Did Jesus walk on water or is the story just a literary device?

As many of us are aware the sea represents chaos in the ocean and we understand its symbolism and connection to things like death and baptism. We see also aware of how the Bible uses hyperbole as well. One typical standard I often see being used, including by myself, is that anything that’s to fantastical is often just disregarded as not to be taken literally.

My question is when it says Jesus walked on the water during the storm do you believe it’s just a metaphor of how Jesus was going to conquer chaos and death or do you additionally believe that it is a real true historical event. That Jesus preformed this miracle?

For me I believe that he did. Now I do not think it’s scientifically possible to analyze that scene and walk away without a supernatural explanation.


I don’t think it has to be either/or. Yes, I believe it really happened, but it is also neat to see what kinds of symbolism can be read into the circumstances.


i do not think the claim of allegories or hyperbolic is a literary technique that can be applied to any event in the bible we cannot explain scientifically. The second one does that, the entire theme of the bible goes straight out the window.

The notion of God who is everlasting

none of the above can be explained scientifically and all of them are fantastical!

The bible is quite clear as to whether or not it statements/stories are to be taken literally or metaphorically etc.

We can use quite modern literary techniques to ascertain writings that use historical statements are exactly that, historical accounts. They will have times and dates, persons names, places…its as if the writer is actually there or knows someone who was. There are clearly not fictional stories in such circumstances. The Old Testament regularly uses real historical events to help explain future events or theological doctrines. The reason for this should be quite obvious, that is the best way to explain…we still do it today all the time in our school classrooms. We paint pictures of actual events in order to help our children conceptualize and therefore learn.

Historical examples of literal events

1Then the LORD said to Moses, 2“On the first day of the first month you are to set up the tabernacle, the Tent of Meeting. 3Put the ark of the Testimonya in it and screen off the ark with the veil. 4Then bring in the table and set out its arrangement; bring in the lampstand as well, and set up its lamps.

1After the death of Joshua, the Israelites inquired of the LORD, “Who will be the first to go up and fight for us against the Canaanites?”

2“Judah shall go up,” answered the LORD.

1These are the words of Nehemiah son of Hacaliah:In the month of Chislev,a in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa, 2Hanani, one of my brothers, arrived with men from Judah. So I questioned them about the remnant of the Jews who had survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem.

In contrast to the above, if someone is in vision, the bible usually says so…the words are clearly not historical (although they may, and usually do, point an event in the future).

Vision example

John was clearly in vision when he received the information he wrote down in the book of Revelation:

1This is the revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants what must soona come to pass. He made it known by sending His angel to His servant John, 2who testifies to everything he saw.

It is very very easy to pick the difference between the two on most occasions. The bible is quite consistent on this idea, and in the event one may be unsure, there are usually multiple supporting references on a particular theology to help clear up any confusion in meaning.


Makes you think. What goes through my mind is how to reconcile Jesus with the limitations of being human with walking on water. When Satan tempted him, he refused to exercise his divinity for what might be considered personal gain, but did exercise his divinity in this instance, presumable to make a point or two for the benefit of his disciples and perhaps for Peter in particular.


Naturally it’s just a literary device. Beguilingly it is a fitting part of the greatest literature ever written, relative to its time. Bar none. The Gospels and Acts are the greatest story ever told. Unnaturally so? Could be. I want them to be certainly. They are the literary Excession. If one takes the posit of their key, core, Excessional, claim; Incarnation, then Jesus actually walking on the water fits perfectly. Even though making it work is challenging. He was walking, physically propelling Himself using frictional forces on instantaneously erstwhile fluid whose friction decreases when naturally solid. Not floating aethereally driven by will. Others will say the Incarnation happened but rationalize away anything they don’t like or is explicable by the humanity of the writers. If I do the latter, the Incarnation disappears as there is no smoking gun of divine intelligence.

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Sure but no one is ever really arguing over tents. It’s typically in places like “ did someone will get carried away on a chariot of fire into the heavens “ or did god really give someone supernatural strength because of a mothers prayer and grown out hair to the point he was empowered to kill himself and everyone under the pillars and so on. Not everyone in here believes those things happened but were hyperbolic. So I’m curious for those how do they not also include hyperbole into the stories of Jesus. After all many of the wars are believed to by hyperbolically developed.

Care to share why you think this?

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Plain text reading of the story with no reason to believe otherwise in the text.

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Yes, this. I believe the NT miracles happened, but the way they are presented in the Gospels is usually significant to the literary sturcture of the narrative and has symbolic meaning that goes way beyond “Jesus did this cool thing.” I was thinking about this the other day. Signs from God are only going to be interpreted as God trying to tell you something if God communicates in ways that people in that time and place have a frame for interpreting as definitely God giving them a sign. So like feeding the 5,000 out in this wildernessy place far from a town where you could buy food was really significant because they rehearsed over and over again as a people that God gave the Israelites manna when they were hungry in the wilderness. Moses commanded the Red Sea to part and it did, and Jesus commands the Sea of Galilee to calm down and it did. I think the original audience was probably making lots of connections we don’t necessarily make because we don’t have the same expectations about what God would do if he wanted to give us a sign.


“Between the two” sets up a false dichotomy resting on the assumption that what a given piece of literature looks like to a modern reader is what that piece of literature really is. The actual set of options rests on what kind of literature a given text is – not what it appears to be to a modern reader but what it was written as by the ancient writer and understood as by the ancient audience.

The most common error resulting from this false dichotomy is to treat as historical narrative things which aren’t even close to that; the other common error is treat as ‘symbolic’ things that actually are meant as historical narrative [I put “symbolic” in half-quotes because the term today does not mean what it did in the times when the various books of the Bible were set down in ink; I am here using it in the much more vacuous modern meaning].

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I actually heard a seminary professor maintain that this was a case of Jesus being “absent minded”, forgetting to stick to His human abilities! but prior to that neglecting to get in the boat with the disciples when they set out.

It’s more reasonable to consider this as what John calls a “sign”, an action performed as a signifier of Jesus’ identity. In fact the account as written by John is intriguing because it uses a phrase quite common to Mark:

and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going.

“Immediately” (“straightaway” in some translations) is so common in Mark it’s almost an identifying marker, but in John it’s used very sparingly. It should be noted, though, that “straightaway” is actually the better translation because the word εὐθύς or εὐθέως (same word, different spelling) doesn’t mean “instantaneously” but refers to an interval that is short but also uneventful. So John is contrasting the effort of the disciples rowing for several miles already and then the consternation of seeing Jesus walking calmly on what they’d been laboring through with the peace and calm – and presumably meditative silence! – after Jesus was in the boat.

Matthew’s version actually shows this as a “sign”, an action that reveals Jesus’ identity, writing:

And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

This is a bit of a follow-up to a different sign that happened earlier: Jesus commanding a storm to “chill!”, as one first-year NT Greek student I knew rendered it. On that occasion the disciples responded with questioning among themselves,

Who is this that the wind and sea obey Him?

Knowing their Old Testament scriptures they might have made the connection that it is God who stills the storm and calms the sea, but they didn’t quite make that leap, so we can see this action as a continuation of the lesson; they didn’t get it before, so Jesus ups the ante with a control of the sea that goes beyond just giving orders – walking on the sea declares His lordship over it without even needing to give commands; it serves Him as He wills.

Literary device? No: this shows the disciples in a bad light! They didn’t get the lesson when Jesus gave orders to the sea and weather, so it took this second demonstration to get the point across – and then the one disciple who had the courage to try going over to Jesus on the water fails in his faith just as he reaches Jesus!

It’s also interesting that John sandwiches the account with another failed lesson: seeing Him feed a huge crowd with just a small amount of food should have reminded many, even most of them of the manna God provided in the wilderness. They saw His disciples get into the boat and leave, but in the morning Jesus is also gone, and when they find Him back on the other side of the sea at least some of them ought to have recognized that something beyond the ordinary had happened. They do ask how He got there, but instead of answering that Jesus picks up on the (failed) lesson from the day before, first commenting on their motives for effectively chasing across the sea after the disciples when they couldn’t find Him, then shifting into the significance of His supplying bread the day before.

Now John’s arrangement, putting the incident in the middle of another lesson where the crowd of so-so-maybe disciples had to have things pointed out to them, with the core disciples also being rather obtuse, is perhaps a literary device – though I wouldn’t put it past Jesus to do it that way on purpose " to make a point or two for the benefit of his disciples and perhaps for Peter in particular."

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I tend to take the miracle stories literally, but I wonder if this might be a post-resurrection appearance.

A professor of New Testament studies I was privileged to take some classes from once commented, in relation to John’s account and concerning Jesus, “Everything He does, teaches”. John makes that explicit by referring to miracles as “signs”, but it fits all the miracles Jesus did – “signs” point to just who Jesus is, and that is a form of teaching. At the same time, the miracles weren’t just some kind of a show; they flowed naturally from who Jesus was/is, i.e. they were expressions of His character.

So, a question: given that the synoptic Gospels were written and distributed while eyewitnesses were still around, would any of the writers have dared to invent some miracle to make a point about Jesus? It would have been so easy for someone to speak up and say, “That didn’t happen!”, especially if it was one of the Twelve who supposedly had been at the alleged event. And there’s this: if a reported miracle is put in the story to tell about Jesus’ character, given who Jesus was/is doesn’t it make more sense that Jesus actually did what was written down, since doing it illustrates His character? Half of the point of His ministry was making clear just Who He was, and actually doing those miracles rather than just having some of the disciples make them up and writing them down testifies to His character more than if they’d been made up. In short, if they express Jesus’ character (and identity), the likelihood is that He really did them.


I see no reason not to believe this really happened. I also see no reason to believe there was any supernatural magic, or that there was no rational scientific explanation for it. Thinking about it rationally Jesus was not actually walking on the top of the water. This isn’t logically possible in a stormy sea because walking and talking requires a (mostly) flat unchanging surface. A ping pong ball sits on the top of the water and in a stormy sea it would be bobbing up and down as well as tossed into the air. If Jesus was doing such a thing, surely the story would have said so.

Miracle, yes. Supernatural magic no. I think this even is more of a source of metaphor than an example of metaphor.

That is where we disagree. I think the opposite is more sensible, that the description is more compatible with a scientific explanation and the supposed supernatural explanation isn’t even coherent. In fact, I think this an example of a typical god of the gaps methodology sweeping things under the divine rug so as to abolish any actual thought on the matter.

I think the story is describing Jesus walking on a flat solid surface under the top of the water. And if that flat solid surface is made of water then it would logically be ice, since that is the word we use for water in a solid form.

Now if the story had him walking above the surface of the water that would be a different matter.

I think that depends on how they’re applied. There’s only been brief mention of science on this, but it is an interesting question: such miracles demonstrate Jesus’ identity, but that doesn’t make asking “How?” useless. To readers back then, the fact that He did it is sufficient; we more (scientifically) curious moderns like to poke into just what way He commanded the water so that He could walk on it – if that’s what He did; there’s nothing saying He didn’t do “contact levitation” so that as long as His feet were touching the water His weight was cancelled…
Except if His weight was cancelled, that just makes it more complex: if His weight was cancelled, what about His mass? If His mass was cancelled in order to cancel His weight, the wind would have blown Him around. Or is this levitation just carefully applied antigravity?
Personally it makes more sense if He took a piece of simpler natural law and applied it – that’s how the water to wine was done: God turns water to wine all the time, He just usually uses vines and grapes and rain and sun. So also God makes things stay on top of the water all the time – I’m thinking of skipping rocks (which remind me of Peter: at first they bounce off the water but eventually sink), which is an application of force to overcome gravity via Newton’s laws. So I immediately think of surface tension, which allows spiders and insects to walk on water, and just amplifying it enough to support human weight.


I don’t believe Jesus was a purveyor of optical illusions and parlor tricks.

It occurred to me that we could have some fun if we could alter this one or that one on a very localized basis, so that a lead balloon could rise, for instance (or pigs fly? ; - ). Maybe that’s what some miracles are, and the Creator of the Cosmos incarnate could do just that, temporarily altering the necessary physical constant(s), including chemical reaction speeds perhaps.

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Ever heard of the Basilisk lizard aka the Jesus Christ Lizard?

It can walk on water

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Most of us have I expect, except maybe the youngest among us.

Why would it? It’s about science and faith. What’s a scientific explanation for this? Must science and faith always align? I’m not sure if you read the entire post, but I specifically mention the word science in it opening up the discussion for a scientific critique of this.

This is a person we believe rose from the dead a few years later…isn’t it? Why does this story need to be broken down into believable bits?