Mathew 14:16-20 (NIV) says:

16 Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” 17 “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered. 18 “Bring them here to me,” he said. 19 And he 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. 20 They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 21 The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.

I am trying to understand why Jesus made 12 baskets of leftovers when he could have made the exact needed.

The number 12 is recurring in bible (12 tribes and 12 disciples). Did Jesus intentionally make 12 baskets of leftovers, giving each disciple one to carry in accordance with Mathew 14:16 "You give them something to eat".

Was Jesus telling his disciples here to preach the good news to world? Also, I am interested to know, does this having any relation with the Last Supper indirectly?

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    There is no explanation offered in the scriptures. However, as you noticed, 12 (and multiples of 12) are often used in the Bible. I would guess that 12 symbolizes "plenty" of leftovers. But the fact that there were leftovers wasn't bad planning—it served as proof of the miracle. Numbers are often figurative or symbolic in the Bible. Like when Jesus said to forgive someone "seventy times seven", it didn't mean 490, it meant as many times as someone offends you
    – Brian Hitchcock
    Commented Mar 3, 2015 at 11:17
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    After the feeding of the multitude, there was one basket for each disciple. Within each basket was more food than they started with. Each man had proof in his own hands of the miracle - he didn't need to rely on the testimony of another. I don't know if that is the reason, but it was an interesting side effect.
    – outXast
    Commented Mar 3, 2015 at 14:21
  • I asked this question on Mi Yodeya and DanF answered it very kindly by pointing out II Kings 4: 42 - 44. It is part of the grace after meals to acknowledge that God provides all food and a meal from God will always have plenty of 'seconds' and leftovers. Commented Mar 7, 2015 at 18:35
  • You won't get the answer by reading the NIV.
    – David
    Commented Feb 14 at 19:30

4 Answers 4


This is purely conjecture, as the text doesn't clearly state, however, we see in the text: "Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people", and being that there were 12 disciples, each one was likely to have had bread to spread to the peoples. There may have been a larger bounty, but each disciple could carry only one basket, or the basket was used as the delivery device by each disciple.

Again, without the text giving clear interpretation we want to be wary of giving the number meaning where it may have none, lest we slip into numerology.

  • So really its not saying that there were more than 12 baskets but at the end 12 remained. It's saying that there were 12 baskets being used to pass out the bread and when they were done, all 12 could be filled by the leftovers? I quite like that explanation. It fit pragmatically and logically, and still allows for the personal lesson to each disciple and connecting it to the 12 tribes (each with a disciple over them) if you like. But I think this is a good basic meaning to start from.
    – Joshua
    Commented Jul 26, 2015 at 3:14

The gospel of Matthew has a lot of interesting things to say about bread. Its first mention is when the devil tempts Jesus in Matthew 4, commanding the stones to become bread. Jesus refuses to do a bread miracle to satiate his own hunger, despite the fact that he will ultimately feed at least 9,000 men with miraculous bread. Jesus' rebuke of the devil says in essence that physical bread does not sustain the variety of life that God has in store for men, but the words of God only.

Interestingly, In Matthew 7 during the Sermon on the Mount, he says that a loving father does not give his children stones when they ask for bread. So we make the connection: the devil wants Jesus to bypass the complete and total dependence upon the Father and usurp authority, rather than have it granted him. Jesus would have bread, spiritually and physically, but not from his own exercise of power but rather granted by the Father.

By Matthew 9-12, Jesus has extended the metaphor of a grain harvest to his mission. Then the parable of the sower. Then the parable of the leaven.

Finally, Matthew 14, the feeding of the 5,000, with 12 baskets left over. Then Matthew 15, the feeding of the 4,000 with 7 baskets left over. Finally, Matthew 16 where the disciples get worried about bread and Jesus explains that the bread miracles are not really about bread and warns them against the "leaven" of the scribes and Pharisees, which is their teaching.

So these are the clues. Bread is likened to words from God that grant life, like the manna for Israel. Teachings are likened to leaven because they begin small but work themselves through the entire population. The temptation is circumvent the right way to get bread, and through worry and anxiety about having enough to eat to miss out on the true bread.

On a simple level the symbolism of the extra baskets of bread is that you seek the right teaching, the teaching that corresponds to the word of God, regardless of the immediate circumstances and afterwards you find that there is an abundance left over because God is a gracious provider. The significance of twelve? Probably a basket for each disciple (and corresponding to them, a disciple for each tribe of Israel). The significance of the seven? Probably a perfect completion of the provision.

So when the disciples are still concerned about bread, Jesus warns them about the leaven of the Pharisees, the teachings that suppose to be spiritual but are focused on fleshly, immediate, worldly desires at the expense of the truth of God.


The excess food was one apparent source of revenue. That is, while certain women donated funds to the ministry of Jesus (Luke 8:1-3) there was the apparent need for the administering substantive amounts of money, which had fallen to Judas Iscariot (John 13:29), who pilfered from the purse. In other words, it was not the private donations of some women, but also the sales of excess food which had contributed significant funds supporting the ministry of Jesus.

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    This seems pretty speculative. Do you have any evidence for this view? It seems weird that the disciples would be concerned about not having bread if their normal course of action was to multiply bread and go sell it. Commented Feb 19, 2016 at 22:10

I was just pondering the same text and searched to see if a similar question had been asked and found this. This is purely my understanding and so should be considered as such - but in my study of the text the primary thing that jumps out is:

The symbology of breaking bread. In the last supper this is metaphorically used to show how Jesus would willingly give himself to "feed" those who follow him. That his body / blood and spirit would be "broken" and sacrficed to feed and sustain others spiritually. He is the bread that came down from heaven.

Here in this passage we see a close parallel with the baskets being described as containing "broken" pieces likely symbolizing something similar. The breaking up and sacrificing of something/someone which is represented by the 12 baskets.

So what might those 12 baskets represent ? I think the answer is given in Matthew 14:17 when the disciples tell Jesus they should send the people away because they will be hungry and need food and lodging - he tells them.

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

Here its stated point blank that the disciples are to feed them. Then after Jesus breaks the bread which the disciples hand out we end up with 12 baskets of broken bread pieces left over. To my understanding this act symbolizes the future sacrifice of the 12 apostles. They like Jesus would go through extreme sacrifice and suffering and the majority martyrdom - with their lives to be used to provide spiritual food to feed the "hungry" in Israel. Essentially that the 12 apostles were to be asked to "follow Jesus" and perform similar selfless sacrifice with their lives being used for the same purpose as his own.

This act is basically the apostles equivalent of the last supper. A symbolic breaking of bread to feed others which represents their future sacrifice

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