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Mark 8:1-21 – Jesus Feeds Four Thousand, Pharisees Seek a Sign, and Jesus Teaches His Disciples


For the second time, Jesus feeds a large crowd. Scenes of conflict and confusion follow.


The feeding of the four thousand takes place on the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee. With seven loaves and a few small fish, Jesus satisfies the hunger of the people, and seven baskets full of broken pieces are left over (8:1-10). After crossing the sea to the district of Dalmanutha, the Pharisees seek a sign from Jesus (8:11-13). The irony of their request must be seen in light of Jesus' feedings of the thousands, and Jesus responds, "Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly, I tell you, no sign will be given to this generation" (8:12).

The final crossing of the sea (8:14-20) summarizes the table traditions addressed in a larger set of passages (6:14-8:10). On the sea Jesus teaches his disciples in light of two table settings, saying, "Watch out--beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod" (8:15). This warning refers back to 7:1-23 and 6:14-19, respectively. Jesus also calls to their remembrance the two feedings (8:18-20), asking about the number of baskets of broken pieces that were left over after the feeding of the five thousand (6:30-44) and the feeding of the four thousand (8:1-10).
The third cycle of stories about Jesus and his ministry concludes at 8:21. Jesus' words to the disciples lead to the crucial question in Mark: "Do you not yet understand?" (8:21). Up to this point in the Gospel the disciples have not been able to understand God's kingly reign and rule present in Jesus of Nazareth. Their eyes are blind, and only Jesus' healing touch can open them. In the following verses, he begins to do just that.

Mark 8:1-21

Feeding the Four Thousand

8In those days when there was again a great crowd without anything to eat, he called his disciples and said to them, 2‘I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat. 3If I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way—and some of them have come from a great distance.’ 4His disciples replied, ‘How can one feed these people with bread here in the desert?’ 5He asked them, ‘How many loaves do you have?’ They said, ‘Seven.’ 6Then he ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground; and he took the seven loaves, and after giving thanks he broke them and gave them to his disciples to distribute; and they distributed them to the crowd. 7They had also a few small fish; and after blessing them, he ordered that these too should be distributed. 8They ate and were filled; and they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. 9Now there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away. 10And immediately he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the district of Dalmanutha.*

The Demand for a Sign

11 The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, asking him for a sign from heaven, to test him. 12And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, ‘Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to this generation.’ 13And he left them, and getting into the boat again, he went across to the other side.

The Yeast of the Pharisees and of Herod

14 Now the disciples* had forgotten to bring any bread; and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. 15And he cautioned them, saying, ‘Watch out—beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod.’* 16They said to one another, ‘It is because we have no bread.’ 17And becoming aware of it, Jesus said to them, ‘Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? 18Do you have eyes, and fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear? And do you not remember? 19When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?’ They said to him, ‘Twelve.’ 20‘And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?’ And they said to him, ‘Seven.’ 21Then he said to them, ‘Do you not yet understand?’

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