Walking on the sea
10. The Lucan Jesus does not walk on the sea.
In 39 C.E., the Roman Emperor Caligula (37-41 C.E.) had a three-mile-long bridge of boats built between Baiae and Puteoli (Pozzuoli) across the bay. Josephus said that his “accession to power so completely turned his head that he wished to be thought of as a god, . . . .” When Caligula walked a portion of this floating pontoon bridge, it looked liked he was walking on water. This concept of power over the sea is sometimes associated with rulers and kings but we know it is impossible for man to walk on water. Caligula did. Perhaps Matthew, Mark and John included the story of Jesus walking on water as a response to the stunt of Caligula and to dramatically demonstrate to their readers that Jesus did have power over the sea as the Lucan Jesus had indicated by having their Jesus walk on water.
The significance of the Lucan Omission of “Jesus walking on the sea” epiphany has not been properly understood. The scholarship to date with noted exceptions has treated the omission as some kind of authorial or scribal inadvertence. This article presents the rationale for understanding the Lucan Omission as an intentional omission based upon Luke’s perceived theology. Consequently it is necessary to investigate and understand what purpose the sea walking epiphany/rescue plays in the gospels. The miracle of Jesus walking on the sea is an epiphany and thus is fundamentally different from the other types of gospel miracles performed by the Lucan Jesus such as healing, exorcisms, feeding stories etc. The essential characteristic of an epiphany is that it reveals some aspect of God’s salvific dealings with his people. The sea rescue epiphany represents a unique revelation of Jesus’ person. The sea walking power demonstrates that Jesus has the total absolute divine power necessary for the complete fulfillment of God’s salvific will toward his people.
The motif of Jesus walking on the sea has two mutually related aspects: Jesus divinely dominates the sea by walking it (Job 9:8); Jesus crosses the sea by walking on it. In the epiphanic action of Jesus walking on the sea, an action of Yahweh, rarely seen by men is made visible to the disciples. In the 77th Psalm, although Yahweh makes a way in the sea "yet his footprints were unseen" Ps. 77:19. And in the context Yahweh walking on the sea in Job 9:8, it is stated in 9:11 "he passes by me, and I see him not; he moves on, but I do not perceive him." Two further examples of divine dominance over the sea are found in Isaiah. Isa. 51:10 states: "Was it not thou that didst dry up the sea, the waters of the great deep; that didst make the depths of the sea a way for the redeemed to pass over?” Isa. 43:16 states: “Thus says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters.” These verses also have the Exodus motifs of divine deliverance from the distress of an uncrossable sea. Since the "Isaianic New Exodus" theme is found in the writings of Luke, it is noteworthy that Luke does not include the sea walking epiphany in his gospel. The divine power Jesus manifested in walking on the sea is re-echoed in his words in Matt. 28:18: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”
However the Lucan Jesus makes no such claim. It is remarkable that the Lucan Jesus does not walk on water. However as previously noted Luke is not adverse to epiphanies since Luke includes several angelophanies and one resurrectional christophany. Thus it cannot be argued that Luke objects to the inclusion of an epiphanic intervention in his gospel. While Luke does not object to the inclusion of epiphanic intervention, he or his intended audience objects to equating Jesus with Yahweh.
According to Roger Aus, Matthew, Mark and John have based the walking on water story on Exodus 14-15. Roger Aus says that they also based the story on an incident involving Gaius Caligula' building a bridge over the bay between Baiae and Puteoli just west of modern Naples. Aus assert that Matthew, Mark and John created an equivalent incident for Jesus. Josephus and Seneca locate the account sometime in 39-40 C.E. Josephus says that Gaius considered himself “lord of the sea”. This is what Josephus tells us about Gaius Caligula who reigned as emperor from 37-41 CE: “And other pranks he did like a madman; as when he laid a bridge from the city Dicearchia, which belongs to Campania, to Misenum, another city upon the sea-side, from one promontory to another, of the length of thirty furlongs, as measured over the sea. And this was done because he esteemed it to be a most tedious thing to row over it in a small ship, and thought withal that it became him to make that bridge, since he was lord of the sea, and might oblige it to give marks of obedience as well as the earth; so he enclosed the whole bay within his bridge, and drove his chariot over it; and thought that, as he was a god, it was fit for him to travel over such roads as this was.” There is another aspect to the story that has been noted by Steven Notley. Luke had no knowledge of the Christian toponym “Sea of Galilee.” Luke (e.g. 5:1-2) instead uses the appropriate term limne and “Lake of Gennesaret” which Josephus and I Macc uses. The lake is traversed by the Jordan, and is situated in a deep depression, its surface being 682 feet below sea-level. It is 20 kilometers long and about 9 kilometers wide. Josephus says 140 stades long, 40 wide which is very close. If Aus and Notley are correct, Luke not using the material is evidence that he has a higher standard for his geography and history and that Luke predates Matthew, Mark and John. This event and the Gospel response is a valuable indication of the respective publications of the four Gospels. Luke was published before Caligula walked on the sea; Matthew, Mark and John were published after Caligula walked on the sea. Identifying Theophilus as the High priest serving in the Temple in Jerusalem from 37-41 C.E. during the same time period as Caligula, who had proclaimed himself as “lord of the sea,” helps us to understand the Caligula event and the Gospel response. The Theophilus Proposal and my book, Who are Johanna and Theophilus?: the Irony of the Intended Audience of the Gospel of Luke, further explain that Luke wrote to Theophilus in response to rising tensions arising in Jerusalem because the Emperor Caligula had ordered that his statue be placed in the Temple. The persecution mentioned in Acts 8:1 prompted Luke to appeal to Theophilus.
The walking on the sea is a one way indicator.