Who calmed the storm and why?

I have a lot of marking to do, so I’ll keep this to the point. In the Greek Old Testament it is God alone who rebukes the sea and calms the storm (Ps. 17:16; 103:7; 105:9; 106:28-29; Is. 50:2 LXX). So when Matthew says that Jesus “rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm” (Matt. 8:26), is he insinuating that Jesus is God?

In a sense, yes. But in what sense?

Where does he get the authority from?

The matter of the authority by which Jesus teaches and acts in exceptional ways comes up a few times in the surrounding text.

When Jesus finishes the sermon on the mount, the crowds are astonished because “he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes” (Matt. 7:28-29).

The centurion with the paralysed servant says to Jesus, “I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it” (Matt. 8:9). Why does he say that he is a “man under authority” and not just a man with authority? Is he thinking that Jesus also both is under authority and exercises authority over sickness? Certainly, the story implies that the person who commands has received his authority from somewhere.

When Jesus is challenged by the scribes over his offer of forgiveness to the paralysed man, he says that the Son of Man “has authority on earth to forgive sons” (Matt. 9:6). The “one like a son of man”, of course, receives authority from the Ancient of Days; and the crowds “glorified God, who had given such authority to men” (Dan. 7:13-14; Matt. 9:8).

Jesus is doing now as “Son of God”, on a small scale, what sooner or later God himself will do on a massive scale.

Later the chief priests and elders of the people ask him where he got his authority from (Matt. 21:23). The question “by what authority?” is equivalent to “who gave you this authority?” In the end, Jesus refuses to tell them “by what authority” he does these things, but he doesn’t deny that he got it from somewhere.

Finally, the risen Jesus declares, in clear allusion to Daniel 7:13-14, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matt. 28:18).

So we are given the impression—far more clearly than the supposed intimations of his innate divinity—that he exercises an authority that he has received from God. True, the calming of the storm is not explicitly attributed to such a derived authority, but we may assume that the winds and sea “obey” him because he has been given authority as the Son of Man to command them.

There’s worse to come

After the calming of the storm the men in the boat ask, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?” Since Jesus appears to have been quite intentional about getting to the other side (Matt. 8:18), and since he is immediately confronted by the demon-possessed men, their address to him must be significant: “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” (Matt. 8:29). The calming of the storm is explained by what happens in the country of the Gadarenes.

Jesus has come across the lake, the two men suppose, in order to torment them “before the time”. He is the anointed “Son of God” (cf. Matt. 3:16-17), sent to do the work of a servant, who as obedient Israel in the wilderness has defeated Satan (Matt. 4:1-11), who casts out demons as a sign that the kingdom of God is coming upon Israel (cf. Matt. 12:28). Jesus is doing now as “Son of God”, on a small scale, what sooner or later God himself will do on a massive scale.

The calming of the storm belongs to this prophetic narrative: it anticipates the future divine protection of the disciples as they face the violent birth pangs of the coming age—perhaps specifically as they take the message of the kingdom of God far and wide (cf. Ps. 107:28-29).

Jesus acts as God as a sign that God will soon come in person to act. He is God in a prophetic-symbolic sense.

Let me show you how it’s done

When the boat is about to founder, the disciples wake Jesus and say, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing” (Matt. 8:25). They have faith that he can save them. So why does he say, “Why are you cowardly or timid, you men little faith (oligopistoi)”? He is not asking why they are afraid of the storm. The word deilos suggests timidity, a failure to act with confidence. His point is that instead of waking him they should have acted boldly and decisively themselves, in faith, to rebuke the wind and sea. So he has to show them how to do it.

We have a similar narrative immediately after the transfiguration. The disciples fail to heal the epileptic boy, so Jesus shows them how it should be done. He “rebukes” the demon (just as he “rebuked” the wind and the sea), and it comes out of him. The disciples ask why they couldn’t do it. Because of their oligopistia—their little faith. Exactly the same problem. But with faith no bigger than a mustard seed they should be able to say to this mountain, “Move from here to there”, and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for them.

In Luke’s version of the saying, they will command a mulberry tree to be uprooted and planted in the sea, “and it would obey you”—just as the wind and sea would have obeyed the disciples if only they had had the boldness to rebuke and command them.

Jesus has received authority on earth, as the Son of Man, to act as God in heaven would act. He will give this authority to his disciples as they pursue their mission to Israel and to the nations (Matt. 10:1; 28:18-20). Whatever they bind on earth, will be bound in heaven; whatever they loose on earth, will be loosed in heaven (Matt. 16:19). But they need to learn how to exercise it.

O ye of too much faith!

So it is believing too much to think that Matthew here surreptitiously depicts Jesus as God incarnate. Theology has over-inflated our understanding of the text, and we need to let some of the air out. Historical reductionism is a good thing. It helps us to see the true shape and proportions of Jesus’ person and purpose.

On the one hand, he is doing—as the anointed servant-prophet-messiah, as the “Son of God”, as obedient Israel, with the authority that he has received as the Son of Man—what God himself was going to do on the day of his wrath against Israel.

On the other, he expects his disciples to do exactly the same things: to cast out demons as a sign of the coming judgment against unrighteous and unclean Israel, and to express their faith boldly in the face of adversity and challenges, with the authority that they have received from their risen Lord.

John, and perhaps others, will see Jesus’ brief transformative career as the “incarnation” of the creative Word or Wisdom of God, but that’s not the point that Matthew is trying to get across here.

Submitted by Alex on  Wed, 01/22/2020 - 17:43

We might add Jesus’ command to his disciples “you feed them” during the wilderness feeding as an example of Jesus’expectation that his disciples perform the same signs he performs by the same means he performs them.

I gather Mark’s note that “Jesus wanted to pass them by” reflects the same insistence. Jesus just wanted to cross the lake; the disciples wouldn’t be able to rely on Jesus forever

Agreed about the feeding in the wilderness, Alex. The Jesus passing by detail is from a different story, of course (Mk. 6:48). Perhaps the point is that he meant to leave them to solve the problem themselves, but they are not in jeopardy, just finding it hard going. He may simply have intended to “come alongside them” (parelthein autous). More relevant is Peter’s attempt to replicate the “miracle” (Matt. 14:28-33). When he fails, Jesus accuses him of being a person of “little faith” (oligopiste). The disciples acclaim Jesus as truly the “Son of God”.

Submitted by peter wilkinson on  Fri, 01/24/2020 - 10:50

I made a list of all the things which I could have commented on in detail in this fairly comprehensive post, but out of consideration for your marking, I thought I’d keep it short.

The main theme coming through the post is that since Jesus is frequently described as having authority, he must have obtained the authority from someone who gave it to him, so he wasn’t God. That is questionable logic.

The opposite might also be true: that this authority was God-given because he was himself God appearing as a man. The same phenomenon might also be said of the son of man figure in Daniel 7. “Worshipped” in Daniel 7:14 might not, technically, imply worship of a divine being, but the issue in question is the same as the issue in the gospels — his identity.

I think it’s a stretch to imply that the Gadarene demons were fearing the coming destruction of Jerusalem/national Israel. In what sense was that a judgment on them? You seem to take demonisation/casting out here as a metaphor, but that isn’t even implied in the account.

Likewise your interpretation of the calming of the storm: a “prophetic narrative” which sees it as anticipating “the future divine protection of the disciples as they face the violent birth pangs of the coming age”. I think that’s an enormous overreading, nowhere supported by the text.

In the calming of the storm, it’s not that Jesus expected them to calm the storm, but rather that since he was in the boat (asleep!), they should have been reassured that they would be kept safe. This is exactly what proved to be the case.

A more credible interpretation of Jesus’s ministry is that he demonstrated a God-like authority in which his teaching could reinterpret and change the law, and could be effectively exercised over sickness and physical infirmity of all kinds, over demons, over death, and over creation itself — hi-jacked in the storm episode by demonic forces. He never qualified this authority as being delegated — he simply took it. Most people would say this was blasphemous presumption, but his integrity and character seemed to be unquestionable.

God or man? You pays your money and you takes your choice.

Peter,

When you say: “In the calming of the storm, it’s not that Jesus expected them to calm the storm, but rather that since he was in the boat (asleep!), they should have been reassured that they would be kept safe. This is exactly what proved to be the case” are you sugguesting the disciples “lack of faith” was in their lack of belief that being in the presence of the divine Christ (albeit asleep) would save them? Or to put it another way, their lack of faith was demonstrated when they woke Jesus up from his nap?

I would agree that Jesus perhaps didn’t expect them to calm the storm; but I wouldn’t say that Jesus didn’t believe the disciples couldn’t do it, or do something about it. These were very able bodied fishermen and sailors, who have known this sea well and Jesus could have been referring to their lack of faith in themselves as able bodied seamen. However, a very similar narrative takes place in Matthew 14, and in that account, the lack of faith is attributed to Peter doubting his ability to do what Jesus does…even after he had walked on the water.

I also don’t think it’s too far of a stretch for Andrew to imply that the Gadarene demons were fearing the coming destruction of Jerusalem/national Israel. It’s evident throughout the biblical narrative the nation of Israel had a very flawed view of God and the expanse of the Kingdom of God. As long as Jerusalem, Israel, and the Temple remained as they were, the limited view of God’s reality to Israel and the world would have remained limited, thus giving the demons more room to work with. By destroying Jerusalem, the Temple, and scattering the nation of Israel, God in essence rebukes the limited view (wind and sea) of Israel/world and establishes in the hearts and minds of the people the extent of his authority and kingdom.

Therefore, I believe we can see the Firstborn Son of Creation showing the rest of the children of God what it means and looks like to take on flesh and yet also live out the grace apportioned to each of us in kingdom of God. This, like Jesus is both natural and cosmic.

-Stephen

Submitted by peter wilkinson on  Fri, 01/24/2020 - 15:36

In reply to by Stephen L.

Thanks Stephen. Actually, I think that the fear of the disciples was very reasonable, whichever way you look at it! They knew the lake/sea, and how dangerous the sudden storms were. On the other hand, they saw how peacefully Jesus was sleeping. I don’t think they believed he was the divine Christ, but they might have believed he could handle the storm if they asked him. I don’t believe he expected them to rebuke the wind and waves.

In the end, two different perspectives on the situation collide. It gives Jesus the opportunity to show the disciples that “even the wind and the waves obey him”. (No mention of demons, by the way). He was in control of creation, bringing order into its disorder.

I am further away from you over the healing of the demoniac. It would be a fair question to ask why Israel seemed to have such a high incidence of demonisation, about which even Jesus seems to find Israel culpable — Matt. 17:17. But he never blames the afflicted, and it is never attributed to Israel’s limited view of God.

Does your use of the phrase Firstborn Son of Creation indicate something about your Christology that we should know about?

I appreciate your question.

I believe Jesus took on flesh to show us how to live in ours, and to set a living example of what Children of God are capable of when living in unity with the Trinity. I see the Church, with Christ as its head, spacially located within Christ and connected to the rest of the Trinitarian union of God. This creates in each of us the capacity to experience and manifest the power, grace, love, and glory of God as it flows by his Spirit, through Christ, to us as he determines.

Forgive me, but my Christology is deeply informed through the Trinity and I have a hard time making it into an isolated train of thought.

-Stephen

” I think that the fear of the disciples was very reasonable, whichever way you look at it! They knew the lake/sea, and how dangerous the sudden storms were. On the other hand, they saw how peacefully Jesus was sleeping. I don’t think they believed he was the divine Christ, but they might have believed he could handle the storm if they asked him. I don’t believe he expected them to rebuke the wind and waves.”

why not? if power could flow out from marks jesus without jesus’ permission because of faith(“If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” 29 Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease), why couldn’t the disciples rebuke the wind and waves IF they did have faith?

they had no faith at all. “do you still have no faith?” says mark

“”In the end, two different perspectives on the situation collide. It gives Jesus the opportunity to show the disciples that “even the wind and the waves obey him”. (No mention of demons, by the way). He was in control of creation, bringing order into its disorder.”“

you mean an intermittant god ? i don’t think mark imagined that yhwh was an intermittant god. mark does not say that jesus had access to omnipotent divine attribute. mark does not say that jesus was independant being.

quote :
Philo’s description of Moses, who is called ‘god and king of the whole nation’, included some mastery over creation:

For, since God judged him worthy to appear as a partner of His own possessions, He gave into his hands the whole world as a portion well fitted for His heir. Therefore, each element obeyed him as its master, changed its natural properties and submitted to his command… (Vit Mos 1.155-156)

Compare the similar language in Mk 4.41: ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’ I’d use Greek, Alan, but it’s a bit of a hassle right now. Nevertheless, the linguistic similarities are there if you check. Another text (sometimes noted) is the description of the anointed figure in 4Q521: ‘[for the heav]ens and the earth will listen to his anointed one…’

Does this open up a Pandora’s box for interpreters?

Submitted by Samuel Conner on  Fri, 01/24/2020 - 15:38

Perhaps this is getting too far “into the weeds”, but I’m a little uneasy with the (admittedly straighforwardly biblical) language of “authority.” The disciples’ response after the stilling of the storm (“the wind and waves obey him”) and the centurion’s analogy both imply some kind of agency on the part of the material object of authority, and I question that. It would seem to me to be better to frame this in terms of “God causes to happen what Jesus commands” — more nearly a matter of “power” than “authority.”

In analogy to a suggestion in response to the prior post that the 4th Gospel at least hints (it looks to me a lot stronger than “hints”) that Jesus healed “through prayer to the Father”, I wonder whether one would be justified to see Elijah as an OT paradigm for what is attributed in the NT to Jesus, in terms of “control of nature.” It did not rain in Israel for 3 years, except “at Elijah’s word,” but the “mechanics” as described in both the OT narrative and NT commentary on it (James 5:17) looks like “prayer to YHWH.”

If that’s a valid lens through which to interpret the NT narratives of Jesus’ authority over nature, then “God causes to happen what Jesus commands” in the realm of “control of nature” looks a great deal like the Johannine “The Father grants whatever Jesus requests.”

I suppose we could say that the disciples respond naïvely to the calming of the storm, but “rebuked” also conveys authority, doesn’t it? How much of this is Matthew’s dramatic method?

Your reflections on prayer in John’s Gospel are apposite. John 11:41 seems to imply that Jesus has already prayed (“I thank you that you heard me…”). He then commands Lazarus to come out. We don’t know at what moment Lazarus was resuscitated.

The rain is held back by Elijah’s word, but the drought ends when God sends him to Ahaz, saying, “I will send rain upon the earth” (1 Kings 18:1; cf. 18:41-46). Elijah does not directly or personally cause the drought either to begin or to end. But presumably the point is that he has been in some sense authorised as a prophet to speak on behalf of the God (the word of the Lord comes to him) who does these things.

re: the evangelists’ dramatic method; I suspect that there is also a significant amount of intentional drama in Jesus’ choices of “method”. He seems to invite people to draw their own (often mistaken) conclusions, but sometimes helps them toward the interpretation he prefers (as in Jn 11:41) .