Peter Enns is an evangelical Christian scholar and author of several books and commentaries, including the popular Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament, which looks at three questions raised by biblical scholars that seem to threaten traditional views of Scripture. Enns graduated with a bachelor’s degree in behavioral science from Messiah College in Grantham, Penn., in 1982, and a Master of Divinity from Westminster Theological Seminary in 1989. He earned his master’s degree and doctorate from Harvard University in 1993 and 1994. Enns was formerly a professor of Old Testament and hermeneutics at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Penn., and has taught courses at Princeton Theological Seminary, Harvard University, and Biblical Theological Seminary. He is also a member of the Society of Biblical Literature, and the Institute for Biblical Research.
In the following article he deals with the complicated issue of miracles in Scripture, from the perspective of the theologian and the scientist.
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In the Gospels, there are two incidents where Jesus shows his power over the sea. He calms a raging storm of wind and waves (Matthew 8:23-27, Mark 4:36-41, Luke 8:22-25) and he walks on sea in the midst of a storm (Matthew 14:22-33, Mark 6:45-51, John 6:15-21). These are not just simply a “display of power.” Like all of the miracles, these two draw upon some aspect of Yahweh’s activity in the Old Testament and Israel’s messianic expectation.. These two Gospel stories tie into an Old Testament and ancient Near Eastern theme we looked at together a few weeks ago: Yahweh tames the watery chaos. Keeping that theme in mind will help us appreciate more the theological depth of Jesus’ acts that might otherwise be missed.
Jesus makes the wind and waves stop
Up to this point Jesus’ ministry has been characterized by some healings (which were enough to make the people take notice) and some powerful and challenging speeches, such as the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7. But this act of calming the storm raises the ante: it shows that the healer and teacher also controls the elements of the created order—specifically, the sea. This act is infused with theological significance.
Jesus and his disciples get into their boat, and without warning find themselves surrounded by violent wind and frothy waves that surely signal their doom. They wake the napping Jesus and complain that their end is near. Jesus chides them for their lack of faith—which here means “trust”—and “rebukes” the wind and waves (Matthew 8:26), and returns the sea to utter calm.
Putting the sea back in its place and keeping people from harm is an unmistakable allusion to God’s work in the Old Testament. God tamed the watery chaos in Genesis 1, bringing the swirling, chaotic, primeval waters under control. Psalm 104:7 puts it this way: “At your rebuke, the waters fled.” As we saw in some of my earlier posts, this “defeat of watery chaos” is also seen in the flood story and the crossing of the Red Sea: divine deliverance from a watery threat.
Rebuking the raging sea and saving those on the boat forges a theological connection between Jesus and the mighty acts of Yahweh. The chaos-tamer is among them. This sets Jesus apart as one who truly has the right to be heard. The disciples put it well: “What kind of man is this?”
The disciples knew Jesus well enough to turn to him for help (Matthew 8:25, “Lord, save us!”). But they are only now beginning to understand that he is more than they thought. Their rabbi and companion, napping from exhaustion, can wake up and rebuke the water back to its place.