How to Answer the “Jesus Got Them to Share the Loaves” Malarkey

If the “miracle” of the loaves and fishes was that Jesus got everyone to share their food, then why would they want to make him king because of that?

(photo: Giovanni Lanfranco, “Miracle of the Bread and Fish” (c. 1620))

Q: I began taking a Catholic Bible Study course a few weeks ago. The teacher has degrees in Divinity and Theology. He says that the Bible cannot be taken “literally.” I understand that, am open to that and believe that; however, I was of the mind that the New Testament was true as written. He used the miracle of the loaves and fishes to challenge us as to whether we thought this “actually” happened or if the five thousand men listening to Jesus preach were moved to share the food that they had been hoarding. I left there, as did others in the group, feeling upset, confused, and a bit sad. We began to question whether the water became wine at Cana and if all other miracles can be dismissed as well. What are your thoughts on this and what should we do at our next class?

A: First of all, if you paid money for this course, ask for a refund.

Second, tell your teacher that the official teaching of the Catholic Church, as found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, is that Catholics are to indeed take the Bible literally.

  • CCC 115: "According to an ancient tradition, one can distinguish between two senses of Scripture: the literal and the spiritual…”
  • CCC 116: “The literal sense is the meaning conveyed by the words of Scripture and discovered by exegesis, following the rules of sound interpretation: ‘All other senses of Sacred Scripture are based on the literal.’”

Third, say to your teacher that since this is a “Catholic” bible study, you would like for him to give you the official documents of the Catholic Church that teach what he was teaching. He won’t be able to do it because that is not what the Church teaches. There are no magisterial documents that say the miracle of the loaves and fishes was that Jesus got people to share the food they had been hoarding. 

Fourth, tell him that he obviously is not reading the passage on the loaves and the fishes in context. If the “miracle” was that Jesus got everyone to “share” their hidden food that they had been hoarding, then why would they want to make him king because of that (John 6:11-15)? I can just imagine one of the people present yelling, “Hey, he got us to share our food, let’s make him king!” And then all the other people start shouting, “Yeah! He got us to share, let’s make him king!” Really?

Also, if they were hoarding this food, why does it say that they filled twelve baskets with fragments from the “five barley loaves?” And please ask your teacher to give one historical document as evidence to support his interpretation of events — just one. We have an historical document: the Bible. It says what it says. It would make sense that one would need to rely on some other historical document, which gives a different account of events, in order to reach the conclusion that it didn’t happen the way the Bible relates it.

But your teacher has no such historical document. Nor does he have a document from the official teachings of the Church that says what he’s saying. What might be going on here is that your teacher may be experiencing a loss of faith. That’s at least a possibility. He may not believe Jesus performed any miracles because he may not believe Jesus was indeed God. After all, if Christ is indeed God, how hard is it to believe that He could perform a miracle?

My advice to you would be to go back to this class one more time, but only to ask the teacher the things that I have presented here. Ask him to produce official Church documents and teachings that support what he is saying. And do not accept anything he might offer from this or that theologian. Theologians are not the Magisterium of the Church. Ask for an official magisterial document. And, when he cannot produce one — which, again, he will not be able to do — then simply ask him how he can present the Bible study as a “Catholic” Bible study when he is teaching things that are contrary to what the Catholic Church teaches.

Vatican II tells us that, “Holy Mother Church has firmly and with absolute constancy maintained and continues to maintain, that the four Gospels just named, whose historicity she unhesitatingly affirms, faithfully hand on what Jesus, the Son of God, while he lived among men, really did and taught for their eternal salvation.” (Dei Verbum 19)

The Gospels hand on what Jesus “really did” while He was here. If the story of the miracle of the loaves and fishes is concocted, then Vatican II got it wrong, and the Church has gotten it wrong for 2000 years and you can throw out all confidence you may have had in the Bible and the Church. After saying these things to your teacher, I would leave and not come back to that particular Bible study. You might want to also let the pastor know, assuming that this occurred at a parish, what this person is teaching.