“Bread for a Stone, Fish for a Serpent”

Brant Gardner

These sayings extend the previous instruction to seek God in prayer and trust in a loving response to our petitions.

Old World Context: There are two pairings here, stone/bread and fish/serpent. The pairs resemble each other in shape. The common loaf of bread was round and raised, somewhat similar in shape to a smooth stone. The fish was probably an eel-like fish common in the Sea of Galilee that could possibly resemble a serpent. Both bread and fish were the staples of the Galilean diet and therefore appropriate petitions. (Remember Matthew 6:11: “Give us this day our daily bread.”) Jesus stresses the loving generosity of the Father’s response. No human father would ignorantly or maliciously give his hungry child something that looked like food but was not.

The phrase “if ye then, being evil,” refers to the extreme distance between God, who represents ultimate goodness, and us, with our human weakness. Jesus was not saying that his listeners were objectively evil—only comparatively evil. Since we limited and imperfect mortals understand how to respond appropriately to our hungry child, it is unthinkable that God our Father would not desire even more to receive our prayers and grant us what we need.

Book of Mormon Context: Like pearls and swine, this saying draws on cultural comparisons that do not have New World counterparts. Mesoamerica had tamales made with corn meal instead of bread and perhaps tortillas (3 Ne. 18:1). The fish/serpent comparison depends on the appearance of a fish that had no obvious Mesoamerican counterpart. Jesus must have given examples that would have communicated the same meaning to the Nephites, while Joseph retained Matthew’s examples for their familiarity to his audience.

Comparison: There are no changes from the Matthean text.

Second Witness: Analytical & Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 5