Gospel miracles: the second multiplication of the loaves and fishes

The author analyzes some aspects of the second multiplication of the loaves and fishes reported by the evangelists Matthew and Mark.

Alfonso Sánchez de Lamadrid Rey-August 12, 2021-Reading time: 6 minutes
miracle multiplication

I have previously written about the first multiplication of the loaves and fishes. In this paper, as a continuation, we study the second multiplication. The graphs and bibliography are common to both articles.

One multiplication for the Jews and one for the Greeks

While the first multiplication is narrated in the four Gospels (Mt 14:15-21; Mk 6:35-44; Lk 9:12-17 and Jn 6:5-13), the second multiplication is narrated only by Matthew and Mark (Mt 15:32-39 and Mk 8:1-10). The resemblance between the two accounts has caused some authors to discuss whether there really was a second miracle of multiplication of loaves and fishes, but what almost all agree on is that while the first account is preferably addressed to the Jews, the second was addressed to the pagans or Gentiles, for "...".some of them are from afar" (Mk 8:2)..

Why were there two multiplications and not one repeated (and adapted) twice?

As we have already said some commentators claim that the second multiplication is a re-adaptation for the Gentiles of a single event, that there was only one multiplication and not two. Their argument would be that both accounts are very similar. Although they recognize the differences between them, they argue that these are secondary, for the adaptation to the Gentiles. But we find the same logic of Jesus' openness to the pagan world in the whole journey outside the territory of Israel, and, then, the same would have to be said of everything that happened in Mark and Matthew in the land of the pagans (Tyre and Sidon).

If anything is clear in this journey of Jesus through the land of the Gentiles, it is that the Kingdom of God is not the monopoly of a few. Although the time had not yet come to bring the Good News to the pagans, Jesus ventures into a foreign land and there too he demonstrates God's power over sickness and goes out to meet human needs (Mt 15:21-28 and 15:32-39), anticipating the moment when "the bread of the children" (Mk 15:32-39), anticipating the moment when "the bread of the children" (Mk 15:21-28 and 15:32-39) would be given to the Gentiles (Mk 15:32-39). 7, 27, Syrian-Phoenician woman) would be shared by all.

It will also be during this trip, this time in Caesarea Philippi, also in pagan territory, when the profession of faith of Peter, who is like the key to the whole Gospel of Mark. This Apostle, spokesman for the others, recognizes him as "the Messiah" (Mk. 8. 29), that is, the "Christ", the "Anointed One" of God par excellence. And, let us not forget, this takes place in pagan territory.

However, one of the most important evidences that they are two different facts is in Mt 16:5-12, when the Master reproaches his disciples: "The disciples, passing over to the other side, had forgotten to take loaves (...) They were talking among themselves, saying, 'We have not brought any loaves'". Do you not yet understand, nor do you remember the five loaves of the 5,000 men, and how many baskets you took up, nor the seven loaves of the 4,000, and how many baskets you took up?"

Mk 8:14-21 also reproaches us: "They had forgotten to take bread, and had no more than one loaf of bread with them in the boat. (...) Do you not remember when I broke the five loaves for the 5,000? How many baskets full of fragments did you gather?" "Twelve," they say to him. "And when I broke the seven among the 4,000, how many baskets full of pieces did you gather?" They say to him, "Seven."". This proves that two different multiplications occurred. The disciples' attitude of forgetfulness seems inexplicable to us. But let's face it, we are forgetful when it comes to remembering God's goodness. Such is our nature, we are distrustful. 

Differences between the accounts of Matthew and Mark

When we compare the differences between the two accounts, Mark's account places us before a more human and closer Jesus than Matthew's, with numerous manifestations: it describes him surrounded by the people: "being again surrounded by a great multitude who had nothing to eat, he called the disciples"; and knowing details: "and some of them are from afar." Think of their families ('their homes').

Mark is seen to be more natural than Matthew, and even improvising, as if at the end he remembered that there were also some little fishes, he adds: "They had a few little fishes, and, giving thanks, he said that they should serve them also". The apostles' mission of service is also further emphasized: "that they might serve them, and they served them to the multitude."

Another detail about the number of those who ate: Matthew is more precise: "Those who ate were four thousand men, not counting the women and children". Mark only says generically that: "There were about four thousand".

On the place of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes

Although there is no agreement about where to place the miracle, it seems to us, together with some scholars, that after leaving the area of Tyre and Sidon (Mk 7:31 and Mt 15:29), Jesus goes towards the eastern part of the lake. In fact, Matthew says just before the miracle in Mt 15:31: "The crowds marveled (...) and glorified the God of Israel"; that is, they do not seem to be Israelites, thus suggesting that it is a Gentile area. Mark 7:31 specifies a little more: "Leaving again the borders of Tyre, he went through Sidon toward the Sea of Galilee, passing through the borders of Decapolis," which, as we know, is east of the lake and is mostly Gentile. 

These narratives are consistent with the location indicated by the tradition, which is in the ancient Decapolis route passing by the lake, and is known as the Tel Hadar. Jesus comes from the north, and this is the first settlement with a port on the east side of the lake. Today, the archaeological remains of the ancient port and a monument with inscriptions and drawings alluding to the miracle are found here (Figure 5). 

Figure 5. Monument with loaves and fishes in Tel Hadar. 

As a second option, some preliminary results from the remains of a 5th century Byzantine church have been recently presented-in 2019-called burned churchArchaeological remains indicate that the roof collapsed and burned in an earthquake in the 8th century.

This church is located on a hill very close to the shore of the lake, in Hippos, about 10 kilometers south of Tel-Hadar. It has mosaics that may be allusive to Jesus' miracles of multiplication of loaves and fishes, such as fish and baskets with loaves (Figure 6).

Figure 6. One of the mosaics of the burned church of Hipos.

About the destination after multiplication

After feeding the four thousand, Jesus sailed across the Sea of Galilee and entered the region of Magadan (Mt 15:39). In the Gospel of St. Mark, Dalmanuta appears instead of Magadan (Mk 8:10). The two places (studying the different variants) remain unknown. 

Today some scholars have sought to identify Magadan as Magdala (on the western shore of the lake and north of Tiberias), the birthplace of Mary Magdalene. While other writers suggest that Magadan would be the modern Mejdel, also west of the Sea of Galilee. 

Magadan o Dalmanuta They are not mentioned again in the Gospel. And neither do they appear again in the ancient literature that we know, there is no mention of a place called like that in antiquity. Could Magadan and Dalmanuta not be alternative names for Magdala? The experts do not agree, but it is necessary to recognize that there are reasons to think about Magdala.

Fish species

As explained by Nun (1989) y Pixner (1992), in the second multiplication of loaves and fishes, Matthew's text specifies that Jesus multiplied "a few small fish" (15:34) and Mark's "a few small fish" (8:7). The original of the two gospels uses the same Greek word ichthýdiatextually small fish. Therefore, we assume that it is the same species and conservation method as in the first multiplication, sardines from Lake GalileeMirogrex terraesanctaepreserved in salted fish.


The two Gospels that narrate the two multiplications place it chronologically after that of the Galileans. The followers spend several days together with Jesus, so that it must have been summerIt was the last year of Jesus' earthly life, and therefore the year 29. It was the last year of Jesus' earthly life, and therefore the 29th year. As the two Gospel accounts indicate, they were able to collect 7 baskets of leftovers, probably using the empty baskets they used to carry the provisions for those days.


These explanations about the two multiplications of the loaves and fishes will be followed by others about some other miracles worked by the Lord around the Sea of Galilee. But, before continuing with the third text, I would like to thank the Dr. Nir Froymanhead of the Fisheries and Aquaculture Departments of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development of Israel, fishing catch data and their collaboration at all times; to Francisco de Luis the realization of the maps (figure 1); a Rafael Sanz his assistance with the original Greek texts and to substantially modify the text on the second multiplication, and to Antonio del Cañizo critical reading of the manuscript. The table in Figure 3 is made by me, with data provided by the government of Israel.


      GIL, J.-GIL, E., "Tabgha: Church of the Multiplication," in Footprints of our Faith (https://saxum.org/es/visit/plan-your-trip-to-holy-land/in-the-footprints-of-our-faith/4a-edicion-extendida/ ), Jerusalem 2019, pp. 120-133.

      GONZÁLEZ-ECHEGARAY, J., Arqueología y Evangelios, Estella 1994.

      GONZÁLEZ-ECHEGARAY, J., Jesús en Galilea. Aproximación desde la arqueología, Estella 2000.

      LOFENDEL, L.-FRENKEL, R., The boat and the Sea of Galilee, Jerusalem-New York 2007.

      NUN, M., The sea of Galilee and its fishermen in the New Testament, Ein Gev 1989.

      PIXNER, B., With Jesus through Galilee according to the fifth Gospel, Rosh Pina 1992.

      TROCHE, F.D., Il sistema della pesca nel lago di Galilea al tempo di Gesù. Indagine sulla base dei papiri documentari e dei dati archeologici e letterari, Bologna 2015.

    The authorAlfonso Sánchez de Lamadrid Rey

    Priest and Doctor in Theology and Marine Sciences.

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