In a previous article we asked about unusual details in the Gospel accounts of the feeding miracles of Jesus, where just a few loaves and fishes provided a full meal for thousands of people. Why were only the adult males counted in reports of the size of the crowds? Why was so much bread left uneaten, and why was the leftover bread collected and saved? We saw that these details can be explained by two ancient Jewish dining practices, the prayer after meals and the tithing of bread. We also noted that the presence of such details in the narrative supports the historical validity of the Gospels.
course when the evangelists wrote about events like the feeding miracles, they
were doing much more than simply recounting episodes from the life of Jesus.
Under divine inspiration they were selecting, arranging, and presenting events
to most effectively communicate that Jesus is the Messiah whose coming was
prophesied in the Hebrew Scriptures (John 20:31). In particular, the Messiah
was expected to be a prophet like Moses (Deut 18:15-18; Acts 3:22; 7:37), and
so the Gospels bring out the ways in which Jesus was like a new Moses leading a
We see this, for example, in Mark 4:35-8:10, a narrative portion that includes accounts of two feeding miracles. There are a number of exodus parallels in this section of scripture.1
example, at the time of the first Passover, Moses instructed the Israelites to
be ready to quickly depart from Egypt. They were to eat the Passover with their
belts fastened, their sandals on their feet, and their staffs in their hands
when Jesus sent twelve disciples on a mission to Galilean villages (Mark
6:7-11), he had them travel light, but they were to be equipped with these same
belts, staffs, and sandals. The implication is that a new exodus was beginning
with a call for people to repent and believe the Gospel.
he led the children of Israel safely out of Egypt, Moses stretched out his hand
toward the Red Sea, and God sent a strong wind to part the waters (Exod 14:21).
Similarly, Jesus spoke to calm the wind and waters at the Sea of Galilee (Mark
4:35-41), then later walked across those waters (6:45-52). These details
portray Jesus as a divine figure as well as a new Moses.
the Israelites crossed the Red Sea, they had rest from their enemies in the
wilderness. There God provided food, water, and other necessities of life. The
Bible describes God as Israel's shepherd during the exodus (Ps 78:52), and
prophecies of a future exodus also picture God in this way (Isa 40:11). In
Ezekiel 34 Israelites are described as sheep in need of a shepherd, and God
promises to send the Messiah to "feed them and be their shepherd" (v.
in Mark 6 when the twelve disciples returned from their evangelistic mission,
they crossed the Sea of Galilee to find rest in "a desolate place"
(vv. 30-32). Many people sought Jesus in this wilderness region, and he taught
them when he saw that "they were like sheep without a shepherd" (v.
34). Mark presents Jesus here in a messianic role as a shepherd of Israel.
wilderness period was a time of testing and learning for Israel. The people had
a tendency to grumble and complain in their anxiety over the limited prospects
for food (Exod 16:2-3). God responded by sending manna, nourishing and
versatile bread that also taught lessons of faith (Exod 16:4-31). Prophecies
about a new exodus describe the wilderness transformed into a new Eden, an
appropriate scene for a messianic banquet (Isa 41:18-20; 51:3).
accounts of the feeding miracles are full of allusions to these ideas. The
disciples of Jesus worried about how to feed the large crowds that sought Jesus
(6:35-37), and Jesus used these situations as a teaching opportunity (8:1-5).
The crowd sat down, reclining as at a banquet. The mention of "green
grass" in Mark 6:39 hints at a transformed wilderness. They sat "by
hundreds and by fifties" (6:40), organized like the congregation of Israel
in the wilderness (Deut 1:15). They were given a miraculous meal, where all
were satisfied and yet more food remained at the end than had existed at the
Mention Two Feeding Miracles?
Since Mark effectively communicates a new exodus message in his description of the feeding of five thousand (6:30-44), why does he go on to cover the feeding of four thousand (8:1-10)? One reason, certainly, is that the repetition emphasizes important themes from his Gospel, like the disciples' lack of discernment (8:14-21) and the greatness of Jesus in performing such mighty works (8:19-20). Another reason is suggested by the geographical setting of these miracles. Based on the context in Mark, the feeding of five thousand occurs in Jewish territory, while the feeding of four thousand takes place in a region associated with Gentiles (7:24-37). Mark thus presents Jesus as the Savior of both Israel and the nations.2
study of the feeding miracles illustrates the fact that the Gospels can be read
on more than one level. On one hand, they are historical documents that provide
data about late Second Temple Judaism and the start of Christianity. On the
other hand, they are complex literary works that are part of a larger canon of
scripture and contain many allusions to previous parts of that canon. The rich
details of the Gospels sometimes carry more than one meaning. For example, the
arrangement of the crowds in hundreds and fifties (Mark 6:40) hints at the
custom of prayer after meals and also reminds us of the congregation of Israel
in the wilderness. Similarly, the bread fragments reflect a tithing practice
and also emphasize the magnitude of the miracles. Our understanding and
appreciation of God's inspired word increases as we learn to recognize the
1See for instance Sun
Wook Kim, "The Wilderness as a Place of the New Exodus in Mark's Feeding
Miracles (Mark 6:31-44 and 8:1-10)," Biblical Theology Bulletin 48
(2), pp. 62-75.
p. 69. The large number of tithed bread fragments in both incidents implies
that both crowds included many Jews, but a crowd in a Gentile region still
points to Jesus' outreach to the nations.
translated from TEX by TTH,
On 21 Jun 2018, 11:53.