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The Gospel According to Mark, in contrast to the other three gospels, provides two separate feeding miracles wherein Jesus multiplies loaves and fishes to feed five thousand and four thousand respectively. Both accounts are very similar, though they differ on subtle details (for instance, the number of baskets remaining). Why then include both miracles?

Mark 8:18-21:

18 Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? 19 When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” They said to him, “Twelve.” 20 “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” And they said to him, “Seven.” 21 And he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?”

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possibly relevant verses: Mark 8:18-21 – Jack Douglas Apr 17 '13 at 11:47
This is an excellent question!! – swasheck Apr 22 '13 at 19:05
I not have time to defend answer and write a book for you so I only comment on this site now. First account is on west side of lake (Jewish side), but second feeding is on east side (Gentile side). Also follows is an encounter with woman from southern Syria then Jesus heals deaf and mute person. Mark is telling us something important in second account. I don't think they describe same incident. – user1985 Apr 25 '13 at 21:03
Augustine allegories both accounts, Chrysostom treated them as separate events, most modern scholar think it is same event. That is a valid argument though. Greek very similar between 6 and 8 (πολυν οχλον in 6:34 vs. οχλου in 8:1, many more paradigmatic and syntagmatic structural similarities). – user1985 Apr 25 '13 at 21:03
@theosis loving the choice of names. :) – Matthew Miller May 6 '13 at 23:47
up vote 2 down vote accepted

Mark includes these two feedings in order to give both structure and meaning to to those who hear his narrative. While visual signals such as chapter numbers and verses, section titles, paragraph indentations, highlighted words etc. help modern readers orient themselves to a stories structure and point, ancient books had no graphic signals, not even spaces between words. Literacy was relatively rare and thus visual cues on the page were deemed far less important than giving meaning to the work through aural signals. In essence ancient authors wrote to be heard and not so much to be read.

Note for instance the parallels in Psalms 19:1: a the heavens b tell of c God's glory a' the sky b' proclaims c' his handiwork) And the parallels in the seven days of creation: a light b sea and sky c dry land a' lights b' fish and birds c' land animals and humans d Sabbath

Private reading which we of course enjoy today does not need repetition since we have the freedom to go back and check what we've just read. But an aural culture, one that learns and memorizes through hearing and not through reading, requires it. Think of Martin Luther King Jr. "I Have a Dream" speech. Similarly for Mark, such parallels proved crucial for structure and driving home his message.

David A. Dorsey in his book the Literary Structure of the Old Testament offers a list of the ways matching conveys meaning. Among them are

  1. Emphasis: matching can emphasize a point by reiterating it...
  2. Comparison: two or more units may be matched in order to draw out the similarity of two things not readily seen as similar...
  3. Contrast: conversely, matching may highlight the contrast between two things that are in some respects alike...
  4. Reversal: matching may highlight the reversal or undoing of something...
  5. Resolution (or fulfillment): an author may highlight the close connection between story's opening tension, suspense, or prediction and its closing resolution or fulfillment, by placing the two in matching positions at the beginning and end of the story...
  6. Totality: matching units may convey the idea of the totality of a phenomenon by featuring both halves of a merism (day and night, man and woman, etc.)...

Depending on the precise arrangement of these matching sections there may be other ways as well.

Mark's accounts of the two feeding form part of a literary unit between 6:7 and 8:22. The repeated emphasis in this section revolves around the topics of eating, bread, purity codes, gentiles and miracles related to hearing and seeing.

Taken together, as the unity of structure demands, Mark appears to be making a point through these stories about the disciples total insufficiency but Christ's all sufficiency to feed/save the world. And that includes gentiles, hinted at in the Syrophoenician (gentile) woman's request for bread crumbs. The subtle difference between the two feedings, such as the number of baskets of bread left over and even the different greek words used for baskets indicates that Jews are in mind in the first feeding while Gentiles are in view in the second.

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Hey Matthew, thanks for the answer and welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics! Hope you'll stay around and continue to provide answers like this one. – Soldarnal May 4 '13 at 1:03
"...Jews are in mind in the first feeding while Gentiles are in view in the second..." I think the geography of the narrative also supports this theory - Jesus has been criss-crossing the lake of Galilee and at the point of feeding the 4,000 he seems to be on the Gentile side. – Jack Douglas May 27 '15 at 19:37

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