What does Matthew 14:21 mean?
ESV: And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
NIV: The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.
NASB: There were about five thousand men who ate, besides women and children.
CSB: Now those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
NLT: About 5,000 men were fed that day, in addition to all the women and children!
KJV: And they that had eaten were about five thousand men, beside women and children.
NKJV: Now those who had eaten were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
Verse Commentary:
The total number of people who ate the food Jesus created from five loaves and two fish could easily have been 15–20,000. This verse reveals that five thousand "men" were present, specifically not counting the women and children. How did they come up with such a precise number of men since crowds are notoriously difficult to count? Mark's telling of the story shows that Jesus had the men sit in groups by hundreds and fifties (Mark 6:40). Jesus wanted the disciples to be able to come up with an accurate number of those fed to be able to provide a reliable report about the miracle.

One other reason this miracle is so impressive: God fed His people food. During a time when poverty was commonplace, Jesus showed that He could create food to provide for His people. That's a thing that God does. Jesus' ability to do this was likely to make the people even more eager to crown Him as Messiah and King. In fact, John's telling of this event ends with Jesus "perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king" (John 6:15). Jesus and His disciples quickly left the area.
Verse Context:
Matthew 14:13–21 begins with Jesus and His disciples leaving behind the crowds to escape by boat to desolate place. Instead, they find the crowds waiting there for them. Jesus heals people and eventually tells the disciples to feed everyone. The disciples have no food beyond five loaves and two fish. Jesus miraculously feeds more than 5,000 from that simple meal. Twelve baskets full of leftovers remain after everyone has eaten as much as they want. This miracle is recorded in all the four Gospels (Mark 6:30–44; Luke 9:10–17; John 6:1–14).
Chapter Summary:
Matthew 14 begins with a backstory about the arrest and execution of John the Baptist by Herod the tetrarch, the Jewish ruler of the region. Jesus and the disciples take a boat to a desolate place only to find crowds waiting. Jesus heals many and then feeds as many as twenty thousand people with five loaves and two fish. Later, the disciples row against a strong wind until Jesus walks on the water to meet them and calm the wind. Peter walks on water briefly and then doubts and begins to sink. The disciples worship Jesus. On the other side of the lake, Jesus continues to heal the sick.
Chapter Context:
Matthew 13 included more of Jesus' parables and an unfortunate incident where His own hometown rejected His ministry. Chapter 14 begins with news that Herod the tetrarch—the man who killed John the Baptist—is aware of Jesus' fame and power. Jesus and the disciples intend to withdraw to somewhere desolate, but a crowd is waiting for them. Jesus heals people, miraculously feeds thousands, and walks on water. When they reach the other side, Jesus heals more people. Chapter 15 sees Jesus once again debating with His critics and performing more healings.
Book Summary:
The Gospel of Matthew clearly shows the influence of its writer's background, and his effort to reach a specific audience. Matthew was one of Jesus' twelve disciples, a Jewish man, and a former tax collector. This profession would have required literacy, and Matthew may have transcribed some of Jesus' words as they were spoken. This book is filled with references to the Old Testament, demonstrating to Israel that Jesus is the Promised One. Matthew also includes many references to coins, likely due to his former profession. Matthew records extensive accounts of Jesus' teaching, more than the other three Gospels.
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