Vincent's Word Studies
The same day went Jesus out of the house, and sat by the sea side.
And great multitudes were gathered together unto him, so that he went into a ship, and sat; and the whole multitude stood on the shore.
Rev., beach, that over which the sea (ἅλς) rushes (ἀΐ́σσει). The word for shore, ἀκτή, on which the sea breaks (ἄγνυμι), is never used in the New Testament. Wyc., brink.
And he spake many things unto them in parables, saying, Behold, a sower went forth to sow;
From παρά, beside, and βάλλω, to throw. A parable is a form of teaching in which one thing is thrown beside another. Hence its radical idea is comparison. Sir John Cheke renders biword, and the same idea is conveyed by the German Beispiel, a pattern or example ; bei, beside, and the old high German spel, discourse or narration.
The word is used with a wide range in scripture, but always involves the idea of comparison:
1. Of brief sayings, having an oracular or proverbial character. Thus Peter (Matthew 15:15), referring to the words "If the blind lead the blind," etc., says, "declare unto us this parable." Compare Luke 6:39. So of the patched garment (Luke 5:36), and the guest who assumes the highest place at the feast (Luke 14:7, Luke 14:11). Compare, also, Matthew 24:39; Mark 13:28.
2. Of a proverb. The word for proverb (παροιμία) has the same idea at the root as parable. It is παρά, beside, οἶμος, a way or road. Either a trite, wayside saying (Trench), or a path by the side of the high road (Godet). See Luke 4:23; 1 Samuel 24:13.
4. Of a word or discourse which is enigmatical or obscure until the meaning is developed by application or comparison. It occurs along with the words αἴνιγμα, enigma, and πρόβλημα, a problem, something put forth or proposed (πρό, in front, βάλλω, to throw). See Psalm 49:4 (Sept. 48:4); Psalm 78:2 (Sept. 77:2); Proverbs 1:6, where we have παραβολὴν, parable; σκοτεινὸν λόγον, dark saying; and αἰνίγματα, enigmas. Used also of the sayings of Balaam (Numbers 23:7, Numbers 23:18; Numbers 24:3, Numbers 24:15).
In this sense Christ uses parables symbolically to expound the mysteries of the kingdom of God; as utterances which conceal from one class what they reveal to another (Matthew 13:11-17), and in which familiar facts of the earthly life are used figuratively to expound truths of the higher life. The un-spiritual do not link these facts of the natural life with those of the supernatural, which are not discerned by them (1 Corinthians 2:14), and therefore they need an interpreter of the relation between the two. Such symbols assume the existence of a law common to the natural and spiritual worlds under which the symbol and the thing symbolized alike work; so that the one does not merely resemble the other superficially, but stands in actual coherence and harmony with it. Christ formulates such a law in connection with the parables of the Talents and the Sower. "To him that hath shall be given. From him that hath not shall be taken away." That is a law of morals and religion, as of business and agriculture. One must have in order to make. Interest requires capital. Fruit requires not only seed but soil. Spiritual fruitfulness requires an honest and good heart. Similarly, the law of growth as set forth in the parable of the Mustard Seed, is a law common to nature and to the kingdom of God. The great forces in both kingdoms are germinal, enwrapped in small seeds which unfold from within by an inherent power of growth.
5. A parable is also an example or type; furnishing a model or a warning; as the Good Samaritan, the Rich Fool, the Pharisee and the Publican. The element of comparison enters here as between the particular incident imagined or recounted, and all cases of a similar kind.
The term parable, however, as employed in ordinary Christian phraseology, is limited to those utterances of Christ which are marked by a complete figurative history or narrative. It is thus defined by Goebel ("Parables of Jesus"). "A narrative moving within the sphere of physical or human life, not professing to describe an event which actually took place, but expressly imagined for the purpose of representing, in pictorial figure, a truth belonging to the sphere of religion, and therefore referring to the relation of man or mankind to God."
In form the New Testament parables resemble the fable. The distinction between them does not turn on the respective use of rational and irrational beings speaking and acting. There are fables where the actors are human. Nor does the fable always deal with the impossible, since there are fables in which an animal, for instance, does nothing contrary to its nature. The distinction lies in the religious character of the New Testament parable as contrasted with the secular character of the fable. While the parable exhibits the relations of man to God, the fable teaches lessons of worldly policy or natural morality and utility. "The parable is predominantly symbolic; the fable, for the most part, typical, and therefore presents its teaching only in the form of example, for which reason it chooses animals by preference, not as symbolic, but as typical figures; never symbolic in the sense in which the parable mostly is, because the higher invisible world, of which the parable sees and exhibits the symbol in the visible world of nature and man, lies far from it. Hence the parable can never work with fantastic figures like speaking animals, trees," etc. (Goebel, condensed).
The parable differs from the allegory in that there is in the latter "an interpenetration of the thing signified and the thing signifying; the qualities and properties of the first being attributed to the last," and the two being thus blended instead of being kept distinct and parallel. See, for example, the allegory of the Vine and the Branches (John 15) where Christ at once identifies himself with the figure' "I am the true vine." Thus the allegory, unlike the parable, carries its own interpretation with it.
Parable and proverb are often used interchangeably in the ;New Testament; the fundamental conception being, as we have seen, the same in both, the same Hebrew word representing both, and both being enigmatical. They differ rather in extent than in essence; the parable being a proverb expanded and carried into detail, and being necessarily figurative, which the proverb is not; though the range of the proverb is wider, since the parable expands only one particular case of a proverb. (See Trench, "Notes on the Parables," Introd.)
A sower (ὁ σπείρων)
Rev., the sower. Generic, as representing a class.
To sow (τοῦ σπείρειν)
"According to Jewish authorities, there was twofold sowing, as the seed was either cast by the hand or by means of cattle. In the latter case, a sack with holes was filled with corn and laid on the back of the animal, so that, as it moved onward, the seed was thickly scattered" (Edersheim, "Life and Times of Jesus").
And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up:
By the wayside
Dean Stanley, approaching the plain of Gennesareth, says: "A slight recess in the hillside, close upon the plain, disclosed at once, in detail and with a conjunction which I remember nowhere else in Palestine, every feature of the great parable. There was the undulating cornfield descending to the water's edge. There was the trodden pathway running through the midst of it, with no fence or hedge to prevent the seed from falling here and there on either side of it or upon it; itself hard with the constant tramp of horse and mule and human feet. There was the 'good' rich soil which distinguishes the whole of that plain and its neighborhood from the bare hills elsewhere descending into the lake, and which, where there is no interruption, produces one vast mass of corn. There was the rocky ground of the hillside protruding here and there through the cornfields, as elsewhere through the grassy slopes. There were the large bushes of thorn - the nabk, that kind of which tradition says that the crown of thorns was woven - springing up, like the fruit-trees of the more inland parts, in the very midst of the waving wheat" ("Sinai and Palestine").
Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth:
Not ground covered with loose stones, but a hard, rocky surface, covered with a thin layer of soil.
And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away.
And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them:
The seed, therefore, fell, not among standing thorns, but among those beneath the surface, ready to spring up.
Trench ("Parables") cites a striking parallel from Ovid, describing the obstacles to the growth of the grain:
"Now the too ardent sun, vow furious showers,
With baleful stars and bitter winds combine
The crop to ravage; while the greedy fowl
Snatch the strewn seeds; and grass with stubborn roots,
And thorn and darnel plague the ripening grain."
Metamorphoses, v., 486.
But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold.
Mentioned as something extraordinary. Compare Genesis 26:12. Herodotus (i., 93) says of Babylonia, "In grain it is so fruitful as to yield commonly two-hundred-fold; and when the production is the greatest, even three-hundred-fold."
Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.
And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables?
He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.
From μύω, to close or shut. In classical Greek, applied to certain religious celebrations to which persons were admitted by formal initiation, and the precise character of which is unknown. Some suppose them to have been revelations of religious secrets; others of secret politico-religious doctrines; others, again, scenic representations of mythical legends. In this latter sense the term was used in the Middle Ages of miracle-plays - rude dramas representing scenes from scripture and from the apocryphal gospels. Such plays are still enacted among the Basque mountaineers. (See Vincent, "In the Shadow of the Pyrenees.")
A mystery does not denote an unknowable thing, but one which is withdrawn from knowledge or manifestation, and which cannot be known without special manifestation of it. Hence appropriate to the things of the kingdom of heaven, which could be known only by revelation. Paul (Philippians 4:12) says, "I am instructed (μεμύημαι) both to be full and to be hungry," etc. But Rev. gives more correctly the force of instructed, by rendering I have learned the secret: the verb being μυέω (from the same root as μυστήρια) to initiate into the mysteries.
For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.
Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.
And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive:
Is fulfilled (ἀναπληροῦται)
Rather of something in progress: is being fulfilled or in process of fulfilment.
For this people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.
Is waxed gross (ἐπαχύνθη)
Lit., was made fat. Wyc., enfatted.
Are dull of hearing (τοῖς ὠσὶν βαρέως ἤ κουσαν)
Lit., They heard heavily with their ears.
They have closed (ἐκάμμυσαν)
, κατά, down, μύω, to close, as in μυστήρια above Our idiom shuts up the eyes. The Greek shuts them down. The Hebrew, in Isaiah 6:10, is besmear. This insensibility is described as a punishment. Compare Isaiah 29:10; Isaiah 44:18; in both of which the closing of the eyes is described as a judgment of God. Sealing up the eyes was an oriental punishment. Cheyne ("Isaiah") cites the case of a son of the Great Mogul, who had his eyes sealed up three years by his father as a punishment. Dante pictures the envious, on the second cornice of Purgatory, with their eyes sewed up:
"For all their lids an iron wire transpierces,
And sews them up, as to a sparhawk wild
Is done, because it will not quiet stay."
Purg., xiii., 70-72.
Be converted (ἐπιστρέψωσιν)
Rev., turn again; ἐπί, to or toward, στρέφω, to turn; with the idea of their turning from their evil toward God.
But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear.
For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them.
Hear ye therefore the parable of the sower.
When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side.
When any one heareth
The rendering would be made even more graphic by preserving the continuous force of the present tense, as exhibiting action in progress, and the simultaneousness of Satan's work with that of the gospel instructor. "While any one is hearing, the evil one is coming and snatching away, just as the birds do not wait for the sower to be out of the way, but are at work while he is sowing.
He which received seed (ὁ σπαρείς)
Lit., and much better, Rev., He that was sown; identifying the seed of the figure with the man signified.
But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it;
Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended.
Dureth for a while (πρόσκαιρός ἐστιν)
Rev., endureth. Lit., is temporary: thus bringing out the quality of the hearer. He is a creature of circumstances, changing as they change. Wyc., is temporal, with explanation, lasteth but a little time.
Rev. better, and, for the following clause does not give a reason for the temporariness, but adds something to the description of the hearer.
θλίβω, to press or squeeze. Tribulation is perhaps as accurate a rendering as is possible, being derived from tribulum, the threshing-roller of the Romans. In both the idea of pressure is dominant, though θλῖψιμ, does not convey the idea of separation (as of corn from husk) which is implied in tribulatio. Trench cites, in illustration of θλῖψις, pressure, the provision of the old English law, by which those who wilfully refused to plead had heavy weights placed on their breasts, and so were pressed and crushed to death ("Synonyms of the New Testament").
He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful.
But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.
See on Matthew 11:25, prudent. The three evangelists give three characteristics of the good hearer. Matthew, he understandeth the word; Mark, he receiveth it; Luke, he keepeth it
Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field:
Put he forth (παρέθηκεν)
But this would be rather the translation of προβάλλω, from which πρόβλημα, a problem, is derived, while the word here used means rather to set before or offer. Often used of meals, to serve up. Hence, better, Rev., set he before them. See on Luke 9:16.
But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way.
The preposition ἐπί, upon, indicates sowing over what was previously sown. Rev., "sowed also."
But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also.
So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares?
He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up?
But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them.
Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.
Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field:
Which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof.
Another parable spake he unto them; The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.
Wyc., sour dough, as German Sauerteig. From ζέω, to boil or seethe, as in fermentation. The English leaven is from the Latin levare, to raise, and appears in the French levain.
All these things spake Jesus unto the multitude in parables; and without a parable spake he not unto them:
That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world.
I will utter (ἐρεύξομαι)
The verb, in which the sound corresponds to the sense (ereuxoma,), means originally to belch, to disgorge. Homer uses it of the sea surging against the shore ("Iliad," xvii., 265). Pindar of the eruption of Aetna ("Pyth.," i., 40). There seems to lie in the word a sense of full, impassioned utterance, as of a prophet.
From the foundation (ἀπὸ καταβολῆς)
"It is assumed by the Psalmsist.(Psalm 78:2) that there was a hidden meaning in God's ancient dealings with his people. A typical, archetypical, and prefigurative element ran through the whole. The history of the dealings is one long Old Testament parable. Things long kept secret, and that were hidden indeed in the depths of the divine mind from before the foundation of the world, were involved in these dealings. And hence the evangelist wisely sees, in the parabolic teaching of our Lord, a real culmination of the older parabolic teaching of the Psalmsist. The culmination was divinely intended, and hence the expression that it might be fulfilled" (Morison on Matthew).
Then Jesus sent the multitude away, and went into the house: and his disciples came unto him, saying, Declare unto us the parable of the tares of the field.
He answered and said unto them, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man;
The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one;
The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels.
As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world.
The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity;
And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.
Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.
Shine forth (ἐκλάμψουσιν)
The compound verb with ἐκ, forth, is designedly used to express a dissipating of darkness which has hidden: a bursting into light. The righteous shall shine forth as the sun from behind a cloud. The mixture of evil with good in the world obscures the good, and veils the true glory of righteous character. Compare Daniel 12:3.
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field.
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls:
Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind:
See on Matthew 4:18. The only occurrence of the word in the New Testament. A long draw-net, the ends of which are carried out and drawn together. Through the transcription of the word into the Latin sagena comes seine. From the fact of its making a great sweep, the Greeks formed a verb from it, σαγηνέυω, to surround and take with a drag-net. Thus Herodotus (iii., 149) says: "The Persians netted Santos." And again (vi., 31), "Whenever they became masters of an island, the barbarians, in every single instance, netted the inhabitants. Now, the mode in which they practise this netting is the following: Men join hands, so as to form a line across from the north coast to the south, and then march through the island from end to end, and hunt out the inhabitants." Compare Isaiah 19:8 : "Those who spread nets on the face of the waters shall languish." Also, Habakkuk 1:15-17, where the Chaldaean conquests are described under this figure.
Gathered of every kind
Compare the graphic passage in Homer ("Odyssey," xxii., 384-389) of the slain suitors in the halls of Ulysses.
"He saw that all had fallen in blood and dust,
Many as fishes on the shelving beach,
Drawn from the hoary deep by those who tend
The nets with myriad meshes. Poured abroad
Upon the sand, while panting to return
To the salt sea, they lie till the hot sun
Takes their life from them."
Which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away.
Implying deliberation in the assortment.
So shall it be at the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just,
And shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.
Jesus saith unto them, Have ye understood all these things? They say unto him, Yea, Lord.
Then said he unto them, Therefore every scribe which is instructed unto the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old.
Which is instructed unto the kingdom of heaven
Instructed μαθητευθεὶς. Rev., who hath been made a disciple to the kingdom, etc. The kingdom of heaven is personified. The disciples of Christ are disciples of that kingdom of which he is the representative.
The pronoun marks the householder as belonging to a class and exhibiting the characteristic of the class: a householder - one of those who bring forth, etc.
Bringeth forth (ἐκβάλλει)
Lit., flingeth forth. See on Matthew 12:35. Indicating his zeal in communicating instruction and the fulness out of which he speaks.
And it came to pass, that when Jesus had finished these parables, he departed thence.
And when he was come into his own country, he taught them in their synagogue, insomuch that they were astonished, and said, Whence hath this man this wisdom, and these mighty works?
Is not this the carpenter's son? is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas?
And his sisters, are they not all with us? Whence then hath this man all these things?
And they were offended in him. But Jesus said unto them, A prophet is not without honour, save in his own country, and in his own house.
And he did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief.