teaching on his disciples. First of all, with the scene of the multiplication of the loaves, he associates his disciples with his compassion to feed the crowds, and at the end of the crossing of the lake, they will witness Jesus' healing mission. The story of the walking on the water will be the key to illuminating this whole ensemble.

And this key will be faith in him who, now risen, shares God's privileges of being master of creation, and as God was able to give manna and bring his people across the sea, so will he be able to do the same for his Church. This faith is also expected of its leaders, as Peter was.

Intention of the author

The Christian community that is probably the first recipient of Matthew's gospel is the Jewish Christians of Antioch. However, this community is experiencing tensions with their brothers for whom they are probably considered heretics and who are preparing to excommunicate them from the synagogue. Tensions also exist within the community between the conservatives who want to continue to apply the Jewish Law and practices in their entirety, and the "liberals" who appeal to the Christian liberty of which St. Paul spoke. Finally, there are tensions among the leaders of the community, some of whom are very much interested in their "rabbi", "father" or "doctor" credentials. This raises the question of the survival of the community.

The whole of our story begins with Jesus feeding the crowd narrative which clearly evokes the Eucharistic assembly. After the gathering, after the experience of a memorable moment, it is the dismissal, the return to normal life and to the mission. It is above all the awareness that the physical Jesus who walked the roads of Palestine is no longer with us, for he is with his Father. The waves that hit the boat are all the external and internal problems that the community is experiencing. When Jesus wants to make himself present to the community, it is no longer the Jesus of old that we could see and touch. He belongs to the world of God, whose authority he shares over all creation, including the sea and the waves, which for a Jew represent the forces of evil. In the midst of evil, the unbelieving eye distinguishes only the shadow or the spectre of the world of death, including Jesus who would be there with all the others; for this eye, Jesus has not risen. It is only by his word that Jesus can join the community and say, "I am", a word that reminds us that he now shares God's privileges, including the privilege of overcoming evil in all its forms. So Matthew can say to his community, 'Even though the Twelve were able to see and touch the body of Jesus, all this gave them no advantage in recognising the risen Jesus'.

And Matthew also has a message for the leaders of the community: 'Look at Peter who wanted to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, but was not able to because of a lack of faith. If Peter failed, how much more will it be for you. If you don't cultivate a faith to carry the mountains, you will all come out losers against the forces of evil.

Matthew wants to end this story with a powerful proclamation of faith from the disciples around Jesus the son of God, i.e. the one who shares God's privilege of overcoming the forces of evil. It is important to him that the disciples proclaim their faith before the Roman pagans at the end of his gospel, at the death of Jesus, and that they serve as a model for the members of the community. With this faith," he says, "you will come out victorious in all the problems that beset you, and this will give true meaning to your Eucharistic gatherings.


 


  1. Translation of the Greek text (28th edition of Kurt Aland)

    Greek textTransliterated Greek textLiteral translationTranslation in current language
    22 Καὶ εὐθέως ἠνάγκασεν τοὺς μαθητὰς ἐμβῆναι εἰς τὸ πλοῖον καὶ προάγειν αὐτὸν εἰς τὸ πέραν, ἕως οὗ ἀπολύσῃ τοὺς ὄχλους.22 Kai eutheōs ēnankasen tous mathētas embēnai eis to ploion kai proagein auton eis to peran, heōs hou apolysē tous ochlous. 22 And immediately he compelled the disciples to embark the boat, and go before him to the other side, so he would dismiss the crowds.22 And immediately Jesus made them get into the boat and go ahead of him to the other side of the lake, while he we would take care of sending the people away.
    23 καὶ ἀπολύσας τοὺς ὄχλους ἀνέβη εἰς τὸ ὄρος κατʼ ἰδίαν προσεύξασθαι. ὀψίας δὲ γενομένης μόνος ἦν ἐκεῖ.23 kai apolysas tous ochlous anebē eis to oros katʼ idian proseuxasthai. opsias de genomenēs monos ēn ekei. 23 And having dismissed the crowds, he went up into the mountain by himself to pray; and when the late hour was come, he was there alone.23 And when the people were sent away, he went up the mountain to be apart to pray; and when evening came, he was there alone.
    24 τὸ δὲ πλοῖον ἤδη σταδίους πολλοὺς ἀπὸ τῆς γῆς ἀπεῖχεν βασανιζόμενον ὑπὸ τῶν κυμάτων, ἦν γὰρ ἐναντίος ὁ ἄνεμος.24 to de ploion ēdē stadious pollous apo tēs gēs apeichen basanizomenon hypo tōn kymatōn, ēn gar enantios ho anemos. 24 Then the boat, being already several stadia distant from the land, being tortured by the waves, because the wind was adverse.24 The boat was already several hundreds of yards from the shore when it came up against the waves which were moving with a headwind.
    25 τετάρτῃ δὲ φυλακῇ τῆς νυκτὸς ἦλθεν πρὸς αὐτοὺς περιπατῶν ἐπὶ τὴν θάλασσαν.25 tetartē de phylakē tēs nyktos ēlthen pros autous peripatōn epi tēn thalassan. 25 Then, in the fourth watch of the night, he came out to them walking on the sea.25 It was between three and six o'clock in the morning, when Jesus came to them walking on the water.
    26 οἱ δὲ μαθηταὶ ἰδόντες αὐτὸν ἐπὶ τῆς θαλάσσης περιπατοῦντα ἐταράχθησαν λέγοντες ὅτι φάντασμά ἐστιν, καὶ ἀπὸ τοῦ φόβου ἔκραξαν.26 hoi de mathētai idontes auton epi tēs thalassēs peripatounta etarachthēsan legontes hoti phantasma estin, kai apo tou phobou ekraxan. 26 Then, the disciples having seen him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, "It is an apparition," and out of fear they cried.26 When the disciples saw him walking on the water, they went into a panic, thinking they saw a shadow of the dead world, and they began to cry out for fear.
    27 εὐθὺς δὲ ἐλάλησεν [ὀ Ἰησοῦς] αὐτοῖς λέγων· θαρσεῖτε, ἐγώ εἰμι· μὴ φοβεῖσθε.27 euthys de elalēsen [o Iēsous] autois legōn• tharseite, egō eimi• mē phobeisthe. 27 Then, immediately the Jesus spoke to them saying, "Take courage! Me, I am! Don't be afraid!27 But immediately Jesus intervened and said to them, "Be confident! It is I! Do not be afraid!"
    28 ἀποκριθεὶς δὲ αὐτῷ ὁ Πέτρος εἶπεν· κύριε, εἰ σὺ εἶ, κέλευσόν με ἐλθεῖν πρός σε ἐπὶ τὰ ὕδατα.28 apokritheis de autō ho Petros eipen• kyrie, ei sy ei, keleuson me elthein pros se epi ta hydata. 28 Then, having answered him, the Peter said, "Lord, if you you are, command me to come to you on the waters.28 Replying to Jesus, Peter said, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water".
    29 ὁ δὲ εἶπεν· ἐλθέ. καὶ καταβὰς ἀπὸ τοῦ πλοίου [ὁ] Πέτρος περιεπάτησεν ἐπὶ τὰ ὕδατα καὶ ἦλθεν πρὸς τὸν Ἰησοῦν.29 ho de eipen• elthe. kai katabas apo tou ploiou [ho] Petros periepatēsen epi ta hydata kai ēlthen pros ton Iēsoun. 29 Then he said to him, "Come". He got out of the boat, and the Peter walked on the waters, and went to Jesus.29 Then Jesus said to him, "Come!" When Peter got out of the boat, he began to walk on the water toward Jesus.
    30 βλέπων δὲ τὸν ἄνεμον [ἰσχυρὸν] ἐφοβήθη, καὶ ἀρξάμενος καταποντίζεσθαι ἔκραξεν λέγων· κύριε, σῶσόν με.30 blepōn de ton anemon [ischyron] ephobēthē, kai arxamenos katapontizesthai ekraxen legōn• kyrie, sōson me. 30 Then, looking at the [mighty] wind, he was afraid, and having begun to be submerged in the sea, he cried, saying, "Lord, save me."30 But when he saw the power of the wind, he was afraid, and began to sink into the water, and he cried out, "Lord, help!"
    31 εὐθέως δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἐκτείνας τὴν χεῖρα ἐπελάβετο αὐτοῦ καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ· ὀλιγόπιστε, εἰς τί ἐδίστασας;31 eutheōs de ho Iēsous ekteinas tēn cheira epelabeto autou kai legei autō• oligopiste, eis ti edistasas? 31 Then, immediately the Jesus stretched forth his hand, and took hold of him, and said to him, "You of little faith, why did you doubt?"31 Immediately Jesus took hold of him with an outstretched hand, saying, "You have so little faith, why did you doubt?"
    32 καὶ ἀναβάντων αὐτῶν εἰς τὸ πλοῖον ἐκόπασεν ὁ ἄνεμος.32 kai anabantōn autōn eis to ploion ekopasen ho anemos. 32 And them, having gone up to the boat, the wind ceased.32 When they both got into the boat, the wind died down.
    33 οἱ δὲ ἐν τῷ πλοίῳ προσεκύνησαν αὐτῷ λέγοντες· ἀληθῶς θεοῦ υἱὸς εἶ.33 hoi de en tō ploiō prosekynēsan autō legontes• alēthōs theou huios ei.33 Then those in the boat prostrated [before] him, saying, "Truly, of God, son, you are."33 The disciples recognized his authority, saying, "Truly, you are God's son."

  1. Analysis of each verse

    v. 22 And immediately Jesus made them get into the boat and go ahead of him to the other side of the lake, while he we would take care of sending the people away.

    Literally: And immediately (eutheōs) he compelled (ēnankasen) the disciples (mathētas) to embark (embēnai) the boat (ploion), and go before (proagein) him to the other side (peran), so he would dismiss (apolysē) the crowds (ochlous).

eutheōs (immediately)
Eutheōs is an adverb meaning: immediately, right away, straight away, at once. It is very rare outside of the Gospel-Acts: Mt = 13; Mk = 1; Lk = 6; Jn = 3; Acts = 9; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 1. As can be seen, it is found mainly in Matthew and Luke. Mark prefers its synonym euthys (Mt = 5; Mk = 41; Lk = 1; Jn = 2; Acts = 1; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0), derived from the adjective euthys (straight, direct) and which means "immediately, right away" when it refers to time, or "directly" when it refers to space, or "directly, simply" when it is about how to act.

Very clearly, Matthew likes the adverb eutheōs and prefers it to euthys.

  1. On a few occasions he adds this adverb to the source he receives from Mark.
    Mt 24: 29Mk 13: 24
    Then, immediately (eutheōs) after the tribulation on those days, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the skyBut in those days, after the tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling out of the sky

    See also Mt 27: 48 || Mk 15: 36.

  2. But most of the time Matthew simply replaces the euthys he receives from Mark with eutheōs.
    Mt 4: 20Mk 1: 18
    Them, immediately (eutheōs), having left the nets, they followed him (Jesus).And immediately (euthys), leaving the nets, they followed him (Jesus)

    See also Mt 4: 22 || Mk 1: 20; Mt 8: 3 || Mk 1: 42; Mt 13: 5 || Mk 4: 5; Mt 14: 22 || Mk 6: 45; Mt 20: 34 || Mk 10: 52; Mt 26: 49 || Mk 14: 45.

The five occurrences of euthys in Matthew appear only in passages that he copied from Mark. Then why did he almost always replace euthys by eutheōs, except in those five passages? Only Matthew himself could give us an explanation.

Luke also prefers eutheōs to euthys, and the only occurrence of euthys is in a passage from the Document Q. In John it is more ambiguous, but it seems that euthys is more part of his vocabulary than eutheōs, because this The latter seems to come from a tradition he receives about healing the paralytic, walking on the waters and denying Peter, while euthys appears in the speeches of Jesus that he seems to have composed.

What role does the adverb "immediately" play, which appears regularly in the Gospels, especially in Matthew?

  1. First of all, he intends to show the force of the impact of a word or an action, its effectiveness which does not bear any delay: when Jesus tells Peter and Andrew to follow him ("Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men", Mt 4:19), the latter immediately leave their nets to follow him; or again, when Jesus touches the leper and tells him that he desires his healing (Mt 8:3), leprosy disappears immediately.

  2. The word 'immediately' is also a way for the evangelist to point out that a scene is related to the above, or that one action is caused by another which precedes it: after recalling the sign agreed upon by Judas, the evangelist writes that immediately Judas approached Jesus to greet him and gave him a kiss (Mt 26:49), establishing a link between what is happening and the agreed sign; the same is true of the cock crowing immediately afterwards. Peter's last denial (Mt 26:74), a way of linking the two events and thus confirming Jesus' prediction.

Here, in v. 22, the adverb "immediately" is one of the first words of our pericope. We must therefore look at what precedes. Now, what precedes is the scene of Jesus feeding the crowds. What does that mean? Matthew notifies us that there is a connection between the scene of Jesus feeding the crowd and the scene of walking on the waters. What is this connection? This is what we need to find out by analyzing the whole story.

Adverb eutheōs in the Gospels-Acts

Adverb euthys in the Gospels-Acts

ēnankasen (he compelled)
Ēnankasen is the verb anankazō in the active indicative aorist 3rd person plural. It means: to compel, to force, to oblige. It is very rare in the New Testament and in the Gospel-Acts: Mt = 1; Mk = 1; Lk = 1; Jn = 0; Acts = 2; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0.

This is not a word that belongs to the Matthean vocabulary, since the latter borrows it from Mark when he copies this scene of the walking on the waters. Likewise, Mark only uses it for this scene. It is Luke who uses it the most, first with the parable from the source Q where a man, seeing that there were still free seats at his banquet because of numerous refusals, forced onlookers to attend (Lk 14:23); but Luke also puts this verb twice in the mouth of Paul in his Acts of the Apostles (26: 11; 28: 19). Finally, let us note the four occurrences in the Pauline epistles (2 Cor 12: 11; Gal 2: 3.14; 6: 12).

What is important to note is that these occurrences of "to compel" are never about physical violence, but rather about a pressing call or moral or religious obligation, or situations that require certain decisions to be made.

Why did Jesus "compel" his disciples to leave the place? As Matthew takes up again a scene from Mark, it is on the side of the latter that we must look for a answer. In fact, the disciples have just experienced a memorable moment with Jesus feeding the crowds. Now, for Mark, this moment can be deceptive, because one cannot understand this messiah who feeds the world if we do not understand the cross that awaits him. So Jesus finds a way of "wrenching" them out of their illusion in order to live out the difficult crossing of the rough sea, the only way to enter into the mystery of his life and ours.

Verb anankazō in the New Testament
mathētas (disciples)
Matthētas is the masculine noun matthētēs in the accusative plural form. It means: to be a disciple or a pupil or a learner; it refers to someone who is listening to a master. As one can imagine, the word is very frequent in the Gospel-Acts: Mt = 72; Mk = 46; Lk = 37; Jn = 78; Acts = 28; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. It can refer to the disciples of Jesus, John or even those of the Pharisees (Mk 2:18).

The question was asked: is the word "disciple" comes from the first Christian community to designate members of the community, or does it really reflect how people called all those who were attached to Jesus when he preached? After his analysis, J.P. Meier concludes that this term really belongs to Jesus era, since the first Christians rather got rid of this term to define themselves. Moreover, among those who have considered Jesus as a master, three different groups of people can be distinguished

  1. First, the small group of those who accompanied him physically on the roads, leaving work, family and home behind,
  2. Those who welcomed him into their home, offering him lodging and food and money when he visited their region,
  3. Finally, the crowd of onlookers who attended his preaching and expressed some kind of interest

It should be noted that although several women are mentioned, none of them are given the title of disciple, no doubt because of the culture of back then.

Matthew likes the word disciple: not only does he use it very often (he is 2nd, behind John), but out of the 72 occurrences, 42 (about 60%). are unique to him. But what must be emphasized is that Matthew is the only one to associate them with the Twelve: he is the only one to speak of the Twelve. disciples, first to frame the missionary discourse (10: 1 and 11: 1), then to share the fate that awaits him as he going up to Jerusalem (20: 17). And when Judas has betrayed Jesus and commits suicide, Matthew will speak about the eleven disciples (28: 16), an expression that he is the only one to use. Now, Mark, who is the source of Matthew and Luke, speaks only of the "Twelve" or the "Eleven". What does that mean? Matthew seems to restrict the title of disciple to the specific group of the Twelve who accompanies him on the road and whom he sends on mission. And when one looks at the whole of his gospel, it is clear that the disciples of Jesus occupy a special place and that they are called to play a unique role

Disciples are separate people to whom Jesus reserves for a special teaching and who have a greater knowledge of the christian mystery.

  • The sermon on the mountain is addressed to them first of all ("And when he saw the multitudes, he went up into the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him, and opening his mouth, he taught them (disciples), saying," 5:1-2).
  • While the multitudes received only a teaching in parable, Jesus reserved the explanation of the parable for the disciples ("Then leaving the multitudes, he came home; and his disciples came to him and said, "Explain to us the parable of the tares in the field."), 13: 36)
  • They are able to better understand Jesus' words ("Then the disciples understood that his words were directed to John the Baptist", 17: 13).

The disciples have a unique relationship with Jesus and constitute his family.

  • While for Mark it is the people in the crowd around him who do the will of God and so are truly his mother and brothers, Matthew restricts this group to the disciples ("And stretching out his hand to his disciples, he said, 'Behold my mother and my brothers' ", 12: 49).
  • The disciples are the privileged witnesses of his action: in the scene of the healing of the daughter of Jairus and the woman with blood loss, Matthew insists on saying: "And rising up, Jesus followed him (Jairus) and his disciples" (9: 19); in the same way, at the beginning of the scene of the stilling storm, Matthew writes: "Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him" (8: 23).

Disciples are called to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world

  • Because they receive from the very mouth of Jesus the outline of Christian action through the whole Sermon on the Mount, Matthew can write: "You are the salt of the earth... you are the light of the world" (5:13-16).
  • When Jesus sends them on a mission, he plans what they will have to do: "Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You have received freely, give freely" (10:8).

What is quite peculiar to Matthew, the disciples play the role of intermediary or mediator between Jesus and the crowd.

  • Note the difference between the version of Mark and that of Matthew in the account of Jesus feeding the crowds at the time of the distribution of food to the crowd:
    Mark 6: 41Matthew 14: 19
    and (Jesus) gave them to the disciples for them to present to them (to the crowd)he (Jesus) gave to the disciples the loaves and the disciples to the crowds

    We will have noticed that Matthew uses the word disciple twice (we have underlined the 2nd time). Why this repetition? If Jesus first gives the bread to the disciples, is it not obvious that they are the ones who then give it to the crowds? Why this redundancy in Matthieu? One gets the impression that he wants to accentuate the structure of the Jesus-disciples and disciples-crowds relationships, emphasizing the role of intermediary or mediator of the disciples. He will do the same for the 2nd feeding of the crowd (15: 36). And he will do the same thing again at the Last Supper when he writes: "Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to the disciples" (26: 26; Mark simply: "gave it to them", 14: 22). Explicitly mentioning the word "disciples" is one way of asserting their role as mediator.

  • The emphasis on the role of intermediary or mediator of the disciples appears throughout his gospel. It is the role of the disciples to ask Jesus for explanations of his teaching (13:36 "His disciples came to him and said, 'Explain to us the parable of the tares in the field' "). It is their role to inform Jesus (15:12 "Then the disciples came to him and said, 'Do you know that the Pharisees were shocked to hear you speak like that?) It is their role to pray Jesus to act (15: 23 "When his disciples came to him, they insisted on saying, 'Cast her out, for she is behind us breaking our ears' ". It is their role to ask Jesus to explain certain events: (21:20: "When the disciples saw this, they were astonished and said, 'How did the fig tree dry up in an instant? "; see also 24: 3 on the signs of the end of the world). Finally, it is their role to go out into the whole world, to baptize and make known the teaching of Jesus (28:16).

One must not be surprised by the unique place Matthew gives to the disciples. We are probably in the middle of Antioch around the year 80 or 85 when the Church begins to structure itself on the model of the Old Testament and where this classification between clerics and laity takes shape.

Yet despite this unique role that Matthew gives to the disciples, he is not shy to point out their weakness, their limitations and sometimes their narrow-mindedness. For example, they are afraid when Jesus walks on water (14: 26), or when they hear a voice from heaven (17: 6). When Jesus presents his vision of marriage where a man cannot repudiate his wife for any reason, their remark would be considered macho today (19:10 "The disciples say to him: 'If this is the condition of 'man to woman, it is not expedient to get married.'"). When Jesus told them that it is difficult for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven, Matthew writes: "The disciples were dumbfounded: 'Who then can be saved?'" (19: 25). When a woman spills an alabaster bottle containing a very precious perfume on Jesus, he passes the buck to the disciples for saying: "What good is this waste?"(26: 8). When Peter bravely claims that he is ready to die for Jesus and Mark writes that "all" said the same, Matthew insists on clarifying: "All the disciples said the same" (26:35).

Here, in v. 22, what role does Matthew have the disciples play? The rest of the story will show us that we are in front of an epiphany of Jesus to his disciples, i.e. a revelation of his identity; in fact, the story will end with a confession of faith by the disciples with these words: "Truly, you are God's son". Thus, for Matthew, the disciples have a special knowledge of the Christian mystery.

Noun mathētēs in Matthew
embēnai (embark)
Embēnai is the verb embainō to the active infinitive aorist tense. It is formed of the preposition en (in), which becomes em by being followed by the consonant 'b', and the verb bainō (to go), and thus means: to go in, to go into, to board. In the New Testament, it appears only in the four gospels: Mt = 5; Mk = 5; Lk = 3; Jn = 3; Acts = 0; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. Let us note that the context is always that of getting into a boat (ploion), or a small boat (ploiarion), so that when the word "boat" is not explicitly mentioned, the verb embainō must be translated by "to embark".

In the Septuagint, it is also a question of getting into a boat, except in the case of the prophet Nahum (3: 14) where one gets into the clay.

Verb embainō in the Bible
ploion (boat)
Ploion is a neutral word in the accusative singular and means: boat, ship. In the New Testament, it appears only in the Gospels: Mt = 13; Mk = 17; Lk = 8; Jn = 7; Acts = 19; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. It is also necessary to mention its diminutive in the form of ploiarion (small boat) which is found only in Mark and John throughout the Bible: Mt = 0; Mk = 1; Lk = 0; Jn = 4; Acts = 0; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0.

Since a number of Jesus' disciples were fishermen, it is not surprising that the boat takes centre stage in a number of stories. Moreover, part of Jesus' ministry was in Galilee around the lake of the same name, so many of the trips were made by boat.

In Matthew, the boat is mentioned in a number of circumstances:

  • The call of the disciples who leave their boat to follow Jesus (4:21-22)
  • The account of the stilling storm where Jesus and his disciples pass from Capernaum to Gadara (located 6 miles southeast of the lake, see map of Palestine)(8: 23-27)
  • Return to Capernaum by boat from Gadara (9: 1)
  • In Capernaum, because of the great crowds standing on the shore, Jesus gets into a boat to give his discourse in parables (13:1).
  • On learning of the execution of John the Baptist, Jesus gets into a boat to go a little further away to be alone, probably some distance from Capernaum (14: 13).
  • In the scene of the walking on the water, the disciples move by boat from Jesus' retreat place, where a crowd has finally joined him, whom Jesus is going to feed, before passing to the other side of the lake (14: 22-33).
  • Finally, Matthew mentions that Jesus goes up into a mountain on the shores of Lake Galilee where he will feed a crowd of 4,000 people, then, after sending the crowd away, he gets into a boat to go to the territory of Magadan, which is totally unknown to us (15:39).

All these circumstances belong to scenes from Mark that Matthew simply repeated. However, he simplified some of the scenes, reducing the number of Jesus' movements, and occasionally he modified one scene or another to insert his theology as we will see later.

In all these mentions of ploion, two scenes dominate: the storm being stilled and the walking on the waters where the word appears a total of 8 times (60% of Matthew's occurrences). Because of the context, it is quite clear that Matthew makes the boat play a symbolic role: it is the symbol of the way to follow Christ, a way that is always difficult and eventful, full of adversities; the boat is also the symbol of the Christian community, the Church.

Noun ploion dans le Nouveau Testament

Noun ploiarion in the Bible

proagein (to go before) Proagein is the verb proagō in the present infinitive. It is made up of the preposition pro (before, forward) and the verb agō (lead, take with one, fetch), and therefore means: lead ahead, precede. It appears only a few times in the Gospels-Acts (Mt = 6; Mk = 5; Lk = 1; Jn = 0; Acts = 4; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 1; 3Jn = 0) and even more rarely in the rest of the New Testament (1 Timothy and Hebrews).

The action of preceding or bringing is situated in two major contexts, the one related to space and the one related to time.

Context related to space

In this context, proagō is mostly translated as "to go before". The context can be one where people are ahead of others in a march, i.e., walking ahead. For example:

  • "And the crowds that went before him cried, 'Hosanna to the son of David! Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven'" (Mt 21:9).

The context can also be that of a leader marching in front of his troops. For example:

  • "They were on their way up to Jerusalem; and Jesus went before them, and they were astonished, and those that followed were afraid. And again he took the twelve with him, and began to tell them what would happen to him" (Mk 10:32).

There is the rare context where it is an object that precedes.

  • "At these words of the king, they (the Magi) set out on their journey; and behold, the star, which they had seen when it rose, went before them (proagō) until it came to rest over the place where the child was" (Mt 2:9).

But there is also the context where it is not a matter of one group or one person going ahead of the others, but rather of bringing someone forward or bringing them before someone else, such as a judge; it is a kind of appearance. Examples can be found in the Acts of the Apostles.

  • Now the night before Herod was to bring him before (proagō) [he] was asleep between two soldiers, and two chains bound him, and watchmen stood at the door, guarding the prison" (Acts 12:6).

This context includes the symbolic universe, i.e. going ahead and deviating from the norm.

  • "Whoever goes further (proagō) and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not possess God. He who abides in the doctrine, it is he who possesses both the Father and the Son" (2 Jn 1:9).

Context related to time

In this context, proagō establishes an order in time, where people arrive before others at a place, i.e. they go faster. For example:

  • "Jesus said to them: 'Truly I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes will go before (proagō) you in the Kingdom of God'" (Mt 21:31).

This precedence in time may concern intangible realities such as prophecies or prescriptions or past actions. For example:

  • "This is my warning to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies about you which go before you (proagō), so that, imbued with them, you may fight the good fight" (1 Timothy 1:18).

This analysis leads us to ask the question: what is the meaning of Mk 16:7 ("But go and tell his disciples and Peter that he goes before you into Galilee: there you will see him, just as he has told you?"). Is it a context of space (Jesus walks before his disciples in Galilee, as a leader before his troops), or a context of time (Jesus will be in Galilee before the arrival of the disciples)?

Let us first consider the option of a time context: what message would Mark try to communicate if he claimed that Jesus would be faster than the disciples and therefore be in Galilee before them? Related to this question is this other one: Why do we have to go to Galilee? Can't Jesus be present in Jerusalem? In short, it is difficult to find in this option a message that would be good news.

On the other hand, the option of a context of space seems to open up a more interesting perspective: for the term "Galilee" means "circle" in Hebrew and was often called the "circle of nations" (see Isaiah 8:23, taken up by Mt 4:15). In this case, the fact that Jesus "precedes" his disciples in Galilee would mean that Jesus would walk before his disciples in Galilee, i.e. he would exercise his leadership over his disciples among the nations of the world, and that is how his disciples would experience that he is alive. Let us not forget two things from the gospel according to Mark:

  1. There are no apparitions as such of the resurrected Jesus in Mark whose gospel ends with verse 8 of ch. 16.
  2. Mark addresses the Christians of Rome, a cosmopolitan milieu, and therefore one that can identify with the "circle of nations".

This option is confirmed by the only passage in Mark where Jesus is the subject of the verb proagō, and therefore is presented as the leader who guides his disciples:

They were on their way, going up to Jerusalem; and Jesus went before (proagō) them, and they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. Taking the Twelve with him again, he began to tell them what was going to happen to him" (Mk 10:32).

Here, in v. 22, the verb "to go before" is situated in a context related to time: Jesus asks his disciples to be before him in the place where they are to go. On this point Matthew is simply repeating Mark's account. One can imagine that Mark's part of the story is staged: the disciples must first face the difficulties of life "before" they can experience the presence of Jesus; in time, one must precede the other. This is what Mark writes for his persecuted community in Rome and what Matthew writes for his Jewish community in Antioch.

Verb proagō in the New Testament
peran (the other side)
Peran is an adverb meaning: on the other side, beyond. Throughout the New Testament it appears only in the four gospels: Mt = 7; Mk = 7; Lk = 1; Jn = 8; Acts = 0; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. And it is only used in two specific situations:
  1. to refer to the territory "beyond" the Jordan River, i.e. the territory west of the river, which constitutes present-day Jordan
  2. to describe the fact that one goes "across" Lake Galilee in a boat, which is often translated in our Bibles as: "crossing over".

The adverb peran is not a Matthean word, i.e. its presence is explained by the fact that Matthew copies Mark. The only exception is 4: 15 ("Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, Road of the Sea, Land beyond (peran) the Jordan, Galilee of the nations!") where it is a quotation from Isaiah 8:23, according to the Septuagint.

Adverb peran in the New Testament
apolysē (he would dismiss) Polysē is the verb apolyō in the aoristic subjunctive tense, third person singular. It is formed of the preposition apo (from, far from) and the verb lyō (to bind), and therefore literally means: to untie or remove the bond. It exists almost only in the Gospel-Acts throughout the New Testament (the only exception is Hebrews 13:23): Mt = 19; Mk = 12; Lk = 14; Jn = 5; Acts = 15. Its meaning is determined by its context. And when we look at the texts as a whole, the contexts can be grouped into four main categories:

  1. The context is that of an arrest or imprisonment, and "to untie" means to release someone. For example: At each Feast, the governor used to release (apolyō) to the crowd a prisoner, the one they wanted (Mt 27:15).

  2. The context is that of people in the same place, and "to untie people" means "to send people away", or "to give them leave", or "to part with them". For example: After sending away (apolyō) the crowds, Jesus got into the boat and came into the territory of Magadan (Mt 15:39).

  3. The context is that of a marital union, and "to untie someone" means to repudiate a person or divorce someone. For example: Moses allowed you to divorce (apolyō) your wives because of your hard-heartedness of heart, but from the beginning it was not so (Mt 19:8).

  4. The context may be that of a debt that one has incurred or a sin that one has committed (which is a debt before God), and "to untie someone" means to forgive that debt. For example: Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; forgive (apolyō), and it will be forgiven (apolyō) to you (Lk 6:37).

As we can see, the idea is always the same: a link exists, and that link is broken. From all the Gospel-Act texts, we can establish the following table.

ContextMatthewMarkLukeJohnActs
Prison/arrest54559
Presence in one place64406
Marriage84200
Debt/sin/sickness relationship00300
Total191214515

A first comment is in order. In spite of the number of occurrences of the verb apolyō in the Gospels, the latter appears mainly during three events:

  1. the trial of Jesus before Pilate and the decision to release either Jesus or Barabbas, a scene narrated by Mark, and repeated by Luke and Matthew, and also narrated by John, monopolizes the "prison/arrest" context (the only exception being a parable from Mt 18:27);

  2. the scene of Jesus feeding the crowds, narrated by Mark and repeated by Luke and Matthew, monopolizes much of the "crowd/person" context;

  3. the divorce controversy, narrated by Mark, and taken up by Luke and Matthew, almost completely monopolizes the "marital union" context (the only exception is Matthew, who mentions apolyō in his discourse on the Mount and in his infancy narrative when Joseph intended to break with his future wife).

The second remark concerns Matthew himself, where we note the greatest number of occurrences. For this number is misleading because there are in fact only seven occurrences of his own. And of these seven, three are simply an extension of the discussion on divorce (5:31; 19:7-8), one is an extension of the scene of Jesus feeding the crowds (14:53). This leaves us with three occurrences that are truly unique to Matthew:

  • Joseph's decision to repudiate his future wife in the infancy narrative (1:19),
  • the parable of the master releasing his insolvent servant from prison (18: 27)
  • and the disciples' request to Jesus to send away the Canaanite woman who breaks their ears with her request for healing for her daughter (15, 23).

This means that it is not a truly familiar word in Matthew's literary arsenal; it seems to play a purely utilitarian role.

What about here at v. 22? First of all, apolyō comes from the text of Mark 6:45 which Matthew simply copies. It is about sending away a crowd, breaking the bonds of the group that had formed around Jesus to listen to him and be nourished by him, so that people would disperse. Now, in Mark, taken over by Matthew, it is always Jesus who is responsible for sending people away: it is he whom people come to listen to, and he alone has the authority to send them away. Matthew will add other occurrences of the verb apolyō with the meaning of "to send away" (for example 15: 23 with the Canaanite woman's account), and it is always Jesus alone who can be responsible for this action.

Verb apolyō in the New Testament
ochlous (crowds) Ochlous is the plural masculine accusative of ochlos, which means: the crowd, the ordinary people, the rabble. If there is a constant in all the gospels, it is the presence of a crowd around Jesus and John the Baptist. For John the Baptist, this fact is also reported by the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus (see e.g. Jewish Antiquities, 18, 5, #116-118: "People gathered around him, for they were very exalted when they heard him speak. Herod feared that such persuasiveness would provoke a revolt, as the crowd seemed ready to follow the man's advice in every way"). Unfortunately, on Jesus, the Jewish historian remains silent. But Mark and John, two independent traditions, agree that Jesus gathered crowds who wanted to listen to him and see the signs he was doing. The use of the word ochlos appears only in the Gospel-Acts throughout the New Testament, with the exception of four occurrences in Revelation: Mt = 50; Mk = 38; Lk = 41; Jn = 20; Acts = 22.

In Matthew, of the 50 occurrences, 27 are unique to him. That is to say that he wants them to play an important role. Let us make a few remarks on this subject.

  1. Matthew sometimes inserts the word "crowd" to the source he receives from Mark because Mark often remains imprecise, using various vague terms such as "multitude" (plēthos), or "everyone" (pas), or simply talking about "them". As we have already seen, Matthew likes to dot the i's and cross the t's, be as precise as possible and standardize the vocabulary: the same realities are called by the same names. Let's give two examples.
    Mark 1: 7b-8aMatthew 4: 25
    And a great multitude (plēthos) from Galilee followed, and from Judea and Jerusalem and Idumea and beyond Jordan.And there followed him great crowds (ochlos) from Galilee and Decapolis and Jerusalem and Judea and beyond the Jordan.

    Mark 6: 35-36aMatthew 14: 15a
    And when the day was already far spent, his disciples came to him and said, "The place is deserted, and already the hour (is) far passed: send them (autous) away.Now when evening had come, the disciples came to him, saying, "The place is deserted, and the time is now past: send away the crowds. (ochlos)

  2. Unlike the other gospels which have almost only the singular, i.e. the crowd, the Gospel according to Matthew, in the passages which are unique to him, almost always has the plural, i.e. the crowds. This preference for the plural is so strong that very often Matthew, when copying Mark, modifies his source to make it plural. Let us give two examples.

    Mark 4: 1Matthew 13: 2
    And again he began to teach by the seaside, and gathered unto him a very great crowd.And Jesus went out of the house that day, and sat down by the seaside, and gathered unto him many crowds.

    Mark 8: 6bMatthew 15: 36
    And taking the seven loaves and giving thanks, he (Jesus) broke them and gave them to his disciples to present; and they presented them to the crowd. He (Jesus) took the seven loaves and the fishes, and having given thanks, He (Jesus) broke them and gave them to the disciples and the disciples to the crowds,

    What's that all about? We can guess that, since the word crowd in the singular conveys the idea of a specific and unified group, perhaps Matthew wanted to focus instead on diverse, non-unified groups without a common denominator, anticipating the final sending of the disciples to all nations. The only notable exception is that passage in Matthew where Pilate "washed his hands in the presence of the crowd, saying, 'I am not responsible for this blood; it is for you to see'" (27: 24). In this case, the crowd represents a specific and unified group, the Jewish people, since the crowd answers: "His blood be on us and on our children" (27:25).

  3. Another characteristic of Matthew is that he often adds the qualifier "many" (polys) to the word "crowd". It is the one that does this most often among the evangelists: Mt = 11; Mk = 7; Lk = 7; Jn = 1; Acts = 0; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. And he allows himself to add it to his sources. For example.
    Mark 10: 1Matthew 19: 1-2a
    And having risen up from there, he comes into the land of Judea and beyond the Jordan, and again crowds gather around him.And it came to pass, when Jesus had finished these words, that he departed from Galilee and came into the land of Judea beyond the Jordan. And great (polys) crowds followed him.

    Why the emphasis on numbers? By amplifying Jesus' audience, Matthew emphasizes the strength of his authority. Let us not forget that there is a high theology in him, which brings out the transcendence of the risen Christ. This high theology is not as advanced as that of John, but it is nevertheless very present.

  4. As for the role of the crowd, it is similar to that of other evangelists. Indeed, the crowd is presented in a favourable light:
    • The crowds follow Jesus (Mt 4:25; 8:1; 12:15; 20:29)
    • They are struck by his teaching (Mt 7:28).
    • They glorify God (Mt 9:8).
    • They marvel and confess that they have never seen anything like it (Mt 9:33; 15:31).
    • They proclaim the Messianic title of Jesus ("Hosanna to the son of David") (Mt 21:9).
    • They regard him as a prophet (Mt 21:11.46).

    But sometimes it happens that it is only figurative, without any connection with the person of Jesus, like this crowd at the funeral of the daughter of a ruler (9: 23-25).

    Finally, during the trial of Jesus, the crowd, under the impulse of the priests and elders, becomes hostile to Jesus (27: 20).

Here, in v. 22, the word "crowd" is in the plural, as is usual in Matthew, and since in the Markan source he uses the word is in the singular, we can affirm that he takes the trouble to transform a singular into a plural: these crowds are the many who had followed him and whom he had pity on, whose cripples he healed (14:14) and whom he subsequently fed. For Matthew, Jesus feels compassion for these colourful masses that he now takes the trouble to send home.

Noun ochlos in the New Testament
v. 23 And when the people were sent away, he went up the mountain to be apart to pray; and when evening came, he was there alone.

Literally: And having dismissed the crowds, he went up (anebē) into the mountain (oros) by himself (katʼ idian) to pray (proseuxasthai); and when the late hour (opsias) was come (genomenēs), he was there (ekei) alone (monos).

anebē (went up) Anebē is the verb anabainō to the indicative aorist tense, 3rd person singular. It is formed from the preposition ana, which describes a movement from bottom to top and the verb bainō, which designates walking and going somewhere, and means: to go up, to raise. It is a verb regularly found in the Gospel-Acts, and particularly in the Gospel of John: Mt = 9; Mk = 9; Lk = 9; Jn = 16; Acts = 19; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0.

The verb appears in different contexts.

First there is the context of going up to Jerusalem and its temple, and also to Bethlehem: Mt = 2; Mk = 3; Lk = 5; Jn = 9; Acts = 9. Let us remember that both Jerusalem and Bethlehem are located at an altitude of about 775 meters. Two examples.

  • Mt 20: 18: "Behold, we go up (anabainō) to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man shall be delivered up to the chief priests and the scribes, and they shall condemn him to death"
  • Jn 7: 14: We were already in the middle of the feast when Jesus went up (anabainō) to the Temple and began to teach.

The mountain context naturally calls the verb anabainō which our Bibles often translate as "to climb": Mt = 3; Mk = 1; Lk = 1; Jn = 0; Acts = 0. As we can see, it is in Matthew that it is most present, probably evoking mount Sinai.

  • Mt 5: 1: When he saw the crowds, he went up (anabainō) into the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him..
  • Mk 3: 13: Then he went up (anabainō) into the mountain and called to him those he wanted. They came to him.

But more often than not, the context is that of the Jordan River from which one goes up, of a house terrace that one must reach, of a boat or a chariot in which one embarks, of a tree that one climbs, of fish that one brings up from the water: Mt = 3; Mk = 2; Lk = 2; Jn = 2; Acts = 6.

  • Mt 17: 27: "However, so as not to offend them, go to the sea, cast the hook, take the first fish that comes up (anabainō), and open its mouth, and there you will find a statue; take it and give it to them, for me and for you."
  • Mk 1: 10: And immediately when he came up (anabainō) out of the water, he saw the heavens being torn asunder, and the Spirit descending upon him like a dove.

Let us note the particular context in Mark where the plants are rising, i.e. growing: Mt = 1; Mk = 3; Lk = 0; Jn = 0; Acts = 0.

  • Mk 4: 7: And another fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up (anabainō), and choked it, and it yielded no fruit.

There is the rarer context which is theological, and ascending to God or to heaven refers to a unique relationship with God: Mt = 0; Mk = 0; Lk = 0; Jn = 5; Acts = 2. Here, the Gospel according to John largely dominates.

  • Jn 1: 51: And he said to him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending (anabainō) and descending over the Son of Man."
  • Acts 10: 4: He looked at him and was frightened. "What is it, Lord?" he asked. - "Your prayers and your alms," answered the angel, "have gone up (anabainō) before God, and he remembered you".

Finally, let us mention the psychological context found only in Luke where anabainō is used to describe what happens in the human heart: Mt = 0; Mk = 0; Lk = 1; Jn = 0; Acts = 2.

  • Lc 24: 38: But he said to them: "Why all this trouble, and why are you rising (anabainō) doubts in your heart?"
  • Acts 7: 23: And it came to pass, when he was about forty years old, that it went up (anabainō) in his heart to visit his brethren the children of Israel.

Here in v. 23 the context is that of a mountain being climbed. In Matthew, the same context appears in the scene of the Sermon on the Mount (5:1) and the scene introducing the second narrative of Jesus feeding the crowds (15:29). These are important moments, key moments.

Verb anabainō in the Testament
oros (mountain )
Orous is the noun oros with the genitive neutral singular. In the Gospels and Acts, it means mountain or mount. As Judea and Galilee are mountainous regions, it is easy to imagine that the term is used regularly, especially in Matthew: Mt = 16; Mk = 11; Lk = 12; Jn = 5; Acts = 3; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0.

Already Mark had accustomed us to the important role that the mountain plays in Jesus' ministry.

  • It is on the mountain that Jesus institutes the Twelve and gives them their mandate (3:13).
  • It is on the mountain that Jesus withdraws to pray (6:46).
  • It is on the mountain that Jesus is transfigured before Peter, James and John (9:2).
  • It is on the Mount of Olives that Jesus spends time with his disciples, especially on the eve of his death (13:3; 14:26).

But Matthew will go even further. When we limit ourselves to the passages that are his own or where he is the only one to refer to the mountain, we note this:

  • It is on the mount that the devil brings Jesus to submit him to the temptation of all power and glory by showing him from above the kingdoms of the earth (4:8).
  • It is on the mountain that Jesus delivers his first great speech to the crowd, where he will enunciate the beatitudes and the rules of the Christian life (5:1).
  • It is on the mountain that the crowd finds him to be healed and where they will be fed in this scene traditionally called "the feeding of the crowds" (15:29).
  • It is on a mountain that the risen Jesus asks his disciples to meet and where he sends them on mission (28:16).

Why such insistence on the mountain?

  1. First of all, the Jew Matthew wants to present Jesus to us as the new Moses. We know the central role that Mount Sinai or Mount Horeb played in Moses' mission. It was at Sinai that the encounter with God took place, and that the Jewish people received the Ten Words or Commandments, their Charter of Life and the terms of the Covenant. Also, it is on a mountain (5:1) that Jesus, the new Moses, will give the new rules of life, specifying the terms of the new covenant. And it is on the mountain that he will offer the new manna for a new people (15: 29). And just as the mission of the Jewish people derives from this meeting on Sinai, so it is from a mountain that the disciples are sent on a mission (28: 16).

  2. Secondly, as a corollary, Jews shared an almost universal perception of the mystical flavor of the mountain, which rises into the sky, thus a place where one can experience God. It is probably in this sense that we can read Mark's scene about the transfiguration of Jesus, i.e. God's outlook on Jesus. But Matthew also sees in it the place of great spiritual struggles by placing on a mountain Jesus' temptations (4: 8).

    Antioch - Antakya
    Antioch - Antakya
  3. Finally, could we not add Matthew's personal interest in the mountains? Indeed, a good number of biblical scholars agree that Matthew's first audience was probably in Antioch, in the south of present-day Turkey, very close to the Syrian border, where in the second half of the first century there was a large Jewish Christian community (it was from the Christian community of Antioch that Paul received his first mission). Antioch is situated in a mountainous region; the city itself is 790 feet above sea level, but it is surrounded by a valley with a mountain range. Thus, the mountain is part of a familiar setting. This could explain a scene of Matthew that he received from Document Q (the same Document Q that Luke and Matthew share) and that he seems to modify in his own way, this scene of the lost or lost sheep. Let us compare Luke and Matthew. We have underlined the important words to note.
Luke 15: 4Matthew 18: 12
What man among you, having a hundred sheep, and having lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go away to the lost sheep until he finds it?If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them goes astray, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and, having gone out, he looks for the (sheep) that has gone astray?

There is no copy of Document Q, it is more a working hypothesis to explain the passages common to Matthew and Luke. It is therefore difficult to reconstruct this hypothetical source. But in general, many biblical scholars think that Luke respected this Document Q better, i.e. he reworked it less than Matthew. For example, Luke's text of the Beatitudes ("Blessed are you poor") would be more respectful of the original than Matthew's, who "spiritualized" it a bit ("Blessed are you poor in spirit"); Luke's "Our Father" is much shorter and simpler, while Matthew adds some of his themes ("Thy will be done").

The story of the lost/wandering sheep seems to be no exception. Luke would better reflect the ancient Palestinian context of deserts, i.e., isolated places without much vegetation where a sheep could get lost. For his part, what does Matthew seem to be doing? In his own way, he is "Christianizing" this story, for it is no longer about a lost sheep, but about a sheep that "goes astray", i.e. a sheep that has been led astray by ideologies that have corrupted or distorted its original faith. And the setting is that of the mountain, the very setting of Matthew's living environment.

Here, in v. 23, Matthew only repeats the term mountain which is already found in Mark (Mk 6:46). But the accent he gives it is different. While in Mark this moment of prayer on the mountain appears as a usual item of a day of Jesus, Matthew emphasizes the transcendence of Jesus by mentioning his isolation and loneliness of Jesus, preparing for the moment of revelation that is about to come. More than among other evangelists, the mountain is a "divine" environment.

Noun oros in the Gospels-Acts
katʼ idian (by himself)
Katʼ idian is an expression formed from the preposition kata (by, according to) and the possessive adjective idios (proper, particular, personal), and therefore literally means: by oneself, and is usually translated as: apart, privately, in particular, or even: separately. The idea is to target someone in order to isolate him or her so as to have him or her for oneself. This is a rather rare expression in the Gospel-Acts: Mt = 6; Mk = 7; Lk = 2; Jn = 0; Acts = 1; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. Elsewhere in the New Testament it appears only once in the Epistle to the Galatians (2:2) when Paul reveals that he encountered "apart" the pillars of the Church in Jerusalem, and in the Septuagint, only in 2 Maccabees (4:5) is it found, where it speaks of the "special" interest of a whole people.

In the Gospels the expression is used in five different contexts.

  1. Katʼ idian is used to describe the fact that Jesus isolates himself to be alone, either to pray or to "digest" an event such as the death of John the Baptist. Matthew is alone in mentioning this context. For example:
    • Mt 14: 13: Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself (kat' idian). But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns..

  2. More often Jesus leads his disciples or some of his disciples away to give them a particular teaching or to reveal who he is. This is found in all three Synoptics. For example:
    • Mc 9: 2: Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves (kat' idian). And he was transfigured before them,
    • Mt 20: 17: While Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside by themselves (kat' idian), and said to them on the way,

  3. Conversely, it is the disciples who take the initiative to bring Jesus aside to question him and obtain explanations. For example:
    • Mc 9: 28: When he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately (kat' idian), "Why could we not cast it out?"

  4. There is the particular context of Mark (6:31-32), taken up by Luke (9:10), where Jesus invites his disciples to a form of retreat to rest.
    • Mc 6: 31: He said to them, "Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves (kat' idian) and rest a while." For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.

  5. Finally, there is the unique case of Mark where Jesus brings a deaf-mute man away from the crowd to be healed, even though the crowd had brought him to Him; the isolation in Mark seems to be necessary because of the lack of understanding of Jesus' identity.
    • Mc 7: 33: He took him aside in private (kat' idian), away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue..

This whole framework helps us locate Matthew. If he joins Mark in presenting Jesus teaching 'separately' to the disciples, or the disciples questioning 'separately' Jesus, he is unique in using katʼ idian to introduce us to a Jesus who isolates himself. The expression serves to express the unique situation and identity of Jesus, which he emphasizes more than the other Synoptics. This is the case here in v. 23. More specifically, even though the basis of this scene is borrowed from Mark, it is Matthew who adds to it: katʼ idian.

Expression katʼ idian in the Bible
proseuxasthai (to pray)
Proseuxasthai is the verb proseuchomai in the middle voice of the infinitive aorist tense. It means: to pray, and appears regularly in the Gospel-Acts: Mt = 15; Mk = 10; Lk = 19; Jn = 0; Acts = 16; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. It is especially Luke who insists on this theme both in his gospel and in Acts. On the other hand, it is totally absent from the Johannine tradition. Why is this? One might think that, from John's perspective, Jesus is in constant communion with his Father, so that his whole life is prayer, and this is not an activity that is added to his day.

One cannot mention the verb proseuchomai without also including the noun proseuchē: prayer. It is less frequent than the verb: Mt = 1; Mk = 2; Lk = 3; Jn = 0; Acts = 9; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. But the same observations apply: it is Luke who insists on this theme, whereas it is totally absent from the Johannine tradition.

Who prays in the Gospels? Most clearly and most often, it is Jesus. The prayer of the disciple and of the Christian is also mentioned, but most of the time it is in the form of an exhortation to pray on behalf of Jesus, with a verb with the imperative. Occasionally the prayer of the Jews is mentioned, but it is almost only in Luke.

Looking through the Gospels, what can be said about the attitude and content of prayer and its role?

The attitude in prayer

  • The gesture of prayer must be discreet, not ostentatious: "Pray to your Father who is there in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will repay you" (Mt 6:6).
  • Prayer should be brief: "When you pray, do not babble on like the pagans: they think that if they talk a lot they will be heard better" (Mt 6:7).
  • We must pray in confidence: "Therefore I say to you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have already received it, and it will be granted you" (Mk 11:24).
  • Before praying, one must first be reconciled and forgiven: "And when you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses" (Mk 11:25).
  • We must pray without ceasing and never be discouraged: "And he spoke a parable to them about what they should pray without ceasing and not be discouraged" (Lk 18:1).
  • Prayer achieves its goal when the person praying is aware of his shortcomings: "The publican, standing at a distance, did not even dare to raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'My God, have mercy on me, a sinner!" (Lk 18:13).

The content of the prayer

  • We must pray for our persecutors, our enemies, those who defy us: "Well, I say to you, love your enemies and pray for your persecutors" (Mt 5:44; Lk 6:28).
  • The Lord's Prayer contains the essentials of what we must first ask for, i.e., to collaborate in making God known and in spreading his kingdom, to seek unceasingly his will and what we need in order to live fully, to allow ourselves to be transformed by God's forgiveness by spreading it among others, to emerge victorious from a merciless struggle against evil (Mt 6:9-13; Lk 11:2-4); let us note that the entire content of the Lord's Prayer is centred on the responsibility of the human being.
  • If it is possible, to avoid the trial of suffering and death, but while doing God's will (Mt 26:39; Mk 14:35; Lk 22:42).

Why pray?

  • Prayer allows us to face the trial and to fight the great battles of life: "Watch and pray that you may not be tempted: the spirit is burning, but the flesh is weak" (Mt 26:41; Mk 14:38; Lk 22:40,46); "When he was in agony, he prayed more instantly, and his sweat became like drops of blood falling to the ground" (Lk 22:44).
  • Only through prayer can a deaf-mute epileptic be cured: " He said to them, "This species can only come out through prayer." (Mk 9: 29)
  • Prayer is so important that it is part of Jesus' life: "In the morning, well before daylight, he rose up, went out and went into a desert place, and there he prayed" (Mk 1:35).
  • It is in prayer that Jesus hears his call: "And it came to pass, when all the people had been baptized, and Jesus was baptized and praying, that heaven was opened" (Lk 3:21).
  • It is in a moment of prayer that Jesus truly reveals himself: "And it came to pass, as he was praying, that the appearance of his face was changed, and his raiment became white with a bright white colour" (Lk 9:29).

Thus, each evangelist brings his own perspective on prayer, even though they all agree that Jesus prayed and asked his disciples to pray. Matthew, for his part, takes up a good part of Mark's texts on prayer (Mt 14:23; 24:20; 26:36,39,41,42), as well as those of Document Q (Mt 5:44; 6:9). But certain texts are particular to him, such as his practical advice on the right attitude in prayer (Mt 6:5-7), the unique mention that Jesus laid hands on children while praying (Mt 9:13), an echo perhaps of a practice of the early Church, and especially his insistence on the purpose of prayer to lead the person to do God's will (Mt 6:10; 26:42).

Here, in v. 23, Matthew simply repeats a scene from Mark where Jesus withdraws to pray, as he used to do, especially after the memorable event of feeding a crowd and just before revealing himself in a special way to his disciples; it is like a moment when he wants to "synchronize" with God, to make sure that he does his will.

Verb proseuchomai in the Gospel-Acts

Noun proseuchē in the Gospel-Acts

opsias (late hour) Opsias is the adjective opsios in the feminine dative singular and means: late. Most of the time, this adjective is used as a noun, i.e. implying the late hour, so it is usually translated as: evening. It is uncommon in the Bible; apart from the Gospels, it is found only in the Septuagint of Judith: Mt = 7; Mk = 6; Lk = 0; Jn = 2; Acts = 0; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. And out of the total of 16 occurrences in the Bible, 14 times opsios is followed by the verb ginomai (to come, to arrive), in the expression: when evening comes. It is therefore a common expression.

Why is it important to mention the evening? When we know that a gospel is not a journalistic report, but a catechesis, all the details of a story are not trivial. Let us look at the different contexts in which the word "evening" appears.

  • The word "evening" is used to indicate that the Sabbath is over, since the next day began at sunset. This is what Mark 1:32 does, assuming that there was no healing on the Sabbath among the Jews: " That evening (opsios), at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons" (Matthew 8:16 repeats this sentence, but in a completely different context, obliterating the reason why people waited until the evening to go to Jesus)

  • As for Mark, Jesus' last meal is a paschal meal (in John's case it is a simple farewell meal), the mention of the night indicates that the day of the Passover has arrived and that the meal can begin: "When it was evening (opsios), he came with the twelve." (Mk 14: 17 || Mt 26: 20)

  • Mark also uses the mention of evening to indicate that the Sabbath Eve, called the "day of preparation," had begun, and that the body of Jesus had to be hastily buried, which was not permitted on the Sabbath day itself: "When evening (opsios) had come, and since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath" (Mk 15: 42 || Mt 27: 57)

  • Mark, followed by Matthew and Luke, introduces us to the scene where Jesus will feed 5,000 people: "And when the day was now far spent, his disciples came to him and said, 'The place is deserted and the day is already far spent." (Mk 6:35). Matthew will replace Mark's term "day far spent" with "the evening having come" (Mt 14:15); let us remember that Matthew likes to standardize vocabulary, calling the same realities with the same words. In any case, why set the scene for Jesus feeding the crowds in the evening? There is something artificial about this setting, for the crowd could very well have gone home to eat, and nothing else was on the agenda. But for the author of the source Mark uses, the scene had to take place in the evening to make the link with the moment when the Christian community was gathering to celebrate the Eucharist; with Jesus saying the blessing and breaking the bread, we are in a Eucharistic gathering. It is in the same sense that we should read the account of the disciples of Emmaus where it is evening when we sit down to table and Jesus says the blessing and breaks the bread: "Stay with us, for evening (hespera) is falling and the day is already drawing to a close" (Lk 24:29). In the same way, John situates for us the meeting of the risen Jesus and the disciples in the evening, during a gathering of the community, because the mention of the evening makes it possible to allude to the Eucharistic gathering:"When it was evening (opsios) on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." (Jn 20: 19) Thus the word "evening" serves to establish the link with the Eucharist.

  • Night is a powerful symbol of life's trials, where one feels "in the dark". It is in this sense that we must understand the story of the stilling storm (Mk 4:35-41 || Mt 8:23-27 || Lk 8:22-25). Moreover, Mark's account, copied by Matthew and Luke, has a somewhat artificial introduction: "On that day, when evening (opsios) had come, he said to them, 'Let us go across to the other side.'" (Mk 4: 35). Why would you want to go out at night for no apparent reason? Mark, speaking to the persecuted community in Rome, uses the night to represent what this community is going through. The same can be said of the story of Jesus' walking on the water (Mk 6:45-52; Mt 14:22-33; Jn 6:16-21) even if the story has a different focus, i.e. it is first and foremost an epiphany or revelation of Jesus' identity.

  • The night is also the symbol of what is dead, of what no longer lights up. This is the symbol that Mark wants the temple in Jerusalem to be. In fact, after Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem, the mention of night serves as a transition and introduction to this ensemble centered on the vendors driven out of the temple: "Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late (opsios), he went out to Bethany with the twelve." (Mk 11: 11-25 || Mt 21: 10-13 || Lk 19: 45-46): The sequence of the fig tree no longer producing fruit, Jesus chasing the vendors out of the temple, and the return to the withered fig tree the next day represents a typical Mark structure where the main scene, the vendors chased out of the temple, is sandwiched between the beginning and the end of another scene (the fig tree), all these scenes illuminating each other: the temple in Jerusalem has become a dead tree, which no longer produces fruit and must be swept away from the landscape. The mention of night to introduce this sequence has already set the tone.

  • But of course, sometimes the reference to the evening simply reflects cultural habits. This is the case of the parable of the workers of the 11th hour when the evening was the time when their wages were paid to the day labourers: "When evening (opsios) came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, 'Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.'" (Mt 20: 8). And it was at sunset that the weather forecast was made: "He answered them, 'When it is evening (opsios), you say, 'It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.'" (Mt 16: 2).

Here, in v. 23, Matthew takes up a phrase of Mark's which already sets the scene for the evening. Now this mention of evening prepares the reader for a difficult moment in the darkness of the night. The darkness can be understood on two levels:

  1. There will be the absence of Jesus, he who is on the mountain in his relationship with God.
  2. There are headwinds blowing against the community's boat and and it is a threat

Let us never forget that a gospel was written several decades after the mission of Jesus and is addressed to a community so that it can identify with what is being told.

Adjective opsios in the Bible
genomenēs (was come)
Genomenēs is the verb ginomai in the middle voice aorist participle tense, feminine genitive singular form. The verb belongs with opsios to a construction called "absolute genitive"; it is a subordinate proposition with a subject (opsios) and a predicate, usually a participle (genomenēs), to the genitive. It expresses a circumstance surrounding the fact contemplated in the main proposition. It is the equivalent of the Latin "absolute ablative". It is found here and there in the Gospel-Acts: Mt = 10; Mk = 10; Lk = 3; Jn = 2; Acts = 14; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. Here are some examples (see the complete list):
  • Mt 8: 16: The evening having come (ginomai) they brought to him many who were possessed with demons; and he cast out the spirits with a word, and cured all who were sick.
  • Mc 6: 21: And an opportunity having come (ginomai), when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee.

Let's go back to the verb ginomai itself. It is the 4th most frequently used verb in the Gospel-Acts after legō (to say), eimi (to be) and erchomai (to go), but before poieō (to do), horaō (see), echō (to have), akouō (to hear), didōmi (to give) and apokrinomai (to answer): Mt = 75; Mk = 55; Lk = 131; Jn = 51; Acts = 125; 1Jn = 1; 2Jn = 1; 3Jn = 1. It means: to become, to happen, to occur, to arrive and expresses the idea that a reality comes into existence, occurs, for example, an event. Overwhelmingly, Luke is the one who uses this verb the most, often introducing his sentences with egeneto, without subject, which can be translated by: it came to pass, the "it" being here in an impersonal form. Here again, Luke is the one who uses egeneto the most in this form: Mt = 6; Mk = 3; Lk = 40; Jn = 1; Acts = 23; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0 (see all cases).

What about Matthew? Even though he is far behind Luke in the use of ginomai, he still uses it regularly. For example, the form egeneto (it comes to pass) appears 6 times in his gospel, but each time this form is specific to him: it comes either from a particular source, or from an insertion to the Marcan source or to the Document Q. In the same way, we find in him 10 occurrences of the absolute genitive, four of which are proper to him. Finally, of the 75 occurrences of ginomai in general, 42 (60%) are specific to him. What does this mean? If Matthew is not the greatest user of the word, we can say nevertheless that it is part of his regular vocabulary that he likes to use.

What role does this verb play in his gospel?

  1. We have already mentioned its role in the form of the absolute genitive to specify the circumstances surrounding a story (e.g. "the evening having come"), as well as the egeneto form ("it came to pass") to introduce a story or event.

  2. The verb ginomai is also used to describe a transformation or change in the state of either a person or a thing, and is usually translated into English as "to become": for a person, it is to become the son of his father or as his master or as children, to become great or a proselyte, to become ready or to become as dead; for a thing, it is a stone that becomes bread or capstone, a seed that becomes a tree, or a tree that becomes without fruit, a branch that becomes flexible, clothes that become white. Two examples.
    • Mt 18: 3: "and said, 'Truly I tell you, unless you change and become (ginomai) like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.'"
    • Mt 17: 2: "And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became (ginomai) dazzling white."

  3. It is also used to indicate that an event is happening or has happened, and ginomai is often translated into English by the verb "to occur" or "to arrive": it is the storm or calm that occurs, or war or an earthquake, or the miracles of Jesus or the cry of the bridegroom in the middle of the night, it is a birthday or the Passover that comes, or darkness or a divorce act. Two examples.
    • Mt 11: 20 "Then he began to reproach the cities in which most of his deeds of power had been done (ginomai), because they did not repent."
    • Mt 18: 13 "And if it happens (ginomai) that he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray."

  4. Finally, the verb ginomai refers to the fulfilment of a desire, wish, promise or prophecy, and is often translated into English as "to happen": an event took place for the fulfillment of the scripture; in the Lord's Prayer we pray for the fulfillment of his will, which Jesus also did in Gethsemane; Jesus sometimes answers his petitioner that what he wants will happen in faith; if someone asks for something in faith it will happen; Jesus announces that the entire Law will happen or his apocalyptic predictions will come to pass. Two examples.
    • Mt 15: 28 "Then Jesus answered her, "Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done (ginomai) for you as you wish." And her daughter was healed instantly."
    • Mt 11: 26 "yes, Father, for such your gracious will came to pass (ginomai)."

We can now produce this little chart:

RoleOccurrences
Absolute genitive for mentioning circumstances of the story10
"It came to pass" (egeneto) to introduce an event6
Description of a change of state (person or thing)20
Indication that an event "occurs" or "has occurred".25
Reference to the fulfilment of a prophecy, request or desire14
Total75

Here in v. 23, with an expression in the absolute genitive, Matthew intends to give us the circumstances of the event he is about to describe: it takes place at night.

Verb ginomai in the Gospels-Acts

Verb ginomai in the genitive absolute form in the Gospel-Acts

Verb egeneto in the impersonal form in the Gospel-Acts

monos (alone) Monos is the adjectivve monos in the nominative singular masculine, and is in agreement with the name Jesus, which is implied in the subject of the verb "he was" (ēn). It appears a few times in the Gospel Acts: Mt = 6; Mk = 3; Lk = 9; Jn = 10; Acts = 0; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 1; 3Jn = 0. It means: alone, unique.

Who is alone? It can be a person, or a thing.

  1. When a thing is alone, it is a reference to the fact that man does not live by bread alone (Mt 4:4 | Lk 4:4), or that the cloths alone could be seen in the tomb (Lk 24:12), or that the grain of wheat that does not die remains alone, without fruit (Jn 12:24).

  2. When a person is alone, the references are varied:

    • There is the reference to God, the only one who deserves to be worshipped (Mt 4:10 | Lk 4:8), the only one who knows the date of the end of time (Mt 24:36), the only one who forgives sins (Lk 5:21), from him alone must come glory (Jn 5:44), he is the only true God who gives eternal life (Jn 17:3).

    • And of course, Jesus is alone to pray (Mt 14:23; Mk 6:47; 9:18), to be questioned by his disciples (Mk 4:10), to flee from those who want to make him king (Jn 6:15); he is alone when he asks those who have not sinned to cast the first stone at the adulteress (Jn 8:9); he is alone when he is arrested (Jn 16:32); on the other hand Jesus says that he is not alone, because the One who sent him is with him (Jn 8:16.29; 16, 32)

    • Sometimes it is a question of the disciples whom Jesus brings alone to the scene of the transfiguration (Mk 9:2), or who go alone in a boat (Jn 6:22); sometimes there is the reference to the Christian who must be met alone when he has sinned (Mt 18:15), or to the evangelist John who says he is not alone in witnessing to the truth (1 Jn 1:1).

    • Finally, there are rare allusions to other characters: the priests who are the only ones who can eat the oblation loaves of the temple (Mt 12:4 | Lk 6:4), and Martha who complains of being alone at table (Lk 10:40).

Let's take an interest in Matthew. There are only six occurrences of monos in his Gospel, but twice he adds (underlined) this adjective to the text he receives from Mark. Here is the literal translation.

Mk 2: 26Mt 12: 4
How he entered the house of God in the (time) of Abiathar, the high priest, and the showbread which he ate, which it is not lawful to eat except for the priests, and he (some) also gave to those who are with him.How he entered the house of God and the showbread they ate, which was not permitted for him to eat, nor for those with him except for the priests alone.
Mk 6: 46Mt 14: 23
And having taken leave of them, he went into the mountains to pray. And late hour having comme...And having dismissed the crowds, he went up into the mountain on his own to pray, and the late hour having come, he alone was there.

Thus, Matthew deliberately added monos to the Markan source. In 12:4, he probably wanted to emphasize the fact that only priests at that time could consume the bread put on tables as an offering, highlighting David's audacity and the gravity of his gesture. In 14:23 Matthew associates the late hour with Jesus being alone (for Mark the late hour is associated with the scene of the boat in the middle of the sea). Why is this? Based on Matthew's theology, we can guess that he wants to emphasize the transcendence of Jesus, the one that can be associated with the experience of the "night of unknowing" that the mystics speak of. Jesus is alone, because he is unique; it is the night, because his identity partially escapes us.

Adjective monos in the Gospel-Acts
ekei (there) Ekei is an adverb of place which means: there. It appears regularly in the Gospel-Acts: Mt = 28; Mk = 11; Lk = 16; Jn = 22; Acts = 6; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0, especially in Matthew and Luke. It can be said that it is part of the Matthean vocabulary. First of all, he is the one who uses it the most, then, of the 28 occurrences in his gospel, 22 (80%) are unique to him, and finally, he even allows himself to add it to the text he receives from his Markan source. Let's give two examples (the addition of ekei is underlined).

Mk 15: 35Mt 27: 47
And some of those who stood by said when they heard him, "Behold, he calls Elijah!"Some of those who stood there said when they heard him, "He calls this one Elijah!"
Mk 15: 40-41Mt 27: 55-46
But there were also women watching from a distance, among them Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the little and of Joset, and Salome, who followed him and served him when he was in Galilee, and many others who had gone up with him to Jerusalem.But there were there many women watching from a distance who had followed Jesus from Galilee serving him, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.

Why add "there"? We know how much Matthew loves precision and wants to dot the i's to avoid any ambiguity. It is probably a way for him to be very clear about the geographical locations of his characters.

Here, in v. 23, Matthew wants to emphasize that Jesus is always in the same place as his place of prayer, and therefore always in God's world.

Adverb ekei in the Gospel-Acts
v. 24 The boat was already several hundreds of yards from the shore when it came up against the waves which were moving with a headwind

Literally: Then the boat, being already (ēdē) several (pollous) stadia (stadious) distant from (apeichen) the land (gēs), being tortured (basanizomenon) by the waves (kymatōn), because the wind (anemos) was adverse (enantios) it.

ēdē (already) Ēdē is an adverb of time which means: already. It appears from time to time in the Gospels, especially in John: Mt = 7; Mk = 8; Lk = 10; Jn = 16; Acts = 3; 1Jn = 2; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. This is not a frequent word in Matthew, but nevertheless he sometimes adds it to the source he receives from Mark, as in 17:12 (|| Mk 9:13) and as he does here in v. 24: once again we find his concern for precision.

Depending on the context, Matthew uses it to insist on two things:

  1. the event referred to or anticipated has happened: thus Elijah has "already" come (Mt 17:12), the day has "already" passed (i.e. evening has come, Mt 14:15), a man who looks at a woman to desire her has "already" committed adultery (Mt 5:28).

  2. a great quantity has been reached: the crowds have "already" been with Jesus for three days without eating (Mt 15:32), the boat is "already" several stadia away from the shore (Mt 14:24).

Thus, Matthew's insistence in v. 24 is on a quantity, the distance of the boat from the earth. Why such an insistence? One has the impression that Matthew intends to show the gap between the community of disciples in the boat and Jesus himself. This gap is very representative of what the disciples experienced after Jesus' death, with his absence, even though they also experienced that he is alive.

Adverb ēdē in the Gospels-Acts
pollous (several)
Pollous is the adjective polys in the plural masculine accusative and matches the noun stadious (stadium). It means: many, numerous, several, and it is very frequent among all evangelists: Mt = 51; Mk = 59; Lk = 51; Jn = 36; Acts = 46; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 2; 3Jn = 1.

The contexts in which it appears can be grouped into three categories.

  1. In the majority of cases, the word is meant to refer to a large quantity of objects that can be counted. For example:
    • Mt 4: 25: "And large (polys) crowds followed him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from beyond the Jordan. "
    • Mk 1: 34: "And he cured many (polys) who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many (polys) demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him."

  2. But sometimes the word refers to a large quantity, but not a discrete entity, that can be counted one by one. It then means that we are in front of a large quantity of an object or that it is abundant or immense. For example:
    • Mt 25: 19: After a long (polys) time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them.
    • Mk 4: 5: Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much (polys) soil, and it sprang up quickly, since it had no depth of soil.

  3. Finally, there are cases where it is no longer a question of any quantity, but of the intensity and quality of an object. For example:
    • Mt 27: 19: While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, "Have nothing to do with that innocent man, for today I have suffered a great (polys) deal because of a dream about him."
    • Mk 9: 12: He said to them, "Elijah is indeed coming first to restore all things. How then is it written about the Son of Man, that he is to go through many (polys) sufferings and be treated with contempt?

This adjective appears frequently in Matthew: it is noted not only in the sources he uses, but also in the occurrences that are unique to him (23 occurrences out of a total of 51). He sometimes allows himself to add it to his sources. Let's offer two comparisons, one from Document Q, assuming that Luke reflects it best, as is his habit, and the other from Mark.

Lk 12: 28Mt 6: 30
But if the grass in the field, which today is and tomorrow will be thrown into the oven, God so clothes it, how more for you men of little faith!But if the grass of the field which today is and tomorrow will be thrown into the oven, doesn't God clothe it in this way, doesn't He clothe it much (polys) more for you of little faith?
Mk 6: 5-6aMt 13: 58
And he could do no sign except that, having laid his hands on some of the sick, he healed them; and he marvelled at their lack of faith.And he didn't do many (polys) miracles there because of their lack of faith.

As can be seen in these two examples, Matthew added polys (underlined) to his source. Why? In the first example Matthew emphasizes the contrast between God's care for nature and that for man; the Jewish evangelist likes things clear and distinguished, and here polys allows him to affirm that there is no comparison between God's care for nature and that for man. In the second example, the addition of " many " seems to respond to two needs. On the one hand, it is intended to correct Mark's illogical assertion that Jesus did not perform any miracles, while at the same time mentioning that he healed a few sick people; by using the expression "not many" Matthew can integrate both the fact that Jesus did heal some people and the obstacle represented by the lack of faith. On the other hand, it is unthinkable for Matthew that Jesus could not perform a miracle at all, given his perception of Jesus' transcendence and his emphasis on his power. In short, the adjective polys is a word well integrated in his gospel.

Here, in v. 24, polys allows him to accentuate the distance between the shore where Jesus is and the boat: he speaks of several or many stadia. It is a quantity that can be counted or tallied. Of course, he does not specify this quantity. He simply wants us to know that it is large. Why does he want us to know it's large? As we have already mentioned, this great distance symbolizes the gap between a transcendent Jesus, whom he looks at with Easter eyes, and the community of disciples in the boat. This distance also symbolizes the absence experienced after the death of Jesus, and therefore the feeling of vulnerability and fragility in the absence of the master.

Adjective polys in the Gospel-Acts
stadious (stadia)
Stadious is the plural male accusative of stadion (stadium). It is very uncommon throughout the Bible, especially among evangelists: Mt = 1; Mk = 0; Lk = 1; Jn = 2; Acts = 0; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. It is a Greek measure of length which varied according to the length of the cubit and the foot as the unit of measurement. The Olympic Stadium in Greece was 632 feet long, the Alexandria Stadium 606 feet long, the Delphi Stadium 583 feet long. In ancient Greek texts, the Alexandria stadium, which was rounded to 607 feet, was used as the main unit of measurement. This measure was equivalent to the stadium's racetrack. The word, of course, also refers to the place where the races were held, the stadium. In the latter case, the word is in neutral. And by extension, the word sometimes refers to the place where one could walk in a garden (see Susanna 1: 37).

In the Gospels, the stadium is used to designate only one unit of measurement: Emmaus would be 60 stadia (7 miles) from Jerusalem (Lk 24: 13), Bethany would be 15 stadia (1.7 miles) away (see map of Palestine). However, here in v. 24, Matthew remains vague in speaking of "several" stadia. Mark, for his part, does not speak of distance, but simply writes: "The boat was in the middle of the sea" (Mk 6:47); note that this "sea" is Lake Galilee, which is 13 miles long, 7.5 miles wide, and 138 to 157 feet deep. On the other hand, the evangelist John has a parallel account (6:16-21) to Mark's, in which he writes: "They had rowed about 25 or 30 stadia" (6:19), so John speaks of 3 to 3.5 miles.

There is a certain consensus among biblical scholars that John did not know the other gospels, and therefore Mark, whom Matthew follows, had a similar but different source to John. If Matthew copies Mark's account with modifications, how can we explain the word "stadia" which does not appear in Mark's account, but in John's account? There are three possible answers:

  1. It is pure chance that the same word is found in both evangelists: Matthew would have simply wanted to emphasize the distance from the shore, and so naturally would have used the common measure of distance;

  2. Matthew would have incorporated into Mark's account an oral tradition on the same stage; indeed, it is thought that several overlapping oral accounts existed in the first century, and the fact that Mark and John present us with a similar but different account is an example of this;

  3. According to M.E. Boismard (P. Benoit and M.-E. Boismard, Synopse des quatre évangiles II. Paris: Cerf, 1972, p. 226), the account of the walk on the waters would have been transmitted in the form of two documents, Document A and Document B, Document A being mostly reflected by Mark, Document B mostly reflected by John, and that an earlier version by Mark, whom he calls Mk-intermediate, would have combined these two documents. And Matthew would have known this Mk Intermediary.

It is impossible to choose an answer with any degree of certainty. In any case, it can nevertheless be said that Matthew intends to assert that a great distance separates Jesus from the community of disciples, and the expression "several stadia" serves his purpose well.

Noun stadion in the Bible
gēs (land)
Gēs is the singular feminine genitive name of , a genitive controlled by the preposition apo (from). This word is frequent throughout the Bible, especially in the Gospel-Acts: Mt = 43; Mk = 19; Lk = 25; Jn = 13; Acts = 33. It means: earth. But in English, earth refers to different realities, such as the humus where vegetables are grown, or the planet on which we live. It is the same in the Greek language of the Gospels-Acts. Let us mention five different meanings.

  1. There is earth here below as opposed to heaven, and therefore the world of men in its relation to the world of God. Earth and heaven are the two components of the universe. For example:
    • 11: 25: "At that time Jesus said, "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth (), because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants;"

  2. The earth designates our planet, the living environment of humanity, and could be replaced by the word "world". For example:
    • 12: 42: "The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth () to listen to the wisdom of Solomon, and see, something greater than Solomon is here! "

  3. The earth is a political territory, and could be replaced by the word "country" or "territory". For example:
    • 2: 21: "Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land () of Israel."

  4. The earth is the ground on which we walk, as opposed to moving on the water or in the air. For example:
    • 10: 29: "Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground () apart from your Father."

  5. Finally, the earth is this humus, this fertile soil that we sow and where fruits and vegetables grow. For example:
    • 13: 23: "But as for what was sown on good soil (), this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty."

When we compare these various meanings, we arrive at this picture:

MtMkLkJnAc
Earth vs heaven153636
Our universe or world93819
Soil to be cultivated47410
ground, dry land66677
political territory901111
Total4319251333

A number of things can be noted.

  • Matthew is the one who uses the word "earth" the most in the couple earth-heaven. It is a completely Jewish perspective in which the cosmic reality is represented as follows: "In the beginning God created heaven and earth" (Gen 1:1).

  • Equally Jewish is the habit of designating a political territory using the word land, such as "land of Israel": "Then he commanded to gather together all the strangers who were in the land of Israel (Greek: gē Israēl; Hebrew: ʾereṣ yiśrāʾēl), and he commissioned stonemasons to cut stones to build the house of God". (LXX: 1 Chr 22:2). If this last expression is so frequent in the Acts of the Apostles, it is due in large part to Stephen's discourse which summarizes the history of Israel (Acts 7:3-40).

  • The use of the word "earth" to refer to the whole world is also to be noted, which often underlines Matthew's universalist perspective: the meek shall inherit the earth (Mt 5:5); Jesus did not come to bring peace, but the sword on earth (Mt 10:34); the kings of the earth collect taxes (Mt 17:25); when the sons of man appear, the races of the earth will beat their breasts (Mt 24:30); and when Jesus died, the whole earth trembled (Mt 27:51).

  • Matthew makes little use of to designate the soil to be cultivated, and each time he only reproduces Mark's text; his universe is not an agricultural universe.

  • Finally, he uses to designate the ground or dry land as often as the other evangelists. When the term refers to dry land in the context of a boat trip, we are in a story that he takes from Mark. What is peculiar to Matthew is when the term refers to the ground on which the sparrow falls, or the ground in which a treasure is buried.

Of the 43 occurrences of the word, 30 are unique to him. And his own occurrences appear not only in his own sources, but also in the sources he shares with other evangelists, especially Document Q; we can guess that he is the one who added the word. For example:

Lk 10: 12Mt 11: 24
I tell you that for Sodom on that day it will be more bearable than for this city.As well, I tell you that for the land of Sodom it will be more bearable on Judgment Day than for you.

Here, in v. 24, the word "land" refers to the dry land as opposed to water, and the expression "being far from land" is specific to Matthew, even though the whole story is borrowed from Mark. In this context, the dry land is a symbol of what is reassuring as opposed to the sea or the lake where the disciples' boat will experience turbulence.

Noun in the Gospels-Acts
apeichen (being distant from)
Apeichen is the imperfect, 3rd person singular, of the verb apeichō. It is uncommon throughout the New Testament, especially among evangelists: Mt = 5; Mk = 2; Lk = 4; Jn = 0; Acts = 2; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. It is a compound word, formed from the preposition apo (from, far from) and the verb echō (to have). It can have various meanings.

  1. Sometimes it means "having from" or "taking from" someone, i.e. receiving (Lk 6:24): "But woe to you who are rich, for you have received (apechō) your consolation.").

  2. It can also mean "to have away from" or "to keep away from", i.e., to abstain (Acts 15:20): "but we should write to them to abstain (apechō) only from things polluted by idols and from fornication and from whatever has been strangled and from blood").

  3. Or, in some cases, it can mean "to be far from" in the sense of being distant from something (Lk 15:20): "So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far (apechō) off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.").

  4. Finally, there are papyrus in the world of commerce where this verb appears to describe that the amount to be paid has been received in full from the debtor, i.e. a receipt, and therefore the verb then means: It is paid (to have from someone). This is the meaning that is proposed for Mark 14, 41: "He came a third time and said to them, "Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It's paid (apechō)! The hour has come; the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners". Let us remember that, earlier, the chief priests promised Judas a sum of money so that he would deliver Jesus to them (Mk 14:11), and now Judas is approaching to have him arrested; this means that the sum has been paid (on the meaning of apechō in Mk 14:41, see Brown).

In Matthew, the verb has two meanings: to hold / receive (3 times) and to be away from (2 times). Of the five occurrences, four are his own. Here, in v. 24, apeichō has of course the meaning of "to be far from". Whether the word comes from Matthew's pen or Luke's (see Boismard), it denotes the emphasis placed on the distance between the boat, i.e. the community of disciples, and Jesus.

Verb apechō in the New Testament

Verb apechō in Mark 14: 41 (Brown)

basanizomenon (being tortured)
Basanizomenon is the verb basanizō in the present passive participle, accusative neutral singular, agreeing with ploion (boat) which is in the accusative neutral singular. It is uncommon in the New Testament, especially among evangelists: Mt = 3; Mk = 2; Lk = 1; Jn = 0; Acts = 0; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. In the rest of the Bible, it appears especially in the recent Septuagint texts. It means: to torment, to torture.

The verb basanizō is associated with suffering.

  • It is a paralytic who suffers atrociously (Mt 8:9).
  • Demons suffer in contact with Jesus (Mt 8:29; Mk 5:7; Lk 8:28)
  • The righteous suffer before lawless deeds (1 Pet 2:8).
  • The disciples suffer while rowing (Mk 5:7)
  • The boat suffers before the onslaught of the waves (Mt 14:24).
  • The woman suffers when she gives birth (Rev 12:2).
  • God punishes his adversaries with suffering (Rev 9:5; 14:10; 20:10; 1 Sam 5:3; Wis 11:9; 12:23; 16:1).
  • Christians suffer at the hands of their adversaries (Rev 11:10)

In the books of the Maccabees, the verb explicitly means: to torture.

How to interpret the sentence: "the boat ... being tormented (basanizō) by the waves"? Let us first note that Matthew borrows here basanizō from Mark 6: 48 who writes: "(the disciples) tormented while rowing". Let us recall that Mark writes to the Roman community which is undergoing a serious persecution: Christians suffer, are sent into the arena with the beasts, are burned to become living torches; they are the disciples who suffer while rowing. Now, Matthew does not speak of tormented disciples, but of a tormented boat. He knows that a thing cannot suffer. But it is clear that he identifies the boat with the ecclesial community; it is the ecclesial community that suffers. In what sense? The situation is different from that of Mark. The Matthean community receives the attacks of their Jewish brothers, it also receives the attacks of the debates about Jewish tradition, about what must be kept, what can be eliminated. The verb basanizō expresses the suffering linked to this situation.

Verb basanizō in the Bible
kymatōn (waves) Kymatōn is the plural neutral genetivie of kyma. It literally means what is swollen, and therefore the swollen sea, i.e. the wave. It is very rare throughout the New Testament and among evangelists: Mt = 0; Mk = 3; Lk = 1; Jn = 0; Acts = 0; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0.

In the Gospels, the word appears first in Mark 4:37 in the account of the stilling storm, taken up again by Matthew 8:24. Then, in our account of the walking on the waters, which is a bit of a clone of the stilling storm, Matthew allows himself to add it to the account he gets from Mark. And that is all.

To understand our story, it is important to ask the question: what do the waves represent in the Jewish world? As surprising as it may seem, the Jews are not a seafaring people, even though the country overlooks the Mediterranean; we are far from the culture of a people like the Phoenicians, further north. Generally speaking, the sea is frightening. It is linked to the chaotic abyss of the origins (Gen 1:2.9), the place where the demonic powers live and act (Isa 27:1). And so the waves share the properties of the sea.

  • The waves represent the misfortunes that besiege a person: "Thou didst cast me into the depths of the heart of the sea, and the floods compassed me: all thy billows and thy waves (kyma) have passed upon me.", Jonas 2: 4; Psalm 42: 8 ; Job 6: 15

  • They also represent the false Christian doctors to be fled from: "wild waves (kyma) of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the deepest darkness has been reserved forever", Jude 1: 13

  • They serve as an image of the punishment that God can inflict: "therefore thus saith the Lord; Behold, I am against thee, O Sor, and I will bring up many nations against thee, as the sea comes up with its waves (kyma)", Ezekiel 26: 3; Jeremiah 28: 42

  • At the same time, the Jews in their faith believe that God is the author of creation, and therefore masters the sea and waves: "Thus saith the Lord, who gives the sun for a light by day, the moon and the stars for a light by night, and makes a roaring in the sea, so that the waves (kyma) thereof roar; the Lord Almighty is his name", Jeremiah 38: 36; and the sea and its waves obey him hand and foot: "will ye not be afraid of me? saith the Lord; and will ye not fear before me, who have set the sand for a bound to the sea, as a perpetual ordinance, and it shall not pass it: yea, it shall rage, but not prevail; and its waves (kyma) shall roar, but not pass over it", Jeremiah 5: 22; That's how God asked the waves to give the Jews leaving Egypt a passage in the middle of the sea: "And by the breath of thine anger the water parted asunder; the waters were congealed as a wall, the waves were congealed in the midst of the sea", Exodus 15: 8.

  • Pretending to control the waves is pretending to be God: "And thus he that a little afore thought he might command the waves (kyma) of the sea, (so proud was he beyond the condition of men) and weigh the high mountains in a balance, was now cast on the ground, and carried in an horselitter, shewing forth unto all the manifest power of God", 2 Maccabees 9: 8.

Here, at v. 24, the boat is suffering because of the waves, therefore because of enemy forces. As we have said, it is the ecclesial community that suffers. And these waves probably represent their Jewish brethren who see Christians as heretics who have departed from the authentic tradition. As Paul did before his conversion, Christians will be dragged before the courts and ostracized.

Noun kyma in the Bible
enantios (adverse) Enantios is the adjective enantios in the masculine singular nominative form and is consistent with the noun anemos (wind). It is rare among evangelists and throughout the New Testament: Mt = 1; Mk = 2; Lk = 3; Jn = 0; Acts = 5; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. It means first of all: in front of, but to face someone also means to be opposed to him. Thus, occurrences of enantios can be grouped into two major semantic families.

Enantios can mean "in front of," like when you stand or act in front of someone. For example:

  • Mk 15: 39: "Now when the centurion, who stood adverse (enantios) to him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, "Truly this man was God's Son!" "
  • Acts 7: 10: "and rescued him from all his afflictions, and enabled him to win favor and to show wisdom when he stood before (enantios) Pharaoh, king of Egypt, who appointed him ruler over Egypt and over all his household"

Enantios can also refer to a reality that faces us, i.e. opposes us, and is therefore usually translated as: opposite, adverse. For example:

  • Acts 27: 4: "Putting out to sea from there, we sailed under the lee of Cyprus, because the winds were adverse (enantios)"
  • 1 Thess 2: 15: "who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out; they displease God and (are) adverse (enantios) to everyone"

Here, in v. 24, enantios refers to the headwinds, as in Acts 27:4. But as we see elsewhere in the New Testament, enantios refers to enemies: Paul showed himself to be the enemy of the Christians (Acts 26:9); he did not want to be the enemy of his people (Acts 28:17); Paul mentions that in Thessalonica the Christians saw their countrymen opposing them and persecuted them (1 Thess 2:15); the epistle to Titus refers to the adversaries of the Christians (Titus 2:8). Thus, when Matthew speaks of headwinds, we must see them as more than a physical phenomenon: we must include all the forces opposed to the Christian community that constantly strike it.

Adjective enantios in the New Testament
anemos (wind)
Anemos is the noun anemos in the masculine singular nominative, it is the subject of the verb "to be" in the expression: the wind was adverse. It means wind. Even if it appears a certain number of times, it is nevertheless infrequent: Mt = 9; Mk = 7; Lk = 4; Jn = 1; Acts = 4; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. Indeed, in the Gospels, it is first found in Mark, but the latter uses it above all for only two scenes, the stilling storm and its variant, walking on the water. Otherwise, the word makes only one appearance in the apocalyptic discourse. The same is true of Matthew, who copies Mark's scene of the stilling storm and the walking on the waters, as well as the apocalyptic discourse. Another occurrence comes from Document Q on John the Baptist (Mt 11:7). The only originality of Matthew is to mention the wind in this sequence from Document Q to illustrate the importance of putting into practice the word heard: while Luke speaks of floods and torrents, Matthew adds the force of the wind (Mt 7:25-27 | Lk 6:48-49). There is nothing original in Luke's account of the stilling storm from Mark and Document Q about John the Baptist. As for John, his only mention is related to the account of the walking on the waters. Thus, had it not been for the accounts of the stilling storm and the walking on the waters, the word "wind" would have been very rare among the evangelists.

What does the wind symbolize in the New Testament? We could group the occurrences of the word under four symbols.

  1. Most importantly, the wind symbolizes the destructive force that we fear and that only God can control. For example:
    • Mk 4: 37: "A great wind (anemos) storm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped"
    • Rev 6: 13: "and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree drops its winter fruit when shaken by a strong wind (anemos)"

  2. Wind appears as an irrational force whose direction cannot be predicted, and therefore subjects everything it touches to this unpredictability and instability. For example:
    • Lk 7, 24: "When John's messengers had gone, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: "What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind (anemos)?"
    • Eph 4: 14: "We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind (anemos) of doctrine, by people's trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming"

  3. According to the cosmology of antiquity, the earth was flat and square, with four cardinal points, and therefore the wind was a geographical landmark, which could blow from the south, north, east and west. For example:
    • Mk 13: 27: "Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds (anemos), from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven"
    • Rev 7: 1: "After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds (anemos) of the earth so that no wind (anemos) could blow on earth or sea or against any tree"

  4. Finally, the wind can be associated with an ephemeral force, which can be present and then disappear, taking with it what seemed familiar. For example:
    • Jude 1: 12: "These are blemishes on your love-feasts, while they feast with you without fear, feeding themselves. They are waterless clouds carried along by the winds (anemos); autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, uprooted"

Here, at v. 24, Matthew uses the expression "headwind" which he found in Mark's account. This allows him to express the hostile powers that are pouring down on the boat of the community of disciples. It is not a simple inconvenience, but real forces that can destroy this community.

Noun anemos in the New Testament
v. 25 It was between three and six o'clock in the morning, when Jesus came to them walking on the water.

Literally: Then, in the fourth (tetartē) watch (phylakē) of the night (nyktos), he came out (ēlthen) to them walking (peripatōn)on the sea (thalassan).

tetartē (fourth)
Tetartē is the adective tetartos in the feminine dative singular, and is in agreement with the feminine noun phylakē (guard). It means: fourth, and is extremely rare in the New Testament, especially among evangelists: Mt = 1; Mk = 1; Lk = 0; Jn = 0; Acts = 1; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. In fact, in the Gospels, the word belongs to Mark 6:48 who introduces it into the account of the walking on the waters which Matthew simply copies. Otherwise, we find it in Acts 10:30, where we speak of a delay of four days, and seven times in Revelation to designate the fourth living creature, the fourth angel, the fourth precious stone, and the fourth part of the earth.

Here, in v. 25, the word refers to the fourth watch of the night. Remember that the night in the Roman world was divided into four parts of three hours each: the first part runs from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. and is called evening; the second part runs from 9:00 p.m. to midnight and is called midnight; the third part runs from 12:00 a.m. to 3:00 a.m. and is called the crowing of the cock; and the fourth part runs from 3:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m. and is called morning.

If we remember v. 22, Matthew tells us that Jesus forces his disciples into the boat without giving us a precise time. In v. 23, he writes that after the crowd was dismissed, Jesus went into the mountain to pray and when evening (6:00 pm to 9:00 pm) came, he was still there alone. Now, here in v. 25, Matthew tells us that it is between 3 and 6 o'clock. Thus, if we follow the indications of the account, the disciples got into the boat at the latest around 5:00 pm, before the beginning of the evening. This means that they were in the boat for a minimum of 7 hours, whereas according to the geographical indications given earlier, the journey started from the site of Jesus feeding the crowds, probably a few miles east of Capernaum, and went to Gennesaret (see Mt 14:34), on the left bank of the lake, a journey of barely a few miles (see the map of Palestine).

If we limit ourselves to a purely geographical and physical perspective, we come up against an implausible account (a solution will be proposed when analyzing parallels). But the evangelist's perspective is not that of a report. We have already spoken earlier of the symbolism of the evening, which evokes the night and the trials of life. We have also talked about the symbolism of distance and the absence of Jesus. With the fourth watch, or vigil, it is the end of the night, so that this period was called the morning. For the believer, what does the morning evoke? Isn't this period linked to the resurrection of Jesus, the moment when the empty tomb will be discovered?

Adjective tetartos in the New Testament
phylakē (watch)
Phylakē is the noun phylakē with the singular feminine dative. The dative is controlled by the fact that the word plays the role of circumstantial complement: it gives an indication of the time when the event takes place. It means first of all "prison", but also the fact of guarding someone or something, from which guards. It appears a number of times in the New Testament, especially in Luke and Matthew: Mt = 10; Mk = 3; Lk = 8; Jn = 1; Acts = 17; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0.

The number of occurrences of phylakē in the New Testament is mainly due to the fact that Christians were regularly thrown into prison. The Acts of the Apostles mentions that the apostles were imprisoned by the Sadducees (5:19), men and women disciples of Jesus were imprisoned by Saul (8:3), Peter was imprisoned by Herod (12:4), Paul and Silas were imprisoned by the strategists of Philippi (16:23). According to Luke 21: 12 Jesus had already warned his disciples that this would happen. The Gospels tell us that John the Baptist was put in prison (Mk 6:17; Mt 14:3; Jn 3:24).

What about Matthew? Out of the 10 occurrences of phylakē, five are specific to him and appear only in two parabolic accounts, first the ruthless debtor who has the one who owed him a hundred pieces of silver thrown into prison (18: 30), and especially the scene of the Last Judgment (25: 31-46) where having visited someone in prison becomes one of the criteria of salvation. Thus, in these passages specific to Matthew, phylakē means only "prison".

Now, here in v. 25, phylakē means guard, referring to the periods of night watch. One must imagine that soldiers had to take turns every three hours in the Roman world to stand guard. This served to structure this period of the day. Only two occurrences with this meaning can be found in Matthew's writings, the first borrowed from Mark, the second from Document Q.

  • 14, 25: "And in the fourth watch (phylakē) of the night he came walking toward them on the sea"
  • 24, 43: "I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison (phylakē) and you did not visit me.' "

With this meaning, then, it is not a word that belongs to the Matthean vocabulary; the evangelist simply takes up what tradition gives him.

One cannot speak of the noun phylakē without mentioning the verb phylassō, less frequent (Mt = 1; Mk = 1; Lk = 6; Jn = 3; Acts = 8; 1Jn = 1; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0), and which means: to keep. When the object is a reality that is dear to us, it expresses the idea of watching over and protecting it; conversely, it can be a matter of monitoring an entity and restricting its movements. When the object is a rule, it expresses the idea of observing it. The only occurrence in Matthew (19:20: the young man who kept the commandments) is a repetition of Mark 10:20.

Noun phylakē in the New Testament

Verb phylassō in the New Testament

nyktos (night) Nyktos is the name nyx in the singular feminine genitive form, being complement of the name phylakē, in the expression: night watch. It means of course "night" and recurs regularly in the Gospels: Mt = 9; Mk = 4; Lk = 7; Jn = 6; Acts = 16; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0.

Earlier we covered the symbolic meaning of "evening", and the symbol of night is similar. First of all, night covers a larger period than evening which, by definition, covers the watch period from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., while night covers the period from 6:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. Thus, in the New Testament we often find the couple "day and night" (20 occurrences) to refer to the full 24-hour day. For example: "and would sleep and rise night (nyx) and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how", Mk 4: 27.

Let us consider the various events that take place at night and their symbolic significance.

  1. The night is the time when one passes incognito, and therefore allows one to flee, or conversely, to go and meet someone without being seen. The night is thus linked to the possibility of salvation in the face of eminent danger.
    • Joseph takes the child Jesus and flees into Egypt (Mt 2:14).
    • Nicodemus goes to meet Jesus by night (Jn 3:2)
    • Several times Paul had to flee by night (Acts 9:25; 17:10).
    • An angel intervenes by night to release the disciples from prison (Acts 5:19; 12:6).

  2. The night allows the thief or a stranger to sneak in. Night is thus a symbol of the unexpected that we cannot control, which we can only respond to by being vigilant.
    • At night the cry of the bridegroom resounds, to which the wise virgins have responded by keeping watch (Mt 25:6).
    • The shepherds were standing night watch over their flocks when they received the news of Jesus' birth from an angel (Lk 2:8).
    • Judgment is exercised unannounced, as Luke writes: "on that night (nyx) there will be two in one bed; one will be taken and the other left" (Lk 17: 34); or as experienced by the man who had accumulated property: "You fool! This very night (nyx) your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?" (Lk 12: 20)
    • Paul warns the Thessalonians that "the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night (nyx)", (1 Thess 5, 2)

  3. The night is the time of sleep, but also the time of dreams, visions and prayer. It can be a symbol of the encounter with God.
    • After an invitation to pray at all times, Luke presents us with a Jesus who spends the day in the temple teaching, but spends the night on the Mount of Olives. (Lk 21: 37)
    • In Troas, during the night, Paul has a vision of a Macedonian man inviting him to Macedonia, which he interprets as a call from God (Acts 16:9).
    • One night in Corinth, Paul has a vision in which the Lord invites him not to be afraid and to continue to speak (Acts 18:9).
    • One night in Jerusalem, Paul hears the Lord inviting him to go to Rome to bear witness (Acts 23:11).
    • On a sinking ship in the midst of a storm, Paul reassured everyone by saying that the night before he had a vision of an angel promising that they would all be safe.

  4. The night is the time when we see nothing, when we are often afraid, when we feel vulnerable, when in ancient times we could not work, when those who want to do something wrong have no problem. The night is thus a symbol of the miseries of life and the forces of evil.
    • The disciples toiled by night without catching any fish (Lk 5:5; Jn 21:3).
    • It is at night that the disciples face the headwinds alone and exhaust themselves rowing (Mk 6:48; Mt 14:25).
    • When Judas leaves the table of the last supper to betray Jesus, it is night (Jn 13:30).
    • According to John, when night comes, one can no longer act according to what God asks (Jn 9:4), because in the night one stumbles (Jn 11:10), one does not have what it takes.
    • It is the night that one gets drunk (1 Thess 5:7).
    • Thus, according to Christian tradition, the night will also be associated with the arrest of Jesus and the forces of evil: "You will all become deserters because of me this night (nyx)" (Mt 26: 31); "this day, this very night (nyx), before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times" (Mk 14: 30); "the Lord Jesus on the night (nyx) when he was betrayed" (1 Cor 11: 23)
    • Thus the believer yearns to come out of the night, for he is not a child of the night, but a child of the light (1 Thess 5:5); and fortunately the night is early, the day has come near (Rom 13:12), and in his hope he can wait for the day when "there will be no night" (Rev 21:25; 22:5).

In Matthew, even though there are only nine occurrences, the word nyx appears important, because seven of the nine occurrences are specific to him. This seems a way for him to create links with Scripture, for example: by specifying that Jesus fasted 40 days and 40 nights (4:2), an echo of Israel's 40 years in the desert (see Acts 7:42), or again, by specifying that Jonah spent three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, an echo of Jesus' death and resurrection (12:40). When he takes up Mark's account in which Jesus announces to his disciples that they are going to flee and says, "All of you will be offended" (Mk 14:27), he adds the words, "for my sake this night"; this enhances the precision of Jesus' prediction, and therefore its transcendence. In short, nyx belongs to Matthew's vocabulary.

That being said, here in v. 25 Matthew only uses the word "night" that he finds in Mark's text, a word that he cannot separate from the name that it completes: watch. But at the same time, he retains all the symbolic meaning that Mark had: night is the symbol of the situation where Jesus is no longer with us, where we encounter opposing forces, where everything is painful, where the boat is seriously threatened.

Noun nyx in the New Testament
ēlthen (he came out) Ēlthen is the verb erchomai in the indicative aorist tense, 3rd person singular. After legō (to say) and eimi (to be), erchomai (to go, to come) is the most frequent verb in the Gospel-Acts : Mt = 113; Mk = 86; Lk = 99; Jn = 155; Acts = 50.

In Matthew, it appears almost every ninth verse. This frequency is partly explained by the fact that it is a verb of everyday life and that he copied this verb which appears in his sources. But there is more, since of the 113 occurrences, 51 are specific to him. And, on several occasions, he modifies his source to add erchomai. Here are two examples where we have underlined the addition of this verb in Matthew.

Mk 1: 10Mt 3: 16
And immediately, rising up out of the water, he saw the heavens being torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove into him.Immediately Jesus rose up out of the water, and behold, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming upon him.
Mk 4: 31b-32aMt 13: 32
Being smaller than all the seeds on earth, and when it is sown it rises and becomes larger than all the vegetable plants, and makes large branches, so that the birds of the sky can take shelter under its shade.Which is smaller than all seeds; but when it has grown it is larger than vegetable plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the sky come and take shelter in its branches.

Let us also mention that in the passages where erchomai is proper to him, very often it appears in the form of a participle (22 times): for example, "having arrived", the person or a thing did this or that action (2: 9 "having arrived, the star stood above the place where the child was"). This is also reflected when he modifies a source. For example, when he copies Mark 2:15, which says, "And it came to pass that he was at table in his house, and many publicans and sinners were at table with Jesus and his disciples," he changes the sentence to: "And it came to pass, as he was at table in the house, and behold, many publicans and sinners having come (erchomai), they were at table with Jesus and his disciples" (9:10). This is a reflection of the Matthean style.

Here, in v. 25, Matthew is content to use the verb erchomai from Mark 6:48, and more precisely the whole expression: erchomai pros autous (to go to them), except that he changes the present tense to an aorist. Mark is a good storyteller and likes verbs in the present tense, while Matthew likes the precision of the historical past tense.

Verb erchomai in Matthieu
peripatōn (walking)
Peripatōn is the verb peripateō in the active present participle tense and in the masculine singular nominative form; it agrees with the implied subject "he" of the previous verb erchomai (to come), which is in fact Jesus. It means: to walk, and appears here and there among the evangelists, without being very frequent, except in John: Mt = 7; Mk = 9; Lk = 5; Jn = 17; Acts = 8; 1Jn = 5; 2Jn = 3; 3Jn = 2.

When we go through the whole New Testament and in particular the Gospels, we see that the verb peripateō must be understood in four different ways.

  1. The obvie and first sense is that of moving forward and moving physically by taking steps. Examples:
    • Mk 2: 9: "Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Stand up and take your mat and walk (peripateō)'?"
    • Mk 5: 42: "And immediately the girl got up and began to walk (peripateō) about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement."

  2. But peripateō can sometimes indicate walking, circulating, coming and going in a geographical area. Examples:
    • Mk 11: 27: "Again they came to Jerusalem. As he was walking (peripateō) in the temple, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came to him"
    • Mk 12: 38: "As he taught, he said, "Beware of the scribes, who like to walk (peripateō) around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces"

  3. On a symbolic level, peripateō is used a lot, especially in the so-called Pauline epistles, to signify the direction one gives to one's life, so that the verb could be replaced by: to conduct oneself, to behave, to lead one's life, or simply to live. For example:
    • Mk 7: 5: "So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, "Why do your disciples not walk (peripateō) according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?"
    • Jn 8: 12: "Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk (peripateō) in darkness but will have the light of life"

  4. It can even happen that the expression "to walk with someone" means: to be someone's disciple:
    • Jn 6: 66: "Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked (peripateō) with him"

Matthew has retained from peripateō only the sense of moving forward and moving physically. He does not seem to be a great user of it, even if among the nine occurrences in his Gospel, three are his own, in particular in 4: 18 in the scene of the calling of the first disciples which he takes from Mark, where he modifies the text of Mk 1, 16 ("And passing by the Sea of Galilee") to add peripateō: "Now, walking by the Sea of Galilee". Otherwise, he simply takes the text from Mark or Document Q.

Here, at v. 25, peripateō is the verb Matthew finds in Mark. But it must be assumed that he takes up the meaning he finds there. But what is that meaning? It is important to know that Mark, in turn, is taking up an old tradition. Indeed, the story appears not only in Mark's pen, but also in John's, even though Mark and John are both independent of each other. And since their respective narratives, despite the large number of common elements, contain different notes, this means that their narratives each come from an old tradition. On the other hand, both traditions present us with a Jesus who physically walks on water. What is the meaning of this gesture?

We must assume that the author(s) at the source of these traditions was a sensible and balanced being. He knew that no one can walk on water. While Jesus was described as a good Jew who walked the roads of Galilee as a normal being, why suddenly present him as a supernatural being defying the laws of physics? The answer is probably to be found in the Old Testament, the great book that was used by the first Christians to understand the event of Jesus, especially in passages like this one:

He (God) alone has stretched out Heaven, he walks (peripateō) on the sea (epi thalassan) as on firm ground (Job 9: 8 LXX).

We find in the book of Job the same expression: walking on the sea, and the same verb tense: the present participle. Thus, the author of our story attributes to Jesus what the book of Job attributes to God: the fact of mastering the sea for God is the sign that he created this universe, and now Jesus is associated with this mastery of the sea and the creation of the universe.

Let us not forget: the Gospels and their sources were written after Easter, in an effort to transmit a Christian catechesis on Jesus, when the main witnesses had just died. The memorable event has just been recounted where Jesus fed a crowd of 5,000 people. Who was Jesus? The scene that follows, walking on the sea, seems like a colourful homily that gives us an answer.

Verb peripateō in the New Testament
thalassan (sea)
Thalassan is the noun thalassa in the singular feminine accusative form and means: sea. It appears regularly in the Gospels, except in Luke: Mt = 16; Mk = 19; Lk = 3; Jn = 9; Acts = 10; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0.

The word thalassa can refer to four different realities.

  1. First and foremost among the evangelists it refers to this lake which is called "Sea of Galilee" (Mt 4:18), or "Lake of Gennesaret" (Lk 5:1), or "Sea of Tiberias" (Jn 6:1), and which is called in the Old Testament "Sea of Kinneret" (Num 34:11), Kinneret referring to its harp form. As already mentioned, this lake is 13 miles long, 7.5 miles wide, and a depth from 138 to 157 feet; at the time of Jesus it is characterized by its waters full of fish and sudden storms (see Xavier Léon-Dufour (Dictionnaire du Nouveau Testament. Paris: Seuil, 1975, p. 273).

  2. But thalassa can also refer to the mediterranean: "Send therefore to Joppa and ask for Simon, who is called Peter; he is staying in the home of Simon, a tanner, by the sea (thalassa)" (Acts 10: 32)

  3. Often, when one refers to the Old Testament, one hears about the Red Sea: "He led them out, having performed wonders and signs in Egypt, at the Red Sea (thalassa), and in the wilderness for forty years." (Acts 7: 36)

  4. Finally, thalassa can be understood in a very general way, without reference to a particular sea, as in the expression repeatedly used: sand from the sea (Rom 9:27; Heb 11:12; Rev 20:8). Above all, ancient cosmology conceived of the universe as being composed of heaven and earth, the earth being made up of land and sea, so that heaven, earth and sea where used together to describe the whole of creation : "Friends, why are you doing this? We are mortals just like you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea (thalassa) and all that is in them" (Acts 14, 15).

When we analyzed the word "wave" (kyma), we mentioned that the Jews were not a seafaring people and that, in general, the sea is scary. It is linked to the chaotic abyss of origins (Gen 1:2.9), the place where demonic powers live and act (Is 27:1). A number of references in the New Testament point in this direction:

  • While the disciples were afraid of being overwhelmed by the waves, Jesus said to the sea, "Be quiet! Be silent" (Mk 4:39); Jesus speaks to the sea as if it were the devil himself.
  • The sea is the place where 2,000 pigs are drowned, into which the unclean spirits enter with Jesus' permission (Mk 5:13).
  • The sea is the place where those who scandalize the little ones deserve to be thrown with the millstone at once (Mk 9:42).
  • At the coming of the Son of Man, the nations will be in anguish, worried about the noise of the sea and the waves (Lk 21:25).
  • When Paul speaks of all the sufferings lived in his apostolate, he expressly mentions the dangers of the sea (2 Cor 11:26).
  • For James, the waves of the sea evoke one who dithers and has no firm faith: "But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea (thalassa), driven and tossed by the wind" (Jas 1: 6)
  • When Jude denounces the false teachers of the Christian community who bombard at the Eucharistic meal, he compares them to the waves of the sea: "wild waves of the sea (thalassa), casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the deepest darkness has been reserved forever" (Jude 1: 13)
  • The perception of the sea can sometimes be so negative that the author of Revelation imagines that in the new creation the sea will be eliminated: "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea (thalassa) was no more" (Rev 21: 1)

In Matthew's gospel we find the word thalassa quite regularly. But most of the time he is content to use Mark's text. In the five occurrences that are proper, almost all of them come from a source of his own or from a reference to the Old Testament: for example, the parable of the net that is thrown into the sea and brings in all sorts of things (13:47), or the account where Jesus asks Peter to go to the sea and throw the hook to find in the mouth of the fish the money needed to pay the tax.

Here, in v. 25, Matthew simply uses the word thalassa, which he finds in Mark. However, he introduces an important modification. While Mark writes: "walking on the sea (epi tēs thalassēs)", Matthew writes: "walking on the sea (epi tēn thalassan); in the first case thalassa is in the genitive, i.e. a noun complement, in the second case it is in the accusative, i.e. a direct object complement, subject to the action of the verb. Why would Matthew modify what he receives from Mark? There are two plausible answers.

  1. First of all, the simplest answer comes from the fact that Matthew loves precision, and knowing that we have here a reference to the text of Job 9:8 in the Septuagint, and that in this text of Job thalassa is the accusative, he hastens to correct Mark.

  2. But we must probably go further. There is a nuance between epi + the genitive and epi + accusative. In the first case, it is a local meaning to express where the person is, for example: "And behold, a paralytic was brought to him lying on (epi + genitive) a bed" (Mt 9:2), or again: "let him who is on (epi + genitive) the terrace" (Mt 24:17); according to this perspective, to say that Jesus is walking on the sea is to specify where he is, on the sea. In the second case, it is linked to a verb of movement that exerts an action on an object, for example: "darkness came over (epi + accusative) the whole earth" (Mt 27:45), or again, "he commanded the crowd to sit down on (epi + accusative) the ground" (Mt 15:35), or again, "(the beloved disciple who had leaned over (epi + accusative) his breast" (Jn 21:19); according to this perspective, to say that Jesus is walking on the sea is to affirm that he is exercising a form of action on the sea. What kind of action? He dominates it, he controls it. This is, moreover, the perspective of the text of Job 9:11 ("He alone has stretched out Heaven, he walks on the sea as on firm ground") where the emphasis is on God's control of the sea, for he is the creator of the sea. We could add the meaning of the root of the word peripateō (to walk), formed from the preposition peri (around) and pateō (to trample), i.e. to trample around: to walk on the sea is also to trample on the sea, i.e. to dominate it.

In the Jewish world, the sea is a feared, frightening force. For Matthew, the fact that Jesus walks on the sea expresses the fact that he masters the forces of evil that attack the boat of the community of disciples.

Noun thalassa in the New Testament
v. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the water, they went into a panic, thinking they saw a shadow of the dead world, and they began to cry out for fear.

Literally: Then, the disciples having seen (idontes) him walking on the sea, they were troubled (etarachthēsan), saying, "It is an apparition (phantasma)," and out of fear (phobou) they cried (ekraxan).

idontes (having seen) Idontes is the verb horaō in the aoristic participle tense, nominative plural masculine form and agrees with the subject: disciples. The aorist, a typically Greek tense that is often translated into English by a past tense (having seen), but which simply means in Greek that the action is completed: it is after seeing Jesus walking on the water that the disciples were overwhelmed. But it could just as well be translated by a present in a sequence of events, each element of the sequence presupposing that the previous one is completed: seeing Jesus walking on the sea, the disciples were overwhelmed.

The verb "to see" is extremely frequent among evangelists, especially Matthew and Luke: Mt = 138; Mk = 67; Lk = 138; Jn = 86; Acts = 95; 1Jn = 9; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 2. But in our analysis, we will discard the cases where horaō is used to say "behold", i.e. idou and ide, an expression often used by Matthew and Luke. This now gives us the following numbers for horaō: Mt = 72; Mk = 51; Lk = 81; Jn = 63; Acts = 72; 1Jn = 9; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 2.

Like the word "to see" in English, horaō can have various meanings.

  1. It first has the meaning of simply seeing or perceiving something or someone, and therefore expresses a simple eye contact. For example:
    • Mt 2: 9: "When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen (horaō) at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was"
    • Mt 21: 19: "And seeing (horaō) a fig tree by the side of the road, he went to it and found nothing at all on it but leaves. Then he said to it, "May no fruit ever come from you again!" And the fig tree withered at once"

  2. The act of looking can be extended to become an observation or assessment, often leading to a decision, or it can mean the act of understanding something. What is seen is not a mere physical object, but presupposes a certain intelligence. For example:
    • Mt 2: 16: "When Herod saw (horaō) that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men."
    • Mt 9: 4: "But Jesus, perceiving (horaō) their thoughts, said, "Why do you think evil in your hearts?"

  3. The third meaning presupposes more than a mere understanding of things, but an inner or spiritual view of things, and is often the result of personal experience or even faith. In short, what is seen is limited to certain people and is not accessible to a wide public. For example:
    • Mt 3: 16: "the people who sat in darkness have seen (horaō) a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned"
    • Mt 17: 3: "Suddenly there was seen (horaō) to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him"

  4. Finally, there is the special case where it is a matter of "seeing to something", i.e. paying attention, being on guard, or finding a solution to a problem. For example:
    • Mt 8: 4: "Then Jesus said to him, "See (horaō) that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them"
    • Mt 27: 4: "He said, 'I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.' But they said, 'What is that to us? See (horaō) to it yourself'"

What then is the meaning of horaō at v. 26? On the first level, it sounds like a simple eye contact from a man walking. But the rest of the story shows us that it's not that simple:

  • it's not Jesus they see, it's a ghost;
  • Then Peter said to him, "If it is really you," as if it were impossible to identify him, and in fact Jesus rebuked him for having doubted.
  • The scene ends with the disciples bowing down and saying, "Of God your are son.

Thus, the scene ends on the register of faith. All these elements resemble the last scene in Matthew's gospel, the meeting of the risen Jesus by the disciples in Galilee: "When they saw (horaō) him, they worshiped him; but some doubted." (Mt 28: 17).

All these clues lead us to establish that the verb "to see" cannot have the same meaning as when it is used to indicate, for example, that Jesus sees crowds. Rather, the setting is the post-Easter setting, the one experienced by the Matthean community, with its difficulty in "seeing" Jesus, i.e. believing in his presence and support.

Verb horaō in Matthew (without "behold", i.e. idou, ide)
etarachthēsan (they were troubled) Etarachthēsan is the verb tarassō in the indicative passive aoristic tense, 3rd person plural. It means: to disturb, to stir, to upset, to trouble, and it is very rare in the whole New Testament, and among the evangelists, only John uses it a certain number of times: Mt = 2; Mk = 1; Lk = 2; Jn = 6; Acts = 3; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0.

The verb "to trouble" basically means: to break the state of tranquility of a reality. This can apply to objects like water ("when the water is troubled", John 5:7), as well as to people ("King Herod was troubled", Matthew 2:3). When applied to a person or a group, the word is meant to describe the loss of inner peace or quietness, and often has a negative connotation.

  • Paul warns against people who seek to disturb the Christian community in Galatia (Gal 1:7; 5:10).
  • Peter also warns against people who attack Christians and asks not to be disturbed by them (1 Peter 3:14).
  • The Apostles in Jerusalem send a letter to the Church of Antioch to confront those who have troubled Christians (Acts 15:24)
  • In Thessalonica the Jews come to disturb the crowd and stir them up against Paul (Acts 17:13).

There is the particular case of the Gospel according to John where it is Jesus who is troubled: Jesus is troubled when he sees people mourning the death of Lazarus (11: 33), he is troubled before the approach of the hour of his death (12: 27), he is troubled before the betrayal of Judas (13: 21). What meaning should we give to this trouble? Each time Jesus faces a trial: the trial of the people who mourn Lazarus because they do not believe in the resurrection, the trial of the betrayal of one of his disciples, the trial of his own death. This is the evangelist's way of emphasizing that Jesus is aware of what awaits him, and at the same time faces it voluntarily and with confidence. It is probably in this sense that we must understand these two passages in which Jesus invites his disciples to believe in him, and therefore not to be troubled (14:1), and where he gives them his peace so that their hearts will not be troubled (14:27); the support of the risen Jesus through faith makes it possible to overcome what is troubling.

What about v. 26 where the disciples are troubled? Of course, on a first level, we can say that they are troubled because they are afraid of the arrival of what they believe to be a ghost. But this is forgetting the rest of the story where Jesus identifies himself with the very words used to speak about God (I am), and invites Peter to regain faith, and which ends with a profession of faith by the disciples. From this perspective, to be troubled is to lack faith. It is the same perspective that we find in Luke when the risen Jesus meets the community of gathered disciples: "Why are you troubled (tarassō), and why do doubts arise in your heart? "(Lk 24:38). Let us not forget that the word first appeared in Mark, who was speaking to a persecuted community around 67 or 70 AD, and it was important that this community be identified with the elements of the story, especially with the upheavals experienced by the disciples. Matthew's community does not experience the same situation, but it is the same approach used by the evangelist.

In short, the verb tarassō can only be well understood after Easter in a community that faces opposition and has difficulty in finding peace, because it has difficulty believing that its Lord is indeed present to accompany them, and therefore in accepting these words: "And behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the world" (Mt 28:20).

Verb tarassō in the New Testament
phantasma (apparition)
Phantasma is the noun phantasma in the nominative neutral singular. It means: apparition, shadow, spectrum, ghost. If it were not for Mark, taken up by Matthew, the word would be totally absent from the New Testament: Mt = 1; Mk = 1; Lk = 0; Jn = 0; Acts = 0; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. Elsewhere in the Bible, there is only one occurrence, in the Greek text of the Septuagint. The noun phantasma is of the same root as the verb phantazō: to make visible, to appear. This last word is also very rare, in fact three occurrences, found only in the Epistle to the Hebrews, the Sirach and the Book of Wisdom.

What does phantasma mean? Let us begin with the text of Wisdom 17:14. This passage belongs to a section where the author offers a commentary on the plagues of Egypt, and more particularly on the plague of darkness (Ex 21:21-29) when Moses, stretching out his hand to heaven, brought three days of opaque darkness over the whole land of Egypt, freezing all the Egyptians in place, while the Israelites had light. He considered the Egyptians as ungodly people who had gone astray, and by enveloping them in darkness, God delivered them to fear, hallucinations, and gloomy ghosts (phasma). He writes:

But they sleeping the same sleep that night, which was indeed intolerable, and which came upon them out of the bottoms of inevitable Hades, were partly vexed with monstrous apparitions (phantasma), and partly fainted, their heart failing them: for a sudden fear, and not looked for, came upon them (Wis 17:14-15).

The night that would cover the Egyptians would come from Hades. Now, Hades is first in Greek mythology the name of the deity who reigns over the underground empire of the dead, also called: the underworld. By extension, the word became the name of his dwelling place, i.e. Hades. The Septuagint translated the Hebrew word Sheol as Hades, the place where all the dead descend to carry out a reduced, almost vegetative activity. It is in this context that the author of Wisdom places the Egyptians who, in their sleep, have nightmares when they see ghosts or monstrous ghosts. Thus, whether we speak of ghosts or spectres, we are talking about beings that resemble terrifying shadows such as those imagined in Sheol. We can understand the fear that pervades everyone.

Let's go back to phantasma in Mark/Matthew. There are certain similarities with the Wisdom text: the context is that of darkness, and we are in an environment of fear. Phantasma literally translates as: apparition. But since this apparition is frightening, we have to think of it as a spectre or a ghost, like those shadows we imagined in Sheol. But knowing that the Mark/Matthew story must be read in the context of the challenge of believing in difficult times, can we not think that the word phantasma was chosen because it accurately describes the appearance of the people in Sheol, and therefore these shadows evoke for the disciples their own death, or that of Jesus himself for those who do not believe in his resurrection? If this was not the intention of the original author of this story, the words chosen are nevertheless perfectly appropriate of such a context.

Let's say a word on the verb phantazō which is of the same root and means: to appear. The few occurrences show us that the context can be positive, as when wisdom appears benevolent before those who receive it (Wis 6:16), or negative when a woman in the pains of childbirth begins to have visions (Sir 34:5).

There is also the related word phasma, which is found only in the Septuagint and which means: apparition, illusion, ghost. The Book of Wisdom uses it in the same context as phantasma to comment on the plague of darkness that falls on the Egyptians. Otherwise, they are either prodigious or ephemeral visions that only the context can determine their meaning.

Thus, we are returned to the subjective aspect of the vision of things. This is what our account tells us about the disciples in the boat. And the listener of Matthew, who finds it difficult to believe in Jesus' resurrection, and for whom the deads vegetate in the Sheol, can identify with the disciples for whom Jesus appears as a spectre of the Sheol, the image of their own death.

Noun phantasma in the Bible

Verb phantazō in the Bible

Noun phasma in the Bible

phobou (fear) Phobou is the noun phobos in the singular masculine genitive form. The genitive is requested by the preposition apo (from), to explain the source of the cries: fear. It is less frequent that we think in the gospel-Acts (Mt = 3; Mk = 1; Lk = 7; Jn = 3; Acts = 5; 1Jn = 3; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0), because the fact of being afraid is mostly expressed by the verb phobeō (Mt = 18; Mk = 12; Lk = 23; Jn = 5; Acts = 14; 1Jn = 1; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0).

The word is translated literally by: fear, which gave our English word: phobia. However, the word "fear" does not reflect the various meanings of phobos in the New Testament, which could be grouped into four categories.

  1. Phobos often refers to the feeling before an unusual event, interpreted as supernatural, such as the intervention of an angel, or witnessing a miracle; the consequences of this event are positive. In this case, the feeling is often expressed as shudder or fear. For example:
    • Mt 28: 8: "So they left the tomb quickly with shudder (phobos) and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples."
    • Lk 2: 9: "Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they feared with great shudder (phobos)"

  2. But in some cases, the feeling of fear is caused by a terrifying event, or a threat that can be fatal; the consequences appear negative for the person. The person then wants to get away from the threat as soon as possible.
    • Mt 28: 4: "For fear (phobos) of him the guards shook and became like dead men."
    • Lk 21: 26: People will faint from fear (phobos) and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken

  3. There are also cases where there is no imminent threat, but the feeling in front of individuals or groups prevents one from acting one you would like: one feels intimidated and embarrassed. For example:
    • Jn 7: 13: Yet no one would speak openly about him for fear (phobos) of the Jews
    • 1 Jn 4: 18: There is no fear (phobos) in love, but perfect love casts out fear (phobos); for fear (phobos) has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love

  4. Finally, there is a form of expression typical of the Jewish world in which phobos simply means respect and veneration for a person, especially God, which provokes listening to his word and putting it into practice. Thus, to fear someone is to heed what he says or asks. For example:
    • Acts 9: 31: Meanwhile the church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and was built up. Living in the fear (phobos) of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.
    • 2 Cor 7: 15: And his heart goes out all the more to you, as he remembers the obedience of all of you, and how you welcomed him with fear (phobos) and trembling

In Matthew, there are only three occurrences of the name phobos, but these three occurrences are unique to him. The scene of 28:4 is that of the tomb guards who die of fear at the arrival of the angel who rolls the stone from the tomb, followed by that of 28:8 where the women, after the angel's announcement that Jesus has risen, are under the quivering of the supernatural event. Finally, there is our scene of the walking on the waters where the disciples are terrified at the sight of what they consider to be a ghost or the living dead. These three occurrences reflect Matthew's own touch. On the one hand, we find in 14:26 (they cried out in fear) and 28:4 (they trembled out of fear) a form of expression that is found nowhere else in the New Testament: apo tou phobou (out of fear). On the other hand, in 14:26 and 28:8, Matthew transformed the tradition received from Mark to add (underlined) the noun phobos.

Mk 6: 49Mt 14: 26
But they, seeing the seer walking on the sea, thought it was a ghost and shouted outBut when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying that it was a ghost, and they cried out of fear.
Mk 16: 8Mt 28: 8
And when they came out, they fled from the tomb, for they were trembling and troubled, and said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.And they went away quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.

Let's start with Mt 28:8. Mark uses the verb phobeō to say that the women were so afraid following the angel's message that they didn't say anything to anyone. Matthew does not use the verb phobeō, but rather uses the noun phobos. Why did he use the noun phobos? One can imagine that by wanting to modify Mark's story so that the women would not freeze in place but go to announce the good news, the name phobos offered him more flexibility to add a synonym, the word "joy", so that we no longer speak of fear that terrifies, but of reverential fear before the word of God.

In Matthew 14:26 Matthew takes up a phrase of Mark's with a number of accents of his own: the disciples do not simply think they see a ghost within themselves, they say it explicitly ("saying"); they are troubled or upset, which Mark will only say in the next verse; and they cry out in fear, whereas Mark simply mentions that they cried out. Why did Matthew add "fear"? We can imagine that Matthew, in his habit of dotting the i's and crossing the t's, wanted to clarify why the disciples were shouting. And this allowed him to complete the dramatic picture he is painting with the disciples who are troubled, and this fear probably describes very well the state of some members of the community.

Noun phobos in the New Testament

Verb phobeō in the New Testament

ekraxan (they cried) Ekraxan is the verb krazō in the indicative aorist tense, 3rd person plural form. It means "to cry out" and, in the Gospels, appears especially in Matthew and Mark: Mt = 12; Mk = 10; Lk = 3; Jn = 4; Acts = 11; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0.

When we shout, the reason for shouting is not always the same: we can shout with joy as we can shout in panic. It is the same in the New Testament with the verb krazō. This is how we can group the contexts in which we shout into three categories.

  1. Shouting to make a cheer or to proclaim something. The purpose of shouting is to be heard, to declare the importance of what one has to say, to express the feeling of joy. It is especially in John, the Acts and the Pauline Epistles that we find this meaning. For example:
    • Jn 7: 37: "On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried (krazō), "Let anyone who is thirsty come to me,"
    • Acts 16: 17: "While she followed Paul and us, she would cry (krazō), 'These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation'"

  2. The cry can be the expression of a request or a prayer. It aims to express its intensity, its importance, its urgency. It is especially in Matthew and Mark that we find this meaning. For example:
    • Mt 9: 27: "As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed him, crying (krazō) loudly, 'Have mercy on us, Son of David!'"
    • Mk 10: 47: "When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry (krazō) and say, 'Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!'"

  3. Finally, the context may be one of imminent threat, evil possession, suffering, abandonment, an intolerable situation, or a sense of horror. The cry expresses the intensity of the feelings. Sometimes this cry is not accompanied by any words. This meaning is found especially in Mark, where a number of diabolical possessions appear, and in Acts where the first Christian generation encounters much opposition. For example:
    • Mk 5: 5: "Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying (krazō) and bruising himself with stones"
    • Acts 19: 32: "Meanwhile, some were crying (krazō) one thing, some another; for the assembly was in confusion, and most of them did not know why they had come together"

With its twelve occurrences, six of which are his own, we can affirm that krazō is part of Matthew's vocabulary. Here, in v. 26, krazō is found in a context of fear, where the disciples cry out without there being any content to this cry. In Matthew, we find this verb three times in a similar negative context.

  1. In 8: 29 ("Suddenly they cried (krazō), "What have you to do with us, Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?") Matthew simply repeats the verb krazō which he found in the text of Mark 5:7

  2. In 27: 50 ("Then Jesus cried (krazō) again with a loud voice and breathed his last"), Matthiew modifes 15: 37 ("Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last"): while for Mark there is only one cry expressed earlier in 15:34 ("At three o'clock Jesus bellowed with a loud voice...") and which ends at v. 37 ("having given a loud cry"), for Matthew there are two cries, the first at v. 46 ("And about three o'clock Jesus he shouted with a loud voice..."), and a second at v. 50 ("again"). So he is obliged to repeat the fact that Jesus cries out: in v. 46 he had taken over the verb from Mark 15:36 (to shout) with a slight modification (anaboaō instead of boaō), but here in v. 50 he is obliged to add a verb for crying out, so he chooses to insert the verb krazō (to cry), probably to avoid repeating the verb anaboaō for stylistic reasons.

  3. Finally, in 14:26, he merely repeats the fact that the disciples cry from Mark 6:49, with a small stylistic change: while Mark uses the verb anakrazō (to shout), Matthew exchanges it for krazō (to cry). Why is this? Perhaps simply because anakrazō is not part of his vocabulary and he never uses it.

What can we conclude? First of all, the three occurrences where krazō appears in a negative context primarily reflect the context proposed by Mark. In Matthew, krazō has above all the meaning of a request or an insistent prayer, and therefore has a truly positive connotation. And here, in v. 26, the verb krazō echoes Mark's verb anakrazō, which Mark had probably chosen to reflect the desperate cries of persecuted Christians in Rome, but which Matthew took up again to probably reflect the harassment experienced by his community in Antioch.

Verb krazō in the New Testament
v. 27 But immediately Jesus intervened and said to them, "Be confident! It is I! Do not be afraid!"

Literally: Then, immediately the Jesus (Iēsous) spoke (elalēsen) to them saying, "Take courage (tharseite)! Me, I am (egō eimi)! Don't be afraid (mē phobeisthe)!

elalēsen (he spoke) Elalēsen is the verb laleō in the indicative aorist 3rd person singular tense and means: to speak. We can imagine that this verb is very frequent: Mt = 26; Mk = 21; Lk = 31; Jn = 59; Acts = 58; 1Jn = 1; 2Jn = 1; 3Jn = 0. We find this verb especially in John who introduces his gospel with the "word" (logos) that became flesh, and in Luke for whom the word is a central theme of his gospel and of his Acts. But in a general way we can say that Judaism presents us with a God who speaks, which gave us these books of the Bible, and the New Testament bears witness to this word made flesh in Jesus. It should therefore come as no surprise that the verbs legō (to say), the most frequent among evangelists (more than two thousand times), and laleō come up so often.

But there is a distinction in Greek between legō (to say) and laleō (to speak): legō is the only one that can introduce the content of a word, and often this verb is in the present participle, as here in v. 27: "Jesus spoke to them (elalēsen) saying (legōn):". Let us note that, even if Matthew takes up the essence of this sentence from Mark 6:50 ("he spoke (elalēsen) with them and said (legei)"), he modifies the tense of the verb legō to have the present participle, rather than the present indicative; we find this stylistic particularity ("he spoke, saying") elsewhere in Matthew's work ("he spoke, saying") in 13:3 and 28:18.

What is the function of the verb "to speak" in Matthew? Indeed, if it is the verb legō (to say: 505 occurrences in Matthew) that is essential to introduce the content of what an expression has to say, why sometimes add laleō (speak: 26 occurrences in Matthew). This function is not fundamentally different from that found in other evangelists, but nevertheless let's make an effort to inventory it.

  1. Let's start with laleō in the present participle, with Jesus as the subject, usually translated as : "As he was still speaking". It serves as a connection or link between two scenes, a way of reinforcing or supporting or explaining what has just been said. Examples:
    • Mt 9: 18: (after a talk by Jesus about old and new...) "While he was speaking (laleō) about these things to them, suddenly a leader of the synagogue came in and knelt before him, saying, 'My daughter has just died; but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live'" (follows the healing of a woman and the resuscitation of the daughter of an important man)
    • Mt 26: 47: (Jesus just said that the one who delivers it has arrived) "While he was still speaking (laleō), Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; with him was a large crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people."

  2. The mention that someone is speaking, without evoking its content, simply wants to affirm that there is a change of state, that a person who was mute is cured. Examples:
    • Mt 9: 33: "And when the demon had been cast out, the one who had been mute spoke (laleō); and the crowds were amazed and said, "Never has anything like this been seen in Israel"
    • Mt 12: 22: "Then they brought to him a demoniac who was blind and mute; and he cured him, so that the one who had been mute could speak (laleō) and see"

  3. On a few occasions, laleō intends to emphasize the fact that a reality is communicated, and sometimes even the means of communication. Examples:
    • Mt 13: 34: "Jesus spoke (laleō) to the crowds about all these things in parables; without a parable he told them nothing"
    • Mt 26: 13: Truly I tell you, wherever this good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be spoken (laleō) about in remembrance of her

  4. Matthew can also introduce a sentence with the phrase "Jesus spoke saying"; this is a solemn way of introducing Jesus' speech and underlining its importance. For example:
    • Mt 23: 1 (end of the accounts of controversies with the Pharisees; Jesus will no longer address them) "Then Jesus spoke (laleō) to the crowds and to his disciples" (follows a discourse of invective against the Pharisees)
    • Mt 28: 18: "And Jesus came and spoke (laleō) to them saying, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me"

  5. "Speaking" is a way of revealing the heart of the person: if the person is indwelt by the Spirit, it is the Spirit who expresses himself through what he says; otherwise, if the heart is evil, evil things come out of the mouth. For example:
    • Mt 10: 19: "When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak (laleō) or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time"
    • Mt 12: 34: "You brood of vipers! How can you speak (laleō) good things, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks (laleō)"

Let us return to our v. 27. Here we have precisely the expression "Jesus spoke saying", a solemn expression, we have said, whose function is to underline the importance of what Jesus is about to say, and is therefore an invitation to listen carefully to his word. We shall see what this word is.

Let us also note that the verb laleō is preceded here by the adverb euthys (immediately), a set that Matthew takes from Mark 6:50. The fact of saying that Jesus spoke 'immediately' when the disciples began to cry out in fear is a way of affirming that Jesus does not abandon them: from the first cry, he is there.

Verb laleō in the Gospels-Acts
Iēsous (Jesus)
Iēsous (Jesus) is the name attributed to the central personality of the Gospels. It comes from the Hebrew in the form יְהוֹשֻׁעַ or יְהוֹשׁוּעַ (yĕhôšûaʿ), the name that Joshua had in the Old Testament. It means: Yahveh saves. Obviously, the word is extremely frequent throughout the New Testament, with about 873 occurrences depending on the versions used, being present in all the books that make it up. It is the same among the evangelists: Mt = 152; Mk = 82; Lk = 88; Jn = 243; Acts = 69; 1Jn = 12; 2Jn = 2; 3Jn = 0. The fourth gospel largely dominates these statistics: because of the number of dialogues it contains, it is understandable that it must constantly be named explicitly.

In the Gospels, the name Iēsous appears almost always in the narrator's pen. But there are a few exceptions where it is put in someone else's mouth: Mt = 7; Mk = 5; Lk = 6; Jn = 7. Let's summarize these occurrences.

  • When Philip meets Nathanael to tell him that he has found the prophet foretold by Moses and the Scriptures, he tells him that he is "Jesus, the son of Joseph of Nazareth" (Jn 1:45).
  • The man with the unclean spirit in the synagogue of Capernaum calls him Jesus the Nazarean (Mk 1:24 | Lk 4:34).
  • In the region of the Gerasenes, a man with an unclean spirit cries out to Jesus: "What do you want with me, Jesus, son of the Most High God? "(Mk 5:7; Lk 8:28).
  • When we are surprised by the words and actions of Jesus, we are reminded of his identity: "Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know" (Jn 6:42)?
  • Ten lepers calling out to Jesus with: "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us" (Lk 17:13).
  • As he left Jericho, the blind Bartimaeus cried out to Jesus, "Son of David, Jesus, have mercy on me! "(Mk 10:47; Lk 18:38).
  • When Jesus arrived in Jerusalem for the Passover feast, the Jerusalemites were informed that it was "the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee" (Mt 21:11).
  • When the blind man who was blind from birth is asked to identify the one who healed him, he answers: "The man they call Jesus made mud... (Jn 9:11)
  • When some Greeks wanted to see Jesus, they addressed Philip, saying: "Lord, we want to see Jesus" (Jn 12:21).
  • When Jesus asks those who came to arrest him in Gethsemane what they are looking for, they answer, "Jesus the Nazarene" (John 18:5.7).
  • At the Jewish trial of Jesus, Peter is thus questioned by one of the handmaids of the high priest: "You too were with the Nazarean Jesus" (Mk 14:67; Mt 26:71; Mt 26:69).
  • At the Roman trial of Jesus, Pilate questions the crowd about what to do with "Jesus who is called Christ" (Mt 27:17,22).
  • On the cross, one of the criminals said to Jesus: "Jesus, remember me when you come with your kingdom" (Lk 23:42).
  • On the cross, a sign is placed: "Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews" (Jn 19:19; Mt 37:37 instead: "This is Jesus, King of the Jews").
  • At the empty tomb, the young man in the white habit announces to them the resurrection of "Jesus the Nazarean, the crucified one" (Mk 16:6; Mt 28:5, which simply reads: Jesus, the crucified one).
  • In the account of the disciples of Emmaus who inform their visitor about "Jesus of Nazareth, who showed himself to be a powerful prophet" (Lk 24:19)

Let's make a few points.

  1. The usual way of calling Jesus for people who have some knowledge of him is: Jesus of Nazareth or Jesus the Nazarene (or the Nazarean variant), a toponymic surname, just as people in the past received as surnames: English (from England), Wales (from Wales), Spain (from Spain), London (from London), Scott (from Scotland). His name was attached to Nazareth, the place where he lived and worked (It is probable that Jesus was born in Nazareth, not Bethlehem. On this subject, see Meier).

  2. Jesus is also sometimes called: Jesus, son of Joseph. This is another very old way of naming people by saying, for example, Bill son of Joe. Many groupings reflect this usage in the family name, for example the "mac" (son) in the Gaelic language that gave MacPherson in Scotland, or the "vic" (son) in the Slavic language that gave names like Petrović, or the "ben" (son) in Hebrew that gave Ben Gurion.

  3. It is interesting to note the three instances where Jesus simply calls himself "Jesus", but nothing more: each time it is about people who are not familiar with him, i.e. the blind man from birth (Jn 9:11), the Greeks (Jn 12:21), and one of the criminals on the cross (Lk 23:42).

  4. On a few occasions Jesus is given an honorary title, but it is usually in response to a pressing request where his bond with God is emphasized: son of the Most High God (Mk 5:7), master (Lk 17:13), son of David (Mk 10:47).

  5. Finally, there is the case of Mt 27: 17.22 where Matthew puts in Pilate's mouth: Jesus who is called Christ. As Matthew insists on the messiahship of Jesus during his trial, it is understandable that he wants this charge to be the reason for his conviction by Pilate. At the same time, this title fits well with the way the Greco-Romans perceived Jesus at the beginning of the Christian era, as the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus testifies when he recounts the death of James, "brother of Jesus called Christ" (Jewish Antiquities, 20, 9: #200).

Starting with the first Christian generations, the name "Jesus" will almost always be accompanied by the title of Christ (i.e. anointed or messiah) and Lord, so that the so-called Pauline epistles use the expressions: Christ Jesus or the Lord Jesus, or our Lord Jesus Christ. The Gospel of Mark begins like this: "Beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Son of God", and that of Matthew: "Book of Genesis of Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham"; and in the Prologue of John (1:17) we find the expression: "For the Law was given by Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ". The name "Jesus" refers to the historical being, and in faith it refers to the one who has risen, or who has been made Christ and Lord.

There are a number of exceptions to what has just been said. But very often the use of the name "Jesus" without the qualifiers of Christ or Lord outside the Gospels comes from a context in which reference is made to his earthly life, in particular his suffering and death, and all the testimony he gave while he was among us, or again when reference is made to the non-believer. For example:

  • 1 Jn 1: 7 (reference to his death) "but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus (Iēsous) his Son cleanses us from all sin"
  • 1 Cor 12: 3 (perspective of an unbeliever) "Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says "Let Jesus (Iēsous) be cursed!" and no one can say "Jesus (Iēsous) is Lord" except by the Holy Spirit"
  • 2 Cor 4: 10 (reference to his death) "always carrying in the body the death of Jesus (Iēsous), so that the life of Jesus (Iēsous) may also be made visible in our bodies"
  • Phil 2: 10 (a very ancient hymn where the emphasis is on the name "Jesus") "so that at the name of Jesus (Iēsous) every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth"
  • Rev 17: 6 (the martyrs follow in his footsteps) "And I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of the saints and the blood of the witnesses to Jesus (Iēsous). When I saw her, I was greatly amazed"

Here, in v. 27, the understanding of Jesus is the post-Easter understanding, but since the story is set in a historical context, it is the simple name of Jesus that appears in the pen of the evangelist.

Noun Iēsous in the Testament

J.P. Meier on Jesus's name

tharseite (take courage)
Tharseite is the verb tharseō in the imperative tense, 2nd plural person, and means: to have good courage. In the New Testament, there are only a few occurrences among the evangelists: Mt = 3; Mk = 2; Lk = 0; Jn = 1; Ac = 1; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. Elsewhere, in the Septuagint, there are about twenty occurrences.

Mark introduced the term for the first time in the Gospels with his account of the stilling storm (6: 50) where he puts in the mouth of Jesus the verb tharseō to the imperative and which our Bibles translate as follows: "Take heart" (NRSV), "Take courage" (NAB, NIV), "Be of good cheer" (ASB, KJB), "Courage" (JB). This verb reappears in Mark's account of the blind man Bartimaeus (10:49), but this time in the mouth of the crowd who speak to the blind man to encourage him to get up and meet Jesus. The evangelist John uses tharseō in the imperative tense in Jesus' final great discourse (16:33), after mentioning that the disciples will have much to suffer in the world, but they need to know that Jesus has conquered the world, and that this should reassure them. Finally, Luke in the Acts of the Apostles (23:11) tells us that Paul, while he is in prison and after giving testimony before the Sanhedrin, receives a word from the Lord during the night to tell him to keep courage, because he is called to continue to testify, but this time in Rome. In all these mentions of tharseō there is a common thread: the presence of Jesus who gives the strength to move forward in spite of adversity.

What about Matthew? There is something astonishing about him: on the one hand he allows himself to add tharseō in some texts he receives from Mark, which gives the impression that he gives it great importance, but on the other hand there is a case where he eliminates it. Let's start with the latter case.

In the story about the blind man Bartimaeus (Mk 10:46-52), Mark presents the crowd as an obstacle to the blind man's prayer to Jesus (they ask him to be silent), then when Jesus asks for him to be brought, the crowd says, "Be confident (tharseō)! Get up, he is calling you!". Matthew gives us a slightly modified version of the story (Mt 20:29-34) with two blind people crying out to Jesus. But after mentioning the crowd as an obstacle, it is Jesus himself who calls the blind without the intermediary of the crowd: there is no more room for the crowd to call for trust. It is probably to be thought that given Matthew's perception of Jesus' transcendence, it is unthinkable that Jesus needs the crowd to make the blind come to him; and it is probably also unthinkable in Matthew that the invitation to trust should be in the mouth of someone other than Jesus. So this detail of Mark has been eliminated.

On the other hand, twice Matthew adds tharseō to the account he receives from Mark, first the account of the paralytic being forgiven and healed (Mk 2:1-12 || Mt 9:1-8) and the account of the woman with hemorrhages being healed (Mk 5:25-34 | Mt 9:20-22).

Mk 2: 5Mt 9: 2
And Jesus, seeing their faith, said to the paralytic, "Child, your sins are forgiven."And Jesus, seeing their faith, said to the paralytic: "Be confident, daughter, your sins are forgiven."
Mk 5: 34Mt 9: 22b
He (Jesus) said to her: "(My) daughter, your faith has saved you: go in peace and be healed of your infirmity."(Jesus) said: "Be confident, my daughter, your faith has saved you." And the woman was saved from that hour.

Thus, in Matthew, tharseō is always in the mouth of Jesus, and in the two texts we have just considered, we are clearly in a context of faith. Tharseō becomes an invitation to be assured of healing. Why such an insistence? Probably for Matthew it is a way of inviting his community to a general attitude in the face of adversity.

To better understand this notion, let us turn to the Old Testament which was certainly dear to the Jew Matthew, in particular this Greek translation called: Septuagint. The authors of the Septuagint used tharseō to translate the Hebrew expression: al-yare', which means: not to be afraid, and which our Bibles have translated as : "do not be afraid". For example:

  • So the midwife tells Rachel who is going through a difficult time when giving birth: "Do not be afraid; for now you will have another son" (Gen 35: 17)
  • Twice Moses said to the people: "do not be afaird", first during the flight from Egypt as the enemy army approached (Ex 14:13), then during God's intervention at Sinai in an apocalyptic scene to give the Ten Commandments (Ex 20:20)
  • "Do not be afraid", this is what Elijah said to the widow of Sarepta who does not have what it takes to give bread to the prophet (1 Kings 17: 13)
  • In his prayer, the prophet Joel gives thanks to God for having repelled the invader and says to the whole world: "Do not be afraid" (Joel 2: 21-22)
  • "Do not be afraid," said the prophet Haggai to the Jews (Zerubbabel, Joshua), so that they will go back to work in the reconstruction of the temple, despite the financial pitfalls; the nations will bring treasure (Haggai 2: 5)
  • Speaking to Zion, the prophet Zephaniah wrote, "Do not be afraid," for the Lord is in the midst of his people, overcoming the enemies (Zeph 3: 16)
  • It is the same with the prophet Zechariah as part of the promise of messianic goods during the reconstruction of the temple and said to the Jews of Jerusalem: "Do not be afraid" (Zech 8: 13-15).

The choice of tharseō, a positive form, has something astonishing in translating a negative Hebrew form on the part of the authors of the Septuagint. For, at other times, the Septuagint has appropriately translated al-yare' by the Greek expression: mē phobeō (do not be afraid), e.g. Gen 15:1: "After these things Abram in a vision heard the word of God saying to him, 'Do not be afraid (Mē phobou), Abram, I will cover you with my protection; your reward will be great'". Can we give any meaning to all this, apart from mentioning a certain inconsistency in the translations of the Septuagint? In fact, to speak of having good courage (tharseō) or of not being afraid (mē phobeō) is to refer to two dimensions of the same reality regarding faith: for fear is the opposite of faith, and to believe is to be firm, solid, courageous, daring and to move forward; thus, faith has a negative dimension (not to be afraid), and it has a positive dimension (to trust, to go forward, to be courageous). According to Boismard (op. cit.), "the expressions 'reassure yourself' or 'be confident' and 'do not fear' or 'do not be afraid' are equivalent and could be the translation of the same Aramaic original" (p. 226).

Tharseō therefore describes the positive dimension of faith, which is why our v. 27 is translated as : "Be confident", "Courage", "Rest assured". This is the choice sometimes made by some translators of the Septuagint when they encountered the expression "do not be afraid". But the text of Mk 6:50, which Matthew takes up again, includes the two expressions: "Take courage" and two words further on, "Do not be afraid". Why is this? One could answer that the author wanted to represent the two dimensions of faith, its positive and negative dimensions. But why is it that when John presents his version of the story (Jn 6:20), he only mentions "do not be afraid"? One possible hypothesis (see Boismard) is that there were two ancient Greek versions of the story of the walk on the sea, one with "take courage" and the other with "do not be afraid", which Mark merged, and John would have had access to only one.

In any case, Matthew presents this version of Mark with first "take courage", which can be translated as "be confident" or "be assured", and then "do not be afraid" to insist that we are in a context of faith.

Let's say a word about the name tharsos (courage) which only appears in the Acts of the Apostles throughout the New Testament and in three books of the Septuagint for a grand total of five occurrences. The word is not related to faith, but rather to the ability to be strong. In the Acts of the Apostles (28:15), the word describes the state of Paul who finds the energy to face the world of Rome for the first time. In the second book of the Chronicles (16:8) and in 1 Maccabees (4:35), the word is used as an attribute of a courageous and resilient army. Finally, in Job (4:4; 17:9) it describes the strength of the person supported by God and who remains upright. In short, we are in a different register from what is found here in v. 27.

Verb tharseō in the Bible

Noun tharsos in the Bible

egō eimi (Me, I am)
The expression egō eimi has already been introduced in the glossary. Let's summarize the main points.

This expression, composed of the personal pronoun egō (I, me) and the verb eimi (to be) in the present tense, is in itself banal and simply serves to identify oneself: it is I. But in the Old Testament, it is an expression that is put in the mouth of God and serves to identify him. Also, in the Gospels, while the expression sometimes has a very ordinary meaning (Lk 1:19: "And the angel answered and said to him, 'I am Gabriel, who stands before God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news'), sometimes it has a solemn meaning with a revelatory function (Jn 8:58: "Jesus said to them, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham existed, I am'. (egō eimi) ").

Now, here in v. 27, the expression "I am" is not followed by an attribute or a predicate. One could say that the name "Jesus" is implied: I am Jesus; in this case, it would be an ordinary way of identifying oneself in a context of confusion. But if we refer to the Old Testament and rabbinic Judaism, such an expression without a predicate has a revelatory or apocalyptic function.

In Hebrew, we regularly find the expression "I am Yahweh", which is written simply with the pronoun "I" (heb.: ʾănî) and Yahweh (heb.: yhwh), without a linking verb: "I Yahweh". It was translated in Greek by the Septuagint with egō kyrios ("I Lord"), but sometimes adding the verb "to be" (eimi). The expression often aims to reassure the people and invites them not to be afraid, or to affirm the authority of God. But the expression also has a revelatory function, i.e. God's role in relation to his people.

Ex 6: 7: I will take you for my people and I will be your God. And you shall know that I am the Lord. (Heb.:ʾănî yhwh; LXX: egō kyrios), your God, who took you away from the chores of the Egyptians

It is Deutero-Isaiah (Isaiah 40 - 55) who developed this notion a lot, especially to express the divine name.

Is 51, 12: I am, I am, he (Heb.: ʾānōkî ʾānōkî hûʾ, LXX: egō eimi egō eimi) that comforts thee: consider who thou art, that thou wast afraid of mortal man, and of the son of man, who are withered as grass

Thus, Yahweh reveals his name: "I am", translated into Greek by: egō eimi. This is the interpretation found in the rabbinic tradition of the 2nd century AD.

In the Gospels, John uses this expression most often, but to apply it to Jesus. However, he is not the only one, for it is also found in the synoptic gospels, in fact in two contexts: the walking on the waters and the Jewish trial of Jesus. And since the account of the walking on the waters would go back to an ancient tradition, since Mark seems to have combined two versions of the story, as we have already mentioned, then one can think that quite early the first Christian generation used the expression "I am" to reveal the identity of Jesus.

Thus, in this account of the stilling storm, after the disciples had experienced the absence and distance of Jesus, associating him with the ghosts of death, we reach here the culminating point: the revelation of his presence, a presence identified with the very presence of God. But such an association of Jesus with God is only possible after his resurrection. This is why we have been placed in a faith context with the expression "take courage" or "be confident". For Matthew, as he writes his gospel, this scene where Jesus is present refers to the community gathering, as expressed in the symbolism of the boat in which the disciples are in.

Expression egō eimi without any attribute in reference to Jesus in the Gospels

See the glossary on egō eimi

mē phobeisthe (don't be afraid)
The expression mē phobeisthe is formed from the adverb (do not), an adverb of negation, and the verb phobeō (to be afraid) in the middle imperative tense, 2nd person plural. The verb phobeō itself appears regularly in the Gospel-Acts, especially in Luke: Mt = 18; Mk = 12; Lk = 23; Jn = 5; Ac = 14; 1Jn = 1; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. And earlier, in our analysis of fear, we identified five types of fear depending on the context:
  1. to feel intimidated into not acting
  2. to respect someone whose word is welcomed
  3. to experience an upheaval or a fright in the face of an unusual event
  4. to be afraid in the face of a (deadly) threat
  5. to apprehend or fear an undesired situation

Now, what we are interested in is the expression "not to be afraid".

In the Gospel-Acts, the invitation to not be afraid comes either from Jesus or from a messenger of God. What is not to be afraid of?

  1. Very often the invitation not to be afraid is set in the context of an unusual, surprising event seen as an action of God, especially the proclamation of good news, or the prospect of healing or rescue or an unexpected productive action, and this invitation is fundamentally an invitation to believe. For example:
    • Lk 5: 10: (miraculous catch) "and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, "Do not be afraid (mē phobeō); from now on you will be catching people"

  2. The invitation not to be afraid can be aimed at an intimidating situation (e.g. Mary is pregnant out of wedlock) or one of opposition, and it is then a matter of continuing one's action and mission with the faith that all will be well and that God offers his support. For example:
    • Acts 18: 9: "One night the Lord said to Paul in a vision, "Do not be afraid (mē phobeō), but speak and do not be silent;"

  3. Finally, some situations present serious threats to the life and integrity of persons, and the invitation not to be afraid becomes a demand to face these threats head on, knowing that this is God's will. For example:
    • Mt 10: 28: "Do not fear (mē phobeō) those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell"

Thus, the invitation not to be afraid only makes sense in a context of faith: by asking not to be afraid, God calls the person to face his or her situation by being able to count on his or her support, and by assuring him or her that the outcome will be happy in some way.

Elsewhere in the New Testament (1 Peter and Revelation), it will be noted that we are in a context of opposition and persecution, and therefore the invitation not to be afraid is an invitation to remain faithful to one's faith in spite of trials.

What about the Old Testament? What is there to be afraid of?

  1. Unlike the New Testament, it is above all deadly threats that are not to be feared. Because of numerous conflicts with neighbouring countries and having to face powerful and numerous armies, the Israelites are called not to be afraid, for the Lord is with them, He has promised them as an inheritance the land they occupy. They must not refuse to fight, they must stand firm, and the Lord will walk with them, He will not abandon them. For example:
    • Deut 20: 3 (LXX) "Hear, O Israel; ye are going this day to battle against your enemies: let not your heart faint, fear not (mē phobeō, heb. al-yare'), neither be confounded, neither turn aside from their face"

  2. There is also the invitation not to fear intimidating situations, opposition or the unknown. There was opposition to the reconstruction of the temple, the contempt of the surrounding peoples for the Jewish religion, the pressure and influence of other religions with their cosmogony, or the false model of those who succeeded. The invitation not to be afraid aims at keeping the Israelites firm in their faith and practices, with the promise of the Lord's support. For example:
    • Jer 10: 2 (LXX) "Thus saith the Lord, Learn ye not the ways of the heathen, and do not fear (mē phobeō) the signs of the sky; for they fear them, falling on their faces"

  3. Finally, there is the context of God's interventions and the proclamation of good news. The invitation not to be afraid is an invitation to trust in God's promise, in the assurance of his protection and blessing, his presence and help. For example:
    • Isa 44: 2 "Thus saith the Lord God that made thee, and he that formed thee from the womb; Thou shalt yet be helped: fear not (mē phobeō), my servant Jacob; and beloved Israel, whom I have chosen"

  4. Let us mention the unique case of Proverbs 7:1. While the verb fear or to be afraid can sometimes mean: to respect someone whose word is accepted, here we have the negative formula where respect owed only to God alone, and not to others: "My son, keep my words, and hide with thee my commandments; my son, honour the Lord, and thou shalt be strong; and fear none (mē phobeō) but him"

In Matthew we find the same range of contexts: not fearing intimidation (e.g., 10:26), not fearing the possibility of death (10:28), not fearing an epiphany at transfiguration (17:7). But when one considers the passages where the expression is proper to him, it is the context of God's interventions that dominates (see 17:7; 28:5; 28:10), and thus the call to trust and believe.

Here, in v. 27, we are in a context of God's intervention and revelation, as is the account of the transfiguration. The invitation not to be afraid is thus an invitation to trust in God's support. Therefore, in the phrase "be confident, it is I, do not be afraid", the expressions "be confident" and "do not be afraid" are in some ways synonymous.

What should we not be afraid of? There seem to be two things: first the spectre of the night, the undead, and the fact that this spectre walks on water, i.e. masters the power of evil. Fundamentally, we are faced with a call to believe that despite the appearance of death/absence of Jesus, He is very much alive, and that with Him the opposing forces are mastered and overcome.

Expression mē phobeō to the imperative tense in the Bible
v. 28 Replying to Jesus, Peter said, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water"

Literally: Then, having answered (apokritheis) him, the Peter (Petros) said, "Lord (kyrie), if you you are (ei sy ei), command (keleuson) (hydata) me to come to you on the waters.

apokritheis (having answered)
Apokritheis is the verb apokrinomai in the passive aoristic participle tense, in the masculine singular nominative form, matching the masculine noun Petros. It consists of the preposition apo (from) and the verb krinō (to decide, choose, judge, interpret): literally, to make a decision or a judgment based on what has been said, hence "to answer". It is extremely frequent (the 10th verb for the number of occurrences) in the Gospel-Acts : Mt = 55; Mk = 30; Lk = 46; Jn = 78; Ac = 20.

But what is remarkable in the Gospels is to regularly find the literary structure: "to answer and to say", the first one often in the aoristic participle and the last one expressed by the verb legō (to say) or phēmi (to declare), often in the past tense, for example: "But having answered, he (Jesus) said" (Mt 15:24); to be convinced of the frequency of this structure, it is enough to look at the numbers: Mt = 50; Mk = 19; Lk = 40; Jn = 32. As we can see, Matthew is a bit of a champion of this style.

Why add the verb to answer when we already use the verb to say to introduce what an interlocutor is about to express in direct style, i.e. why add the verb to answer when we could simply have "say"? It seems that for the evangelical writer, this emphasizes the "dialogue" aspect or the interaction between the actors. In fact, the mention that an actor "answers" emphasizes the link with what preedes. In any case, this is the impression given by Matthew, where out of the 55 occurrences of this verb, 43 are particular to him, so that he often adds it to the sources he takes up. For example:

Mk 10: 28Mt 19: 27
Peter began to say to him, "Behold, we have left everything and followed you" Then having answered, Peter said to him, "Behold, we have left everything and followed you. What shall we have then?"
Lk 10: 21 (Document Q)Mt 11: 25
In that very hour he (Jesus) exulted in the Holy Spirit and said: "I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden this from the wise and skillful and revealed it to the little ones. Yes, Father, for such has been your good pleasure."At that time, having answered, Jesus said: "I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden this from the wise and skillful and revealed it to the little ones. Yes, Father, for such has been your good pleasure."

Here, in v. 28, we have the form: "Then, having answered him, he said". The expression "Then, having answered" (apokritheis de) or "Then, having answered him" (ho de apokritheis) is typically Matthean: Mt = 32; Mk = 4; Lk = 15; Jn = 0; Ac = 3. This is the signal that Matthew is now leaving his Markan source to introduce us into a narrative he has created. He will return to Mark's account only in his conclusion.

We have said that the addition of "having answered" is a way to introduce interaction between the speakers. What does Peter respond to? To what Jesus has just said: "I am" or "It is I".

Verb apokrinomai in the Gospels-Acts
Petros (Peter)
Petros is the name of one of Jesus' disciples, in fact the spokesman for the disciples. Indeed, he often addresses Jesus in the name of the disciples. For example:
  • Mk 8: 29 "He asked them, 'But who do you say that I am?' Peter (Petros) answered him, 'You are the Messiah'"
  • Mk 9: 5 (transfiguration scene) "Then Peter (Petros) said to Jesus, 'Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah'"
  • Mk 10: 28 "Peter (Petros) began to say to him, 'Look, we have left everything and followed you'"

This spokesman is known by four names: Petros (Peter: Mt = 23; Mk = 20; Lk = 19; Jn = 34; Acts = 53; Ga = 2; 1P = 1; 2P = 1), Kēphas (Cephas: Jn = 1; 1Co = 4; Ga = 4), Simōn (Simon: Mt = 5; Mk = 7; Lk = 12; Jn = 22; Acts = 5), Symeōn (Simeon: Acts = 1; 2P = 1). One could add the compound name : Simon(Simeon)-Peter: Mt = 1; Mk = 0; Lk = 1; Jn = 16; 2P = 1. How to untangle it all.

At the time when Mark, Matthew, Luke and John published their gospels, the spokesman of the disciples was known as Peter. But we learn that this name is in fact a nickname, a nickname that Jesus would have given him. More precisely, Petros is a Greek word to translate the Aramaic word Kēpā' (rock or stone), an Aramaic word transliterated into Greek as: Kēphas.

"He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, 'You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas' (which is translated Peter (Petros))" (Jn 1: 42).

Thus, the real name of this spokesman is Simon (Šim'ôn in Hebrew, transliterated into Greek as: symeon). When did he receive this nickname? We don't really know. It is likely that it happened during the ministry of Jesus, so someone like Paul never uses the name "Simon" to refer to the leader of the Church, but speaks mostly of Cephas, his Aramaic nickname (1 Cor 1:12; 3:22; 9:5; 15:5; Gal 1:18; 2:9.11.14), and sometimes of "Peter" (Gal 2:7-8). It is possible that this nickname was gradually imposed during the first Christian generation, for if we are to believe the Acts of the Apostles, the two names coexisted: the expression "Simon, nicknamed Peter" appears a few times (Acts 10:5.17-18.32; 11:13).

What is remarkable is that Jesus uses only the name "Simon" when he addresses Peter in the Gospels (the exception being Lk 22:34 where we note the editorial work of Luke, who takes up Mark's announcement of Peter's denial, and of course Mt 16:18, which we will comment on below).

  • Mt 16: 17: "And Jesus answered him, 'Blessed are you, Simon (Simōn) son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven'"
  • Mt 16: 18: "He said, 'Yes, he does.' And when he came home, Jesus spoke of it first, asking, 'What do you think, Simon (Simōn)? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tribute? From their children or from others?'"
  • Mk 14: 37: "He came and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, 'Simon (Simōn), are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour?'"
  • Lk 22: 31: "Simon (Simōn), Simon (Simōn), listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat"
  • Jn 21: 15: "When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon (Simōn) Peter, 'Simon (Simōn) son of John, do you love me more than these?' He said to him, 'Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.' Jesus said to him, 'Feed my lambs.'"

One possible interpretation of the evangelists' approach to keeping the name "Simon" in Jesus' dialogue with Peter is probably to retain a historical flavor. It is probably for this reason that Luke puts the name "Simeon" in the mouth of James in Acts 15:14, the transliteration of the Hebrew Šim'ôn, thus creating an archaism. Otherwise, and for theological reasons, the spokesman of the disciples always bears the name "Peter" as soon as the group of Twelve is formed, probably defining his role in this group :

Mk 3: 16 "So he appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter (Petros));"

Luke is following the same approach as Mark. If Matthew mentions the name "Simon" at the beginning of his gospel, he always accompanies it with the remark: called Peter. He is interested in the leader of the Christian community reflected in the name "Peter", not the fisherman of Galilee. Finally, John places the change of name at the beginning of Jesus' ministry (1:42), and adopts the original approach of calling him by the double name of "Simon Peter".

What do we know about Simon, called Peter? On this point, we will refer to J.P. Meier. In short, he is a Jew from Galilee who resides in Capernaum with his wife and family and works as a fisherman. Around the year 28 or 29, Jesus calls him to join his group. He was present at Jesus' last supper, at his arrest in Gethsemane and at the hearing at the high priest's house. When passers-by questioned him, he broke down and denied knowing Jesus. Very soon after the crucifixion of Jesus, Peter claims to have experienced the risen Jesus (1 Cor 15:5; Lk 24:34; cf. Jn 21:1-14). After various imprisonments in Jerusalem, he went to Antioch (Gal 2:11-14) and perhaps to Corinth (1 Cor 1:12; 3:22). According to Paul, Peter concentrated his mission among Jewish Christians (Gal 2:8-9), and although he was one of the leaders of the community with John and James, the brother of Jesus (Gal 2:9), he sometimes gave in to the conservatives of Jerusalem in the company of James, the brother of Jesus, for fear of them (Gal 2:11-13). Allusions to his martyrdom can be found in the New Testament (Jn 21:18-19; 1 Pet 5:13) and in early patristic testimonies (1 Clement 5:4).

In the first Christian generation, what exactly was Peter's role, apart from being on mission to his Jewish compatriots? We are not faced with a precise structure, except for the moral and religious leadership of Peter, John and James, the brother of Jesus, in Jerusalem, if we were to accept Galatians 2:9. But then, how should we interpret Mt 16:17-19?

"Jesus said to him, 'Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this revelation has come to you, not from flesh and blood, but from my Father in heaven. I say to you, You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not stand against it. I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven: whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.'"

For a more detailed analysis, please refer to Meier. Suffice it to say that we are here before a creation of Matthew, and not a word that could be traced back to the historical Jesus for the following reasons:

  1. Matthew's text clings to Peter's profession of faith, which he takes from Mark (8:29), but which he expands through theological reflection ("the Son of the Living God").

  2. The word ekklesia (Church) in the New Testament always refers to the post-Easter Christian community.

  3. the vocabulary of ch. 16 is similar to the vocabulary of ch. 18 of Matthew where it clearly refers to the post-Easter Christian community, with the beginning of a canon law to deal with community problems, for example that of a recalcitrant sinner

  4. There is a clear parallel between Mt 16:19 (binding/unbinding) and Jn 20:23 (withholding/remitting sins). Now, Jn 20:23 is clearly situated after Easter and presents a word of the risen Jesus

  5. Finally, Matthew's language with the revelation not according to flesh and blood is similar to Paul's in Galatians 1:15-17 when he speaks of his encounter with the risen Jesus.

In short, Mt 16:17-19 echoes the understanding of Peter's role in the Church of Antioch around the 80s or 85, when the structure of the Church was developing under the influence of Ignatius of Antioch.

It is time to return to our v. 28. Knowing the place that Peter occupies in Matthew's gospel, we understand the role that he intends to make him play in this scene: he, the spokesman of the disciples, is also the leader of the Church whose continuity he must ensure. How will he fulfill his role?

Noun Petros in the Bible

Noun Kēphas in the Bible

Noun Simōn in the New Testament

Noun Symeōn in the new Testament

J.P. Meier on Peter

kyrie (Lord)
Kyrie is the singular masculine vocative of kyrios. In classical Greek, the word means "he who is master of, who has authority", i.e. the master, the master of the house, the legal representative, the guardian (see our Glossary). In a hierarchical society, it is therefore a generic term to describe the relationship of a superior to a subordinate: a superior exercises lordship over the subordinate.

It is the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, that popularized this term to designate God: indeed, as in the Jewish world the proper name of Yahweh is unpronounceable and is replaced by אֲדֹנָי (Adonai), to express his role as master of the universe, then the authors of the Septuagint chose to translate Adonai by kyrios (lord).

It will be understood that the term kyrios is extremely frequent in the New Testament, and more particularly in the Gospel-Acts : Mt = 80; Mk = 18; Lk = 104; Jn = 52; Acts = 107. As we can see, Luke uses it the most; speaking to a Greek culture, it became a vehicle well adapted to his environment. On the other hand, Mark uses it much less often as he writes for the community in Rome.

The word itself has a great flexibility in that it covers everything that exercises authority and demands respect and honor.

  1. Prolonging the Septuagint, the evangelists intend to designate God by the title of kyrios when they do not want to pronounce his name. For example:
    • Mt 4: 7: "Jesus said to him, "Again it is written, 'Do not put the Lord (kyrios) your God to the test.'"

  2. But the Christian communities had the audacity very early on to give Jesus the title that was reserved for God. In this sense, there is something ambiguous for evangelists to present characters who address Jesus by giving him the title of Lord before Easter when he was made "Lord". In fact, kyrious can also have the meaning of "sir"; but for the believer who listens to the gospel account, kyrious refers to the Lord of glory. And it is surprising for an evangelist like Luke to sometimes replace the word "Jesus" with "Lord" in his narrative. For example:
    • Mt 8: 25: "And they went and woke him up, saying, 'Lord (kyrios), save us! We are perishing!'"
    • Lk 7: 13: "When the Lord (kyrios) saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, 'Do not weep'"

  3. In reference to humans, the gospels regularly use kyrios to designate the owner of an estate over which he exercises lordship and for which servants work. It is a character that recurs regularly in the parables. For example:
    • Mt 20: 8: "When evening came, the master (kyrios) of the vineyard said to his manager, 'Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.'"

  4. There is also the reference to the Septuagint version of Psalm 110:1, a psalm that has been given a messianic significance. While the Hebrew says, "Yahweh said unto my Lord (Adonai), sit at my right hand," the Septuagint translated: "The Lord (kyrios) said to my Lord (kyrios), sit at my right hand. " Thus, kyrios also refers to the Messiah. Example (Jesus asked a question about the messiah as the son of David):
    • Lk 20: 44: "David thus calls him Lord (kyrios); so how can he be his son?"

  5. Finally, because of the flexibility of the word, it is used in other circumstances, such as the master-disciple relationship, or as a title of honour when addressing an individual, or as an adjective in the expression "to be master of". For example:
    • Jn 12: 21: "They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, 'Sir (kyrios), we wish to see Jesus.'"
    • Acts 16: 30: "Then he brought them outside and said, 'Sirs (kyrios), what must I do to be saved?'"

We can make this table about the occurrence and meaning of kyrios (later additions to the gospel of Mark have been excluded from this table).

MatthewMarkLukeJohnActsTotal
God18837445112
Jesus263404453168
Owner312243262
Others5331719
Total801810452107361

Let's make a few points:

  1. In the Gospels, it is in John that kyrios is most used to designate Jesus, especially with respect to the instances where it refers to God; "whoever sees me sees the Father", he tells us, because we are in a high theology.

  2. The abundance of occurrences of kyrios to designate Jesus in Acts can easily be explained: we are in a post-paschal context where the risen Jesus is Christ and Lord.

  3. Luke offers us an astonishing number of occurrences of kyrios where it points to God: the evangelist finds it important to emphasize the continuity between the Old and New Testaments, and the characters he presents to us are pious people faithful to the Jewish tradition.

  4. Mark does not insist on the title of kyrios for Jesus, because the man of Nazareth is first of all a rabbi or teacher (didaskalos) who has to follow a path that leads to the cross.

  5. Finally, Matthew may seem to use kyrios less often to refer to Jesus than John and Luke, however when we take only the references to Jesus or God, we note that in 60% of the cases kyrios refers to Jesus. Moreover, if we concentrate only on the 31 occurrences that are his own (which he does not copy from Mark or Document Q), we get 22 occurrences (more than 70%) designating Jesus as Lord. There is a form of high theology in Matthew.

Let's focus on Matthew. Generally speaking, we can say that kyrios is part of his regular vocabulary, and that he likes to use it. That's why he repeatedly adds it to the sources he uses.

MarkMatthew's version
"If you want, you can cleanse me." (8,2) "Lord, if you want, you can cleanse me."
(4: 38: storm stilling) And they awakened him and said to him: "Teacher (didaskale), do you not care that we perish?"(8:25) And they awakened him, saying, "Lord, save us, we are about to perish.
(7: 26) the woman...syrophenician... was begging him to drive the demon out of her daughter (15: 22) A Canaanite woman... cried out, saying, "Have mercy on me, Lord, son of David: my daughter is being mistreated by a demon."
(8:32: Announcement of passion) And Peter, taking him to himself, began to admonish him. (16: 22) And Peter, taking him to himself, admonishing him, said to him, "Be it far from you, Lord.
(9: 5: transfiguration) And when Peter spoke, he said to Jesus, "Rabbi, it is good that we are here" (17: 4) And when Peter spoke, he said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good that we are here
(9: 17: healing of the epileptic child) someone... replied: "Teacher (didaskale), I have brought my son to you."(17: 14) a man came ... and said: "Lord, have mercy on my son."
(10: 47-51: (blind man/men of Jericho) And when he heard that it was Jesus the Nazarene, he began to cry out and say, "Son of David, Jesus, have mercy on me! "...but he cried out much more, "Son of David, have mercy on me! "Jesus said, "What do you want me to do for you? "The blind man said to him, "Rabboni, let me see!"(20: 30-33) When they heard that Jesus was passing by, they cried out, saying, "Lord, have mercy on us, son of David! "...but they cried out more loudly, saying, "Lord have mercy on us, Son of David! "Jesus said, "What do you want me to do for you? "They said to him, "Lord, let our eyes be opened!"
(14: 19: announcement of Judas' betrayal) They began to be saddened and said to him one after the other: "(Could it be) me?"(26: 22) And they were very sad and began to say to him, one by one, "Could it be me, Lord?"

As we can see, Matthew replaces terms such as "you", Jesus, teacher, rabbi or rabboni found in Mark with the title of Lord. Or, when Mark's account is in indirect style, he transforms it into a direct style and adds the vocative "Lord". What can we conclude? Two things.

  1. First of all, Matthew likes to clarify and standardize vocabulary; we designate the same realities with the same words.

  2. Next, we find in him the premises of a high Christology that will reach its peak with John, i.e. Jesus takes on more and more of the characteristics proper to God. Let's remember that Mark's gospel is usually dated around the year 67, and Matthew's around the year 80 or 85. During this period of more than 10 or 15 years, reflection on the person of Jesus has evolved and become more refined, and the traits that associate him with God or faith after Easter become more important than those that reflect historical data as they are. This is how the Canaanite woman, in the eyes of Matthew, expresses her faith in a way by calling him : Lord.

What about v. 28 in our account of walking on the waters? We have already pointed out that with v. 28 Matthew leaves Mark's account to produce a sequence of its own. Now, how does Peter address Jesus? By calling him : "Lord". We are in a context of faith, and it is with the postpascal outlook that we must understand his vocabulary, especially the title of kyrios that is given here to Jesus: we are before the one whom God raised up and made Christ and Lord.

Noun Kyrios in the Gospels-Acts

Glossary on kyrios

ei sy ei (if you you are)
The expression ei sy ei consists of the conjunction ei (if), the personal pronoun 2nd person singular sy (you), and the verb "to be" in the present tense of the 2nd person singular ei (you are). It is a typically Greek expression for questioning a person's identity. It is usually translated as : "Is it really you?" or "if it is you" when the condition is followed by a request.

Throughout the New Testament, the expression is found only in the Gospels, and it is always a question addressed to Jesus: Jesus is asked to say whether he is the Christ (Messiah) (Mt 26:63; Lk 22:67; Jn 10:24), or the King of the Jews (Lk 23:37). And this question is always asked by skeptical people.

To better understand the meaning of the expression, we can go through the Septuagint. In Genesis, the expression is found in the mouth of Isaac, now blind, who wants to verify whether it is really Esau whom he has before him and to whom he will give his blessing (Gen 27:21). In the book of Judges, it is Samson's father who asks the angel if he is really the man who announced the good news of the birth of a son to his barren wife (Jg 13:11). In the second book of Samuel, it is again a question of verifying the identity of a person: it is Abner, on Saul's side and at war with David, who wants to know the identity of his pursuer (2 Sm 2:20), it is David who wants to know if someone is indeed one of Saul's servants in order to honor him (2 Sm 9:2), it is a woman from a besieged city who verifies the identity of the chief of the attackers in order to negotiate an agreement (2 Sm 20:17). In the first book of Kings, it is an old prophet who validates the identity of a man of God (1 Kings 13:14), it is Obadiah, a palace ruler, who asks if the man before him is indeed the prophet Elijah (1 Kings 18:18), 7), it is Ahab who verifies whether Elijah is really the man who is doing wrong to Israel (1 Kings 18:17), and finally it is Jezebel, the enemy of the prophet Elijah, who ascertains the identity of his interlocutor (1 Kings 19:2). In each situation, one wants to verify the identity of a person.

What is remarkable is that whether in the Gospels or in the Septuagint, the expression "if you are" is always accompanied by an attribute: if you are Christ, if you are the king of the Jews, if you are my son Esau, if you are the man who spoke to my wife, if you are Asael, etc. The only exception is our v. 28 where the expression has no attribute: "if you are". Of course, in the translation we can add an attribute: if it is really you. But then we forget what Jesus has just said: "I am", without attribute, and that is what Peter reacts to; the "if you are" is addressed to the "I am". Now, we have pointed out that the "I am" is an attribute of God in the Jewish world, an attribute that Matthew puts in the mouth of Jesus. In other words, Peter challenges Jesus to back up his assertion of his privilege which he shares with God.

Expression ei sy ei in the Bible
keleuson (command) Keleuson is the verb keleuō in the aoristic imperative tense, 2nd person singular and means: to command, to order. The word is found primarily in Matthew in the Gospels, otherwise it appears only in the Acts of the Apostles in the rest of the New Testament: Mt = 7; Mk = 0; Lk = 1; Jn = 0; Acts = 17; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0.

The verb "to command" is a somewhat military term, because the subject of such a verb must be someone in authority. In Matthew, the subject of this verb that appears seven times is Jesus three times, if we include our verse 28, otherwise it is King Herod Antipas (14:9), an anonymous king (18:25), and Pilate (27:58,64), therefore people of great authority. If we turn to the Acts of the Apostles, we also notice that the subjects who command are people of authority: the members of the Sanhedrin (4:15), the doctor of the Law Gamaliel (5:34), the Ethiopian eunuch, described as a high official of the Queen of Ethiopia and general administrator of her treasury (8:38), King Herod Agrippa I (12:19), the strategists of the Roman army (16:22), a Roman tribune (21:33-34; 22:24). 30; 23, 10), the high priest Ananias (23, 3), the governor Felix (23, 35), the governor Festus (25, 6.17.21.23), a centurion (27, 43).

When we consider the seven occurrences of keleuō in Matthew's gospel, we can see that they are all proper to him. No doubt it is a word he loves. But why would Matthew insist on a Jesus who commands? For example, in the scene of the first Jesus feeding the crowds, which he copied from Mark, he allows himself to slightly modify his account to introduce keleuō.

Mark 6: 39Matthew 14: 19
And he (Jesus) ordered them (epitasso) that they should all lie down in groups on the green grass.And, having commanded (keleuō) that the crowds spread out on the grass

If Matthew does not hesitate to present us in Jesus a figure who commands, and therefore has authority, it is probably because of his high theology, i.e. a theology that insists on the exaltation of Jesus who shares the divine privileges. In the scene of Jesus feeding the crowds, an evocation of the manna by which God fed his people in the desert, it is God himself who, in Jesus, feeds his new people through the Eucharist.

Let us now examine our v. 28 where the word "command" is in Peter's mouth: "command me to come to you on the waters". In fact, Peter asks Jesus, whom he calls "Lord", to play his role of authority by commanding. It may come as a surprise that Peter would ask to be commanded. But the issue of command is not Peter, but the sea, the waters; fundamentally, Peter is asking Jesus to exercise authority over nature. Let us recall what was said earlier about the Jewish conception of the sea and the waves. They are frightening forces, associated with the forces of evil, and it is the privilege of God the Creator to control these elements of nature, to be able to control the waters and walk on the sea, in short, to overcome them. Peter therefore asks Jesus to exercise the very authority of God.

Verb keleuō in the New Testament
hydata (waters)
Hydata is the noun hydōr in the plural neutral accusative form. The accusative is required by the preposition epi (on), when it accompanies a movement verb; and the movement verb in the sentence is "to come": it is about Peter coming to Jesus on the waters. The noun hydōr means water; it gave us different words in English with the prefix "hydr" such as hydraulic, hydratant, hydrogen, hydroelectricity. It is not very frequent in the Gospel-Acts, except in John: Mt = 7; Mk = 5; Lk = 2; Jn = 21; Acts = 7; 1Jn = 4; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. Elsewhere in the New Testament, it is in Revelation that we find it the most.

The reference to water appears in various contexts that could be grouped as follows.

  1. A number of scenes present water in a baptismal context, and this baptism concerns either Jesus or the Christian. For example:
    • Mt 3: 11: "I baptize you with water (hydōr) for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire"
    • Acts 8: 36: "As they were going along the road, they came to some water (hydōr); and the eunuch said, "Look, here is water (hydōr)! What is to prevent me from being baptized?""

  2. Water is vital for human life and is a source of freshness. Thus, in addition to its physical role, water also has a symbolic dimension to represent life. For example:
    • Mk 9: 41: "For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water (hydōr) to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward"
    • Jn 4: 10: "Jesus answered her, 'If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water (hydōr).'"

  3. In the Jewish world, water is also used for purification, not only ritual but also physical; symbolically, water is used to express the demarcation between two worlds, the world of the "dirty", the "impure", the "guilty", and the world of the "clean", the "pure", the "innocent". For example:
    • Mt 27: 24: "So when Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took some water (hydōr) and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, 'I am innocent of this man's blood; see to it yourselves.'"
    • Jn 13: 5: "Then he poured water (hydōr) into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him"

  4. We know the damage caused by water, drowning and shipwrecks at sea. Then water also appears in destructive contexts where illness and death occur. For example:
    • Mt 8: 32: "And he said to them, "Go!" So they came out and entered the swine; and suddenly, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and perished in the water (hydōr)."
    • 2 Pet 3: 6: (it refers to the story of Noah and the flood) "through which the world of that time was deluged with water (hydōr) and perished."

  5. Finally, there are a few references to water, particularly using the plural, to simply refer to the ocean, or water sources, or water movements such as cataracts, and their attributes. For example:
    • Jas 3: 12: "Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water (hydōr) yield fresh."
    • Rev 1: 15: "his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of many waters (hydōr)"

What is the context for v. 28? Let us recall that Matthew has just told us that the boat has to face headwinds, and so we are in a rough sea, and in the next verse Peter gets scared, sinks into the water and cries out for help. So we are in a destructive vision of the waters where they are a threat to humanity, at least to the small group of disciples. The fate that may await them is that the sea will swallow them all up. We are indeed in a context of death.

But why is the word "water" in the plural form? In order to understand this, we have to place ourselves in the Jewish world. For the Hebrew word itself for water, mayim, is a duel. In fact, in Hebrew, in addition to the singular and plural, there is a duel form for objects that come in two, for example shoes or legs. The ending of these words then takes the form of the plural, which is found with mayim. This perception of water is due to the cosmology of antiquity:

Then God made the vault that separates the waters (mayim) from below from the waters (mayim) from above. And so it was (Gen 1: 7)

Thus, it is as if there had originally been a primordial ocean that God would have divided in two, creating a sea above the heavenly vault, source of rainwater, which would fit into the holes of the vault to fall to earth, and at ground level, oceans, rivers, cataracts. Water on earth was perceived as coming from multiple underground sources. The text of Revelation gives us several examples of this.

The third angel blew his trumpet, and a great star fell from heaven, blazing like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water (hydōr) (Ap 8: 10)

The translator of the Septuagint, in translating mayim, sometimes opted for the singular, sometimes for the plural, depending on the object referred to. A good example is this text from Exodus 15:8 when it refers to the passage of the Red Sea at the exit from Egypt when the sea split in two, becoming a plural:

(LXX) In the breath of thy wrath the water (hydōr) has parted, the waters (hydōr) have risen up like a tower; the waves have grown strong in the midst of the sea.

Among the evangelists, only the Jew Matthew uses the plural to speak of the sea (in Jn 3:23 the plural is explained by a reference to the springs of water at Aenon, suitable for baptism). And the plural allows him to refer to certain citations of the Old Testament such as Psalm 76:20 which tells us about the passage of the Red Sea:

(LXX) Thy way is in the sea, and thy paths in the great waters (hydōr), and thy footsteps cannot be known.

In the Jewish world, God the creator dominates what he has created, and therefore he dominates the great waters. Since these destructive waters could have been a source of death for the Jewish people leaving Egypt, God made them a place of salvation. It is this context that must be kept in mind when reading our account of the walking on the waters.

Noun hydōr in the New Testament
v. 29 Then Jesus said to him, "Come!" When Peter got out of the boat, he began to walk on the water toward Jesus.

Literally: Then he said to him, "Come (elthe)". He got out (katabas) of the boat, and the Peter walked on the waters, and went to Jesus.

elthe (come) Elthe is the verb erchomai in the aorist imperative 2nd person singular tense. We analyzed this verb earlier. But this time it is the imperative. We understand why. Because Peter asked Jesus to give him an order. The imperative is the expression of that command.
katabas (he got out) Katabas is the verb katabainō in the aoristic participle tense, nominative masculine singular, and is consistent with the subject Petros that follows. This verb is formed from the preposition kata (expresses a movement from up to down) and the verb bainō (to walk, to advance), and therefore means: to descend. It returns regularly in the Gospels-Acts (Mt = 11; Mk = 6; Lk = 13; Jn = 17; Acts = 19; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0), and it is rarely found elsewhere, except in Revelation.

This verb appears in two different contexts.

First there is the physical and geographical context. One comes down from the mountain, one comes down from the terrace. Since Jerusalem is located at an altitude of nearly 2,500 feet, one regularly descends from Jerusalem. Or the rain comes down on the houses. Some examples:

  • Lk 10: 30: "Jesus replied, 'A man was descending (katabainō) down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead'"
  • Acts 8: 38: "He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, descended (katabainō) down into the water, and Philip baptized him"

But there is a symbolic context in which non-tangible objects, spiritual realities, move. For example, we will speak of a reality that comes down from heaven to signify that it comes from God. Most of the occurrences of the verb katabainō in John or in Revelation belong to this context. Some examples are:

  • Jn 6: 33: "For the bread of God is that which descends (katabainō) down from heaven and gives life to the world"
  • Rev 21: 2: "And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, descending (katabainō) down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband"

In Matthew's work, we encounter both contexts. But here, in v. 29, even though the narrative has a high theological value, it refers to the concrete act of getting out of a boat in order to set foot on the water.

Verb katabainō in the New Testament
v. 30 But when he saw the power of the wind, he was afraid, and began to sink into the water, and he cried out, "Lord, help!"

Literally: Then, then looking at (blepō) the [mighty] (ischyron) wind, and was afraid, and began (arxamenos) to be submerged (katapontizesthai)in the sea, and cried, saying, "Lord, save (sōson) (me)."

blepō (looking at) Blepōn is the verb blepō in the present tense nominative masculine singular participle form, agreeing with the implied subject "he", designating Peter. It appears regularly in the Gospels: Mt = 20; Mk = 15; Lk = 16; Jn = 17; Acts = 13; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 1; 3Jn = 0, and means: to look at, to observe, to see. The primary meaning is to gaze at an object. In this sense it shares the semantic field of the verb oraō, which we analyzed previously, while being less frequent.

Matthew is the one who uses this verb the most among the evangelists, and among the 20 occurrences of his gospel, 13 are his own, even though they appear in stories that are unique to him. This is the case here in v. 30.

The use of the present participle and the verb blepō conveys the idea that Peter is in a state where he is staring at the wind, and this state will provoke a reaction.

Verb blepō in Gospels-Acts
[ischyron] (mighty) Ischyron is the adective ischyros in the masculine accusative singular form, because it is in harmony with the noun anemon (wind) in the masculine accusative singular. It basically means: strong. But depending on the context and the word it qualifies, the adjective can take on different nuances, for example: severe (a famine, a letter), powerful (wind, voice, city, angel), violent (clamour), valiant (the man at war), influential (the person socially). This is a word that is not very common among evangelists (Mt = 3; Mk = 2; Lk = 2; Jn = 0; Acts = 0; 1Jn = 1; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0), and throughout the New Testament, except in Revelation, which uses a lot of hyperbole in its visions.

When we look at the Gospels, we note that it was Mark who introduced the adjective "strong" which he uses as a noun: literally "the strong", which is translated as: the strong man. The word was taken up again by Matthew 12:29 and by Luke 11:21. So we are left with two occurrences for the rest of the Gospels, Lk 15:14 which applies it to famine, and our passage here from Mt 14:30. But our passage poses a problem.

One will have noticed indeed that the word has been put in square brackets, i.e. the word does not appear in all versions. For example, the codex Sinaiticus (4th c.) and original Vaticanus (4th c.) as well as the various Coptic versions (3rd and 4th c.) don't have the adjective ischyros which accompanies the wind. On the other hand, this adjective is found in the corrected version of the codex Vaticanus, in the codexes Ephraemi Rescriptus (5th c.) and Bezae (5th-6th c.), in the Vulgate of St. Jerome (completed in 405). There are therefore two possible hypotheses: either the original contained ischyros, and later a copyist inadvertently skipped this adjective, causing the other publications from this copy not to have this word; or, the original did not contain ischyros, and it was a copyist who took the initiative to add this word, finding it necessary to explain Peter's fear, or perhaps influenced by the version found in John 6:18 which speaks of "great wind", and thus becoming the basis of all the other copies with this adjective. It is difficult to decide, but most of our Bibles have opted to consider ischyros as part of the original version, considering it more plausible that a copyist had inadvertently "skipped" the word, that a copyist had taken the initiative to add it.

In any case, all this does not change the meaning of the verse much. Even in the absence of the adjective ischyros, it is understandable that it is the strength of the wind that causes fear in Peter. For the marine world, it is the wind that can be the source of terror. The similar story of the stilling of the storm revolves around the wind that Jesus is going to "exorcise" (Mk 4:36-41; Mt 8:23-27; Lk 8:23-25).

Adjective ischyros in the New Testament
arxamenos (he began) Arxamenos is the verb archō in the middle aoristic participle tense in the nominative masculine singular form, agreeing with the implied subject "he", which is Peter. It is a verb formed from the root arch which designates what is first: one can be first in time, as one can be first in the order of things. For example, the noun archē can mean "beginning" just as it can mean "ruler". So it is with the verb archō which, in the active form, means: to rule, and in the middle form means: to begin. It is quite frequent in the Gospel-Acts: Mt = 13; Mk = 27; Lk = 31; Jn = 2; Acts = 10; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0, where it is mostly in the middle form and means: to begin.

The verb "to begin" is used to indicate that an action that has been initiated is extended in time. Mark and Luke are the most frequent users of this verb. For example:

  • Mk 4: 1: "Again he began (archō) to teach beside the sea. Such a very large crowd gathered around him that he got into a boat on the sea and sat there, while the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land."
  • Lk 7: 38: "She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began (archō) to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment."

The verb archō is less frequent in Matthew, and in half of the cases it is a copy of Mark. Nevertheless, we find it in a few passages that are proper to him, as in 18:24 (parable of the ruthless debtor), 20:8 (workers of the eleventh hour) and here in v. 30. So the word belongs to his vocabulary.

In the scene of the walking on the waters, it intends to express the idea that sinking into the water is a gradual process that extends over time, and has just begun. Of course, there is something surreal about the scene, because on a physical level, a human being doesn't gradually take on water unless he is a boat. But since we are in the symbolic universe of faith, the scene describes a form of reality.

Verb archō in the New Testament
katapontizesthai (to be submerged)
Katapontizesthai is the verb katapontizō in the middle form of the present infinitive tense. It is formed from the preposition kata which describes a movement from top to bottom, and from the root which gave us the name pontos (the open sea, the wide), and therefore means: to submerge, with the idea of engulfing. It therefore has a negative connotation, because the desired final state is destruction. It is a very rare word, appearing only in Matthew throughout the New Testament, and sometimes in the Septuagint.

One of the two occurrences of the verb in Matthew is a substitution (underlined) for the verb "to throw away" received from Mark.

Mk 9: 42Mt 18: 6
And who would put a stumbling block befre these little ones who believe, it is better for him if a millstone is put around his neck and if he is thrown (ballō) into the sea.If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned (katapontizō) in the depth of the sea.

We must think that Matthew considered it more appropriate to use katapontizō to express the idea of destroying evil by plunging the person into the sea. Why is that? Some passages from the Septuagint may have influenced him. Let us think of the well-known song of Moses in which he celebrates the victory of Yahweh over Pharaoh and his army, throwing them into the sea where they were submerged (LXX: katapontizō; heb. ṭābaʿ: sinking) (Ex 15:4); those who put a stumbling block will know the fate of the pagans, the Egyptians.

What about our v. 30 where Matthew uses katapontizō to describe Peter's situation? Two psalms of the Septuagint where we find this verb can help us to understand Matthew's intention. We have highlighted the vocabulary that is also found in our story.

Psalm 69 (LXX: 68)
2 Save me (sōzō), O my God, for the waters (hydōr) have entered into my soul.
3 I am stuck fast in deep mire, and there is no standing: I am come in to the depths of the sea (thalassa), and the storm has drowned (katapontizō, hebrew ṭābaʿ: sinking) me.
...
15 Save me (sōzō) out of the mire, that I may not stick in it. Deliver me from my enemies and from the depths of the waters (hydōr)
16 Let not the water (hydōr) that is lifted up by the storm drown (katapontizō, heb. šāṭap carry off); let not the abyss swallow me up; let not the stone of the well of the abyss close in on me.
17 Hear me, O Lord (kyrios), for your mercy is good; look upon me in the abundance of your compassion.

Psalm 124 (LXX: 123)
2 If the Lord (kyrios) had not been with us, when men rose up against us,
3 Perhaps they would have devoured us alive. When their fury erupted against us,
4 Perhaps their water (hydōr) would have drowned (katapontizō) heb. šāṭap: carry off) us.
5 This water (hydōr), our soul has passed through it; our soul has passed through this bottomless abyss.

Psalm 69 is the prayer of the person who is persecuted because of his faith in God, who cries out his distress and humiliation, and it is his faith that leads him to be sure of his salvation, so that he ends his prayer with a song of praise. As for Psalm 124, it is a collective prayer of a community that is grateful to the Lord for having delivered it. These two psalms could very well express what Matthew's community, despised by its Jewish co-religionists, experienced.

It is therefore not by chance that Matthew uses katapontizō to describe the situation of Peter, who represents the whole community: one is overwhelmed or submerged to the point of drowning, one can't take it anymore, one feels like one is dying.

Verb katapontizō in the Bible
sōson (save)
Sōson is the verb sōzō in the aoristic imperative tense, 2nd person singular. In classical Greek, it means: to keep safe, to save, to preserve. As for the root "sōs", it refers to a situation where one saves from danger, disease, war, shipwreck (see André Myre, Nouveau vocabulaire théologique. Paris-Bayard: Bayard-Médiaspaul, 2004, pp. 477-478). The verb sōzō appears regularly among the evangelists (Mt = 15; Mk = 15; Lk = 17; Jn = 6; Acts = 13; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0) and in the rest of the New Testament.

To fully understand the meaning of this verb, we must first grasp its Old Testament context. Translators of the Septuagint have often translated by sōzō the Hebrew word yāšaʿ, which means: to save, to deliver, to help (we refer to Jean-Pierre Prévost, Nouveau vocabulaire théologique. p. 240-245). The context always refers to a precise danger, a catastrophe or a concrete and visible enemy from which one is delivered. Thus, in a number of books (i.e. Judges, Kings 1 and 2, and Samuel 1 and 2), salvation is synonymous with military and political victory. On the other hand, the book of Psalms emphasizes above all the individual experience of salvation: liberation from the aggressor, from the enemy, from bodily peril or anguish. With Deutero-Isaiah (ch. 40-66), we pass to a universalist, cosmic and eschatological vision of salvation. But, beyond the word yāšaʿ, it is the experience of having come out of the Egyptian hold under the leadership of Moses, and especially the return from the Babylon exile, which will mark the perception of salvation in the Jewish world. Indeed, it will be less and less a question of victory over the enemy than of reconstruction and national reconciliation. And even, with Isaiah, an ecumenical perspective develops in which deliverance is offered to all nations (Isiah 49:6).

Note that several names have been formed from the Hebrew root yshʿ: Yehôshûaʿ (Joshua and Jesus: "Yahweh saves"), Yeshaʿyahû (Isaiah: "He, Yahweh, saves") and Hôsheaʿ (Hosea: "He saves").

It is from this context that we must try to understand the New Testament and in particular the Gospels. When we review the occurrences of the verb sōzō in the New Testament, we note that the word can take on four different major meanings.

  1. It is to be saved from physical death which the word sōzō designates above all in the gospel-Acts, at least in the synoptic accounts. For examples:
    • Mk 3: 4: "Then he said to them, "Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save (sōzō) life or to kill?" But they were silent."
    • Mt 16: 25: "For those who want to save (sōzō) their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it."

  2. Without going as far as physical death, the verb sōzō can refer to a liberation from different forms of evil, from physical illness to moral or social illness, such as marginalization. For example:
    • Mk 5: 28: "for she said, "If I but touch his clothes, I will be saved (sōzō)"
    • Lk 19: 10: (story about Zacchaeus) "For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save (sōzō) the lost."

  3. Jesus' preaching focused on the reign of God, which was a reality belonging to the near future, but already present through His action. This future reality was associated with the Day of the Lord, also called the Day of the Judgment of God, a reality well known in recent Judaism, especially in apocalyptic circles. From then on sōzō will take on a new meaning: it is about being saved from God's judgment when the day comes, also called "wrath", and entering his kingdom at the end of time. And to be saved, there are a number of conditions. For example, there are a number of conditions to be saved:
    • Mk 13: 13: "and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved (sōzō)."
    • Acts 2: 21: "Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved (sōzō)"

  4. Finally, while awaiting the coming of God's reign in the near future, Paul speaks of a reality present through the love of God poured out in the believer's heart and a life in the Spirit, so that believers are already saved. At the same time, there are conditions for "remaining saved" at the coming of the Lord Jesus. For example:
    • 1 Cor 1: 18: "For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved (sōzō) it is the power of God"
    • 1 Cor 15: 2: "through which also you are being saved (sōzō), if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you - unless you have come to believe in vain"

You can see the whole evolution of the meaning of sōzō. In the Old Testament, it is primarily about being saved, either individually or collectively, from imminent peril, especially from enemies and persecutors. But with the Gospels, without there necessarily being any persecutors, salvation expands to include physical, moral and spiritual evils. Then, just as Jesus preached the imminence of God's reign, salvation now includes escaping God's judgment and entering the world of God at the end times. Finally, with faith in the risen Christ, we began to speak of a salvation that the believer already achieves by escaping from the world of darkness and entering into life in the Spirit, awaiting the final salvation at the return of the risen Christ; the notion of salvation has been totally spiritualized. If we limit ourselves to the Gospel-Acts, we obtain the following table:

MatthewMarkLukeJohnActsTotal
1. Physical death8772226
2. Current evil3461418
3. Having a share in the future kingdom3443721
4. New life today100001
Total15151761366

Let's make a few points:

  • In the Gospels, especially the synoptic ones, being saved from physical death dominates largely
  • If we combine the fact of being torn from physical death and the various current evils, both physical and moral, we obtain for the Gospel-Actes the 2/3 of the occurrences of sōzō.
  • Even though the notion of God's judgment at the end of time and the resurrection of the dead already existed in Judaism, it was the Gospel-Acts that introduced the idea of salvation as the entry into the kingdom of God at the end of time, no doubt because of the emphasis of Jesus' own preaching
  • The Acts of the Apostles emphasized this point of access to the future kingdom by adding the condition of joining the Christian community through baptism.
  • St. Paul's idea of an already present salvific reality, a new life as a premise for the future reign of God, is not found as such in the Gospel-Acts. A passage like Mt 1:21 (he will save his people from their sins) or Lk 1:77 (to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins) projects into the infancy narrative what will later become part of Christian preaching

Let us now turn to Matthew. Most of the occurrences of sōzō in his gospel come from Mark's accounts that he copied. There is a first exception when he adds sōzō to the account he receives from Mark:

Mk 5: 34Mt 9: 22b
He (Jesus) said to her: "(My) daughter, your faith has saved you: go in peace and be healed of your infirmity."Jesus ...said, "Take courage, daughter; your faith has saved you." And instantly the woman was saved (sōzō).

Why would Matthew have changed Mark's phrase (go in peace and be healed of your infirmity) to: and instantly the woman was saved. The answer is probably this:

  1. adding the verb "to save" a second time links to the first "to save", and thus to the whole sentence: your faith has saved you; it is a way of emphasizing the importance of the role of faith;
  2. and by adding "instantly", he emphasizes the power of Jesus' word, which acts immediately, and thus emphasizes the power of faith.

We will have noted in passing the expression "take courage" (tharsei) in Matthew, which we saw earlier in v.27, which appears here in a context of faith.

Another exception is where Matthew adds sōzō to the account of the stilling storm that he receives from Mark:

Mk 4: 38Mt 8: 25-26a
And he (Jesus) was at the bow, on the cushion, sleeping. And they awakened him and said to him: "Teacher, do you not care that we perish?"And when they came near, they awakened him, saying: Lord, save, we perish. "And he said to them: "Why are you fearful, (men) of little faith?"

The accent of the two versions of the stilling storm is totally different. In Mark the emphasis is on Jesus' silence and his apparent indifference to what is happening, no doubt an echo of what the persecuted community in Rome is experiencing. In Matthew, the emphasis is on the lack of faith; we are in front of a prayer, with the expression "Lord" and the imperative "save", but a prayer born of fear. For Matthew, fear is the opposite of faith.

All this brings us to our v. 30 which is unique to Matthew and where we find the same verb in the imperative: save. Let us note that in Mt 8:25 and here in Mt 14:30 the verb sōzō is in both cases in the imperative 2nd person singular, and in both cases in the mouth of someone who cries out: "Help". All this is unique to Matthew (elsewhere, there is Mark who presents people inviting Jesus on the cross to save himself, or John (12:27) who presents a Jesus who refuses to ask to be saved from the hour of the cross). What does Peter want to be saved from? Just as in Mt 8:25 he wants to be saved from drowning, and therefore from physical death, one of the great themes of the New Testament.

But for Matthew, the source of this call for "help" can only be the lack of faith.

Verb sōzō in the Nouveau Testament
v. 31 Immediately Jesus took hold of him with an outstretched hand, saying, "You have so little faith, why did you doubt?"

Literally: Then, immediately the Jesus stretched forth (ekteinas) his hand, and took hold (epelabeto) of him, and said to him, "You of little faith (oligopiste), why did you doubt (edistasas)?"

ekteinas (stretched forth)
Ekteinas is the verb ekteinō in the singular masculine nominative aoristic participle tense, agreeing with the subject Jesus. Throughout the New Testament, it appears only in the Gospel-Acts : Mt = 6; Mk = 3; Lk = 3; Jn = 1; Acts = 3; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. In addition, of the 16 occurrences, 15 belong to the expression "stretching the hand" (the only exception being Acts 27: 30 where the term "stretching out the anchors from the bow of the ship" is used).

The expression "stretching the hand" is found in different contexts.

  • Jesus stretches his hand over a sick man to touch him and heal him: "Moved with pity, Jesus stretched (ekteinō) out his hand and touched him, and said to him, 'I do choose. Be made clean!'" (Mk 1, 41)
  • A paralytic is asked to stretch his hand to show that he is cured: "He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, "Stretch (ekteinō) out your hand." He stretched (ekteinō) it out, and his hand was restored." (Mk 3: 5)
  • One stretches out one's hand to point to people and point out the ones you're talking about: "And stretching (ekteinō) out his hand to his disciples, he said, 'Here are my mother and my brothers!'" (Mt 12: 49)
  • One stretches a hand or hands to physically grasp a person, either to help or to stop him: "When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not stretch (ekteinō) out the hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness!" (Lk 22: 53)
  • One stretches one's hand to grasp an object: "Suddenly, one of those with Jesus, having stretched (ekteinō) out the hand, drew his sword, and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear" (Mt 26: 51)
  • One stretches one's hands to give space for the action fron another person around one's waist to put on a belt, especially when wearing a loose dress: "Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch (ekteinō) out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go" (Jn 21: 18)
  • One stretches one's hand to let it be known that one wishes to speak and obtain silence: "Agrippa said to Paul, "You have permission to speak for yourself." Then Paul stretched (ekteinō) out his hand and began to defend himself" (Acts 26: 1)

Here, in v. 31, the gesture of stretching out the hand is intended to take hold of Peter and prevent him from drowning. In Judaism, to speak of extending the hand refers to the idea of intervening, of acting, of taking action. In the Septuagint, the verb ekteinō is often used with God as the subject. For example, in Exodus 7:5 God's initiative to free his people is expressed as follows: LXX "And all the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord who stretched out my hand (ekteinōn tēn cheira) in the land of Egypt, and from among this people I will bring forth the children of Israel".

We pointed out the negative perception of water, waves and the sea in the Jewish world. The gesture of Jesus, as Lord, to stretch out his hand, is the very hand of God who intervenes to save his people from the enemy and from evil. Moreover, let us note that the sentence begins with "immediately" (eutheōs): the answer to Peter's prayer is immediate.

Verb ekteinō in the New Testament
epelabeto (he took hold) Epelabeto is the verb epilambanō in the middle aorist tense, 3rd person singular. It is formed of the preposition epi (on) and the verb lambanō (to take), and means: to put one's hand on something or someone, to seize. It is rare throughout the New Testament and in the Gospel-Acts, except in Luke where it appears a few times: Mt = 1; Mk = 1; Lk = 5; Jn = 0; Acts = 7; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. In most of the occurrences of epilambanō, it is a person who is seized, either to arrest him
"Then all of them took hold of (epilambanō) Sosthenes, the official of the synagogue, and beat him in front of the tribunal. But Gallio paid no attention to any of these things", Acts 18:17
or to do him good
"But they were silent. So Jesus took hold of (epilambanō) him and healed him, and sent him away", Lk 14:4
or to take further action
"But Jesus, aware of their inner thoughts, took hold of (epilambanō) a little child and put it by his side" (follows the exhortation to welcome children in the name of Jesus), Lk 9:47
Here, in v. 31, we have the expression "He stretched forth his hand and took hold of him". Usually, stretching one's hand to grasp someone is a benevolent action.
  • Mk 8: 33: "He took hold of (epilambanō) the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village; and when he had put saliva on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, 'Can you see anything?'"
  • Acts 23: 19: "The tribune took hold of (epilambanō) him by the hand, drew him aside privately, and asked, 'What is it that you have to report to me?'"

But what could better enlighten Jesus' gesture towards Peter is this passage from the epistle to the Hebrews which paraphrases Jeremiah 31:31-34 and puts this in the mouth of God:

(I will make a new covenant) not like the covenant that I made with their ancestors, on the day when I took hold of (epilambanō) them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; for they did not continue in my covenant, and so I had no concern for them, says the Lord. (Hebrews 8: 9)

To take hold of the hand is an expression of salvation that could refer to what God did for His people in Egypt. Thus, we must look at the gesture of Jesus stretching his hand to take hold of Peter, who is drowning, with a vision much broader than the simple rescue of an individual; in Jesus, it is God who comes to the rescue of his new people, of which Peter is the representative.

Verb epilambanō in the New Testament
oligopiste (of little faith)
Oligopiste is the adjective oligopistos with the singular masculine vocative form. The word is in the vocative because it is a call for attention. It is composed of two words: the adjective oligos (little, small) and the adjective pistos (faithful, worthy of faith, believer), and therefore means: little faithful. But Matthew makes it play the role of a noun, and therefore it must be translated : (man) of little faith, or little faithful (man). It is found nowhere else in the whole Bible except in Matthew and Luke: Mt = 4; Mk = 0; Lk = 1; Jk = 0; Acts = 0; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0.

We are probably looking at a word made up by the first generation of Christians. It was introduced in the Gospels through Document Q (Lk 12:28; Mt 6:30) when Jesus invites the disciples not to worry about food and clothing: for if God sees to it that the birds have enough to eat and that flowers such as lilies are well dressed, why do the disciples worry so much about tomorrow's food and clothing? All this indicates that they are people of little faith.

But Matthew took up this term again and expanded it, probably because it was in line with one of his favorite theological themes. So he took the liberty of adding it to the stories he received from Mark.

Mk 4: 38-39Mt 8: 25-26
And he (Jesus) was at the bow, on the cushion, sleeping. And they awakened him and said to him: "Teacher, do you not care that we perish?" And when he awoke, he rebuked the wind and said to the sea: "Be quiet! Silence!" And the wind fell and there came a great calmAnd when they came near, they awakened him, saying: "Lord, save, we perish." And he said to them: "Why are you fearful, (men) of little faith (oligopistos)?" Then he arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there came a great calm.
Mk 8: 17aMt 16: 8-9a
And knowing this, he said to them, "Why are you discussing that you have no bread? Do you still not understand...?But knowing this, Jesus said, "Why are you discussing within yourselves, (people) of little faith (oligospistos) that you have no bread? You do not understand yet?

If Matthew takes the liberty of modifying the account he receives from Mark to add the expression "people of little faith", it is because he sees this as one of the major problems among some Christians. It seems to him that when a Christian is afraid, afraid of running out of food or not having the right clothes, afraid of the adversity or opposition he may encounter, and that this takes up all the attention, then it is a sign that he does not have the faith required of the true believer.

One cannot speak of the word oligopistos without mentioning his twin sister: oligopistia. The only difference is that the first is an adjective, and the second is a feminine noun that basically means the same thing: little faith. It is possible that it is a word created by Matthew himself. But what is certain is that it reflects Matthew's view that lack of faith is a fundamental problem of the community. Indeed, oligopistia appears after the account of the transfiguration, and after the disciples were confronted with their failure to face an epileptic child whose demon they were unable to root out and heal him. Then they ask Jesus why they failed. Let us compare Jesus' answer according to Mark and Matthew:

Mk 9: 29Mt 17: 20
And Jesus said to them, "This species can come out by nothing but prayer"Jesus said to them: "Because of your little faith (oligopistia), for verily I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Go from here to there,' and it will go away, and nothing will be impossible for you."

What Mark's version says: Only God can perform certain healings through prayer. Matthew's version rather says: you are capable of it, if only you had the faith to lift the mountains. Once again, all this shows how faith is a central element of Christian faith in Matthew.

It is in this context that we must read our v. 31 where Matthew again presents us with the expression "little faith", but this time addressed to Peter. One may be surprised and even shocked that Matthew has the audacity to present the spokesman for the disciples as a man of little faith. But this is his way of emphasizing the vital role of faith, and that no matter what role one person plays in the community, no matter how important, all must follow the path of unshakeable trust in the presence and support of the risen Christ.

Adjective oligopistos in the Bible

Noun oligopistia in the Bible

edistasas (you doubted) Edistasas is the verb distazō in the indicative aorist tense, 2nd person singular. It means: to doubt, to hesitate, and is found only in Matthew throughout the Bible: Mt = 2; Mk = 0; Lk = 0; Jn = 0; Acts = 0; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. It is probable that it was Matthew who introduced this word in the Gospels, even though the word is present in classical Greek, appearing for example in the pen of the philosopher Plato.

With the expression "people of little faith" we have noted how much faith was at the heart of Matthew's theology. The very fact that he introduces the verb "to doubt" accentuates this point.

The other occurrence of distazō is in the last scene of his gospel, a scene around the resurrected Jesus which takes up his main themes: we are on a mountain, the same setting where Jesus, as the new Moses, delivered his inaugural discourse, the New Law (Mt 5), surrounded by his disciples whom he now sends on mission and to whom he gives his assurance of support. He writes in 28:17

When they saw him, they prostrated before him; but some doubted (distazō).

How to interpret this scene? Matthew's gesture of mentioning the doubt of some disciples about the risen Jesus is not without reminding us of the scene in John 20:24-28 about Thomas who did not want to believe in the risen Jesus at first. But why does Matthew insist on this point to include it in this final scene? Yet does he not explicitly say at the beginning of the sentence "his disciples saw him"? So, seeing and believing seem two different realities. Matthew writes about 50 years after the events he refers to. He addresses a community that is a little torn, which meets a lot of opposition. And for him, the central issue is that of faith. And in his final account, he says: "Do you think that the disciples who accompanied Jesus and were with him on the mountain had an advantage over you? Look, many doubted that he was risen and present in our world. Faith is not a matter of seeing and touching.

And here, in v. 31, the reproach of doubt is addressed to Peter, the one who is considered the head of this Church to which Matthew's community belongs. The evangelist's intention is clear, for he finds himself saying to his community: "Despite his closeness to Jesus, Peter has no advantage over you. He, too, had to learn to believe".

A final note: the connection between our v. 31 and the final Mt. 28:16-20 is one more argument for thinking that the Jesus of the water walk in Matthew is the Jesus after his resurrection.

Verb distazō in the Bible
v. 32 When they both got into the boat, the wind died down.

Literally: And them, having gone up to the boat, the wind ceased (ekopasen).

ekopasen (it ceased)
Ekopasen is the verb kopazō in the indicative aoristic tense, 3rd person singular. Literally it means: to get tired, to calm down, to stop. It is practically absent from the New Testament. Mark seems to have introduced this verb for the scene of the stilling storm and walking on water, taken up by Matthew: Mt = 1; Mk = 2; Lk = 0; Jn = 0; Acts = 0; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0.

Also, we must turn to the Septuagint to get a better idea of how this verb is used. Now, we notice that kopazō concerns three different realities.

  1. It concerns first of all the elements of nature.
    • For example, with the story of the flood, it is used to describe the fact that the water has stopped rising, and instead it is retreating: LXX "And God remembered Noe, and all the wild beasts, and all the cattle, and all the birds, and all the reptiles that creep, as many as were with him in the ark, and God brought a wind upon the earth, and the water ceased (kopazō)" (Gen 8: 1)
    • It is God's destructive fire that stops: LXX "And the people cried to Moses: and Moses prayed to the Lord, and the fire ceased (kopazō)." (Num 11; 2), or an epidemic sent to punish the sinful people: LXX "And he stood between the dead and the living, and the plague ceased (kopazō)" (Num 17: 13); this is also what Pincas is trying to stop: LXX Then Phinees stood up, and made atonement: and the plague ceased (kopazō) (Ps 106 (105), 30)
    • In the story of Jonah, the raging sea is calmed when the prophet is thrown into the water: LXX And Jonas said to them, Take me up, and cast me into the sea, and the sea shall be abated (kopazō): for I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you (Jon 1: 12)

    Thus, nature appears as a hostile force, associated with the evil that humans have done, which must now be appeased and stopped.

  2. It also concerns human beings in their destructive moods.
    • It was Samson who was furious, taking revenge on the Philistines: LXX "And Sampson said to them, Though ye may have dealt thus with her, verily I will be avenged of you, and afterwards I will cease (kopazō)" (Judg 15: 7)
    • It's King David stopping his rage against Absalom: LXX "And king David ceased (kopazō) to go out after Abessalom, for he was comforted concerning Amnon, touching his death" (2 Sam 13: 39)
    • It is the people of Israel who sin and whom Ezekiel wishes to see changed: LXX "And thou, son of man, shew the house to the house of Israel, that they may cease (kopazō) from their sins; and shew its aspect and the arrangement of it" (Ezek 43: 10)
    • It's the king's fury we're appeasing: LXX "So Aman was hanged on the gallows that had been prepared for Mardochaeus: and then the king's wrath ceased (kopazō)" (Esth 7: 10)
    • It's the shameless man who must stop: LXX "All bread is sweet to a whoremonger, he will not cease (kopazō) off till he die." (Sir 23: 17)

  3. Finally, it is God's anger at evil that needs to be appeased.
    • For example, in a period of drought seen as a punishment from God, Jeremiah makes a prayer: LXX "Cease (kopazō) for thy name's sake, destroy not the throne of thy glory: remember, break not thy covenant with us" (Jer 14: 21)
    • In a similar drought situation where fire is spreading, Amos has this vision: LXX "Then I said, O Lord, cease (kopazō), I pray thee: who shall raise up Jacob? for he is small in number. Repent, O Lord, for this" (Am 7: 5)
    • One of God's instruments in his anger is the wind: LXX "There be spirits that are created for vengeance, which in their fury lay on sore strokes; in the time of destruction they pour out their force, and abated (kopazō) the wrath of him that made them." (Sir 39: 28)

This long detour through the Septuagint makes us aware of one thing: kopazō is always associated with a destructive force that we try to contain. And according to the mentality of antiquity, of which Judaism is an example, the destructive forces of nature take their source in the anger of God who expresses his feelings in the face of evil.

All this gives us a context for understanding our v. 31, especially the beginning of the story of Jonah (Jonah 1:1-16). Let us remember that the Lord sent him to Nineveh to preach his word and ask for his conversion. But the prophet flees on a ship to Tarshish. Then the Lord throws such a strong wind on the sea that the ship is in danger of breaking up. The crew consults the spells that designated Jonah as responsible for God's wrath. They cast Jonah into the sea, and immediately the sea stood still. This story most likely influenced the story that has been told in two versions with a similar theme, the stilling storm and the walking on the waters. For we are in front of a raging sea, a symbol of evil, which threatens to destroy the boat and its occupants. In the story of Jonah, the sailors pray to the Lord before eliminating the one who has displeased him, and then calm is achieved; calm is linked with a certain synchronicity with God. In the story of walking on the waters, calm is achieved when Jesus becomes present in the boat, symbol of the faith regained, and therefore of a certain synchronization with God.

We will have noticed that, contrary to the story of the calm storm, Jesus does not make any exorcism gesture to ask the wind to stop. The wind stops when Jesus gets into the boat. Now, Jesus can only get into the boat by faith. Matthew's message is clear to his community: "As long as you do not allow yourself to be guided by faith, the sea of opposition will continue to frighten you, for you will only feel a certain serenity when in faith you let the Lord Jesus enter the Church that you are". What is this faith? V. 33 gives us the answer.

Verb kopazō in the Bible
v. 33 The disciples recognized his authority, saying, "Truly, you are God's son."

Literally: Then those in the boat prostrated (prosekynēsan) [before] him, saying, "Truly (alēthōs), of God (theou), son (huios), you are."

prosekynēsan (they prostrated)
Prosekynēsan is the verb proskyneō in the indicative aorist tense, 3rd person plural, because the subject is: the disciples. Apart from Matthew, John and Revelation, it is not very frequent in the New Testament, and especially in the Gospel-Acts : Mt = 13; Mk = 2; Lk = 3; Jn = 11; Acts = 4; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. But even the number of occurrences is deceptive in John, for of the 11 presences of the verb, 9 appear in the dialogue with the Samaritan woman where the place of worship is discussed (proskyneō).

What does this verb mean? Usually it is translated as: to prostrate oneself. In the ancient Eastern world, one would kneel down and touch the ground with his forehead to express his reverence before someone, for example a king or ruler; it is a way of acknowledging his authority and promising obedience. In the religious world, it will be a way of expressing one's reverence to the deity, of worshipping him, which the Latins will express with the word: to adore, worship or venerate. But sometimes, at a less extreme level, the verb can be used to express respect for someone or to greet him respectfully. What about the New Testament?

  1. To prostrate before God

    When the object of prostration is God, proskyneō is very often synonymous with worship, as shown in the following passage from Document Q :

    Jesus answered him, "It is written, ' Prostrate (proskyneō) before the Lord your God, and serve only him.'" (Lk 4: 8 || Mt 4: 10)

    The idea of expressing devotion or reverence to God is often expressed by the verb "to worship" as seen in the way in which several biblical translations, including the NRSV, translate the story of the Samaritan woman. For example:

    Our ancestors worshiped (proskyneō) on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship (proskyneō) is in Jerusalem (Jn 4: 20)

    Or the idea of worship can be expressed by "to be on a pilgrimage" as the Jerusalem Bible did. For example:

    So he set off on his journey. Now it happened that an Ethiopian had been on pilgrimage (proskyneō) to Jerusalem; he was a eunuch and an officer at the court of the kandake, or queen, of Ethiopia, and was in fact her chief treasurer (Acts 8: 27)

  2. To prostrate before another person

    When the object is another person, prostrating oneself expresses a respectful homage to the other: out of respect, one puts the other in a position of superiority by throwing oneself on the floor. This is what Cornelius does in front of Peter, but the latter will take it up again by saying: "I too am only a man".

    On Peter's arrival Cornelius met him, and falling at his feet, prostrated (proskyneō) before him. (Acts 10: 25)

    Above all, it is before a sovereign that one prostrates oneself, and this is what the Roman soldiers will do in derision before Jesus, after having clothed him with a king's robe and a crown of thorns:

    They struck his head with a reed, spat upon him, and knelt down prostrating (proskyneō) before him. (Mk 15: 19)

    Prostration is also used to express an intense supplication: one humbles oneself, one recognizes the greatness of the one to whom one makes the request :

    So the slave, falling, prostrated (proskyneō) before him, saying, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.' (Mt 18: 26)

    The gesture of prostrating oneself expresses fundamentally the submission to someone else, the recognition of his authority and the commitment to obey him. This is what the devil clearly asks of Jesus:

    If you, then, will prostrate (proskyneō) before me, it will all be yours." (Lk 4: 7)

  3. To prostrate before Jesus

    The interpretation of this gesture is more complex. For the Gospels were written on the basis of faith in the resurrection of Jesus and that God made him Lord, sitting at his right hand, i.e. sharing his privileges. Depending on whether the emphasis is on the historical Jesus or the resurrected Lord, proskyneō will take on a different meaning.

    But it can rarely be a simple sign of greeting, because even in situations where it would be appropriate, the words used suggest more. Take the example of the demonic behavior of a man from the Decapolis, where Mark writes: "When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and prostrated (proskyneō) before him" (Mk 5:6). All this seems rather banal. But the following verse brings a specific light: "With a loud voice he cries out, 'What are you meddling with, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?" Even if this last expression does not have all the meaning that it would later take on in the Christian creed, it nevertheless expresses a privileged relationship with God, and therefore the gesture of prostrating oneself is intended to recognize a certain greatness in Jesus. Likewise, when Matthew writes: "Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to him with her sons, and prostrated (proskyneō) before him, she asked a favor of him" (Mt 20:20). At first glance, one may have the impression that this was simply a gesture of politeness and courtesy. But what follows points us in another direction: "He said to her, 'What do you want?' 'Command,' she said, 'that in your kingdom my two sons sit, one on your right hand and one on your left'" (Mt 20:21). Jesus is presented as a Lord who will reign in the Kingdom of God. Jesus is not presented as an ordinary being. Also "to prostrate" expresses the recognition of a form of lordship.

    On a few occasions, "prostrating oneself" appears in situations of intense supplication. For example:

    But she came and prostrated (proskyneō) before him, saying, "Lord, help me." (Mt 15: 25)

    Most of the time, in Matthew, this supplication is addressed to Jesus as Lord.

    Again in Matthew, we see the verb "to prostrate" three times in his infancy narrative. For example:

    On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and falling they prostrated (proskyneō) before him. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh (Mt 2: 11)

    The gifts offered are royal gifts, and therefore "prostrating" means the recognition by the Magi that Jesus is their sovereign, their king. With good reason some Bibles have translated proskyneō as: paying homage. All this assumes a look of faith. In John there is only one instance of proskyneō that is addressed to Jesus, and it is in a context of faith:

    He said, "Lord, I believe." And he prostrated (proskyneō) before him (Jn 9: 38)

    Otherwise, proskyneō appears in scenes after Easter and concern the resurrected Jesus. For example:

    Suddenly Jesus met them and said, "Greetings!" And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and prostrated (proskyneō) before him (Mt 28: 9)

    Therefore, unless it is in the context of an instant healing prayer, proskyneō should be interpreted as an expression of faith in Jesus as known after his resurrection.

Let's get back to Matthew. In the Gospels, he's the one who uses proskyneō the most. Not only is he the one who uses this verb the most, but out of the 13 occurrences 10 are addressed to Jesus, and these ten occurrences are his own. This is Matthew's expression of a high theology, where Jesus is presented under his divine figure. Also, we must read our v. 33 in this context: the Jesus before whom the disciples prostrate in the boat is the Jesus known after Easter, the one who shares the prerogatives of God. It is useless to try to obtain a video of the scene: one would be very embarrassed to find room in the small boat for all the disciples to lie down on the floor in a prostrate gesture. Matthew is in the world of catechesis and faith.

Verb proskyneō in the New Testament
alēthōs (truly) Alēthōs is an uncommon adverb in the Gospel-Acts: Mt = 3; Mk = 2; Lk = 3; Jn = 7; Acts = 1; 1Jn = 1; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. It comes from the verbal root lanthanō (to be hidden, ignored, unnoticed), preceded by the negative prefix a-. It thus qualifies what does not pass unnoticed, what is not hidden, what is not concealed. It is usually translated as "truly".

But the adverb can take on many nuances and play different roles. Indeed, alēthōs can be used to affirm a point of view that is not obvious and appears confusing: it is a way of saying that this is the truth. For example:

  • Lk 21: 3: "He said, "Truly (alēthōs) I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them"

In a context of opposition or debate, it is a way of saying that the opponent is wrong and of insisting that one's own point of view nevertheless reflects reality. For example:

  • Mk 14: 70: "But again he denied it. Then after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, 'Truly (alēthōs) you are one of them; for you are a Galilean.'"

Alēthōs often appears in a context where events confirm a certain reality, and the interlocutor lets it be known that this reality has been validated. For example:

  • Jn 6: 14: "When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, 'This is truly (alēthōs) the prophet who is to come into the world.'"

The adverb can be used simply to stress the importance of what is being asserted in order to emphasize it; this is a solemn affirmation. For example:

  • Lk 12: 44: (parable of the faithful steward) Truly (alēthōs) I tell you, he will put that one in charge of all his possessions.

In some cases, it is less a question of conformity with reality than of a person's authenticity, reliability and representativeness. For example:

  • Jn 1: 47: "When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, "Here is truly (alēthōs) an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!""

Thus, adding "truly" in a sentence serves different purposes. Why do we have "truly" here in v. 33 when the disciples say, "Truly, you are God's son"? This statement follows the walking on the waters, so alēthōs is a way of saying that the statement has been validated by the "facts" (let's not forget that we are in theological language and that the waters represent evil). It is the same approach that he will use at the end of his gospel, 27: 54: "Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, 'Truly (alēthōs) this man was God's Son!'". We find something similar in Mk 15:39: "Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, 'Truly (alēthōs) this man was God's Son!'". The darkness, the call to God from Jesus, and especially the veil of the sanctuary being torn in two, all led the centurion to confess his faith in Jesus, the Son of God. It is also the same thing we have in 1 Kings 18:39: "And all the people fell upon their faces, and said, 'Truly (alēthōs) the Lord is God'"; the people have just witnessed God's intervention, sending fire to devour the burnt offering, wood, stones, dust and water from the ditch.

At the same time, the presence of "truly" in the sentence gives great solemnity to the disciples' statement: it is a true confession of faith that Matthew intends to emphasize.

Adverb alēthōs in the Bible
theou huios (of God son)
The expression theou huios is surprising, because theou (God) is a singular masculine genitive, therefore the complement of the noun huios (son), which is in the singular masculine nominative form: the noun's complement precedes the noun it completes, and therefore instead of having "son of God", we have here : "of God son". Since the sentence ends with the verb to be, we must translate: of God son you are. Of all the evangelists, Matthew is the only one to use this construction. Here are two other passages:
  • Mt 27: 43: "He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he wants to; for he said, 'I am God's Son ( theou eimi huios ).'"
  • Mt 27: 54: "Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, "Truly this man was God's Son (theou huios)!'"

Why this reversal of the normal order? We reverse the order of an expression in a language when we want to emphasize one of the words, usually the first one. For example, if I say of someone: the prince of Siberia, I emphasize the fact that he is a prince, and Siberia only specifies on which territory he is a prince. But if I say: of Siberia, he is the prince, I emphasize the immense territory of Siberia, and the word "prince" just clarifies who plays a role in that territory. One might guess that this is Matthew's intention: to emphasize God is to emphasize the person whose son he is, as if he were saying, "Be aware? It is of God that he is the son. The three occurrences of this inversion are accompanied by the verb "to be". Let us not forget that Matthew has a high theology, in which he insists on the transcendent side of Jesus.

In the rest of the Bible there are two other occurrences of this inversion, 2 Corinthians 1:19 and Wisdom 18:13 where the author refers to the people of Israel. But the same logic on what is sought to be emphasized prevails.

Now, let us ask ourselves the question: what does the expression "son of God" mean in Matthew? Unfortunately, the word son has multiple meanings. The clearest is the biological meaning, for example: the mother of the sons of Zebedee (Mt 27:56). But there is also the genealogical lineage, for example: Jesus is sometimes called "son of David" (e.g. Mt 9:27), not because he is a biological son, but according to his genealogy he would have King David as his ancestor. Then there is the group or race to which one belongs, for example: the sons of Israel (Mt 27:9). We can add this meaning that comes from the allegiance at the level of ideas and values to a master or a group of people, for example: the sons of the Pharisees (Mt 12:27). Within the setting of these categories, where is the expression "sons of God" to be found? In the strictest sense, it could be an adherence to the values that we believe have God as their source. But if people can call themselves "sons of God", is this what Matthew and the other evangelists mean with respect to Jesus?

The Old Testament

In order to fully understand what this is all about, we must start with the Old Testament universe. It is possible that this universe integrated from the Greco-Roman world or from the surrounding peoples a multiplicity of gods, supra-human powers, while submitting them to the one God, called ʾēl, or to the plural of majesty ĕlōhîm, of which one of the possible etymologies would be the root ʾōl (powerful being, pre-eminent being) (see Jean-Pierre Prévost, ēl, Nouveau vocabulaire biblique. Paris-Montréal: Bayard-Médiaspaul, 2004, p. 125).

Thus Genesis tells us of the sons of God who would have mated with women of the earth to give birth to giants, famous men (Genesis 6:2-4). To speak of "sons of God" here means to share a little of God's power and pre-eminence. When Psalm 82:1 says, "God stood in the assembly of the gods," we can think that these "gods" are either heavenly beings, angels, or earthly judges. Whatever the case, they are always beings endowed with a certain authority, and therefore share a divine privilege. When the Septuagint encounters the Hebrew expression "sons of God," it will often translate it as angels, for example Job 1:6: LXX "Now in one of those days the angels of God (hoi angeloi tou theou, Heb. benê ĕlōhîm: sons of God) came to appear before the Lord, and the devil came with them" (see also Job 2:1; 38:7; Ps 29:1).

But there is one office in particular that deserves the title of son of God, that of king. Thus, at his enthronement, Ps 2:7 was recited: "Let me quote the decree of the Lord; he said to me, 'You are my son. Today I have begotten you". We can speak of spiritual filiation or adoption, inasmuch as God delegates some of his privileges to the king to exercise his role of judging and governing. And among these royal sons of God, stands out the figure of the Messiah or Christ (anointed), a descendant of David, according to the author of 2 Samuel 7:14 where God gives this message to the prophet Nathan that he must transmit to King David, a message in which he assures him a long descent, and of his successor and of all his successors he says : LXX "I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me; and if any iniquity befalls him, I will chasten him with the rod that chastises men, and I will strike him with the blows that are dealt to the sons of men". Thus, in spite of the hazards of royalty, in spite of exile and the presence of foreign forces, faith in the promise of God of a figure like David has been maintained, as Psalm 132:17: LXX (131) sings: "There will I cause to spring up a horn to David, there I have prepared a lamp for my Christ (Christos, Heb. māšîaḥ: Messiah)".

In the Old Testament, the people of Israel are also called sons of God. Why are they called sons of God? We are no longer before beings who share a certain authority. Rather, it is God's choice, according to the implication of Hosea 11:1: "When Israel was young, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son". And God commits himself to watch over this son: "The number of the sons of Israel will be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or counted; it will happen that at the place where they were told, 'You are not my people', they will be told, 'Son of the living God'" (Hos 2:1). This is a tradition found almost everywhere in the Old Testament, for example Exodus 4:22: "You shall say to Pharaoh, Thus says the Lord, My firstborn son is Israel" (see also Isaiah 1:2; Jeremiah 3:19; Deuteronomy 32:6; Malachi 1:6). According to the Greek Esther, this is one of the reasons why the Persian king Artaxerxes, in his edict to all the subjects of his kingdom, asks them to help the Jews to repel those who will attack them:

and being the sons of the living God (huioi zōvtos theou), the most high and mighty, who maintains the kingdom, to us as well as to our forefathers, in the most excellent order (Est 8: 12q)

It also happens that some individuals are called "sons of God". This is the case of the righteous, i.e. those who are faithful to the covenant made with God and expressed by His Law.

"For if the just man be the son of God (huios theou), he will help him, and deliver him from the hand of his enemies" (Wis 2: 18)

Thus, at the dawn of the period of the evangelists, the title " Son of God " could designate the king messiah, the whole Jewish people, or individuals considered just before God. They were sons because of a spiritual filiation initiated by God himself, in which they expressed the salvific and compassionate dimension of God, and the privilege they could boast of was that of being supported and protected by God.

The Gospels

In the New Testament, the title "Son of God" applies only to Jesus. But this is not the title that is most often attributed to him, the title of Messiah or Christ being much more common.

Let us look at the evangelists. The occurrences of "Son of God" or equivalent expressions (Son of the Father, my son, only son, the Son) are established as follows: Mt = 13; Mk = 8; Lk = 10; Jn = 24; Acts = 1; 1Jn = 8; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. According to these numbers, there is a gradation that begins with Mark and reaches its climax with John.

What is meant by "Son of God" when the title refers to Jesus? For the period of Jesus, our only clue as to what the title could mean is an isolated and obscure text from Qumran (4Q246) that alludes to a Son of God, perhaps a messianic figure. In fact, several times in the Gospels the title "Son of God" is accompanied by the title Messiah or Christ, as if they were synonymous. This is how Mark's Gospel begins: "Beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ (christos), Son of God (huiou Theou)". And all the evangelists present texts where Messiah (Christos) and Son of God are in apposition:

  • Mk 14, 61: "But he was silent and did not answer. Again the high priest asked him, 'Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One (huios tou eulogētou)?'"
  • Lk 4: 41: "Demons also came out of many, shouting, "You are the Son of God (huios tou theou)!" But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Messiah."
  • Mt 16: 16: "Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God (huios tou theou to zōntos)"
  • Jn 20: 31: "But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God (huios tou theou), and that through believing you may have life in his name."

Moreover, the election of Jesus at his baptism of which Mark 1:11 speaks ("And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son (huios mou), the Beloved; with you I am well pleased"), taken up by Matthew and Luke, is a way for the evangelist to affirm that Jesus was chosen to fulfill his messianic mission, just like the enthronement of a king expressed in Ps 2:7. This election will be confirmed before his disciples in the transfiguration (Mk 9:7) where God presents him as the prophet to be listened to.

But, as we can well guess, the title "Son of God" is not only synonymous with the Messiah. Here we must follow each evangelist in the clues they give us.

Mark

With Mark, let us note first of all that only supernatural beings are capable of identifying him as a "son of God" during his lifetime, because this is not a reality that can be observed by a human being. Thus, Mark 1:21-28 tells us that an unclean spirit, about to be expelled from a man, will say, "What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God (hagios tou theou)". Thus, he who comes from God has authority over the evil that is sickness (Mk 1:24; see also 3:11; 5:7). Finally, there is the centurion's confession: "Truly this man was a son of God (huios theou)" (15:39). On what basis can he make such a statement? Jesus has just called upon God ("My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"), and God intervened with darkness for three hours, and especially with the veil of the sanctuary being torn, confirming the word about the destruction of the temple. Jesus is a son of God, not only because he is the Messiah chosen by God, but he shares with God the authority over evil, and God intervened at his prayer.

Luke

First of all, Luke shares the general perception that Jesus is a son of God because he is the Messiah, that promised king from the line of David: "He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High (huios hypsistou), and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David" (1:32). In the same way, he takes up Mark's assertions about Jesus' authority over evil through his healings, and that in this supernatural beings recognize that he is the Son of God. But Luke adds two attributes to the son of God. First of all, through the account of the temptation of Jesus (4:1-13) which he receives from Document Q, he presents the Son of God as the one who remains totally faithful to his messianic mission and to God, unlike the Israelites in the desert, and therefore is personally victorious over evil by totally assuming his human condition, by refusing power with the related wealth, by refusing a way that would allow him to avoid death; in short, Jesus shows himself to be a son of God by being fully and poorly human. But there is a second attribute that is perhaps even more important: "The angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God (huios theou)" (1:35). It is because he is filled with the Holy Spirit that he is able to emerge victorious from his battle against Satan and evil: "Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit through the wilderness" (4:1). And if he is able to carry out his messianic mission to the end, it is because of this Spirit of God: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring the good news" (4:18). And in the Acts of the Apostles, as a son of God, he will pour out the Spirit into the world (2:1-36).

Matthew

In Matthew we find more or less the same attributes of the Son of God that we were able to identify in Mark and Luke: he is Son of God as Messiah, he is Son of God by his authority over the evil of the disease that supernatural beings perceive well, he is Son of God because he is faithful to the will of God as the scene of the temptation in the desert showed. But he will draw attention to two other attributes. The first is the presentation of the Son of God as one who trusts in God completely and as the one whom God cares for eminently: "He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he wants to; for he said, 'I am God's Son ( theou eimi huios )" (27:43); this is a reference to Ps 22:9, the psalm that Jesus began to recite (My God, my God, why have you forsaken me). But above all there is the general authority over the forces of evil represented by the dominion over nature such as walking on the waters (14:22-33), and the earthquake at his death (27:51), and above all represented by the evil par excellence that is death (the bodies of many who died rose from the dead, 27:52): "Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, "Truly this man was God's Son (theou huios)!" (27: 54).

John

In John there are elements similar to those found in the other evangelists, such as the apposition of the title "Son of God" and Messiah: "She said to him, "Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God (huios tou theou), the one coming into the world" (11:27). In the same way, as we have seen in Luke, the Son of God is the one who received the Holy Spirit: "And I did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize in water said to me, 'He on whom you will see the Spirit descending and dwelling, this is he who baptizes in the Holy Spirit. And I have seen and bear witness that this is the Son of God (huios tou theou)" (1:33-34). But John takes us to another register when he speaks to us of the "only Son" (3:16,18), and above all he presents this Son as the Word of God who became flesh and a perfect reflection of God: "And he who sees me sees him who sent me" (12:45); "Very truly, I tell you, the Son (huios) can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son (huios) does likewise." (5:19); "For just as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son (huios) also to have life in himself" (5:26). And it is this capacity to give life that will provoke in his adversaries the desire to kill him and culminate in this accusation before Pilate: "The Jews answered him, "We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God (huios tou theou)" (19:7). Thus, for John, Jesus is this only Son because he is the true revealer of what God is, and this revelation is the source of a unique life for the believer, the very life of God.

After this evangelical overview, we can ask the question: when did we begin to give Jesus the title of Son of God? There is no indication that it was during his lifetime. On the contrary, when the evangelists offer us passages where it is said that he is a son of God, they take the precaution of putting him in the mouths of supernatural beings, because it will only be after his death that humans will clearly say so. As for John, this is a long theological reflection some sixty years after Jesus' ministry. These voices from heaven where God says that Jesus is his son are Old Testament quotes. The confession on Jesus as sons of God from the disciples following the walking on the waters and Peter's confession reflect Matthew's editorial work (on this point see R.E. Brown). But what is clear is that the notion of Jesus as the son of God developed at lightning speed after his death, as can be seen, for example, in the Pauline epistles, especially the epistle to the Romans (about A.D. 55).

It is time to return to our v. 33 and to the title "Son of God". In our analysis of this title in Matthew, we have emphasized that this title is given to him as a result of his manifested authority over the forces of evil represented by the waters, the waves and the sea. The sea was also associated with the Abyss, Sheol of the Dead. Two other things must now be emphasized.

  1. This confession of the disciples must be related to another confession in Matthew (27: 54), that of the centurion and the Roman guards following the authority shown by Jesus at his death over nature, especially the breaking of the rock and the earthquake, as well as the authority over death, another form of evil, when many bodies come back to life. In both cases, Matthew was careful to use the expression "of God the Son" in the proclamation formula.

  2. Why one would create here at v. 33 a confession of faith similar to that of the centurion and the Roman guards at the death of Jesus? The answer is probably given by the important place the disciples occupy in Matthew's gospel. For the evangelist, it was probably unacceptable that the most important proclamation of faith should be on the lips of Roman pagans (the centurion and the guards), whereas in his gospel the disciples are constantly the mediators between Jesus and the crowds. Above all, speaking to a community of Jewish Christians, it was important that the first to proclaim faith in Jesus Son of God came from those who represent them, the community of disciples.

Noun theos in Gospels-Acts

Noun huios in Gospels-Acts

Expression huios theou in the Bible

R.E. Brown messiah and son of God titles

  1. Analysis of the narrative's structure

    The setting: Jesus makes a plan:
    1. The disciples will go by boat to the other side of the river.
    2. Jesus will dismiss the crowds

    Execution of the plan

    Jesus

    • Jesus dismiss the crowds
    • Jesus goes to the mountain and isolates himself to pray until late at night.

    The disciples

    • At a good distance from the shore, the disciples in a boat face the waves and headwinds.

    Jesus' initiative: he joins his disciples

    • At the end of the night he joins his disciples by walking on the water.
    • Reaction of the disciples: they are upset, they are afraid, they think they see a ghost.
    • Jesus' response: he identifies himself and invites his disciples to trust him.

    Interaction between Peter and Jesus

    • Peter's request to join Jesus on the water
    • Jesus' answer: he gives the order to join him.
    • Action: Peter walks to Jesus on the water
    • Failure: Peter loses confidence when he sees the wind, begins to sink and cries out for help.
    • Jesus' intervention: he recovers him by reproaching him for his lack of faith.

    Conclusion: Jesus is back in the boat

    • When Jesus gets into the boat, the wind calms down.
    • Confession of faith of the disciples: they bowed down and proclaimed him "Son of God".

    The story is structured by the fact that the disciples are together at the very beginning, and will be together at the end of the story. Between the beginning and the end of the story, the separation will be the occasion of a number of events.

    The content of the story itself is the result of a decision by Jesus, who proposes a plan for the disciples and himself: the disciples must leave the scene of Jesus feeding the crowds to tear them away from the illusion of a world too wonderful and experience his absence, while he, Jesus, would see to the conclusion of this memorable time.

    This plan is carried out, but has a peculiar twist: Jesus' absence is prolonged as he experiences a moment of intimacy with God, and the crossing of the sea by the community of disciples becomes long and painful.

    The reunion of Jesus and his disciples will only take place at the end of the night of absence, and it will be different from the ordinary experience:

    • Jesus dominates the forces of nature
    • And his way of being present is frightening
    • He is accessible only through his word of peace and faith.

    The reunion was supposed to conclude the story with the end of the storm and peace restored, but Matthew inserted a scene of his own, that of an interaction between Peter and Jesus. This sequence should be read in the context of Peter's leadership role in the eyes of Matthew's community.

    In the scene of the interaction between Jesus and Peter, Peter wants to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, and thus share his authority over the forces of evil. It all turns into a test where the church leader is not up to the task because of his lack of faith. This is a message to all leaders in the Church.

    The conclusion of the story has two dimensions: on the one hand the presence of Jesus restores calm in the boat, and on the other hand there is a confession of faith by the disciples in Jesus, the Son of God. We have already pointed out that this confession of faith is an addition of Matthew for whom it is essential that the first confession of faith come from the disciples and before that of the Roman pagans at the end of the gospel.

    Thus, our story has two important scenes: the meeting of Jesus and the disciples on the water, and the interaction between Peter and Jesus.

  2. Context analysis

    Let us proceed in two stages, first by considering a possible plan of the whole of the Gospel and by observing where our passage fits in this great plan, then by considering the immediate context of our narrative, ie what precedes and what follows.

    1. General context

      Establishing which plan Matthew had in mind when composing his Gospel is a matter of conjecture. First, did he have any? Generally, it follows the sequence of Mark which begins in Galilee where takes place almost the whole of the ministry of Jesus, and ends in Jerusalem in a final confrontation with the Jewish authorities, where he will undergo a Jewish and Roman trial and will die crucified.

      But Matthew gives us a certain number of clues which allow us to make divisions. First there are the first two chapters of the narrative of the childhood of Jesus which represent in advance what will be the life of Jesus, son of David, the Emmanuel, ie God with us, rejected by the Jews through the figure of Herod who wants to kill him, received by the pagans through the figure of the Magi of the East, reliving the destiny of the chosen people through the stay in Egypt. We can consider these two chapters as a prologue to the Gospel.

      In ch. 3, through the preaching of John the Baptist, we have an introduction to Jesus who is clothed in the Holy Spirit, ready for his mission.

      The section that extends from ch. 4 though ch. 27 can be clearly divided into two separate sections using the situation of John the Baptist. In 4: 12, Matthew writes: "Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum". The imprisonment of John the Baptist is an opportunity for Jesus to stand on his own two feet, to begin his preaching, to choose disciples. This first section seems to end in 13: 58 while Jesus preaches in his homeland and the evangelist concludes: "And there he did not do many miracles, because they did not believe." In 14: 1, the evangelist announces a new section with the formula: "At that time" and describing the death of John the Baptist, figure of the fate that awaits Jesus. And in fact, this second section is marked by the shadow of suffering (16: 21 "From that moment, Jesus Christ began to show his disciples that he had to go to Jerusalem, to suffer a lot .. . ") And death is awaiting Jesus with the three announcements of passion. It is a section initially centered on the disciples and on the opening of the pagans through the figure of the Canaanite woman, before the final confrontation with the Jewish authorities.

      The first section (4: 1 - 13: 58) starts by emphasizing the mission of Jesus with his preparation through the ordeal of the desert (4: 1-11), his initial preaching (4: 12-17 ) and the choice of the first disciples (4: 18-22), which ends with a summary (4: 23-25). Then comes the presentation of his program on the mountain, and of his action which accompanies his word through the grouping of ten miracles (5: 1 - 9: 38): Jesus shows himself powerful in words and in actions. And he delegates this mission to the disciples who will have to do the same (10: 1 - 11: 1). All of this triggers a period when one have to take a stand in relation to Jesus' person and teaching, where one have to know how to recognize the signs (11: 2 - 13: 58).

      The second section (14: 1 - 27: 66) is marked by the shadow of the death of Jesus, which began with the death of John the Baptist himself. The first section has ended with a statement of failure, so Jesus is now focusing on his disciples, preparing them for his demise. The Eucharistic symbols appear with the two schenes of Jesus feeding the crowd (ch. 14 and 15), the arrival of the pagans is announced with the story of the Canaanite woman (ch. 15), and the prospect of her imminent death which marks this whole section, just as of his resurrection through the story of the transfiguration (ch. 17). This is an opportunity for Jesus to explain how the disciples should live together (ch. 18). Then there is the final confrontation in which traps are constantly laid before him and where Jesus denounces the hypocrisy of the Pharisees (ch. 21 - 23). Finally, Jesus offers a final speech concerning the coming of the Son of man and what will be the criteria for judgment, ie compassion (ch. 24 - 25), before remaining almost completly silent during his Jewish and Roman trial (ch. 26 - 27).

      The conclusion of ch. 28 is centered on the experience of the resurrection of Jesus and the sending of the disciples to the whole world in a mission.

      One of the characteristics of the Gospel according to Matthew is to present to us five well-defined discourses or catecheses: teaching on the mountain (from 5: 1, "When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him" through 7: 28-29 "Now when Jesus had finished saying these things... "); the teaching on the mission (from 10: 1" Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples... These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions..." through 11: 1 "Now, when Jesus had finished giving these instructions to his twelve disciples ... "); teaching in parables (from 13: 1 "That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea... and he told them many things in parables..." through 13: 51-52 "Did you understood all this? ... "); teaching on fraternal life (from 18: 1 "At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" through 19: 1 "When Jesus had finished saying these things..."); eschatological teaching (from 24: 3 "When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, 'Tell us, when will this be'..." through 26: 1 "When Jesus had finished saying all these things").

      All these considerations on a possible plan of the Gospel according to Matthew can be represented by the following table.

      According to this plan, the walking on water narrative is situated in the second section (14: 1 - 27: 66) of the gospel, marked by the shadow of Jesus' death, which began with the death of John the Baptist himself. It is a section where Jesus reserves his teaching for his disciples, after a form of acknowledgement of failure: people did not believe.

      This context gives color to our story: first of all, Jesus' absence and the time he spends alone in prayer on the mountain is an echo of what awaits the disciples with Jesus' death looming. The difficulty of the disciples' in the boat facing headwind is also indicative of what awaits the Church in the absence of Jesus. On the other hand, the teaching reserved for the disciples will concern how the encounter with Jesus can be made now: it will no longer be as it was before, when he physically walked the roads of Palestine. For it will be as if one is in front of a spectre, not as a being in the flesh. Without faith, it will feel like being in front of a dead man in the middle of the night. But his word will be available to reassure the community. And there is, of course, a special teaching for church leaders: from them one expects unwavering faith.

    2. Immediate context

      Our story is preceded first by a scene where Herod the Tetrarch learns of the fame of Jesus who heals and sees in Jesus John the Baptist who is said to have risen from the dead, which would explain his special powers. This is Matthew's opportunity to recount the death of John the Baptist. Then he goes on to tell us that upon learning of John the Baptist's death, Jesus retires in a boat to a deserted place. But this retreat is of short duration, because crowds from everywhere follow him on foot and join him as he gets out of the boat. And he writes: "When Jesus disembarked, he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their infirmities" (14:14). There is no teaching to the crowds, only compassion for their infirmities. Then evening comes and the disciples suggest sending the crowd away to feed, but Jesus tells them to feed the crowd themselves. Even though it is Jesus who makes the blessing on the bread, it is the disciples who act as the intermediary between Jesus and the crowd, and thus feed the crowd. Matthew's intention is clear: Jesus' teaching is no longer addressed to the crowd, but to his disciples, and what Jesus did, the disciples will have to do in turn: heal and feed the people, in short, exercise compassion.

      Now let's look at what follows our account of walking on the waters. The boat arrives at Gennesaret. Now, what does Matthew tell us? The people of that place recognized him, and sent word to all the region, and they brought all the sick to him" (14:34). Then follows a long day of healings of all kinds. Thus, what precedes our pericope is a teaching to the disciples on compassion, and what follows is a day of compassion, again a teaching for the disciples. One can recognize in what precedes and follows our story a form of inclusion.

      When we have a form of inclusion, the key to interpreting the whole is found in what is at the center of inclusion, and here is our story of walking on the waters. Let's not forget that the waters, the waves and the sea represent the forces of evil, just like disease. So the key to interpreting all of these stories where Jesus exercises compassion and teaches compassion to his disciples is the faith that he is alive in the night of his absence, and to be able to recognize that he is a son of God, a master over the forces of evil.

      There is something ironic in Herod's perception of the healing forces in Jesus' association with a resurrection from the dead, that of John the Baptist. He is partly right in speaking of resurrection of the dead, but it will be Jesus' own resurrection, and especially in speaking of death, for the path of compassion is a path that passes through death.

  3. Parallels

    The story of walking on the water can be found in Mark and John's Gospels. There is a strong consensus among the best biblical scholars that Matthew had Mark as his source, and that John and Mark did not know each other; this means that John and Mark used independent sources to write their Gospel. M.E. Boismard (Synopse des quatre évangiles II. Paris: Cerf, 1972, pp. 225-228) believes that the account of the walking on the waters existed first in two versions, which he calls Document A and Document B, one following the first account of Jesus feeding the crowds, the other following the second account of Jesus feeding the crowds. We will have the opportunity to come back to this.

    We have put the three Gospel versions in three columns in a literal translation. We have underlined the words of Mark, which are also found in another evangelist; a partially underlined word means that it is the same word, but at a different tense or a different number, or a partially identical word. In red are the words of John that are also found in another evangelist. The square brackets designate in John verses that we have placed out of sequence for the purpose of comparison with the Synoptics.

    Matthew 14: 22-33Mark 6: 45-52John 6: 15-21
    15 Jesus, knowing that they were going to come and take him in order to (make him) king, withdrew again to the mountain, himself alone.
    16 Then, when evening came, his disciples went down to the sea,
    22 And immediately (eutheōs) he compelled the disciples to embark into the boat and to go before him to the other side, until he would dismiss the crowds 45 And immediately (euthys) he compelled his disciples to embark into the boat and to go before to the other side, to Bethsaida, until he would dismiss the crowd. 17 and, embarking into a boat, they were going to the other side of the sea, to Capernaum. And already it had become dark and Jesus had not come to them.
    23a And having dismissed the crowds he went up to the mountain by himself to pray; 46 And having taken leave of them, he went away to the mountain to pray[15b he withdrew again to the mountain, himself alone.]
    23b then, evening having come, alone he was there. 47a And, evening having come, [16 Then, when evening came, his disciples went down to the sea]
    24a Then, the boat was distant already several stadia from the land, 47b the boat was in the midst of the sea and himself alone upon the land. [19a Having rowed about twenty five or thirty stadia,]
    24b being tormented by the waves, because the wind was adverse. 48a And having seen them being tormented to row, because the wind for them was adverse, [18 And the sea was arousing, a strong wind blowing
    25 Then, (in the) fourth watch of the night, he came towards them on the sea. 48b (in the) fourth watch of the night, he comes towards them on the sea and he was wishing to pass by them
    26 Then, them the disciples having seen him walking on the sea, they were troubled saying that it is an apparition, and they cried of fear. 49 Then, them having seen him walking on the sea, they thought that it is an apparition, and they cried out; 50a for all saw him and were troubled. 19b they observe Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they feared
    27 Then, immediately Jesus spoke to them saying, Take courage! Me, I am! Don't be afraid! 50b Then, him, immediately he spoke with them, and he said to them: Take courage! Me, I am! Don't be afraid! 20 Then, him, he said to them: Me, I am! Don't be afraid!
    28 Then, having answered him, Peter said, Lord, if it is you, command me to come towards you on the waters.
    29 Then, him, he said, Come. And having descended from the boat, Peter walked upon the waters and came to Jesus.
    30 Then, then looking at the [mighty] wind, and he feared, and began to be submerged in the sea, and cried, saying, "Lord, save me
    31 Then, immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and took hold of him, and said to him, "You of little faith, why did you doubt?
    32 and them, having come up into the boat, the wind ceased. 51a and he came towards them into the boat and the wind ceased, 21 They were willing to receive him into the boat, and immediately the boat happened to be upon the land to which they were going
    33 Then those in the boat prostrated [before] him, saying, "Truly, of God, son, you are 51b and they were extremely stunned beyond measure, 52 for they had not understood about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.

    Let us recall that the account of the walking on the waters follows the first narrative on Jesus feeding the crowd (in John there is only one account of Jesus feeding the crowd).

    To better enter into the study of parallels, it seems important to us to clear the ground by considering Boismard's hypothesis on the existence of two parallel Documents which would be at the source of the accounts of Mark and John, whereas Matthew essentially takes up Mark's narrative. Moreover, according to Boismard, Mark would have tried to merge the two documents, which would explain the number of red words in Mark above. As for John, he essentially takes up Document B, simply adding the phrase "And the darkness had already come and Jesus had not yet come to them", a way of accentuating the dramatic side of Jesus' absence and introducing the symbolism of the night. Here is a possible reconstruction of these two documents.

    Document ADocument B
    And immediately he compelled the disciples to get into the boat and to go before him on the other side while he dismissed the crowds. And the boat was in the middle of the sea, tormented by the waves, for the wind was adverse. In the fourth watch of the night, he came towards them walking on the sea. And they cried out, and he spoke to them, "Take courage!" And he went up to them in the boat, and the wind ceased. Then, when evening came, his disciples went down to the sea and, getting into a boat, they went to the other side of the sea, to Capernaum. And the sea was rising with a strong wind blowing. Having rowed about twenty-five or thirty stadia, they observed Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were afraid. Then he said to them, "I am! Do not be afraid!" They wanted to take him in the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land where they were going.

    The great advantage of Boismard's hypothesis is that it solves the problems of time and location that appear in Mark's account. Let's start with the problems of time. Indeed, the account of the walking on the sea follows Mark first narrative of Jesus feeding the crowds. Now, who is the initiator of this scene where Jesus feeds the crowd? It is the fact that it is late, that it is evening (Lk: the day begins to fall), and that people have to go somewhere to feed themselves. After asking the disciples to feed the crowd themselves, Jesus sends them to ask the crowd about the bread that is available. Then, after getting a few pieces of bread and some fish, he orders the crowd to be seated in well-structured groups. After the prayer of blessing, Jesus has the bread and fish distributed to five thousand men, not counting women and children. And at the end, they take the trouble to collect what is left and fill twelve baskets. What time is it when everything is over, if the whole scene starts when the day is already beginning to fall? We can imagine that it was now late at night, when Jesus dismisses the crowd and asks the disciples to get into the boat. Now in v. 47 Mark writes: "And when evening came, the boat was in the middle of the sea, and he alone on land". This is quite impossible, especially since in order to be in the middle of the sea when evening came, the disciples would have had to leave the shore when it was daylight.

    As a corollary, there is the problem of the time when Jesus joins his disciples who are tormenting themselves with rowing, i.e. around the fourth watch of the night, that is, between 3 and 6 o'clock in the morning. In fact, Mark writes in v. 47: "And when evening came, the boat was in the middle of the sea, and he alone on land. In v. 47, Jesus is no longer on the mountain praying, but on the shore, probably about to join his disciples. Now, Mark writes, it is evening, i.e. 6 and 9 o'clock at night. How is it possible that Jesus lets his disciples torment themselves rowing against the headwind for six, seven or eight hours without intervening, before joining them between 3 and 6 o'clock in the morning? What did he do during all this time, standing on the shore? To do so would be somewhat sadistic. We can see that there is a problem.

    What is the solution? Mark has merged Document A and Document B, which belong to two different contexts. Let's start with Document B which follows the second narrative of Jesus feeding the crowds (Mk 8:1-10). Now, this second multiplication of the loaves has no mention of time, i.e. it is not that it is getting late to feed the crowd: Jesus simply has pity on the crowd that stayed with him for three days. Jesus then asks the disciples about the food available, and after the prayer of thanksgiving, he has it distributed. Then, when all is finished, Document B mentions: "When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea and, getting into a boat, they went to the other side of the sea. After rowing some distance, the disciples saw Jesus walking on the sea. There is no mention of the time when this encounter took place. And one can imagine that this encounter takes place immediately after the mention that Jesus is on the shore, ready to join his disciples. On the other hand, Document A follows the first narrative of Jesus feeding the crowds, which we have said must have ended late at night. In this case, it is quite normal, according to Document A, for Jesus to join his disciples in a boat at the fourth watch of the night, i.e. between 3 and 6 a.m.

    The following table will help us better understand the different scenarios of the two Jesus feeding the crowds and walking on the water according to Documents A and B.

    the walk on the waters related to time

    Then there is the problem of location. Indeed, the first narrative of Jesus feeding the crowd in Mark seems to have taken place not far from Capernaum from where Jesus had withdrawn to an uninhabited place (Mk 6:31) with his disciples. When the crowd was fed in the middle of the night, Mark writes: "Immediately Jesus compelled his disciples to get into the boat and go ahead to the other side, to Bethsaida, until he dismissed the crowd" (6:45). Now, Bethsaida is located on the left bank (east side) of the lake, on the banks of the Jordan River before it flows into Lake Tiberias, which gives us about 6 miles from Capernaum (see map of Palestine). But when the story ends, we find ourselves in Gennesaret: "After the crossing, they came ashore at Gennesaret" (6:53); Gennesaret is a mile west of Capernaum. What happened? The journey from Capernaum to Gennesaret should usually be made on foot. So why, according to Mark, was the boat in the middle of the sea? (6: 47).

    The place of the second multiplication of the loaves (8: 1-10) is not specified by Mark, but just before that he writes that Jesus is in the territory of the Decapolis (7: 31), located on the eastern side of the Lake of Tiberias. Luke, for his part, who has only one feeding of the crowd by Jesus, places the scene squarely in Bethsaida, on the east side of the lake. And John, who also has only one multiplication of the loaves, writes: "After these things Jesus passed over to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called Tiberias" (6:1). Now, John's ch. 5 is located in Jerusalem. It must be assumed that Jesus returned to Capernaum, his "headquarters," and from there "he passes to the other side", i.e., the eastern shore of the lake, where the city of Bethsaida is located, and it is there that Jesus feeding the crowds will take place. Now, what does Document B say? "Then, when evening came, his disciples went down to the sea and, getting into a boat, they went to the other side of the sea, to Capernaum. In this context, the boat trip from Bethsaida to Capernaum, a journey of about 6 miles, with a situation where the boat is "in the middle of the sea" becomes intelligible. Thus, in trying to merge Document A, which does not seem to have any geographical reference points, with Document B to tell the story of walking on the waters after the first feeding of the crowd, Mark found himself somewhat stuck: because he placed this first feeding near Capernaum, and because we wanted to obtain a real boat trip in order to give full meaning to the expression "to go before him on the other side", he had to add: Bethsaida. But in doing so, he was introducing an inconsistency with the following stories of healings which are located in Gennesareth, near Capernaum.

    Here is a geographical representation of the disciples' journey according to the two scenarios related to the two Jesus feeding the crowds and documents A and B.

    path of the walk on the water

    Finally, it should be noted that the theological significance of the two Documents diverge. Document A ends with the expression: "Take courage!" which basically means: be confident! In fact, everything is centered on a tormented boat that has to face adverse winds. This is the adversity faced by the Church. Everything happens in the fourth watch of the night, that is, at the end of the night, waiting for the dawn that is the return of the risen Jesus. If the disciples cry out, it is not out of fear, but rather a cry for help. As the disciples are unable to move forward, it is Jesus who responds to their call, coming to them by walking on the sea, overcoming the forces of evil. By getting into the boat, by giving the feeling of his presence, calm is restored. Thus, the boat will be able to go all the way with confidence.

    Document B gives us a different emphasis. Fear is at the heart of the story. For it was while observing Jesus that they were afraid. So Jesus must tell them: Do not be afraid! It was the sudden appearance of Jesus that brought all this about. It seems that certain scenes from the Old Testament influenced the author of the document. First, there is the story of Jonah: "And the men tried to return to land, but they could not, because the sea was rising more and more against them, and they cried out to the Lord, and the sea quieted his wrath" (Jon 1:13-15). Psalm 107 also seems to have played a role in speaking of God's protection of his people during the Exodus, especially in the face of various perils they faced on their way to the Promised Land. This psalm may have contributed to the finale of the story as the boat mysteriously reaches the land they were heading for: "They rejoiced when the waves subsided, and He led them to the port of their desire" (Ps 107:30). So God made sure that the disciples could go to the port they desired to reach.

    Let's examine Matthew's account, knowing that it substantially repeats Mark's account, which merged documents A and B.

    v. 22 - 23

    • Matthew takes all of Mark's text, except that he replaces the adverb euthys (immediately) by a synonym he prefers: eutheōs.
    • He changed the expression "his disciples" to "the disciples". Why did he change it? There are two possible explanations: either the disciples always designate for him the restricted group of the Twelve, or, more probably, to generalize the expression, i.e. any disciple, and thus allow his community of Antioch to identify with it.
    • He eliminated the mention of Bethsaida as a destination, because he saw the inconsistency with the real place of arrival: Gennesaret.
    • And according to his habit, the "crowd" becomes the "crowds" under his pen, not only to accentuate the impact of Jesus' preaching, but to refer to diverse groups, and therefore to diverse nations.
    • As he likes precision, with him you don't go to the mountains, but you "go up" to the mountain.
    • In the same way, he likes to emphasize the free will of Jesus, and so Jesus goes up the mountain "by himself", i.e. of his own free will.
    • Finally, adding that "he was there, alone, on the mountain", Matthew emphasizes the separation from the disciples: Jesus belongs to the world of God, he alone, and the fact that he is absent reflects well on the current situation of the Church.

    v. 24 - v. 27

    • Matthew did not take up Mark's phrase "the boat was in the middle of the sea, and he alone on the land". First of all, the fact that Jesus was no longer praying in the mountain, but on the shore doing nothing, while the disciples were in the middle of the sea, must have seemed incomprehensible, if not unacceptable to him; it is understandable that he eliminated this phrase. But how to explain the addition of the sentence: "the boat was already several stadia distant (apeichen) from the land". According to Boismard (op. cit.), this sentence would be the work of Luke (or a disciple) who, after writing his gospel, had access to the gospels of Mark and Matthew, and made some alterations (the addition of Mk 16:9-20 by an author who was familiar with Luke's gospel is quite obvious). Indeed, besides this passage, the verb apeichō (to be distant from) in the impersonal form is found nowhere else in Matthew, whereas it is observed a few times in Luke, for example: "And behold, on that same day two of them were on their way to a village called Emmaus, which is 60 stadia distant (apechō) from Jerusalem (Lk 24:13). In any case, this addition fits in well with Matthew's theology of accentuating the distance between Jesus and the community of disciples in the boat.

    • While in Mark the problem is the difficulty for the disciples to row because of the headwind, in Matthew the problem is the waves hitting the boat. Thus, in Mark it is the disciples who are tormented, in Matthew it is not the disciples but the boat. What does this mean? The boat, for Matthew, is the Church. It is the Church that receives the assault of the enemy, it is the Church that is in danger of sinking. We can think here of the repeated attacks on the community from their Jewish brothers.

    • As he often does, Matthew insists in v. 26 that it is the disciples who see him walking by explicitly inserting the word "disciples", for it is they at the end who will make the great profession of faith.

    • He streamlines Mark's account who says twice (an evidence of merging two traditions) that the disciples see Jesus walking (49a "having seen him" and 50a "all saw him") by saying only once: "having seen him"

    • In taking up Mark's account, Matthew finds himself taking up an account that merged two traditions about Jesus' words to the disciples, one that has "Take courage", and the other, to which John testifies, that has "Do not be afraid".

    • Finally, as he does not like ambiguities, he clarifies that the cries of the disciples are cries of fear.

    v. 28 - 31

    • These four verses are a pure and simple addition by Matthew, because of the very role he wants Peter to play as a representative of the Church. Peter is seen as Jesus' successor, and therefore must go through the same path. Unfortunately, he fails to demonstrate the same faith. This is a reminder to all leaders of Christian communities. At the same time, there is the good news of the saving role of the risen Jesus, who will be able to reach out so that the community does not perish.

    v. 32

    • Here Matthew takes Mark's text, but has to modify it by adding "them", i.e. Peter and Jesus, because in Mark there is only Jesus boarding the boat.

    v. 33

    • Here, Matthew has completely eliminated Mark's final, which insists on the total incomprehension of the disciples and their lack of faith. Let's not forget that in Mark we cannot understand who Jesus was before his crucifixion and death on the cross, and the disciples reflect the dismay of the Christian community in Rome that was persecuted and did not understand why this was happening to them, since Jesus had risen and conquered evil. Everything is different in Matthew. Because of the place of the disciples as the foundation of the community, he insists on presenting them as people who confessed their faith in Jesus Son of God long before the confession of the Roman pagans at the end of his gospel. This confession seems important to him for his community in Antioch, presenting them as a kind of model to follow.

  4. Intention of the author when writing this passage

    The basic assumption regarding a particular Gospel is that it was first written for a local church, to support the catechesis of those who joined the community. As Luke writes in the introduction to his Gospel, "so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed" (1: 4). According to the majority of biblical scholars, Mark addressed himself to the persecuted Church in Rome, Luke to a Church of Greek culture (in my opinion, probably the Church of Corinth in Greece; see Where the Gospel of Luke was written), John to a rather particular community which had probably taken up residence in Ephesus (present-day Turkey). What about Matthew? Clearly, his Gospel was addressed to Jewish Christians, and for a number of biblical scholars, this Church could be located in Antioch, an important center of Jewish Christians who had been the first "sponsors" of the Pauline mission.

    What do we know about this Church, except that it seems to be composed mainly of Christians of Jewish origin and that it was the fourth largest city in the Roman Empire? Unfortunately, there are very few documents to give us an idea, especially for the period of the 80s or 85 when the Gospel according to Matthew seems to have been written.

    • Earlier, Paul's letters (which extend from 51 AD to about 67 AD, the presumed date of his death in Rome) echo a conservative Church which, having sent him on mission, now opposes Paul's preaching of freedom from the Law).

    • Luke tells us that it was there that Jesus' disciples were first called: Christians (Acts 11:26). This means that the disciples of Jesus who were Jews from Antioch were distinguished from other Jews, perhaps appearing as a sect of Judaism.

    • One can then imagine the tensions that could exist between Christian and non-Christian Jews, especially if they attended the same synagogue. One can get an idea of this with the story of Priscilla and Aquila (see Acts 18:2), Christian Jews who had to leave Rome after the edict of Emperor Claudius (in the year 49-50) because of violent conflicts between Christian and non-Christian Jews. Indeed Suetonius (49-140) wrote: "He (Emperor Claudius) drove out of the city the Jews who were constantly rising up at the instigation of a certain Chrestus" (XXV, 4). One can imagine that in the synagogue the Christians were trying to convince their Jewish brothers that Jesus was the Messiah; and all this degenerated. It is believed that by the year 90 at the latest, Jewish Christians were definitively excommunicated from the synagogues (see John 9:22).

    • One can also guess tensions within Matthew's community itself, a tension between:

      1. the most conservative who want a strict application of the Law ("if your justice does not surpass that of the scribes and Pharisees" 5: 20) and of Jewish practices (prayer, fasting, almsgiving) ("When you fast..." 6: 16), and

      2. those who want to free themselves from it completely, and thus find themselves without Law (to which Matthew must say : "Don't think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets... Whoever therefore violates one of the least of these precepts and teaches others to do the same, will be considered the least in the Kingdom of Heaven" 5:17-19), without reference, without identity, and who have lost the breath of their origins, especially considering that the promise of Jesus' return does not seem to be coming true ("As a result of the increasing absence of the Law, love will grow cold among the many" 24:12).

    • Ignatius of Antioch (35-108) was bishop there for a period that lasted from the year 66 until his death as a martyr in Rome, thus covering the period when Matthew would have written his gospel. Ignatius is the one who reused the priestly structure of the Jewish world (high priest, priest, Levite) in order to apply it to the Church (the roles of bishop and deacon appeared quite early, that of priest was perhaps preceded by that of prophet or itinerant doctor who could preside at the Eucharist), and thus create a hierarchy; in a way he Judaized the Christian life.

    • Now, one senses conflicts among the leaders of the community: "But you, do not be called 'Rabbi', for only one is your master, but you are all brothers. And call (no one) your "Father" on earth, for only one is your Father, the heavenly. Neither should you be called "Doctors", because your Doctor is one and the same, Christ. But the greatest among you will be your servant" (Mt 23:8-10). The unique passage to Matthew is certainly an echo of his community, as shown in the Didache (see XII-XIII and XV), which belongs to a similar milieu and should be warned against certain Christian prophets and give instructions about leaders.

    This is the context of Matthew's community in which we must try to interpret Matthew's version of the story of Jesus' walking on the waters. Of course, much of the story is provided by Mark. But on the one hand, Mark's account takes on a new color for his audience in Antioch, given his situation. On the other hand, Matthew gives a certain direction to his catechesis through his own touch-ups.

    As we have already pointed out, the story of the walking on the waters is inseparable from that of the Jesus feeding the crowds, and the way this story is written makes clear reference to the Christian Eucharistic assembly. This association between the Jesus feeding the crowds and the walking on the waters is pre-Markan, i.e. Mark did not create it, but it was already in the tradition that he takes up. In our effort to interpret, we must keep all this in mind: we must read the story of walking on the water with the Christian gathering in mind.

    Our story begins with the sending of those who have been sated: the meal is over, it is time for separation. Jesus is presented as the one who forces this separation. What is the reason for this? For the author of the story, this separation is the death of Jesus, and in faith, this death is not simply an accident, but is part of God's plan, a plan that Jesus fully assumed. By his choice, Jesus somehow obliges us to live without him. He returned to his Father, symbolized here by the mountain and the moment of prayer alone. On the other hand, he has made an appointment to meet "on the other side". What is this "other side"? For Christian communities like Matthew's, it was clearly the return of the risen Jesus, the moment when we can experience his presence again. Matthew insists on two things: this separation was assumed voluntarily, because it is "by himself" that Jesus goes up the mountain; and this separation raises the true transcendence of Jesus, because "he is there alone", a place inaccessible to human beings. This is part of Matthew's "high" theology.

    "The boat was already several hundreds of yards from the shore. It does not matter that this retouching of Matthew's gospel is the work of Luke, according to Boismard. For Matthew's community, it must have had a very clear meaning: we have been separated from Jesus of Nazareth for some time, that he no longer walks among us. This separation is frightening. He is no longer there to guide us at every step, to lead us, to be our "rabbi".

    "the boat came up against the waves which were moving with a headwind". With Mark it is the disciples who are tormented to row. Here it is the boat that is tormented, i.e. the church community. It is tormented by the waves, which represent, as we have seen, the forces of evil in all its forms. Using the knowledge that we have of Matthew's community, by what waves is it tormented? It is probably tormented by the external forces that are their Jewish brothers who want to exclude them from the synagogue or have already excluded them. This conflict was to have repercussions on social and family life. The community is probably also tormented by the internal rifts between those conservatives who hold to the status quo, to the application of all Jewish rules, and those who believe that Christian freedom frees them from all rules, who perhaps frequented the markets offering those meats that had been sacrificed in the pagan temples, throwing their brothers into confusion. The community is probably also tormented by the claims of many Christian leaders who are more in search of authority and prestige than motivated by pastoral concern and a desire to serve. All this threatens the survival of the community.

    "It was between three and six o'clock in the morning, when Jesus came to them walking on the water". By essentially taking up Mark's narrative, Matthew assumes the meaning he finds in his account. The fourth watch at night is the dawn, and for a Christian, it is a reference to the resurrection of Jesus, and a reference to the return of the risen Jesus at the end of time; let us not forget that for the first Christian generations, this end of time was expected very soon. So we understand that at dawn Jesus makes his presence felt. But what is really special is that Jesus makes his presence felt by walking on the sea. The author of the story is well aware that no one can walk on water, but he refers to several passages in the Old Testament about God the Creator who is master of his creation, especially Job 9:8 ("He (God) alone has stretched out Heaven, he is walking on the sea as on firm ground"). To ensure that his audience makes the connection with this passage from Job, he modifies a detail in Mark's text: since Mark's Greek expression "on the sea" is a genitive (name complement), he will change it to an accusative (direct object complement), because the expression "on the sea" in Job's Septuagint text is an accusative (direct object complement). Moreover, in doing so, he will make the walk on the sea more dynamic than in Mark's account; for with his complement of name, Mark only answers the question: Where is Jesus? On the sea. With his direct object complement, Matthew answers the question: What is Jesus doing? He tramples on the sea, as God does in the text of Job. Thus, the risen Jesus shares God's attribute of dominating the forces of evil that the Jewish world associates with the sea and the waves. And for Matthew, these forces of evil refer to anything that threatens the survival of the community.

    "When the disciples saw him walking on the water, they went into a panic, thinking they saw a shadow of the dead world, and they began to cry out for fear". Even if Matthew's sentence is less redundant than Mark's (according to Boismard, the doublet that is the verb "to see" in Mk 6:50a is due to the ultimate Lucanian writer to explain the cries by the disciples' upheaval), the idea is the same: the upheaval or trouble is due to fear. What is the reason for this? The answer given is surprising: the disciples believe they see an apparition, which our Bibles usually translate as a ghost. How should we interpret this answer? We have to assume that Mark, although he is the author of this sentence, did not intend to create a children's story or to have fun, even though he is an excellent storyteller throughout his gospel; the intention was above all is catechetical. Therefore, we have seen that the only Old Testament reference to phantasma (apparition) is a passage from Wisdom 17:14-15 which speaks of the ghosts of Sheol: and for the Jews, the dead dwelt in Sheol, they led a vegetative life and resembled ghosts or shadows. In the Greek world, they spoke of Hades or "hells". It is possible that it is such a spectre that Mark wants to evoke. Let us recall that the context suggests two things: first, the boat is in peril, and therefore death is on the prowl, and second, there is a lack of faith. In this context, the spectre could evoke the Sheol, and the disciples are before the shadow of death, their own death. Thus, rather than seeing the risen Jesus associated with God who controls the forces of evil, we consider the prospect of the fate that awaits us and may have been that of Jesus, reaching the Sheol. There is much to be afraid of. Mark and Matthew could probably identify some members of the community in this attitude.

    "But immediately Jesus intervened and said to them, 'Be confident! It is I! Do not be afraid!'". Matthew essentially takes up Mark's text. The important thing is to remember how Jesus identifies himself: by his word. It is not by seeing him or touching him that we know it is Jesus; we hear his word. We have seen that, according to Boismard, the present story could be the fusion of two stories, one ending with "Take courage" and the other with "I am (it is I)" and "Do not be afraid!". In any case, if we take the final text, we must first group together "Take courage! "and "don't be afraid", because one cannot be achieved without the other. Indeed, as we have seen, "take courage" means: have confidence. And "be afraid" is the opposite of faith: to believe is not to be afraid, it is to move forward confidently. So "take courage" and "do not be afraid" forms an inclusion whose center, and therefore the key to interpretation, is: "I am". Now, the "I am" without any attribute is typical in Jewish circles to designate the very being of God, and Isaiah will put in the mouth of God this word: "I am, I am, I am, who comforts you; who are you to fear the mortal man, the son of man destined to the lot of the grass"? (51, 12). It is now Jesus who repeats this word, it is now he who asks not to be afraid. For to believe that he is risen is not simply to affirm that he is alive, it is to affirm that he is able, like God, to intervene before the forces of evil. Such a word is addressed to Matthew's torn community, a community in search of identity, a community that must have felt somehow weakened.

    Now, in vv. 28-31, Matthew departs from Mark to add a "subpicture" of his own, featuring Peter. Why does it feature Peter? One possible reason concerns community leaders where, as mentioned above, there are a number of tensions: when looking for titles like "rabbi" or "father" or "doctor," one is no longer motivated by the desire to serve, and has certainly lost sight of the gospel message. It is probably for them that Matthew wrote this short story about Peter, the representative of the disciples, and therefore the image of all community leaders. For Peter wants to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, and therefore like him to be able to trample on and dominate the forces of evil. But these forces are so strong that he no longer has the faith necessary to keep going. The reproach of "You are of little faith, why did you doubt?" is directed at many community leaders. Leadership is based on faith, and if we don't have that faith to carry the mountains, we will fail in our role. But the good news is that Jesus is always there to help our little faith.

    "When they both got into the boat, the wind died down". Matthew takes again here the thread of Mark's story, except that he must take into account that two characters get into the boat ("them"): Peter and Jesus. Even if it is not explicitly stated, it must be assumed here that the disciples have regained their faith. In the story of Jonah, where the sea is raging and the boat is in danger, the sea calms down when the sailors begin to pray. Here, Jesus does not perform any exorcism to ask the sea to calm down, as in the account of the stilling storm (Mk 4:35-41; Mt 8:18.23-27; Lk 8:22-25). This faith will be proclaimed in the next verse. Thus, it is faith that makes it possible to live "calmly" the rest of the journey. One might think that the waves will continue to hit the boat, but the mood will be one of confidence that the boat's journey will succeed, because the risen Jesus is with the community in this difficult struggle against evil.

    "The disciples recognized his authority, saying, 'Truly, you are God's son'". It is remarkable that Matthew has left out the finale of Mark's story where the disciples do not understand anything, due to their lack of faith, a reflection of the Roman community in disarray before the persecution. For him, the disciples finally had faith, and he presents us with their solemn profession. First of all, they prostrate before Jesus, a gesture of recognition of authority and veneration. Then they proclaim him to be the Messiah, the Messiah who has been faithful to God's will, and who now has authority over the forces of evil, beginning with death. As we have stated, this profession of faith is similar to that of the centurion and the Roman guards at the death of Jesus, but Matthew insists on putting it into the mouths of the disciples long before Jesus' death. It is to this profession of faith that he wants his community to identify and take back personally. It is the essential condition for his survival and that will allow him to continue his long journey through the night.

    It is time to conclude. Our story began with this memorable moment of intimacy with Jesus feeding the crowds, where he feeds us all. Matthew's audience saw it as the Eucharistic gathering. Now it is the dismissal (ita missa est), the time to face the daily life and to live both the separation with the Eucharistic community and the separation with the feeling of Jesus' presence. And it is Jesus who forces them to this separation: it is time for mission, and this mission is not optional. For the members of Matthew's community these are difficult times in the confrontation of their Jewish brothers, in the community tensions between the conservatives and the liberals, in the friction with the different leaders of the community. Will the ecclesial boat sink? The spectre of communal death frightens everyone. It is time to return to the sources, to remember the word of Jesus, who assured us of his presence and support, and who, risen from the dead, can say as God did: I am, and therefore is able to dominate, control and trample on evil. This road of life after the warm gathering of the Eucharist is also difficult for the leaders of the community, for if they do not have faith to carry the mountains, they will drown in the forces of evil. Our story ends with a surge of hope and faith in proclaiming total faith in the risen Jesus, master of the forces of evil and death.

  5. Current situations or events in which we could read this text

    1. Suggestions from the different symbols in the story

      The symbols in this story are extremely numerous. Let's choose a few of them.

      • "Go to the other side". In itself, the expression means: to face the unknown, to go to a different environment. People are usually reluctant to face the unknown. In our story, it is Jesus who forces his disciples to face the unknown. This is their mission, and only then will they be able to find the one in whom they have put their faith. Where do we stand in relation to this journey into the unknown? Do we see it as a word from Jesus?

      • "Being tormented by the waves...". Behind these waves we can put everything that torments us, everything that prevents us from moving forward, everything that we have tried to build. It is sickness, it is conflict, it is immobility, it is prejudice, it is incomprehension. The list could be long. How do we live this situation? Is the story of walking on the water any comfort?

      • "Take courage! I am! Do not be afraid!". For the evangelists, these words were a guide in the night. This "I am" attributed to Jesus is fundamental for them, because the risen Jesus is able to act as God does. What about us? What is the word that dispels fear and is the basis of our trust in life?

      • "Stretching out his hand and taking hold". This is a highly symbolic gesture, the gesture of Jesus towards Peter who is drowning. It is the very act of saving someone. And above all, it is a gesture towards someone who is no longer able to help himself, and who is totally at the mercy of someone else. Drowning is not only physical, it can be economic, psychological, social, intellectual. What are we most sensitive to? Do we take certain actions?

      • "They prostrate before him and said". Prostration expresses submission to an authority. Here this submission is voluntary and concerns the very person of Jesus, his word and his action. But our lives reveal various forms of submission. There is doctrinal submission, there is also affective, political, ideological and impulsive submission. It is a fundamental gesture, because it gives direction to our whole life. What are our submissions? And where does it stand in relation to the submission expressed by the disciples in Matthew's account?

    2. Current situations or events in which we could read this text

      • The Covid-19 pandemic is a unique event in the history of humanity. After centuries of development and technological advances, we are confronted with our vulnerability. So many deaths, so much suffering, not only physical, but psychological. The boat of humanity is being hit by the waves of disease. Will it sink? How can this situation help us to re-read the story of walking on the water with new eyes?

      • The death of George Floyd has sparked a tsunami of protest and a movement that does not seem to want to die out. Yet this is not the first time that an event has aroused popular outrage. But it is as if a current, which has been going on for a long time, is reaching a point of maturity. The struggle against what is unworthy of human beings is eternal. But what is it that keeps it alive? Can the story of walking on the waters enlighten us?

      • The movement initiated by #metoo is not about to stop. There is good and bad in it. But what is important is that it has made unacceptable certain behaviors that were once considered "benign". And it has allowed people to reveal deep wounds that have been buried for many years. Why is it that this is only now happening? What is at the root of this evolution of humanity? Our story of walking on the waters is a typical account of the struggle against evil in all its forms, and of what gives us the strength to keep moving forward. What is its relevance to what we are experiencing?

      • A father has just killed his two daughters, 11 and 6 years old. After an accidental swerve with injuries on the road late in the evening while he was taking the girls back home to his former partner, he panics with the crazy idea of losing custody of his daughters, and he runs away on foot, dragging them by force into the forest in the middle of the night, then, probably in front of the dead-end of his situation and the injury of the girls, kills them with a blunt object before taking his own life a few hours later, after stealing a ladder from a farmer's house. What a sad story. There are sometimes dramas that, for the believer, lead him to turn to God and ask: why? Because there are not many answers to mental illness. But can we not find some resources to support us with the story of the walk on the waters that speaks of the struggle against evil?

      • In Western societies, the population is aging, and the number of people retiring is growing. Retirement is a phase of life that needs to be well planned. Often reference is made to financial planning. But socially, emotionally, and in terms of commitment, what's going on? Is retirement just the end of something or is it not the beginning of something? The story of walking on the water is about going to the other side. Doesn't it shed light on the journey of retirees?

 

-André Gilbert, Gatineau, July 2020