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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Tares

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TARES (ζιζάνια, Matthew 13:25 ff.; only in this passage in NT and only in Gr. and Lat. authors influenced by the NT; Arab. [Note: Arabic.] zawân [‘nausea’]; Syr. [Note: Syriac.] zizna; Lat. and scientific name, Lolium temulentum [‘drunken’]).—The bearded darnel, a weed much resembling wheat in its earlier stages, and growing mostly in grain fields. Its area of distribution is wide, embracing Europe, Western Asia, North Africa, India, and Japan. The kernel is black, bitter, and smaller than wheat. As a matter of fact it is poisonous, producing dizziness, sleepiness, nausea, diarrhœa, convulsions, gangrene, and sometimes death; this is due, however, not to the darnel itself, but to the ergot which usually infests it. It does not harm poultry, for which it is raised and sold in Oriental markets. Though very closely resembling wheat till the grain is headed out, afterwards ‘even a child knows the difference’ (Thomson). See Tristram (Nat. Hist. of the Bible, p. 486), and Thomson (LB [Note: The Land and the Book.] , vol. ii. pp. 395–397) esp. for an explanation of the common Oriental but unscientific idea that darnel is degenerate wheat.

The parable of the Tares and its explanation are found only in Matthew 13:24-30; Matthew 13:36-43. Our interpretation of it is affected by a few exegetical details. In Matthew 13:24 the aorist ὡμοιώθη is significant (as also the aorists in Matthew 18:23 and Matthew 22:2, and the future in Matthew 25:1) if the use of this tense means that the Kingdom of heaven has ‘been made like,’ etc., by the course of events, that in the progress of the history it has become like. This ties the parable to the historical situation in which it was spoken, forbidding an exclusive reference to the future; while the fact that it is the Son of Man (= Messiah) who has sown the good seed (cf. Matthew 13:37) excludes all reference to the origin of evil in the world. The time of the parable is the time of the question of the servants (Matthew 13:27), when the tares had been already recognized as such (ἐφάνη, Matthew 13:26). As to Matthew 13:25, it is not at all necessary to think that this was a common method of revenge in Jesus’ day and country. Thomson did not find a person in Palestine who had ever heard of sowing darnel maliciously. If new to Jesus’ hearers, it would emphasize this quite possible malice as extraordinary, unheard-of, and outrageous. In Matthew 13:26 χόρτος means the grassy crop, including all that grew in the field, and was chosen just in order to embrace both tares and wheat. ‘Made fruit’ does not mean ‘produced fruit,’ but refers to the period of the formation of the kernel. ‘Then,’ and not till then, appeared also the tares as tares. Matthew 13:27 and the following verse show that the idea of wheat degenerating into darnel is foreign to the parable; the servants think of mixed seed, the master of an independent sowing of darnel. Still less is there any idea in the parable that darnel may become wheat (B. Weiss). Weeding wheat (Matthew 13:28-29) is common to-day in Palestine as in America, and has been observed there by Stanley, Thomson, and Robertson Smith; but it must be done either before the milk stage of the wheat, i.e. before it is headed out (impossible in this case on account of the similarity between wheat and darnel in the earlier growth), or later when the kernel has hardened. The reason for this is that any disturbance of the wheat when ‘in the milk’ is especially harmful to it. So the master will not allow the weeding then, lest the servants pull out and so disturb the roots of the wheat, interlaced as they are with the roots of the darnel. There is no question here of pulling up wheat for darnel by mistake. The darnel has already appeared as darnel, and just on that account comes the servants’ question (Matthew 13:27). The question of the servants is then, from the point of view of the Galilaean agriculturists addressed, an intrinsically foolish one. No one who knew anything about farming would think of removing the darnel at that juncture. The master’s reply does not seem strange to the crowd. It is reinforced by their knowledge and common sense. So Jesus gains the approval of the common man to back His teaching. The harvesters of Matthew 13:30 (cf. Matthew 13:39) are different from the servants, although this is merely implied here, and is first made perfectly clear only in the explanation. It is absolutely necessary to avoid the mingling of the kernels of the darnel and the wheat, lest the bread be poisoned. This may be effected (a) by weeding, (b) by carefully picking out the stalks of darnel one by one from the cut grain, probably the former here (cf. Matthew 13:30; Matthew 13:28 συλλέξατε, συλλέξωμεν), or (c) by sifting (after threshing) with a sieve so constructed as to allow the smaller darnel seeds to fall through, while retaining the larger wheat. All three methods are used in Palestine to-day. The weeding would trample down the grain, to be sure; but, as to-day in America, it would rise again enough to be cut by the sickle, always used in Palestine; cf. Deuteronomy 16:9; Deuteronomy 23:25, Mark 4:29, Revelation 14:14-19. It is probable that τὰ σκάνδαλα in Matthew 13:41 is to be taken personally as in Matthew 16:23. The πάντα, not repeated before τοὺς ποιοῦντας, seems to include both under one vinculum; up to this time all, both tares and wheat, have been interpreted as persons (Matthew 13:38); and, finally, only persons are subject to the final judgment (Matthew 13:42).

The correct interpretation of this parable flows directly from its historical setting. It is a stage in the development of the Kingdom which allows itself to be described (ὡμοιώθη, v. 24) by the story of the Tares. The men addressed, whether the Twelve or the multitudes, were Jews, with the common Jewish ideas of the Messianic Kingdom, and these ideas Jesus was engaged in modifying and spiritualizing. The Sower had been a parable of disillusionment, disclosing that the success of the Messianic Kingdom would not be so universal or immediate as they had fondly imagined, that its method was to be preaching and not cataclysm, that it depended for its spread on its reception in human hearts. The Tares is equally a parable of disillusionment. John the Baptist had at least, publicly and prevailingly, described the Messiah as coming for judgment (Matthew 3:10-12), and this was in perfect accord with the popular anticipation that the Messianic reign would begin with a judgment (Schürer, HJP [Note: JP History of the Jewish People.] ii. ii. 163–168, 181). But Jesus had not shown any indication of being such a judge, nay He had taken quite another course (Matthew 12:15-21), so that doubt came into the mind even of John the Baptist (Matthew 11:2 ff.). For the inauguration of the Messianic reign with a judgment the disciples were eagerly looking. ‘On that day’ (Matthew 13:1) of the parables, or at least a short time before it, the Pharisees had shown their true colours by charging that Jesus cast out demons by Beelzebub, the prince of the demons (Matthew 12:22-32). Jesus had indeed given them a solemn warning (Matthew 12:32), but no lightning stroke had destroyed them, and the disciples were disappointed. Their spirit, described in the question of Matthew 12:28, was later expressed by James and John (Luke 9:54 f.), ‘Lord, wilt thou that we bid fire to come down from heaven and consume them?’ In this parable Jesus teaches them that the judgment which they momentarily expected, the separation of the sons of the Kingdom and the sons of the Evil One, shall surely come, not now, but at the end of the age, and that meantime the wicked shall continually spring up among the righteous. This is to be expected, and is to be borne with patience. The parable therefore discloses the fact that, instead of being victorious at one stroke, the progress of the Kingdom is to be continually hindered and hampered (cf. τὰ σκάνδαλα, Matthew 13:41), till the consummation of the age.

This interpretation leaves unanswered those questions about Church discipline which have made the parable an ecclesiastical battle-ground for centuries, because the parable has nothing to do with such controversies. (1) The field is not the Church, but the world of men (Matthew 13:38), the Messiah’s world which He is sowing, just as it is in the Sower, the Mustard Seed, and the Leaven. (2) The Kingdom is not the Church, but the Messianic Kingdom of Jewish expectation. It is extremely doubtful if the Kingdom ever = the Church, certainly never the visible, organized Church. (3) There was no background for the idea of ‘Church,’ much less of Church discipline, in the disciples’ minds at this time. It is only at Caesarea Philippi (Matthew 16:18) and afterwards (only Matthew 18:17), that Jesus begins to introduce that idea in a very rudimentary way, by what Aramaic word we know not. (4) If the parable refers to Church discipline, it forbids it in toto, while the parable of the Net on a similar interpretation makes it impossible. It is idle to say that it prohibits only the exclusion of masses, and permits that of the very bad, or inculcates a general attitude of mind towards Church discipline. (5) All men are to appear at the Judgment, not merely professing Christians (Matthew 25:31-32). (6) The Apostles did not so understand the parable, for they insisted on Church discipline (1 Corinthians 5:2; 1 Corinthians 5:13, 2 Corinthians 2:5-11, 2 Thessalonians 3:6; 2 Thessalonians 3:13, Revelation 2:14-16; Revelation 2:20-23; cf. Matthew 18:15-20). The history of the interpretation of the parable shows that such a use of it was first made by Cyprian during his bishopric (248–258), in support of his theories of the Church. Tertullian, a half century earlier, may have held it. Origen (b. 182, d. 250) knew of this interpretation, but rejected it. Irenaeus knew nothing of it. (7) Last and most important, such an interpretation ignores the historical situation, would have been a riddle to the disciples (cf. Bruce, Parabolic Teaching, p. 43), a prophecy with no root in the present; it takes no account of the emphasis in Christ’s interpretation, and of His omission of the servants’ question and the master’s answer therein (cf. Matthew 25:28-30 a. with Matthew 25:37-43).

Two objections to the interpretation of the parable proposed in this article deserve attention. (1) In Matthew 25:41, Jesus says that the angels shall gather out of His Kingdom all offences and them that do iniquity, whence it is inferred that the tares were in the Kingdom and not in the world. It is admitted that the word ‘Kingdom’ is used in this parable in a very loose sense. But this is the universal fact throughout the Synoptics, in proof of which the long controversies in the theological world about its meaning are conclusive (cf. Sanday in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible ii. 619 f.). The Kingdom of Matthew 25:24, which the course of events has already made like the field of the following narrative, is a most intangible and indefinable entity, a congeries of truths and principles characteristic of the coming age, which take shape in the world as they embody themselves in the lives of men. In the process of taking shape, the parable tells us, opposition has risen in the world of men which these truths and principles claim as their rightful sphere, and which men expect them to occupy. The sons of the Kingdom (Matthew 25:38) are those who receive these truths and embody them in their lives and conduct. These are sown in the wide field of the world of men, which the Messiah claims as rightfully His—His Kingdom (Matthew 25:41), or, if preferred, which He calls His Kingdom at His coming to claim it as such (cf. Matthew 16:28, 2 Timothy 4:1, Revelation 11:15; cf. Matthew 13:49). Finally, the Kingdom of their Father (Matthew 13:43, cf. Matthew 26:29; Matthew 25:34; Matthew 25:46) is the consummated Kingdom of glory. (2) The related parable of the Net (Matthew 13:47-50) is supposed to refer to the discipline of the Church. This is, however, a mistake. (a) The Kingdom is not like the Net; but its principles and history, here especially its consummation, are illustrated by the following story (cf. Mark 4:26). (b) The explanation of Matthew 13:49-50 lays not the slightest emphasis on anything except the consummation. (c) Those who draw the net and those who separate the good and the bad are the very same persons (Matthew 13:48), i.e. the angels (Matthew 13:49). (d) The parable, if it relates to Church discipline, makes that absolutely impossible. (e) Its position at the end of the sermon of Matthew 13, whether due to Jesus or Mt. or an editor, is an additional proof that its teaching is the same as that of the Tares: i.e. at the end of the age, and only then, shall the good and the bad be separated.

The historical criticism of the Gospels gives no assured results here. Holtzmann and Pfleiderer think that the Evangelist has worked over and added new traits to Mark 4:26 ff. B. Weiss says that Mt. and Mk. have worked over the same original parable, Mt., however, adding only Mark 4:25; Mark 4:27-28 a. The explanation, as also that of the Sower, is from the Evangelist’s hand. Jülicher acknowledges an unrecognizable parable-kernel here, which lies at the bottom of both Mt. and Mk. The parable, as it stands in Mt., is, however, the result of a working over of Mk.’s parable and the original parable, the companion of the Net, while the explanation is from the same editor’s hand. Hilgenfeld and Holsten look on Mk.’s parable as a weakened form of the Tares, or a substitute for it. J. Weiss thinks that the idea of gradual development is not in this or its sister parables.

Literature.—Broadus, Com. on Mt.; Jülicher, Die Gleichnisreden Jesu, ii. 546–569; also B. Weiss, Zahn, Goebel, Trench, and Bruce (Parabolic Teaching), cf. his remarks in Expos. Gr. Test., in loc.; Arnot (Parables) may be compared as a pioneer of the correct interpretation. See also R. Flint, Christ’s Kingdom upon Earth (1865), 122; H. S. Holland, God’s City (1894), 181; R. J. Campbell, The Song of Ages (1905), 77. The controversy of the Donatists with Augustine first brought out the arguments on both sides.

Frederick L. Anderson.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Tares'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/t/tares.html. 1906-1918.

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