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Lee H Smith Commentary on Matthew 15:32-39 and Mark 8:1-10

Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew

by Lee H Smith

MATTHEW 15:32-39
Pp Mark 8:1-10

Why are there two feedings of the multitudes?
Magadan and Dalmanutha

[Note - I have dealt with the feeding of the five thousand on a previous web page ( http://www.arlev.co.uk/matt048.htm ) and there are so many general similarities here that I shan’t be dealing with this passage in the same detail as I did with the former incident. The reader who wishes to learn a little more about the principles of the feeding of the multitudes and who wishes to read a spiritualisation of such an incident should turn to that web page. The notes should be quite easy to apply to this situation which differs very little in the broad scheme of things.

Here, I intend only dealing with some background, comparing the parallel passages and trying to answer the question as to why two of the Gospel writers chose to commit to writing two incidents that seem to duplicate Jesus’ care for the multitudes who came to have their physical needs met and to hear Him speak]

The indications surrounding this passage would cause us to believe that the incident took place somewhere within the Decapolis - though exactly where is far from certain - and that there were a fair amount of Gentiles present.

This location is indicated, firstly, by Mark 7:31 which we saw on the last web page to indicate the route Jesus took to return to Galilee as being north to Sidon and then probably almost due east to the area immediately surrounding Caesarea Philippi before heading south to either skirt the edges of the Sea of Galilee or to travel more inland to arrive in the Decapolis to minister.

Some may feel that, with the beginning of Mtw 15:32 (Mark 8:1), we should rather assume that Jesus has entered Jewish territory once again and the prefix in Mark that the feeding of the four thousand occurred ‘in those days’ is particularly loose enough to accept the story as recorded in only the same general time period. Mtw 8:32’s ‘then’ is a bit more precise, however, and both Gospel writers (Mtw 15:39, Mark 8:10) record that, after the crowds had been fed and were sent home, Jesus

‘...got into the boat and went to the region of Magadan’

a city or region probably on the western banks of the Lake, possibly also known as Taricheae or Dalmanutha (see below).

That the area now arrived at was definitely Jewish territory and, therefore, Galilee, can be seen in the coming to Jesus of the Pharisees and Sadducees (Mtw 16:6), the former of which would have found it difficult to travel into the Decapolis because of the problem of contracting ceremonial uncleanness.

Therefore, the implication is that Jesus was in some place east and though this doesn’t, of itself, prove anything, the supporting statement of Mark 7:31 leads us to conclude that the event must have taken place within the Decapolis.

That there were many Gentiles present was also noted on the previous web page where I interpreted the phrase (Mtw 15:31) that the crowds

‘...glorified the God of Israel’

as being an unusual turn of phrase if Jews were primarily being referred to. This feeding of the multitudes, therefore, was both similar to the feeding of the multitudes in Mtw 14:13-21 but also very distinct for there we are specifically looking at sign which was performed in front of Jews while here it’s Gentiles. The crowds had been with Jesus three days, as well (Mtw 15:32), whereas the Jews had gathered quickly together that same afternoon and Jesus leaves them before the dawn of the following day (Mtw 14:13,22, John 6:16).

But these aren’t the only differences for in Mtw 14:15 it’s the disciples who are concerned with the needs of the people whereas here it’s only Jesus who brings to attention the need that’s clearly visible (Mtw 15:32). In the former passage, the disciples are instructed to feed those gathered with what they have (Mtw 14:16) but here Jesus doesn’t give them any opportunity, rather telling His followers simply to bring what they have to Him (Mtw 15:34-35).

The total amount of people estimated is a thousand fewer here also but, seeing as this number is a calculation of the men present and doesn’t estimate the women and children (Mtw 14:21, 15:38), the numbers can’t be relied upon as a full estimate of the total numbers. However, even if we take them as being closely similar, we note that, whereas there were twelve baskets left over in the first incident (Mtw 14:20), here there are seven hampers (Mtw 15:37), this latter receptacle (Strongs Greek number 4711) recorded elsewhere as being large enough to contain and support the weight of the apostle Paul as he was lowered over the wall of Damascus to escape his persecutors. Zondervan notes that the distinction between the two different types of receptacles used may be

‘...between smaller plaited baskets and larger woven baskets with a handle’

but it seems far from certain that there was a distinguishing characteristic that has come down to us and of which we can be certain. Matfran goes one step further and comments that the basket used to collect the left over bread in the feeding of the five thousand was of a type that was particularly associated with the Jew and, if we think of Damascus as being in the heart of the Gentile world, the incident recorded with Paul could also lead us to this conclusion. However, both these assertions are far from certain as far as I can tell and, though there may be indications that this is the case, there’s nothing that’s as concrete as we would need it to be before we took it as an additional piece of information to point towards the conclusion that, predominantly, it was Gentiles who were present.

So, not being able to be sure of the size of the baskets, it’s difficult to determine precisely the quantity of food which remained after the multiplication.

And, one final contrast, though the Jews had reacted in trying to establish Jesus as King over them in the first instance (John 6:15), the mainly Gentile crowd seem to respond in a different manner, though silence in the text isn’t the greatest testimony to this assertion (Mtw 15:39).

There’s just the one parallel passage in the other Gospel records - found in Mark 8:1-10 - the incident being omitted completely by both Luke and John. Mark has the passage in the same chronological order as well, even though he divides the story of the healing of the Syrophoenician woman’s daughter and this feeding of the four thousand with an incident which should be regarded as coming directly out of Jesus’ Decapolean ministry (Mark 7:32-37).

There are only a few variant readings between the two passages that add to each record and some which do very little but rephrase what’s been said. Mark 8:3 is notable, however, because it shows Jesus’ awareness that some of the crowd which had now gathered before Him had come a great distance - presumably from the furthest extremities of the Decapolean territory and, perhaps, some had even latched onto His journeyings as He came into the region and followed Him throughout.

To this, notice that Mtw 15:32 (and, to a lesser degree, Mtw 14:15-16) seems to indicate that Jesus’ habit at this time was to ‘camp out’ at night with those who’d come to Him rather than to disperse at dusk and reassemble the following day at sunrise. In this way, times of teaching would have been optimised and those gathered must have felt a certain unity with the Kingdom when they knew that the One they’d come to hear hadn’t escaped in some white limousine to a five star hotel for an evening bath and comfortable sleep on some downy mattress to rest Himself for the following day’s ministry (okay, okay - but you understand my words?).

The only major difference between these two passages (to return to what I was writing about before I digressed) is that, in Matthew, Jesus deals with the bread and the fish simultaneously (Mtw 15:36) whereas, in Mark, there are two separate acts of taking the food and of giving them to the people (Mark 8:6-7). But this appears to be an instance where the first Gospel writer is running together what took place, concerned, as has been noticed previously in numerous passages, as he is with brevity wherever possible in parallel incidents.

It’s only Matthew, however, who additionally records that the number of four thousand was an estimation of the men present and that there were additional women and children who seem to have gone unnumbered (Mtw 15:38 - which he does similarly in his account of the feeding of the five thousand in Mtw 14:21), whereas Mark’s statement that there were four thousand ‘people’ is probably to be taken as referring to the number of men seeing as Mark 6:44 similarly omits the statement that the number there were exclusive of women and children.

Also, Mark doesn’t actually state that there were four thousand ‘people’, this latter word being added by the RSV to make more sense of the text - but it’s entirely superfluous and should, rather, have been omitted to allow Mark’s statement to say simply that there were four thousand who had been fed without suggesting that the number included both sexes and all minors.

These seem to be the main differences between the two passages which need comment at this time.

Many commentators have assumed that the two incidents of Mtw 14:13-21 and Mtw 15:32-39 are actually two different versions of one and the same incident and that the record of the event somehow became altered through the years before it was recorded in manuscript form.

However, the differences are significant as we’ve already seen and both Matthew and Mark have Jesus speaking about two entirely different incidents later on (Mtw 16:9-10, Mark 8:19-20). The assumption that only the one multiplication of the bread and fishes took place, however, is more based on a belief in how the original stories of Jesus’ life were circulated prior to them being written down than to anything which is provable and it has the effect of making the believer wonder what the original incident actually was for at least one of the two records would have to be incorrect.

And, if one’s incorrect, how can we know the other isn’t?

To the person who accepts the Gospel record at face value, there remains no problem in accepting both incidents and the significance of recording both events by Matthew and Mark is one which, although not obvious, is important to grasp for it hints at something which would not have been apparent had there been just one of the two included.

Why are there two feedings of the multitudes?

This may sound like a strange question but it’s one that seems particularly relevant if we are to try and come to terms with why both Matthew and Mark included them. Certainly, if Luke knew of this additional incident, he decided that it was superfluous to his overall objective of putting down a record for Theophilus of those things which he was sure were certain and truthful (Luke 1:1-4).

This isn’t to say that Luke must have felt that the second event was dubious and so omitted it (for we can’t be sure that he even had a record that it had taken place) but that he chose carefully those things which he thought necessary to include for the receiver of his work.

But our original question, on the one hand, is a bit like asking why Matthew chose to record more than one casting out of the demonic from men and women (Mtw 8:28-34, 12:22, 15:21-28) and more than one healing of paralysis (Mtw 8:5-13, 9:1-8). If the Gospel writers had simply set themselves to show that Jesus had power over all manner of sicknesses and diseases, the second records of similar incidents are wholly superfluous to their objectives and we may wonder, along with the two feeding of the multitudes, just why they didn’t omit them.

By recording more than one healing of a specific disease, the writers show that it isn’t solely Jesus’ power and authority over the incapacity that’s the criteria for committing to papyrus what had transpired. Often, there are undercurrents and spirtualisations which become apparent in each incident which are lacking from others - at other times, what Jesus said in the situation gives an indication of a truth which doesn’t occur again elsewhere.

Therefore, from the outset we must assume that there was some significance as to why both events were recorded and that, far from the similarities, there may be sufficient differences for them to have thought that they gave principles which weren’t absolutely identical to one another.

If we take a look a few verses passed the feeding of the four thousand, however, we can see that both incidents are vitally necessary to be recorded if Mtw 16:5-12 (Mark 8:14-21) was to be fully understood, for the record notes that Jesus appealed to both these times (which occurred probably months apart) to bring home His point about natural leaven and spiritual leaven and how the disciples were thinking only in natural terms when He was trying to get through to them a spiritual principle which was warning them against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

So, even if it’s only to support this future passage, both incidents need to be recorded unless Jesus’ speech is to be edited to eliminate a reference to the incident which would have been omitted previously.

But there’s also, I feel, a reason for its record here which I’ve hinted at in my comparisons of the two passages above where I indicated that the feeding of the five thousand was predominantly a provision for the Jew whereas here, in the feeding of the four thousand, we’re looking primarily at an incident where Jesus does exactly the same miracle for a crowd who has a great percentage of Gentiles present.

There’s no doubt that such a miracle points towards the Creation story because what’s in existence is being so incredibly multiplied that a new creation of physical objects is taking place where only a certain quantity of them was in existence. It’s not that wheat is being milled, baked and presented to those present but that, from a meagre resource, bread is coming into existence that could not have been made to exist through normal means.

The miracle, therefore, points towards the influence of the Creator in a way that the healing of the sick would not. We still must view Jesus as a man dependent upon God for each and every miracle He does and not operating independently either of His will or His own power, but what is being demonstrated here is that the Creator must in some way be present for such a miracle to take place because it parallels His initial work in bringing all things into existence.

And the miracle is being performed to both Jew and Gentile alike which is, as Matfran points out

‘...a deliberate indication that the benefits given to Israel by their Messiah were also to be available outside the Jewish circle’

On the web page where I dealt with the feeding of the five thousand, I noted that there were numerous spiritual interpretations of the passage and I went on to interpret it in a different way to that of the Gospel of John which records a discussion between Jesus, the multitudes who catch up with Him and the disciples the following day (John 6:25-71) where He tries to use the incident the evening before to bring out the truth that each person has need to assimilate Jesus into their own life to be able to feast on the spiritual provision which is God Himself.

What John observed as being Jesus’ teaching is also applicable here where He performs the same miracle and so demonstrates that the Gentiles have the same spiritual needs as the Jew - and that the solution is the same, namely Himself.

We should note that, in the first miracle, it’s the disciples who are concerned for the physical needs of those present (Mtw 14:15) whereas here it’s solely Jesus (Mtw 15:32), a point which could indicate that Jesus’ words are still ringing in their ears from the incident of the healing of the Syrophoenician woman’s daughter (Mtw 15:24) paralleled in the commission given to them when they were sent out into the towns and villages of Israel (Mtw 10:5-6).

We may be reading too much into the incident but there may be a reluctance on the part of the disciples to do anything for the predominantly Gentile crowd solely because they’re just that - predominantly Gentile. Jesus has no such problem with it, however, and so has to take the initiative to begin the mechanics of the miracle. Mattask is going too far in his statement that Jesus

‘...seems to be indirectly reproving [the disciples] for their lack of sympathy with the needs of the Gentile world’

but He’s quite correct to point out that the disciples

‘...have to learn what the woman of Canaan seemed instinctively to understand, not only that “no true household can exist unless it provides for more than its own children” but that the field in which the Kingdom of God will eventually have to be proclaimed cannot be less than the world itself...for nothing smaller than the world is the object of His love...’

We could go on to talk about ‘foreshadowing a mission to the Gentiles’ which is all well and good, but there are no specific details here and Jesus seems more concerned simply to show the disciples at this stage that the God of the Jews is the God of Gentiles also - that the God who spoke everything into existence must necessarily have spoken both Jew and Gentile into being. If so, He must also be the God of both, the Saviour of both and the Provider for both.

Whatever salvation Jesus will bring to the Jew (either physical or spiritual), therefore, the implication is that it must also be brought to the Gentile though, for a time and on specific occasions, the door isn’t being thrown open as widely to the non-Jew as one might have expected.

Having said all this, the passages are similar enough to warrant me pointing the reader towards my previous exposition of the first feeding of the multitudes on my previous web page ( http://www.arlev.co.uk/matt048.htm ) where I’ve dealt with a few of the principles of the feeding of the multitudes and how it teaches us concerning how Jesus brings provision into the life of a believer through the breaking up of hindrances within their lives.

Magadan and Dalmanutha
Mtw 15:39

Contrary to the previous incident of the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus gets into a boat to travel across to the other side of the Lake once He’s dismissed the crowds (Mtw 15:39, Mark 8:10) rather than stay on the eastern side to pray through the early part of the night.

Both Gospel writers, however, record a different place to which Jesus and the disciples come, Mtw 15:39 noting that they came to

‘...the region of Magadan’

while Mark 8:10

‘...to the district of Dalmanutha’

where the footnote of the latter observes that there’s some variation of reading between Dalmanutha, Magadan and Magdala in manuscripts (commentators also note variations with the Matthean passage which the RSV takes as fixed).

Mattask also notes that the oldest manuscripts of Matthew’s Gospel record the place name as ‘Magada’ (the RSV’s Magadan) even though the town of Magdala eventually came to be substituted for the textual record because it was a more popular place name, one that was instantly recognisable.

Whether there is any truth in this statement is impossible to say but what is certain is that there’s a great deal of variation in the record of the actual place to which Jesus journeyed and we need to spend a short amount of time trying to determine what we should understand by it.

Mathen notes that, to south of the plain of Genessaret, there lies a cave named ‘Talmanutha’ and that this is the best place to locate the area to which Jesus sailed, the name being so similar to that recorded in Mark as to be virtually identical. However, as with many of the place locations in the present day land of Israel, we should be wary in case we use a modern name to associate a place with the Biblical record and then insist that it’s one and the same location.

For instance, to the east of the old city of Jerusalem, there lies the Kidron valley, labelled on modern maps as the ‘Valley of Jehoshaphat’, a title which is recorded in Joel 3:2,12 where the nations come to be judged. It would be very easy to harmonise both the title and the Scriptures but it has to be noted that the label put on this area is a fairly modern one and certainly not one that is demonstrably provable to have been in existence at the time when the first prophecy was given by Joel in the OT.

It appears that the general area suggested by the prophecy is in the Kidron valley and, therefore, the name was given at a later date by over zealous believers. But this isn’t to say that, to the prophet, this was one and the same place that was intended - or even to God.

The same could be true of Mathen’s cave - as it is with many archaeological mounds in Israel - and, until an ancient label can be positively identified, our associations remain no more than speculation.

The only facts of the matter that seem certain is that no ancient sources outside these two passages mention either Magadan or Dalmanutha as being either towns or regions in Galilee, even though the modern village of Migdol is often associated with the area and which, etymologically, appears to be associated with a derivation of Magadan which means either a tower or fortification. We can’t even be certain that Magadan should be taken as a variant title of the town of Magdala from where Mary Magdalene would have come (whether born, brought up there or resident - or both - is uncertain. Birth or upbringing are the more likely, however, just as Jesus was still called ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ even though He was currently resident in Capernaum - Mtw 4:13, 21:11) even though there’s a possibility in this assertion.

Both Magadan and Dalmanutha are normally identified with ancient Taricheae, almost equidistant on the Sea of Galilee between Capernaum to the north and Tiberias in the south but, although many ancient sources are cited, I wasn’t able to find one which would categorically prove an association or similarity.

All that can be said is that it is impossible to be certain as to the locations of either of these two place names and that the more difficult labels are the ones more likely to be accurate - that is, Magadan and Dalmanutha - which may have been emended at a much later date to towns which were more easily identifiable such as Magdala.

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