Why Two Feeding Miracles?

I’m reading a book titled Mission in the Gospels, by R. Geoffrey Harris. In his discussion of Mark’s Gospel, Harris discusses that fact that Mark records two instance of Jesus feeing the multitudes. (Mark 6:30-44 and 8:1-10.) Some scholars suggest that Mark simply inherited two variant account of the same event from different traditions. Harris does not find this a sufficient explanation.

Harris suggests that when one examines the two feeding miracles together, each of which is composed “so carefully, with such deliberate use of different vocabulary and different numbers,” it is clear that Mark had a definite purpose in providing both stories. Harris writes

The first episode takes place on the Jewish (western) side of the lake, while the second takes place on the more Gentile (eastern) side, and follows on from the encounter with the Syrophoenician woman and the healing of the deaf mute.

I confess this is not something that ever occurred to me in reading the two accounts. But the symbolism is powerful when one thinks of Jesus’ encounter with the Syrophoenician woman that takes place between the two accounts of the feeding miracles. When she asks Jesus to heal her child, his first reaction is to say that “it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the little dogs.” In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus adds directly that he has been sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. But the woman persists until Jesus agrees to heal her child.

Some argue that the woman had an effect in Jesus expanding his understanding of his ministry, an argument given some support by the inclusion of two feeding miracles rather than one. In the first miracle, Jesus feeds those on the Jewish side of the lake, those who are described like “sheep without a shepherd,” which Harris suggests is a traditional image for Israel and her leaders. (And there are 12 baskets of leftovers, “as though each Israelite tribe had a little to spare.” In the second miracle, Jesus feeds those on the Gentile side of the lake, with seven loaves and baskets of leftover, which “denote fullness or completeness. With the inclusion of the Gentiles, Jesus’ mission therefore becomes complete….There can be no doubt that [Mark] means to tell his audience that the banqueting feast in the kingdom of God is going to be for both Jews and Gentiles.”

I don’t know how a Scripture scholar would evaluate Harris’ argument, but it is a provocative explanation for something that has caused a lot of people to scratch their heads in wonder. Is there another good explanation for why we have accounts of two feeding miracles?

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