The verse “man shall not live by bread alone” comes from Deuteronomy 8:3 in the Bible. This verse is referring to the fact that human beings need more than just physical food to truly live and thrive. There are important spiritual dimensions to life that go beyond material needs.
Here is the full verse in context from Deuteronomy 8:3 (ESV): “And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.”
This verse comes right after Moses has been reminding the Israelites of God’s provision for them during their wilderness wanderings after the exodus from Egypt. For 40 years, God fed the Israelites miraculous “manna” from heaven while they traveled to the Promised Land. God used this provision of manna to teach the Israelites that they needed more than just physical bread. They needed spiritual nourishment from God’s words and instruction.
When Moses says “man shall not live by bread alone,” he is teaching that human beings need spiritual nourishment just as much as they need food. Physical bread is necessary for survival, but it is not enough for true life and fulfillment. People need spiritual sustenance, which comes from God’s words and presence.
Some key lessons we can take from this verse:
- Human beings have physical needs (like food) that must be met, but there are also spiritual needs that are just as essential.
- Bread sustains physical life, but God’s Word sustains spiritual life.
- Physical life alone is incomplete – we need a vital spiritual relationship with God to fully thrive.
- If we neglect spiritual nourishment while pursuing material needs, we will end up lacking true fulfillment.
- A solely material outlook on life can never satisfy our deep spiritual hungers.
- We must make time to feed our spirits through prayer, Bible study, worship, etc. in addition to meeting our physical needs.
- Jesus later quotes this verse to stress spiritual realities when he is tempted by Satan in the wilderness (Matthew 4:4, Luke 4:4).
1. Humans have both physical and spiritual needs
This verse makes it clear that human beings were created by God with both physical and spiritual needs and dimensions. We have bodies that biologically require food, water and shelter to survive. But we are more than just bodies – we also have spirits made to connect with God, the spiritual realm, truth, beauty, purpose, morality, and eternity. Just staying physically alive is not enough – we must also nurture our spirits.
The innovative author Maslow depicted this in his famous hierarchy of needs. Along with basic physical needs, humans also have higher psychological and self-fulfillment needs that require spiritual nourishment. As Jesus said, “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world yet loses his soul?” (Mark 8:36). Our spirits have hungers that bread cannot satisfy.
Many people today live as if only the physical realm is real. But Jesus reminds us that both our bodies and spirits matter to God. We are incomplete without spiritual nourishment. As the French philosopher Pascal wrote, “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of each man which cannot be satisfied by any created thing but only by God the Creator.”
2. God’s Word nourishes our spirits
In the verse, bread represents physical nourishment, while God’s Word represents spiritual nourishment. Just as bread feeds our bodies, Scripture feeds our spirits the essential nutrients we need to thrive. God’s Word gives us spiritual direction, wisdom, truth, reproof, encouragement and hope.
Jesus frequently emphasized the life-giving properties of God’s Word. He declared, “The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life” (John 6:63). The apostle Peter echoed, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). God’s Word is like water for a thirsty soul. It revives us and gives strength and vision for each day.
Regular consumption of God’s Word is crucial for healthy spirituality, just as regular meals are vital for physical health. Neglecting Scripture consistently is like going days without food – it leads to spiritual weakness, deficiency and poor health. As believers we must feast on the Word and let it dwell in us richly (Colossians 3:16).
3. Physical life alone is incomplete
This verse teaches us that having just physical life in and of itself does not make for completeness, meaning or fulfillment. We can have food, shelter, survival – yet still lack the higher purposes that make life worth living. As the Teacher of Ecclesiastes observed, without God life under the sun is “meaningless” and like “chasing after the wind” (Ecclesiastes 2:17).
Our spirits long for so much more than just material survival. We desire things like purpose, hope, truth, justice, beauty, morality, freedom, creativity, joy, accomplishment, belonging and love. We wrestle with core questions like “Who am I?” “Why am I here?” and “Where am I going after death?” Physical bread cannot answer these deeper longings. Only spiritual nourishment through God can truly satisfy our souls.
CS Lewis observed that “If we find ourselves with a desire nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is we were made for another world.” God has set eternity in our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Life lived purely horizontally with physical appetites alone will always feel incomplete. We must embrace the vertical spiritual dimension to live fully.
4. Neglecting spiritual nourishment leaves us unfulfilled
Moses warns the Israelites that they cannot be satisfied just going after physical and material needs like bread and water. These are clearly necessary, but not sufficient. If we pursue only worldly interests while ignoring spiritual health, we will still feel a gnawing emptiness inside. An old biblical proverb says, “Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income” (Ecclesiastes 5:10).
Many of the wealthiest, most successful people on the planet end up depressed, addicted or suicidal because they focused entirely on physical/material life without caring for their souls. Fame, fortune, pleasure, and accomplishment ultimately ring hollow without God. As Augustine prayed, “You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in You.” We must turn to God’s Word to nourish our thirsty spirits.
This does not mean physical needs and enjoyment are evil. God celebrates rest, food, sex, accomplishments and life’s pleasures in their proper place ( Ecclesiastes 3:12-13). The problem comes when we elevate lesser things to ultimate things. Our souls require flows beyond this world. Neglecting spiritual health deadens life and leaves us unfulfilled.
5. A solely material outlook is unsatisfying
A purely naturalistic, secular outlook on life that neglects spiritual realities will never fully satisfy our human experience. As Douglas Groothuis says, “A strictly materialistic worldview blocks access to the transcendent and renders a human life less human.” If we adopt total materialism, life loses mystery, meaning, purpose and hope.
A materialistic worldview that denies God and the spiritual restricts our understanding to the physical realm only. But human beings are clearly more than just material brains and bodies. When we operate as if the spiritual dimension does not even exist, we cut ourselves off from truth, meaning, ethics, freedom, dignity and destiny. Life measured only in physical terms becomes pitiably small.
As one philosopher quipped, “If we are only matter, what does it matter?” This view tends to reduce humans down to just pleasure-seeking animals. But Scripture teaches we are spiritual beings made to commune with God, not just pursue fleeting worldly appetites. An outlook that denies spiritual realities cuts off vital soul nourishment.
6. We must nourish our spirits through spiritual disciplines
Since human beings are more than just physical creatures, we must make time to nurture our spiritual lives through Bible study, prayer, church participation, worship, moral living, service, etc. These spiritual disciplines keep our souls connected to God and truth. Just like we schedule meals throughout our day to nourish our bodies, we must schedule spiritual nourishment as well.
Dallas Willard describes this as “working for the food that endures to eternal life” (John 6:27). Even Jesus frequently withdrew to pray and be refreshed in the Spirit through communion with His Father. Paul instructs Timothy to “train yourself for godliness” through spiritual exercises (1 Timothy 4:7). Disciplines like scripture reading, meditation, fasting, solitude, fellowship and acts of service all feed the soul.
Building these spiritual habits into our daily routines ensures we receive regular sustenance from God. It also enables the Holy Spirit to transform us into Christ’s image. Without intentional spiritual nourishment, our inner life shrinks and withers. Consistent spiritual feeding leads to greater joy, vitality, contentment and power.
7. Jesus quotes this verse when tempted by Satan
In Matthew 4:1-11 (also Luke 4:1-13), Jesus goes into the wilderness to fast for 40 days. Afterward, Satan comes to tempt Him three times. In the second temptation, Satan tells Jesus to turn stones into bread. Jesus responds by quoting Deuteronomy 8:3 – “Man shall not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).
Here Jesus draws directly from Moses’ teaching to refute Satan’s temptation. Jesus knows that while His body is craving sustenance after fasting, He must prioritize God’s Word over physical nourishment. He affirms spiritual realities are even more vital for life than food itself. His quotation of this OT verse to rebuke Satan displays how foundational its truth was to Jesus.
This scene also shows us that when we are tempted to compromise biblical principles for worldly pleasures, we must remember man does not live by bread alone. Our spirits need God’s nourishment even more than our flesh needs instant gratification. Following God’s Word over worldly appetites leads to true life.
The verse “man shall not live by bread alone” contains profound guidance for life. As important as physical nourishment is, we require spiritual sustenance even more. God made us body and spirit, and His Word is essential nourishment for our souls. If we neglect regular spiritual feeding in pursuit of worldly pleasures, we will still feel a deep emptiness. But making time to feast on Scripture, pray, worship, and practice other spiritual disciplines leads to wholeness, health and satisfying life.