How many were fed at the feeding of the 4000?

Posted on Nov.06, 2009. Filed in Matthew, Mark. Average rating: 2.0 / 10 (Rate It).

Jesus is recorded as having multiplied a very small quantity of food—just a few loaves and fishes—to feed a crowd of thousands of people on two separate occasions. However, the numbers given concerning how many people were fed don’t always add up.

For the feeding of the five thousand, the synoptic gospels are in agreement that it was five thousand men that were fed, that women and children aren’t included in this figure:

“And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.” [Matthew 14:21, NRSV]

“Those who had eaten the loaves numbered five thousand men.” [Mark 6:44, NRSV]

“For there were about five thousand men.” [Luke 9:14a, NRSV]

The total number of people fed at the feeding of the five thousand would therefore have been more than five thousand.

For the feeding of the four thousand, Matthew again states that the number given is the number of men, that it doesn’t include the women and children who were present:

“Those who had eaten were four thousand men, besides women and children.” [Matthew 15:38, NRSV]

According to Matthew, then, the total number of people fed at the feeding of the four thousand was greater than four thousand.

However, Mark says that the total number of people fed was four thousand, leaving no room for additional women and children:

“Now there were about four thousand people.” [Mark 8:9, NRSV]

So how many were fed at the feeding of the four thousand? Was it only four thousand, or more than four thousand?

N.B. All posts are written in a style sympathetic to the claim of Biblical error, even in cases where the author ("Errancy") disagrees with the claim. See the About page for the site's philosophy.

: , ,
4 Comments Ratings

Inerrantist Responses

To suggest a response to this claim of error, please use the comments section below.

Rate this Claim of Error

How serious a problem for inerrancy do you think this is?

Average rating: 2.0 / 10

You must be logged in to rate errors.


  1. 1

    The Greek in Matthew’s account says that those that ate were 4000 men, beside women and children.

    The Greek in Mark’s account says that those that ate were 4000.

    It does not say 4000 people. It is possible that Mark intended 4000 men (and wasn’t counting the women and children). The case is Nominative, Masculine, Plural. This, of course, does not guarantee that Mark meant to be referring only to the men. I think that it is typical in ancient languages to use the masculine to refer to mixed gender groups even if the women vastly outnumber the men.

    But what he and the other Gospel writers say in the other cases suggests that here:

    1. Mark intended 4000 men, when he simply said 4000.
    2. Mark was not counting the women and children (as usual).
    3. Mark did not mention that he was not counting them.
    4. The mix of the crowd was not much different than the mix of any other crowd that gathered around Jesus. We need not assume that it was predominately male.

  2. 2

    We certainly need to look at the Greek to reach a view on this:

    Matthew 14:21 – ανδρες ωσει πεντακισχιλιοι (“men about five thousand”)
    Mark 6:44 – πεντακισχιλιοι ανδρες (“five thousand men”)
    Luke 9:14 – ωσει ανδρες πεντακισχιλιοι (“about men five thousand”)

    Matthew 15:38 – τετρακισχιλιοι ανδρες (“four thousand men”)
    Mark 8:9 – τετρακισχιλιοι (“four thousand”)

    So ανδρες (“men”) is present in all of the verses except Mark 8:9, where just the number is given.

    The key question is whether Mark 8:9’s “4000” implies “4000 men”, “4000 people”, or is ambiguous.

    All three positions are represented in mainstream translations: The NIV goes for “men”, the NRSV goes for “people”, and the NASB and ESV go for ambiguity.

    I think that preserving the ambiguity is best here, and this should be seen as a possible inconsistency, but certainly not as a flat-out contradiction.

  3. 3

    Your first explanation “no women or children were present” surely can’t be right, since Matthew explicitly mentions them.

  4. 4

    Agreed. Just trying to cover as many options as possible.

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Looking for something?

Use the form below to search the site: