“But He Truly Gave Unto Them Bread to Eat and Also Wine to Drink”

Brant Gardner

These verses indicate that there was a parallel in the New World to the miracle of the loaves and fishes in the Old World (see Matthew 14:17-21; Matthew 15: 33-38; Mark 6:38-44; Luke 9:16-17; John 6:9-13). The miracle was probably necessitated by the same conditions as in the Old World, that of a large multitude with no opportunity to bring the appropriate foods. However, this was also part of the fulfillment of the desire of the people to see what was performed in the Old World (3 Nephi 17:8).

Literary: A significant difference in the reports of the similar events is that in the Old World each multiplication of the food stresses beginning with a small amount and gathering a large amount. The focus of the miracle is on the making of a large quantity out of an impossibly small quantity. In the New World writing the emphasis is on the miracle, but it is a miracle emphasizing the absence to presence miracle. Because the focus of the miracle is on the provision of food itself, the subsequent emphasis on the gathering of the remainder is not required to support the claim that a miracle has occurred.

The differences between the elements told can be explained by the emphasis on the nature of the miracle. However, the Book of Mormon miracle presents a small problem in that it appears to indicate that God can create from nothing, a principle that is contrary to revealed principles:

“The elements are eternal. The traditional Christian world holds the doctrine of creation ex nihilo, meaning creation out of nothing. Joseph Smith announced to us that “the elements are eternal” (D&C 93:33) and explained that “there is no such thing as immaterial matter. All spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes; we cannot see it; but when our bodies are purified we shall see that it is all matter” (D&C 131:7-8). Exploring the meaning of the Hebrew word translated “create” in the book of Genesis, Joseph Smith told us that that word “does not mean to create out of nothing; it means to organize; the same as a man would organize materials and build a ship. Hence, we infer that God had materials to organize the world out of chaos—chaotic matter, which is element, and in which dwells all the glory. Elements had an existence from the time he had. The pure principles of element are principles which can never be destroyed; they may be organized and re-organized, but not destroyed. They had no beginning, and can have no end” (Teaching of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 350-52). (Joseph Fielding McConkie, Answers: Straightforward Answers to Tough Gospel Questions [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1998], 162 - 163.)

The apparent contradiction suggests that we have a case of literary emphasis rather than doctrinal declaration. The importance of the event as it is written is to emphasize the performance of the miracle, not the way in which the miracle was performed. The literary structure of the text shows that since the miracle goes from nothing to something, that the miraculous has been sufficiently demonstrated. When there was an explicit mention of something, the miracle could only be shown through the abundant recovery of something in quantity, even after all had eaten. Both forms show the miracle. The technicalities of creation are not the purpose of the 3 Nephi account, and should not be taken as an indication of the possibility of creation ex nihilo.

Multidimensional Commentary on the Book of Mormon