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Get a Loaf of This!
Posted: November 15, 2005

I like to hear people try to explain away the miracles of the Bible. Usually its good for a laugh because the explanation is harder to believe than the miracle itself.

Take, for instance, the feeding of the 5000. Though it is recorded in all four Gospels (Matthew 14, Mark 6, Luke 9, John 6), critics and scoffers try to either deny it or explain it away.

Here's the basic story. Jesus had been preaching to a large crowd out in the country. As evening drew on He instructed His disciples to provide food for the people. When the disciples balked at the seemingly impossible task, Andrew, according to John 6:8-9, found a boy who had "five barley loaves and two small fishes." Jesus then, to the astonishment of His disciples, miraculously multiplied the loaves and fishes to feed "about five thousand men, beside women and children" (Matthew 14:21).

Now, if you are a Bible believer you would simply accept the fact that Jesus worked a miracle. If you are, instead, a Bible critic or scoffer you would have to explain it away. Of course, you could explain it away by claiming that it never actually happened but often that is too simplistic for those who consider themselves more enlightened.

Take, for example, a guy I heard on the radio trying to explain away the feeding of the 5000 in the Gospels. Rather than claim it did not happen he attempted to provide a reasonable explanation instead. "Jesus may have fed the 5000 with a few loaves and fishes," he piously intoned, "But the Bible never said how big the loaves and fishes were."

Wow! What insight! Those must have been some pretty big loaves and fishes! And, amazingly, nobody but Andrew and the little boy knew about them either. Perhaps they were stashed behind a tree or something. Seems perfectly reasonable to me.

Now, let's consider the reasonableness of this critic's explanation by assuming that each person was given one fish sandwich each; two slices of bread and a piece of fish. No condiments. For the purposes of this exercise I choose 100% whole wheat bread rather than white. Ten thousand slices of Wonder just wouldn't have held up under their own weight.

Since each slice averages 4.5 inches wide by 3.5 inches tall and 0.5 inches thick, that would be 7. 88 cubic inches per slice or 15.75 cubic inches of bread per sandwich. We will also assume that the piece of fish was about the same size as a slice of bread, 7.88 cubic inches. Using these figures, we can estimate how big the little lad's loaves and fishes had to be in order to provide a fish sandwich for each of the 5000 men.

So, first multiply the volume of two slices of bread, 15.75 cubic inches, by the number of men, 5000. That yields 78,750 cubic inches or about 45.58 cubic feet of bread. That's a stack of bread more than 208 feet high or five loaves over 83 feet long each. And, at about 1.5 ounces per slice, that's nearly 940 pounds of bread or about 187 pounds per loaf.

Since we are assuming a piece of fish is about the same size as a slice of bread we can estimate the volume of fish at half the volume of bread, or nearly 23 cubic feet of fish. We'll also assume that each piece of fish weighs about five ounces, giving us about 1562.5 pounds of fish. That means each fish weighed over 780 pounds and contained about 11.39 cubic feet of flesh.

Of course, our figures are only for the 5000 men. We could either double or triple the figures to account for the women and children or assume that the men shared their fish sandwiches with the women and children with them. Or, we could even cut the sandwiches in half or in quarters. Either way, that's quite a haul for a little boy.

Now, for the scoffer who doesn't believe in miracles, it makes more sense to believe that a little boy somehow carried 940 pounds of bread and 1562.5 pounds of fish to a huge outdoor gathering and nobody but Andrew noticed it. But then again, the Bible doesn't say how big the little lad was or how big his picnic basket was.

So much for the enlightened view.

Here's another good one. Daniel chapter 3 relates how King Nebuchadnezzar had Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego cast into a burning, fiery furnace from which they emerged alive a few minutes later. According to one explanation I heard, the furnace was a large affair with the fire burning in various areas where the wood was concentrated. Because it was so big Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego survived by falling into a cooler part of the furnace.

Seems reasonable, doesn't it?

Well, yeah, unless you consider the rest of the story. Daniel 3:19 tells us that King Nebuchadnezzar was so inflamed that he "commanded that they should heat the furnace one seven times more than it was wont to be heated." And, in verse 22, we find out that "...because the king's commandment was urgent, and the furnace exceeding hot, the flame of the fire slew those men that took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego."

Besides, after the three men were bound and cast into the midst of the fire, the king peered in and said, "Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God" (Daniel 3:25). He quickly called them and when they emerged from the furnace unscathed "the princes, governors, and captains, and the king's counsellors, being gathered together, saw these men, upon whose bodies the fire had no power, nor was an hair of their head singed, neither were their coats changed, nor the smell of fire had passed on them" (Daniel 3:27).

Again, the skeptic would have us believe that it is more reasonable that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were tied up and cast into a furnace so hot that it killed those that threw them in and burnt the ropes off them but did not singe either their clothes or their hair because they fell into a cool spot with, apparently, no smoke. Believing that the Son of God protected them in the fire and delivered them from the furnace is just too much to believe.

Of course, the list of enlightened attempts to explain away the miracles of the Bible go on and on. Here are some of my other favorites:

1. The mighty Egyptian army drowned in the marshy Reed Sea instead of the depths of the Red Sea. Somehow all the Jews slogged through the same marsh ahead of them without any problems at all.

2. The Jews ate manna in the wilderness which was actually dried fungus or lichens. Of course it was just a coincidence that it blew in every morning, just before sunrise, in just the right amount to feed them for the day every day for five days, twice as much on the sixth day, and not at all on the seventh day, every week for forty years. I'm sure it was also a coincidence that it spoiled overnight if you tried to keep it overnight five days a week but not on the sixth. The fact that it was nutritionally complete was just a bonus, I guess.

3. Jesus did not die on the cross. He "swooned" and was revived by the coolness of the tomb. Right, beaten half to death, dehydrated, and having lost a lot of blood, Jesus is wrapped tightly head to foot and sealed inside a pitch black cave. Coming to, He shimmies out of the grave clothes, figures out where the door is, and shoves aside a huge stone which required several men to move. In doing so, he cracks through the cement-like seal and moves the stone noiselessly so as not to disturb or alert the sea of Roman soldiers camped just outside the tomb who He tiptoes past unnoticed. In fact, none of the soldiers even notice that the stone is rolled away until some women show up in the morning.

Well, I could go on but I hope you get the idea. Many of the so called enlightened explanations of some Bible critics take more effort to believe than the miracles themselves. They would be better off just rejecting the whole story rather than trying to explain it away. After all, if they really don't believe the Bible they might as well be honest about it.

It's like what John is instructed to write to the Laodiceans in Revelation 3:15: "I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot." Either believe the Bible-and all the miracles of the Bible-or don't believe it at all. Be hot or cold in your belief, not lukewarm.

After all, you can't have it both ways. It you claim to believe the Bible and then try to explain away the miracles in it, then you really don't believe it. Instead, you only believe what you want to believe. And any agreement with what you want to believe and what you read in the Bible is only coincidental or convenient.

Look at the challenge given in 1 Kings 18:21: "And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? if the LORD be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him." If you believe the Bible then believe all of it. If you don't believe the Bible then don't piously claim to and then explain away its miracles with some enlightened explanation that is harder to believe than what you don't want to believe in the first place.

Now, why am I making such a big deal over whether or not you should believe that Jesus miraculously fed 5000 with five loaves and three fishes? Because if the miracles of the Bible are not true then how can we be sure that the salvation message of the Bible is true?

After all, "...faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Romans 10:17). How can you have faith in something you don't believe?

-Pastor Al

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