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Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges

Matthew 13

Verses 1-99

Ch. 13: 1 9 . Jesus teaches in Parables. The Parable of the Sower

Mark 4:1-9 ; Luke 8:4-9

1. sat ] The usual position of a Jewish teacher.

by the sea side ] At the N. end of the Lake of Gennesaret there are small creeks or inlets “where the ship could ride in safety only a few feet from the shore, and where the multitudes seated on both sides and before the boat could listen without distraction or fatigue. As if on purpose to furnish seats, the shore on both sides of these narrow inlets is piled up with smooth boulders of basalt.” Thomson, Land and Book , p. 356.

2 . a ship ] According to the received Greek text, the ship or boat.

3 . in parables ] Up to this time Jesus had preached repentance, proclaiming the kingdom, and setting forth the laws of it in direct terms. He now indicates by parables the reception, growth, characteristics, and future of the kingdom. The reason for this manner of teaching is given below, vv. 10 15.

A parable (Hebr. mashal ) = “a likeness” or “comparison.” Parables differ from fables in being pictures of possible occurrences frequently of actual daily occurrences, and in teaching religious truths rather than moral truths.

4 . by the way side ] i. e. along the narrow footpath dividing one field from another.

5 . stony places ] Places where the underlying rock was barely covered with earth. The hot sun striking on the thin soil and warming the rock beneath would cause the corn to spring up rapidly and then as swiftly to wither.

7 . thorns sprung up ] The scholar will remember that Vergil mentions among the “plagues” of the wheat,

“Ut mala culmos

Esset robigo segnisque horreret in

arvis Carduus.”

Georg. i:150 153.

8 . some an hundredfold , &c.] The different kinds of fertility may be ascribed to different kinds of grain; barley yields more than wheat, and “white maize sown in the neighbourhood often yields several hundredfold.” See Thomson’s Land and Book , p. 83.

10 17 . The Reason why Jesus teaches in Parables

Mark 4:10-12 ; Luke 8:10

10. parables ] The parable is suited (1) to the uninstructed, as being attractive in form and as revealing spiritual truth exactly in proportion to the capacity of the hearer; and (2) to the divinely wise as wrapping up a secret which he can penetrate by his spiritual insight. In this it resembles the Platonic myth; it was the form in which many philosophers clothed their deepest thoughts. (3) It fulfils the condition of all true knowledge. He alone who seeks finds. In relation to Nature, Art, God Himself, it may be said the dull “seeing see not.” The commonest and most obvious things hide the greatest truths. (4) The divine Wisdom has been justified in respect to this mode of teaching. The parables have struck deep into the thought and language of men (not of Christians only), as no other teaching could have done; in proof of which it is sufficient to name such words and expressions as “talents,” “dispensation,” “leaven,” “prodigal son,” “light under a bushel,” “building on sand.”

11 . the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven ] Secrets known only to the initiated the inner teaching of the gospel. St Paul regards as “mysteries,” the spread of the gospel to the Gentiles, Ephesians 3:3 , Ephesians 3:4 , Ephesians 3:9 ; the doctrine of the resurrection, 1 Corinthians 15:51 , the conversion of the Jews, Romans 11:25 .

12 . Cp. ch. 25:29.

14 .Isaiah 6:9 , Isaiah 6:10 . The words form part of the mission of Isaiah.

15 . this people’s heart is waxed gross ] The heart was regarded as the seat of intelligence. Gross , literally, fat , so stolid, dull , like pinguis in Latin.

16 . blessed are your eyes ] The disciples have discernment to understand the explanation which would be thrown away on the uninstructed multitude.

18 23 . The Parable of the Sower is explained

Mark 4:14-20 ; Luke 8:11-15

19 . On some the word of God makes no impression , as we say; some hearts are quite unsusceptible of good.

20 . anon ] = immediately; the same Greek word is translated by and by in the next verse. Cp. “Then I will come to my mother by and by.” Shaksp. Hamlet , Act iii. sc. 2.

21 . when tribulation or persecution ariseth ] Jesus forecasts the persecution of Christians, and the time when “the love of many shall wax cold,” ch. 24:12.

is offended ] See note, ch. 5:29. All things are not so smooth as he expected. The prospect of the cross took all enthusiasm away from Judas. Perhaps even Mark was “offended” for the moment at Perga.

22 . the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches ] St Mark adds “the lusts of other things,” St Luke, “the pleasures of this life.” These things destroy the “singleness” of the Christian life. Compare with this the threefold employment of the world as described by Christ, at the time of the Flood, at the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and at the coming of the Son of man. (Luke 17:26-30 .)

24 30 . The Parable of the Tares. Confined to St Matthew

25. while men slept ] i. e. during the night. The expression is not introduced into the Lord’s explanation of the parable.

sowed tares ] Travellers mention similar instances of spiteful conduct in the East, and elsewhere, in modern times.

tares ] Probably the English “darnel;” Latin, lolium ; in the earlier stages of its growth this weed very closely resembles wheat, indeed can scarcely be distinguished from it. This resemblance gives an obvious point to the parable. The good and the evil are often undistinguishable in the visible Church. The Day of Judgment will separate. Men have tried in every age to make the separation beforehand, but have failed. For proof of this read the history of the Essenes or the Donatists. The Lollards as the followers of Wyckliffe were called were sometimes by a play on the word lolium identified by their opponents with the tares of this parable. A friend suggests the reflection: “How strange it was that the very men who applied the word ‘Lollard’ from this parable, acted in direct opposition to the great lesson which it taught, by being persecutors.”

The parable of the Tares has a sequence in thought on the parable of the Sower. The latter shews that the kingdom of God will not be co-extensive with the world; all men have not the capacity to receive the word. This indicates that the kingdom of God the true Church is not co-extensive with the visible Church. Some who seem to be subjects of the Kingdom are not really subjects.

31 33 . (1) The Parable of the Mustard Seed. (2) The Parable of the Leaven which leavened the Meal.

(1) Mark 4:30-32 . (1) and (2) Luke 13:18-21

The “mystery” or secret of the future contained in these two parables has reference to the growth of the Church; the first regards the growth in its external aspect, the second in its inner working.

31 . which a man took, and sowed ] “Which when it is sown,” St Mark, who thus does not name an agent, the planter of the seed.

in his field ] “into his (own) garden,” St Luke, with special reference to the land of Israel.

32 . the least of all seeds ] Not absolutely the least, but least in proportion to the plant that springs from the seed. Moreover the mustard seed was used proverbially of anything excessively minute.

lodge in the branches ] i. e. settle for the purpose of rest or shelter or to eat the seeds of which goldfinches and linnets are very fond (Tristram, Nat. Hist. of Bible , p. 473). Lodge , literally dwell in tents . If we think of the leafy huts constructed for the feast of tabernacles the propriety of the word will be seen. The mustard plant does not grow to a very great height, so that St Luke’s expression “waxed a great tree” must not be pressed. Dr Thomson ( Land and Book ) mentions as an exceptional instance that he found it on the plain of Akkar as tall as a horse and its rider.

33 . leaven ] Except in this one parable, leaven is used of the working of evil; cp. “A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump,” Galatians 5:9 ; 1 Corinthians 5:6 ; and “purge out therefore the old leaven,” 1 Corinthians 5:7 . So, too, in the Rabbinical writings. This thought probably arose from the prohibition of leaven during the paschal season. But the secrecy and the all-pervading character of leaven aptly symbolize the growth of Christianity, (1) as a society penetrating everywhere by a subtle and mysterious operation until in this light as a secret brotherhood it appeared dangerous to the Roman empire; (2) as an influence unfelt at first growing up within the human soul.

Compare Sir Bartle Frere on Indian Missions , p. 9; speaking of the gradual change wrought by Christianity in India, he says, in regard to religious innovations in general: “They are always subtle in operation, and generally little noticeable at the outset in comparison with the power of their ultimate operation.”

three measures ] Literally, three seahs . In Genesis 18:6 , Abraham bids Sarah “make ready three ‘seahs’ of fine meal, knead it and make cakes upon the hearth.”

35 .Psalms 78:2 . The quotation does not agree verbally with the LXX. It is a direct translation of the Hebrew. The psalm which follows these words is a review of the history of Israel from the Exodus to the reign of David. This indicates the somewhat wide sense given to “parables” and “dark sayings.”

36 43 . Explanation of the Parable of the Tares, in St Matthew only

39 . the end of the world ] Literally, the completion of this æon , “the point where one æon ends and another begins.” The expression is found also in vv. 40 and 49 of this chapter, and in ch. 24:3, 28:20, and in Hebrews 9:26 , “the completion of the æons,” not elsewhere in N. T.

43 . Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun ] Cp. Daniel 12:3 , “Then they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament.”

44 . The Parable of the Hid Treasure, in this Gospel only

In ancient times, and in an unsettled country like Palestine, where there were no banks, in the modern sense, it was a common practice to conceal treasures in the ground. Even at this day the Arabs are keenly alive to the chance of finding such buried stores. The dishonesty of the purchaser must be excluded from the thought of the parable. The unexpected discovery, the consequent excitement and joy, and the eagerness to buy at any sacrifice, are the points to be observed in the interpretation.

when a man hath found ] Here the kingdom of heaven presents itself unexpectedly, “Christ is found of one who sought Him not.” The woman of Samaria, the jailer at Philippi, the centurion by the Cross.

selleth all that he hath ] This is the renunciation which is always needed for the winning of the kingdom, cp. ch. 10:38. Thus Paul gave up position, Matthew wealth, Barnabas lands.

buyeth that field ] Puts himself in a position to attain the kingdom.

45, 46 . The Parable of the Pearl of Great Price, in St Matthew only

Here the story is of one who succeeds in getting what he strives to obtain. The Jewish or the Greek “seekers after God,” possessing many pearls, but still dissatisfied, sought others yet more choice, and finding one, true to the simplicity in Christ, renounce all for that; the one his legalism, the other his philosophy.

47 50 . The Parable of the Net, in St Matthew only

47 . a net, that was cast into the sea ] The reference is to the large drag-net or seine [Greek σαγήνη the word in the text hence sagena (Vulgate) and English sean or seine ]. One end of the seine is held on the shore, the other is hauled off by a boat and then returned to the land. In this way a large number of fishes of all kinds is enclosed. Seine-fishing is still practised on the coasts of Devonshire and Cornwall.

The teaching of this parable partly coincides with that of the parable of the Tares ( vv. 24 30). In both are exhibited the mixture of good and evil in the visible Church, and the final separation of them. But here the thought is specially directed to the ingathering of the Church. The ministers of Christ will of necessity draw converts of diverse character, good and evil, and actuated by different motives. From the parable of the Tares we learn not to reject any from within the Church, in the hope of expelling the element of evil. It is a parable of the settled Church. This is a missionary parable. It teaches that as a matter of history or of fact, no barrier or external test will serve to exclude the unworthy convert.

51, 52 . The Scribes of the Kingdom of Heaven

52 . instructed unto the kingdom of heaven ] The new law requires a new order of Scribes who shall be instructed unto the kingdom of heaven instructed in its mysteries, its laws, its future as the Jewish Scribes are instructed in the observances of the Mosaic law.

things new and old ] (1) Just as the householder brings from his stores or treasury precious things which have been heir-looms for generations, as well as newly acquired treasures; the disciples following their Master’s example will exhibit the true teaching of the old law, and add thereto the new lessons of Christianity. (2) Another interpretation finds a reference to Jewish sacrificial usage by which sometimes the newly-gathered fruit or corn, sometimes the produce of a former year furnished the offering. The wise householder was ready for all emergencies. So the Christian teacher will have an apt lesson on each occasion.

53 58 . The Prophet in his own Country. Mark 6:1-6

where the incident is placed between the cure of Jairus’ daughter and the mission of the Twelve, Luke 4:16-30 , where our Lord’s discourse in the synagogue is given at length. But many commentators hold with great probability that St Luke’s narrative refers to a different and earlier visit to Nazareth.

54 . his own country ] Nazareth and the neighbourhood.

55 . the carpenter’s son ] “Is not this the carpenter?” (Mark). As every Jew was taught a trade there would be no improbability in the carpenter’s son becoming a scribe. But it was known that Jesus had not had the ordinary education of a scribe.

his brethren ] Probably the sons of Joseph and Mary. It is certain that no other view would ever have been propounded except for the assumption that the blessed Virgin remained ever-virgin.

Two theories have been mooted in support of this assumption. (1) The “brethren of the Lord” were His cousins, being sons of Cleophas (or Alphæus), and Mary, a sister of the Virgin Mary. (2) They were sons of Joseph by a former marriage.

Neither of these theories derives any support from the direct words of Scripture, and some facts tend to disprove either. The second theory is the least open to objection on the ground of language, and of the facts of the gospel.

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Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Matthew 13". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cgt/matthew-13.html. 1896.