In Deuteronomy 8, Moses gives the theology of manna:

And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of Yahweh. —8:3

"Man does not live by bread alone" is a hackneyed phrase in evangelicalism. Most people are probably more familiar with the phrase in the context of Jesus' temptation by Satan (Luke 4:4; Matthew 4:4).

But that gives rise to a strange tension. Jesus quotes the phrase as a reason for not feeding himself supernaturally. But the original context of the phrase is one in which God has fed the people supernaturally. What's Jesus saying?

Besides, Jesus' use of the passage makes more intuitive sense: man not living by bread makes sense as a rebuttal for a request for supernatural bread. So how does the giving of supernatural bread teach man that his life is not from bread? Wouldn't that simply teach that even his very bread, from which he has his life, is from God? So what is Moses saying?

6 Answers 6


In the case of Moses the manna is clear. In dire straights God provided what was needed to be sustained in a desert without food and water. God preserved them. Therefore ‘man shall not live by bread alone’ means man must rely on God who gives life and sustains life in providing anything we need.

In the case of Jesus, He is referring to the manna as God’s word which feeds the soul. As the God-Man, he was able to turn stones into bread and feed himself, but that miraculous display was not according to God’s plan. Therefore, when the tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread”, it was a way to temp Jesus to ‘take charge’ with his own miraculous power and magically prove his Messianic nature. This was not in accordance with God’s plan and will. Kind of like a short cut to the glory avoiding the long path God would have him descend towards on the cross.

Therefore when Jesus says ‘man shall not live by bread alone’ he meant that God’s will, His word, is a heavenly food for the soul, that gives and sustains. Even without bread man could live forevermore. This word was also powerful in refuting Satan and conquering him through submission, rather than unsanctioned miraculous extensions of his divinity. Or in another way:

"My food," said Jesus, "is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. (NIV John 4:34).

I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. (NIV John 5:19)

Christ’s submission to Gods word was integral to the salvation that he achieved for mankind.

What I like about the manna is that it went bad if it was saved for another day. We need to feed on fresh revelations of God’s word every day and cannot rely on the food we ate yesterday. Even truth that encouraged us last month, will provide little support for today’s needs. We must seek Him daily for nourishment and strength. The word manna means ‘What is it?’ for it is strange and heavenly even as we feed on it. The gospel is food to angels and men, a young child can understand it and an old man learns more still from the same basic principles and teachings.


God had a purpose behind allowing Israel to hunger; He planned to feed them with Manna – the bread from heaven. (Exodus 16:4). The primary purpose of feeding them with bread from heaven was to teach them that “man does not live by bread alone…” (Deut 8:3). But it sounds like an oxymoron, a riddle, isn’t it? We wonder why is it a oxymoron? Yes, it is! Because, how can a man eat bread and learn that he doesn’t live by bread? What connection eating bread has with the word from God?

When we solve this riddle, then we get the answer to the “survival technique” which God was teaching Israel and this is the means of our survival today. We, like Israel, are in our journey to our heavenly promised land but until we get there, we must learn how to survive in the wilderness.

Many think manna was the word of God, but manna was not the word of God. Manna is a type of the word and also a type of Jesus but not the word itself. Manna was the grain of heaven and was angels food. (Psalm 78:24-25). It was the spiritual (angels) bread that turned into physical bread, for man to eat. But what caused the grain of heaven to fall upon the earth and what changed the heavenly grain into physical substance is the “word” of God. We read in scriptures…

“… He commanded (word proceeded out of the mouth of God) the skies above and opened the doors of heaven. and He rained down on them manna to eat and gave them the grain of heaven. Man ate of the bread of the angels. (Psalm 78: 23-25)

Manna was not the word but but Gods word turned heavenly grains into physical bread. What brought it into existence in they physical is the “word of God.” (Heb 11:3).

God wanted Israel to eat manna and learn that man does not survive on manna alone but by the very “word”, the “promise of God” Without God promising them and commanding the skies, there would be so manna – the bread of heaven. When God commanded the skies to open up and rain down heavenly bread, it was the power of God’s “word” that was in operation.

When Israel left Egypt, it was only 30 days (Exodus 16:1); they did not have bible with them. Law was not given until chapter 20 of Exodus. Then how could they have learned to live by the “word”? The answer is:

The Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily.” (Exodus 16:4-5).

God had given them the word for a miracle – the bread from heaven. God had given them detailed instruction – people were to collect everyday… how much they were to collect each day… they were not to keep for the next day… on the sixth day, they were to gather twice as much as the other day… they were not to gather on sabbath day, as there would be no manna… etc. God did on purpose, because God wanted to test them, whether Israel would live by His words.

The seed of miracle or the daily provision is the word or the promise of God. The same word that created heavens and the earth and everything also same word from God that caused the skies to open up and pour down manna is the secret of our survival. God has promised in His word that He will take care of our food, clothing and our daily needs. The God who takes care of the sparrow, ravens and the lilies of the field, promises us in the word that we should not worry. Worries takes away the object of our attention. It’s the gentiles who worry about all these matters. We must seek the Kingdom of God and God’s righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto us. These words are not merely spoken with no purpose, but it has been given to us that we learn to live and practice them in our lives.

  • That is a profound answer, Vinod. I noticed that in paragraph 6 you wrote 'there would be so manna – ' which I take to mean 'no manna'. Apart from that typo, it's a good answer. I hope you will return to the site to offer more answers, and perhaps some questions of your own?
    – Anne
    Commented Mar 16, 2019 at 18:31

The Lord Jesus' use of the text, taken in the wider context of his teachings, is perfectly aligned with the original account of the manna in Exodus 16, and also with Moses' epexegetical comments, when they are understood in their context.

The Giving of the Manna

  • The people were truly, legitimately hungry.
  • Yahweh had just delivered them from Egypt, and brought them through the Red Sea. Not only that, but he had just pronounced a variety of promises to them. Directly after bringing them through the sea, his prophet Moses sang a song in which he said:

    You will bring them in and plant them on your own mountain,
    the place, Yahweh, which you have made for your abode,
    the sanctuary, Lord, which your hands have established.
    Yahweh will reign forever and ever. —Exodus 15:17-18

    And then, right before he gave them food and right after providing drink for them, he gave them another promise:

    If you will diligently listen to the voice of Yahweh your God, and do that which is right in his eyes, and give ear to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you that I put on the Egyptians, for I am Yahweh, your healer. —15:26

    Besides, the promises to Israel went back to Abraham.

  • The people were in a bad spiritual state; though they had been delivered miraculously from Egypt, they were a stubborn, hard-headed people who were rebellious against their gracious God.

What Manna Teaches about the Spoken Word of God

Though the people were legitimately hungry, their grumbling was a direct repudiation of the Word of God which he had just spoken to them concerning their welfare.

The manna was a sign, and a sign points beyond itself. Thus, on a surface level, the manna teaches man that he must have bread from God to live. But that is only a signpost itself; for the bread that man must have from God to live is not bread but Word. The law of God is such as to give life:

The whole commandment that I command you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land that the LORD swore to give to your fathers. —8:3

This is played out in the story of the manna when disobedience to God's instructions regarding the manna lead to maggots and stench, and obedience to it results in plenty.

The manna which is bread cannot solve the people's problem, for their hunger was a less serious affliction than their own self-inflicted rebellion. The bread they need is manna, bread from heaven, which is not bread. Thus does God teach them by bread to look beyond bread to heavenly bread; this is the same structure as the rest of the Old Testament symbology. This much can be unfolded even from with the Old Testament; but sight remains dim until the coming of the Light.

What the Living Word of God Teaches about Manna

Yeshua ha Mashiach applies this to himself.

I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. —John 6:35 (ESV)

and though the people are still grumbling after so many years (John 6:41-43), he reaffirms his statement:

I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh. —6:51

He stands in contrast to the bread which was only bread, which after the Israelites had eaten it, they died (49). Jesus is the better manna; he gives life not only to the physical body, but to the dead, hard hearts of rebellious men. He is the better Word of God; for while the law which was to bring life only slew men because they would not keep it, he moves them by his Spirit to keep it, and he keeps it for them, so that through him it becomes not a killing letter but healing balm.

What the Living Word Teaches about Living on the Word

It is sad that the phrase "man does not live by bread alone" has become a cliché. The depth of meaning is profound. The Devil challenges his creator,

If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread. —Matthew 4:3 (ESV)

When the man who stands before him, dizzy and nearly unable to stand with hunger—indeed, on the verge of death; yes, God putting himself through far, far more hunger than he put the Israelites through—when Jesus Christ answers the Devil, in spite of his near delirium from lack of nutrition, his answer is not a trite, arbitrary extraction of a verse because it seemed to fit the situation.

But he answered, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'" —4:4

Whether rocks become bread is not what is fundamentally at stake. What is at stake here is the person of Jesus. The Devil challenges his divinity; Jesus not only rejects the temptation, but he gives expression to the fullness of his divinity. The sense is—

Bread? Are you serious? Satan, the man who will feed all the world on himself has come down from heaven and you are asking him to be concerned about bread for himself? Though I stand here in the weakness of a famished man, I am self-sufficient God, the God of overflowing grace. The famine is over. I have come.


The right understanding of the Exodus account is certainly that given by Moses in Deuteronomy. The giving of the manna for physical hunger was intended from the beginning to remind the people of their spiritual hunger, their rebellious grumbling. When Jesus speaks to Satan, he points beyond his own physical hunger to his own spiritual fullness which will fill the spiritual hunger of all the people of God. Like a mother bird, God will feed his people from his own mouth, on his incarnate Word. Thus, Christ's use of Moses' words is particularly apt for his refutation of the Father of Lies.

For forty years in the wilderness, God gave bread, and men died. After forty days in the wilderness, he gave himself, and men live.


The Hebrew text is

‎מן men

Egyptian menna = food (from wikipedia). Had the French borrowed yet the word from the middle-east for menu?

Let me provide you with my original mystical analysis of the word, with the disclaimer that it might be plagiarism from someone else.

Aleph א is always used to signify the head or beginning. Therefore, giving


a head, we have

אמן‎ Amen.

Amen in Hebrew, Arabic and Aramaic is the root word for truth, amenable, trusted, trust, reliable. The Arabic word for a trust fund (like investment or retirement fund) is Amanah from the root work amen. The word for faith in Hebrew is emunah, also from the root word amen.

Therefore, in my mystical projection, the "manna" received from the LORD is reliable, true and to be trusted. That we live one day at a time, that what is amenable today cannot be assumed as amenable tomorrow. Every "truth/faith/trust" must be reinvested every morning. But on eves of Sabbath, you may have two helpings of truth/faith/trust.

Psalm 33:4 - For the word of the LORD is right and true; he is faithful in all He does.

OK, let's speculate that the French borrowed the word for menu. So, "manna" would signify diverse. That the given "manna", we could make it into any food we want. Like the Star Trek food replicator/synthesizer, if you wanted pineapple the manna becomes pineapple as it touches your tongue. To those who are not creative, than the "manna" becomes boring and they would crave for other foods.

Faith vs Work There is no question that in order to obtain "manna", you would need to WORK to collect it. So having FAITH is a consequence of producing the WORK to acquire FAITH.

This is not saying that FAITH is the consequence of WORK. It is saying that Having FAITH is the consequence of Exercising WORK. But on the Sabbath, you get a free serving of FAITH. Not free but you worked twice as much on the previous day.

  • Actually aleph is not always used to signify 'head' but is a metaphor for the firmament which divides the waters at creation, and references 'the beginning'in the hebrew equivalent of alpha and omega את. Two letter מנ means 'among'. When the aleph is added, it means to divide those that are 'among' which is where the idea of truth comes from the combined metaphor.
    – Bob Jones
    Commented Jan 9, 2013 at 12:46

The Gk root word 'ἄρτος' in Mt 4:4, and the Hebrew word לחם (lechem) in Deut 8:3 both refer to bread made from grain (corn or wheat)

  • In Deut. 8:3 Moses (under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit) clearly states that what they saw was not something they had ever seen before (...you did not know nor did your fathers know, NKJV)
  • Can you make bread from something that resembles the kernel of a coriander seed?
  • In essence, Manna was not real bread.
  • As Vinod mentioned, God used His word to create physical food from the spiritual realm (thanks for that insightful post, @Vinod Rasaily!)
  • When Jesus refused to convert stone into bread, this is what He was saying: God sustained the Israelites with Manna, and there's no need for corn (wheat) bread.

In sensus plenior:

Bread represents the body of Christ and the cross, and "every word which proceeds from the mouth of God" is represented by fish.

Bread as the cross

Bread represents the cross, because Jesus said it represented his body after having broken it [1], and Paul interprets it by saying "broken for you" though Jesus's body was not broken on the cross. The riddle (apparent contradiction) is solved this way:

All of the things which were parted, broken and torn are symbols of the cross where the Father is separated from the son. [3]

Three testimonies of the Word on earth

1Jo 5:8 And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.

Three testimonies are related to the methods by which we respond to God, or don't.

The Spirit testifies to us by way of general revelation and by the still small voice that draws us to God. Like the sheep who hear the shepherds voice and recognize it, though they don't understand the words, we hear God, or we are deaf.

The water, as the propositional word of God containing expressions of Holiness and Grace, we see the works of God in a manner which may be understood intellectually. Or we are blind.

Since the "life is in the blood", the testimony of the blood is the very life of Christ as the incarnate Word, revealing to us those things which are beyond hearing and seeing. We can walk with Christ, meaning to live in him, or we are lame.

Fish as the Word

Christ is the ante-type of the clean fish

  • He wears the full armor of God, (the word for scales means armor)
  • He lives (swims) in the Word (water)
  • He is devoured by the lobster which is an abomination. (The lobster lives in the earthly bottom and snatches fish to devour them.) Men, working in the flesh, put Christ to death.

Jesus fed bread and fish together

Jesus said that man does not live by bread alone, but by every word which proceeds from the mouth of God.

In other words, man does not live by the cross alone, but by the word revealed By the Spirit, the water and the blood... the whole word of God.

Cannot see

Joh 3:3 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.

One cannot see (understand) the Kingdom of God until the second birth which comes through the cross (bread). But we cannot live by bread alone.

Keep my commandments

Jesus says that if we love him, we are to keep his commandments [4]

In saying this, he is simply teaching what was taught in the scriptures: that we should love God and keep His commandments. [5]

The connection between manna and the word Manna is the bread which gave Israel life and which gives sinners life, representing the cross. Symbolically, Israel was called out of Egypt/the world and spent 40 years in a desolate place (like Christ in the tomb) and did not see the promised land (the kingdom of God) until they were "born again" by crossing the Jordan as a type of Christ's resurrection.

The manna is what sustained them keeping them from 'tasting death', and the Word of God is what keeps us living in the Kingdom of Heaven. The manna makes us born-again, while we "walk in the word". [6]

The bread gives life, the fish sustain it.

Side note:

See how the metaphoric meanings are reusable:

The stone is the Word of God expressing the Law and the serpent the original liar.

Lu 11:11 If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if [he ask] a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent?

Paraphrase: If your son asks for mercy (the cross) will you give him the law? If he asks for "every word which proceeds from the mouth of God" will you give him a lie?

They are reusable because they must mean the same thing everywhere they occur, since they are written by the same author (God). This cross-linking and locking is what makes the meaning of a sensus plenior interpretation sure.


Mt 26:26 And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body.

Mr 14:22 And as they did eat, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and brake it, and gave to them, and said, Take, eat: this is my body.

Lu 22:19 And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me.


1Co 11:24 And when he had given thanks, he brake [it], and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.


Mt 27:46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?

Mr 15:34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which is, being interpreted, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?


Joh 14:15 If ye love me, keep my commandments.

Joh 14:21 He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.

Joh 15:10 If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.

1Jo 5:2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments.

1Jo 5:3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.

2Jo 1:6 And this is love, that we walk after his commandments. This is the commandment, That, as ye have heard from the beginning, ye should walk in it.


Ex 20:6 And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.

De 5:10 And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me and keep my commandments.

De 7:9 Know therefore that the LORD thy God, he is God, the faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations;

De 11:1 Therefore thou shalt love the LORD thy God, and keep his charge, and his statutes, and his judgments, and his commandments, alway.


1Ki 2:4 That the LORD may continue his word which he spake concerning me, saying, If thy children take heed to their way, to walk before me in truth with all their heart and with all their soul, there shall not fail thee (said he) a man on the throne of Israel.

1Ki 6:12 Concerning this house which thou art in building, if thou wilt walk in my statutes, and execute my judgments, and keep all my commandments to walk in them; then will I perform my word with thee, which I spake unto David thy father:

Isa 2:3 And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

Isa 30:21 And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left.

Mic 4:2 And many nations shall come, and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for the law shall go forth of Zion, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

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