Bill Mounce

For an Informed Love of God

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Monday, November 27, 2017

Who did the Miracle? (Mark 6:41)

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I am a bit hesitant to make the point below since I can’t find a commentary that agrees, but I also can’t explain the imperfect any other way.

When Jesus fed the 5,000 men (Mark 6:35–44), where did the actual miracle take place, in Jesus’ hands or in the hands of the disciples? Did Jesus keep handing out the bread every time a disciple came back to get more, or did it multiply in the hands of the disciples? If it is the latter, I have often imagined what it must have felt like to feel the bread multiply in their own hands. Must have been weird.

When I read some of the translations, there is nothing to answer my question. “Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all” (NIV, see also ESV, NET, NRSV).

When I read the CSB, I see a clue. “Gave” is actually an imperfect. “He blessed the food and broke the loaves and He kept giving (ἐδίδου) them to the disciples.” (The NASB marks inserted words in italics; it is the “kept giving” that is important here.) According to this translation, the miracle happened in Jesus’ hands; it was the miraculous multiplication of the loaves that enables Jesus to keep giving bread to the disciples.

This struck me as strange since several of the commentaries say there is no clue in the text as to where the miracle occurred, but how else can you read the imperfect? Other translations agree. “He kept giving them to his disciples” (CSB). “Then, breaking the loaves into pieces, he kept giving the bread to the disciples” (NLT).

BDAG shows the breadth of the the semantic range of δίδωμι, but I see nothing that reduces the imperfective aspect of the imperfect.

So I have to conclude that the commentaries I read are wrong (which I do with great caution) and the imperfect is imperfective and the miracle happened in Jesus’ hands, which seems appropriate as he is the source of the miracle, not the disciples.

The same is true for us today. Whatever spiritual gift you have been given to benefit the common good of the church, the power isn’t yours; it is the Lord’s.


Hello Mr. Mounce. I have a couple of your books on my shelves. You have been one of my instructors over the years, although I've never been in any of your classes. Personally, I stopped reading various Bible translations full of private interpretations / paraphrases by translators and translation committees many years ago, because most all Bible translations are chucked full of their paraphrases which usually ignore the type, mood, tense, voice, case, gender, person, and number, and their various combinations, of verbs. Plus, most Bible translations do a fabulous amount of creative "synonyming", which is still private interpretation in my book of rules. Why waste time dealing with privately interpreted paraphrasing issues between Bible translations and not go straight to the Greek texts, like the UBS4 for instance? Brother Hal Dekker

That's a rather harsh view of translators. Yes, all translations are interpretive, but hardly "chucked full of their paraphrases." But of course, read Hebrew and Greek.

Robert H. Gundry says Jesus kept giving to the disciples. Here is his translation in his Commentary on the New testament: Verse-by-Verse Explanations with a Literal Translation--- "And on taking the five loaves and the two fish looking up into heaven he said a blessing and broke the loaves and started giving them [the pieces] to his disciples in order that they might present [the pieces] to them [the crowd]; and he divided the fish for all."

You realize that whenever you translate your Greek text (even in your head when you read it), you are doing the exact same thing that the committees are doing right? Also, you pretty much insulted some of the most scholarly and spiritual men with your "chucked full of paraphrases." The man whom you called teacher (i.e. Professor Mounce) has repeatedly said that every translation has a reason for choosing the specific word at specific instances. You pretty much called all of that garbage. Some humility here can go a long way.

I'm certainly not an expert in Biblical Greek, but I have noticed that the imperfect in NT is very similar to the Hebrew imperfect (in what I have read). I tried to take the sense of "began to ... " to translate the Greek Imperfect and it makes more sense to me in more cases than the "was/were + -ing" and other normal imperfect English and Spanish forms. In this case (Mark 6:41) it fits well too, and the same way it sounds like Jesus was giving them the pieces of bread from his hands to the disciples. The giving of the fishes is in Aorist, so maybe he did give the pieces of fish directly to the people instead.

Dr. Mounce, Thanks for this. Surprisingly, I never considered any other possibility expect Jesus as the source of the miracle. Certainly, I have read some of the same commentaries which present the view that it was the apostles or that we cannot determine which. I read Greek, thanks to you, but had not considered the imperfect here. Commentaries have great value, but are not infallible. In addition, it appears to me, that commentaries often rely on previous ones and do not always check them. Tim