In this chapter: Death of John the Baptist. Jesus feeds the five thousand with five loaves and two fish. Jesus and Peter walk on water. Jesus heals the sick in Gennesaret.
As I write in the introduction to every chapter:
This translation and commentary is offered for free, gratis, across the worldwide web to Christians in oppressive (persecuting) or developing countries, who cannot afford printed commentaries or Study Bibles, though everyone can use the commentary and entire website, of course.
The commentary has a practical application (GrowApp) at the end of each section, for discipleship.
The Greek terms with brief definitions can be looked up at biblehub.com. However, I hope to bring different nuances to the few words I focus on. And I keep things nontechnical.
The translation is mine. I wrote it to learn what the Greek text really says. The translation tends to be literal, but complete literalism and readability are impossible, so adjustments had to be made. If you would like to see other translations, please go to biblegateway.com.
Links are provided for further study.
The Death of John the Baptist (Matt. 14:1-12)
1 At that time, Herod the tetrarch heard a report about Jesus. 2 And he said to his servants, “This man is John the Baptist. He has been raised from the dead, and for this reason the powers work in him.” 3 For Herod had seized John, chained him, and put him aside in prison, because of Herodias, wife of Philip, his brother. 4 For John was saying to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her!” 5 Although he wished to kill him, he was afraid of the crowd, because they held him as a prophet. 6 But at Herod’s birthday celebrations, the daughter of Herodias danced in their midst and pleased Herod. 7 Hence, with an oath he declared to give her whatever she might request. 8 Being prompted beforehand by her mother, “Give me,” she said, “here, on a platter, the head of John the Baptist!” 9 Though the king was grieved, but because of his oaths and the dinner guests, 10 he ordered it to be given, sending men to behead John in prison. 11 Then his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. 12 His disciples approached and took up the body and buried him and went and reported it to Jesus.
Let’s take this passage as a whole.
Let’s review the historical data first. Herod Antipas ruled over Galilee and Perea from 4 BC to AD 39). Matthew correctly identified him as a tetrarch. Matthew also called him king (v. 9), for that was his popular title locally and in Rome. He was not really a king, however. He was a son of Herod the Great (r. 37 BC to AD 4).
Herodias had married yet another son of Herod the Great, Herod Philip I, whose mother was Mariamne), but he did not rule. Herod Antipas talked Herodias into leaving Herod Philip I, and she did, while Herod Philip I was still living. Both Herod Antipas and Herod Philip I were her uncles. The girl who danced was named Salome and was Herodias’s and Herod Philip I’s daughter. So she was Herod Antipas’s stepdaughter and grandniece. Since this dance was at his birthday party and wine flowed, we can be sure that he was drunk, and her dance, no doubt sexual, pleased him, so he made a rash vow. “Prompted beforehand” means that her mother knew the dance would please her drunk husband.
Nearly all Jews would have found Herod’s lust disgusting: because the girl was the daughter of a woman with whom Antipas was sleeping, desire for her constituted desire for incest, whether or not he was married to her mother (cf. Lev. 18:17; Amos 2:7). According to some accounts, the girl, Salome, may also have been between six and eight years old; more likely, she was a virgin of marriable age (twelve to fourteen), but possibly betrothed or married to Philip the tetrarch… Besides, though dancing was a regular feature of such drunken parties …, only in a drunken stupor would one invite another member of the royal family to engage in such a sensuous hellenistic dance” (Keener, p. 400).
The law which Herod and Herodias were breaking is found in Lev. 18:18, which reads: “You shall not uncover the nakedness [i.e. have sexual relations] of your brother’s wife; it is your brother’s nakedness” (Lev. 18:16, ESV). It was permitted to marry a brother’s wife if he were dead, which is called a levirate marriage (from levir or brother-in-law or husband’s brother) (Deut. 25:5-10).
5 “If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the dead man shall not be married outside the family to a stranger. Her husband’s brother shall go in to her and take her as his wife and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her. 6 And the first son whom she bears shall succeed to the name of his dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out of Israel. (Deut. 25:5-6)
If a brother died, then his brother, probably the next oldest, was to marry his widow, to carry on his brother’s name.
However, as noted, Herod Philip I was still alive, so this marriage was illegal, by the standards of the Torah. John called out Herod Philip I and Herodias. He paid with his life.
John’s unjust death explains why so many societies for the past three hundred years revolted against kings and their regimes. They accumulated too much power and money in the hands of the few. Executing a prophet like John after a dance and by the command of a “king” must never be done again. Nowadays, in communist countries a person can be imprisoned and even executed for criticizing the government. In Islamic countries, a person can be imprisoned or executed for criticizing Islam. Both situations are inhumane and unjust and must be fought against. People must have the freedom of speech.
Such a grisly scene was not uncommon in the ancient world. Alexander Janneus had eight hundred rebels crucified and their families slaughtered before them while he feasted with his concubines, and Fulvia (Marc Anthony’s wife) had the head of Cicero brought to her and pierced its tongue with a pin for opposing her husband. Greco-Roman banquets would have separate dining halls for men and women, so Salome had to take it to her mother (Osborne, comment on 14:11)
“the powers work in him”: I had translated it as “miracles worked by him.” But I like Grammarian Olmstead’s choice of words here. Herod didn’t know how to categorize Jesus, so the king would get things wrong, like believing that Jesus was John raised from the dead. Maybe Herod thought Jesus was a ghostly power or a god.
In v. 7, Herod Antipas swore a strong oath. Jesus teaches us not to do this at all:
33 Again, you have heard that it has been said to the people of old, “You shall not swear falsely. You shall give back to the Lord the oaths you have sworn” [Lev. 19:12; Deut. 23:22-23]. 34 But I tell you not to swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is the throne of God; 35 neither by the earth because it is the footstool for his feet; neither by Jerusalem because it is the city of the great King; 36 neither should you swear by your head because you are not able to make one hair white or black. 37 But let your word be “yes, yes, no, no.” Anything beyond them is from the evil one. (Matt. 5:33-37)
Keep your life simple and full of integrity. Just keep your word, straightforwardly, without complications.
“disciples”: the noun is mathētēs (pronounced mah-they-tayss). and it is used 261 times in the NT, though many of them are duplicates in the three synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. BDAG is considered by many to be the authoritative Greek lexicon of the NT, and it says of the noun (1) “one who engages in learning through instruction from another, pupil, apprentice”; (2) “one who is rather constantly associated with someone who has a pedagogical reputation or a particular set of views, disciple, adherent.”
Now let’s honor John the Immerser by reviewing his short life.
John’s birth is announced (Luke 1:11-20), and the angel Gabriel announces he shall be filled with the Holy Spirit in his mother’s womb:
“Don’t be afraid, Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth shall birth you a son, and you shall call his name ‘John.’ 14 He shall be a joy and rejoicing for you, and many people shall rejoice at his birth, 15 for he shall be great before the Lord. And he shall not drink wine or alcohol, and he shall be filled with the Holy Spirit while still in his mother’s womb. (Luke 1:13-15)
His mother Elizabeth conceives (Luke 1:23-25). Her shame of barrenness was removed.
24 After those days, his wife Elizabeth conceived and secluded herself for five months. 25 She said, “And thus the Lord acted for me in the years he looked with favor and removed my shame among the people.” (Luke 1:24-25)
His birth takes place (Luke 1:57-66). People knew he would be special, because of the human-oriented miracles that surrounded his birth:
“No one of your relatives is called by that name.” 62 They began to make signs to his father as to what he would want to call him. 63 He asked for a little writing tablet and wrote, saying, “John is his name.” And everyone was surprised. 64 Instantly his mouth was opened, and his tongue, and he began speaking and praising God. 65 And fear came on all their neighbors; and in the entire hill country of Judea, these words were spoken throughout. 66 Everyone who heard tucked it in their hearts, saying, “What will this child be?” For the hand of the Lord was with him. (Luke 1:61-66)
“Human-oriented miracles” means they were not signs in the sky, but blessed and help people down here on earth.
He begins his ministry in the wilderness of Judea (southern Israel) He wore austere clothing and ate honey and locusts. He prepared the way of the Lord Messiah (Matt. 3:1-12; Mark 1:2-8).
1 In those days, John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 2 saying, “Repent! For the kingdom of heaven has drawn near!” 3 For he is the one spoken of through Isaiah the prophet, saying:
A voice shouting in the wilderness:
“Prepare the road of the Lord
Make straight his paths!” [Is. 40:3]
4 John himself had his clothes of camel hair and leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region around Jordan went out to him, 6 and they were being baptized in the Jordan River by him, confessing their sins. (Matt. 3:1-5)
He preached the baptism of repentance, which meant that people had to bring forth or do good works in keeping with repentance (Matt. 3:7-12; Luke 3:7-14; Acts 13:24)
7 Then, seeing many Pharisees and Sadducees were coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You offspring of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 So then produce fruit in keeping with repentance, 9 and do not think to say among yourselves, ‘We have Father Abraham.’ For I tell you that God is able from these rocks to raise up children to Abraham! 10 Already the axe is being plied to the root of the tree! Therefore, every tree not producing good fruit will be cut down and tossed into fire! 11 On the one hand, I baptize you with water for repentance; in contrast, the one coming after me is stronger than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry! He will baptize you in the Holy Spirit and fire! 12 The winnowing fork is in his hand and he will clear out his threshing floor and gather his wheat in the storehouse, and he will burn the chaff in unquenchable fire! (Matt. 3:7-12)
John’s baptism of repentance did not go far enough. People needed to be filled with the Spirit, and only Jesus the Messiah could do this, and John himself said so:
11 On the one hand, I baptize you with water for repentance; in contrast, the one coming after me is stronger than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry! He will baptize you in the Holy Spirit and fire! 12 The winnowing fork is in his hand and he will clear out his threshing floor and gather his wheat in the storehouse, and he will burn the chaff in unquenchable fire! (Matt. 3:11-12)
Here is how his (ultimately) insufficient baptism of repentance and water had to be supplemented with the fulness of the Spirit. Paul is speaking to certain disciples who had received only John’s baptism:
2 He said to them, “Have you received the Holy Spirit when you believed?” They replied to him, “We have not at all heard whether there is the Holy Spirit.” 3 And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” And they said, “Into John’s baptism.” 4 Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people that they should believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” 5 When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 And when Paul put his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, they began to speak in Spirit-inspired languages and to prophesy. 7 They were about twelve men in total. (Acts 19:2-7, my tentative translation)
As noted, he testified concerning Jesus (Matt. 3:11-12; Mark 1:7-8; John 1:29-36). Here is a key passage from the Gospel of John:
29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” (John 1:29-34, ESV)
He proclaimed that Jesus was to become greater and he lesser (John 3:25-30). “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).
He baptized Jesus (Matt. 3:13-17; Luke 3:21-22), and the Father’s declaration over his Son teaches that the Son really must increase and John must decrease.
13 Then Jesus appeared from Galilee to John at the Jordan in order to be baptized by him. 14 But John was preventing him saying, “I have need to be baptized by you, and you come to me?” 15 But in reply, Jesus said to him, “Permit it now, for in this way it is appropriate for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John permitted him. 16 And being baptized, Jesus instantly got up out of the water, and look! the heaven opened up to him and he saw the Spirit of God coming down as a dove and coming upon him. 17 And listen! A voice from heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I delight!” (Matt. 3:13-17)
As we just saw, he was arrested by Herod (Matt. 4:12; Mark 1:14). Matthew announces this before he described it in more detail in 14:1-12. Herod really did arrest John and kept him in prison soon after Jesus began his ministry. Poor John languished in prison from then on.
In prison, he expressed doubts about Jesus’s Messiahship (Matt. 11:2-6; Luke 7:18-23)
As we just read in this chapter, he was unjustly beheaded by Herod (Matt. 14:1-12; Mark 6:14-29), as we see in these twelve verses.
And as noted above, he fulfilled the prophecy about Elijah returning in Spirit (Mal. 4:5-6; Matt. 11:7-19; Mark 9:11-13).
John was a powerful prophet, called of God. Jesus, his cousin (or relative of some kind), was called to surpass him, yet John did not mind one bit. In fact, John announced that this would happen, so he was not insecure about it. He understood his place. It is a sad fact that he died young at the hands of an unjust royal family (of sorts).
Herod was dead while living, and on John’s death he was alive. “And do not fear those who kill the body, but who are unable to kill the soul. But fear, rather, the one able to destroy both the soul and the body in Gehenna” (Matt. 10:28).
John’s disciples went and reported John’s death to Jesus. This happened in 11:1-19. Therefore, this passage about John’s death in 14:1-12 is a retrospective or flashback. It’s the storyteller’s art and license to tell the story of John, as Matthew wished..
GrowApp for Matt. 14:1-12
A.. Do you know someone who has come from a communist or Islamic country? Was his or her life threatened or oppressed? How do you react to injustice?
Jesus Feeds Five Thousand Men, Plus Women and Children (Matt. 14:13-21)
13 When Jesus heard, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. And when the crowds heard, they followed him on foot from their towns. 14 When he left, he saw a large crowd and was moved with compassion for them and healed the sick among them. 15 As evening was coming, his disciples approached him, saying, “The place is deserted and the hour has already gone by; send the crowds away, so they can go out into villages to buy food for themselves.” 16 But he said, “They don’t have to depart; you yourselves give them something to eat.” 17 But they said to him, “We have here only five loaves and two fish. 18 He said, “Bring them here to me.” 19 And ordering the crowds to recline on the grass, he took the five loaves and two fish, and looking up to heaven, he blessed and broke and gave the bread to his disciples, and then the disciples to the crowds. 20 And so everyone ate and was satisfied, and they took up an overflow of fragments, filling twelve baskets. 21 The men who ate were about five thousand, apart from women and children.
“In the Exod 16 story God gave the manna to the people, and here Jesus does the same, becoming the giver of manna that satisfies the multitudes. In 2 Kgs 4, Elisha fed one hundred with twenty loaves of bread. Notice that Elisha multiplied bread fivefold (a loaf was enough for one person) while Jesus multiplied it a thousand times (a fact that would have been noticed by the early church)” (Osborne, p. 564).
Jesus went first in a boat to a deserted place. Luke adds the detail that he went near the town Bethsaida (Julias), which was a town on the northeastern side of the Lake of Galilee (9:10). John 1:44 says that Philip, Peter and Andrew were originally from the town. Bethsaida was not a deserted or isolated place (v. 15), so we should understand that Jesus led the crowd away from the town.
“was moved with compassion”: The verb could be translated as “felt compassion,” but this attribute which God shares with us cannot remain static or unexpressed. It has to be active, or else it cannot be compassion.
Let’s explore the verb and the related noun more deeply. The verb is splanchnizomai (pronounced splankh-nee-zoh-my) and is used 12 times, exclusively in the Gospels. “It describes the compassion Jesus had for those he saw in difficulty” (Mounce, New Expository Dictionary, p. 128). BDAG defines the verb simply: “have pity, feel sympathy.”
BDAG further says the noun splanchnon (pronounced splankh-non) is related to the inward part of the body, especially the viscera, inward parts, entrails. But some update their translation with the noun as “heart.” So the verb is also related to the inward parts of a person. It could be translated as “Jesus felt compassion in the depths of his heart.”
As an important side note, in Hebrew the verb raḥam (pronounced rakh-am, and used 47 times) means “to have compassion on, show mercy, take pity on and show love.” The noun raḥamim (39 times) (pronounced rach’meem) means “compassion, mercy, pity.” Both words are related to the word for “womb,” when a woman feels close to and love for the human life growing there. It’s deep in God, too.
“heal”: the verb is therapeuō (pronounced thair-ah-pew-oh, our word therapy is related to it), and it means to “make whole, restore, heal, cure, care for.”
“sick”: it is the adjective arrōstos (pronounced ahr-roh-stoss), which means “the sick” or “the ill” or literally “the powerless.” Only Matthew uses this adjective and it appears five times.
“disciples”: see v. 12 for more comments.
Matthew explains why the twelve were thinking rationally (but not supernaturally or miraculously). There were five thousand men. They counted up the loaves and fish and reported back to him their natural calculations. They did not reckon on God intervening and making up the lack.
Luke adds the detail that Jesus has them sit down in groups of about fifty (9:14). Mark says fifties and hundreds (6:40) on green grass, indicating the spring or recent rains. Organization is not a bad thing. Sometimes the more fiery evangelists despise or at least ignore such earthly and ordinary matters. Their meetings are chaotic. Order and calm are not bad things (1 Cor. 14:40).
In any case, I have nicknamed Matthew, like John the Baptist is nicknamed: Matthew the Trimmer. He says five thousand but does not explain how he got to that number. Luke and Mark do clarify how they could calculate the crowds so easily. They sat down in companies.
When Jesus issued this challenge, the disciples must have thought he was detached from everyday reality. He was too heavenly minded to be any earthly good. It is true that he was heavenly minded, because he had a miracle in mind. He was in constant communication with his Father, and he expected a miracle. The twelve were not in such a deep and close communication.
The disciples doubted that the people had the money to buy loaves of bread to feed five thousand men, not counting women and children. Mark adds the comment that it would cost 200 denarii to buy enough bread (6:37). One denarius was a working man’s pay, but that amount is a little misleading because an agriculture worker had seasonal work, so he had to stretch what he got during the harvest. In any case, it would take 200 men to contribute one day’s wage to pay for enough bread. Perhaps not even Joanna and the other women (Luke 8:1-3) could buy that much in one day for one meal. But if they did so regularly, the community fund would have depleted fast, since Jesus spoke to many crowds, many times. And no doubt the twelve did send them away on other occasions. But not here, not now. Jesus would not allow it. A miracle was in the offing.
Matthew explains why the twelve were thinking rationally (but not supernaturally or miraculously). There were five thousand men. They counted up the loaves and fish and reported back to him their natural calculations. They did not reckon on God intervening and making up the lack.
Matthew says they sat on the grass (v. 19), so it was spring, which John 6:4 confirms: it took place near the Passover. This indicates that the harvest was months away, so the grain stores would have been low (Osborne, comment on 14:15; Keener, p. 404).
“gave thanks”: it comes from the Greek verb eulogeō (pronounced eu-loh-geh-oh, and the “g” is hard, as in “get”), and it literally means to “speak well.” BDAG defines the term, depending on the context, as follows: (1) “to say something commendatory, speak well of, praise, extol”; (2) “to ask for bestowal of special favor, especially of calling down God’s gracious power, bless”; (3) “to bestow a favor, provide with benefits.” Here it is the second definition. Some translations have “he gave thanks.” Being grateful even for food shows gratitude and an acknowledgement that God is the source.
The traditional Jewish blessing for bread: “Blessed art thou, Lord our God, King of the world, who bringest forth bread from the earth.” Jesus did not bless the bread, but blessed God” (Blomberg, comment on 14:19-21). They did not bless the bread, but they blessed God. Jesus did the same.
“satisfied”: I have heard too many miracle stories about food distribution. The kettle of soup could not seem to feed the surge of people who came into the soup kitchen, but the soup never ran out until the last person was fed. Apparently, the miracle was so great and powerful that the disciples picked twelve baskets full of fragments or leftovers, in abundance.
“overflow”: it comes from the Greek verb perisseuō (pronounced peh-rees-soo-oh), and it means “abound” or “abundance.”
“twelve baskets”: These were wicker baskets for carrying provisions for traveling (Osborne, comment on 14:20). This number matches the number of disciples. The leftovers were for the disciple’s advantage and use. No doubt they used it for themselves, sold some of it and also gave some of it away. In your paycheck from work, it is good to give some, save some and spend some, like paying the bills or buying necessities and some luxury items.
“apart from”: this does not indicate that women and children ate apart from the men, but it means in this context “not counting” women and children. Capernaum and Bethsaida had 2000-3000 people in each. So if the number of those fed goes up to 10,000 to 15,000, then the people came from all over the area. This was truly a nature miracle, beyond parallel.
One last theological point: Jesus indirectly shows himself to be the bread of heaven—indirectly because he does not announce it, as he did in John’s Gospel (6:35), after he fed the five thousand (6:1-14). This refers to the manna from heaven that fed the ancient Israelites going through the wilderness (Exod. 16). Jesus is our bread of heaven. He is our sustenance.
GrowApp for Matt. 14:13-21
A.. Jesus just worked a miracle of abundant provision, while the twelve disciples were thinking too small. Has he ever done this in your life, even though you were thinking too small?
Jesus and Peter Walk on Water (Matt. 14:22-33)
22 Then immediately Jesus made the disciples get into a boat and went ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 When he sent the crowds away, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was alone there. 24 The boat was already far away, many stadia from the land and was being beaten by the waves, for the wind was contrary. 25 At the fourth watch of the night, he came to them walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were startled, saying, “It’s a ghost!” They cried out with terror. 27 And instantly Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Be encouraged! It is I! Do not fear!” 28 In reply, Peter said to him, “If it is you, command me to come to you on the water!” 29 And he said, “Come!” And Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and went to Jesus. 30 But seeing the strong wind and beginning to sink, he cried out, saying, “Lord, save me!” 31 Instantly Jesus reached out his hand and took hold of him and said, “You of little faith! Why did you doubt?” 32 And when they got in the boat, the wind calmed down. 33 And they worshipped him in the boat, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God!”
This is a remarkable pericope (pronounced puh-RIH-koh-pea) or section of Scripture.
First, let’s handle the historical data. One stadia is 607ft. or 185m. The fourth watch is between 3:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m. The NET says, “When the night was ending,” but that’s only true if the hour was closer to 6:00.
“made” could be translated as “compelled.”
Matt. 14:34 and Mark 14:34 say that the boat landed Gennesaret, a small triangular plain on the north shore of the lake (Kinnereth in the OT, 1 Kings 15:20). John 6:17 says they landed in the town of Capernaum. Mark 6:45 says that Jesus sent his disciples ahead of him to the other side to Bethsaida (most likely Bethsaida Julias, just up the coast to the north on the same side of the lake), while he dismissed the crowd. The best solution is: “Jesus sent the disciples off across the lake, with the command to wait for him on the eastern shore near Bethsaida Julias, but not beyond a certain time. The delay in waiting for Jesus would then account for the actual walking on the water not occurring until the fourth watch (v. 25), i.e., after 3:00 a.m.” The disciples were to go on ahead of him until—not while he was free of the crowds, “after which he hoped to join them, after some time along in prayer; they would then cross ‘to the other side.’ Mark 6:45 specifies Bethsaida but has [heōs] plus the indicative [verb mood] …: the disciples were to go ‘to Bethsaida while’ not ‘until’ he sent the crowds away” (Carson, comment on v. 22).
That’s too complicated for this commentary, so let’s have Osborne bottom-line it: “Jesus sent them across but had told them to wait at Bethsaida ‘until’ … he dismissed the crowds and spent some time alone with God. If he was late, they were to leave. This probably occurred and explains why they were still on the sea after 3:00 a.m. (3:00h)” (comment on 14:22).
Postmodern critics can pounce on this seeming inconsistency, so let’s answer them.
My view of Scripture. It’s very high:
Begin a series on the reliability of the Gospels. Start with the Conclusion which has quick summaries and links back to the other parts:
See this part in the series that puts differences in perspective (a difference ≠ a contradiction):
From the beginning of Jesus’s ministry to his death, burial and resurrection and ascension, the flow of the story is identical.
Differences ≠ contradictions, and see the second link for why not and the third link for the coherence or unity of the Gospels, in the big storyline. Celebrate the massive number of similarities in all four Gospels, yes, even John.
Including data points in one Gospel
Omitting data points in another Gospel
= Differences ≠ Contradiction
= Differences ≠ Errors
How can there be a contradiction when one Gospel is silent on some minor details which the other Gospel includes? There is no contradiction.
Postmodern critics read these ancient accounts with no subtlety and finesse. They are eager to point out the differences and then proclaim to a “noninformed” world that the Gospels are unreliable, and the younger generation loses their faith. No, the Gospels are reliable. See the postmodern critics for who they are. They belong to the spirit of their age.
Now let’s move on.
Jesus dismissed or sent the crowds away (same Greek verb) because they could not hang out together 24/7, 365. They had to get back to work, and he needed some down time, to pray. He was alone on the mountain. There is no need for a specific location. Some translate it as “hills.” The main point is that he went into seclusion. Not even his disciples were with him—not Peter, James or John, the inner core. He needed to communicate with his Father.
“disciples”: see v. 12 for more comments.
“pray”: Jesus went by himself to pray. Luke presents Jesus as a regular prayer “warrior” (Luke 5:16; 9:18, 28-29; 11:1). To judge from the sequence of events, Jesus spent a long time to pray privately.
As noted elsewhere throughout this commentary series, it is the very common verb proseuchomai (pronounced pros-yew-khoh-my) and appears 85 times. The noun proseuchē (pronounced pros-yew-khay) is used 36 times, so they are the most common words for prayer or pray in the NT. They are combined with the preposition pros, which means, among other things, “towards,” and euchē, which means a prayer, vow and even a mere wish. But Christians took over the word and directed it towards the living God; they leaned in toward him and prayed their requests fully expecting an answer. It is not a mere wish to a pagan deity.
Prayer flows out of confidence before God that he will answer because we no longer have an uncondemned heart (1 John 3:19-24); and we know him so intimately that we find out from him what is his will is and then we pray according to it (1 John 5:14-15); we pray with our Spirit-inspired languages (1 Cor. 14:15-16). Pray!
Luke 5:16 says he often got alone by himself to pray. The lesson for us is obvious. If the mighty Son of God, who miraculously fed five thousand, plus women and children, and is about to walk on water, must pray, then we should too. No, our prayers won’t guarantee that we’ll walk on water, because God has to will it, but we still need to get our perspective right and our faith built up. Prayer is necessary for that.
“lake”: it is most often translated as “sea,” because of the Greek word, but the Shorter Lexicon offers the option of “lake.” And since the body of water in Galilee is a lake, I chose this term. The old traditional title, “The Sea of Galilee,” to modern readers, makes no sense when they see it on an online map; the term is inaccurate.
Blomberg is again open to the idea that something demonic is at work in this storm, because of the word “tormented,” which I translate as “being beaten” (comment on 14:22-24). The storm in 8:23-27 could also have had a satanic source behind it.
Jesus spoke courage into their hearts. “Be courageous!” It could be even translated “Be cheerful!”
In any case, the disciples saw him and cried out with fear and were terrified or troubled. So he had to minister to them and their fear. They thought they had seen a ghost. They were not thinking that they had seen Jesus’s ghost, since they had no reason to believe he was dead. It was just a ghost (or so they wrongly thought). However, there are no ghosts, but their fear got the better of them and warped their beliefs. The disciples had bad theology. It came from pop culture. Beware of pop culture. It is bound by bad thinking, mixed in with Satan’s devices and strategies.
“disciples”: see v. 12 for more comments.
“It is I”: It could more literally be translated as “I am!” This entire passage may refer to this passage in Job: God “alone stretched out the heavens and trampled the waves of the sea … Behold, he passes by me, and I see him not; he moves on, but I do not perceive him” (Job 9:8, 11, ESV). This is an indirect reference to Christ’s deity. It was a manifestation of the divine presence, a theophany or Christophany of sorts.
“It is I”: it could be translated as “I am.” In light of the divine manifestation of Christ, it is possible that Jesus was referring to Exod. 3:14: “I Am who I Am.” On the other hand, it was a common way of saying, “It’s me!” You can decide, based on the context.
Let’s dive into a brief systematic theological discussion.
Jesus worked this miracle by (1) his divine nature and the will of the Father; (2) or by the power of the Spirit and the will of the Father. Many theologians opt for the first one, which closes the door on our being able to walk on water by the will of the Father, even though we participate in the divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4). Our participation in the divine nature is not as complete as his. He imported his divine nature with him from heaven; we do not. He was conceived by the Spirit, without a sin nature; we were born with a sin nature. However, Peter walked on water, by his faith and, yes, by his courage and by the will of the Father, as expressed by his Son permitting it.
The Father and the Spirit cooperated with his divine nature, so the first and third persons of the Trinity are working together in the Son of God. His entire ministry was about doing what the Father did and in a similar manner.
19 “Jesus then replied and said to them, “I tell you the firm truth: The Son is unable to do anything on his own, unless it is something he sees the Father doing, for the things that he does—the Son also does those things in like manner. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows to him everything that he himself is doing” … (John 5:19-20).
“Unable” should not be over-interpreted, but simply means that in his ministry, the Father empowers him. So in those two verses, the Father and Son cooperate to do the works–the miracles. And the Father anointed the Son with the Spirit. Thus, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit performed the works or miracles in the Gospels. It is the Trinity working together who inaugurated the kingdom of God and confirmed it by the signs and wonders. We too, by the Father’s will, and in the name of Jesus, through the power of the Spirit can do the works of God. Peter walked on the water, by the working of the Trinity.
So all of his prayers and commands were done by the Father’s will.
So now we have another factor: our faith. Yet, caution must be shown here. It is mainly by the will of the Father. Don’t presume you know it at all times and in minute detail. If you believe that you do, then you can take a step of faith, but if you sink, then you did not hear from your Father; you heard your own wishful thinking inside your head. Peter was clear about it because Jesus gave him permission, and Jesus did and said only what the Father told him (John 14:10). His “communication lines” were perfectly clear and perfectly open. Yours are not.
A third option: (3) Jesus did this miracle by his divine nature, the power of the Spirit and the will of the Father. Note the constant term in these three options: the will of the Father.
Usually, however, most Bible interpreters take the second option: the power of the Spirit (Acts 10:38) and the Father’s will.
I heard a story about a missionary in West Africa, back in the 1930s. He was called to penetrate the dark jungles and took a team with him. It rained and rained for a long time. The rivers were swollen. They got to the main one before they reached their target group. It was getting dark. What now? The Spirit spoke to him to pitch their tents and go to sleep. They woke up the next morning and realized that everything had been moved to the farther side of the river! This was done by the will of the Father.
Was their faith involved? They were being faithful—a word related to faith—by going on their journey into the jungle in the first place. So their faith sustained them throughout their entire mission and indirectly by being miraculously transported across the river at night—all their supplies, too. When you follow the will of your Father, which requires you to surrender to him, then he will gladly work miracles.
Finally, let’s discuss Peter’s courage. It is easy to see why he would be a foundation stone—next to the chief cornerstone (Jesus)—for the earliest Jesus Movement and the church. It is remarkable that he would blurt out this request. Realistically, and setting aside your hero status in your own mind, your self-conceived legendary status, would you really ask to walk on water like this in contrary winds and waves beating up your boat? Few of us would. It is now easy to see why he was the lead apostle in the book of Acts, until Acts 15, when Paul became Luke’s main character. Peter was courageous and bold. He was at first inconsistent, but when the power of the Spirit came on him at Pentecost and subsequent times, he was consistently strong and sure-footed.
“Disciples were expected to imitate their masters, and Jesus is training disciples who will not simply regurgitate his oral teachings but who will have the faith to demonstrate God’s authority in practice as well (see especially 17:19-20; 21:20-22)” (Keener, p. 407). Then Keener reminds us that the priests in Joshua time stepped out in faith (Josh 3:8, 13, 15-17).
So Peter walked on the water by the will of the Father through his Son Jesus and by his faith. He lost his miracle-working faith when he looked at the surroundings. Be careful not to allow your circumstances to tear down your faith and make you doubt.
Jesus used an interesting verb for doubt: distazō (pronounced dee-stah-zoh). BDAG is considered by many to be the authoritative lexicon of the Greek NT, and it defines the verb as follows: “to be uncertain, to have second thoughts about a matter.” (1) “To have doubts concerning something, doubt, waver”; (2) “To be uncertain about taking a particular course of action, hesitate in doubt.” The di prefix comes from dis, which means double or twice (Liddell and Scott). So Peter began to be afraid because he looked around him at his circumstances and his mind went both towards Jesus and his circumstances. He became doubleminded. And Jas. 1:8 says a doubleminded man is unstable in all his ways. Peter became unstable while he was walking on the water. When he kept his eyes on Jesus and was walking towards him, he was experiencing the miracle. But when he took his eyes off of his Lord, he began to sink. He became unstable.
Peter’s cry “save me!” mirrors the cry in 8:25 (“Lord, save us; we’re about to die!”). It looks a lot like Ps. 69:2-3, 15-16: “I sink in deep mire, where there is not foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me. … Let not the flood sweep over me or the deep swallow me up … Answer me Lord, for your steadfast love is good, according to your abundant mercy turn to me” (ESV).
When you hear a bad doctor’s report or the police call you and tell you your son has been arrested, trust God and keep your eyes on Jesus. Don’t become doubleminded. Mark 9:24: “Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief!” That’s the basic prayer. You need to move on from there to Mark 11:24: Whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. Hold on! Ask God for faith! And then ask God in faith. Always keep your eyes on your loving Father.
Blomberg comments on the disciples’ different reactions in the parallel account in Mark’s Gospel and the one here:
Thus far their Christology is based solely on Jesus’ mighty acts, scarcely the ideal basis for faith (cf. John 20:29). Mark 6:52, while jarringly different from Matthew’s conclusion and reflecting Mark’s emphasis on the disciples’ lack of understanding, is thus not contradictory. Followers of Jesus in fact regularly experience a combination of faith and doubt. For now, however, Matthew wants to focus on the positive side of the disciples’ response and on the proper answer to the question of who Jesus is. (comment on 14:32-33)
“Son of God”: Jesus was the Son of the Father eternally, before creation. The Son has no beginning. He and the Father always were, together. The relationship is portrayed in this Father-Son way so we can understand who God is more clearly. Now he relates to us as his sons and daughters. On our repentance and salvation and union with Christ, we are brought into his eternal family.
4. Do I Really Know Jesus? He Took the Form of a Servant (Jesus did not lose one divine attribute when he was incarnated).
Let’s move quickly through systematic theology on the Trinity. The Father in his role as the Father is superior to the Son; the Father guides the whole of creation and the plan of the ages. The Son carries out the plan, notably by being born as a man, humbling himself, taking on the form of a servant (Phil. 3:7-8). He humbled himself so deeply and thoroughly that he died a death on the cross, the instrument of the death penalty.
However, the Father and Son are equal in their essence or nature. The Father is fully God and the Son is fully God, in their essence. Phil. 2:6: Jesus did not regard equality with God as something to hold on to, but he surrendered the environment of heaven and took the form of a servant.
Function or role: the Father is over the Son in his incarnation and the redemptive plan
In their essence or essential nature: Father and Son are equal.
No question about it. Jesus accepted worship. He did not act like an angel and turn away the worship. “Don’t worship me! Only God receives worship!” Instead, he accepted it. Now for a little word study. It is the verb proskuneō (pronounced pros-koo-neh-oh), and it literally means “kiss toward” (kun– means to “fall” or “kneel,” and yes, “kiss” in the sense of honoring, and pros means “towards,” among other things). Further, it can mean, depending on the context, “(fall down and) worship, do obeisance to, prostrate oneself before, do reverence to, welcome respectfully.” The Bible shows that people do those things to humans (Matt. 18:26; Acts 10:25; Rev. 3:9); to God (Matt. 4:10; John 4:20, 23; 12:20; Acts 24:11; 1 Cor. 14:25; Heb. 11:21; Rev. 4:10; 14:7; 19:4); to idols (Acts. 7:43); to the devil and Satanic beings (Matt. 4:9; Luke 4:7; Rev. 9:20; 13:4; 14:9, 11); to Christ (Matt. 2:2, 8, 11; 8:2; 9:18: 14:33; 20:20; 15:25; 28:9, 17; Mark 5:6; 15:19; Luke 24:52).
Welcoming people respectfully is appropriate. However, the only appropriate beings to whom worships belongs and is due are God and Christ, not humans or devils or idols.
GrowApp for Matt. 14:22-33
A.. Read Jas. 1:5-8. When you pray for wisdom (or anything else), are you doubleminded, or do you ask with singleminded faith? How do you build your faith?
Jesus Heals the Sick in Gennesaret (Matt. 14:34-36)
34 Then, after they crossed over to the other side, they came to the land of Gennesaret. 35 The men of that place recognized him and sent word into that entire surrounding countryside and brought to him everyone who was sick. 36 They pleaded with him so that they might only touch the edge of his cloak. And everyone who touched it was healed.
Now we know why Jesus wanted to go to the other side. He needed to minister to people over there. France says it is probably the modern Ginosar (p. 572). You can look up in an online Bible map where Gennesaret was. For my limited purpose, I note it was a fertile plain south of Capernaum.
“men”: it literally says “men,” not “people.” Apparently in this area, tradition took over and men were the leaders. They’re the ones who sent word to the entire area, and the people (or the men) brought the sick to him.
I really like that people brought their sick friends and relatives and really cared for them to go to all that trouble. I wonder if we care for our own ill friends and families. I certainly hope people do not suffer alone in their illness and die alone.
Remember what Matt. 25:34-35 says:
34 “Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food to eat; I was thirsty and you me something to drink; I was a stranger and you took me in; naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you visited me; and I was in prison and you came to me.’ (Matt. 25:34-35)
Those two verses are talking about visiting the disciples of Jesus (not spiritualized to be talking about Israel, as some teach). We must visit the down and out. Here in Mark 6:53-56, the wise people took their sick to Jesus, who healed them.
“They sent word”: the word word is implied, but it is not in Greek. It could be translated: “they sent a message” throughout the entire land.
I love this verse. They begged or pleaded with him to do one simple thing. Could they—would he permit them?—to touch the edge of his cloak or garment? He permitted it. He loved their faith. He honored it. Dear people of God, we have only one requirement, from our limited human point of view. We must have faith in him to be healed. Reach out to him. No, it is not superstition to touch the fringe or tassels of his garment. But don’t turn it into a gimmick and sell them to people.
Here’s what Num. 15:37-41 says about the tassels on the edge of the prayer shawl.
37 The Lord said to Moses, 38 “Speak to the people of Israel, and tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a cord of blue on the tassel of each corner. 39 And it shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the Lord, to do them, not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to whore after. 40 So you shall remember and do all my commandments, and be holy to your God. 41 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God: I am the Lord your God.” (Num. 15:37-41, ESV; cf. Deut. 22:12)
The goal here is to remember God always. The tassels on Jesus’s garment showed that he was a man of devotion and prayer. His fellow-Jews could see his witness. But I see no reason to start a movement of law-keeping Christians to wear this shawl everywhere. Of course it harms no one physically or morally, but law keeping that is not about moral law is risky because the NT streamlines such outer appearances. The Epistles to the Galatians warns about keeping rituals that put up walls between believers. Prayer shawls may be a needlessly pious sign that one is more super-spiritual than the other church member sitting across the aisle. Bottom line: the Hebrew roots movement can be excessive and exclusive and major in the minors. Be careful. Be free.
“healed”: The verb is diasōzō (pronounced dee-ah-soh-zoh and used 8 times), and the prefix means “through.” Here are the occurrences: Matt. 14:36; Mark 14:36; Luke 7:3; Acts 23:24; 27:43-44; 28:1, 4; 2; 1 Pet. 3:20. It means what the regular verb does, but often to be rescued through and up to the very end, like Paul’s ship landing on Malta after going through the storm.
The regular or more common verb is sōzō: Since the theology of salvation (soteriology) is so critical for our lives, let’s look more closely at the noun salvation, which is sōtēria (pronounced soh-tay-ree-ah and used 46 times) and at the verb sōzō (pronounced soh-zoh and used 106 times)
Greek is the language of the NT. BDAG defines the noun sōtēria as follows, depending on the context: (1) “deliverance, preservation” … (2) “salvation.”
The verb sōzō means “save, rescue, heal” in a variety of contexts, but mostly it is used of saving the soul. BDAG says that the verb means, depending on the context: (1) “to preserve or rescue from natural dangers and afflictions, save, keep from harm, preserve,” and the sub-definitions under no. 1 are as follows: save from death; bring out safely; save from disease; keep, preserve in good condition; thrive, prosper, get on well; (2) “to save or preserve from transcendent danger or destruction, save or preserve from ‘eternal’ death … “bring Messianic salvation, bring to salvation,” and in the passive it means “be saved, attain salvation”; (3) some passages in the NT say we fit under the first and second definition at the same time (Mark 8:5; Luke 9:24; Rom. 9:27; 1 Cor. 3:15).
As noted throughout this commentary, the noun salvation and the verb save go a lot farther than just preparing the soul to go on to heaven. Together, they have additional benefits: keeping and preserving and rescuing from harm and dangers; saving or freeing from diseases and demonic oppression; and saving or rescuing from sin dominating us; ushering into heaven and rescuing us from final judgment. What is our response to the gift of salvation? You are grateful and then you are moved to act. When you help or rescue one man from homelessness or an orphan from his oppression, you have moved one giant step towards salvation of his soul. Sometimes feeding a hungry man and giving clothes to the naked or taking him to a medical clinic come before saving his soul.
All of it is a package called salvation and saved.
After Pentecost, Peter walked by people, and his shadow healed them (Acts 5:15), and Paul’s clothing was a contact point for healing (Acts 19:12). Never condescend towards people’s faith and the means by which God chooses to heal them. The power is not in the cloth or the dimmed light, but in God through his Son.
As noted, please don’t turn this “clothing miracle” into a gimmicky fundraising ploy. This “method” of healing is unusual, not usual. Don’t build an entire theology and practice on it.
Turner lays out the high Christology in Matthew’s Gospel:
Jesus is “worshiped” in Matthew by the magi, a leper, a synagogue official, a Canaanite woman, the mother of Zebedee’s sons, and the disciples (2:2, 8, 11; 8:2; 9:18; 15:25; 20:20; 28:9, 17). The word [proskuneō pros-koo-neh-oh] sometimes describes only a respectful bow to a superior, not the religious worship of deity (18:26), but in the overall and immediate contexts of Matthew, the translation “worship” is warranted in most cases. In 14:33, the disciples worship Jesus and confess that he really is the Son of God after seeing him feed thousands of people, walk on water, and stop a perilous storm. Their confession of Jesus’s divine sonship should also be viewed in the highest sense, given Matthean texts (e.g. 2:15; 3:17; 4:3, 6; 8:29; 16:16; 17:5; 21:37; 22:2, 45; 26:63; 27:40, 43, 54; 28:19) (p. 376).
GrowApp for Matt. 14:34-36
A.. Do you believe in healing? Have you held your ground and sought him for it? Tell your story.
Summary and Conclusion
This chapter begins with sadness, John the Baptist was unjustly beheaded. Remember that John was Jesus’s cousin (or more broadly his relative of some kind). When Jesus heard about it, he withdrew and sent his disciples off to the other side of the Lake of Galilee. Jesus went up to a mountain to pray. He was there by himself. Meanwhile, the waves were hitting the boat where the twelve were. How would Jesus get to them? Would he run around the big lake and meet them on the shore? Would he walk and appear hours later, as they waited for him? What else would the Son of God do other than walk on the water! It was dark. The twelve were startled and cried that he was a ghost. He reassured them by speaking courage in their hearts.
Peter blurted out and asked him if he could walk on the water too. Jesus permitted it. He took a few steps, but then he looked around at the contrary winds that pushed up the waves, and he became doubleminded and hesitated. He began to sink and called out on the Lord to save him. Jesus reached out his hand and took hold of him and lifted him up. They got in the boat together, and the wind calmed down. How else would they respond but worship and proclaim him to be the Son of God?
Why did he go over to the other side? He spent a fair number of hours healing everyone who touched the edge of his garment. They begged him for his permission to do this. They reached out to him in faith. He didn’t have to lay hands on each one. He permitted it, and everyone was healed. Renewalists yearn for the day when everyone in their church services get healed. Lord, may it happen!
Blomberg, Craig L. Matthew: The New American Commentary. Vol. 22 (Broadman, 1992).
Carson, D. A. Matthew: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Rev. Ed. by Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland. Vol. 9. (Zondervan, 2010).
France, R. T. The Gospel of Matthew: New International Commentary on the New Testament. (Eerdmans 2007).
Garland, David E. Reading Matthew: A Literary and Theological Commentary (Smyth and Helways, 2001).
The Greek New Testament. Fifth Revised Edition by Barbara Aland, Kurt Aland, Johannes Karavidopoulos, Carlo M. Martini, Bruce M. Metzger (United Bible Society, 2014).
Keener, Craig. A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew. (Eerdmans 1999).
Olmstead, Wesley G. Matthew 1-14: A Handbook on the Greek Text. (Baylor UP, 2019).
Osborne, Grant R. Matthew: Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. (Zondervan, 2010).
Turner, David L. Matthew: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Baker Academic, 2008).