The Eucharist and the Five Thousand

Before Yeshua fed the five thousand, he blessed the bread and broke it. Were these sacramental gestures? Was He feeding them the Eucharist?

The common Jewish idiom “breaking bread” applies to every meal. Judaism even provides the wording for the blessing before eating bread: “Blessed are you, LORD our God, king of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.” (Image © Bigstock/mythja)

Yeshua ordered all the people to sit down on the grass. Then He took the five loaves and the two fish in hand. The Master blessed and broke the bread before distributing it. Christian readers cannot help but see a foreshadowing of the Eucharist. He blessed the bread and he broke it. That sounds like the Christian sacrament. The New Testament even uses word eucharisteo (εὐχαριστέω) when it says, “He blessed the food” (Matthew 14:19).

A Jewish reading, however, implies no sacramental symbolism in these gestures. These are the normal actions of the Jewish head of the family sitting down to begin a meal: taking bread, pronouncing the blessings, breaking it, and distributing it. The common Jewish idiom “breaking bread” applies to every meal. The Greek word eucharisteo only means “to give thanks” and, in this story, it implies only the Jewish practice of pronouncing a blessing before eating. Christian tradition developed the sacramental meaning of the word a century later. In the Gospels, it refers to making a normal blessing before eating:

A man is forbidden from enjoying anything of this world without a blessing God for it, and if anyone enjoys anything of this world without a blessing, he misuses something holy ... since it says [in Psalm 24:1], “The earth is the LORD’s, and all that it contains.” (Talmud, b.Berachot 35a)

The New American Standard version of the Bible says, “Looking up toward heaven, He blessed the food” (Matthew 14:19), but according to Jewish tradition, a person does not bless the food before he eats, he blesses God who provided the food. The King James Version of Matthew 14 more accurately translates: “Looking up to heaven, He blessed.” A Jewish writer, writing to a Jewish readership, need say no more. Judaism even provides the wording for the blessing before eating bread: “Blessed are you, LORD our God, king of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.”

When we read the story from a Jewish perspective, the sacramental imagery vanishes, and in its place, we see normal Jewish liturgical tradition at work. By blessing God before breaking and eating bread, Yeshua kept a distinctly Jewish tradition according to rabbinic convention. The Torah commands us to bless God after we have eaten, but at no point does it command us to bless God before we eat. The blessing before the meal is a “tradition of men.” After a person has eaten and is satisfied, he then offers another prayer of thanksgiving called the blessing after meals to fulfill the biblical commandment that says, “When you have eaten and are satisfied, you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land he has given you” (Deuteronomy 8:10). The story of the feeding of the five thousand alludes to this passage when it says, “They all ate and were satisfied” (Matthew 14:20), indicating that, after they had eaten, they offered the thanksgiving prayer. That’s the Jewish way—to thank God for the food before eating and after eating.

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