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Given the similarities between the two accounts (feeding the 4000 vs the 5000), it seems that these are two variants of the same event.

What are the scholarly opinions about this?

4 Answers 4

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The two mass feeding events are definitely different events as shown below:

Characteristic Event 1 Event 2
References Matt 14:13-21, Mark 6:30-43, Luke 9:10-17, John 6:1-15 Matt 15:29-39, Mark 8:1-10
Number involved 5000 men plus women and children 4000 men plus women and children
Starting materials 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish 7 loaves of bread and a few fish
Left-overs 12 baskets-full 7 baskets-full
Circumstances Jesus wanted to be alone but the crowds came by surprise so He taught them Jesus was healing and the lame, blind, mute and crippled while Jesus sat on the mountainside
Location the opposite side of Lake Galilee from Gennesaret The region of Decapolis near a mountain side, ie, not in Israel

Thus, it is obvious that the two events are distinct. This is confirmed by Jesus own words about the pair of events as recorded in Matt 16:8-11 and Mark 8:19, 20 - here I quote the latter -

When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of broken pieces did you collect?”

“Twelve,” they answered.

20 “And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of broken pieces did you collect?”

“Seven,” they said.

This confirms that Jesus worked two separate miracles on two separate occasions in two separate places.

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They are two separate events. If you read carefully, you will see that the feeding of the 5,000 occurs on the Israel side of Lake Galilee--because it was after this that Jesus crossed the lake with his disciples by boat, landing in "the land of Gennesaret" (Matthew 14:34).

Some while later, Jesus was in "the coasts of Decapolis" (Mark 7:31)--which was not in Israel, but in the land where he had met the demoniacs and cast their demons into the pigs.

Besides the number of men in each crowd, differences include the number of baskets of leftovers remaining (twelve versus seven) and the amount of food at the beginning (five loaves and two fish versus seven loaves and a few fish).

These were two separate events, one time for the Jewish people, and once for the Gentiles.

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The OP asks for scholarly opinions (plural), so I will hazard an answer from two scholarly perspectives.

Scholars who uphold biblical inerrancy see the two accounts as two separate events. This perspective has already be represented in answers by @Dottard and @Bibliasa: the Bible describes them as taking place in different locales and presents different numbers of people and food; so they must be different events. Scholars who look more critically and the Bible suggest that the two narratives describe the same event. Assuming Markan priority, this would mean that Mark himself used two sources which told essentially the same story with different details; and he included both of them. Catholic scholars who annotated New American Bible describe the two accounts in Mark this way:

The two accounts of the multiplication of loaves and fishes (Mk 8:1–10; 6:31–44) have eucharistic significance. Their similarity of structure and themes but dissimilarity of detail are considered by many to refer to a single event that, however, developed in two distinct traditions, one Jewish Christian and the other Gentile Christian, since Jesus in Mark’s presentation (Mk 7:24–37) has extended his saving mission to the Gentiles.

The NAB editors take a similar approach to the two accounts in Matthew saying of Mt. 15:32–39: "Most probably this story is a doublet of that of the feeding of the five thousand (Mt 14:13–21)."

Thus, scholars are divided on the question posed by the O.P. An approach from the perspective of biblical inerrancy favors the "two events" scenario, while pious but critical scholars suggest one event, probably described by two sources - one Jewish-Christian the other Gentile-Christian - available to the author.

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  • Thanks. That is pretty much what I expected. The Jewish/Gentile angle is definitely an interesting suggestion.
    – fi11222
    Apr 2, 2023 at 4:16
  • Thanks for providing an alternative opinion. How do we know that the scholars who think the two narratives describe the same event, are "looking more critically at the Bible" than scholars who think they describe two different events?
    – mwfearnley
    Jan 27 at 18:11
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Folks, way back when I was 19 years old, I used to read the New American Bible. With all due respect to the writers and publishers of the New American Bible, and without condemning them, I want to caution everyone against believing what they say in their footnotes and comments. They often manifest their own unbelief in the truth and accuracy of Scripture. They are far from serious,conservative and fair scholarship, and I saw too many blatant expressions of 18th century liberal German and British thought. For example,the NAB translators subscribe to the Wellhausen JEPD documentary hypothesis of the Pentateuch. And they explain away obvious Bible miracles with comments based on naturalism.

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  • @ Timothy Scavo - Thank you for your input---and warning about "footnotes." Several Bible translations--especially Study Bibles--have a plethora of footnotes that may or may not shed light on the chapters of the Bible. However, Answers on B.H. should deal with the main point of the Question asked. This Question is mainly wondering why the original Greek is variously translated, so a hermeneutical answer is in order. Keep studying the Bible; it's great for the soul!
    – ray grant
    Feb 20 at 22:36
  • This does not provide an answer to the question. Once you have sufficient reputation you will be able to comment on any post; instead, provide answers that don't require clarification from the asker. - From Review
    – agarza
    Feb 21 at 3:47

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