The Parable Of The Sower       A Review   By: Tyler Walworth           1
I. Context          In any text it is vital to understand several points of view that are involved in interpretingwhat the...
there are two triads of parables that further develop this Kingdom mentality that Mathew is sofond of. Finally, the story ...
prophets and righteous men before them longed to receive by hearing and seeing Jesus. This isreinforced by the explanation...
When describing these people Jesus makes four distinctions. First, there is the path. Thesepeople hear the word, but Satan...
When viewing the soil as the nature of the people receiving the message it makescontextual sense. Jesus family and the scr...
In the immediate situation in which Jesus starts his discourse of the parable of the sowerit is clear that the religious l...
BibliographyDavies, W. D., and Dale C., Jr. Allison. Commentary On Matthew VIII-XVIII: A Critical andExegetical Commentary...
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The parable of the sower


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The Parable of The Sower is a parable of the reality that exists on earth. Jesus gives the tensions of this life and tells his disciples that it isn't going to be easy.

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The parable of the sower

  1. 1. The Parable Of The Sower A Review By: Tyler Walworth 1
  2. 2. I. Context In any text it is vital to understand several points of view that are involved in interpretingwhat the author has to say as well as any character that the author is dealing with. Because ofthis it is best to start with two main topics of presuppositions which will give better access to thereader when delving into the text and specifically into the parables. These topics are thestructure of parables and the dialogue of literature. The structure of parables is important when evaluating the specific text because it givesthe reader a better idea of how to handle the information. The best way to see parables is in athreefold sense. First, the surrounding historical and literary context can give a major clue intohow this type of literature is being viewed by the culture. (Davies 2000, 378) Jesus was notdivorced from the speaking devices being used at the time and actually utilized many of thecommon structures that other Rabbis were using at the time. (Davies 2000, 378) This can shedlight on the fact that Jesus used them as a rhetorical device to further draw people into a story.(Gibbs 2010, 662) Second, the reason for Jesus giving the parable in the first place can also shed light onhow it is supposed to be seen by the modern reader. (Gibbs 2010, 675) Jesus gave this parablein light of the blatant rejection of the Pharisees. The Greek gives a continuation of the previouspart of the narrative by including Ἐ ν τῇ ἡ μέρᾳ ἐ κείνῃ , which shows a definite purpose forgiving this particular parable and for beginning to speak in parables at all. It also sheds light onwhat the parable itself is talking about. (Gibbs 2010, 678) Third, and finally, it is worth looking at the principles that have been used to interpret theparables throughout the tradition of the church, which can shed light on interpreting in thepresent day context. (Davies 2000, 379) The current view taken by Gibbs (2010) and Davies(2000) is that the text can have multiple meanings, the context of both the literature and thehistory is important and caution should be used when dealing with the details of the parable asthey pertain to the larger meaning. The dialogue of literature is also vital in discussing any text, because all literature existsin several dynamic contexts that will shape the text and the way that it is read. In light of thisdialogue it best to speak of the structure of the specific text, what the whole book is speaking ofand how this can be viewed in light of all of scripture. When dealing with the structure of the specific text, it is important to know what theauthor was doing when trying to portray that content that is currently being given. In the light ofthis specific parable, this was the start of an entire discourse involving many more parables. Thebest way to look at it is a three tier separation. The parable of the sower is sectioned off by Ἐ ντῇ ἡ μέρᾳ ἐ κείνῃ which shows the parable of the sower as the introduction to this long line ofparables. (Gibbs 2010, 660) This will be the interpretive key that shows what the rest of the textis about. Especially because in the context of the rest of the parables this parable is the onlyone that is not only explained, but the reason for the parables in general is explained. Next, 2
  3. 3. there are two triads of parables that further develop this Kingdom mentality that Mathew is sofond of. Finally, the story of the dragnet gives the conclusion of the parable section. (Gibbs2010, 661) This gives a tighter view of what the parable of the sower is really speaking to. Taking this section in light of the rest of Mathew, Jesus had just finished doing manymiracles and explaining that these things could not be done by Satan. Before this healingepisode he had started his preaching ministry and already sent out the twelve. This is after he iswell into his ministry that he starts to speak of the response of the people. Especially in theimmediate context of the rejection by not only the scribes, but his own family, it is clear to thedisciples that this Messiah does not have a seemingly popular message. But here is where heexplains exactly what this message is doing. He is describing the reality that Mathew hasalready been portraying. Therefore, in the wider context of Mathew, Mathew seems to befollowing the pattern that Jesus himself follows, expanding more and more as the bookprogresses, leading to the end. This pattern can be seen further on when he continues to alludemore to the ultimate purpose of his ministry. Finally, in light of all of scripture, this passage is connected directly by Christ to Isaiah6:9-10. But this connection is not just in the context of the parables. The Isaiah passage doesnot mention parables. Yet, Jesus gives this Old Testament reference as his explanation. Thegreater connection is the reflection of the Old Testament in the life of Christ as it is beingportrayed in Mathew. This is the true living out of the Old Testament as a fulfillment. Therefore,Christ is not only looking forward to his death, but he is also very aware of his participation inthe fulfillment of the whole Old Testament as stated earlier in Mathew.II. Themes A. The Crowd and The Disciples One of the first themes that the reader encounters in the text is the separation of the crowdand the disciples. This is very apparent and is only made clearer when Jesus offers theexplanation to the specific parable and his parabolic reasoning exclusively to the disciples.Then, in a turn of events, he enters again into dialogue with the crowd and continues to givethem parables of the kingdom. Originally, these may look like opposite reactions, but they areintimately tied together. (Gibbs 2010, 685; France 2007, 510) They are both sides to the samecoin. First, Jesus displayed the exclusivity of the kingdom to the disciples; then, he continues toimplore the crowd to hear the message. The exclusion of the disciples in Mathew is a common theme that highlights the parabolicimplication of separation, the secret of the kingdom of heaven and the giving of authority.(Davies 2000, 383) In the parable itself it is emphasized that those that receive the seed are thegood soil and produce abundantly. Jesus implies that the disciples are the good soil. Thismeans that he is specific in the application of the parable to the present reality as well as thefuture of producing fruit. The secret of the kingdom of heaven is given exclusively to the disciples. They are the onesthat come and ask about the parable and to them Jesus gives the news of blessing that 3
  4. 4. prophets and righteous men before them longed to receive by hearing and seeing Jesus. This isreinforced by the explanation given on the parable of the wheat and tares to the disciples afterJesus enters the house in verse 36. Finally, in verse 51 they see the meaning of the parablesthemselves. This exclusivity was given with intention. (Davies 2000, 380) The authority that is given to the disciples was mentioned above in their being sent out tothe lost sheep of Israel. But here, Jesus gives the authority of interpreting parables. This limitingof those that hear this authoritative interpretation only adds to the concept of the apostolic office.Mathew will eventually tie this together in chapter 28 by Jesus announcing to the “eleven” thatthey are the ones to go out and make disciples. How is this considered gracious, when all of the people that are surrounding the disciplesare excluded from the interpretation? This is where Mathew unites Jesus and the crowd in theplacement of the parable section, the parabolic significance of spreading the seed and the officeof the ministry. In the placement of the parable section, Mathew is highlighting the very reasonfor the parables, which Jesus further explains. It is paradoxical in nature, because Jesus isspeaking to both harden hearts and open ears. (Gibbs 2010, 673) This is shown by Jesusproclaiming ὁ ἔτων ὦτα ἀκοσέτω and then giving the exact opposite motive a couple verseslater quoting Isaiah 6. This displays Jesus desire, even after rejection, to draw all people tohimself. The parabolic significance behind the spreading of the seed is that this is to be done heavilyand indiscriminately. Gibbs (2010) makes the comment that the sower does not care where theseed is thrown, but rather he cares about covering the ground with it. His continuation ofspeaking in parables shows that his entire motive is to continue to plant the seed. Thecontinuation of his ministry displays the hope he has of uniting himself with the crowds. Finally, as mentioned in the above concept of separation, Jesus has created the office of theministry for the purpose of going out and speaking. Not only does he lead the disciples to fullunderstanding, but he speaks of the scriptures that are to be written. In verse 52, after makingsure that they understand, he tells them the reason for their training, they are to be scribestaking from the new and the old. Therefore this separation of the disciples and the crowd wasonly to bring them together in the ministry that will be given fully in Mathew 28. For truly theapostles will do greater things than Christ, in that they will go out and unite even more people toHim. B. Four Types of Soil The four types of soil in this parable are vital for understanding the reality that wassurrounding the disciples. Jesus had experienced rejection from the scribes, rejection from hisfamily and was soon to face rejection in his home town. It is here that Jesus takes the time toexplain to the disciples what is going on. This parable focuses on four different types of soil andthrough his explanation Jesus sets up a progression of the type of people that hear themessage. 4
  5. 5. When describing these people Jesus makes four distinctions. First, there is the path. Thesepeople hear the word, but Satan comes and snatches the seed away. This displays the battlethat is being waged especially in the narrative of Mathew, between God and Satan. Throughoutthis narrative the children of Satan, who are identified as the scribes and Pharisees, are battlingJesus and the disciples, who are the children of God. (Gibbs 2010, 672) Second, this seed falls on rocky soil and immediately sprouts up, but does not take root andthe sun rises and withers it away. This displays the person that receives the word with joy, butfalls away when persecution comes. This person is moistureless and without the necessaryconviction, does not have a chance when the heat of conflict rises. (Davies 2000, 381) Third, this seed falls among thorns and grows up with the thorns. But as the thorns grow it ischoked out and produces no fruit. This person hears the word, but the cares of the world chokeout the true life. Even though it was growing at first, it can bear no fruit in the end. (France 2007,520) Fourth and finally, this seed falls on good soil and grows and produces 100 fold and 60 foldand 30 fold. These people receive the word and σσνιείς, which Mathew ties together at the endof this parable discourse by asking Σσνήκατε ταῦτα πάντα; This unifies the entire parable textand also completes the explanation that Jesus gives. He is not simply saying that those whoreceive the seed will believe in the future, he is saying that the parable is speaking directlyabout his disciples. λέγοσσιν αὐτῷ· Ναί. They confirm that they are indeed the good soil. This isnot to say that they are the only good soil, but it shows that Jesus was talking about a presentreality. (Davies 2000, 390) Now that the whole story can be seen, Jesus uses this parable to explain why the crowdsare lacking a positive response. He uses a chaiasm to display the progression of the entirestory. (Davies 2000, 383) This helps the reader to see that there are different levels ofresponses, more specifically there is the worst response, the best of the worst, the bestresponse and the worst of the best. The worst is when the seed is snatched away, but the bestof that scenario is when the seed grows rapidly. The best is when the seed is sown in good soil,but the worst of that scenario is when the seed grows and is choked by the thorns. This allowsthe disciples to cope with the reality that the message they are being given is Christ himself. Itseems weak and can be rejected, but it will be spread far and wide and when it does yield acrop it will be plentiful. (Gibbs 2010, 670) C. Free will or Election Free will and Election do not seem like they could come from the same place, but in this textthey are truly mixed together. It all depends on how one takes the parable. On the one hand, ifthe soil is to be the nature of a person, it would seem like the person does not have much say inthe rejection or the acceptance.(France 2007, 510) On the other hand, if the soil indicates theperson’s response, it would seem like the person is the one who decides the kind of soil he orshe is.(Davies 2000, 385) There is a third angle to this, which is that the word does both, ithardens and it softens.(Gibbs 2010, 672) The angle that is promoted in this paper is the thirdoption. 5
  6. 6. When viewing the soil as the nature of the people receiving the message it makescontextual sense. Jesus family and the scribes have previously rejected the word and Jesusspecifically speaks of those sitting around him as his true family. When he gives the parable heseems to be pointing to a static soil that is approached by a movable and dynamic seed. Then,in his explanation, he seems to point to the type of person receiving the word, again alluding toa nature in the person. (France 2007, 519) When viewing the soil as the response of the people, this is also a very contextuallysavvy point of view. Jesus has just displayed the scribes and his own family as a bad reaction tothe word, whereas the people sitting around him have made a choice or reacted well to theword. This is also a valid interpretation of the parable itself. The seed falls and the ground eitheraccepts the seed fully or rejects the seed. Jesus clarifies this point of view further by pointingout that each person has a kind of responsibility for their actions, they let the seed be taken,they don’t have roots in themselves, they allow the world to creep in. This leaves theresponsibility of choice on the shoulders of the hearer. (Davies 2000, 390) The final view takes into account both of the previous views. Instead of seeing the soil asa static entity, the soil is the one being acted on by the seed. (Gibbs 2010, 687) In this it has nochoice; the seed is the one doing the work of growing. Therefore the idea of totally free will isnot a valid part of this picture. On the other hand the reception of the seed is a vital part of thestory. But, the real question is how is this reception given and here Jesus gives the explanationthat acceptance of the seed is understanding, which he later clarifies further that thisunderstanding can only be given by himself. This point of view is in line with the part of the textspeaking of those that have will be given more and those that do not have will be taken from. Inthis analysis the key is not deciding how unjust Jesus is, but instead looking at what Jesuscontinues to do. The message is meant to convert all who hear it and Jesus shows this bycontinuing to speak to the crowds. He does not show contempt for the crowds, thinking that onlysome are going to receive it so why speak to everyone. Therefore, the word is given the power,and the soil displays the reality. This is not meant to say that the soil cannot change, but it isalso not meant to say that all people can be brought into the good soil category. It leaves thisopen and instead focuses on the fact that these will be the responses, but the disciples, asJesus, are to continue spreading the seed.III. Application When dealing with this parable it can be tempting to divorce this from the present dayreality. This was spoken to a Jewish society in a parable that was in Rabbinic style. It was onlyexplained to the disciples so why worry about it. The other mode of thinking is that this parablecan be taken by an individual and used in whatever way he or she sees fit. Instead, a middleground can be struck and application can be made for today as well. France (2007) suggeststhat this type of preaching that Jesus does mimics that of Solomon, in that it is a wisdom that allpeople can adhere to. Therefore a few applications should be made: the sobering reality,knowing the secret, showing the danger, persuasion and the promise of blessings. In theseapplications, the message of the parable can be seen as a present, as well as a past and futurereality. 6
  7. 7. In the immediate situation in which Jesus starts his discourse of the parable of the sowerit is clear that the religious leaders and his own family arent buying his message. Not only dothey not buy it but by this time he is becoming an object of hatred in the eyes of the religiouscrowd. This seems to be a glaring contradiction in the very identity of Christ as the messiah. Heseems to be a disappointment to their eschatological hopes. But here is the very reason for theparable of the sower. Jesus is telling this to show the reality that his message will not bear fruitin all people. He is telling about his own incarnation. God does not come down and make usdecide, but instead sends his son in weakness to die and be raised to life. Jesus is also showingthe reality to his disciples that not all people will become believers. Jesus shows that this secret of the kingdom of heaven is found only in him. Instead ofpointing to outside explanations, he speaks of an understanding that only he gives. He is notonly the source of this understanding but he is himself the secret. This displays the revelatorynature of the message that Jesus is giving. This is inherent in the message because there is nogrowth without the sower and the seed itself is always good. Therefore the parabledisplays clearly that the message must be external, revealed by the one who knows. The parable also carries out a theme that has been throughout the gospel and that is thebattle that is taking place between Christ and Satan. Each part of the parable speaks of theseed or the plant created from the seed being attacked by something from outside i.e. a bird,the sun and thorns. This gives a very clear message to all believers; being a believer isdangerous. Are you surrounded by thorns, are your roots deep? This is one aspect of themessage that Jesus is giving, a reflection of the state that the believer is in while he or she is apart of this world. Jesus emphasizes the changeable state of the people that he is speaking to. In thepassage before Jesus starts the parable of the sower he has just experienced rejection. In theparable itself it talks about a 3 to 1 ratio of rejection to acceptance. Then he continues to speakin parables. This seems confusing, but Jesus is communicating a profound truth that heexpresses in the parable, namely that the sower continues to spread the seed. Gibbs (2010)speaks specifically about how Jesus had just finished speaking expressly about his ministry andwhat he was doing. When the crowd rejects this direct expression, Jesus uses a more indirectform of communication. Many people wonder why Jesus did not just tell them the truth, but hedoes tell them the truth and it is this truth that the Pharisees, scribes and his own family arerejecting. Now he is using these parables as another means of reaching out to the people withthis message, Jesus continues to give the word in the hope of changing the people that are inthe crowd into those that understand! This also gives insight into what the mission of theApostles was to be when Jesus commissions them in chapter 28. They are to go into all theworld and continue to spread this seed with the hope that comes from the good soil. Finally, many people assume that this is a primarily negative parable. All of the soil isbad, with the exception of the one soil that is good. In many ways this reflects the pluralisticideals of today’s setting. People want soil that is good and produces fruit. The bad soil must beminimal because God is a loving God. But this parable gives exclusivity. Yet, the focus is on theblessing that comes from the good field! Jesus shows the disciples that they are the good soiland they will produce an abundance of fruit! They will go out and do greater things than Jesusdid! It is a parable of blessing and it shows the abundance of grace that God gives throughout inthe spreading of the seed, the indiscrimination of the soil and the plentiful fruit that is produced. 7
  8. 8. BibliographyDavies, W. D., and Dale C., Jr. Allison. Commentary On Matthew VIII-XVIII: A Critical andExegetical Commentary On the Gospel According to Saint Matthew (International CriticalCommentary. Vol. 2). publication place: T. & T. Clark Publishers, 2000.Gibbs, Jeffrey A. Matthew 11:2-20:34. St. Louis. MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2010.France, R.T. The Gospel of Matthew. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans Pub Co, 2007. 8