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Does John include Jesus’ interchange with Phillip (John 5:7) to emphasize another parallel with Moses (Num. 11:21-22)?

Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” 6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. 7 Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.” (John 6:5–7, ESV)

But Moses said, “The people among whom I am number six hundred thousand on foot, and you have said, ‘I will give them meat, that they may eat a whole month!’ 22 Shall flocks and herds be slaughtered for them, and be enough for them? Or shall all the fish of the sea be gathered together for them, and be enough for them? (Num. 11:21–22)

In the Synopics only Mark mentions this interchange without naming Phillip.

And they said to him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?” (Mark 6:37, ESV)

(Synoptic accounts of feeding the 5,000: Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:30-44; Luke 9:10-17)

The interchange with Jesus here makes a definite parallel to Moses.

Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ ” 32 Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” 35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. (John 6:31–35, ESV)

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  • This is a good point!
    – Robert
    Aug 9, 2022 at 4:07

2 Answers 2

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I think that the story/sermon of John 6 about Jesus being the bread of life and its parallel to OT manna better fits with John's overall scheme to show Jesus as the fulfillment of the sanctuary. Let me illustrate by taking a walk through the sanctuary using the gospel of John.

Outer Court

  • John 1:29 - Jesus is the sacrificial lamb of God
  • John 2:1-12 - water turned to wine; 3:1-8 - born of water; 4:1-26 - Jesus talks to the woman at the well about water; 5:1-14 - Bethesda the pool of water.

Holy Place

  • John 6:1-13 - Jesus feeds the 500 bread; 25-59 - Jesus is the bread of life as manna was
  • John 7:1-24 - Jesus goes the festival of tabernacles and lights; 8:12-20 - Jesus declares Himself the light of the world; 9:1-41 - Jesus heals a man deprived of light (ie, blind), esp. V3, 4 (day vs night)
  • John 12:1-11 Jesus is anointed with oil (cf the oil in the menorah) and then enters Jerusalem as king (V12-19)

It is possible that since the Most Holy Place contained the ark of the covenant (but not in Jesus' time) the last reference to His royal entry to Jerusalem could allude to the events in Rev 5 about the lamb being seated on the right of the throne in heaven.

Astute observes may be able to add further parallels to this list.

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I would remark this as a possible allusion to the events of Numbers, but generally we must begin with the simplest attributions as being the most likely, and without a more detailed textual argument I'm not seeing a clear cut case on that parallel, though one may exist.

This episode has been remarked upon as an 'undesigned coincidence' in the Gospel of John - a detail captured by Gospel authors which matches closely with other accounts in an unplanned way that attests to its authenticity as eyewitness testimony.

In an interview about her book 'Hidden in Plain View: Undesigned Coincidences in the Gospels and Acts', Lydia McGrew remarks:

It mentions the name of the person to whom he spoke. It could be utterly coincidental, a one-out-of-twelve chance that he picked some disciple at random. But if the story were faked, you would think the author could have chosen a more prominent disciple rather than Philip. It’s not that Philip was utterly obscure, but there’s no particular reason to mention him here. For example, unlike Judas, he’s not the treasurer of the group; unlike Peter, James, and John, he’s not part of the closest center circle to Jesus. So if you look at Luke 9:10, we have a fact that only Luke mentions: This event took place in a deserted area near the town of Bethsaida. John doesn’t mention the location at all, but if you go to a completely different passage in the Gospel of John (1:43-44) right at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry when he’s gathering his disciples, it mentions Philip, and it says he was from the town of Bethsaida.

When Jesus asked Philip that question about buying the bread, I think he was kind of pulling his disciples’ chain a bit; in fact, John says that he knew what he would do. He doesn’t ask them where they can buy bread because he really wants them to buy bread. When he chooses which disciple to tease, as it were, I think he turns to Philip to say, “Philip, you’re from nearby here; where can we buy bread so all the people may eat?” He picks Philip because he knows Philip is local to the area, and it all fits together in an extremely mentally satisfying way. But it’s so casual; no one would do that deliberately. You can’t imagine John saying, “I think I’m going to fake my readers out in picking up this story from the other Gospels. I want to make it even more realistic, though, so I’ll put in this little casual comment about Philip but not refer to Bethsaida; and then in a totally different passage, I’ll mention that Philip was from Bethsaida. Then maybe two thousand years from now, someone will notice these details and say the story must be true.” That’s extremely implausible.

In conclusion, it seems plausible that rather than being an intended reference to Moses, this is simply a light jest directed at Philip because of his local knowledge. This is the simplest explanation of Jesus' comment, and is the most likely reason for him making it. If it was intended to reference Moses, Jesus could have said it to any of the disciples, rather than choosing the one who was local.

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  • You specify why Jesus asked Philip. However, John particularly wanted to point out parallels in Jesus' ministry to Moses. The parallel is the question to and response from Philip, That the disciple was Philip is a different issue that you address,
    – Perry Webb
    Aug 8, 2022 at 9:08
  • Thanks Perry - isn't that true of the accepted answer also, then? I don't think we should necessarily assume that "John particularly wanted to point out parallels in Jesus' ministry to Moses"; importing that as an assumption into the question could affect the hermeneutical process. Perhaps a more neutral way of asking the question would be "what is Jesus' interchange with Philip intended to signify?" Otherwise we'd need three different questions on this passage, each of which will probably just get one answer.
    – Steve can help
    Aug 8, 2022 at 9:25

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