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In the story of the feeding of the 4000, Matthew 15:37 reads:

And they all ate and were satisfied. [ESV; cf. NIV, NASB, NET]
So they all ate and were filled. [NKJV; cf. KJV, HCSB]
They all ate as much as they wanted. [NLT; cf. CEV, TLB]

The word in question seems to be echortasthēsan. Similar wording is used in the feeding of the 5000 in the Synoptics:1 Matthew 14:20, Mark 6:42, and Luke 9:17.

I'm reading Augustine's Confessions, Book 10, Chapter 31, and it strikes me that Augustine has a particularly negative attitude toward the pleasure associated with eating, suggesting that eating more than necessary is sinful:

Placed among these temptations, then, I struggle every day against uncontrolled desire in eating and drinking. [...] And so a rein has to be held upon my throat, moderated between laxity and austerity. Who is the person, Lord, who is never carried a little beyond the limits of necessity? Whoever this may be is great and will magnify your name. (Chadwick translation)

My question, then, relates to this verb, echortasthēsan. If it's best understood as "filled" or especially "as much as they wanted," then Augustine would theoretically have to explain why Jesus doesn't seem to mind people eating more than they needed for their health. But if it's just "satisfied," then Augustine can easily say that Jesus didn't facilitate the sin of gluttony in a bunch of people.

How should this word be understood here?


1. It's true that John 6:11 more clearly indicates that they all ate as much as they wanted, so Augustine would have to deal with this passage no matter the answer to this question.

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  • The "all you can eat" buffet was only from noon to 2pm! But it seems to me to be six of one and a half dozen of another. A better verse, it seems to me would be biblegateway.com/passage/…
    – Ruminator
    Nov 22 '18 at 3:14
  • They ate and were fed up
    – R. Emery
    Aug 13 '20 at 13:02
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In looking at the context, I would have to say that by adding the words "and were filled" or "and were satisfied" would just add to the magnitude of the metaphor on display here through the parables and the feeding of the 4000. Matthew 15 is a contrast between the faith of a Gentile and the hardened hearts of the Jews.

Jesus was always teaching in parables to test the listeners to see if they could discern the spiritual meaning from the physical story. The common people understood but the spiritual leaders could not understand. The disciples also, on many occasions could not understand His parables requiring Jesus to explain the parables to the twelve. Here is Matthew 15 we have a prime example.

Look at the context starting in verse 1 (all verses KJV):

Then came to Jesus scribes and Pharisees, which were of Jerusalem, saying, 2 Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread.

Jesus responds:

10 And he called the multitude, and said unto them, Hear, and understand: 11 Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man. 12 Then came his disciples, and said unto him, Knowest thou that the Pharisees were offended, after they heard this saying? 13 But he answered and said, Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up. 14 Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch. 15 Then answered Peter and said unto him, Declare unto us this parable. 16 And Jesus said, Are ye also yet without understanding? 17 Do not ye yet understand, that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught? 18 But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. 19 For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: 20 These are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man.

Jesus responds to the query of the Pharisees about eating bread without washing their hands. Jesus explains that what goes into a man does not defile the man but what comes out of the man defiles him. The disciples, who are “dull of hearing” just like the Pharisees, do not understand the parable and ask the meaning in verse 15.

So we see that the disciples are still having trouble gaining the spiritual meaning from the teachings of Christ.

Let’s move to the next set of verses.

22 And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil. 23 But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us. 24 But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 25 Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me. 26 But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it to dogs. 27 And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters' table. 28 Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour.

Here we see a perfect example of a Gentile follower of Christ who can very easily discern the spiritual principals of Christ’s parables. When Christ tells her that it is not proper to take the “children’s bread and cast it to the dogs”, she immediately responds properly discerning the spiritual application. Christ’s reference to bread is not physical food but spiritual food. The woman understands this and responds that even the family dog (Gentiles) desire to feed on the “crumbs” of spiritual food (His teaching) that fall from the table of the Jews.

Jesus immediately is impressed for this Gentile woman has demonstrated that she is led by the Holy Spirit and demonstrates great faith in Christ and His teaching.

Now contrast the “crumbs” of the Gentile to the “and were filled” passages of the feeding of the 4000.

32 Then Jesus called his disciples unto him, and said, I have compassion on the multitude, because they continue with me now three days, and have nothing to eat: and I will not send them away fasting, lest they faint in the way. 33 And his disciples say unto him, Whence should we have so much bread in the wilderness, as to fill so great a multitude? 34 And Jesus saith unto them, How many loaves have ye? And they said, Seven, and a few little fishes. 35 And he commanded the multitude to sit down on the ground. 36 And he took the seven loaves and the fishes, and gave thanks, and brake them, and gave to his disciples, and the disciples to the multitude. 37 And they did all eat, and were filled: and they took up of the broken meat that was left seven baskets full. 38 And they that did eat were four thousand men, beside women and children.

The disciples had just experienced (recorded the chapter prior) Christ feeding the 5000. They had just seen Christ feed that multitude and still the disciples ask Christ “where are we going to get the bread to fill these folks out here in the wilderness”. Clearly the disciples are exhibiting an incredible lack of faith.

These accounts demonstrate the stark contrast of living under the law by the Jews verses living without the law by the Gentiles. This is a great metaphor showing the hunger for Christ by faith as demonstrated by the Gentile woman looking of any “crumb” of Christ that she could get verses the Jews who “were filled and they took up of the broken meat that was left seven baskets”. The gentile woman was physically needy but she is spiritually rich. The Jews/disciples are physically gorging themselves but are still spiritually starving.

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  • Good point concerning the spiritual but he did literally physically feed 4000 and 5000 people, and they were literally physically filled with bread to satisfaction. We must remember the context, they had been with Christ 3 days, supplies were probably scanty to begin with, some were probably already fasting by the third day, and not to mention they probably had a good journey back to their homes, Christ gave them exactly what they needed to make it back home without fainting. Apr 21 '19 at 7:12
  • Romans 8:13 "For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live." Apr 21 '19 at 7:20
  • My answer doesn’t deny that Christ literally fed the crowd. The OP wanted to know if there was any moral issue with Jesus providing an abundance of bread to the crowd as if He was contributing to gluttony for clearly (per the Greek) Jesus provided as much bread as the crowd wanted with much still left over. (con’t)
    – alb
    Apr 21 '19 at 11:10
  • I just provided the spiritual application which in proper context was provided by the gentile woman who was “feasting” on the crumbs of Christ. This is set in contrast to the disciples who were “gorging” themselves but still spiritually without understanding. The point here is the baggage of the Law had dulled their eyes and understanding. The gentile woman was free from that baggage.
    – alb
    Apr 21 '19 at 11:10
  • By the way, if you do your homework in Romans 8, you’ll see that to live in the flesh is to live by the OT covenant of the keeping the law. If you attempt to live by the law, you will die. If you live by the spirit (grace through faith) you shall live.
    – alb
    Apr 21 '19 at 11:11
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Matthew 15:37 New International Version

They all ate and were satisfied. Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.

Thayer's Greek Lexicon

a. to feed with herbs, grass, hay, to fill or satisfy with food, to fatten; animals ...
b. to fill or satisfy men ... to fulfill or satisfy the desire of anyone

OP:

Jesus doesn't seem to mind people eating more than they needed for their health.

Agree. I don't think Jesus was holding back. The same Greek word is used in Matthew 5:6

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

John 10:10 shows the blessing of an abundant life:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

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