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Feeding the multitude is the combined term used to refer to two separate miracles of Jesus in the Gospels.

The first miracle, "The Feeding of the 5000" is the only miracle (apart from the resurrection) which is present in all four canonical Gospels ( , , and . This miracle is also known as the miracle of the five loaves and two fish.

The second miracle, "The Feeding of the 4000" is reported by and but not by Luke or John. This miracle is also known as the miracle of the seven loaves and fishes.

The Feeding of the 5000

This miracle is also known as the "miracle of the five loaves and two fish" given that the Gospel of John reports that five small barley loaves and two small fish supplied by a boy were used by Jesus to feed a multitude.

Coptic icon of the miracle of "five loaves and two fish".
According to the Gospels, when Jesus heard that John the Baptist had been killed, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place near Bethsaidamarker.

The crowds followed Jesus on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick. As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, "This is a remote place, and it's already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food."

Jesus replied, "They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat."

"We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish," they answered.

"Bring them here to me," he said.

Jesus directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.

The Feeding of the 4000

This miracle, which appears in the Gospels of Mark and Matthew, is also known as the "miracle of the seven loaves and fishes" given that the Gospel of Matthew refers to seven loaves and a few small fish used by Jesus to feed a multitude.

According to the Gospels, a large crowd had gathered and was following Jesus. Jesus called his disciples to him and said:

"I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way."

His disciples answered:

"Where could we get enough bread in this remote place to feed such a crowd?"

"How many loaves do you have?" Jesus asked.

"Seven," they replied, "and a few small fish."

"Jesus told the crowd to sit down on the ground. Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, and when he had given thanks, he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and they in turn to the people. They all ate and were satisfied. Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was four thousand, besides women and children. After Jesus had sent the crowd away, he got into the boat and went to the vicinity of Magadan."


These two miracles involve no healing and show the control Jesus has over nature. In these two miracles Jesus multiplied food, in somewhat remote locations, while the Marriage at Cana miracle involved wine in a feast. Although these two miracles are often viewed as twin miracles, despite their similarities, each has its own distinct marks.

Jesus seems to have placed some significance on the number of baskets of leftovers from both miracles (the feeding of the 4000 and 5000): "'Having eyes, see ye not? and having ears, hear ye not? and do ye not remember? When I break the five loaves among five thousand, how many baskets full of fragments took ye up?' They said unto him, 'Twelve.' 'And when the seven among four thousand, how many baskets full of fragments took ye up?' And they said, 'Seven.' 'And He said unto them, 'How is it that ye do not understand?'"(Mark 8:18-21) He never explicitly states the interpretation of the numbers, but it is clear from this passage that he attaches some importance to them.

In Mark chapter 8, in the passage that describes Jesus warning his disciples to "beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, and of the leaven of Herod" (v.15), it is significant that in the course of the ensuing conversation, Jesus refers retrospectively to both the feeding of the 5000 (v.19) and the feeding of the 4000 (v.20). This creates a difficulty for those who interpret the two passages as if they described the same event twice.

The account of the miracle in John 6 is followed later in the same chapter by the conversation Jesus has with the crowds who had followed him to Capernaum. The main motif in the passage (v.26-59) centres on Jesus saying, "I am that bread of life" (v.48). Though there is no previous food miracle in John other than Jesus turning the water into wine at the wedding in Cana, this section of Jesus' teaching might allude to a much earlier food miracle, that of the manna that was provided as food to the children of Israel in the wilderness at the time of Moses. More strikingly this miracle echoes that of Elisha who fed 100 men with 20 loaves of bread in 2 Kings 4:42-44 saying "For this is what the LORD says: 'They will eat and have some left over." The feeding of the multitude therefore may be seen as a demonstrative prelude to Jesus words, "I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger: and he that believeth on me shall never thirst." (v.35).

See also


  • HarperCollins Bible Commentary, 2000
  • Brown, Raymond E. An Introduction to the New Testament Doubleday 1997 ISBN 0-385-24767-2
  • Kilgallen, John J. A Brief Commentary on the Gospel of Mark Paulist Press 1989 ISBN 0-8091-3059-9


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