The feeding of the 5,000 is the only miracle recorded in all four canonical gospels (Matthew 14:15-21; Mark 6:31-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:5-14). John, the final gospel written, offers a more intimate telling, including several details not mentioned in the Synoptic gospels’ relatively vague accounts (John 6:5-14). John records Philip calculating the cost of feeding the multitude (John 6:7) and adds that it was Andrew who interjects himself into the conversation to draw attention to an unnamed boy’s meager provisions (John 6:8-9).
One of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to Him, “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are these for so many people?” (John 6:8-9 NASB)That the disciples individual personalties are drawn out by the fourth evangelist is not surprising as John is the only gospel to particularize their roles. John gives speaking parts to individuals whereas the Synoptics speak more often of the collective “disciples”.
D. Moody Smith (b. 1931) observes:
Some disciples (other than Peter) who are named play a larger role in John than in the Synoptics. This is particularly true of Thomas (John 11:16, 14:5, 20:24-28, 21:2), but also of Philip (John 1:43-48, 6:5, 7, 12:21-22, 14:8-9) and Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother (John 1:40, 41, 6:8, 12:22). (Smith, The Fourth Gospel in Four Dimensions: Judaism and Jesus, the Gospels and Scripture, 88)The narrator unnecessarily reintroduces Andrew as a disciple and as Simon Peter’s brother (John 1:35-42). John repeats the information to emphasize the question and its source. John Painter (b. 1935) coments, “Andrew, who is again introduced as the brother of Simon Peter (John 6:8 and see John 1:40) to remind the reader of the initial quest of Andrew, shows a glimmer of comprehension (R. Alan Culpepper [b. 1946], Critical Readings of John 6 (Biblical Interpretation, 22), 62).”
Andrew’s and Philip’s responses accent the inadequacy of the supplies and the disciples’ inability to respond to such a severe situation. This increases the magnitude of feeding the multitude. Robert Kysar (b. 1934) notes, “Both Philip and Andrew offer statements of the extent of the human need. The little boy...and his tiny lunch pose dramatic contrast with the abundance of food produced by Jesus’ act (Kysar, John (Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament), 91).”
Evidently, a young boy was the only person known to the disciples wise enough to bring food to the desert. But he came prepared to feed himself, not an army. John accents the sparsity of the lad’s provisions. Kenneth O. Gangel (1935-2009) registers:
Andrew...found a boy carrying a lunch consisting of barley loaves and fish. Like Philip, Andrew had no idea what use that pittance would be. John’s record offers so many interesting observations, not the least of which is that the two fish Andrew found were definitely small. The word apsarion is used only by John, and it emphasizes the insignificance of these tiny sardines. (Gangel, John (Holman New Testament Commentary, 118-119)Thomas L. Brodie (b. 1940) adds, “His five loaves are of barley—poor quality apparently. And the two fish are described as opsaria—another double diminutive.(Brodie, The Gospel According to John: A Literary and Theological Commentary, 262),”
Gary M. Burge (b. 1952) sees significance in the paucity:
Andrew...locates a young boy (paidarion) who can possibly help. This boy is carrying five barley loaves and two salted fish. Only John mentions that the bread is barley, which is a signal of the poverty of this crowd. Barley was considered the bread of the poor and this lad has five pieces of it—much like five round loaves of today’s pita bread. Luke 11:5 implies that three such pieces might make a meal for one person. These details are important because in II Kings 4:42-44 is another Old Testament miracle, where Elisha feeds a hundred men with twenty barley loaves and is assisted by a paidarion or young servant. As with the twelve baskets left after Jesus’ miracle, Elisha had baskets of food left over. (Burge, John (The NIV Application Commentary), 144)The situation is so bleak that the disciples are reduced to commandeering a child’s lunch, an act we associate with school bullies. And even so, obtaining this donation amounts to asking for loose change to help reduce the national deficit.
Just how Andrew became acquainted with the boy or how he convinced him to part with his lunch is not stated. Leon Morris (1914-2006) speculates:
It is possible that his knowledge of the lad came as the result of a reconnaissance with a view to finding out what food resources could be mustered, for he definitely relates the boy’s supply (evidently provisions for his own personal use) to the needs of the multitude. Or the boy may have offered his food to Jesus. (Morris, The Gospel According to John (The New International Commentary on the New Testament), 304)Others have surmised that Andrew must have been a people person to have even acknowledged the lad. J. Ellsworth Kalas (b. 1928) boasts:
It was like Andrew, of course, to notice the small boy...Andrew was the kind of person a little boy could approach. While the other disciples were busy with bigger things, Andrew was chatting with a boy, patting him on the head, asking him where he had caught the fish—or did his mother buy them at market? A scruffy lad of no special promise, but Andrew—the brotherly type—visits with him and somewhat ridiculously thinks that his lunchbox will interest the Master. (Kalas, The Thirteen Apostles, 14)Ancient commentator Theodore of Mopsuestia (350-428) suggests that Andrew is merely trying to clear his name, showing that he has no plans of hoarding the little food to which he has access:
Andrew said this so that they might not think he was hiding the food for his own use. Indeed, Andrew was right in observing that those five loaves were nearly nothing for that great crowd. And he had no other food. (Commentary on the Gospel of John (Ancient Christian Texts), 61)Many have seen Andrew’s bringing the lad to Jesus’ attention as indicative of the disciple’s personality. He is presented three times in John’s gospel and each time he is depicted as bringing someone to Jesus (John 1:40-42, 6:8-9, 12:20-22).
William Barclay (1907-1978) deduces:
Andrew is characteristically the man who was always introducing others to Jesus...It was Andrew’s great joy to bring others to Jesus. He stands out as the man whose one desire was to share the glory. He is the man with the missionary heart...Andrew is our great example in that he could not keep Jesus to himself. (Barclay, The Gospel of John, Volume 1, 105)Greg Laurie (b. 1952) exclaims:
How we need more Andrews today! Every time we read of him in Scripture, he’s bringing someone to Jesus...If we had more Andrews, we would have more Simon Peters–one person bringing another to Jesus. So simple. So effective. So neglected. (Laurie, Breakfast with Jesus, 261)Do you consider supernatural solutions to your problems? Do you take note of children? Why does Andrew bring the lad to Jesus? Who have you brought to Jesus? Who could you? Do we have an obligation to follow Andrew’s example? Is Andrew’s interjection an act of faith or doubt?
There is a natural comparison between Andrew and Philip. Both were from Bethsaida (John 1:44) which may account for why they appear together three times in John’s gospel (John 1:40-44, 6:5-9, 12:21-22). Philip calculates the demand (John 6:7) while Andrew evaluates the supply (John 6:9). Andrew works part to whole; Philip whole to part. Neither factor Jesus heavily in their analysis.
Herman N. Ridderbos (1909-2007) notes:
He [Philip] gets support from Andrew (with whom he is also linked in John 12:21ff; 1:44), who, without bothering himself about imagined amounts of money, limits himself to the actual supply of bread on hand: five loaves, and two (dried) fish. But what could one do with that, given so many mouths? (Ridderbos, The Gospel According to John: A Theological Commentary, 211)
Andrew, like, Philip, responds in natural terms which naturally leads to despondency. Gerald L. Borchert (b. 1932) critiques:
Andrew, the helper, tried to solve the problem in another way. He began immediately to search for picnic resources in that barren place, but his search also ended in failure, according to his thinking. All he found was a boy in the crowd who had a lunch with barley loaves (the bread of the poor) and two small fish (emphasis on small, John 6:9). Andrew’s answer was also hopelessness. (Borchert, John 1-11 (New American Commentary), 253)Despite being with Jesus from the beginning, Andrew and Philip have not yet developed a theology of abundance. They do not consider that Jesus could solve their predicament. Francis J. Moloney (b.1940) assesses:
Andrew joins Philip in pointing to the paucity of their supplies: a lad is at hand with five barley loaves and two fish (John 6:8-9). Andrew and Philip have been with Jesus from the first days of the Gospel (John 1:43), but they have not learned from their master’s attempt to draw them beyond the limitations of their expectations (John 1:35-51), in this case the need for a large sum of money to buy quantities of bread. (Moloney, The Gospel of John (Sacra Pagina), 197)Though they respond similarly, Andrew leaves looking better than Philip, at least making Jesus an offer. Merrill C. Tenney (1904-1985) explains:
The barest sketch of Philip and Andrew was given, yet it revealed the temper and faith of the men...Philip was a statistical pessimist...Andrew was an ingenious optimist. Philip’s information was given in answer to a question; Andrew’s was volunteered. Philip produced figures to show what could not be done; Andrew brought food, hoping that something might be done. His faith was wavering, for he added to his offer, “but what are these among so many?” (John 6:9)—but he had faith. Though rather quiet he must have had winning ways. Any man who can persuade a small boy to relinquish his lunch possesses a forceful character. (Tenney, John: Gospel of Belief, 113)In some ways, Philip serves as a foil to Andrew. R. Alan Culpepper (b. 1946) observes, “As in John 1 an 12, Andrew is Philip’s companion and comes off better than Philip (Culpepper, The Gospel and Letters of John (Interpreting Biblical Texts Series), 156).”
Andrew does show some initiative. In Mark’s gospel, Jesus puts out an APB for resources to feed his audience (Mark 6:38), but in John’s account, Andrew need not be asked. Andrew T. Lincoln (b. 1944) notes:
Whereas in Mark Jesus tells the disciples to find out how much food there is, here Andrew, also operating on the merely human level, locates a boy, a further addition to the Synoptic version, who has the five loaves and two fish and then draws the obvious despairing conclusion. (Lincoln, The Gospel According To Saint John (Black’s New Testament Commentary), 212)
Both faith and doubt are seen in Andrew’s response. Faith is seen in his initial statement and he would have come off marvelously well had he quit when he was ahead. But he apologetically adds, “but what are these for so many people?” (John 6:9 NASB). This lament reveals Andrew’s doubt.
Anne Graham Lotz (b. 1948) speculates that in the midst of Andrew’s doubts, his faith involuntarily bubbles to the surface:
Almost as soon as Philip came to the conclusion that it was humanly impossible to feed the crowd gathered on the hillside...Andrew...spoke up...(John 6:8-9). While Andrew seemed to agree with Philip about the impossibility of feeding so many, his approach to the need was more positive. Without even realizing it, his faith had found the key to the storehouse of God’s ample supply. When he offered Jesus a few loaves and fish, he was offering Jesus everything he had!...What do you have? Do you have a little bit of time? A little bit of love? A little bit of money? A little bit of faith? Don’t concentrate on what you lack, concentrate on what you have. Then give all of it to Jesus for His use. (Lotz, Just Give Me Jesus, 120)Frederick Dale Bruner (b. 1932) concurs:
Andrew, by contrast, sees just a little hope and shows just a little faith by coming forward with a little boy and his little provisions...fora little while! And just a little faith is all that Jesus apparently, from all the Gospel reports, ever at first expects from anyone, and so it is all he ever minimally seeks from his always still-very-human disciples. (Bruner, The Gospel of John: A Commentary, 362)
Stephen Farris (b. 1951) instructs that though he demonstrates faith, Andrew need not be sainted for his performance in the desert:
Don’t make Andrew a hero of faith. He offers the fish and the loaves, but almost in the same breath he takes them back verbally, “But what are they among so many people?”...He doesn’t have very much faith. But not very much faith is not the same as no faith at all...He has the faith the size of a mustard seed. He has five loaves and two fish worth of faith. He has faith the size of a small boy’s lunch. That amount of faith, Jesus says, is able to move the mountain they’re sitting on. It may even be enough to feed five thousand. (David Fleer [b. 1953] and Dave Bland [b. 1953], “The Andrew Option”, Preaching John’s Gospel: The World It Imagines, 23)Andrew contributes very little to the feeding of the 5.000 and what he offers, he gets from a small boy. He is only a middle man. Andrew brings Jesus much less than is needed. As do we. And like Andrew, though our offerings are not much, they can be significantly multiplied in the hands of Jesus.
N.T. Wright (b. 1948) reminds:
Philip doesn’t know what to do. Andrew doesn’t either, but he brings the boy and his bread and fish to Jesus’ attention. The point is obvious, but we perhaps need to be reminded of it: so often we ourselves have no idea what to do, but the starting point is always to bring what is there to the attention of Jesus. You can never tell what he’s going to do with it – though part of Christian faith is the expectation that he will do something we hadn’t thought of, something new and creative. (Wright, John for Everyone: Chapters 1-10, 73)What do their responses to the food shortage say of Philip and Andrew? What is Andrew’s contribution? If Andrew had not brought the boy, how would Jesus have fed the multitude? What can you bring to Jesus’ table?
“How lovely to think that no one need wait a moment, we can start now, start slowly changing the world! How lovely that everyone, great and small, can make their contribution toward introducing justice straightaway... And you can always, always give something, even if it is only kindness!” - Anne Frank (1929-1945)