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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 13

Robertson's Word Pictures in the New TestamentRobertson's Word Pictures

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Verse 1

On that day (εν τη ημερα εκεινη). So this group of parables is placed by Matthew on the same day as the blasphemous accusation and the visit of the mother of Jesus. It is called "the Busy Day," not because it was the only one, but simply that so much is told of this day that it serves as a specimen of many others filled to the full with stress and strain.

Sat by the seaside (εκαθητο παρα την θαλασσαν). The accusative case need give no difficulty. Jesus came out of the stuffy house and took his seat (εκαθητο, imperfect) along the shore with the crowds stretched up and down, a picturesque scene.

Verse 2

And all the multitude stood on the beach (κα πας ο οχλος επ τον αιγιαλον ιστηκε). Past perfect tense of ιστημ with imperfect sense, had taken a stand and so stood. Note accusative also with επ upon the beach where the waves break one after the other (αιγιαλος is from αλς, sea, and αγνυμ, to break, or from αισσω, to rush). Jesus had to get into a boat and sit down in that because of the crush of the crowd.

Verse 3

Many things in parables (πολλα εν παραβολαις). It was not the first time that Jesus had used parables, but the first time that he had spoken so many and some of such length. He will use a great many in the future as in Luke 12 to 18 and Matt. 24 and 25. The parables already mentioned in Matthew include the salt and the light (Matthew 5:13-16), the birds and the lilies (Matthew 6:26-30), the splinter and the beam in the eye (Matthew 7:3-5), the two gates (Matthew 7:13), the wolves in sheep's clothing (Matthew 7:15), the good and bad trees (Matthew 7:17-19), the wise and foolish builders (Matthew 7:24-27), the garment and the wineskins (Matthew 9:16), the children in the market places (Matthew 11:16). It is not certain how many he spoke on this occasion. Matthew mentions eight in this chapter (the Sower, the Tares, the Mustard Seed, the Leaven, the Hid Treasure, the Pearl of Great Price, the Net, the Householder). Mark adds the Parable of the Lamp (Mark 4:21; Luke 8:16), the Parable of the Seed Growing of Itself (Mark 4:26-29), making ten of which we know. But both Mark (Mark 4:33) and Matthew (Matthew 13:34) imply that there were many others. "Without a parable spake he nothing unto them" (Matthew 13:34), on this occasion, we may suppose. The word parable (παραβολη from παραβαλλω, to place alongside for measurement or comparison like a yardstick) is an objective illustration for spiritual or moral truth. The word is employed in a variety of ways (a) as for sententious sayings or proverbs (Matthew 15:15; Mark 3:23; Luke 4:23; Luke 5:36-39; Luke 6:39), for a figure or type (Matthew 9:9; Matthew 11:19); (b) a comparison in the form of a narrative, the common use in the Synoptic Gospels like the Sower; (c) "A narrative illustration not involving a comparison" (Broadus), like the Rich Fool, the Good Samaritan, etc. "The oriental genius for picturesque speech found expression in a multitude of such utterances" (McNeile). There are parables in the Old Testament, in the Talmud, in sermons in all ages. But no one has spoken such parables as these of Jesus. They hold the mirror up to nature and, as all illustrations should do, throw light on the truth presented. The fable puts things as they are not in nature, Aesop's Fables, for instance. The parable may not be actual fact, but it could be so. It is harmony with the nature of the case. The allegory (αλληγορια) is a speaking parable that is self-explanatory all along like Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. All allegories are parables, but not all parables are allegories. The Prodigal Son is an allegory, as is the story of the Vine and Branches (Matthew 13:15). John does not use the word parable, but only παροιμια, a saying by the way (John 10:6; John 16:25; John 16:29). As a rule the parables of Jesus illustrate one main point and the details are more or less incidental, though sometimes Jesus himself explains these. When he does not do so, we should be slow to interpret the minor details. Much heresy has come from fantastic interpretations of the parables. In the case of the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:3-8) we have also the careful exposition of the story by Jesus (Matthew 13:18-23) as well as the reason for the use of parables on this occasion by Jesus (Matthew 13:9-17).

Behold, the sower went forth (ιδου ηλθεν ο σπειρων). Matthew is very fond of this exclamation ιδου. It is "the sower," not "a sower." Jesus expects one to see the man as he stepped forth to begin scattering with his hand. The parables of Jesus are vivid word pictures. To understand them one must see them, with the eyes of Jesus if he can. Christ drew his parables from familiar objects.

Verse 4

As he sowed (εν τω σπειρειν αυτον). Literally, "in the sowing as to him," a neat Greek idiom unlike our English temporal conjunction. Locative case with the articular present infinitive.

By the wayside (παρα την οδον). People will make paths along the edge of a ploughed field or even across it where the seed lies upon the beaten track.

Devoured (κατεφαγεν). "Ate down." We say, "ate up." Second aorist active indicative of κατεσθιω (defective verb).

Verse 5

The rocky places (τα πετρωδη). In that limestone country ledges of rock often jut out with thin layers of soil upon the layers of rock.

Straightway they sprang up (ευθεως εξανετειλεν). "Shot up at once" (Moffatt). Double compound (εξ, out of the ground, ανα, up). Ingressive aorist of εξανατελλω.

Verse 6

The sun was risen (ηλιου ανατειλαντος). Genitive absolute. "The sun having sprung up" also, same verb except the absence of εξ (ανατελλω, εξανατελλω).

Verse 7

The thorns grew up (ανεβησαν α ακανθα). Not "sprang up" as in verse Matthew 13:5, for a different verb occurs meaning "came up" out of the ground, the seeds of the thorns being already in the soil, "upon the thorns" (επ τας ακανθας) rather than "among the thorns." But the thorns got a quick start as weeds somehow do and "choked them" (απεπνιξαν αυτα, effective aorist of αποπνιγω), "choked them off" literally. Luke (Luke 8:33) uses it of the hogs in the water. Who has not seen vegetables and flowers and corn made yellow by thorns and weeds till they sicken and die?

Verse 8

Yielded fruit (εδιδου καρπον). Change to imperfect tense of διδωμ, to give, for it was continuous fruit-bearing.

Some a hundredfold (ο μεν εκατον). Variety, but fruit. This is the only kind that is worth while. The hundredfold is not an exaggeration (cf. Genesis 26:12). Such instances are given by Wetstein for Greece, Italy, and Africa. Herodotus (i. 93) says that in Babylonia grain yielded two hundredfold and even to three hundredfold. This, of course, was due to irrigation as in the Nile Valley.

Verse 9

He that hath ears let him hear (ο εχων ωτα ακουετω), So also in Matthew 11:15 and Matthew 13:43. It is comforting to teachers and preachers to observe that even Jesus had to exhort people to listen and to understand his sayings, especially his parables. They will bear the closest thought and are often enigmatical.

Verse 10

Why speakest thou unto them in parables? (δια τ εν παραβολαις λαλεις αυτοις). Already the disciples are puzzled over the meaning of this parable and the reason for giving them to the people. So they "came up" closer to Jesus and asked him. Jesus was used to questions and surpassed all teachers in his replies.

Verse 11

To know the mysteries (γνωνα τα μυστηρια). Second aorist active infinitive of γινωσκω. The word μυστηριον is from μυστης, one initiated, and that from μυεω (μυω), to close or shut (Latin, mutus). The mystery-religions of the east had all sorts of secrets and signs as secret societies do today. But those initiated knew them. So the disciples have been initiated into the secrets of the kingdom of heaven. Paul will use it freely of the mystery once hidden, but now revealed, now made known in Christ (Romans 16:25; 1 Corinthians 2:7, etc.). In Philippians 4:12 Paul says: "I have learned the secret or been initiated" (μεμυημα). So Jesus here explains that his parables are open to the disciples, but shut to the Pharisees with their hostile minds. In the Gospels μυστηριον is used only here and in the parallel passages (Mark 4:11; Luke 8:10).

Verse 13

Because seeing (οτ βλεποντες). In the parallel passages in Mark 4:12 and Luke 8:10 we find ινα with the subjunctive. This does not necessarily mean that in Mark and Luke ινα=οτ with the causal sense, though a few rare instances of such usage may be found in late Greek. For a discussion of the problem see my chapter on "The Causal Use of Hina" in Studies in Early Christianity (1928) edited by Prof. S.J. Case. Here in Matthew we have first "an adaptation of Isaiah 6:9 which is quoted in full in v. Matthew 13:14" (McNeile). Thus Matthew presents "a striking paradox, 'though they see, they do not (really) see'" (McNeile). Cf. John 9:41. The idiom here in Matthew gives no trouble save in comparison with Mark and Luke which will be discussed in due turn. The form συνιουσιν is an omega verb form (συνιω) rather than the μ verb (συνιημ) as is common in the Koine.

Verse 14

Is fulfilled (αναπληρουτα). Aoristic present passive indicative. Here Jesus points out the fulfilment and not with Matthew's usual formula (ινα or οπως πλωρηθη το ρηθεν (see Matthew 1:22). The verb αναπληροω occurs nowhere else in the Gospels, but occurs in the Pauline Epistles. It means to fill up like a cup, to fill another's place (1 Corinthians 14:16), to fill up what is lacking (Philippians 2:30). Here it means that the prophecy of Isaiah is fully satisfied in the conduct of the Pharisees and Jesus himself points it out. Note two ways of reproducing the Hebrew idiom (infinitive absolute), one by ακοη the other by βλεποντες. Note also the strong negative ου μη with aorist subjunctive.

Verse 15

Is waxed gross (επαχυνθη). Aorist passive tense. From παχυς, thick, fat, stout. Made callous or dull -- even fatty degeneration of the heart.

Dull of hearing (τοις ωσιν βαρεως ηκουσαν). Another aorist. Literally, "They heard (or hear) heavily with their ears." The hard of hearing are usually sensitive.

Their eyes they have closed (τους οφθαλμους αυτων εκαμμυσαν). The epic and vernacular verb καμμυω is from καταμυω (to shut down). We say shut up of the mouth, but the eyes really shut down. The Hebrew verb in Isaiah 6:10 means to smear over. The eyes can be smeared with wax or cataract and thus closed. "Sealing up the eyes was an oriental punishment" (Vincent). See Isaiah 29:10; Isaiah 44:18.

Lest (μηποτε). This negative purpose as a judgment is left in the quotation from Isaiah. It is a solemn thought for all who read or hear the word of God.

And I should heal them (κα ιασομα αυτους). Here the LXX changes to the future indicative rather than the aorist subjunctive as before.

Verse 16

Blessed are your eyes (υμων δε μακαριο ο οφθαλμο). A beatitude for the disciples in contrast with the Pharisees. Note position of "Happy" here also as in the Beatitudes in Matthew 13:5.

Verse 18

Hear then ye the parable (υμεις ουν ακουσατε την παραβολην). Jesus has given in Matthew 13:13 one reason for his use of parables, the condemnation which the Pharisees have brought on themselves by their spiritual dulness: "Therefore I speak to them in parables" (δια τουτο εν παραβωλαις αντοις λαλω). He can go on preaching the mysteries of the kingdom without their comprehending what he is saying, but he is anxious that the disciples really get personal knowledge (γνωνα, verse Matthew 13:11) of these same mysteries. So he explains in detail what he means to teach by the Parable of the Sower. He appeals to them (note position of υμεις) to listen as he explains.

Verse 19

When anyone heareth (παντος ακουοντος). Genitive absolute and present participle, "while everyone is listening and not comprehending" (μη συνιεντος), "not putting together" or "not grasping." Perhaps at that very moment Jesus observed a puzzled look on some faces.

Cometh the evil one and snatcheth away (ερχετα ο πονηρος κα αρπαζε). The birds pick up the seeds while the sower sows. The devil is busy with his job of snatching or seizing like a bandit or rogue the word of the kingdom before it has time even to sprout. How quickly after the sermon the impression is gone. "This is he" (ουτος εστιν). Matthew, like Mark, speaks of the people who hear the words as the seed itself. That creates some confusion in this condensed form of what Jesus actually said, but the real point is clear.

The seed sown in his heart (το εσπαρμενον εν τη καρδια αυτου, perfect passive participle of σπειρω, to sow) and "the man sown by the wayside" (ο παρα την οδον σπαρεις, aorist passive participle, along the wayside) are identified. The seed in the heart is not of itself responsible, but the man who lets the devil snatch it away.

Verse 21

Yet hath he not root in himself (ουκ εχε δε ριζαν εν εαυτω). Cf. Colossians 2:7 and Ephesians 3:18 ερριζωμεμο. Stability like a tree. Here the man has a mushroom growth and "endureth for a while" (προσκαιρος), temporary, quick to sprout, quick to stumble (σκανδαλιζετα). What a picture of some converts in our modern revivals. They drop away overnight because they did not have the root of the matter in them. This man does not last or hold out.

Tribulation (θλιψεως). From θλιβω, to press, to oppress, to squeeze (cf. Matthew 7:14). The English word is from the Latin tribulum, the roller used by the Romans for pressing wheat. Cf. our "steam roller" Trench (Synonyms of the N.T., pp. 202-4): "When, according to the ancient law of England, those who wilfully refused to plead, had heavy weights placed on their breasts, and were pressed and crushed to death, this was literally θλιψις." The iron cage was στενοχωρια.

Verse 22

Choke the word (συνπνιγε τον λογον). We had απεπνιξαν (choked off) in Matthew 13:7. Here it is συνπνιγε (choke together), historical present and singular with both subjects lumped together. "Lust for money and care go together and between them spoil many an earnest religious nature" (Bruce), "thorns" indeed. The thorns flourish and the character sickens and dies, choked to death for lack of spiritual food, air, sunshine.

Verse 23

Verily beareth fruit (δη καρποφορε). Who in reality (δη) does bear fruit (cf. Matthew 7:16-20). The fruit reveals the character of the tree and the value of the straw for wheat. Some grain must come else it is only chaff, straw, worthless. The first three classes have no fruit and so show that they are unfruitful soil, unsaved souls and lives. There is variety in those who do bear fruit, but they have some fruit. The lesson of the parable as explained by Jesus is precisely this, the variety in the results of the seed sown according to the soil on which it falls. Every teacher and preacher knows how true this is. It is the teacher's task as the sower to sow the right seed, the word of the kingdom. The soil determines the outcome. There are critics today who scout this interpretation of the parable by Jesus as too allegorical with too much detail and probably not that really given by Jesus since modern scholars are not agreed on the main point of the parable. But the average Christian sees the point all right. This parable was not meant to explain all the problems of human life.

Verse 24

Set he before them (παρεθηκεν). So again in Matthew 13:31. He placed another parable beside (παρα) the one already given and explained. The same verb (παραθεινα) occurs in Luke 9:16.

Is likened (ωμοιωθη). Timeless aorist passive and a common way of introducing these parables of the kingdom where a comparison is drawn (Matthew 18:23; Matthew 22:2; Matthew 25:1). The case of ανθρωπω is associative instrumental.

Verse 25

While men slept (εν τω καθευδειν τους ανθρωπους). Same use of the articular present infinitive with εν and the accusative as in Matthew 13:4.

Sowed tares also (επεσπειρεν τα ζιζανια). Literally "sowed upon," "resowed" (Moffatt). The enemy deliberately sowed "the darnel" (ζιζανια is not "tares," but "darnel," a bastard wheat) over (επ) the wheat, "in the midst of the wheat." This bearded darnel, lolium temulentum, is common in Palestine and resembles wheat except that the grains are black. In its earlier stages it is indistinguishable from the wheat stalks so that it has to remain till near the harvest. Modern farmers are gaining more skill in weeding it out.

Verse 26

Then appeared also (τοτε εφανη κα). The darnel became plain (εφανη, second aorist passive, effective aorist of φαινω to show) by harvest.

Verse 29

Ye root up the wheat with them (εκριζωσητε αμα αυτοις τον σιτον). Literally, "root out." Easy to do with the roots of wheat and darnel intermingled in the field. So συλλεγοντες is not "gather up," but "gather together," here and verses Matthew 13:28 and Matthew 13:30. Note other compound verbs here, "grow together" (συναυξανεσθα), "burn up" (κατακαυσα, burn down or completely), "bring together" (συναγετε).

Verse 30

My barn (την αποθηκην μου). See already Matthew 3:12; Matthew 6:26. Granary, storehouse, place for putting things away.

Verse 31

Is like (ομοια εστιν). Adjective for comparison with associative instrumental as in Matthew 13:13; Matthew 13:44; Matthew 13:45; Matthew 13:47; Matthew 13:52.

Grain of mustard seed (κοκκω σιναπεως). Single grain in contrast with the collective σπερμα (Matthew 17:20).

Took and sowed (λαβων εσπειρεν). Vernacular phrasing like Hebrew and all conversational style. In Koine.

Verse 32

A tree (δενδρον). "Not in nature, but in size" (Bruce). "An excusable exaggeration in popular discourse."

Verse 33

Is like unto leaven (ομοια εστιν ζυμη). In its pervasive power. Curiously enough some people deny that Jesus here likens the expanding power of the Kingdom of heaven to leaven, because, they say, leaven is the symbol of corruption. But the language of Jesus is not to be explained away by such exegetical jugglery. The devil is called like a lion by Peter (1 Peter 5:8) and Jesus in Revelation is called the Lion of the Tribe of Judah (Revelation 5:5). The leaven permeates all the "wheaten meal" (αλευρου) till the whole is leavened. There is nothing in the "three measures," merely a common amount to bake. Dr. T.R. Glover in his Jesus of History suggests that Jesus used to notice his mother using that amount of wheat flour in baking bread. To find the Trinity here is, of course, quite beside the mark. The word for leaven, ζυμη, is from ζεω, to boil, to seethe, and so pervasive fermentation.

Verse 35

I will utter (ερευξομα). To cast forth like a river, to gurgle, to disgorge, the passion of a prophet. From Psalms 19:2; Psalms 78:2. The Psalmist claims to be able to utter "things hidden from the foundation of the world" and Matthew applies this language to the words of Jesus. Certain it is that the life and teaching of Jesus throw a flood of light on the purposes of God long kept hidden (κεκρυμμενα).

Verse 36

Explain unto us (διασαφησον ημιν). Also in Matthew 18:31. "Make thoroughly clear right now" (aorist tense of urgency). The disciples waited till Jesus left the crowds and got into the house to ask help on this parable. Jesus had opened up the Parable of the Sower and now they pick out this one, passing by the mustard seed and the leaven.

Verse 38

The field is the world (ο δε αγρος εστιν ο κοσμος). The article with both "field" and "world" in Greek means that subject and predicate are coextensive and so interchangeable. It is extremely important to understand that both the good seed and the darnel (tares) are sown in the world, not in the Kingdom, not in the church. The separation comes at the consummation of the age (συντελεια αιωνος, Matthew 13:39), the harvest time. They all grow together in the field (the world).

Verse 41

Out of his kingdom (εκ της βασιλειας αυτου). Out from the midst of the kingdom, because in every city the good and the bad are scattered and mixed together. Cf. εκ μεσου των δικαιων in Matthew 13:49 "from the midst of the righteous." What this means is that, just as the wheat and the darnel are mixed together in the field till the separation at harvest, so the evil are mixed with the good in the world (the field). Jesus does not mean to say that these "stumbling-blocks" (τα σκανδαλα) are actually in the Kingdom of heaven and really members of the Kingdom. They are simply mixed in the field with the wheat and God leaves them in the world till the separation comes. Their destiny is "the furnace of fire" (την καμινον του πυρος).

Verse 43

Shine forth (εκλαμψουσιν). Shine out as the sun comes from behind a cloud (Vincent) and drive away the darkness after the separation has come (cf. Daniel 12:3).

Verse 44

And hid (κα εκρυψεν). Not necessarily bad morality. "He may have hid it to prevent it being stolen, or to prevent himself from being anticipated in buying a field" (Plummer). But if it was a piece of sharp practice, that is not the point of the parable. That is, the enormous wealth of the Kingdom for which any sacrifice, all that one has, is not too great a price to pay.

Verse 46

He went and sold (απελθων πεπρακεν). Rather eagerly and vividly told thus, "He has gone off and sold." The present perfect indicative, the dramatic perfect of vivid picture. Then he bought it. Present perfect, imperfect, aorist tenses together for lively action. Εμπορω is a merchant, one who goes in and out, travels like a drummer.

Verse 47

A net (σαγηνη). Drag-net. Latin, sagena, English, seine. The ends were stretched out and drawn together. Only example of the word in the N.T. Just as the field is the world, so the drag-net catches all the fish that are in the sea. The separation comes afterwards. Vincent pertinently quotes Homer's Odyssey (xxii. 384-389) where the slain suitors in the halls of Ulysses are likened to fishes on the shore caught by nets with myriad meshes.

Verse 48

Vessels (αγγη). Here only in the N.T. In Matthew 25:4 we have αγγεια.

Verse 52

Made a disciple to the kingdom of heaven (μαθετευθεις τη βασιλεια των ουρανων). First aorist passive participle. The verb is transitive in Matthew 28:19. Here a scribe is made a learner to the kingdom. "The mere scribe, Rabbinical in spirit, produces only the old and stale. The disciple of the kingdom like the Master, is always fresh-minded, yet knows how to value all old spiritual treasures of Holy Writ, or Christian tradition" (Bruce). So he uses things fresh (καινα) and ancient (παλαια). "He hurls forth" (εκβαλλε) both sorts.

Verse 54

Is not this the carpenter's son? (ουχ ουτος εστιν ο του τεκτωνος υιοσ?). The well-known, the leading, or even for a time the only carpenter in Nazareth till Jesus took the place of Joseph as the carpenter. What the people of Nazareth could not comprehend was how one with the origin and environment of Jesus here in Nazareth could possess the wisdom which he appeared to have in his teaching (εδιδασκεν). That has often puzzled people how a boy whom they knew could become the man he apparently is after leaving them. They knew Joseph, Mary, the brothers (four of them named) and sisters (names not given). Jesus passed here as the son of Joseph and these were younger brothers and sisters (half brothers and sisters technically).

Verse 57

And they were offended in him (κα εσκανδαλιζοντο εν αυτω). Graphic imperfect passive. Literally, "They stumbled at him," "They were repelled by him" (Moffatt), "They turned against him" (Weymouth). It was unpardonable for Jesus not to be commonplace like themselves.

Not without honour (ουκ εστιν ατιμος). This is a proverb found in Jewish, Greek, and Roman writers. Seen also in the Logia of Jesus (Oxyr. Papyri i. 3).

Verse 58

Mighty works (δυναμεις). Powers. The "disbelief" (απιστιαν) of the townspeople blocked the will and the power of Jesus to work cures.

Bibliographical Information
Robertson, A.T. "Commentary on Matthew 13". "Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rwp/matthew-13.html. Broadman Press 1932,33. Renewal 1960.
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