003 Commentary

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This page forms part of the resources for 003 Bread and Fish in the Jesus Database project of FaithFutures Foundation.

Crossan Inventory | 003 Literature | 003 Parallels | 003 Commentary | 003 Poetry | 003 Images


Raymond E. Brown

The distinctive features of John's version of this well-known tradition have also attracted some comment, and these are reviewed at length by Raymond Brown (Gospel of John) (AB 29, 236-50). The following elements are peculiar to John's version of the story:

  • Passover timing of the miracle
  • Identification of Philip and Andrew
  • Some specific terms used: paidarion ("lad"), barley loaves, and opsarion ("dried fish")
  • Marked Eucharistic features
  • Pressure to proclaim Jesus as a king

The Eucharistic features of the account in John are especially interesting, as they possibly involve parallels with the OT story of Elisha feeding a crowd with barley loaves:

A man came from Baal-shalishah, bringing food from the first fruits to the man of God: twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain in his sack. Elisha said, "Give it to the people and let them eat. But his servant said, "How can I set this before a hundred people?" So he repeated, "Give it to the people and let them eat, for thus says the LORD, 'They shall eat and have some left.'" He set it before them, they ate, and had some left, according to the word of the LORD. (2Kings 4:42-44 NRSV)

Brown notes that there may also be some link to the tradition found in the Didache:

And with regard to the fragmented Bread:

"We thank you, our Father,
for the life and knowledge
which you have made known to us
through Jesus your servant.
To you be glory forever.
4 As this < ... > lay scattered upon the mountains
and became one when it had been gathered,
so may your church be gathered into your kingdom

from the ends of the earth. (Did 9:3-4) (Hermenia)

Brown (p. 248) comments:

Besides the obvious parallels with John's account in the use of klasma ["fragmented bread"], eucharistein ["give thanks"], synagein ["gather"] (the last of which is peculiar to John's multiplication account), we should note that only John emphasizes that the multiplication took place on a mountain, and only John mentions the theme of Jesus as king (vs. 15).

John Dominic Crossan

John Dominic Crossan (Historical Jesus, 398) cites two archaeological reports:

... paintings on the walls of the earliest Christian catacombs in Rome, dating from slightly before 200 A.D., characteristically depict seven or eleven male figures, presumably the apostles, seated at table, about to partake of two fish and five loaves [and] two fish also appear accompanied by five loaves of bread, in early Christian funerary carvings and inscriptions. (Richard Hiers & Charles Kennedy , 21-23).


This data matches with independent findings that "there are no known Last Supper scenes in catacomb or sarcophagus art" (Irvine, 25)

Jesus Seminar

The voting of the Seminar on texts related to this item can be represented as follows:

  • A group of at least 500 people participated in a visionary experience, which came to be regarded as an appearance of the risen Jesus. [1 Cor 15:6]
  • John 6:1-15
  • Mark 6:35-44
  • Matt 14:15-21
  • Luke 9:12-17
  • Mark 8:1-10
  • Matt 15:32-39
  • Luke 24:13-35
  • Luke 24:41-43
  • John 21:1-14

Gerd Lüdemann

Gerd Lüdemann (Jesus, 45) offers the following historical judgment of the account in Mark 6:

The formation of this story derives from the needs of the community. Its historical value is nil. Anyone is free to accept the table fellowship of Jesus and his followers as a starting point for the rise of this story. But that is rather different from the feeding of the 5000.

John P. Meier

John P. Meier (Marginal Jew II, 966) suggests that the Gospel stories of Jesus feeding a multitude preserves a tradition about "some especially memorable communal meal of bread and fish" but does not think it possible to offer a judgment on whether anything miraculous was involved in the meal event. See pp. 950-967 for his complete discussion.