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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. VI:
The Harmony of the Gospels.: Chapter XLVII

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter XLVII.—Of His Walking Upon the Water, and of the Questions Regarding the Harmony of the Evangelists Who Have Narrated that Scene, and Regarding the Manner in Which They Pass Off from the Section Recording the Occasion on Which He Fed the Multitudes with the Five Loaves.

99. Matthew goes on with his account in the p. 150 following terms: “And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, He was there alone. But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary. And in the fourth watch of the night He came unto them, walking on the sea. And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit;” and so on, down to the words, “They came and worshipped Him, saying, Of a truth Thou art the Son of God.” 1064 In like manner, Mark, after narrating the miracle of the five loaves, gives his account of this same incident in the following terms: “And when it was late, the ship was in the midst of the sea, and He alone on the land. And He saw them toiling in rowing: for the wind was contrary to them,” and so on. 1065 This is similar to Matthew’s version, except that nothing is said as to Peter’s walking upon the waters. But here we must see to it, that no difficulty be found in what Mark has stated regarding the Lord, namely, that, when He walked upon the waters, He would also have passed by them. For in what way could they have understood this, were it not that He was really proceeding in a different direction from them, as if minded to pass those persons by like strangers, who were so far from recognizing Him that they took Him to be a spirit? Who, however, is so obtuse as not to perceive that this bears a mystical significance? At the same time, too, He came to the help of the men in their perturbation and outcry, and said to them, “Be of good cheer, it is I; be not afraid.” What is the explanation, therefore, of His wish to pass by those persons whom nevertheless He thus encouraged when they were in terror, but that that intention to pass them by was made to serve the purpose of drawing forth those cries to which it was meet to bear succour?

100. Furthermore, John still tarries for a little space with these others. For, after his recital of the miracle of the five loaves, he also gives us some account of the vessel that laboured, and of the Lord’s act in walking upon the sea. This notice he connects with his preceding narrative in the following manner: “When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take Him by force and make Him a king, He departed again into a mountain Himself alone. And when it became late, His disciples went down unto the sea; and when they had entered into a ship, they came over the sea to Capharnaum: and it was now dark, and Jesus was not come to them. And the sea arose by reason of a great wind that blew,” and so on. 1066 In this there cannot appear to be anything contrary to the records preserved in the other Gospels, unless it be the circumstance that Matthew tells us how, when the multitudes were sent away, He went up into a mountain, in order that there He might pray alone; while John states that He was on a mountain with those same multitudes whom He fed with the five loaves. 1067 But seeing that John also informs us how He departed into a mountain after the said miracle, to preclude His being taken possession of by the multitudes, who wished to make Him a king, it is surely evident that they had come down from the mountain to more level ground when those loaves were provided for the crowds. And consequently there is no contradiction between the statements made by Matthew and John as to His going up again to the mountain. The only difference is, that Matthew uses the phrase “He went up,” while John’s term is “He departed.” And there would be an antagonism between these two, only if in departing He had not gone up. Nor, again, is any want of harmony betrayed by the fact that Matthew’s words are, “He went up into a mountain apart to pray;” whereas John puts it thus: “When He perceived that they would come to make Him a king, He departed again into a mountain Himself alone.” Surely the matter of the departure is in no way a thing antagonistic to the matter of prayer. For, indeed, the Lord, who in His own person transformed the body of our humiliation in order that He might make it like unto the body of His own glory, 1068 hereby taught us also the truth that the matter of departure should be to us in like manner grave matter for prayer. Neither, again, is there any defect of consistency proved by the circumstance that Matthew has told us first how He commanded His disciples to embark in the little ship, and to go before Him unto the other side of the lake until He sent the multitudes away, and then informs us that, after the multitudes were sent away, He Himself went up into a mountain alone to pray; while John mentions first that He departed unto a mountain alone, and then proceeds thus: “And when it became late, His disciples came down unto the sea; and when they had entered into a ship,” etc. For who will not perceive that, in recapitulating the facts, John has spoken of something as actually done at a later point by the disciples, which Jesus had already charged them to do before His own departure unto the mountain; just as it is a familiar procedure in discourse, to revert in some fashion or other to any matter p. 151 which otherwise would have been passed over? But inasmuch as it may not be specifically noted that a reversion, especially when done briefly and instantaneously, is made to something omitted, the auditors are sometimes led to suppose that the occurrence which is mentioned at the later stage also took place literally at the later period. In this way the evangelist’s statement really is, that to those persons whom he had described as embarking in the ship and coming across the sea to Capharnaum, the Lord came, walking toward them upon the waters, as they were toiling in the deep; which approach of the Lord of course took place at the earlier point, during the said voyage in which they were making their way to Capharnaum. 1069

101. On the other hand, Luke, after the record of the miracle of the five loaves, passes to another subject, and diverges from this order of narration. For he makes no mention of that little ship, and of the Lord’s pathway over the waters. But after the statement conveyed in these words, “And they did all eat, and were filled, and there was taken up of fragments that remained to them twelve baskets,” he has subjoined the following notice: “And it came to pass, as He was alone praying, His disciples were with Him; and He asked them, saying, Who say the people that I am?” 1070 Thus he relates in this succession something new, which is not given by those three who have left us the account of the manner in which the Lord walked upon the waters, and came to the disciples when they were on the voyage. It ought not, however, on this account, to be supposed that it was on that same mountain to which Matthew has told us He went up in order to pray alone, that He said to His disciples, “Who say the people that I am?” For Luke, too, seems to harmonize with Matthew in this, because his words are, “as He was alone praying;” while Matthew’s were, “He went up unto a mountain alone to pray.” But it must by all means be held to have been on a different occasion that He put this question, since [it is said here, both that] He prayed alone, and [that] the disciples were with Him. Thus Luke, indeed, has mentioned only the fact of His being alone, but has said nothing of His being without His disciples, as is the case with Matthew and John, since [according to these latter] they left Him in order to go before Him to the other side of the sea. For with unmistakeable plainness Luke has added the statement that “His disciples also were with Him.” Consequently, in saying that He was alone, he meant his statement to refer to the multitudes, who did not abide with Him.



Matt. xiv. 23-33.


Mark vi. 47-54.


John vi. 15-21.


Reading in monte fuisse cum eisdem turbis quas de quinque panibus pavit. According to Migne, this is the reading of several mss. of the better class; some twelve other mss. give in monte fuisse cum easdem turbas, etc. = “He was on a mountain when He fed,” etc. Some editions have also in montem fugisse cum easdem, etc. = “He departed to a mountain when He fed,” etc.


Phil. iii. 21.


[The difficulty in regard to the course of the ship did not suggest itself to Augustin, nor does he allude to the position of Bethsaida. Luke ix. 10 seems to place it on one side of the lake and Mark vi. 45 on the other. A contrary wind would blow them across the lake, unless they were trying to get to some point on the eastern shore; from which shore they certainly started, after the feeding of the five thousand.—R.]


Luke 9:17, 18.

Next: Chapter XLVIII

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