Is Mark “Confused” About the Location of the Feeding of the Five Thousand? A post from Answering Muslims by Jonathan McClatchie

Muslim YouTube polemicist Yahya Snow recently excerpted a clip from one of my apologetics webinars, in which Dr. Mike Licona, the guest speaker that week, stated that the most difficult apparent discrepancy between the gospels is the location of the feeding of the five thousand miracle, and on this point Mark seems to be “confused”.

According to Luke 9:10, the event of the feeding of the five thousand took place in Bethsaida. However, according to Mark 6:45, following the feeding of the five thousand miracle, Mark tells us,

Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd.

This presents an apparent contradiction. If Jesus and the disciples were already in Bethsaida, why does he tell his disciples to get into the boat and go to the other side of the lake, to Bethsaida? At first glance, it looks like a contradiction between the accounts. A closer inspection, however, reveals that it is no such thing.

The first thing to note is that we have independent confirmation that the event occurred in a deserted area near Bethsaida. In John 6:5, Jesus turns to Philip to ask where they should go to buy bread. John 1:44 and 12:21 tell us that Philip was from Bethsaida. It is Luke’s account that tells us that the event took place in Bethsaida, thus explaining why Jesus turned to Philip in John’s gospel. Luke does not tell us that Jesus turned to Philip, but rather that he turned to “the disciples” (Luke 9:14). This hand-in-glove fit, or undesigned coincidence, provides an independence of attestation.

Thus, there is good reason to believe that the feeding of the five thousand miracle took place in Bethsaida.

Moreover, in Matthew 11:21, Jesus says,

“Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.”

This is paralleled in Luke 10:13. It is thus among the Q sayings of Jesus (those sayings of Jesus that are attested in Matthew and Luke but are absent in Mark, suggesting that they go back to an early source). There is no other record of mighty works in or near Bethsaida, but the feeding of the five thousand is said to have occurred after a day of healing miracles as well.

The greek text says that the disciples were to enter into the boat and προάγειν εἰς τὸ πέραν πρὸς Βηθσαϊδάν (proagein eis to peran pros Bēthsaidan). The greek word pros can mean “over against.” Another possibility is that, in going over to the other side (to the Capernaum side) they were going to pass Bethsaida–that is, that the actual location of the feeding was slightly to the east of Bethsaida itself. Hence, when they left in Mark to go to the other side, they could have been going “toward” Bethsaida. Either of those interpretations of pros will work in Mark.

There is yet further confirmation of the location of the miracle as being somewhere “across the top” of the Sea of Galilee from Capernaum. It is Mark himself who says that they didn’t even have leisure to eat before the feeding, because there were “many coming and going” (Mark 6:31), and that they got into the boat to get away from the crowds. That fits well with their being in the region of Capernaum prior to going away. There is still a further undesigned coincidence involved there which connects Mark and John. It was just before the Passover (John 6:4), and there would have been crowds coming through Capernaum, travelling down to Jerusalem. Thus, the picture is well-explained by their going from the Capernaum region (on the top west coat of the Sea of Galilee) across the top of the region around Bethsaida, and then, when they returned “to the other side”, returned to the northwest side. In fact, Mark explicitly says (Mark 6:53) that they landed at Gennesaret when they had crossed over! Thus, this actually, far from contradicting, confirms the idea of which direction they were going. If they were really crossing over “to Bethsaida” as if to land at or near Bethsaida, they couldn’t have landed at Gennesaret!

Thus, pros Bēthsaidan, even within Mark itself, cannot be taken to mean that the feeding of the five thousand occurred in a radically different location from the region of Bethsaida named explicitly in Luke and otherwise confirmed by undesigned coincidencces.


steve said…

My response to Licona:


Steve Hays addressed the topic in his blogpost here: addressed it here:

steve said…

Lydia McGrew addressed the same issue:

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One Response to Is Mark “Confused” About the Location of the Feeding of the Five Thousand? A post from Answering Muslims by Jonathan McClatchie

  1. θ says:

    Four Gospels are the works of differing Spirits.
    There are many conflicting events and contrary narrations in four Gospels that can’t be reconciled or harmonised by the sane logics. Concerning Bethsaida, logically you don’t go to Bethsaida if you are already in Bethsaida.

    Other unsolved discrepancies:
    (i) Which one is correct: Jesus was brought up by devil thru a route from mountain to temple, or otherwise a route from temple to mountain?

    (ii) Which one is correct: Jesus’ lifeless body was oiled by the spices before the burial, or otherwise after the third day, which means Jesus didn’t get a proper decent burial in accordance to Jewish custom of funeral?

    (iii) Which one is correct: Jesus called for destroying a “temple” and drove out the traders from the areal shortly after his first miracle in Cana of Galilee, or later three years afterward when he came up to the temple with the ass?

    If it is supposed that the action happened twice, why does John’s Gospel no more narrate it once again when Jesus was going up to the temple with an ass?

    (iv) Which one is correct: The feet of Jesus was washed by the unknown woman Mary in the house of Simon the Pharisee, or in the house of Lasarus?

    Theological problem: Jesus needs the works (washing the feet, wiping with hair, and kissing the legs) before forgiving Mary’s sin:
    Lk 7
    44 And he turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head.45 Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet.46 My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment.47 Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.48 And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven.49 And they that sat at meat with him began to say within themselves, Who is this that forgiveth sins also?

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