There is a lad here, which has five barley loaves, and two small fishes: but what are they among so many?
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
The word for “lad” is a diminutive occurring only here (not in the best text of Matthew 11:16), and in many MSS. is accompanied by “one.” The word may mean a servant, but it more probably means a child. One lad! What could he bear for so many?
Two small fishes.—Better, two fishes. This word, too, is rightly regarded as a diminutive, but it is not a diminutive of “fish.” The original root means to boil; thus the substantive is used, as in Homer, of boiled meat, and then of anything eaten as a relish with bread, and specially of fish. This diminutive is used in the New Testament only here and in John 6:11, and in John 21:9-10; John 21:13. A comparison of the passages will make it clear that St. John means by the word the ordinary relish of fish, which formed, with bread, the staple food of the people.
The whole force of Andrew’s remark, with its diminutive words, rests upon the smallness of their power to help, while Philip had dwelt on the greatness of the need.See Poole on "John 6:8"
which hath five barley loaves. The land of Canaan was a land of barley, as well as wheat, Deuteronomy 8:8; this sort of grain grew there in plenty, and was in much use; the Jews had a barley harvest, Ruth 1:22, which was at the time of the passover; for on the second day after the passover, the sheaf of the first fruits was waved before the Lord, which was of barley; hence the Targumist on the place just cited, paraphrases it thus;
"they came to Bethlehem in the beginning of the passover, and on the day the children of Israel began to reap the sheaf of the wave offering, which was of barley.''
And it was now about the time of the passover, as appears from John 6:4, and had it been quite the time, and the barley sheaf had been waved, it might have been thought that these loaves were made of the new barley; but though barley was in use for bread among the Jews, as is evident, from the mention that is made of barley loaves and cakes, 2 Kings 4:42; yet it was bread of the coarsest sort, and what the meaner sort of people ate; see Ezekiel 4:12. Yea, barley was used for food for horses and dromedaries, 1 Kings 4:28; and since therefore these loaves were, if not designed for the use of Christ and his twelve apostles, yet for some of his followers, and which they all ate of; it is an instance of the meanness and poverty of them: but however, they had better bread than this, even the bread of life, which is afterwards largely treated of in this chapter, which some of them at least ate of; and as our countryman Mr. Dod used to say,
"brown bread and the Gospel are good fare:''
and it may be further observed, that the number of these loaves were but few; there were but "five" of them, for "five thousand" persons; and these do not seem to be very large ones, since one lad was able to carry them; and indeed, these loaves were no other than cakes, in which form they used to be made:
and two small fishes; there were but "two", and these "small"; it is amazing, that five thousand persons should everyone have something of them, and enough: these fishes seem to be what the Jews (c) call and which the gloss interprets "small fishes": and by the word which is used of them, they seem to be salted, or pickled fishes, and such it is very probable these were; Nonnus calls them, , "fishes which were broiled", or perhaps dried in the sun; see Luke 24:42.
But what are they among so many? everyone cannot possibly have a taste, much less any refreshment, still less a meal.There is a lad here, which hath five barley loaves, and two small fishes: but what are they among so many?
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)John 6:9. ὃ ἔχει … ὀψάρια. The Synoptic account speaks of these provisions as already belonging to the disciples.—κριθίνους, the cheapest kind of bread; see Ezekiel 13:19, and the extraordinary profusion of illustrations in Wetstein, among which occurs one from the Talmud: “Jochanan dixit, hordeum factum est pulchrum. Dixerunt ei: nuncia equis et asinis”; and from Livy, “Cohortibus, quae signa amiserant, hordeum dari jussit”.—καὶ δύο ὀψάρια, in Matthew 14:17, ἰχθύας, see also John 21:10.—ὀψάριον is whatever is eaten with bread as seasoning or “kitchen,” hence, pre-eminently, fish. So Athenaeus, cited by Wetstein. In Numbers 11:22 we have τὸ ὄψος τῆς θαλάσσης.—ἀλλὰ ταῦτα τί ἐστιν εἰς τοσούτους; exhibiting the helplessness of the disciples and inadequacy of the means, as the background on which the greatness of the miracle may be seen.9. a lad] And therefore able to carry very little. The word is a diminutive in the Greek, a little lad; it might also mean ‘servant,’ but this is less likely.
barley loaves] The ordinary coarse food of the lower orders; Jdg 7:13. S. John alone mentions their being of barley, and that they belonged to the lad, who was probably selling them. With homely food from so scanty a store Christ will feed them all. These minute details are the touches of an eyewitness.
two small fishes] Better, two fishes, although the Greek (opsaria) is a diminutive. The word occurs in this Gospel only (John 6:11, John 21:9-10; John 21:13), and literally means a little relish, i.e. anything eaten with bread or other food: and as salt fish was most commonly used for this purpose the word came gradually to mean ‘fish’ in particular. Philip had enlarged on the greatness of the difficulty; Andrew insists rather on the smallness of the resources for meeting it.John 6:9. Παιδάριον, a lad) Therefore the load was not a heavy one, consisting of five loaves, especially as there were fishes in addition.—ἕν, one [So  Vulg. But  omit ἓν]) There was no other source of supply.—κριθίνους) Barley loaves seem to have been smaller than wheaten loaves. Jdg 7:13, [The Midianite’s dream] “A cake of barley bread tumbled into the host of Midian,” etc. There is no doubt but that the taste of barley bread was perceived by all who then were eating.—τί ἐστιν, what are they) A form of depreciating.—τίνες ἐστέ; who are ye? [The evil spirit addressing the sons of Sceva] Acts 19:15.
 the Alexandrine MS.: in Brit. Museum: fifth century: publ. by Woide, 1786–1819: O. and N. Test. defective.
 Colbertinus, do.
 Veronensis, do.
 Bezæ, or Cantabrig.: Univ. libr., Cambridge: fifth cent.: publ. by Kipling, 1793: Gospels, Acts, and some Epp. def.
 Cod. Reg., Paris, of the Gospels: the text akin to that of B: edited by Tisch.
 Vercellensis of the old ‘Itala,’ or Latin Version before Jerome’s, probably made in Africa, in the second century: the Gospels.
 Veronensis, do.
Diminutive. Only here in the New Testament. Only John mentions the lad.
A detail peculiar to John. The word occurs in the New Testament only here and John 6:13. An inferior sort of bread is indicated by the term. Pliny and some of the Jewish writers describe barley as food fit for beasts. Suetonius speaks of a turgid rhetorician as a barley orator, inflated like barley in moisture: and Livy relates how cohorts which had lost their standards were ordered barley for food.
The word occurs only here and at John 21:9. The Synoptists use ἰχθυές. The A.V., small fishes, is intended to render the diminutive. The word means anything that is eaten with bread, and may apply to meat generally, or to what is eaten with bread as a relish. Homer speaks of an onion as a relish (ὄψον) for drink ("Iliad," 11, 630). The term was applied to fish par excellence. Fish became among the Greeks a chief dainty to gourmands, so that Demosthenes describes a glutton and spendthrift as one who is extravagant in fish.
But what are they among so many?
Peculiar to John, though the idea is implied in Luke 9:13.
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