Who Did the Miracle? (Mark 6:41) – Mondays with Mounce 304
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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.
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Bill is the founder and President of BiblicalTraining.org, serves on the Committee for Bible Translation (which is responsible for the NIV translation of the Bible), and has written the best-selling biblical Greek textbook, Basics of Biblical Greek, and many other Greek resources. He blogs regularly on Greek and issues of spiritual growth. Learn more about Bill’s Greek resources at BillMounce.com.