Barry Newman's Blog

October 29, 2012

The Parables of Jesus (part XIII) – The Parable of the Sower (part VIII)

Filed under: Parables of Jesus,The Parable of the Sower — barrynewman @ 8:26 pm

In Conclusion

Though we could hypothesise that on the basis of the parable alone, the proportion of those who fit with any one domain in reality is along roughly equal lines, this would be to go way beyond what Jesus is teaching.  We know from the teaching of Jesus elsewhere, from history and from our own present circumstances that few there are that find the narrow way.  There is a type of unreality that one might force from the parable but Jesus simply paints the picture of four realities not the numbers of those who fall within the various categories.

The three Gospel writers may have moulded their account of the explanations to fit their own purposes to some extent, for example Luke choosing his reference to Satan to be “the evil one” for his Gentile readers, but overall the accounts given differ in very little.  The dominant reference to “the word” may have suggested to all readers that for them it is the gospel message that is the focus of the parable.  How will they respond to it?  How have they responded to it?  How might they respond to it if conditions change? For the believer, reading these explanations, one would be warned about falling away in times of persecution or proving to be unfruitful because of a desire for other things.  But the accounts could also remind the believer of the realities of life – that Jesus knew that some would simply never understand, that others, though appearing to be very enthusiastic for the gospel initially could not “take the heat”, while others simply fell in love with the world one way or another.  For those who were unbelievers, the material presented in the Gospel accounts could make them very aware of the situation that they were already in or in which they could find themselves.  Perhaps they would in the end see that the abundant crop was what any sensible person would hunger for no matter what difficulties lay ahead.  How much the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is to be listened to, understood, desired and thoroughly embraced.

What an extraordinary parable and how blessed we are for Jesus to have given us its interpretation.


October 27, 2012

The Parables of Jesus (part XII) – The Parable of the Sower (part VII)

Filed under: Parables of Jesus,The Parable of the Sower — barrynewman @ 9:53 pm

The Explanation of the Parable

The explanation that Jesus gives to the parable can be found in Matt 13: 18 – 23, Mark 4: 14 – 20 and Luke 8: 11 – 15.

One might be tempted to see Jesus as the sower but only in Mark’s account of the explanation is there any reference to the sower and no identity is forthcoming.  The emphasis is surely not on the sower but on the seed by whatever means it is delivered and the various “soils” on which it lands.

The seed is identified in Matthew’s Gospel as the word of the kingdom and in Luke’s Gospel as the word of God.  The “word” occurs six times in Matthew, eight times in Mark and four times in Luke. Translate “logos” as “word” or “message”, the parable is about that which comes from God and is about God.

The three Gospels are in basic agreement about to interpret the soils.  However Matthew speaks of “the one who”, while Mark and Luke refer to “those who”. That distinction will ignored in what follows.

Basically, the seed sown along the path situation is identified with those or who do not understand (Matthew and Mark) and clearly little time or attention is given by them to the message for the evil one (Matthew), Satan (Mark), the devil (Luke) snatches away what was sown in their hearts (their minds) so they do not understand (Matthew) so that they are unable to believe and be saved (Luke). The birds have been identified as the evil one/Satan/the devil.

The seed sown along the rocky ground scenario is identified with those who hear the message and immediately (Matthew and Mark) receive it with joy but having no root (for though there is top soil there is little depth to it before meeting the rocky substrate), though enduring (Matthew and Mark), believing (Luke) for a while, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word (Matthew and Mark), in time of temptation (Luke) they fall away. The “temptation” of Luke is probably to be identified with the notion of having to face trial as in persecution. This aspect of the parallel speaks of those who see the great worth of the message and accept it gladly. However, they have not really taken it completely to heart and when they are under personal stress because they have accepted the message in the first place they give up whatever commitment they had in the first place.

Concerning what was sown among the thorns, the reference is to those who hear the message but the cares of the world and the delight in riches (Matthew and Mark) and the desire for other things (Mark), the cares and the riches and pleasures of life (Luke) choke the message and it proves to be unfruitful. The focus on such prevents the hearer of the message of really taking it to heart.  It never really amounts to anything in their lives.  Their other concerns prevent it bearing the fruit that is the potential of the message.

Finally, with respect to the seed sown on good soil, the reference is to those who hear the word, understand it (Matthew), accept it (Mark), hold it fast in an honest and good heart. They bear fruit and yield a hundredfold, sixtyfold or thirtyfold (Matthew, reverse order Mark), bring forth fruit with patience (Luke).  No other situation, not even where the word is first accepted with joy, produces such fruit.  But what is the fruit? That fruitfulness (or lack thereof) is mentioned with respect to the seed sown among thorns is suggestive that the reference is simply but profoundly to how reception, understanding, believing, holding fast with sincerity to the word of the kingdom, produces the kingdom person. A wonderful transformation takes place, as the kingdom message is seriously “taken on board” in its fullness. The mention of “with patience” in Luke may be a reference to the development of the kingdom person over time.

October 25, 2012

The Parables of Jesus (part XI) – The Parable of the Sower (part VI)

Filed under: Parables of Jesus,The Parable of the Sower — barrynewman @ 8:13 pm

Not Understanding the Parable (cont.)

In Matthew Jesus explains why he teaches the people in parables, because “seeing they do not see …” whereas in Mark and Luke Jesus explains that it is so that “seeing they may see and not perceive …” or “seeing they may not see …”.  Matthew has Jesus prior to this explanation making the comment that “For to him who has will more be given and he will have abundance, but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”  This bespeaks of God’s judgement and what follows in the “because” statement gives the reason for God’s judgement.  Yet as one follows the Isaiah quote to its end the reason turns into a judgment itself. In the account given by Mark and Luke, the use of “so that” points automatically to that judgement, rather than it being a reason (see below).

Though there are differences among the Gospels, they are not substantial with the record in Matthew giving the fullest account. Perhaps the author of Matthew’s Gospel saw the importance of the quote from Isaiah for a Jewish readership many of whom would have known how Jesus had being rejected by many of their own kind.

The disciples obviously don’t understand the parable themselves. Perhaps by way of being indirect, in Matthew and Mark it is reported that they question Jesus as to why he speaks in parables to the crowd.  Jesus explains that there is an explanation for them but not for “the others”.  And blessed are they because they do see, they do hear, they do understand.  And their understanding pertains to matters that many in the past would have desired to have known but never did obtain that knowledge.  Yet the reality was that Jesus had to explain the parable to them.

The teaching of the crowds by means of parables is in effect God’s judgement on them for their already “disbelief”.  But who exactly in the crowd were coming under this judgement?  Mark makes it clear that it was not only the twelve to whom Jesus spoke these words.  There were others who were also there – those who had also attached themselves to Jesus and his teaching.  That is, those under this judgement were not all except the 12. And consider the following scenario.  Imagine that someone from “the crowd” happened to overhear what Jesus said.  He could have said to himself, “Well there is no point in my trying to understand what Jesus meant by the parable.  According to him I am already condemned to ignorance.  Alternatively, he could have become so anxious about his position before God that he betrayed his presence and blurted out, “Please help me to understand”  Would not Jesus have included him along with those others who were following him?  Of course he would have. But then from God’s point of view such a person did not have a dull heart, heavy ears or closed eyes!!

Behold the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man!  But let all beware of treating God with contempt imaging that in our own time and in our own way we will turn to God when we will.  We have no such liberty.  We must turn to him at once while we can.  Otherwise his judgement will surely fall on us when we cannot turn to him!

October 23, 2012

The Parables of Jesus (part X) – The Parable of the Sower (part V)

Filed under: Parables of Jesus,The Parable of the Sower — barrynewman @ 10:04 pm

Not Understanding the Parable

If we had heard the story for the first time, and knew no more than the crowds and were asked, “What was Jesus trying to teach?” I doubt if many or any of us would have been able to give any answer with confidence.  The words, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” may well have challenged us to try and discern the point Jesus was making but would we have been any more successful than the disciples?

The question the disciples asked Jesus about his use of parables in his teaching and the response that Jesus made is found in Matt 13: 10 – 17, Mark 4: 10 – 13 and Luke 8: 9, 10 and 10: 23, 24.

Matthew and Mark record that the disciples asked Jesus about the parables, Matthew has the disciples asking explicitly why Jesus speaks to “them” in parables, with Mark indicating that the question was raised when the disciples were alone.  Luke records that the disciples asked Jesus what the parable meant.  The three Gospels record that Jesus replies that to them the secret (or secrets) of the kingdom of God (or heaven) has been given. Mark and Luke record that for others (or for those outside) there are the parables, with the reason given – “so that seeing they may not see and hearing they may not understand”, with Mark adding “lest they should turn and be forgiven”.  Matthew concludes with a remark by Jesus about how blessed the disciples are because they see, they hear what many prophets and righteous men desired to see and hear but did not. Luke has Jesus making a similar statement but omitting the reference to their hearing and referring to “kings” rather than “righteous men”. Furthermore, in Luke these comments by Jesus are divorced from the parable of the sower and associated with the response of Jesus to the return of the seventy from their mission.  Mark concludes this section with Jesus commenting upon the disciples’ lack of understanding of the parable in effect saying that if they do not understand this parable how will they understand any of the parables.  The expectation of Jesus is high.  I suspect that this says more about Jesus and the insight he has about matters pertaining to the kingdom of God than about Jesus and his understanding of the disciples’ lack of perception.

Bailey detects that in Matthew 13: 13 -18, imbedded in which there is a quote from Isaiah, there is a poem in which the first seven lines are inverted in the last seven lines[1]

Therefore I speak to them in parables,

1 because seeing they see not and hearing they hear not

2 And it is fulfilled to them the prophecy of Isaiah which says

3 “Hearing you shall hear and shall not understand

4 and seeing you shall see and shall not perceive

5 For this people’s heart is become dull

6 and the ears are dull of hearing

7and their eyes they have closed

7’lest they should perceive with their eyes

6’ and hear with the ear

5’ and understand with the heart, and should turn again and I should heal them.”

4’ But blessed are your eyes for they see

3’and your ears for they hear.

2’ For truly I say unto you that many prophets and righteous men

1’ desired to hear what you see, and did not see and to hear what you hear, and did not hear.

In a note[2] Bailey states, “The author seems to have begun with the text from Isaiah.  This text already has the Heart-Ears-Eyes = Eyes-Ears-Heart inversion in it. The new author adds 4’ and 3’ to balance the remaining sections of the OT quote and then extends the stanza to seven by adding 1 and 2 to the beginning and matching it with 2’ and 1’ at the end.”

The quote comes from Isaiah 9, 10 and the text in Matthew is almost identical with the Septuagint version. The main difference between the Hebrew Masoretic text and the Septuagint is that in the former, God directs the prophet to make the heart of this people fat and make his ears heavy and shut his eyes. Whereas in the latter the heart, ears and eyes of the people are simply described as being dull etc.  Given that the concluding sections are however very similar – “Lest he see with his eyes and hear with his ears and understand with his heart, turn and one heals him.” (Masoretic text) and “Lest they might see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn and I should heal them” (Septuagint), the main point in common is that God’s perspective is that with dull hearts etc the people do not understanding.  And given that Jesus is explaining why he speaks in parables, so that (Mark and Luke – see below) seeing they don’t see etc., his speaking in parables is so that they will be left in that state! Yet at the same time, the text points to the people’s own responsibility.  They have already come to the truth with dull hearts, heavy hearing and closed eyes.

[1] Bailey, K.E., Poet & Peasant and Through Peasant Eyes, Combined Edition, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI, 1976, pp., 61, 62 – italics his.

[2] Ibid, p. 62, note 43, where Bailey refers to Lund, N.W., Chiasmus in the New Testament, Chapel University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, NC, 1942, 233f

October 21, 2012

The Parables of Jesus (part IX) – The Parable of the Sower (part IV)

Filed under: Parables of Jesus,The Parable of the Sower — barrynewman @ 8:06 pm

The “Oddities” of the Parable

Though Carson believes that an increase of even a hundred fold was not impossible, others are of the opinion that tenfold was nearer the average, the point being made in the parable that the gain was exceptionally good.  In fact, that Jesus also refers to thirtyfold and sixty fold as well as one hundred fold is probably a good indication that not only was thirtyfold a good yield but that sixty was a very good yield and one hundredfold and exceptionally good yield.  That Luke only refers to the hundredfold increase could be understood as Luke simply indicating that that was a normal expectation or much more likely that the reference to a hundred fold was enough on its own to indicate what a bumper crop it was. Jesus is trying to make a point and he is not going to be constrained in his telling of the story by what in real life tends to be the yield.

There is however another aspect of the story which in its bare form does not seem to ring true.  Any farmer sowing in the same field for most years will be well aware of the rocky areas where the soil has little depth or where the thorns tend to grow.  He will also be well aware that birds might come and find easy pickings where the seed has fallen on hard ground.  In real life, he will try and minimise the seed that falls on those three areas and might well have an assistant who shoos away any birds that might come by.  In Jesus day, the seed is first “sown” and then the area is ploughed.  He is not going to plough over the rocky ground and the ground where the thorns grow.  He may well decide not to plough over the paths that he uses for the area from which he traditionally throws his seed and which path he may choose to walk as he gathers in the harvest.  But Jesus is not telling a story about sowing seed, for the sake of simply the story itself.  Again he is trying to make a point or a series of points.  To do so, he will concoct a story with utter simplicity – almost as though there were equal amounts of seed falling on the four different areas – some fell, some fell, some fell and some fell. The casual character of the account might even suggest that the farmer was careless, though it is clear that Jesus does not intend that to be a feature of its meaning.

We become aware of a final oddity when we hear his interpretation. The reality behind the explanation he gives does not quite fit the reality that the story seems to convey. However in making the points that he does, that is of no consequence and is to be ignored.  We will look at this later.

What is of interest is that commentators do not seem readily to appreciate that when Jesus tells a story he will make it untrue to life if needs be in order to convey the message he has planned for behind the story.  Reality will not constrain what he wants to say.  He tells a perfectly good “yarn”!  I cannot imagine that any of his hearers would say “Hang on, it is not like that in real life!” More likely they would be thinking – “Aha.  I wonder what he’s getting at.  This is intriguing.”  I suspect that in his Semitic world, using such a strategy in story telling was perfectly acceptable. Such a strategy would be likely to receive a good hearing but that was not why or the main reason why Jesus told the story the way he did.  He constructed it so that it would be appropriate for the task he had for it.  He would not let the truth be determined by the story.  The story must be determined by the truth. And so we await its explanation but first what about the lack of understanding to which the Gospel writers refer?

October 18, 2012

The Parables of Jesus (part VIII) – The Parable of the Sower (part III)

Filed under: Parables of Jesus,The Parable of the Sower — barrynewman @ 9:22 pm

The Parable

The details of the parable are similar across all three accounts with Luke being generally more cryptic than Matthew and Mark, and with Mark adding a little more detail here and there. There were four areas on which the seed thrown by the sower fell.  Some fell along the path, Luke adding that it was trodden under foot. (Is this addition an indication that Luke needs to make clear what otherwise might not be, that the seed was never going to be likely to sprout even if the path was later ploughed – see below?) Birds came and devoured it, Luke adding that they were birds of the air. (There may be an indication here of Luke translating for his Gentile audience a Semitic phrase, “the birds of heaven”.) Other seed fell on rocky ground where there was not much soil and immediately it sprung up, since it had little depth in soil and when the sun rose it was scorched and since it had no root it withered away.  Luke simply records that as it grew up it withered away because it had no moisture. Other seed fell among thorns that grew up and choked it, Mark adding that it grew no grain. Finally some seed fell on good soil. Matthew and Mark record that it brought forth grain, Mark adding “growing up and increasing”, both indicating that the gain was a hundredfold, sixtyfold and thirtyfold, with Mark inverting that order.  Luke simply refers to the gain being a hundredfold.  All Gospels record Jesus as concluding the parable with. “He who has ears (to hear – Mark and Luke), let him hear.”

October 16, 2012

The Parables of Jesus (part VII) – The Parable of the Sower (part II)

Filed under: Parables of Jesus,The Parable of the Sower — barrynewman @ 9:55 pm

The Setting

The literary setting for Matthew is one where in spite of Jesus healing a man with a shrivelled hand, where the Pharisees plot how to kill him, where his driving a demon from a man blind and mute is interpreted by the Pharisees as Jesus being in league with Beelzebub, where he warns his opponents about blaspheming against the Spirit and calls them a brood of vipers, where he is challenged by the Pharisees and scribes to perform a sign, where he refers to his generation as a wicked generation and where while still talking to a crowd he identifies his mother and his brothers as those who do the will of his Father in heaven. The physical setting is one where on the same day as he has spoken about his mother and his brothers, he leaves “the house” and after sitting by the lake, because of the large crowds that had gathered, he speaks to them while sitting in a boat. He told them many things in parables.

The literary setting for Mark is one where a large crowd came to where Jesus had withdrawn with his disciples to the lake.  The twelve were selected by him. The scribes claim he is possessed by Beelzebub.  Jesus warns them about blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. He speaks of those who do God’s will as being his brother, sister and mother. The physical setting is similar to that depicted by Matthew.

For Luke the literary setting is one where a centurion has displayed his confidence in Jesus to heal his servant, a widow’s son has been raised from the dead, John the immerser has sent disciples to Jesus and Jesus speaks of how both he and John are spoken against but from different points of view, a sinner woman anoints Jesus at the house of Pharisee and Jesus pronounces that her sins are forgiven. It is after this that Luke records that Jesus travelled widely proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom of God, that he was accompanied by a number of women who helped to support him and his disciples.  He then describes how a large crowd was gathering with people coming from many towns and that then he told them the parable.

All Gospels record that there were large crowds, that he taught them and the teaching is recorded as beginning with the parable.  Broadly speaking, before the reference to the parable, Matthew and Mark refer to the opposition that Jesus was encountering beforehand, while Luke records the faith being demonstrated in him by some.

October 14, 2012

The Parables of Jesus (part VI) – The Parable of the Sower (part I)

Filed under: Parables of Jesus,The Parable of the Sower — barrynewman @ 10:42 pm

The Parable of the Sower

I have chosen to look at the Parable of the Sower, at least to begin with.  I think there is value in this given that it is one of the few parables to be found in all three of the Synoptic Gospels and additionally it is one of only a few parables for which Jesus provides and explanation, it is the first mentioned in the gospels of what are commonly thought of as parables and it is the parable that is interconnected with what Jesus says about those who are given understanding and those who are not.

The parable itself is found in Matt 13: 1 – 9, Mark 4: 1 – 9 and Luke 8: 1 – 8, with the explanation given by Jesus occurring at Matt 13: 18 – 23, Mark 4: 14 – 20 and Luke 8: 11 – 15.

Matthew refers to it as “the parable of the sower” but one can understand why Carson calls it “the parable of the soils”.  I suspect that the title, “the parable of the careless farmer” might not be all that unsuitable but the emphasis is really on the seed and the different areas on which the seed lands and what happened to it there.

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