Yet again, we see that the editors — theologians and clergy — of the three-year Lectionary for public worship have left out another beautiful passage from the Gospel of Mark, leaving biblically illiterate Christians in more partial darkness.

As such, today’s entry is yet another in my ongoing series Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential to an understanding of Scripture.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Mark 8:1-10

Jesus Feeds the Four Thousand

 1 In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, he called his disciples to him and said to them, 2 “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. 3And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.” 4And his disciples answered him, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” 5And he asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven.” 6And he directed the crowd to sit down on the ground. And he took the seven loaves, and having given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and they set them before the crowd. 7And they had a few small fish. And having blessed them, he said that these also should be set before them. 8And they ate and were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. 9And 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.


Last week, I directed readers to my discussion of Mark 7, which includes Jesus’s abolition of the Old Testament dietary/mealtime laws and the remote healing of the Gentile — Syrophoenician — woman’s daughter.

As St Mark’s Gospel is the first of the Synoptic Gospels, along with Sts Matthew’s and Luke’s, many of his short accounts of Jesus’s life appear in the other two. Synoptic means ‘seen together’.

As such, parallel accounts appear in Matthew 15. The verses in Matthew 15:10-20 parallel those in Mark 7:14-23. Here is Matthew’s account (emphases mine, highlighting the differences):

What Defiles a Person

 10And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand: 11 it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” 12Then the disciples came and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” 13He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up. 14Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.” 15 But Peter said to him, “Explain the parable to us.” 16And he said,  “Are you also still without understanding? 17Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? 18But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. 19For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. 20 These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.”

The healing of the Gentile woman’s daughter is found in Matthew 15:21-28. Note that Matthew calls her ‘Canaanite’ not ‘Syrophoenician’, although they mean the same thing:

The Faith of a Canaanite Woman

 21 And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” 23But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” 24He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” 27She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

In my post on the verses in Mark 7 which are excluded from the three-year Lectionary, I wrote of the woman:

What Jesus is doing is testing this Gentile’s faith.  His first obligation is to the Jews (‘children’), not to the heathens (‘dogs’). (A similar reference is Matt. 7:6.) The children must be fed at table first, with dogs picking up whatever is left.  Yet, Jesus knew that some Jews, having absorbed so many of His teachings, were already rejecting Him.  Matthew Henry says they were like well-fed children who played with their food.  Therefore, it was time to share this meal – the Good News — with unbelievers.  The lady agrees with what Jesus says. She is aware of her Gentile status. In verse 28 she replies, ‘Even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’ Note that she does not say, ‘Give me what’s mine — I’m just as entitled as the Jews’ but instead asks for ‘crumbs’.  She is a humble supplicant begging for mercy and help in her dire situation. 

Jesus recognises her faith (verse 29) and tells her that she may go as the demon has left her child.  Verse 30 concludes with her returning home and seeing her daughter resting peacefully.  

Note that Mark 7:24 and Matthew 15:21 say that between the abolition of food laws and the healing of the Gentile woman’s daughter Jesus and the Apostles had left Galilee for Tyre and Sidon, a Gentile region. He might have done this for three reasons: 1/ because He perceived that His life was in danger after yet another confrontation with the Pharisees and knew His time had not yet come, 2/ He needed a psychological break from altercations with the Pharisees which were taking up much of His mental or emotional energies and 3/ He could see that He was getting nowhere with the Jews, the people He came to earth to save, so he would take His ministry to the Gentiles.

Jesus and His disciples then went to the Decapolis, which is where Mark 8 opens. John MacArthur explains the geography and the reluctance of the Apostles — Jews — to accept the principle of evangelising to idol-worshipping Gentiles (emphases mine throughout):

Now in the passage before us, we are really looking at the last recorded event in that several month period in which Jesus takes His Twelve into the Gentile nations that surround Galilee. He first made that move in chapter 7 verse 24 when Jesus gathered the Twelve and went to the region of Tyre. That would be a city on the Mediterranean coast north and west of Galilee, Israel, in the area called Syrophoenicia, ancient Phoenicia had been annexed to Syria to the east and it was now one great Syrophoenician Empire. It actually extended all the way east and all the way down south, a southern eastern portion of the Galilee region was also under the control of Syria. So this is Gentile area. Our Lord takes the disciples into a several month foray into that area. There’s really only just a couple of incidents that are recorded, verses 24 to 30 of chapter 7 tell about a woman who had a daughter with a demon and she lived in Tyre and the Lord delivered that daughter from the demon and the woman exercised saving faith which in Matthew’s account of that Jesus called mega-faith, great faith.

And then we find, having left that city of Tyre, went to Sidon and He crossed the north, the mountains of Lebanon, and headed east, all the time we have no record of teaching, preaching, healing. This is time for intensive training of the Twelve. What’s the theme of the training? It should be pretty obvious. He’s getting them ready for the Great Commission. What is the Great Commission? Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. They need to understand that salvation is for the Gentiles, that it’s for the world. You can’t just drop that on them in the Great Commission because they’ve been raised in Israel and Israel’s belief was that the Gentile are outside the Covenant, outside the compassion of God, outside the salvation purpose of God and Israel alone is the nation which God has favored. And that’s what they’ve been taught. That’s what they’ve been trained to believe, that Israel is the beginning and end of God’s purpose. Our Lord is showing them by the faith of that Gentile woman in Tyre set against the unbelief of the leaders of Israel and most of the people of Galilee who had heard and seen Jesus, that Gentiles are going to be incorporated in salvation. And so I think that was the teaching theme as He moved through the Gentile areas cause everywhere they went, they would be aware of the fact they were not in the land of Israel.

They finally end up, several months after they began the journey, down on the southeastern shore of Galilee, having gone west, north and a big loop and down to the bottom of the Sea of Galilee in an area called Decapolis, made up of ten cities, Gentile cities full of idol worship and typical Gentile life. There a massive crowd comes to Jesus by the Lake of Galilee and He heals them all…absolutely all of them, according to Matthew 15:29 to 31, He healed everybody who came and they were bringing all kinds of injuries, illnesses, diseases, etc. And this is all to demonstrate the healing purposes of God, the compassion of God and the salvation of God is intended for the world and for Gentiles. And this is sort of a microcosm lesson on this, which I am confident was reinforced as they moved those hundred and twenty, to a hundred and fifty miles over a period of several months in the presence of the Lord …

The result of His deeds of compassion in the Decapolis at the end of those months, the very time we’re looking at today, was that the Gentiles, according to Matthew 15:31, “Glorified the God of Israel.” I’m sure that encompassed some true faith. I’m sure during the period of time that He was doing all the healing He was also doing what He always did, teaching concerning the Kingdom. And some of them were glorifying the God of Israel. And the only way you could really do that truly would be by putting your trust in His Son.

All this healing goes on over a period of three days

The … crowd has been lingering for three days. They’ve slept on the ground. There’s no large city nearby and the cities of the Decapolis are scattered far apart, not like Galilee with two hundred and forty thousand villages close together. These people have come a long way. They’ve been sleeping on the ground. They haven’t eaten. Why? Why such interest?

Because remember, this is the only time He ever went in to that area. Some of them may have crossed the border. We know some from Decapolis came and saw His miracles. But He’s never been there before. This is compelling. This is stunning and staggering activity that they’re watching as He heals all these people with all these disabilities and all these diseases. They’ve never seen anything like it, or heard of anything like it. And so they don’t go anywhere. They put hunger aside. They’re so overwhelmed by what is going on, I don’t think they even felt hunger.

This miracle bears many similarities to that of Jesus’s feeding of the five thousand. The same story appears in Matthew 15:32-39.

In verse 1, Jesus is conscious that this assembly of people before Him have not eaten for three days and reminds the disciples of this fact. He tells them that He has ‘compassion’ for them (verse 2), even if they might not realise they need food for their physical state.

MacArthur explains the Greek word for ‘I feel compassion’ used here:

Three words in English, one word in Greek, splanchnizomai ... Splanchna is the root and the word means “bowels, inner organs, heart, some would say gut,” where you feel things emotionally. Sometimes you get caught in something that’s either producing fear or producing terror or producing anxiety and your stomach begins to churn and your heart begins to beat and you feel those emotions in your…in your midsection. That’s exactly what this word came to mean. The word splanchna means inner organs. But it is used to express feelings of emotion, affection, sympathy, pity, kindness and compassion.

So, Jesus responded profoundly to those before Him. He knew that once they left to go home, they would feel physically weak (verse 3). Matthew Henry analyses the situation:

Whom the proud Pharisees looked upon with disdain, the humble Jesus looked upon with pity and tenderness; and thus must we honour all men. But that which he chiefly considers, is, They have been with me three days, and have nothing to eat. Whatever losses we sustain, or hardships we go through, for Christ’s sake, and in love to him, he will take care that they shall be made up to us one way or other. They that seek the Lord, shall not long want any good thing, Ps. 34:10. Observe with what sympathy Christ saith (v. 3), If I send them away fasting to their own houses, they will faint by the way, for hunger. Christ knows and considers our frame; and he is for the body, if we glorify him, verily we shall be fed. He considered that many of them came from afar, and had a great way home. When we see multitudes attending upon the word preached, it is comfortable to think that Christ knows whence they all come, though we do not. I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, Rev. 2:13. Christ would by no means have them go home fasting, for it is not his manner to send those empty way from him, that in a right manner attend on him.

The disciples wondered how any pieces of bread — flatbread, incidentally — could sustain the crowd on their homeward journeys (verse 4). Jesus discovered there were seven loaves (verse 5). As he did in the feeding of the five thousand, He asked the crowd to sit down, said a prayer of thanksgiving over the loaves and asked the disciples to distribute them (verse 6). So, He had multiplied them, as before, in sufficient quantities to feed everyone present and more.

Having then discovered that there were also a few fish amongst the people, Jesus asked that these be collected, whereby he blessed them and multiplied them, once again sufficiently to feed everyone assembled and then some (verse 7). In this way, the people had more than enough to eat to sustain them as they left and the leftovers filled seven baskets (verse 8). How merciful — and compassionate — our Lord is!

Verse 9 tells us that there were 4,000 people assembled who ate their fill. Matthew 15:38 specifies that the 4,000 men. There were additional people — women and children. So, perhaps this creative miracle for the Gentiles fed 16,000 people. I arrive at this number roughly, using John MacArthur’s estimate of the feeding of the 5,000, which Matthew told us was only the number of men — there were also women and children. MacArthur estimated Jesus fed 25,000 people on that occasion.

This account ends in verse 10 with Mark telling us that, afterward, Jesus and His disciples took a boat to Dalmanutha. Matthew 15:39 says the destination was Magadan. MacArthur says both were in the same region and that this means that Jesus and the disciples were leaving the Gentiles and returning to Galilee, near Gennesaret, where they were at the end of Mark 6:

we know that from Mary of Magdala, Mary Magdalene. Is it Dalmanutha? Or is it Magdala, Magadan? The answer is, it’s the same region. It’s the same area. South of Gennesaret. Basically we know where Magdala is and we know where Capernaum is and it’s not too far separated. When the lake was low, some years ago, archaeologists discovered a little harbor buried under the water really, or submerged under the water, between Magdala and Capernaum which some archaeologists think was probably Dalmanutha, a little fishing stop of which there were many along the shore. They also found a cave in the area called Talmanutha that may be in view as well. So the region of Magdala, the region of Dalmanutha would be in the very same area.

So the record ends of Jesus’ foray into Gentile lands. And so the record also brings a kind of a culmination to His Galilean ministry. Oh, He’ll have a little more ministry kind of in the outlying areas after He got to Dalmanutha, they confront the Pharisees again and He goes up into the north…out of the main stream area of Galilee for a little more ministry and finally heads down into Judea on His way to Jerusalem to His death and resurrection.

Matthew Henry summarises the lessons of this second creative miracle of massive proportions:

6. The bounty of Christ is inexhaustible, and, to evidence that, Christ repeated this miracle, to show that he is still the same for the succour and supply of his people that attend upon him. His favours are renewed, as our wants and necessities are. In the former miracle, Christ used all the bread he had, which was five loaves, and fed all the guests he had, which were five thousand, and so he did now; though he might have said, “If five loaves would feed five thousand, four may feed four thousand;” he took all the seven loaves, and fed with them the four thousand; for he would teach us to take things as they are, and accommodate ourselves to them; to use what we have, and make the best of that which is. Here it was, as in the dispensing of manna, He that gathered much had nothing over, and he that gathered little had no lack.

7. In our Father’s house, in our Master’s house, there is bread enough, and to spare; there is a fulness in Christ, which he communicates to all that passes through his hands; so that from it we receive, and grace for grace, Jn. 1:16. Those need not fear wanting, that have Christ to live upon.

8. It is good for those that follow Christ, to keep together; these followers of Christ continued in a body, four thousand of them together, and Christ fed them all. Christ’s sheep must abide by the flock, and go forth by their footsteps, and verily they shall be fed.

Next time: Mark 8:11-13