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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


DRAW-NET (σαγήνη, seine).—For fuller description see art. Nets. This kind of net is mentioned in the Gospels only in the parable of Matthew 13:47-50, where it is very much in point. Being usually of great size and sweeping through an immense area, it collects many varieties of fish—worthless, undersized, even dead fish, as well as the choice and the living. The process of fishing with a seine gives the impression of comprehensiveness and completeness. To one who has watched it—the very gradual progress of the operation, the extended area slowly encircled, the final drawing up of the net on the beach, and the sorting of its varied contents, with the reservation of some and the rejection of others—the aptness of the parable becomes very apparent.

The parable closes the series of seven in Matthew 13, in which various aspects of the Kingdom of Heaven are presented. It is parallel in meaning to the second of the series,—the Tares and the Wheat,—yet it has its distinct individuality. It points, like that parable, to the intermixture of good and evil in the Church in its present stage, and it is implicit in the figure used that no absolute separation is possible or to be thought of now. But the emphasis of the parable and of the explanation added by our Lord, lies not upon the fact of the intermixture, but upon the certainty that there will be a decisive end to it. A time of deliberate (καθίσαντες) and final severance is announced as a warning to the evil, as an assurance to the good. The parable is concerned with the future rather than with the present, hence its suitability at the end of the series. As must be expected, the figure is not quite adequate. The whole operation of fishing is carried out by the same individuals. But the separation of the good and the evil at the end of the world will be effected not by the men through whom the Kingdom was extended, but by the angels, to whom this ministry is always assigned (Matthew 13:41; Matthew 24:31; Matthew 25:31, Revelation 14:18-19).

This parable, like that of the Tares, was much appealed to in the Donatist controversy. The Donatists, emphasizing purity as a note of the Church, maintained that all must be excluded from its outward communion to whom that note could not be attached. Augustine showed that such attempted separation was forbidden by our Lord, apart from the case of open evildoers, and that He had not contemplated a community in its present stage free from admixture of evil. The net must contain both good and bad fish till it is drawn to the beach. As against schism, he points out the folly of those who, like fish breaking through or leaping over the net to escape the company of worthless fish within, refuse to wait the final and thorough separation appointed by God, and in mistakenly pressing the purity of the Church lose its catholicity (Augustine, Enarr. in Psalms 64:6; cf. also Enarr. in Psalms 126:3; Coll. Carth. d. 3; ad Don. Post. Coll. 4, 8, 10).

What conception of the Kingdom of Heaven is indicated by the parable? The parable may be said to be an expansion of the idea contained in ‘fishers of men.’ Taken by itself, it might seem to support the identification of the Kingdom of Heaven with the Church; but in other contexts the Kingdom of Heaven (or of God) requires a much more comprehensive explanation. Harnack’s assertion that our Lord meant by this term, so constantly recurring in His teaching, only an inward experience of the believer (Das Wesen des Christentums, p. 35 ff.), seems quite unsuited to this passage. So, too, does the Abbé Loisy’s explanation of the Kingdom as being still entirely in the future, and existing in the present only as an expectation (The Gospel and the Church, § ii.). The parable, naturally interpreted, certainly suggests a visible community. The Kingdom is conceived of both as inward and outward, consisting in its present stage both of those who are animated by its true spirit, and those who belong to it only so far that they are included in its external organization. Again, the Kingdom is represented as belonging to the present, and yet as awaiting its consummation in a future crisis of judgment. And it is in idea universal (‘gathered of every kind’), tending to include all I men within its bounds.

‘The Kingdom in its highest and most Christian sense is the working of “invisible laws” which penetrate below the surface, and are gradually progressive and expansive in their operation. But in this, as in other cases, spiritual forces take to themselves an outward form: they are enshrined in a vessel of clay, finer or coarser as the case may be, not only in men as individuals, but in men as a community or communities. The society then becomes at once a vehicle and an instrument of the force by which it is animated, not a perfect vehicle or a perfect instrument,—a field of wheat mingled with tares, a net containing bad fish as well as good,—but analogous to those other visible institutions by which God accomplishes His gracious purposes amongst men’ (Sanday, Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible, art. ‘Jesus Christ,’ If. B. b. (2), (vi.)).

A. E. Ross.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Draw-Net'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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