8. Preaching the gospel, 13:53-17:23

iii] The feeding of the five thousand


Jesus has withdrawn to a desolate place, but the crowds have followed him. After a day of healing the sick, the disciples come to Jesus and point out that the people need to be sent on their way so that they can get something to eat. Jesus suggests that the disciples should feed them. What the disciples are unable to do, Jesus does with five loaves and two fish.


In the wilderness of life, those who seek the Christ are fed with the Word of life and are completely sustained.


i] Context: See 13:53-58.


ii] Structure: The feeding of the five thousand:

Setting, v13-14;

The feeding, v15-20:

Conversation, v15-18;

Miracle, v19-20.

Comment, v21


iii] Interpretation:

Like most of Jesus' miracles, the feeding of the five thousand points beyond itself. On the one hand, the miracle is a preemptive messianic feast proclaiming the nearness of the kingdom. On the other hand, we witness a replay of God's provisioning of Israel for their wilderness journey. As God, through Moses, fed the people of Israel with manna in the wilderness, so Jesus, the prophet like unto Moses, feeds a mighty crowd in "a desolate place." In its Matthean context, the story serves as a paradigm for the gospel preaching of the church. As such, it announces that Jesus, the bread of heaven, feeds lost humanity with the life-giving Word of grace.


There are numerous interpretive approaches to the feeding of the five thousand: Liberals view it as a sharing of lunches, a symbol of community love; Sacramentalists view it as a symbol of the Eucharist (the Lord's Supper); Some view it as a sign to show us that Jesus is something more than a rabbi; Others view it as a lesson on discipleship. All these interpretations have some weight, but the best ways to approach the story is through Biblical theology - a salvation-history interpretation.

In the terms of salvation-history the story evokes images of the wilderness wanderings, of God feeding his people in the desert, Exodus 16, and the feeding miracle of Elisha, 2Kgs.4:42-44. In a sense, the miracle proclaims Jesus as the "new Moses" and therefore authenticates his messianic credentials and his inauguration of the messianic banquet / the kingdom. This wilderness miracle serves to proclaim the gospel; it serves as a sign that the kingdom of heaven is at hand. God is again calling out his remnant people and sustaining them to eternal life.

It is worth noting how John develops this theme in his record of the miracle, cf., John 6. For John, feeding on Christ gives life. This feeding, expressed in the terms of eating and drinking the body and blood of Christ, entails "believing", and it is believing that secures eternal life. .


ii] Synoptics:

The Feeding of the Five Thousand is recorded in all synoptic gospels, and in John as well. Both Matthew and Mark record a second feeding of four thousand. From the time of Augustine it was assumed that the first feeding was for the Jews and the second for Gentiles. There is some textual support for this theory.


iv] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.

Text - 14:13

The feeding of the five thousand, v13-21: i] Transitional note establishing the setting, v13-14. The preaching ministry of the disciples had stirred up Herod Antipas and so Jesus decides to cool things down, cf. v1-2. Luke tells us that he withdrew to Bethsaida Julius on the northeast shore of lake Galilee. Jesus and his disciples obviously went by boat, but the crowds, having worked out where Jesus was going, travelled around the lake on foot and get there first. Out of "compassion", Jesus continues his healing ministry among them.

de "-" - but/and. Transitional; indicating a step in the narrative.

akousaV (akouw) aor. part. "when [Jesus] heard what had happened" - [jesus] having heard what Herod was up to. The participle is adverbial, best treated as temporal, as NIV. This statement provides the reason for Jesus' move to "a solitary place", namely, safely away from Herod Antipas. Note that in Mark and Luke the reason is rest.

ekeiqen adv. "-" - [withdrew] from there. Adverb of place.

en + dat. "by [boat]" - Instrumental, expressing means.

erhmon topon "a solitary place" - [to] a desolate place. The sense is "wilderness" and no doubt the word is used to cue us to the Exodus symbolism evident in this miracle. Not so much "desert" as "deserted", "remote".

kat idian "privately" - according to oneself = by himself. The Greek may mean that Jesus went alone into the wilderness, but then what about the disciples? He probably went with the disciples with the intention of getting some quiet-time; "to go to some place where he could be alone", CEV, or "where they could be by themselves", JB. Possibly further describing the "desolate place", namely, "he went by boat to an uninhabited and secluded district", Weymouth, but the meaning "privately [with the disciples]" is more likely. Given that the disciples were obviously present in the boat, Matthew is purposely focusing our attention on Jesus.

akousanteV (akouw) aor. part. "hearing of this" - [and] having heard that Jesus had left by boat. The participle is adverbial, best treated as temporal; "but when the crowd heard of this", Barclay.

autw/ dat. pro. "-" - [the crowds followed] him. Dative of direct object after the verb "to follow."

pezh/ adv. "on foot" - on foot, by land. "By land", Weymouth.

apo + gen. "from [the towns]" - Expressing source / origin.


exelqwn (exercomai) aor. part. "when [Jesus] landed" - [and] having come out, gone out. The NIV takes the participle as adverbial, introducing a temporal clause. Probably "having got out of the boat", but the general sense of the verb may well support "when Jesus emerged from his retreat", Phillips.

esplagcnisqh (splagcnizomai) aor. pas. "he had compassion" - [he saw a great crowd and] he was filled with tenderness, pity. "He felt sorry for them", CEV, fails to bring out the strength of the word and this because Matthew is underlining the mercy of Israel's messiah. "He was moved with compassion for them to the depths of his being", Barclay.

ep (epi) dat. "on [them]" - toward [them and he healed]. Causal, providing the reason for the emotion expressed by Jesus - Jesus compassion is stirred by the presence of the crowd. Often translated "had compassion on them", given that epi + dat. is often spacial, "on, upon", or "for them", as "a marker of feeling directed toward someone", BDAG.

autwn gen. pro. "their [sick]" - [the sick] of them. The genitive is adjectival, partitive.


ii] The feeding of the five thousand, v15-20. a) Jesus and the disciples discuss the problem of a hungry crowd, 15-17. By late afternoon the people are hungry and so the disciples point out to Jesus that it is time to let them go home, or to go to the nearby villages for food and lodgings. Jesus tells his disciples that the people don't need to go home, but rather that the disciples should prepare to feed them. Jesus' command, "you give them something to eat", is not a command for the disciples to perform a miracle, but rather seeks to have them rely in faith on Jesus' word. The disciples can feed the crowd if they look to Jesus. At any rate, the disciples are unable see how they can do this since they have only one ploughman's lunch of Barley flat bread and pickled fish.

oyiaV gen. adj. "evening" - late in the day, evening. Genitive subject of the genitive absolute participle "having become" = "approached". It's obviously not dark, probably coming up to sunset; "late on in the day", Barclay.

genomenhV (ginomai) gen. aor. part. "as [evening] approached" - having become. A genitive absolute serving to introduce a temporal clause; "when it was evening", AV.

autw/ dat. pro. "[the disciples came] to him" - Dative of direct object after the proV prefix verb "came to". This verb usually takes a dative of persons.

legonteV (legw) pres. part. "and said" - saying. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "came", as NIV; "came and said."

hJ w{ra hdh parhlqen "it's already getting late" - [the place is desolate and] the hour has already passed. Temporal construction; "Supper-time has passed already", Rieu.

apoluson (apoluw) aor. imp. "send [the crowds] away" - release, dismiss. Although a command, the sense may be softer, even an enquiry, "shouldn't you send the people away?", TH. The sense is that the people are not poverty stricken, having the funds to buy their own food.

touV oclouV (oV) "crowds" - the crowds. Accusative direct object of the verb "to send away." Matthew's use of the plural need not be translated, so "the crowd", "send the people away", JB.

iJna + subj. "so [they can ..... and buy]" - that [having gone out into the villages, they may buy]. Introducing a purpose clause, "in order that", or a hypothetical result, "so that." The disciples' observation was sensible enough, although whether the surrounding villages could supply such a crowd is questionable. Interestingly, an evening meal is more the practice of city folk, than country.

apelqonteV (apercomai) aor. part. "go [to the villages]" - having gone out [into the villages]. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the subjunctive verb "may buy"; "so that / in order that they may go ..... and buy ...."

eJautoiV dat. refl. pro. "themselves [some food]" - [they may buy] for themselves [food to eat]. Dative of interest, advantage.


Jesus suggests that the disciples themselves should sort out the problem.

oJ de "-" - but/and he. Slightly adversative here although simply indicating a step in the dialogue; "but Jesus said to them."

autoiV dat. pro. "replied" - [said] to them. Dative of indirect object.

creian (a) "[they do not] need" - [they have no] need. Moving the phrase into the positive helps to bring out the emphatic nature of the following "you". "They can stay. You sort out a meal for them."

apelqein (apercomai) aor. inf. "to go away" - to go away, depart. The infinitive introduces an object clause / complement / epexegetic / dependent statement of perception, expressing the nature of the "need".

dote (didwmi) aor. imp. "you give" - give. Note the similarity with Elisha's words, "give it to the people, and let them eat", cf., 2 Kings 4:38-44. Also note the results of Elisha's feeding where "they ate and had some left."

autoiV dat. pro. "them" - [you give to eat] to them. Dative of indirect object.

uJmeiV pro. "-" - you = yourselves. Nominative subject of the verb "to give." The pronoun is unnecessary, so emphatic by addition.

fagein (esqiw) aor. inf. "something to eat" - The infinitive serves as the direct object of the verb "give". The assumed "something" is probably better "food / meal"; "give some food to eat / a meal to eat to them" = "you give them something to eat yourselves", Cassirer.


What the disciples have is a meal for a working class laborer, cf. Jn.6:9. It has been suggested that the "five" and "two" represents the five books of the Pentateuch and the two tablets of the Law; rather fanciful!

de "-" - but/and. Probably again adversative serving to express the disciples' reaction, although it serves primarily to indicate a step in the discourse.

autw/ dat. pro. "-" - [they say] to him. Dative of indirect object.

ouk "-" - [we do] not [have here]. The negation is emphatic expressing the disciples' negative reaction; "we have nothing here, but ..", Weymouth.

ei mh "only" - if not = except. Introducing an exceptive clause expressing a contrast by designating an exception: "We have nothing here except ...", which when put into the positive is, "we have only ....", as NIV.

artouV (oV) "loaves of bread" - [five] breads. Accusative direct object of the verb "to have." Usually taken to be barley flat breads / pita bread.

ecquaV (uV uoV) "fish" - [and two] fish. Accusative direct object of the verb "to have." Usually taken to be pickled / salted fish. Due to only light salting (a cost issue) this fish was not something modern taste-buds would easily get around. It was more fermented than pickled and had a slightly rotten taste.


autouV pro. "them" - [but he said bring] them. Accusative direct object of the verb "to bring." The loaves and the fishes. "Jesus asked his disciples to bring the food to him", CEV.

w|de adv. "here" - Local adverb.

moi dat pro. "to me" - to me. Dative of indirect object.


b) Jesus performs the miracle of the loaves and fishes, of which there is an abundance, v18-20. Matthew continues to condense his account of the feeding, omitting many of the details recorded in the other gospels. None-the-less, he makes all the important points: Jesus performs the miracle, not the disciples; The crowd is very large - counting adult males only, there are 5,000 present, so the total could be around 10,000; The crowd is fully satisfied with food in abundance. There is no significance in Jesus offering a thanksgiving to God for the food, since this was normal Jewish practice. There is certainly significance in the satisfaction of the crowd and the remaining twelve baskets of broken portions of bread and fish ready for distribution (these are not scraps, crusts etc.). The miracle reminds us that as God provided for the twelve tribes of Israel during their wilderness journey, so he will provide for the messianic banquet, both now and in the last day.

keleusaV (keleuw) aor. part. "he directed" - [and] having commanded. As with "having taken" and "having looked up", attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying / attendant on the main verb "he blessed"; "He ordered", TEV.

anakliqhnai (anaklinw) aor. pas. inf. "to sit down" - [the crowd] to recline at the table to eat, to lie down = sit down. The infinitive introduces an object clause / dependent statement of indirect speech expressing the content of the command, "he ordered that the people should sit down." The accusative subject of the infinitive is "the crowds."

epi + gen. "on [the grass]" - Spacial; "upon, on."

labwn (lambanw) aor. part. "taking" - having taken, received [the five loaves and two fish]. Attendant circumstance participle, see above, but possibly with a temporal sense; "and then he took the five loaves ...." He received the food from the disciples for the purpose of blessing. "He held the food in his hands."

anableyaV (abablepw) aor. part. "looking up [to heaven]" - having received sight = looked up [to the heaven]. Again, attendant circumstance, see above. Although "receiving sight" is the meaning elsewhere in Matthew, the word obviously has the sense here of looking upward to the sky above.

euloghsen (eulogew) aor. "gave thanks" - he blessed, gave thanks, praised. The object is unstated, so either "the food", or "God". The fact that he "looked up to heaven indicates that the blessing is an act of praise to God the provider rather than a consecration of the food itself", France. So, similar to our "grace" before a meal. It is a form of thanking God for his bountiful provision.

klasaV (klaw) aor. part. "broke" - [and] having broken them [he gave to the disciples the loaves]. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "he gave", although again possibly best expressed temporally; "then he broke the bread and gave them to the disciples." In the NT this word is always used of breaking bread, a symbolic action indicating the commencement of a meal by the head of the table. Jesus possibly shared out the fish this way as well, but it is not stated. "After breaking the loaves, he handed them to the disciples ......", cf. Moffatt.

toiV ocloiV (oV) dat. "[and the disciples gave them] to the people" - [and the disciples distributed them] to the crowds. Dative of indirect object / interest, advantage.


ecortasqhsan (cortazw) aor. pas. "were satisfied" - [and everyone ate and] they were filled. The word is used of fattening animals, "fatten", therefore of a satisfying meal. Here, completely satisfied, "they had eaten more than enough."

h\ran (airw) aor. "the disciples picked up" - [and] they carried up, picked up, took up [the leftovers of the fragments]. Presumably the disciples.

dwdeka adj. "twelve [basketfuls]" - twelve [full baskets]. "Twelve full wicker baskets" stands in apposition to "the fragmented leftovers." "The number twelve is probably symbolic: food for all Israel", Nolland.

twn klasmatwn (a atoV) gen. "of broken pieces" - [the leftovers, excess] of the fragments, pieces, crumbs. The genitive is adjectival, partitive, or just attributive, limiting "leftovers", "the fragmented leftovers." Here it probably does not mean crusts and half eaten food that is left over, but rather the undistributed bread and fish, so "the broken portions that remained over", Weymouth, rather than "the scraps that remained over."

to perisseuon (perisseuw) pres. part. "that were left over" - the thing left over, excess, remaining over = the leftovers. The participle serves as a substantive. There was more than enough food such that there was excess food left over.


vi] The tradition identifies the number fed, v21.

de "-" - but/and. Transitional, indicating a step in the narrative.

oiJ esqionteV (esqiw) pres. part. "the number of those who ate" - the ones eating [were men]. The participle serves as a substantive.

wJsei "about [five thousand]" - about / like [five thousand]. Here establishing an approximation, "about". "Approximately 5,000"; it was a big crowd.

andreV (hr droV) "men" - Reflecting the era, only the men are counted, as only the men mattered (in their opinion!!!!).

cwriV + gen. "besides" - apart from, without [women and children]. Expressing dissociation.


Matthew Introduction



[Pumpkin Cottage]