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Mark 6:40

ESV So they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties.
NIV So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties.
NASB They reclined in groups of hundreds and fifties.
CSB So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties.
NLT So they sat down in groups of fifty or a hundred.
KJV And they sat down in ranks, by hundreds, and by fifties.

What does Mark 6:40 mean?

Much has been made about Jesus dividing the people into hundreds and fifties. It's not clear if the women and children were counted in the hundreds and fifties or just the men, meaning the groups could have been larger. The Israelites were similarly separated into more manageable groups (Exodus 18:21) and the Roman army also divided into smaller units. This may be indicative of a simpler truth, that God designed us for community, not individualism or mobs.

God called Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. This included about 600,000 military-eligible men. Including women, children, and men too old for military service, the number may have been well over two million. In the beginning, Moses was the only judge available to hear complaints and tell the people what to do. His father-in-law pointed out that the task was impossible. Moses followed his advice and "chose able men out of all Israel and made them heads over the people, chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens" (Exodus 18:25).

This organization continued, in a looser way, in the church. Elders—also called pastors or overseers—and deacons have two very different roles. Still, the New Testament doesn't say they should only have authority over specific groups within their churches. Instead, their labor is shared. It is easier for needs to be known and met, and for the leadership to keep track of what is going on within smaller groups. Jesus preached to and fed what amounts to a mega-church congregation, but even He broke the work of that ministry down into a manageable scale.
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