Why Does Peter Ask to Walk on the Water?  Matthew 14:28-30

In a previous post, I suggested walking on the water alluded to descriptions of God in the Exodus. Whether or not Isaiah 43 was in Matthew’s mind when he shaped this story, Jesus’s words emboldened Peter, who will ask Jesus to command him to also walk on the water. Peter’s attempt to walk on water to Jesus is only found in Matthew. When Peter walks on the water, is this a faithful act or bravado?


Peter Walks on Water Otto Runge

In some ancient texts, only the arrogant to think they can walk on the water. For example, Caligula building a bridge over the gulf of Puteoli “as he was lord of the sea” (Josephus, Antiq., 19:5-6). 2 Maccabees 5:21 describes Antiochus as arrogantly thinking he could “walk on the sea.”

2 Maccabees 5:21 So Antiochus carried off eighteen hundred talents from the temple, and hurried away to Antioch, thinking in his arrogance that he could sail on the land and walk on the sea, because his mind was elated.

The fourth Sibylline Oracle describes the arrogance of Xerxes:

Sib. Or. 4.76-79 A king will come from Asia, brandishing a great spear, with countless ships. He will walk the watery paths of the deep and will cut through a lofty mountain as he sails. Him will wretched Asia receive as a fugitive from war.

Among the Son of Lawlessness’s deceptive signs in the Apocalypse of Elijah is walking on the water:

Apoc. El. 3.5-8 But the son of lawlessness will begin to stand again in the holy places. He will say to the sun, “Fall,” and it will fall. He will say, “Shine,” and it will do it. He will say, “Darken,” and it will do it. He will say to the moon, “Become bloody,” and it will do it. He will go forth with them from the sky. He will walk upon the sea and the rivers as upon dry land.

Was Peter arrogant when he asked to walk on the walker with Jesus? Perhaps not. He is the only disciple who expresses faith in Jesus. The rest are cowering in the boat terrified of the storm and the ghostly figure walking toward them. Whether Peter is faithful or not, the rest of the disciples remain in the boat, they are the “ones of little faith.”

Yet it may be the case Peter doubted the one walking on the water is Jesus. He says, “if it is you.”  For some, the phrase could be read, “if you are the Lord” (ἐγώ εἰμι), but it is probably the case Peter only means, “if it is you Jesus, and not a ghost.”

When Peter walks on the water, he sees the storm and begins to sink, crying out “Lord, save me!” As he sinks into the water Jesus reaches out to him and lifts him into the boat. This may anticipate Peter’s reaction to another theophany in Matthew 17. When Peter, James and John witness the transfiguration, they hear a voice from heaven say, “This is my son, listen to him.” When all three disciples fall to the ground and are terrified by this voice, Jesus touches them and says “rise, have no fear.” In both cases Peter is terrified, falls, Jesus touches him and lifts him up.

When Peter walks on water he demonstrates his belief in Jesus as the Son of God, but he does not fully understand what that means yet. This anticipates Matthew 16:16, Peter’s declaration that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Loving God. After than expression of faith, Jesus tells Peter the Messiah is going to Jerusalem to die and Peter rebukes Jesus (16:22). Jesus says “Get thee behind me Satan” and calls Peter a stumbling block who does not have in mind the things of God (16:23).

Jesus then asks Peter “Why did you doubt?” (14:32) When Jesus calmed the sea, he asked why the disciples had little faith (vocative, ὀλιγόπιστος; 8:26). The word appears in Matthew 16:8 (the disciples arguing about what Jesus meant by yeast) and Luke 12:28. Even if Peter is “little faith” he is better than Nazareth 13:53-58 and Herod Antipas (14:1-12) who had no faith at all in Jesus (Wilkins, Matthew, 517). Peter doubted (διστάζω). After the resurrection, some disciples will believe Jesus was raised from the dead and will worship him, but some doubted (28:17).

When Jesus and Peter enter the boat, storm stops and disciples worship Jesus saying, “Truly you are the son of God” (14:33). The disciples now understand who Jesus us and confess Jesus is the Son of God. Peter will confess this again in 16:16, and the centurion uses same phrase in 27:54 as he witnesses Jesus’s final breath.

If the feeding of the 5000 and the walking on the water answer the question asked in Matthew 13:54, where did Jesus get his wisdom and miraculous powers, then the answer is that Jesus is the Son of God, the one who walks on the water and subdues the chaos of the seas (as in the Exodus) and provides for his people in the wilderness. We might expect a scene evoking Mount Sinai next, but Matthew will hold the revelation from Heaven declaring Jesus is the Son of God until Matthew 17.

4 thoughts on “Why Does Peter Ask to Walk on the Water?  Matthew 14:28-30

  1. This blog seeks to answer the question; was Peter’s walking on water a result of his pride or a result of His faith? While the blog gives some examples of why it could be one or the other I wonder if the answer is both? He calls out to Jesus in faith that he will be okay if told to get out of the boat. Then when he gets out on the water he gets scared and that cause him to sink… which would certainly be humbling. I do think it is a theophany of Matt. 17 because something similar happens. Peter says it is good for him and James and John to be there – they can set up three tents. Then God shows up and terrifies them more.
    I think a third Theophany can also be Peter’s denial of Christ. At the last supper Peter is the most boisterous about not deserting Jesus (Matt. 26:33). One could argue that this is pride, but he does follow Jesus into the court yard (Matt 26:69). However, he gets scared again and fails three times as he denies Jesus (Matt. 26:69-75). Yet, Jesus still includes him, and as we see in John chapter 21 restores him. So, the pattern is repeated: Peter asserts something, is afraid, falls, and is raised

  2. Previously we talked about why Jesus walked on water but why did Peter walk on water? Why him and not one of the other disciples? Did Peter know Jesus would keep him afloat or was this him challenging Jesus? In Matthew 14:28 Peter says “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” Long says in his post that Peter was the only one who had some bit of faith. It may not have been much but it was enough to where he somewhat believed that Jesus would be there to help him. Him asking this shows his little faith but it also shows that he wants to be a believer. Long says that when Peter walks on the water he is demonstrating his belief in Jesus as the Son of God, but he does not fully understand what that truly means yet. Moving along in the passage Peter goes but then he feared what was around him so he began to sink. Jesus saves him but asks why he had such little faith. Long goes off of that but saying even with the little faith he has it’s still better than Nazareth and Herod Antipas who had no faith at all. Once Peter and Jesus are back in the boat the storm is calm and all of a sudden the disciples begin to worship and cry out “Truly you are the Son Of God.”

  3. In Matt 14:28 Peter says ” If ” it is you, showing that he had doubt. And that was after Jesus had told them who He was. And on top of that doubt, Peter wanted Jesus to “command” him to come. It seems to me that Peter was covering all of His bases. As I’m writing this, the throught comes to my mind that Peter does’nt have faith in Himself. He knows that at times He have spoken and did things that was untimely like, rebuking Jesus, refusing to let Jesus wash His feet.

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