Question

Please clear up the apparent discrepancy between Mark 6:45 and John 6:17 where Bethsaida and Capernaum are both said to be the destination of the disciples after the feeding of the five thousand.

Answer

There are a number of possibilities. One is that they intended to head to Bethsaida by way of Capernaum. The 5,000 were fed near Tiberias, which is on the southwest shore of the Sea of Galilee. Capernaum is almost directly north of Tiberias, and Bethsaida is just to the east of Capernaum. It would have been easy to pass by Capernaum on the way to Bethsaida.

A more likely possibility is that they were headed to Capernaum by way of Bethsaida. Although Bethsaida is further from Tiberias than in Capernaum, some details suggest they actually may have done this. First, Mark records that after reaching the northern shore, they made their way to Gennesaret (Mark 6:53), which is west of Capernaum. This means that if they landed at Bethsaida, they probably passed through Capernaum in order to get to Gennesaret.

Moreover, both John and Mark record the fact that there was a storm on the Sea. This may have blown the disciples off course, which may explain why they backtracked after landing. That is to say, perhaps they were headed for the region around Capernaum, but actually made land near Bethsaida.

Then, too, either "Capernaum" or "Bethsaida," or perhaps both terms, may have been approximations for their destination. Both towns are very close to one another on the far side of the Sea from Tiberias.

Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Finance and Administration at Third Millennium Ministries.