What is the meaning of the 12 and 7 baskets left over from Christ’s feeding of 5000 and 4000 in the Gospels? The Evangelists often omit details but they always specify the numbers in these episodes. Christ Himself asks them plainly:
“When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” They said to him, “Twelve.”
“And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” And they said to him, “Seven.” 21 And he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?” (St Mark 8:19-21)
Clearly Christ expects His apostles and us by extension to make an [obvious] conclusion about these numbers. But most of us cannot make a conclusion…because we do not know the Old Testament Scriptures!
Here are the numeric equations:
Feeds 5000 with
- 5 loaves
- 12 baskets left over
Feeds 4000 with
- 7 loaves
- 7 baskets left over
The interpretive key or secret here is the preceding story of Christ referring to “bread” being reserved only to the children of Israel (St Mark 7:24-30). The Gentile Syro-Phoenician woman then says, “Yes Lord, but even the dogs under the table eat the crumbs of the children.” Christ loves her answer! He just wanted someone to “get this.” The Apostles did not, but she did.
So this whole business about bread and baskets left over refers to bread for the nation of Israel and then bread for the Gentiles in their midst.
The first number is something God/Christ takes and the result is something yielded from the number. It’s easier if we work backward:
- The number 12 almost always refers to the 12 tribes of Israel. It is the national number of the People of God.
- The number 7 can refer to the Sabbath (seventh day), holiness, or completion. It’s also the number of the universe since the 7th day brought completion and peace to the creative act of God. The number 70 (7×10=70) is often used by Jews to describe the universal (Catholic) fulness of the Gentiles. Given the presence of the Syro-Phoenician woman, the number 7 here represents the seven Gentile nations that occupied the Promised Land during the time of Moses (see Deuteronomy 7:1 for the list). The Promised Land was occupied by the 12 Tribes of Israel and the competing 7 Nations of the Gentiles.
Here’s how it signifies redemptive history:
- Old Covenant: Christ first feeds people and yields the 12 baskets. This is God first establishing the People of Israel (12 tribes) in the Old Testament.
- New Covenant: Christ thereafter (literally “after three days” see Mark 8:2) feeds people and yields the 7 baskets. This is God next establishing the Catholic Church – the fulness of the Gentiles (7 nations) in covenant with God.
So that’s how it works out. Christ is prompting His apostles to “get it” and see that the Gentiles are going to be brought into the basket “after three days” (Mark 8:2). My guess is that Saint Paul is later placed “in a basket” because He is the designated Apostle to the Gentiles.
God is amazing!
All this proves that you cannot really understand Christ and the New Testament unless you are deep into the Old Testament.
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Question: So what do you think the 5 loaves and 7 loaves signify? I look forward to reading your answers! You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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