The Deity of Christ in Mark 6:48-51

 

 

 

Seeing [The Apostles] straining at the oars, for the wind was against them, at about the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea; and He intended to pass by them. But when they saw Him walking on the sea, they supposed that it was a ghost, and cried out; for they all saw Him and were terrified. But immediately He spoke with them and said to them, “Take courage; I Am, do not be afraid.”  Then He got into the boat with them, and the wind stopped; and they were utterly astonished

Mark 6:48-51

 

While I am working on a much more substantial and systematic presentation for the deity of Christ in the Book of Revelation, I wanted to do this very short piece on the deity of Christ in Mark 6.

It is often claimed by Muslims that there is no sense of any divinity in the Synoptic Gospels, but that His deity is only visible in the Gospel of John. This is demonstrably false(1).

One of the most striking accounts in the Gospel of Mark comes in Mark 6, where the Apostles are on the sea, in a storm, and the Lord comes to them, walking on water and then calming the storm.

On surface level, this account has nothing special about it apart from Jesus’ miraculous calming of the storm.

However, let’s dig a bit deeper:

Here I want to argue 3 points that cumulatively strongly point towards His deity:

a – Jesus’ identification as I Am (ἐγώ εἰμι, ego eimi) is a divine self-identification.

b – Jesus’ walking on water and “passing by” the Apostles is connected to OT in two contexts where the original application is towards YHWH, the God of Israel.

c – Jesus’ calming the storm is likewise connected to an OT text where the original referent is YHWH.

 

Jesus’ use of ἐγώ εἰμι (I Am)

 

This is admittedly the most argued-over point, and scholars debate whether Jesus is simply making a self-identification (hey guys, it’s me) or a reference to the divine I Am of Exodus 3 and Isaiah 43-45. At times it is a simple self-identification of the speaker (such as in John 9:9), but at times it may have a double meaning of identification AND a use of the divine I Am (such as in John 18:5-6), and at times it is simply a straightforward and explicit claim to divinity (like John 8:58-59 where the context makes a simple self-identification impossible). Although it is interesting that when YHWH reveals Himself to Moses, He does call Himself I Am. At least in this context there is a connection to revelation of YHWH’s identity as the Existing One.

 

It is best to see what Jesus meant from the other two points.

 

Jesus’ walking on water

 

This is much more secure discussion, as multiple scholars have noted, Jesus’ walking on water has striking parallels to the Septuagint version of the Old Testament (LXX), especially in the Book of Job, chapter 9.

Compare Job 9:8 with Mark 6:48-49:

[YHWH] Who alone has stretched out the heavens, and walks (περιπατέω, peripateo) on the sea as on firm ground.

He came to them, walking (περιπατῶν, peripaton) on the sea…

Two things stand out in the quotation from Job 9:

a – YHWH alone is described as the one who created the heavens. It is very striking that the NT over and over again applies this function to Jesus (1 Cor 8:6, Col 1:16-17, John 1:3, Heb 1:2, 1:10-12, etc) alongside God the Father.

b –  Both Jesus and YHWH are described as walking on water. It is also noteworthy that in the OT only referent to anyone walking on water is YHWH in the above passage(2). The connection is very striking as it is a uniquely divine prerogative.

 

Jesus “passing by” the Disciples

 

It is interesting to note that in the immediately after Job 9:8, Job says this in 9:11, compare with Mark 6:48:

If ever He should go beyond me, I shall not see Him: if He should pass by (παρέρχομαι, parerchomai) me, I would not even know.

…He intended to pass by (παρελθεῖν, parelthein) them

What strengthens the connection is that the idea of God “passing by” people is in multiple places a sign of a OT theophany.

Few examples:

God intends to pass by (παραἔρχομαι) Moses in Exodus 33:22 and reveal His glory.

God passes by (παραἔρχομαι) Elijah in 1 Kings 19:11.

This further strengthens the argument as the context in both passage is God revealing Himself, Jesus reveals Himself by using the divine I Am and passing by the Disciples while walking on water.

Jesus calming the wind(3)

 

Finally, Jesus calms the wind in 6:51, a reference connected to the OT is relevant here:

And He commands the storm, and it is calmed into a gentle breeze, and its waves are still.

Then [Jesus] got into the boat with them, and the wind stopped; and they were utterly astonished.

 

In Psalm 107:29 YHWH calms the wind(4). This is again a unique prerogative of YHWH in the Old Testament, and is not ascribed to any Old Testament prophet.

 

Apostles’ fear of Jesus

As additional evidence, it is also interesting to note how the Apostles were scared at seeing Jesus in v. 50 (“they all saw Him and were terrified”), as He intends to pass by them, this is the normative response in the OT when people see God or the mysterious Angel of the Lord, or are in the Presence of God, examples:

Genesis 3:10, Adam is afraid of seeing God

 

Exodus 3:6, Moses was “afraid to look at God”

 

Job 23:15: “Therefore, I would be dismayed at His presence; When I consider, I am terrified of Him.”

 

Judges 13:22: Manoah says “We are doomed to die, we have seen God!”

 

1 Samuel 4:7: The Philistines were afraid, for they said, “God has come into the camp. Woe to us! For nothing like this has happened before!”

 

Conclusion

 

As we have seen above, Mark is in just 3 short verses showing an in-depth connection to Old Testament and very strongly bringing out the divine identity of the Lord Jesus, and the echoes would be unmistakable to the original audience of Mark.

Finally, to wrap up on Jesus’ use of “I Am” in v. 50, here is Richard B. Hays from his Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness, p. 68

In this narrative context, there is little doubt that we should also hear Jesus’ comforting address to the disciples (“It is I [ἐγώ εἰμι]; do not be afraid” [6:50]) as an echo of the self-revelatory speech of the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob speaking from the burning bush in Exodus 3:14: “I AM WHO I AM” (LXX: ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν). Thus, when Jesus speaks this same phrase, “I am,” in his sea-crossing epiphany, it serves to underscore the claim of divine identity that is implicitly present in the story as a whole.

 

Glory to the Life-Giving Trinity now and unto ages of ages!


Footnotes

1. See for example Sigurd Grindheim, Christology in the Synoptic Gospels: God or God’s Servant (2012), Robert Bowman and J. Ed Komoszewski, Putting Jesus In His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ (2007), Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the God of Israel: God Crucified and Other Essays (2008), Richard B. Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels (2016), Idem, Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness (2014), Larry Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity (2003)

2. See Patrick J. Madden, Jesus’ Walking on the Sea: An Investigation of the Origin of the Narrative Account, p. 29

3. An additional point here could be made in connection to God’s care for His people in the OT during storms and Jesus’ saying “Have courage” (see for example Isaiah 43:2 “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you) , but I will not elaborate on this in this article.

4. I acknowledge that Mark 4:38-41 is a closer parallel, but the verse does speak of YHWH also calming the wind alongside the storm.

The Deity of Christ in Mark 6:48-51

St. John of Damascus on Islam

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kuvahaun tulos haulle st john of damascus icon

 

 

 

Champion of Orthodoxy, teacher of purity and of true worship, / the enlightener of the universe and the adornment of hierarchs: / all-wise father John, your teachings have gleamed with light upon all things. / Intercede before Christ God to save our souls.

– Troparion of the Feast of St John of Damascus, December 4th

 

Below is an excerpt by the Martyr and Saint of the Church, John of Damascus (d. 749) on Islam, taken from his monumental work Fount of Knowledge. 

 

There is also the superstition of the Ishmaelites which to this day prevails and keeps people in error, being a forerunner of the Antichrist. They are descended from Ishmael, [who] was born to Abraham of Agar, and for this reason they are called both Agarenes and Ishmaelites. They are also called Saracens, which is derived from Sarras kenoi, or destitute of Sara, because of what Agar said to the angel: ‘Sara  sent me away destitute.’ [99] These used to be idolaters and worshiped the morning star and Aphrodite, whom in their own language they called Khabár, which means great.  And so down to the time of Heraclius they were very great idolaters. From that time to the present a false prophet named Muhammad has appeared in their midst. This man, after having chanced upon the Old and New Testaments and likewise, it seems, having conversed with an Arian monk, devised his own heresy. Then, having insinuated himself into the good graces of the people by a show of seeming piety, he gave out that a certain book had been sent down to him from heaven. He had set down some ridiculous compositions in this book of his and he gave it to them as an object of veneration.

He says that there is one God, creator of all things, who has neither been begotten nor has begotten.  He says that the Christ is the Word of God and His Spirit, but a creature and a servant, and that He was begotten, without seed, of Mary the sister of Moses and Aaron. For, he says, the Word and God and the Spirit entered into Mary and she brought forth Jesus, who was a prophet and servant of God. And he says that the Jews wanted to crucify Him in violation of the law, and that they seized His shadow and crucified this. But the Christ Himself was not crucified, he says, nor did He die, for God out of His love for Him took Him to Himself into heaven.  And he says this, that when the Christ had ascended into heaven God asked Him: ‘O Jesus, did You say: “I am the Son of God and God”?’ And Jesus, he says, answered: ‘Be merciful to me, Lord. You know that I did not say this and that I did not scorn to be Your servant. But sinful men have written that I made this statement, and they have lied about me and have fallen into error.’ And God answered and said to Him: ‘I know that You did not say these words.” There are many other extraordinary and quite ridiculous things in this book which he boasts was sent down to him from God. But when we ask: ‘And who is there to testify that God gave him the book? And which of the prophets foretold that such a prophet would rise up?’—they are at a loss. And we remark that Moses received the Law on Mount Sinai, with God appearing in the sight of all the people in cloud, and fire, and darkness, and storm. And we say that all the Prophets from Moses on down foretold the coming of Christ and how Christ God (and incarnate Son of God) was to come and to be crucified and die and rise again, and how He was to be the judge of the living and dead. Then, when we say: ‘How is it that this prophet of yours did not come in the same way, with others bearing witness to him? And how is it that God did not in your presence present this man with the book to which you refer, even as He gave the Law to Moses, with the people looking on and the mountain smoking, so that you, too, might have certainty?’—they answer that God does as He pleases. ‘This,’ we say, ‘We know, but we are asking how the book came down to your prophet.’ Then they reply that the book came down to him while he was asleep. Then we jokingly say to them that, as long as he received the book in his sleep and did not actually sense the operation, then the popular adage applies to him (which runs: You’re spinning me dreams.)

When we ask again: ‘How is it that when he enjoined us in this book of yours not to do anything or receive anything without witnesses, you did not ask him: “First do you show us by witnesses that you are a prophet and that you have come from God, and show us just what Scriptures there are that testify about you”’—they are ashamed and remain silent. [Then we continue:] ‘Although you may not marry a wife without witnesses, or buy, or acquire property; although you neither receive an ass nor possess a beast of burden unwitnessed; and although you do possess both wives and property and asses and so on through witnesses, yet it is only your faith and your scriptures that you hold unsubstantiated by witnesses. For he who handed this down to you has no warranty from any source, nor is there anyone known who testified about him before he came. On the contrary, he received it while he was asleep.’

Moreover, they call us Hetaeriasts, or Associators, because, they say, we introduce an associate with God by declaring Christ to the Son of God and God. We say to them in rejoinder: ‘The Prophets and the Scriptures have delivered this to us, and you, as you persistently maintain, accept the Prophets. So, if we wrongly declare Christ to be the Son of God, it is they who taught this and handed it on to us.’ But some of them say that it is by misinterpretation that we have represented the Prophets as saying such things, while others say that the Hebrews hated us and deceived us by writing in the name of the Prophets so that we might be lost. And again we say to them: ‘As long as you say that Christ is the Word of God and Spirit, why do you accuse us of being Hetaeriasts? For the word, and the spirit, is inseparable from that in which it naturally has existence. Therefore, if the Word of God is in God, then it is obvious that He is God. If, however, He is outside of God, then, according to you, God is without word and without spirit. Consequently, by avoiding the introduction of an associate with God you have mutilated Him. It would be far better for you to say that He has an associate than to mutilate Him, as if you were dealing with a stone or a piece of wood or some other inanimate object. Thus, you speak untruly when you call us Hetaeriasts; we retort by calling you Mutilators of God.’

They furthermore accuse us of being idolaters, because we venerate the cross, which they abominate. And we answer them: ‘How is it, then, that you rub yourselves against a stone in your Ka’ba and kiss and embrace it?’ Then some of them say that Abraham had relations with Agar upon it, but others say that he tied the camel to it, when he was going to sacrifice Isaac. And we answer them: ‘Since Scripture says that the mountain was wooded and had trees from which Abraham cut wood for the holocaust and laid it upon Isaac, [108] and then he left the asses behind with the two young men, why talk nonsense? For in that place neither is it thick with trees nor is there passage for asses.’ And they are embarrassed, but they still assert that the stone is Abraham’s. Then we say: ‘Let it be Abraham’s, as you so foolishly say. Then, just because Abraham had relations with a woman on it or tied a camel to it, you are not ashamed to kiss it, yet you blame us for venerating the cross of Christ by which the power of the demons and the deceit of the Devil was destroyed.’ This stone that they talk about is a head of that Aphrodite whom they used to worship and whom they called Khabár. Even to the present day, traces of the carving are visible on it to careful observers.

As has been related, this Muhammad wrote many ridiculous books, to each one of which he set a title. For example, there is the book On Woman, [Surah al-Nisa] in which he plainly makes legal provision for taking four wives and, if it be possible, a thousand concubines—as many as one can maintain, besides the four wives. He also made it legal to put away whichever wife one might wish, and, should one so wish, to take to oneself another in the same way. Muhammad had a friend named Zayd. This man had a beautiful wife with whom Muhammad fell in love. Once, when they were sitting together, Muhammad said: ‘Oh, by the way, God has commanded me to take your wife.’ The other answered: ‘You are an apostle. Do as God has told you and take my wife.’ Rather—to tell the story over from the beginning—he said to him: ‘God has given me the command that you put away your wife.’ And he put her away. Then several days later: ‘Now,’ he said, ‘God has commanded me to take her.’ Then, after he had taken her and committed adultery with her, he made this law: ‘Let him who will put away his wife. And if, after having put her away, he should return to her, let another marry her. For it is not lawful to take her unless she have been married by another. Furthermore, if a brother puts away his wife, let his brother marry her, should he so wish.’  In the same book he gives such precepts as this: ‘Work the land which God had given you and beautify it. And do this, and do it in such a manner” —not to repeat all the obscene things that he did.

Then there is the book of The Camel of God.  About this camel he says that there was a camel from God and that she drank the whole river and could not pass through two mountains, because there was not room enough. There were people in that place, he says, and they used to drink the water on one day, while the camel would drink it on the next. Moreover, by drinking the water she furnished them with nourishment, because she supplied them with milk instead of water. Then, because these men were evil, they rose up, he says, and killed the camel. However, she had an offspring, a little camel, which, he says, when the mother had been done away with, called upon God and God took it to Himself. Then we say to them: ‘Where did that camel come from?’ And they say that it was from God. Then we say: ‘Was there another camel coupled with this one?’ And they say: ‘No.’ ‘Then how,’ we say, ‘was it begotten? For we see that your camel is without father and without mother and without genealogy, and that the one that begot it suffered evil. Neither is it evident who bred her. And also, this little camel was taken up. So why did not your prophet, with whom, according to what you say, God spoke, find out about the camel—where it grazed, and who got milk by milking it? Or did she possibly, like her mother, meet with evil people and get destroyed? Or did she enter into paradise before you, so that you might have the river of milk that you so foolishly talk about? For you say that you have three rivers flowing in paradise—one of water, one of wine, and one of milk. If your forerunner the camel is outside of paradise, it is obvious that she has dried up from hunger and thirst, or that others have the benefit of her milk—and so your prophet is boasting idly of having conversed with God, because God did not reveal to him the mystery of the camel. But if she is in paradise, she is drinking water still, and you for lack of water will dry up in the midst of the paradise of delight. And if, there being no water, because the camel will have drunk it all up, you thirst for wine from the river of wine that is flowing by, you will become intoxicated from drinking pure wine and collapse under the influence of the strong drink and fall asleep. Then, suffering from a heavy head after sleeping and being sick from the wine, you will miss the pleasures of paradise. How, then, did it not enter into the mind of your prophet that this might happen to you in the paradise of delight? He never had any idea of what the camel is leading to now, yet you did not even ask him, when he held forth to you with his dreams on the subject of the three rivers. We plainly assure you that this wonderful camel of yours has preceded you into the souls of asses, where you, too, like beasts are destined to go. And there is the exterior darkness and everlasting punishment, roaring fire, sleepless worms, and hellish demons.’

Again, in the book of The Table [Surah al-Ma’idah], Muhammad says that the Christ asked God for a table and that it was given Him. For God, he says, said to Him: ‘I have given to You and Yours an incorruptible table.’

And again, in the book of The Cow, [Surah al-Baqarah] he says some other stupid and ridiculous things, which, because of their great number, I think must be passed over. He made it a law that they be circumcised and the women, too, and he ordered them not to keep the Sabbath and not to be baptized.

And, while he ordered them to eat some of the things forbidden by the Law, he ordered them to abstain from others. He furthermore absolutely forbade the drinking of wine.

St. John of Damascus on Islam