Bill Mounce

For an Informed Love of God

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Did the Disciples Worship or Doubt?

Here is a neat little puzzle. The five thousand have been fed (Mt14:13-21; Mark 6:3-44), Jesus remains behind to dismiss the crowd and sends the disciples across the lake to Gennesaret. Jesus has gone up the mountain side to find a quiet place for prayer but the boat full of disciples experience one of those sudden storms on the sea of Galilee. Their craft is battered by strong winds and waves. Suddenly there is Jesus coming toward them on the water. They fear it is a ghost but Peter asks permission to walk out on the water to Jesus. Starts out well but, noting how strong the wind is, looses confidence and sinks requiring Jesus to lift him from the water into the boat.

Now comes the problem: Matthew says that at this point those in the boat worshipped him, saying “Truly you are the son of God” (v.33). However Mark paints a different picture. He writes, “And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened” (v. 52). So (1) did they worship him and pronounce him to be the Son of God, or (2) were they simply astounded but didn’t understand because their hearts were hard?

Hard to put these together until you notice that Mark’s comment relates back to the feeding of the five-thousand rather than to the miraculous stilling of the waters. What he is telling us is that the disciples did not understand the significance of the multiplication of bread. Their minds were still hardened by lack of faith. At the moment they may well have done exactly what Matthew said they did. In other words, Mark’s verses are less a part of the stilling of the sea than a reflection on the significance of what had happened just before that. The contextual clue is the phrase, “they did not understand about the loaves” (Mk 6:52)