In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus spends a large amount of the narrative in and around a body of water the author calls the "Sea of Galilee". Many have pointed out that there is no such body of water in the Galilee but that there is a lake that roughly more or less matches the authors descriptions. See this post for more background.

"Sea of Galilee" appears to be wholly unattested by any earlier sources. The lake is called Kineret in Hebrew, both in the Hebrew Bible and today in Modern Hebrew. Other ancient authors refer to it by Latin or Greek derivations of this name or simply as Lake Tiberias. Later NT authors refer to it as lake Kinneret or as just "the lake" (Luke 5:1-11), follow Mark in calling it a sea (Matthew 4:18), or compromise like John 6:1 does and call it the "sea of Galilee of Tiberias".

Why does Mark choose to call the Kineret a sea? Is there theological importance to this designation? What factors could have influenced Mark to make this choice?

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    – C. Stroud
    Commented Feb 26 at 18:38
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    If the Romans re-named the body of water after the stepson of Caesar Augustus, then it is quite understandable that many would be lothe to use the name.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Feb 26 at 18:50
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    @NigelJ so why not use the Hebrew name like the author of Luke does? Commented Feb 26 at 18:56
  • Mark, in another place, reports the exact words of Jesus ('Eloi, Eloi') rather than, as Matthew, the Hebrew rendering ('Eli, Eli'). . It is possible that he is also using a common name for the body of water, the local name, in preference to the Hebrew. And this, all to focus on the purpose of his book, as he makes clear in the opening verses.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Feb 26 at 19:05
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    What's the source that "Sea of Galilee" was the common/local name for Kineret? I pointed out that gMark is the first occurrence of the name "Sea of Galilee" we have in history Commented Feb 26 at 21:00

4 Answers 4


The specific lake takes its older name ("Gennesaret" or "Kineret," "Chinnereth" etc.) from the small plain which lies on its western side. In Greek and Roman times this plain was part of the administrative region known as the Galilee. But the lake was not only called a "sea" in the NT. In the Old Testament, its name is "Yam (sea) Chinnereth" (Num. 34:11; Josh. 12:30).

Numbers 34:11

From Shepham the boundary will go down to Riblah, east of Ain, and descending further, the boundary will strike the ridge on the east side of the Sea of Chinnereth.

While in English a "sea" is a body of salt water, in ancient Hebrew "lake" and "sea" were more or less interchangeable terms. Even the brazen laver of Solomon's temple (1 Chron. 18:8), which contained fresh water, was called a "sea."

Conclusion: This lake was known as a "sea" from ancient times. The reason NT writers call it a sea probably the fact that this is how it was referred to in OT, and possibly thus in common parlance of the time. The Sea of Chinnereth (a local ancient plain) simply became the Sea of Galilee (a Greek administrative region).

  • "The reason NT writers call it a sea probably the fact that this is how it was referred to in OT, and possibly thus in common parlance of the time". I pointed out in the OP that Josephus called it the lake of Gennesar, the lake of Gennesaritis, or the lake of Tiberias. Pliny the Elder called it as lake of Gennesaret or Taricheae in his encyclopedia, Natural History. There's no data supporting the idea that "sea" was common, only the opposite. That Hebrew doesn't differentiate 'yam' makes it sound like Mark doesn't know the difference between lakes (limne) and oceans (thalassa) in Greek Commented Feb 26 at 20:56
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    @AviAvraham: I'm told that's typical of the apostles (other than Paul). Their command of Greek was pretty bad and and despite the NT being written in Greek it reads like it's written in Aramaic.
    – Joshua
    Commented Feb 27 at 3:16
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    @AviAvraham "That Hebrew doesn't differentiate 'yam' makes it sound like Mark doesn't know the difference between lakes (limne) and oceans (thalassa) in Greek" -- not necessarily. It's not uncommon for languages of wider communication, like Koine Greek, to be spoken / written with regional variation that reflects the categories of local or traditional languages (such as Hebrew and Aramaic). Also it's not clear why you said 'ocean' here rather than 'sea', unless you were trying to exaggerate the distinction.
    – LarsH
    Commented Feb 27 at 3:48
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    And this isn’t an unusual feature of ancient Hebrew: in many languages the words for “sea” and “lake” may be interchangeable, and their boundaries often shift over time. For example, the direct cognate of English sea in modern German is See, which now primarily means lake, but historically meant sea and still does in some contexts. Commented Feb 27 at 10:09
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    @AviAvraham.. I admit there is no written evidence that locals referred to it as "yam" or "sea" in the first c. , but this seems logical to me based on the fact that the local populace would be familiar with the OT. The synagogue movement was fairly strong there, and the rabbis certainly knew that was called a "yam" even if it was technically a lake. Commented Feb 27 at 19:57

The operative words used here are as follows:

  • λίμνη (limné) = lake/sea. It is used of the lake /sea of Gennesaret/Galilee in Luke 5:1, 2, 8:22, 23, 33. In the NT it is only used by Luke and by John the Revelator in 19:20, 20:10, 14, 15, 21:8 of the "lake of fire".
  • θάλασσα (thalassa) = lake/sea. It is used of the lake/sea of Galilee in Matt 4:18, 8:24, 26, 27, 32, 13:1, 14:25, 26, 15:29, etc. It is a far more common word than λίμνη (limné).

Comparison of Luke 5:1-11 with Matt 4:18-22, Mark 1:16-20 and John 1:35-42 shows that Gennesaret & Galilee are two different names for the same lake. Further, the actual word Γεννησαρέτ (Gennésaret) which only occurs three times in the NT (Matt 14:34, Mark 6:53, Luke 5:1) is given this meaning by BDAG:

probably the name for the fertile and thickly populated plain south of Capernaum, now El-Ghuweir. This was also the name of the large lake adjacent to the plain.

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    Sorry, I don't see how this answers where the author of Mark sourced calling the Kineret a 'thalassa' - his designation appears to be the first we have in recorded history Commented Feb 26 at 21:48
  • @AviAvraham - updated with further explanation.
    – Dottard
    Commented Feb 26 at 22:21

Because language is generally not consistent with these things

Most bodies of water were named before modern cartography actually defined the difference between one thing and another... especially those named thousands of years ago. Even in Modern English, what you label a large body of water has more to do with local preference and language than any actual qualities defined by some official definition. Just to name a few examples: the Caspian Sea is actually a lake, Lake Pontchartrain is actually a bay, and The Gulf of Mexico is actually a sea.

So, the fact that modern man is not consistent even with our internet fact checking and our strict standardization of all sorts of things, it is not at all surprising that someone 2000 years ago would be subject to the same level of variability.

  • "Lake Pontchartrain is actually a bay" --> or maybe an estuary. Commented Feb 28 at 5:21
  • @chux-ReinstateMonica Lol, it is both... which I suppose underlines my point even further.
    – Nosajimiki
    Commented Feb 28 at 15:29
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    @Nosajimiki, geologically, the Caspian Sea is an ocean: it's a body of salt water sitting on top of oceanic crust.
    – Mark
    Commented Feb 28 at 22:56
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    @Mark By modern definitions, oceans are formed by mid-oceanic fault lines where the crust is pushed apart by volcanic activity. The Caspian Sea is salt water, but it does not have a mid-oceanic fault line. That makes it a saltwater lake, not an ocean... but if someone wanted to call it an ocean instead of a sea or lake, I don't think they would be any less right to do so since all of these definitions are derived retroactively trying to make since of why the same word is used over and over again, and not on actual scientific principles.
    – Nosajimiki
    Commented Feb 28 at 23:13

Our tour guide in Tiberias explained it this way: Galilee is referred to as a sea because the Ginosar Valley with the Arbel Cliff on the south and the Mount of Beatitudes on the north acts as a funnel for winds from the west. A change in wind direction or velocity dramatically can cause dramatic storms to kick up quickly on Galilee, similar to storms on the Mediterranean. This could be what happened in Matthew 8:23-27 when Jesus calmed the storm and in Matthew 14:22-33 when Jesus walked on the water.

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    @ Pete McCarthy - The questioner was interested in the nomenclature concerning the Sea of Galilee. However, your answer seems to deal with the reason for stormy weather. Try addressing the "title" issue, and you will have a valid Answer. Keep studying the Bible; it's great for the soul!
    – ray grant
    Commented Feb 27 at 23:54
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    I'm unclear on how this answers the question about Mark calling a lake a sea. The weather on a body of water doesn't change the kind of body of water it is Commented Feb 28 at 18:02
  • @raygrant The background link in the OP bolstered its claim that Mark was inaccurate by citing Porphyry who says the Sea of Galilee didn't have the kind of weather Mark described. Porphyry also connects the weather to the term "sea." While it's true that this answer doesn't explain how the weather issue affected the name, it does claim that it does, so it's not ignoring the title issue.
    – LarsH
    Commented Mar 1 at 19:53
  • @Avi There's no reason in principle why a term for a body of water shouldn't be associated with certain weather patterns, any less than being associated with salinity or size, especially if (as the translation of Porphyry claims) the weather patterns are correlated with the size.
    – LarsH
    Commented Mar 1 at 20:06
  • @LarsH Porphyry writes about the the impact the size of the Kineret would have on 1. wave size (can't have whitecaps on the Kineret) and 2. the absurd length of time the boat was stuck in the lake. I don't see anything about the weather Commented Mar 1 at 20:22

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