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Is the Sea of Galilee a sea or a lake or is the name wrong?

The New International Version of Matthew 4:18 reads as follows:

“As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew.  They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen.”

Walking by the Sea of Galilee” and “casting a net into the lake”? Was there a lake next to the sea?  Not according to the map below.

And then when we compare the Sea of Galilee to the Mediterranean Sea, they are clearly very different types of bodies of water.

I think most of us have two very different meanings for the words "sea" and "lake." We can see on the map that there is no lake next to the Sea of Galilee. So, the obvious question is why did the translators of the New International Version use “sea” in one place and “lake” in another?"

In order to answer that question we must first check the Greek manuscripts and see what Greek words the translators translated. In both places we find the same word, θάλασσαv (THALASSAN), not two different Greek words. When we look up THALASSAN in a Greek dictionary we find that it means "sea" or "sea water."  Therefore, it would seem that "sea" should have been used in both places.

But when we look up the meanings of "sea" and "lake" in an English dictionary this is what we find.

(1) A lake is aconsiderable inland body of standing water.”
(2) A sea is a great body of salty water that covers much of the earth.”

The Encyclopedia Americana provides us with additional information about the Sea of Galilee.

“The Sea of Galilee is a large pear‑shaped lake in northern Israel formed by the widening of the Jordan River -- 13 miles long x 8 miles wide x 150 feet deep.”

So, the Sea of Galilee is really a lake. However, when we go to Luke 5:1 in the New International Version we read:

One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, with the people crowding around him and listening to the word of God.

When we dig a little deeper, we discover that Jesus was standing by the Sea of Galilee. This time it is correctly called a “lake,” but “Galilee” is gone and replaced with “Gennesaret.”  Once again we turn to the Encyclopedia Americana for help and we discover that in the Bible the Sea of Galilee is also called by other names:

(1) Sea of Chinnereth ‑ Numbers 34:11 and Joshua 13:27

(2) Sea of Tiberias ‑ John 6:1, 21:1

(3) Lake of Gennesaret ‑ Luke 5:1

Viewing events in their actual geographical context adds a wealth of understanding to your Bible studies. The stories behind the four different names of the lakes is an interesting study too. However for now, you know that the Sea of Galilee, Sea of Chinnereth, Sea of Tiberias, and Lake of Gennesaret were not four different bodies of water. This helps you connects the land in which Jesus lived and taught to its long history with his people and events that took place in the books of Numbers and Joshua.

Did you find this information about Yeshua helpful?

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Jim Myers


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