The story goes that, after Jesus fed the five thousand, he sent his disciples to where their boat was moored somewhere near old Bethsaida (not Bethsaida Julias) while he walked up a mountain for solitude and prayer. The crowd that had been miraculously fed by Jesus’ disciples then broke up and started walking towards Capernaum, a distance of about five or six miles using the Ford across the River Jordan.
Because it was already dark, the most logical thing for the exhausted disciples to do would have been to eat some food (if they had not already done so) and get some much needed rest while they waited for Jesus to meet them after he finished his prayers.
But Jesus did not want the disciples to wait for him and asked them to row their boat across the Sea of Galilee to Capernaum, a distance of about four and a half miles in a North Westerly direction from where they were. When the disciples were about half way across, they found themselves facing strong winds and rough seas which prevented them from making any further headway towards Capernaum.
In the meantime, shortly before sunrise, Jesus arrived at the shore of the Sea of Galilee (it is not known exactly where) and saw his disciples were in trouble so, without hesitation, he walked on the surface of the sea towards the boat which may have been up to two miles from where he was standing on the shore. As Jesus approached the boat, the disciples saw him and were terrified because they thought it was a ghost coming towards them.
But Jesus spoke to them and said “take courage, it is I. Don’t be afraid.” Peter then said to Jesus “if it is really you, command me to walk on the water.” So Peter climbed out of the boat and walked towards Jesus. But Peter became afraid and when he took his eyes off Jesus, he began to sink into the sea and called out to Jesus for help.
Jesus caught Peter, reproached him for his lack of faith and led him back to the boat. As soon as Jesus and Peter were on board, the wind dropped and the sea became calm. At this point, according to John, Jesus instantly moved the boat (by telekinesis?) and everyone on board to Capernaum, a distance of about two miles.
When the people who had walked overnight to Capernaum saw Jesus on board the boat they were amazed because they knew that, after Jesus’ disciples fed them, he did not accompany them to the boat but walked up a mountain for solitude and prayer.
Basically, this is the Gospel version of the event. But there could be be a much simpler explanation for this miraculous event.
Let us suppose that, when the disciples arrived on the shore of the sea of Galilee where the boat was moored, they noticed a storm was gathering over the sea so they decided not to put to sea but wait for Jesus to return from his prayers.
In the meantime, during his prayers, Jesus also noticed a storm was gathering over the sea. This worried Jesus so he cut short his prayers and walked to where his disciples were and was relieved to see his disciples had not put to sea in the boat.
After welcoming Jesus, they waited for the storm to abate and then put to sea and rowed to Capernaum. This would not take long on calm waters and when they arrived the crowd who had walked overnight to Capernaum saw Jesus on the boat and were amazed.
From this moment on, speculation and hearsay may have taken hold of the story and a mundane trip across the Northern part of the Sea of Galilee became a miraculous event.
The walking on water miracle is one of the most difficult to rationalize. Also, the distances I have quoted are my ‘best estimates’ based on the information available so I hope they are not too far off the mark.
First of all, human feet do not displace enough water to create buoyancy. Put simply, buoyancy is created when the upward force of displaced water is equal to the downward force of gravity. This cannot be achieved by a person standing upright on water and therefore, the person sinks or swims.
Also, the Sea of Galilee is prone to sudden wind storms so I do not understand why Jesus wanted his disciples to row to Capernaum without him whilst it was still dark.
Did Jesus realize that a storm was due to hit the Sea of Galilee? And, when the storm hit the boat, why didn’t Jesus calm the storm from where he stood on the shore so the disciples could continue their journey to Capernaum? Did Jesus deliberately delay calming the storm so he could ‘grandstand’ and show off his power by walking on the surface of the sea?
Would God allow Jesus to delay helping the disciples when their lives were in danger just so he could walk on water? Such an act could be interpreted as a ‘showy stunt’ that one would not expect the son of God to engage in.
Because the boat was about half way to Capernaum when the storm hit, Jesus may have had to walk up to two miles on the surface of the sea during gale force winds and heavy seas to reach the boat. But the weather did not appear to have any effect on Jesus’ ability to stay on the surface and reach the boat.
How was this achieved under such conditions? If Jesus walked on the surface of the sea, it would have been ‘now you see him, now you don’t’ as Jesus moved up and down with the surface swells and troughs of the waves. But according to the disciples, Jesus appeared ‘like a ghost’ coming towards them.
So, did Jesus really walk on water? Or did he glide ‘like a ghost’ above the surface of the sea? Either way, it is not a feat a human being could perform and adds strength to the legend that Jesus was the son of God.
I seems convenient that the only witnesses to this miracle were his own disciples. The crowd that Jesus’ disciples had fed the day before and walked overnight to Capernaum, only observed that Jesus was on board the boat when it arrived. Because this event occurred about two thousand years ago, it is impossible to separate truth from hearsay and determine what really happened.
However, 1,969 years after the birth of Jesus, technology was developed that allowed men, wearing space suits, to walk upon the surface of the moon.
But, 2,020 years after the birth of Jesus, we still have not developed the technology that allows a man, wearing a robe and sandals, to walk unaided on the surface of the sea.
So it all comes down to faith. The faithful followers of Jesus have the right to believe in the power and the miracles ascribed to Jesus in the Gospels. And, the not so faithful have the right to express doubts about these miraculous events because, even miracles need some form of technology to change the natural into the supernatural.