Sin and Sickness – Matthew 9:1-8

Some of the scribes who have gathered to hear Jesus teach think Jesus blasphemed when he forgave the paralytic’s sin without healing him.

Jesus heals a paralytic

“This fellow” or “this man” may be pejorative, something like “who does this guy think he is?” in Matthew 8:27 the disciples ask, “What kind of man is this” after he calms the sea. But the question “who is this man?” is at the heart of all the stories in Matthew 8-9, Jesus is revealing who he is, the God who forgives sin, but the scribes do not accept that claim. There is a contrast between the demon possessed men in 8:29 who know Jesus is the Son of God and these Jewish scribes, who deny he could be the God who forgives sin.

What does it mean to blaspheme?  In the Law, blasphemy is a misuse of the name of God, a “verbal slander against God” and the punishment for this offense of death (Bock, “Blasphemy” in DJG, 84) or example, in m. Sanhedrin 7:5, a blasphemer has “fully pronounced the divine Name.” As is well known, the punishment for pronouncing the name of God was death punishable by death (Lev 24:10-16). In m. Sanh. 6.4 some sages say, “Only the blasphemer and the one who worships an idol are hanged.” Philo said “But if anyone were, I will not say to blaspheme against the Lord of gods and men but were even to dare to utter his name unseasonably, he must endure the punishment of death; (Mos. 2.206).

Ironically, but the end of this section of Matthew, Jesus declares the Pharisees have committed “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” (12:30-32). As far as the scribes are concerned, the many has not been forgiven since he is still paralyzed. They seem to interpret his condition as the result of sin.

For some writers in Second Temple Judaism, God punished sin with physical illness. In Matthew quoted Isaiah 53:4 as fulfilled in Jesus’s healing, “He took up our infirmity and bore our diseases” (8:17). Psalm 103:2-3 says the Lord both forgives sin and heals disease. When Hezekiah was afflicted with a deadly boil, he may have assumed there was a connection between the disease and punishment for sin. In the Prayer of Nabonidus (4Q242), the king is afflicted with a disease until a Jewish exorcist “forgave his sins.”

Psalm 103:2-3 Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases.

4Q242 (4QPrNab ar) 4QPrayer of Nabonidus ar [I, Nabonidus,] was afflicted [by a malignant inflammation] 3 for seven years, and was banished far [from men, until I prayed to the God Most High] 4 and an exorcist forgave my sin. He was a Je[w] fr[om the exiles… (Martı́nez and Tigchelaar)

Ned. 41A R. Alexandri in the name of R. Hiyya bar Abba, “A sick person does not recover from his ailment before all of his sins are forgiven: ‘Who forgives all your sins, who heals all your diseases’ (Ps. 103:3).”

As is the case in Matthew 8:16-17, it is also possible the illness was caused by demonic influence. Like the owners of the pigs in the previous story, the scribes are less concerned about the paralyzed man than Jesus’s blasphemous statement claiming to forgive sin.

Jesus Responds by Healing the Paralytic (Matthew 9:4-7). Jesus knows their thoughts, as he will the Pharisees in 12:25. In both cases, these thoughts consider Jesus to be claiming divine authority in a way which is offensive to God.

“Which is easier?” Jesus asks. Nolland calls this a “riddling question” that depends on the saying “your sins are forgiven.” God grants the authority to heal to humans, even the disciples will be given authority to heal (Matthew 10:1), but only God can forgive sin. Therefore, it is easier (for a human) to heal than to forgive sin (Brown and Roberts, Matthew, 91). On the other hand, anyone can say “your sins are forgiven,” that does not make them forgiven.  The problem is that there can be no proof a person’s sins are forgiven (or not). However, healing a paralyzed man is verifiable. He if stands up and walks, then he has been forgiven.

Jesus then heals the paralytic so that they will know “the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” In Daniel 7:14 a son of man is given authority to judge the Gentile nations and establish the final kingdom of God. By using the phrase “Son of Man has authority,” Jesus is alluding to Daniel 7 and claiming to be God’s appointed representative who is qualified by God himself to render judgment, to punish or to forgive sin.

Jesus made an extraordinary claim, to have the authority to forgive sin, then verifies that the man’s sins have been forgiven by healing his paralysis in full view of a crowd.

It is important to understand that this passage disconnects the man’s illness from any punishment for sin. We do not know why he is sick, and it does not matter since the story is about Jesus’s authority, not whether (or not) a person’s sin is related to their illnesses.

The crowd saw the man stand up and walk out of the house and they are amazed. But is this fear or amazement? Normally φοβέω refers to fear (in Matthew 8:26 Jesus asks the disciples why they are so afraid, the noun there is δειλός, cowardly, timid). Later when Jesus walks on the water, the disciples are afraid because they think they have seen a ghost, and when Peter attempts to walk on the water, he sees the waves and is afraid.

The crowd does glorify God “who gave such authority to men.” Why plural, men? It is possible his anticipate Matthew 10. Jesus will authorize his own disciples to drive out demons and heal all kinds of sickness. In John 9, Jesus explicitly contradicts the belief that a person’s illness or infirmity was caused by their sin.

Matthew does not tell us anything more about the once-paralyzed man or his friends. His focus on in Jesus’s claim to have authority to forgive sin. Just as the crowds were amazed when Jesus taught by his own authority (7:28-29) and the disciples were amazed when he calmed the sea (8:27).

But like the people in the area of Gadarene who were frightened by Jesus’s restoration of the demon possessed man, now a crowd is afraid of  him, yet they glorify God.

Jesus Has Authority Over Sin – Matthew 9:1-2

In the previous two stories, Jesus demonstrated his authority over satanic powers. First, he calms the chaos of the seas and second, he commanded demons to leave two men who were living among the tombs. In both cases he is in “enemy territory” where Satan has the advantage. Now in 9:1-7 Jesus will demonstrate his authority over sin and sickness by healing a paralytic man. The one who silences the chaos of the seas and commands demons also has the authority to forgive sin. Matthew is making a clear Christological statement about who Jesus is as well as tracking a range of responses to Jesus, amazement, fear, and rejection.

Jesu Heals the Paralytic

The story appears in see Mark 2:1-12 and Luke 5:18–26. As is usually the case, Matthew’s version of the story is brief compared to Mark and Luke. “Matthew’s narration is surprisingly slim at this point” (Brown and Roberts, Matthew, 91). Matthew omits the situation (a large crowd in Peter’s house), the four friends who lower the paralyzed man through the roof, and the paralytic does not pick up his mat when he departs. An interesting addition is calling Capernaum “his town.”

Having returned to Capernaum, which Matthew calls “his own city” (ESV), a paralytic is brought to Jesus. In Mark’s version of the story, Jesus is teaching in Peter’s house and a crowd has gather which prevents four men from bringing the man to Jesus through the door.They are forced to dig a hole in the roof in order to lower the paralytic into Jesus’s presence. When Jesus sees their faith, he forgives the man’s sin.

It is possible the story was so well-known Matthew did not need to include all of the details since his focus is on who Jesus claims to be and the reaction of the scribes and the crowd. On the other hand, Nolland suggests the paralytic did not express faith (the other men who brought them did); since Matthew focuses on faith in Jesus as a basis of healing (see 8:10), he abbreviated the story to avoid the implication the healed man did not express faith (Nolland, Matthew, 380).

Paralysis was one of several impurities which would prevent this man from going up to the Temple to worship. The lame were not permitted to serve as priests or Levites (Leviticus 21:16-24), although they can eat from the offerings, they are not permitted to “come near to offer the Lord’s food offerings.” In the Rule of the Congregation (1Q Sa).

Deuteronomy 15:21 (ESV) But if it has any blemish, if it is lame or blind or has any serious blemish whatever, you shall not sacrifice it to the Lord your God.

1QSa 2:3-7 No man, defiled by any of the impurities 4 of a man, shall enter the assembly of these; and no-one who is defiled by these should be 5 established in his office amongst the congregation: everyone who is defiled in his flesh, paralysed in his feet or 6 in his hands, lame, blind, deaf, dumb or defiled in his flesh with a blemish 7 visible to the eyes, or the tottering old man who cannot keep upright in the midst of the assembly. (Martı́nez and Tigchelaar; see also those who are not permitted to participate in the final war in The War Scroll, 1QM 7:4)

Rather than healing the man, Jesus pronounces the man’s sins forgiven. Jesus declares the sins forgiven even though there has been no sacrifice or other means of atonement made. If the man was struck with paralysis because of an illness, then his friends may have thought he was under the judgment of God for some sin he may have done. They should have begged God forgive the man gone up to the Temple to offer sacrifices on his behalf.

For Jesus to claim to forgive sin is to claim divine authority. Only God forgive sin in the Old Testament (Exodus 34:7; Isa 43:25-26) and the literature of the Second Temple period.

Exodus 34:7 (ESV) …keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”

Isaiah 43:25–26 (ESV) “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins. 26 Put me in remembrance; let us argue together; set forth your case, that you may be proved right.

4Q398 f14–17ii Remember David, who was a man of the pious ones, [and] he, too, 2 [was] freed from many afflictions and was forgiven.

4Q417 f2i:14 Be like a humble man when you conduct a case […] 15 grasp. And then God will see, and his anger will turn away, and he will forgive your sins [f]or before [his] an[ger] 16 no-one can endure.

11Q5 19:12-14 When I recall your power my heart is strengthened, 13 and I rely on your kind deeds. Forgive my sin, YHWH, 14 and cleanse me from my iniquity.

In a similar situation, Jesus forgives the sin of a woman in Luke 7:49. He gets a similar reaction from the witnesses: they are shocked he claims authority to forgive since forgiving sin done through the sacrifices and only granted by God.

What is Jesus claiming in this story? Is there a difference between claiming to have the authority to forgive sin and claiming to be God?

Jesus Has Authority Over Demons – Matthew 8:28-34

After calming the storm, his disciples asked, “what sort of man is this, that even the winds and sea obey him?” (8:27). In the next demonstration of Jesus’s authority, he commands demons and they obey him.

Jesus and Legion

Two men with demons confront Jesus as his boat arrives on the shore. Since this is the first exorcism in Matthew, it is important to talk briefly about what exorcism was in the first century. As with his healings, Jesus commands the demons to leave without invoking any other authority. Exorcists in the first century invoked powerful names in order to force demons out, In Acts 19:13-16 the seven sons of Sceva used the names Jesus and Paul as power names to cast out demons. In a passage obviously shaped by Matthew 8:28-34/ Mark 5:1-21/Luke 8:26-40, the Testament of Solomon 11 describes a lion-shaped demon with a legion of demons at his command who can only be cast out by the name Emmanuel.

T.Solomon 11.6 So I said to him, “I adjure you by the name of the great God Most High: By what name are you and your demons thwarted?” The demon said, “By the name of the one who at one time submitted to suffer many things (at the hands) of men, whose name is Emmanouel, but now he has bound us and will come to torture us (by driving us) into the water at the cliff. As he moves about, he is conjured up by means of three letters.

Jesus does not have any elaborate preparations or rituals for an exorcism. In other Second Temple literature, casting out a demon was often a complicated process. In Tobit 8:1-3, for example, Tobias is instructed to place a liver and heart from a fish, mix it with live ashes of incense in order to make smoke, and then the demon will flee “to the remotest parts of Egypt” where an angel will bind him.

In order to cast out the demon Kunopegos (a demon who controls the waves, “I cause a type of seasickness when I pass into men”), Solomon learns he can only be cast out by the angel Iameth (possibly related to the Greek word for healing). The demon is then cast into an elaborate arrangement of bowls and ropes:

T.Solomon 16.6–7 So I said to him, “Tell me by what angel you are thwarted.” He replied, “By Iameth.” 7 Then I ordered him to be cast into a broad, flat bowl, and ten receptacles of seawater to be poured over (it). I fortified the top side all around with marble and I unfolded and spread asphalt, pitch, and hemp rope around over the mouth of the vessel.

Matthew’s description of the men is brief: they are so fierce no one can pass by the tombs.  In Mark this strength is further described: the man was often chained but he always broke his chains, and no one was strong enough to subdue him (Mark 5:3-4).  “Very fierce” (ESV, NRSV) or “so violent” (NIV) translates the adjective χαλεπός. This word describes an animal that is so violent and dangerous it is difficult to deal with. Although it is used only here in the New Testament, it is common in classical Greek, describing violent dangerous men (Thuc. 3.42.3) as well as a difficult enemy (Thuc. 3.40.6) (BrillDAG).

These two men are therefore described like wild animals, attacking anyone who tried to pass by the cemetery on the road. Think of these demon-possessed men as something like a “junkyard dog.” Nolland calls them a “public menace” (Nolland, Matthew, 375).

The demons know who Jesus is, the Son of God.  “What have you to do with us” is an idiom which means something like “we have no common interests.” Like the demons in Acts 19:13-16, these demons attempt to demonstrate power over Jesus by using his real name. They intend to use this knowledge to stop Jesus from tormenting them.

They identify him as the Son of God, or the son of the Most High God in Mark/Luke. Satan himself used this title for Jesus in Matthew 4:3, 6 and eventually the disciples will use the title for Jesus (after Jesus walks on the water, 14:33; Peter’s confession, 16:16) and a centurion who witnesses the death of Jesus uses the title (perhaps ironically, 27:54)

The demons ask if Jesus has come to “torment us before the time?” In the pseudepigraphic Testament of Solomon, the fate of the demon is usually to be bound or tormented, often put to work gathering material for the Temple.

There is an appointed time for these demons to be judged and tormented. For example, in Matthew 25:41 the Son of Man will return with all of his holy ones to judge. In 1 Enoch 1:9 the God of the universe will come out of his dwelling with a great display of power (1:3-7) and render judgment on the righteous and the wicked (1:8-9).

1 Enoch 1:9 Behold, he will arrive with ten million of the holy ones in order to execute judgment upon all. He will destroy the wicked ones and censure all flesh on account of everything that they have done, that which the sinners and the wicked ones committed against him.

The demons ask Jesus to send them into a herd of pigs rather than simply casting them out.  Why is there a herd of pig nearby? The population on the east side of the lake is Gentile, an area known as Decapolis.

The herd of pigs is some distance away, since they are tended by pig-herders who would not keep the herd to a cemetery with demonic menaces! Pigs are not taken out into the pasture to graze, so it is likely this is a small farm raising pigs for the Greek and Roman population of the region. In addition, they go back to their village and report what has happened and then return, so they must be closer to the village.

Jesus commands the demons and they open, entering the herd of pigs. Matthew adds the command, “Go” (an imperative form of ὑπάγω). The word also appears in Matthew 4:10 Jesus when tells Satan to go, and the same word is used in 16:23 in response to Peter’s rebuke: “Get behind me, Satan!”

The pigs destroy themselves by rushing down the steep bank into the sea and drowning. What is the point of destroying the pigs? People who are possessed are usually self-destructive, perhaps this is simply a reflection of this tendency.

Matthew omits the reaction of the two men. In Mark and Luke, the man wants to follow Jesus, but Jesus sends him back to his own people. In Matthew, we have no idea what the former possessed me thought of Jesus.

The herdsmen, however, go back to their town and report what Jesus did, “especially what happened to the demon possessed men.” It may be the case the farmers are more concerned at the loss of their pigs than the restoration of the two demoniacs! Mark 5:13 says there were 2000 pigs in the herd. If this is the case, this is a major financial loss for a wealthy Gentile farmer. However, even though we do not know what they reported, the focus is on Jesus’s power over the two men no one else was able to control.

Rather than react to Jesus’s power over the demons with amazement like the Jewish people at the end of the Sermon on the Mount (7:28-29) or after he casts out a demon in a Jewish region (9:32-34), the townspeople beg Jesus to leave their region.

The reaction of the people of the village to Jesus’s authority over demons is surprising, but it anticipates the reaction of the Pharisees in Matthew 12:22-24.

Jesus and the Demons – Matthew 8:28-34

There are several significant different between much-abbreviated exorcism story in Matthew and the parallel story Mark 5:1-21 and Luke 8:26-40. Luz concludes Matthew “has omitted so many details from his Markan source that one can hardly ask why in each individual case” (Luz, Matthew, 23).

  • First, the location is the country of the Gadarenes rather than Gerasenes. This matter is complicated by textual variants, the Alexandian witnesses for Matthew has Gadarenes, the majority has Gerasenes; but that is reversed for Mark and Luke.
  • Second, there are two demon possessed men rather than one.
  • Third, the description of the demon’s strength is more brief and the demon does not identify itself as Legion.
  • Fourth, the men identify Jesus as “Son of God” rather than “Son of the most high God” (Mark 5:7; Luke 8:28).
  • Fifth, Mark and Luke say Jesus gave the demons permission to go into the pigs, in Matthew he commands them with the word “Go.”
  • Finally, although the locals beg Jesus to leave the region, Matthew omits Jesus’s conversation with the formerly demon-possessed man (Mark 5:18-20; Luke 8:38-39).

Does this miracle happen in “the country of Gadarenes or Gerasenes? Gadara and Gerasa are two different places with very similar names in Greek, and the name for the traditional site is Gergesa. All three names appear in the textual tradition, although Gerasenes is probably correct based on the parallel stories in Mark and Luke.

The traditional location of this miracle is Gergesa, known also as Kursi, is on the east side of the Sea of Galilee. This identification dates to Origin and Eusebius, although Eusebius recognizes the problem of Matthew’s Gadara. By the sixth century Christians built a church at the site and several caves on the cliffside were used by monks. Nolland suggests this identification was made because the place has cliffsides near the Sea of Galilee.

Gadara (“hot springs”) is a territory south of the Yarmuk River about five miles from the Sea of Galilee, but the region may have extended to the Sea. The modern village of Umm Qais is associated with Gadara. Gadara was part of the Decapolis after Pompey (63 B.C.) although it was a Hellenistic city long before that time.

Cliff where demon posessed pigs leapt into the sea

The confusion may have been caused by the fact Gerasa (modern Jerash) is 37 miles from the short of Galilee, the tombs would not be associated with that city, and the distance is too great for the pigs to run into the sea. In my view, Kursi may very well be the location, but it is impossible to be dogmatic on this issue.

Why does Matthew say two men were among the tombs? Mark and Luke tell the same story with only one demon possessed man. There are a wide range of possible solutions to this problem.

  • Donald Hagner, for example, suggests the extra man was added as a reference to the Jewish tradition of two witnesses (Matthew, 1:225).
  • Following D. A. Carson, Mike Wilkins suggests Matthew had independent knowledge of the second man (Matthew, 353; Carson, “Matthew,” 217).
  • Others suggest that since Matthew omitted Mark’s reference to Legion (“for we are many”) he interpreted “Legion” as a reference to more than one possessed man.
  • One intriguing suggestion is Matthew added the extra man in order to bring the number of people healed in chapters 8-9 to twelve (Green, Matthew, 102. Cited in Davies and Allison, 2:80).
  • Rudolf Bultmann suggested Matthew had a fondness for doubling things (History, 316).

As with the location of this exorcism there are several other possibilities, likely the comments will offer other suggestions!

Why are they “among the tombs”? On the one hand, this may simply be a result of the oppression of the demons. However, the location highlights Jesus’s willingness to go into areas of uncleanliness from the perspective of the Pharisees. He enters a Gentile region and enters a cemetery in order to heal two demoniacs.

Are these men Jewish or Gentile? Jeannine K. Brown suggests they are Jewish because Jesus focused his ministry on the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Brown and Roberts, Matthew (THCNT), 90). When Matthew describes a Gentile who expresses faith in Jesus it is always in contrast to the lack of faith among his own people (the centurion in 8:5-13, for example).

If these are Jewish men, then they are in a state of maximum impurity: demon possessed, living among the tombs in a Gentile region near a pig farm.

Jesus Has Authority Over Creation – Matthew 8:23-27

The story of Jesus calming the sea is one of those classic Sunday School stories, perfect for flannelgraph time. Yet there is far more to this story than our childhood memories might recall. In some ways, this story is still about discipleship. After rejecting two disciples who are not able to commit themselves to Jesus’s high standard of discipleship, we now learn that even the disciples who were willing to leave family and reputations behind and got in the boat with Jesus have “little faith” in who Jesus really is. That is the second thread in this brief story, Jesus is the God who commands the seas and silences the winds and waves. But there is a third, darker thread to this story. The storm is not a normal storm, this is a satanic attack on Jesus, something which becomes clearer when he arrives on the other side of the lake and encounters two demoniacs (Matt 8:28-34). Jesus will silence demons in the same way he silences the storm in 8:23-27.

Jesus Calms the Sea

Matthew has an abbreviated version of the story found in Mark 4:35-41. Mark mentions other boats were with Jesus’s boat and that Jesus was asleep on a cushion in the stern of the boat. The words of the disciples are omitted, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” and Jesus’s words rebuking the storm are also omitted (“Peace, be still”). Although Jesus’s words to the disciples are slightly different the gist is the same (they have little faith). Luke 8:22-25 is quite similar. Instead of “teacher” the disciples call Jesus Master (ἐπιστάτης, twice) and he adds the phrase “they were in great danger.” In all three versions Jesus and the disciples reach Gerasenes (or Gadarenes in Matthew) and encounter a demoniac (or two, in Matthew).

After hearing he is about to leave Capernaum and go to the other side of the lake, two would-be disciples approach Jesus (8:18-22). Jesus responds to them with enigmatic sayings which show how difficult it is to be a true disciple of Jesus.  Jesus then gets into the boat with his disciples to cross the sea. These are presumably his true disciples, the beginnings of the twelve. Jesus does not appoint the twelve until chapter 10.

First, Jesus falls asleep and a great storm threatens to swamp the boat. First, Jesus is asleep in the boat during a violent storm and needs to be awakened (v. 25).  In Matthew 20:8 the same word will be used for raising the dead. This may be an indication of total exhaustion. As a human Jesus was exhausted by a long day of teaching and healing and simply was worn out. In the other hand, Jesus is so confident that he will not be killed crossing the lake that he is able to lay down and sleep in the presence of his enemies (the chaos of the sea, cf. Psalm 3:5-6).

Second, this should be a short trip across the lake, a trip the disciples have made many times. The Sea of Galilee is not a large lake and early evening boat trip cutting across the lake would be faster than a crowd could follow. In addition, the will land near the Gentile region of Decapolis where a Jewish teacher is unlikely to draw a huge crowd. This trip should take about two hours, but because of the storm it well into the night before the disciples decided to wake Jesus from his sleep.

Third, this is not just a normal bad storm on the Sea of Galilee. In the Old Testament, a raging sea is often used as a metaphor for the enemies of God. In Daniel 7:2 a series of nations rise from the raging, churning sea, nations who all oppress God’s people. Even in Genesis 1:2 the Spirit of God hovers over the chaotic, formless and void waters before God imposes order on the chaos in the days of creation. Matthew says the storm is a violent storm (σεισμὸς μέγας), Mark and Luke describe it as a “furious storm” (λαῖλαψ), a word used only in Mark 4: and Luke 8:23 (and 2 Peter 2:17, false teachers are driven by strong winds).

The Disciples are Terrified (8:25). The storm is so great the disciples are terrified. Presumably at least four of these men are Peter and Andrew, James and John, men who were raised in Galilee and were used to fishing on the lake at night.

The disciples fear they are about to die because of this storm, so the awaken Jesus and call him to save them from the storm. The disciples address Jesus as Lord (Κύριε). The second would-be disciples also called Jesus Lord, although it not clear he meant anything more by this than a respectful title. At the end of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says not everyone who calls him Lord will enter the kingdom of Heaven (7:21).

They say to Jesus “Save us!” Although Christians are used to hearing “saves” in the context of personal salvation (Eph 2:5, 2:8 for example), the word is common in the Old Testament when someone is crying out to the Lord to be rescued from some real-life danger.  For example, Psalm 3:7. “Arise, O Lord! Save me,” the LXX uses κύριε, σῶσόν με, virtually the same phrase as Matthew 8:25. The reason David’s enemies have risen up against him, his son has rebelled against him and his life is in real danger. Psalm 3 concludes with the line, “Salvation belongs to the Lord.” It may be a coincidence, but in Psalm 3:5 the psalmist is so confident in the Lords salvation that he lays down and sleeps and is sustained by the Lord when he awakens even though he is surrounded by his enemies.

Remarkably Jesus calls his disciples cowards! The word δειλός is a rare in the New Testament, used here and in the parallel story in Mark 4:40. The word can have the sense of fearfulness but is used for timidity and cowardice (BrillDAG). It is rare in the LXX, used in Judges 7:3 for the men who were afraid of the upcoming battle, similar to 1 Macc 3:56. In 2 Chronicles 13:7 it is used to describe the “certain worthless scoundrels” who supported Jeroboam. Depending on how you want to hear these words, Jesus could be calling out his disciples for being timid (having little faith) or calling them a bunch of cowards!

In either case, the problem is they lack confidence in Jesus to protect them from this unusual storm. In Mark 4:38, the disciples say “don’t you care we are perishing,” in Matthew they call out to Jesus to save them from certain death.

Jesus then rises and rebukes the winds and the sea, resulting in “great calm.” To rebuke someone is to silence them. Jesus rebukes demons and orders them to be silent, but he also rebukes his disciples. When Peter sought to correct what he took to be Jesus’s misunderstanding about his role as messiah (the word rebuke is used), Jesus rebukes Peter (Matt 16:22).

After he rebuked the sea, there was a “great calm” (γαλήνη μεγάλη). “Calm” is an unruffled surface on a body of water (BDAG); it is a “dead calm.” The word is used as a metaphor for tranquility or serenity (BrillDAG). Whatever the storm was like (supernatural chaos), this is the exact opposite, a supernatural calm.

What is the Point of this Story? Following Mark, Matthew presents Jesus as the God who controls the seas. The sea was considered by most ancient cultures to be a place of chaos that only the gods can control. But in the Old Testament God is the one who controls the seas.  For example, Psalm 89:9 describes God as ruling the raging of the sea and the waves.

In Psalm 89:8-10 and Job 26:12-13 Rahab refers to a primordial sea dragon. Although this is a terrifying and powerful creature, God slaughters it completely. The sea is a dangerous place which threatens to destroy God’s people. Just as God controlled the chaos of the waters in Genesis 1:2, he unleashed that chaos at the time of the flood.

Jesus rebuked the winds and the seas, a clear allusion to Psalm 107. The Psalmist describes God as “rebuking the Red Sea” when he brought Egypt up out of Egypt. Psalm 107:29, the Lord himself calms the sea, 107:25-27 describes the terrifying storm, in vs. 28 they cry out to the Lord in their trouble; vs. 29 the Lord stilled the sea, the storm was waves were hushed, the waters are quiet, and the Lord brought them to their desired haven (v. 30).

The sea was considered by most ancient people to be a place of chaos, only the gods can calm the chaos of the sea. Psalm 89:8 indicates God controls the sea and calms the waves. In the Psalms, the writer often describes himself as drowning in deep waters, only God can rescue him (Pss 18:16; 69:2, 14–15).

By calming the sea, Jesus reveals who he is to his closest disciples, but they do not fully understand at this point who he is.