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Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges

Mark 4

Verses 1-99

Ch. 4:1 9 . The Parable of the Sower

1. by the sea side ] The scenery round the Lake doubtless suggested many of the details of the Parables now delivered. (1) On the shore was the vast multitude gathered “out of every city” (Luke 8:4 ); (2) from the fishing-boat the eye of the Divine Speaker would rest on ( a ) patches of undulating corn-fields with the trodden pathway running through them, the rocky ground of the hill-side protruding here and there, the large bushes of thorn growing in the very midst of the waving wheat, the deep loam of the good rich soil which distinguishes the whole of the Plain of Gennesaret descending close to the water’s edge; ( b ) the mustard-tree, which grows especially on the shores of the Lake; ( c ) the fishermen connected with the great fisheries, which once made the fame of Gennesaret, plying amidst its marvellous shoals of fish, the drag-net or hauling-net (Matthew 13:47 , Matthew 13:48 ), the casting-net (Matthew 4:18 ; Mark 1:16 ), the bag-net and basket-net (Luke 5:4-9 ); ( d ) the women and children employed in picking out from the wheat the tall green stalks, called by the Arabs, Zuwân = the Greek Zizania = the Lollia of the Vulgate, the tares of our Version; ( e ) the countless flocks of birds, aquatic fowls by the lake-side, partridges and pigeons hovering over the rich plain. See Stanley’s Sinai and Palestine , pp. 425 427; Thomson’s Land and the Book , p. 402; Tristram’s Land of Israel , p. 431.

2. by parables ] (i) The Greek word thus rendered denotes ( a ) a placing beside , ( b ) a comparing, a comparison . In Hellenistic Greek it became coextensive with the Hebrew mâshâl = similitude. (ii) In this sense it is applied

(1) In the Old Testament , to

( a ) The shortest proverbs: as 1 Samuel 10:12 , “Therefore it became a proverb , Is Saul also among the prophets?” 24:13, “As saith the proverb of the ancients;” 2 Chronicles 7:20 , “I will make it to be a proverb and a byword among all nations.”

( b ) Dark prophetic utterances : as Numbers 23:7 , “And he took up his parable and said;”Ezekiel 20:49; Ezekiel 20:49 , “Ah Lord God! they say of me, Doth he not speak parables?

( c ) Enigmatic maxims : as Psalms 78:2 , “I will open my mouth in a parable;Proverbs 1:6 , “the words of the wise and their dark sayings .”

(2) In the Gospels , to

( a ) Short sayings : as Luke 4:23 , “Ye will surely say unto me this proverb , Physician, heal thyself.”

( b ) A comparison without a narrative : as Mark 13:28 , “Now learn its parable of the fig tree” (see note in loc.).

( c ) Comparisons with narratives of earthly things with heavenly , as the Parables of our Lord.

3. Hearken ] This summons to attention is peculiar to St Mark.

went out ] The expression implies that the sower did not sow near his own house, or in a garden fenced or walled, but went forth into the open country. Thomson’s Land and the Book , p. 82.

4. by the way side ] i. e. on the hard footpath, or road, passing through the cultivated land.

5. stony ground ] This must be compared with “the rock” mentioned by St Luke (8:6). What is meant is not a soil mingled with stones, for then there would be no hindrance to the roots striking deeply; but a thin coating of mould covering the surface of a rock, which stretched below and presented an impassable barrier to the growth of the roots.

6. when the sun was up ] For the reference of the word thus translated to the rising of the sun or stars comp. Numbers 24:17 ; Isaiah 60:1 ; Malachi 4:2 .

7. thorns ] The “Nâbk” of the Arabs, which grows abundantly in Syria and Palestine, and of which the Crown of Thorns was probably woven.

and choked it ] or as Wyclif translates it “pornes stieded up, and strangliden it.” The seed and the thorns grew together, but the thorns gradually out-topped it, drew the moisture from the roots, and shut out the air and light, so that it pined and dwindled, and “yielded no fruit.”

8. some thirty ] St Luke says simply “ and bare fruit an hundred-fold. ” St Matthew says “ some an hundred-fold, some sixty fold, some thirty-fold .” St Mark begins from the lowest return, and ascends to the highest. It is said of Isaac that he sowed and “received in the same year an hundred-fold” (Genesis 26:12 ). Herodotus tells us that two hundred-fold was a common return in the plain of Babylon, while a kind of white maize often in Palestine returns several hundred-fold. Observe the four kinds of soil. In the first the seed did not spring up at all; in the second it sprang up, but soon withered away; in the third it sprang up and grew, but yielded no fruit; in the fourth it sprang up, grew, and brought forth fruit; and as there are three causes of unfruitfulness, so there are three degrees of fruitfulness, but only one cause of fruitfulness.

9. He that hath ears to hear ] These solemn words are found in the three Gospels. Our Lord is recorded to have used them on six occasions; (1) Matthew 11:15 ; (2) 13:43; (3) Mark 4:9 ; (4) 4:23; (5) 7:16; (6) Luke 14:35 . They are not found in St John’s Gospel, but occur eight times in the Book of Revelation, 2:7, 11, 17, 29, 3:6, 13, 22, 13:9.

10 25. The Explanation of the Parable

10. And when he was alone ] St Mark here anticipates what took place after the Saviour had “ sent the multitudes away ” and “ gone into the house ” (Matthew 13:36 ).

11. the mystery ] The word Mystery denotes (1) a religious mystery like those of Eleusis, into which men were initiated; (2) a secret (as in 1 Corinthians 15:51 ); and is applied ( α ) to the Gospel itself (as here and in 1 Corinthians 2:7 ; Romans 16:25 ; Ephesians 1:9 ); ( β ) to the various parts and truths of the Gospel (Matthew 13:11 ; Luke 8:10 ; 1 Corinthians 4:1 ); (3) to a symbolic representation or emblem (Revelation 17:5 , Revelation 17:7 ).

them that are without ] Comp. 1 Corinthians 5:12 , 1 Corinthians 5:13 ; Colossians 4:5 ; 1 Thessalonians 4:12 .

12. that seeing they may see, and not perceive ] At the beginning of His ministry our Lord did not teach by Parables. “The Sermon on the Mount may be taken as the type of the ‘words of grace’ which He spake ‘not as the Scribes.’ Beatitudes, laws, promises were uttered distinctly, not indeed without similitudes, but with similitudes that explained themselves.” And so He continued for some time. But His direct teaching was met with scorn, unbelief, and hardness. From this time forward “parables” entered largely into His recorded teaching, and were at once attractive and penal. ( a ) Attractive , as “instruments of education for those who were children in age or character,” and offering in a striking form much for the memory to retain, and for the docile and truth-loving to learn; ( b ) Penal , as testing the disposition of those who listened to them; withdrawing the light from such as loved darkness and were wilfully blind, and protecting the truth from the mockery of the scoffer; finding out the fit hearers, and leading them, but them only, on to deeper knowledge. See Article on Parables in Smith’s Bible Dict .

13. Know ye not this parable? ] For it afforded the simplest type or pattern of a Parable.

all parables = all My Parables.

14. The sower ] This is applicable to (i) Christ, who “ came forth from the Father and was come into the world” (John 16:28 ); (ii) His Apostles; (iii) all who go forth in His Name, and with His authority. For other comparisons of the relations of the teacher and the taught to those between the sower and the soil, comp. 1 Peter 1:23 ; 1 John 3:9 .

15. Satan ] See note above, 3:23.

17. affliction ] The word thus translated denotes (i) pressure , that which presses upon or burdens the spirit; then (2) the distress arising therefrom. The word tribulation rests upon thids image, coming as it does from tribulum = the threshing-roller .

19. the cares of this world ] The word rendered “cares” denotes in the original “distracting anxieties,” which, as it were, “cut a man in sunder.” St Luke expands the one word here employed into “cares,” “riches,” and “pleasures” (Luke 8:14 ).

21. Is a candle brought ] Rather, The lamp is not brought, is it? The article here points to the simple and indispensable furniture in every Jewish household. The original word means not a candle but a lamp . Wyclif renders it, “Whera lanterne come, that it be put vndir a bushel?”

to be put under a bushel ] The original word Modius denotes a dry measure containing 16 sextarii, or about a peck. The English equivalent is greatly in excess of the Latin, as is noted in the margin.

a candlestick ] Rather, the lamp-stand . “Do not suppose that what I now commit to you in secret, I would have concealed for ever; the light is kindled by Me in you, that by your ministry it may disperse the darkness of the whole world.” Erasmus.

24. with what measure ye mete ] According to the measure of your ability and diligence as hearers, ye shall receive instruction, and be enabled to preach to others.

25. he that hath ] Comp. Matthew 13:12 , Matthew 13:25 :29; Luke 8:18 , Luke 19:26 .

26 29. The Seed growing secretly

26. as if a man should cast seed into the ground ] This is the only parable which is peculiar to St Mark , and seems to take the place of “the Leaven” recorded by St Matthew (Matthew 13:33 ).

27. spring and grow up ] We need not inquire too minutely who the Sower is, though primarily it refers to the Lord Himself. It is the property of the seed which is intended to engage our attention, the secret energy of its own, the principle of life and growth within itself, whereby it springs up and grows.

28. of herself ] = of its own accord , spontaneously. It is used of the gate of St Peter’s prison opening of its own accord in Acts 12:10 .

first the blade ] There is a law of orderly development in natural growth, so also is it in reference to spiritual growth; comp. 1 John 2:12-14 .

after that the full corn ] or rather, then (there is) full corn in the ear.

29. when the fruit is brought forth ] Literally, when the fruit yields itself; or offers itself , i. e. is ripe. The original word only occurs here in this sense. Comp. Virgil Geo . i. 287,

“Multa adeo gelidâ melius se nocte dedere .”

the sickle ] The sickle is only mentioned here and in Revelation 14:14 , Revelation 14:15 , “And I looked, and behold a white cloud, and upon the cloud one sat, like unto the Son of Man, having on His head a golden crown, and in His hand a sharp sickle. ” For the entire Parable comp. 1 Peter 1:23-25 .

30 34. The Parable of the Mustard Seed

30. Whereunto shall we liken ] This method of asking a question before beginning a discourse was not unknown to the Rabbis. See the parallel in Luke 13:18 .

31. a grain of mustard seed ] The growth of a worldly kingdom had been already set forth under the image of a tree, and that of the kingdom of God also had been similarly compared. (See Daniel 4:10-12 ; Ezekiel 17:22 , Ezekiel 17:24 , 31:Ezekiel 17:3-9 .)

in the earth ] In St Matthew 13:31 a man is represented as taking and sowing it “ in his field ,” while St Luke, 13:19, says “ in his garden .”

less than all the seeds ] “Small as a grain of mustard seed” was a proverbial expression among the Jews for something exceedingly minute. The mustard-seed is not the least of all seeds in the world , but of all which the husbandman was accustomed to sow , and the “tree,” when full grown, was larger than the other herbs in his garden.

32. great branches ] In hot countries, as in Judæa, the mustard-tree attains a great size. Thomson, Land and the Book , p. 414, tells us he has seen it on the rich plain of Akkâr as tall as the horse and his rider. A variety of it may have been cultivated in the time of our Lord, which grew to an enormous size.

the fowls ] The seed of the mustard-tree is a favourite food with birds. For the language comp. Ezekiel 17:23 .

35 41. The Stilling of the Storm

35. he saith unto them ] The three Synoptic Evangelists all agree in placing the Stilling of the Storm before the healing of the possessed in the country of the Gadarenes.

the other side ] After a long and exhausting day he needed retirement, and repose could nowhere be more readily obtained than in the solitude of the eastern shore.

36. as he was ] i. e. without any preparation for the voyage. Just before the boat put off three of the listeners to His words desired to attach themselves to Him as His disciples, (1) a scribe, (2) an already partial disciple, (3) another who wished first to bid farewell to his friends at home (Matthew 8:19-22 ; Luke 9:57-62 ).

37. a great storm ] The word here used is found in Luke 8:23 . The word employed in Matthew 8:24 generally means an earthquake . It was one of those sudden and violent squalls to which the Lake of Gennesaret was notoriously exposed, lying as it does 600 feet lower than the sea and surrounded by mountain gorges, which act “like gigantic funnels to draw down the cold winds from the mountains.” These winds are not only violent, but they come down suddenly, and often when the sky is perfectly clear. See Thomson’s Land and the Book , p. 374; Tristram’s Land of Israel , p. 430.

beat ] Rather, kept beating. Comp. Matthew 8:24 .

was now full ] Rather, was already filling , or beginning to fill.

38. a pillow ] The word only occurs here. It was probably the leather cushion of the steersman. These details we learn only from St Mark.

Master ] The double “ Master ,” “ Master ” of St Luke (8:24) gives vividness to their haste and terror. The exclamation recorded by St Mark sounds more like rebuke, as though He was unmindful of their safety.

39. rebuked the wind ] All three Evangelists record that He rebuked the wind (comp. Psalms 106:9 ), St Mark alone adds His distinct address to the furious elements. On be still see above, 1:25. Comp. Matthew 8:26 ; Luke 8:24 , and note. The perfect imperative of the original implies the command that the result should be instantaneous.

the wind ceased ] Lit. grew tired. We have the same word in Matthew 14:32 , and again in Mark 6:51 . As a rule, after a storm the waves continue to heave and swell for hours, but here at the word of the Lord of Nature there was a “great calm.”

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Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Mark 4". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". 1896.