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Five loaves and two fish

This miracle, incomprehensible from the point of view of pure logic, has been exercising the minds of numerous theologians and commentators since the 19th century.

ZOE AUTOR 102/Antonio_Cruz TRADUCTOR Roger Marshall 03 DE MARZO DE 2024 11:00 h
Photo: [link]Lance Anderson[/link], Unsplash, CC0.

Mark records the spectacular miracle Jesus performed in the presence of 5,000 men (Mark 6:35-44).

Starting with only five loaves of bread and two fish, the Master multiplied them, and twelve baskets were filled with the leftovers, after the whole multitude had eaten their fill. This miracle, incomprehensible from the point of view of pure logic, has been exercising the minds of numerous theologians and commentators since the 19th century.

Some of them, such as the German protestant Wellhausen (1844-1918), argued that the fact that the different gospels record more than one multiplication miracle story, all slightly different from each other casts doubt over the historicity of these stories, and that they should therefore be regarded as having been invented by the early Christians. This opinion was shared by the French-German doctor, Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965), who nevertheless thought that the event was historical, except for the idea that everyone ate their fill. [1]

[destacate]The four evangelists, as well as the earliest communities of believers, were convinced that the multiplications were genuine miracles performed by Jesus[/destacate]Others suggest that what actually happened was that the crowd, when they saw that Jesus was sharing the food that he had, understood that they too should share whatever little food they had brought with them, and this was enough for everyone to have enough to eat, but there was nothing miraculous about it (Heinrich Eberhard Gottlob Paulus (1761-1852); Karl Theodor Keim (1825-1878): etc.) [2] Along these lines, the German professor Jürgen Roloff (1930-2004), thought the story was deliberately hyperbolic as it was intended to highlight the idea of a Messianic banquet.

Despite these opinions, it should be borne in mind that none of Jesus’s miracles – apart from the resurrection – had such an impact on his disciples as this one had. The four gospel writers all record it in their accounts. This is significant enough. If it had never happened or was just a legend made up subsequently by his followers, as Bultmann and others thought, it would not have been maintained and testified to by so many men of God. There is no doubt that the four evangelists, as well as the earliest communities of believers, believed and were convinced that the multiplications of the loaves and the fish were genuine miracles performed by Jesus. That was how they witnessed them, and that was how they recorded them, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Mark recorded the direct testimony, and the preaching, of the apostle Peter. When we read these verses about the feeding of the five thousand, we get the impression that whoever told the story must have been an eyewitness himself. In fact, we read that the crowd sat on the “green grass”. This would indicate that it was probably the spring. The people sat down “in groups of hundreds and fifties”, that is to say, in an orderly fashion to make the distribution of the food easier. This could only have been known by someone who was present at the scene. It’s a highly colourful scene, which highlights the thousands of people with their different clothing against a uniformly green background of the grass they were sitting on.

The denarius was a silver coin that corresponded to what a dayworker earned for a day’s work. So buying bread for two hundred denarii would have meant spending approximately half a year’s salary. This was an amount which the disciples were unlikely to have had with them and, what’s more, it wouldn’t have bought enough bread to feed 5,000 people. We also have to remember that, in keeping with the Hebrew method of counting, the women and children were not included, but only the adults. There must have been a lot more than 5,000 people there.

[destacate]Some of the surrounding villages made a living by seasoning these sardines, fish to preserve them, and then sell them[/destacate]The five loaves mentioned were made of barley, according to John’s version of the story (6:9), in other words the plainest and cheapest type of bread available. It was the bread of the poor, round and the size of a plate and about a centimetre thick. The fish were probably the “Galilee sardines” species (Acanthobrama terraesanctae), a freshwater species that was abundant in this lake. [3] Some of the surrounding villages made a living by seasoning these fish, to preserve them, and then sell them, so they were very common and plentiful there.

The message that the Master is teaching us in this miracle is that, from something seemingly insignificant, He can do very great things. In his hands, the minimum is transformed into the maximum. This should give those who trust his Word reason for confidence. Although it might seem that we are of little or no account, that we hardly have any talents or resources, we can know for certain that if we dedicate what we have to the extension of his kingdom on the earth, God can powerfully multiply it for the benefit of many. Our talent in the hands of Jesus Christ is like a shower of blessing for his people.

Antonio Cruz, biologist and theologian in Spain.



[1] Gnilka, J. The Gospel of Mark.

[2] Taylor, V. 1980, The Gospel of Mark

[3] Cruz, A. 2022, Diccionario Enciclopédico de Animales y Plantas de la Biblia, Clie, Viladecavalls, Barcelona, p. 698.




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