Fishy Miracles: Enabling the Consumption of Animals in the Gospels

So, while Jesus often appears in dining scenes in the gospels, he is rarely portrayed as actually eating.  The dinner scene, instead, usually sets up another issue or teaching from Jesus, although occasionally that teaching reflects ancient dining practices, such as their hierarchical arrangement. 

Even if it is difficult to find a place where a gospel writer writes, “Jesus ate,” there are places where the gospels portray Jesus enabling other people to eat animals: his miracles.

In all of the canonical gospels, Jesus performs miracles concerning fish.  It makes sense since many of his disciples – e.g., Peter, James, and John – come from fishing backgrounds. 

Jesus is teaching and the people are hungry.  There are only five loaves and two fish for everyone (Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:30-44; Luke 9:12-17).  Jesus takes the loaves and the fish, looks up to heaven, blesses them, and then breaks them up.  And not only is there enough bread and fish for everyone to have their fill, but there are twelve baskets of leftovers.  This repeats again later with seven loaves and a few small fish with seven baskets leftover (Matthew 15:32-38; Mark 8:1-9).  In John’s version (6:1-21), there are five barley loaves and two small fish, and they fill up 12 baskets of leftovers (it says from the fragments of loaves leftover).

Interestingly, when Jesus reflects later on the miracle of the multiplication of food, he only mentions the bread, and not the fish (Mark 6:52, 8:14-21; Matthew 16:5-12). 

Jesus also enables the eating of fish at the end of the Gospel of John.  In John 21:4-8, Simon Peter is fishing along with the other disciple, and they haven’t caught anything all day.  The post-resurrection Jesus – unrecognized as of yet – tells them to try the other side of the boat, and the nets are so full they cannot haul it in.  The beloved disciple recognizes it is Jesus, while the other disciples, who were not far off, begin to haul in the huge catch. 

Next (vv. 9-11), they find a fire along the shore with fish and bread on it, Jesus asks them for some of the newly caught fish, and cooks and serves the fish and bread to the disciples.  Then Jesus asks Peter three times to feed his lambs / sheep. 

Overall, through his miracles Jesus has enabled the consumption of an animal along with bread, even if it is unclear whether he ate it himself.  He does not criticize the eating of animals at any point; instead, he facilitates it.


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