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Sea of Galilee

also known as: Sea of Tiberias, Lake of Gennesareth, Sea of Chinnereth

(Matthew 4:18; 15:29)

The Sea of Galilee is mentioned in the Bible under 3 other names.

  1. It is called the “sea of Chinnereth” in the Old Testament (Numbers 34:11; Joshua 12:3; 13:27). This may be due to its harp-like shape.

  2. The “lake of Gennesareth” (Gennesaret) once by Luke (Luke 5:1), from the flat district lying on its west coast.

  3. John (John 6:1; 21:1) calls it the “sea of Tiberias”. The modern Arabs retain this name, Bahr Tabariyeh.

This lake is 12½ miles long, and from 4 to 7½ broad. Its surface is 682 feet below the level of the Mediterranean. Its depth is from 80 to 200 feet. The Jordan River enters it 10½ miles below the southern extremity of the Huleh Lake (Hula Lake), or about 26½ miles from its source. In this distance of 26½ miles there is a fall in the river of 1,682 feet, or of more than 60 feet to the mile. It is 27 miles east of the Mediterranean, and about 60 miles northeast of Jerusalem. It is of an oval shape, and abounds in fish.

Its appearance in the late 19th century was described…

“The utter loneliness and absolute stillness of the scene are exceedingly impressive. It seems as if all nature had gone to rest, languishing under the scorching heat. How different it was in the days of our Lord! Then all was life and bustle along the shores; the cities and villages that thickly studded them resounded with the hum of a busy population; while from hill-side and corn-field came the cheerful cry of shepherd and ploughman. The lake, too, was dotted with dark fishing-boats and spangled with white sails. Now a mournful, solitary silence reigns over sea and shore. The cities are in ruins!”

Cradle of the Gospel

This sea is chiefly of interest as associated with the public ministry of our Lord. Capernaum, “his own city” (Matthew 9:1), stood on its shores. From among the fishermen who plied their calling on its waters he chose Peter and his brother Andrew, and James and John, to be disciples, and sent them forth to be “fishers of men” (Matthew 4:18,22; Mark 1:16-20; Luke 5:1-11). He stilled its tempest, saying to the storm that swept over it, “Peace, be still” (Matthew 8:23-27; Mark 7:31-35); and here also he showed himself after his resurrection to his disciples (John 21).

“The Sea of Galilee is indeed the cradle of the gospel. The subterranean fires of nature prepared a lake basin, through which a river afterwards ran, keeping its waters always fresh. In this basin a vast quantity of shell-fish swarmed, and multiplied to such an extent that they formed the food of an extraordinary profusion of fish. The great variety and abundance of the fish in the lake attracted to its shores a larger and more varied population than existed elsewhere in Israel, whereby this secluded district was brought into contact with all parts of the world. And this large and varied population, with access to all nations and countries, attracted the Lord Jesus, and induced him to make this spot the center of his public ministry.”

Meaning of “sea”

In general use in modern times, the word “sea” is used to refer to large bodies of salt water, such as the oceans and partially landlocked waters such as the Mediterranean Sea or landlocked bodies such as the Caspian Sea. However, “sea” is also occasionally used to refer to large fresh water bodies, such as the Sea of Galilee.

The word “sea” appears 400 times in 352 verses in the King James Version of the Bible. The Hebrew word is “yam”—“from an unused root meaning “to roar.” The name is used in Hebrew to refer to a sea (as breaking in noisy surf) or a large body of water; specifically (with the article) the Mediterranean; sometimes a large river, or an artificial basin.”

References include: The Sea, the Dead Sea (aka East Sea, salt sea), Red Sea, and the Molten Sea