Water is a vital part of our existence, and the Bible contains many references to water and bodies of water. In this comprehensive blog post, we will explore the many mentions of water throughout both the Old and New Testaments and reflect on the theological and spiritual significance behind these references.
Water is an essential part of life and a rich symbol that runs throughout the Bible. From the very beginning in Genesis, where the Spirit of God hovered over the surface of the waters (Genesis 1:2), to the end in Revelation with the river of life flowing from the throne of God (Revelation 22:1), water imagery conveys important theological truths.
As Christians seeking to grow in knowledge and faith, studying how many times and in what contexts water is mentioned in Scripture can lend new insights into God’s character and plan for humanity. Examining both literal references to physical bodies of water, as well as metaphorical usages of water imagery, equips us to better understand key biblical themes like provision, cleansing, deliverance, baptism, and more.
Join me as we explore the breadth of water references in the Bible and reflect on what they reveal about who God is and how He chooses to relate to His people. The following key insights summarize what we’ll discover:
- Water is mentioned around 735 times in the Bible depending on the translation. It appears in both literal and figurative ways.
- The symbolic uses of water represent concepts like salvation, judgement, life, and more. Studying these metaphors deepens our theological understanding.
- God demonstrates His sovereignty and care over all of creation through his authority over bodies of water.
- Water signifies cleansing and renewal spiritually as well as physically. Figures like baptism and the great flood connect to this.
- Jesus’s first miracle was turning water to wine, echoing Old Testament symbols and foreshadowing the spiritual transformation He offers.
Let’s explore the breadth of biblical water references and how they enrich our faith!
A Breakdown of How Many Times Water is Literally Mentioned
How many times exactly is water literally mentioned in the Bible? The number can vary slightly across translations, but is approximately 735 times in the NKJV (New King James Version). Other estimates range from 722 mentions in the NIV to around 780 in the KJV. The breakdown across major categories is:
- Seas and oceans – 238 times
- Rivers and streams – 206 times
- Springs and fountains – around 80 times
- Rain and storms – over 150 times
- Wells and cisterns – about 50 times
- Lakes – 22 times
The Old Testament contains more references to bodies of water than the New Testament, with over 500 mentions compared to around 200 in the New. This distribution aligns with the setting of most Old Testament events in the context of the ancient Near East where proximity to major water sources shaped trade, politics, and warfare.
The books with the most water references are Psalms (105 mentions), Isaiah (100 mentions), and Genesis (86 mentions). From the Red Sea to the Jordan River, bodies of water marked key events in Israel’s journeys and history. The Psalms contain frequent imagery of God’s provision and deliverance through water during wilderness wanderings. Isaiah issues calls to repentance and prophecies against nations using symbolic references to waters. And Genesis recounts foundational stories of creation, the flood, and the patriarchs that set the stage for God’s covenant relationship with His chosen people.
The Theological Significance of Water in Scripture
In addition to literal references, water also appears frequently as a theological symbol carrying spiritual meaning. Here are some of the key symbolic uses of water imagery in the Bible:
Provision and sustenance – In a hot, arid climate, water equaled life and could sustain or take it away. When God provided water from rocks and rivers during the Exodus journey (Ex. 17, Num. 20) it demonstrated His faithful provision. Jesus echoed this idea saying “whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst” (John 4:14).
Cleansing and purification – Ceremonial washing before worship showed spiritual cleansing. Accepting John’s baptism of repentance in the Jordan meant preparation for Jesus’s arrival (Mark 1:4-5). Jesus told Nicodemus one must be born of water and the Spirit (John 3:5).
Judgement and wrath – Noah’s flood covered the corrupted earth in cleansing judgment. Later prophets warned of coming judgment through water imagery (Psalm 18:16). The bowl judgments in Revelation evoke the plague of bloodied, undrinkable water as well.
Blessing and favor – Moses’s name means “drawn from water.” Eden was a place of abundant, uncorrupted waters. Revelation portrays the end times Eden as a city with a river of life (Revelation 22:1).
Chaos and evil – Before creation, the Spirit hovered over a chaotic abyss. Isaiah and Revelation reference sinister creatures lurking in the waters. But God has authority even over chaotic waters.
As this small sample shows, studying the theological motifs behind water references amplifies and deepens our understanding of Scripture’s key themes. Water carries important symbolic weight.
Now that we’ve surveyed a broad overview of how many times water is mentioned and some of the significance, let’s examine some notable categories and passages in more depth.
God’s Divine Authority Over the Waters
One important theological truth that emerges from the many water references is God’s complete divine authority over all the waters and deeps.
The very first verses of Genesis establish God creating the heavens, the earth, and separating the waters:
And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. (Genesis 1:2)
Then God said, “Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.” Thus God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament; and it was so. (Genesis 1: 6-7)
Here at the very beginning, God shows His sovereignty by exerting His will to divide, contain, and direct the waters. The psalmists frequently reflect on this divine power over the waters as they praise God’s wonders:
Your way was in the sea, Your path in the great waters, And Your footsteps were not known. (Psalm 77:19)
O LORD God of hosts, Who is mighty like You, O LORD? Your faithfulness also surrounds You. You rule the raging of the sea; When its waves rise, You still them. (Psalm 89: 8-9)
The prophets warn foreign nations who have forgotten Yahweh’s authority over the waters and only credit their own false gods:
“Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: ‘Behold, I am against you, O Zidon; and I will be glorified in your midst; and they shall know that I am the LORD, when I execute judgments in her and am hallowed in her. For I will send pestilence upon her, And blood in her streets; The wounded shall be judged in her midst By the sword against her on every side; Then they shall know that I am the LORD. (Ezekiel 28:22-23)
Whether parting the Red Sea, rebuking storms, or warning of judgment through floods, God continually demonstrates His power over bodies of water throughout Scripture. His divine authority over all creation includes mastery over the waters. As the psalmist proclaimed:
The sea is His, for He made it; And His hands formed the dry land. (Psalm 95:5)
God Provides Water as Provision
In addition to demonstrating His lordship, God also graciously provides water to sustain life, blessing His people physically and spiritually.
The book of Exodus illustrates this beautifully through the wilderness wanderings. At Marah, the Israelites feared dying of thirst, but God showed Moses a tree to purify the bitter waters (Exodus 15:22-25). Later at Massah and Meribah, the people again quarreled for water and tested God’s patience even after He provided manna daily (Exodus 17:1-7). Yet even in His anger, God still instructed Moses to strike the rock and bring forth water to demonstrate His compassionate provision.
Centuries later in their own exile, the prophet Haggai reassured that just as God provided for Israel in the wilderness before, He would again provide water to bless them:
‘This is what God Almighty says: “In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,” says the Lord Almighty. “The silver is mine and the gold is mine,” declares the Lord Almighty. “The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,” says the Lord Almighty. “And in this place I will grant peace,” declares the Lord Almighty.’ (Haggai 2:6-9)
We also see God’s provision through water in the books of Kings during the widows’ need:
So he went to Zarephath. And when he came to the gate of the city, indeed a widow was there gathering sticks. And he called to her and said, “Please bring me a little water in a cup, that I may drink.” (1 Kings 17:10)
Then she said to Elijah, “As the Lord your God lives, I do not have bread, only a handful of flour in a bin, and a little oil in a jar; and see, I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.” And Elijah said to her, “Do not fear; go and do as you have said, but make me a small cake from it first, and bring it to me; and afterward make some for yourself and your son. For thus says the Lord God of Israel: ‘The bin of flour shall not be used up, nor shall the jar of oil run dry, until the day the Lord sends rain on the earth.’ ” So she went away and did according to the word of Elijah; and she and he and her household ate for many days. The bin of flour was not used up, nor did the jar of oil run dry, according to the word of the Lord which He spoke by Elijah. (1 Kings 17:12-16)
Here we see God demonstrating tenderness and miraculous care to provide for the needs of the vulnerable through His authority over water and grain.
Baptism and Living Water
Two key water motifs – baptism and living water – carry rich theological meaning in the New Testament.
Baptism marks initiation into the community of faith beginning with John’s baptism of repentance and later into the body of Christ:
In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matthew 3:1-2)
Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins. (Matthew 3:5-6)
Jesus transformed this cleansing, preparatory ritual into a commandment inaugurating Christian discipleship:
And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen. (Matthew 28:18-20)
Baptism visibly proclaims Christ’s atoning work and initiates believers into the fellowship and family of God.
Living water signifies the spiritual renewal and cleansing that Jesus offers. At Jacob’s well, Jesus flipped the script on drawing physical water by offering a Samaritan woman the water of eternal life instead:
“Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.” (John 4:13-14)
In the Old Testament, water flowing from the temple signified God’s spiritual presence among His people based on Ezekiel’s vision:
And he brought me back to the door of the temple; and there was water, flowing from under the threshold of the temple toward the east, for the front of the temple faced east…Along the bank of the river, on this side and that, will grow all kinds of trees used for food; their leaves will not wither, and their fruit will not fail. They will bear fruit every month, because their water flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for medicine. (Ezekiel 47:1,12)
By claiming to offer living water, Jesus proclaimed Himself as the ultimate source of spiritual life – the reality to which Ezekiel could only point.
Jesus’s First Sign at the Wedding in Cana
It’s profoundly significant that Jesus’s first public miracle was turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana (John 2:1-12). This sign echoed Old Testament symbols of blessing while inaugurating Jesus’s ministry.
In the Old Testament, wine represents joy, celebration, and God’s blessing:
May God give you of the dew of heaven, Of the fatness of the earth, And plenty of grain and wine. (Genesis 27:28)
He causes the grass to grow for the cattle, And vegetation for the service of man, That he may bring forth food from the earth, And wine that makes glad the heart of man, Oil to make his face shine, And bread which strengthens man’s heart. (Psalm 104:14-15)
At the wedding feast in Cana, the wine had run out – a major social faux pas. By miraculously refilling the jars, Jesus took this embarrassing lack of celebration and transformed it into the finest wine. The census and mistiming that left no wine becomes an opportunity for Jesus to display His glory (John 2:11). This first sign echoes God’s promises of future blessing by prompting the disciples to put their faith in Jesus.
Throughout his ministry, Jesus fulfilled biblical symbols and types in unexpected ways. As He told the Samaritan woman at the well when she expected a mere man, Jesus offers far more than physical water:
The woman said to Him, “Sir, You have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep. Where then do You get that living water? Are You greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, as well as his sons and his livestock?” Jesus answered and said to her, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.” (John 4:11-14)
Water in Revelation
The beginning and end of the Bible share water creation motifs. Revelation contains the most concentrated figurative water imagery since Genesis 1-2.
Themkring back to the chaos waters before creation, the smoke from the Abyss filled the air with locusts that tormented like scorpion stings:
The fifth angel sounded his trumpet, and I saw a star that had fallen from the sky to the earth. The star was given the key to the shaft of the Abyss. When he opened the Abyss, smoke rose from it like the smoke from a gigantic furnace. The sun and sky were darkened by the smoke from the Abyss. And out of the smoke locusts came down on the earth and were given power like that of scorpions of the earth. (Revelation 9:1-3)
But God still reigns supreme over these chaotic waters and limits their harm, unlike at the flood.
The bowl judgments also feature corrupting the waters, echoing Exodus when God turned the Nile to blood:
The second angel poured out his bowl on the sea, and it turned into blood like that of a dead person, and every living thing in the sea died. (Revelation 16:3)
The third angel poured out his bowl on the rivers and springs of water, and they became blood. (Revelation 16:4)
But after judgment, John sees a vision of restoration – a new Eden with the curse reversed:
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. (Revelation 22:1-2)
Just as rivers flowed from the Garden of Eden, the end restores lifegiving water, fruit, and healing leaves. This time, the throne of God and the Lamb are the source, pictures of eternal blessing.
Studying water motifs in Revelation gives hope that current chaos and curses are only temporary. God will reverse the effects of sin with an eternal Eden in the New Jerusalem.
In summary, water appears around 735 times throughout Scripture from Genesis to Revelation. It marks pivotal moments in Israel’s history and conveys key theological themes of God’s provision, judgment, promises, and more.
Studying both literal references and symbolic usages of water deepens our understanding of who God is and how He relates to humanity across salvation history. As God incarnate, Jesus offered spiritual water surpassing physical water. One day He will reverse the curse and restore the eternal blessings of Eden’s river in the New Jerusalem.
As we seek to grow in knowledge and relationship with Christ, meditating on biblical water references equips us to marvel at God’s faithful character and trust His promises for the future. Just like water, His word and presence refresh and sustain those who draw near. I pray this overview blesses and encourages you on your journey of studying God’s living word.