Mark 8:6, One Miracle Feeding or Two?

And he commanded the people to sit down on the ground: and he took the seven loaves, and gave thanks, and brake, and gave to his disciples to set before them; and they did set them before the people.

//In my opinion, the story of Jesus feeding the multitude with loaves and fishes has a distinct aura of historicity about it. It is the central “sign” of John’s Gospel, and it relates directly to the anticipation of a Messiah who would initiate an age of plenty. It is mentioned in all four gospels … in fact, in Mark and Matthew, the story is told twice!

Which makes one wonder: Did Jesus feed the multitude twice, or are we reading two different interpretations of the same event? Matthew’s Gospel is recognized as an update of Mark with a new theological direction; 90% of the verses in Mark find their way into Matthew, many almost word for word. So, it’s probably not significant that Matthew sides with Mark about the event happening twice.

Luke also wrote his gospel with the book of Mark open in front of him. But Luke appears to have had more sources of the Christ story available to him than Matthew, and is less concerned about occasionally disagreeing with Mark. Luke presents only one miracle feeding.

John’s Gospel, the most independent of the four, again relates the story only once.

So, then, to determine whether there were one or two miracle feedings, we’re left with analyzing Mark. The two events in Mark (one in chapter 6, the other in chapter 8) have varying details: Jesus feeds 5,000 the first time, 4,000 the second time. He uses five loaves and two fishes the first time, and seven loaves and a few fishes the second time. He gathers twelve baskets of leftovers the first time, seven the second time. But the only fundamental differences in the story are the numbers, which surely derive from some theological significance in both stories, though scholars continue to argue about their meanings.

Would it be helpful to discuss the setting surrounding each story? This is where it gets interesting.

  1. After both feedings, the meaning is misunderstood.
  2. After the first feeding, Jesus crosses the sea to Bethsaida. After the second, he crosses to Dalmanutha, and a few verses later moves on to Bethsaida.
  3. After both feedings, Jesus finds himself in a contest with the Pharisees.
  4. After the first feeding, Jesus heals a deaf man with spittle. After the second feeding, Jesus heals a blind man with spittle.

What do you think? Are these really two separate events, or two stories Mark has collected of the same event?

22 Comments

  1. Kibbles

    It’s an interesting question. The author of Mark is actually quite explicit that these were two separate events, rather than the same event told twice. In Mark 8:19-20, Jesus is discussing the feedings with the disciples, and he explicitly mentions them both as separate events.

    This means that if Mark’s author really has just heard two different versions of the same event and included them both in his gospel, then he actually took the extra step of adding a completely new teaching (Mark 8:14-21) just to reconcile the two stories against each other. Which certainly doesn’t prove anything, of course- it seems clear to me that there are several instances of gospel writers conjuring up extra teachings to support their own theology. Luke 19:27 is the first example that comes to mind.

    • Read mark 8:19&20. Jesus asks questions to show the meaning of the two separate miracles. One miracle occurs in a Hebrew area and the 12 leftover baskets represent salvation for the Jews. A second multiplication occurs in a gentile area, probably near where he drove a legion of demons into swine. (Hebrews don’t keep swine) this time there are seven leftover baskets. 7 represents fullness and is a sign for the gentiles that salvation is for the fullness of humanity

      • I looked at Mark 8:13-21 and I think you nailed it. It is exactly the heart of Jesus’ mission to expand JHVH out of the Hebrew kernel to the whole world. I don’t think Christianity has validity without this understanding. So glad you shared this.

  2. Anonymous

    Both are told in Matthew Chapters 15 and 16

  3. i think u should look at it in another view. yes the story differs. but right or wrong he feed people. and with that he helped people. u must value only the good in the storys. not disect them. the bible is a book for life. use it only to improve ur life .its like a mirror in the form of a book. will u defeat fear. or will u die in it? (fear)

  4. the translators of the Bible seams to give unbelievers room to accuse the Bible of contradiction,how can we get the right translation of the Bible to help clear the air on so many issues of contradictions in the Bible?

    • Lee Harmon

      Ezekiel, do we really want to deny one author or another having a voice of their own? I don’t believe we should “clear the air” but preserve all writings.

  5. Bonnie Wilcox

    I believe Jesus fed two different groups — one a group of Jews, the second a group of Gentiles. The numbers in each story represent important numerology for both groups. And one territory is Jewish, the other Gentile.
    The telling of the second story shows the ongoing realization that Jesus Word is heard increasingly by those who are beyond only the people of God, but the whole world. It is an exciting discovery!

  6. Its not about creating room for those who disbeleive, bt its about understanding the core of the bible. As it is said little knowledge is dangerous, we must fist ask the Holy Spirit to guide us before we read the Holy Bible. AMEN

  7. Greg Sherrill

    Maybe it’s all symbolic:
    The 5000 represent a multitude of Jews, who had access to the Law and the prophets. The 4000 were Gentiles, who had minimal or no access to the Law and the prophets.

    The Jews were interested in the teaching but did not open their hearts to the meat and the bread (WORD), therefore; less WORD was received and more WORD was left over.

  8. Cincylitigator

    I never saw the Jewish gentile relationship between the two stories but this makes absolute sense to me. I have been confused for 30 years about Jesus’ mentioning of the significance of the baskets and had pretty much written it off in mind. I should have known he was saying something fairly straightforward if you will just look at it. As a Jewish Gentile hybrid myself I am especially helped by this. Thanks so much.

  9. Hey all,

    I was also wondering the same thing but my question lies in the doubt of the Disciples. if this indeed happened twice can we have the same doubt expressed for the same event? For instance in Matthews Phillip showed doubt that Jesus couldn’t have fed the multitude so can we have the same doubt in in Matthews 15???

    • Yes, this is why I am here. The disciples doubt. Someone have a word on this?

  10. Jesus himself mentions this to the Pharisees in Matthew 16.

    “Don’t you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand”

    He clearly is discussing two different events.

  11. Read further on and you will see that it is two separate events because Jesus himself mentioned these two separate events specifically .

    Matthew 16:9-10

    Do you not yet perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered?
    Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered?

    • This answers it all, Matthew 16 vs 9-10. Thank you

    • Juanita

      Thank you Glenda!!!!! My husband and I were just having a discussion about this same topic and God used you to answer the question. He knew that it was two different feedings but did not have Scripture to back it up. Your post saved the day and God bless you for your obedience to state the facts.

  12. The two feedings and the two nature miracles are text doublings and based on the same sources. The healing miracles in the synoptics also appear to be literary variants of a single source or basic story, Jesus gets off a boat, attracts a crowd, a sick person is announced, someone has doubts, Jesus heals and leaves town either on a boat or to climb up a mountain. John does not have all this doubling and is therefore closer to the original sources material, Luke also has fewer doublings than MK and MT.

  13. Lisa Gohn

    Two completely different feedings. The 5,000 were Jews and the 4,000 were Gentiles. The details are in the words chosen . The significance is that Jesus came to save both Jew and Gentile.

  14. In Matthew 16 verses 9 and 10, when talking to the Pharisees, Jesus said

    9 Do ye not yet understand, neither remember the five loaves of the five thousand, and how many baskets he took up?
    10 Neither the seven loaves of the four thousand, and how many baskets he took up?

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