Questions and Answers


Questions of general gospel interest answered for guidance, not as official statements of Church policy.

Question: Can you help me understand the significance of the account of Peter walking on the water?

F. David Lee, counselor in the stake Sunday School presidency and Gospel Doctrine teacher, Annandale Virginia Stake.

To more fully understand the event of Peter walking on the water, we must first look at the setting in which it took place.

Following the occasion of the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus instructed his disciples to board a ship and cross the Sea of Galilee while he remained behind to send away the multitude and to pray. A windstorm arose on the sea during the voyage, and the small ship was tossed among the waves. To add to their distress, the disciples were confronted with what they thought was a spirit, and they cried out in fear. What they saw was Jesus walking on the water. Although the Savior announced that it was he, that they need not fear, some on the ship were skeptical. Peter challenged, “If it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water.” And Jesus responded, “Come.” (Matt. 14:28–29.)

Peter left the boat and, like Jesus, walked on the water. But when Peter’s attention was diverted from his Master to the buffeting winds around him, his faith began to weaken, and he began to sink helplessly into the water. He cried out, appealing to Jesus for help. After clasping Peter’s hand and assuring his safety, the Master mildly chastised Peter: “O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?” Then, “when they were come into the ship, the wind ceased.” (Matt. 14:31–32.)

This was indeed an impressive event, once again demonstrating to the Lord’s disciples his power over the elements of nature. A year earlier he had stilled a storm on the same Sea of Galilee. (See Matt. 8:23–27.) If his purpose now was to implant within the hearts of his disciples an even stronger conviction that he was indeed the Chosen One sent with power and authority from the Father, he succeeded; for we read, “Then they that were in the ship came and worshipped him, saying: Of a truth thou art the Son of God.” (Matt. 14:33.)

I like to think, too, that he was teaching an important concept concerning our relationship with him as our Savior. Jesus spent much of his ministry teaching through parables: “And he spake many things unto them in parables … and without a parable spake he not unto them.” (Matt. 13:3, 34.) Perhaps we can learn much by treating the experience of Christ and Peter walking on the water as a kind of dramatized parable. As in Christ’s spoken parables, there is more than one level of meaning in this incident. At the surface we have an exciting adventure at sea, where the Lord with supernatural power saves a disciple from drowning and also possibly saves the ship from capsizing.

At another level we contemplate authority, power, and the nature of miracles. We stand in awe of the Son of God as he commands the responsive forces of nature.

At still another level we may see additional significance in what took place that day on the Sea of Galilee, a symbolism that can teach us much about our own experience in life.

Peter and the other disciples embarked upon their journey in response to their master’s request. We, too, embarked upon our journey through mortality in willing response to divine will. And, like the disciples on the ship, who were aware of the dangers of traveling on the Sea of Galilee, with its sudden storms, we began our journey with an understanding that there would be perils along the way.

Like Peter, we in this life learn that temporal supports sometimes crumble—or sink—in the face of life’s tempests. We find that there are forces capable of upsetting our most carefully improvised plans. But we, like Peter, can discover that our Savior stands nearby, though perhaps dimly seen, ready to help us if we will but reach out to him and accept his divine assistance. We need not struggle alone.

Imagine Peter leaving the boat alone and walking by faith on the water. He is successful in this “impossible” endeavor because his eyes are fixed steadfastly upon Christ. If we would come to Jesus, we also must forego an inviting reliance on worldly supports. We must determine whether our best opportunity lies in the storm-tossed—though still floating—ship or whether it lies out on the waves with the Savior.

The scriptures speak of the “trial of faith” (Ether 12:6) through which we must pass, indicating that the faith-building process is not automatic. Instead, it is a learning process—a mandatory sequence for all who would inherit eternal life. Each step Peter took away from the ship was a trial of his faith; each step toward Jesus took him a step farther from his accustomed means of survival. And each step was a voluntary one; he was under no compulsion to leave the ship and respond to the Lord’s call to “Come.”

At one point Peter’s attention was drawn from Jesus, the object of his faith, to the boisterous wind and waves around him. In a moment of confusion, fear overpowered his faith, and Peter started to fall.

So like our lives! As we learn the gospel and develop our faith, we reach the point where we feel strong enough to leave the boat; we determine to stand free from worldly supports and voluntarily walk by faith through the tempest toward our Savior. Each step for us may be a trial. The waves around us are as real in their way as Peter’s waves were to him. And, like Peter, we may slip! We may feel the awful descent toward destruction and, in confused desperation, consider the safety of the ship.

But wait! Our efforts to meet the trials of our faith—our footsteps over life’s treacherous waters—have somehow reoriented us, and we reach out for safety, not to the boat, as we would have done in earlier times, but to the outstretched hand of the Savior. Hand grasps hand, and we are pulled to the Master of wind and water. No more is he seen vaguely through the storm; no more is his voice indistinct in the roar of the gale. Now we are home; now the trial is over.

And Jesus calms the storm.

[illustration] Illustration courtesy of H. Armstrong Roberts

Question: When using a shortened reference to the name of the Church, is the term “Mormon” appropriate?

Dean B. Cleverly, executive assistant in the Missionary Department, seventies quorum president in the Bountiful Utah South Stake.

Members of the Church are followers, or disciples, of the Lord Jesus Christ. At baptism we covenant to take upon ourselves the name of Jesus Christ (see D&C 20:37); we agree to “follow the Son, with full purpose of heart” (2 Ne. 31:13); and we indicate our willingness to “be called his people” (Mosiah 18:8). This has been the pattern in every gospel dispensation.

The scriptures reveal that the followers of Christ have been given informal names as substitutes for more formal titles at various times and places. In Acts we read that “the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.” (Acts 11:26.) The term Christian may have originally been applied in derision, as a title of scorn for those of the little sect that was everywhere spoken against. (See Acts 28:22.) But it was a title the early Saints apparently were willing to accept.

In the Americas about a century earlier, the Lord’s people had also been called “Christians” by their enemies (see Alma 48:10), and they also accepted it willingly: “All those who were true believers in Christ took upon them, gladly, the name of Christ, or Christians as they were called, because of their belief in Christ who should come.” (Alma 46:15.)

A similar thing happened in our day. The early members of the latter-day Church were given the name “Mormons,” because they accepted the Book of Mormon as a companion volume of scripture to the Bible. Originally a term of contempt, the name was soon accepted and used rather freely by the Latter-day Saints.

But in a revelation given through the Prophet Joseph Smith at Far West, Missouri, on 26 April 1838, the Lord firmly established the name of his church in our day: “For thus shall my church be called in the last days, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” (D&C 115:4.) It was not to be the church of Mormon or of Joseph Smith or of any other man living or dead. Rather, it was to be the church of Jesus Christ—according to the Lord, “the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased.” (D&C 1:30.) And its members were called “Latter-day Saints,” to distinguish them from the members, or Saints, who had lived in previous gospel dispensations.

In an earlier dispensation the Lord’s disciples had asked about the name of the Church. The Savior replied:

“Have they not read the scriptures, which say ye must take upon you the name of Christ, which is my name? For by this name shall ye be called at the last day;

“And whoso taketh upon him my name, and endureth to the end, the same shall be saved at the last day.

“Therefore, whatsoever ye shall do, ye shall do it in my name; therefore ye shall call the church in my name; and ye shall call upon the Father in my name that he will bless the church for my sake.

“And how be it my church save it be called in my name? For if a church be called in Moses’ name then it be Moses’ church; or if it be called in the name of a man then it be the church of a man; but if it be called in my name then it is my church, if it so be that they are built upon my gospel.” (3 Ne. 27:5–8.)

These teachings indicate that referring to the Church by its full, divinely given name—The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—is most accurate and appropriate. However, because the name is so long, in regular conversation we sometimes want to shorten our references to the name of the Church. In these cases, many people simply say “the Church,” if that reference would be understood in the context of their conversation. But, if this reference would not be clear, “LDS Church” is preferable to “Mormon Church.”

When referring to members, it is generally better to say “Latter-day Saints” or “members of the Church,” rather than “Mormons.”

The First Presidency, in a statement on missionary work issued 1 October 1982, reemphasized the significance of the name of the Lord’s Church:

“Keep in mind that this is the Church of Jesus Christ; please emphasize that fact in making contacts with others. The Lord revealed that the Church should bear the name THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF LATTER-DAY SAINTS, ‘for thus shall my church be called in the last days.’ (D&C 115:4.) We feel that some may be misled by the too frequent use of the term ‘Mormon Church.’ We should talk, rejoice, and preach of Christ; and, we should assist others in understanding the source to which ‘they may look for a remission of their sins.’ (2 Ne. 25:26.) Christian living and service should support our verbal expressions of testimony. …

“Through a renewed emphasis and use of the revealed name of the Church—THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF LATTER-DAY SAINTS—it will grow and prosper worldwide.”