Mark 4
ICC New Testament Commentary
And he began again to teach by the sea side: and there was gathered unto him a great multitude, so that he entered into a ship, and sat in the sea; and the whole multitude was by the sea on the land.

4. With one exception, the prophetic discourse of ch. 13, the parables are the only connected discourse in Mk. And it is the only specimen of teaching without any statement of the circumstances in which it originated. Indeed, it follows from what Jesus says about the object of his teaching in parables, that it would be without any such ground in events or questions, as would furnish a key to the meaning of the parable. Like all our Lord’s teaching, it grew out of the conditions of the time, but the connection is not indicated, except as one reads the riddle of the parable itself. And in this way, it serves his purpose of veiling the truth, except to the initiated. But when one understands the μυστήριον, the secret of the kingdom, the occasion is obvious. That secret, not known at the time by any one but Jesus, and not to be communicated to outsiders, was that the kingdom is a seed which grows, and not an authority to be externally set up and enforced. The occasion is thus the hindrances to the work of Jesus, the opposition of the rulers, the dulness and superficiality of the multitude, and the question even of the disciples, why he does not brush these obstacles away and set up the Messianic kingdom.


1-9. Jesus comes again to the shore of the lake, where he is followed by the usual multitude, whom he teaches from a boat in parables.

1. πάλιν—again connects this with the events by the shore of the lake, 3:7 sq.; cf. 2:13, 1:16. καὶ συνάγεται πρὸς αὐτὸν ὄχλος πλεῖστος—and there gathers to him a very great multitude.

συνάγεται, instead of συνήχθη, Tisch. Treg. WH. RV. א BCL Δ 13, 28, 69, 124. πλεῖστος instead of πολύς, Tisch. Treg. WH. RV. א BCL Δ.

The great multitude repeats the scene of the previous gathering at the shore of the lake, and the boat is apparently the boat which he ordered the disciples to have in readiness for him at that time, 3:7, 9.

εἰς πλοῖον ἐμβάντα (omit τὸ), having entered a boat, Tisch. Treg. WH. RV. א BCKLM 1, 33, 118, 131, 209 etc.

πρὸς τὴν θάλασσαν ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς ἦσαν—were towards the sea upon the land.1

ἦσαν, instead of ἦν, Tisch. Treg. WH. RV. א BCL Δ 33, mss. of Lat. Vet.

Luke 8:1-4 gives a different setting to the parable. According to him, it was spoken during a journey in the cities and villages of Galilee.

2. ἐδίδασκεν—he was teaching. The impf. describes the act in its progress. ἐν παραβολαῖς—in parables.2 Here we have the parable drawn out into a story. ἐν τῇ διδαχῇ αὐτοῦ—in his teaching. The word denotes the act of teaching, not the doctrine, or thing taught. ἀκούετε—hear, or listen. It calls attention to what follows, after a manner common to our Lord.

3. ὁ σπείρων—the sower, not a sower.3

4. ὃ μὲν—some. σπέρμα, seed is understood.1 παρὰ τῆν ὁδόν—by the side of the road. We are not to think here of a wide road, with a fence or wall separating it from the field, but of a path traversing the unenclosed fields. The unproductiveness is due of course to the hardness of the trodden soil. Jesus adds that the birds devoured the seed, and this is due to its lying on the surface without penetrating it.

Omit τοῦ οὐρανοῦ, of heaven, after τὰ πέτεινα, the birds, Tisch. Treg. WH. RV. א ABCL Δ mss. of Lat. Vet. and of Vulg. etc.

5. Καὶ ἄλλο—and other.2

καὶ ἄλλο, instead of ἄλλο δὲ, Tisch. Treg. WH. RV. א BC(D)L Δ two mss. of Lat. Vet. Memph. etc.

τὸ πετρῶδες—the rocky ground, not stony. A place where the rock came up near the surface, leaving room for only thin soil overlying it, is meant.

καὶ εὐθὺς ἐξανέτειλε—and it came up immediately. The thin soil had two effects; first, the grain came up quickly, because it lay near the surface, and was more exposed to the generous influence of the sun and rain; and secondly, it was scorched and withered by the sun, because there was no room for the roots to penetrate.

6. Καὶ ὅτε ὁ ἥλιος ἀνέτειλεν—and when the sun arose.

This reading, instead of ἡλίου δὲ ἀνατείλαντος, Tisch. Treg. WH. RV. אBCDL Δ mss. of Lat. Vet. Vulg. Memph.

ἐκαυματίσθη—was scorched.3

7. εἰς τὰς ἀκάνθας—i.e. among the seeds of thorns or briers, which afterwards came up, ἀνέβησαν, and choked the grain.

8. καὶ ἄλλα—and others; σπέρματα is understood, the word being taken individually, instead of collectively, as in the other parts of the parable.

ἄλλα, others, instead of ἄλλο, other, Tisch. (Treg.) WH. RV. א * and cb BCL 28, 33, 124, one ms. of Lat. Vet. Memph. etc.

ἐδίδου κάρπον—gave fruit. Probably, in this case, as in v. 7, this means the grain itself, and not the stalks, but in this case, the participles ἀναβαίνοντα and αὐξάνοντα must agree with ἄλλα, and not with καρπὸν. The reading αὐξανόμενον favored by T Tr. forces the agreement with καρπόν. That of WH. RV. αὐξανόμενα, forces the agreement with ἄλλα. The internal evidence thus confirms the latter reading; cf. καρποφοροῦσιν v. 20.

αὐξανόμενον, instead of αὐξάνοντα, Tisch. Treg. ADL Δ 238. αὐξανόμενα WH. RV. א B.

εἰς τριάκοντα—up to thirty, denoting the degree of fruitfulness.

εἰς τριάκοντα, instead of ἓν τριάκοντα, Tisch. Treg. WH. RV. א BCL Δ 28 etc. εἰς ἑξήκοντα, and εἰς ἕκατον Tisch. Treg. WH. marg. RV. א C* Δ 28 etc. ἐν with the last two WH. BLEFGKMUV II etc.

9. Και ἔλεγεν, ὃς ἔχει ὦτα ἀκούειν, ἀκουέτω—And he said, He who hath ears to hear, let him hear. This is a familiar expression of our Lord’s used by him to call attention to what is especially worth hearing. Ye who have ears, prepare to use them now.

Omit αὐτοῖς, to them, after ἔλεγεν, Tisch. Treg. WH. RV. א ABCDL Δ Latt. Memph. Syrr. etc. ὃς ἔχει, instead of ὁ ἔχων, Tisch. Treg. WH. RV. א BC* D Δ.

10-25. Explanation of the parable.

10. καὶ ὅτε ἐγένετο κατὰ μόνας1—And when he came to be alone, i.e. after the departure of the crowd, which, however, followed probably the telling of the other parables. This is certainly so, if we adopt the reading τὰς παραβολάς at the end of the verse.

οἱ περὶ αὐτὸν—The disciples generally, as distinguished from the multitude on the one hand, and the twelve on the other. Disciples, because he separates them from those outside, as those to whom the mystery of the kingdom is entrusted. τὰς παραβολάς—the parables uttered by him on this occasion, including those following the explanation of the Parable of the Sower.

Καὶ ὅτε, instead of Ὅτε δὲ, Tisch. Treg. WH. RV. א BCDL Δ Latt. Memph. etc. ἠρώτων, instead of ἠρώτησαν, Treg. WH. RV. ABL Δ 33. ἠρώτουν, Tisch. א C τὰς παραβολάς, instead of Sing., Tisch. Treg. WH. RV. א BCL Δ one ms. of Lat. Vet. mss. of Vulg. Memph. some edd.

11. Ὑμῖν δέδοται τὸ μυστήριον—To you has been given the mystery. The mystery has been put into your hands.

Omit γνῶναι, to know, after δέδοται, Tisch. Treg. WH. RV. א ABCKL one ms. of Lat. Vet. Vulg. Memph. some edd. etc.

A mystery in the N.T. is not something hard to understand, but something hidden, revealed only to the initiated, like the Greek mysteries. The secret of the Kingdom of God set forth in these parables is the fact of its only partial success in this early stage. This fact seemed to those outside, not possessed of the secret of the kingdom, to be inconsistent with its nature as a heavenly kingdom. They thought, when God really set out to establish his Kingdom, its success would be speedy and sure. Supernatural powers would supersede natural processes, and everything would yield to them. The mystery, the hidden thing, set forth by Jesus, in this group of parables, is that the kingdom belongs to living, growing things, and is subject thus to the same laws as grain, leaven, mustard seed, and the like. Gradualness therefore belongs to its nature.

ἐκείνοις δὲ τοῖς ἔξω—to those outsiders. The EV. translates τοῖς ἔξω by them who are without. And we need to add something to this to indicate the presence of the demonstrative. This can be done by emphasizing the word them (those), or by translating τοῖς ἔξω outsiders. Jesus has in mind probably the multitude just gone from them, whom he points out in ἐκείνοις, and describes by τοῖς ἔξω; cf. Matthew 13:11, where ἐκείνοις alone is used. The connection with τ. βασιλείας τ. Θεοῦ in the preceding clause indicates that it is the kingdom of God outside of which he places them. Those inside the kingdom know its secrets, those outside do not know them. τὰ πάντα—all things. It is defined by the context as all things pertaining to the mystery of the kingdom.

ἐν παραβολαῖς—in parables. Instead of being stated in terms belonging to itself, the mystery of the kingdom is so stated in terms belonging to another realm, as to veil it. The parable, i.e. by itself, without its key. If the truth is stated first abstractly, and then in terms of the analogy, the two help to the understanding of each other by showing that the phenomenon is not special, but common, a general fact belonging to the related realms of matter and spirit. But without this key, the parable remains a riddle, which is one of its meanings.

12. ἵνα βλέποντες βλέπωσι, καὶ μὴ ἴδωσι—in order that seeing, they may see, and not perceive. It is evident that ἴδωσι expresses a more inward and real sight than βλέπωσι. The idea is expressed thus, in order that in the act of seeing, there may be merely outward seeing and not perception. The contrast is more exactly expressed by the difference between ἀκούωσι and συνιῶσι, hearing and understanding. μήποτε ἐπιστρέψωσιν καὶ ἀφεθῇ αὐτοῖς—lest perchance they may turn, and it be forgiven them. ἀφεθῇ is used impersonally.

Omit τὰ ἁμαρτήματα, their sins, after ἀφεθῇ Tisch. Treg. txt. WH. RV. א BCL 1, 22, 118, 209, 251, 340, * one ms. Lat. Vet. Memph.

The whole verse is a translation of Isaiah 6:9, adapted freely from the Sept. It takes these phrases ἀκοῇ ἀκούσετε κ. οὐ μὴ συνῆτε, κ. βλέποντες βλέψουσιν κ. οὐ μὴ ἴδητε and μήποτε ἐπιστρέψωσιν κ. ἰάσομαι αὐτούς out of their connection and pieces them together.

In explaining this difficult passage, it is to be noticed, first, that the difference between the form of the quotation in Mk. and Lk. on the one hand, and Mt. on the other, corresponds to a like difference between the original Hebrew and the LXX. In the Hebrew, God says to his prophet, “Go, … make the heart of this people fat and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes, lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and turn again and be healed.” That is, God is represented as sending his prophet to harden the heart of the people by his prophetic message, as if Rubinstein should have been told to deaden people’s musical sense by his playing, or Bishop Brooks to stifle their religious sense by his preaching. In the LXX., on the contrary, the hardening is the cause, not the purpose. The people will not hear the prophet’s message because their heart is hardened, and they have shut their eyes. So in Mt., following the LXX., Jesus speaks to them in parables because their heart is waxed gross, and their ears dull of hearing. And especially, the obnoxious μήποτε ἐπιστρέψωσιν κ. ἰάσομαι αὐτούς is included in the result of their own conduct, and not in the Divine purpose. Mk. and Lk., however, follow the original in making the failure to hear and see to be the purpose of the parable. But Lk. omits the obnoxious μήποτε ἐπιστρέψωσιν κ. ἀφεθῇ αὐτοῖς. And yet, there is no doubt, from the identity of language, that Mk., and following him, Lk., quote from the LXX., while modifying it for some reason. That reason would seem to be, that Mk. had in mind the form in which Jesus quotes the passage, and that this was conformed to some Targum, preserving the spirit of the original. This confirms what is otherwise probable, that Mk., rather than Mt., preserves the original form of Jesus’ saying. But while Mk., and according to the above, Jesus himself, conforms to the original Hebrew, he does not preserve the irony which is the saving element of the passage in Isaiah. It is only ironically that God commands the prophet to harden the people by his pungent preaching, because he sees that this will be the inevitable result. Whereas, it is evidently in all seriousness, that Jesus describes this as the result of the parable. The parable is evidently regarded by Jesus as a form of teaching intended to veil the truth conveyed, and adapted, therefore, to esoteric teaching. Moreover, the teaching is esoteric; it concerns the mysteries of the kingdom of God, not the ordinary facts in regard to it, but certain things intended not for the common ear, but only for the disciples. And the parable does so veil the meaning that it has to be explained even to them. There is a key to each of the parables, some fundamental analogy, which is necessary to its explanation. In the Parable of the Sower, this is found in the statement that the seed is the word. Without this, the meaning is obscure. That is, the language of Isaiah, applied to the teaching of Jesus as a whole, would have the irony of the original; but applied to the parables, it is to be taken seriously. This makes all plain sailing until we come to the obnoxious μήποτε ἐπιστρέψωσιν κ. ἀφεθῇ αὐτοῖς. There the irony reappears, for it would evidently be only ironically, and not earnestly, that Jesus would say of any of his teaching, that it was intended to prevent the forgiveness and conversion of the people. It makes the proper climax to the original passage, but is out of place in Jesus’ use of it. But, after the mechanical fashion, which often marks the reporting of discourse, Mk., remembering only that Jesus used this quotation, reproduced the passage as he found it in the original, without omitting its irrelevant clauses. Mt., on the other hand, quoting from the LXX., without the modification introduced by Mk., has not involved himself in the same difficulty, but has not reproduced for us what Jesus said. Lk., seeing the difficulty involved in Mk.’s report, has omitted the obnoxious clause, giving us probably the genuine form of the quotation. Our Lord’s statement, then, is simply this, that the mystery of the kingdom, or its secret, is not intended for those outside of it, and that therefore he uses in conveying it to his disciples the contrivance of the parable, so that outsiders who have not the clue may hear without hearing.

13. οὐκ οἴδατε κτλ. This is treated by some of the critics and commentators as a question, and by others as a statement. Of course, the original text contained no intimation in which of these two ways it is to be taken, and there is little choice in the meanings obtained. Taken as a statement, the succeeding question is an inference from the fact that they do not know this parable. As a question, it already expresses surprise at the fact that they do not know this parable, and then follows the inference. Καὶ πῶς πάσας τὰς παραβολὰς γνώσεσθε;—and how will you know all the parables? The argument is from the similarity of the parables. This is not an unusual instance, but a good example of its class. The lack of perception shown in this case would extend to all similar cases.

14. τὸν λόγον σπείρει. τὸν λόγον is emphatic, and contains the key to the parable. He is speaking of the sowing of the word, and pointing out the analogies between this and the sowing of seed.

15. οὗτοι δέ εἰσιν οἱ παρὰ τὴν ὁδόν—And these are they along the road. The seed and the soil are here confounded. The seed is the word, the soil is the mind of the hearer. The exact statement would be, these are the road.

ἔρχεται ὁ Σατανᾶς—Satan comes. One would say naturally that the birds in the parable were merely a part of the picture, and had no counterpart in the spiritual fact represented by it. One main principle in the interpretation of the parables is that only the one truth represented in the comparison is to be seized upon, and the details are to be treated as mere incidents, on the ground that things in the spiritual and material worlds correspond only in generals. And it is evident that Jesus generally treated the parables with this largeness and sobriety. But in this case, an opportunity is given Jesus to introduce into his account of obstructions to the fruitfulness of the seed the agency of that kingdom of evil which complicates the whole problem. The primary result of sowing on this hard soil is that the seed remains on the surface, the secondary result is, that it is snatched away from the mind by the influences represented by Satan.1 The road, or path, represents those whose spirits are impervious to the truth, into whom it finds no entrance at all.

τὸν λόγον τὸν ἐσπαρμένον ἐν αὐτοῖς (εἰς αὐτούς), the word which has been sown in them. ἐν αὐτοῖς, instead of ἐν ταῖς καρδίαις, in their hearts, T. א CL Δ Memph. Harcl. marg. εἰς αὐτούς, Treg. WH. RV. B 1, 13, 28, 69, 118, 209.

16. ὁμοίως—in like manner,—by virtue of the same general resemblance. οἱ … σπειρόμενοι—There is the same confusion of seed and soil as in the preceding case. εὐθὺς μετὰ χαρᾶς—This corresponds to the εὐθὺς ἐξανέτειλε of the parable, and denotes one side of the resemblance, the superficial readiness with which they receive the word. They have been attracted by the pleasant things, and have not stopped to count the pains and oppositions that constitute the other side of the kingdom in this evil world.

17. ῥίζαν—root. The analogy is so close, that the various terms belonging to the physical process and material have become familiar designations of the corresponding spiritual facts, such as seed, soil, root, fruit, and the like. Root denotes the hold which the truth has upon the spirit, securing its permanence. The absence of it designates the superficiality of this class of hearers. πρόσκαιροι—transient. This describes the merely temporary effect of the word upon them, owing to their superficiality. θλίψεως ἢ διωγμοῦ—affliction or persecution. We may suppose that this is not an exhaustive statement of the things destructive of the truth in the superficial hearer, that it simply represents them by the one thing operative in that early period of conflict. Only deeply rooted discipleship can withstand persecution. εὐθὺς σκανδαλίζονται—immediately they stumble. Immediateness is characteristic of this class on both sides. They receive the word immediately, and fall away immediately. Haste and superficiality go together. They do not wait to see if there is any other side to religion than the glad side, nor, on the other hand, whether affliction is a sufficient reason for giving it up. σκανδαλίζονται—is found only in the N.T., and means to cause to fall or stumble, and in the pass., to fall or stumble. It is the opposite of to stand. The translation of the AV., they are offended, gives a wrong idea of the word. RV. they stumble.

18. καὶ ἄλλοι—and others.

Καὶ ἄλλοι, instead of καὶ οὗτοι, and these, Tisch. Treg. WH. RV. א*BC*DL Δ mss. of Lat. Vet. Vulg. Memph.

οἱ σπειρόμενοι εἰς τὰς ἀκάνθας—those sown among the thorns. The confusion of seed and soil is repeated here. οἱ τὸν λόγον ἀκούσαντες—who heard the word.

ἀκούσαντες instead of ἀκούοντες, hear, Tisch. Treg. WH. RV. א BCDL Δ 13, 69, 124, 346, Memph. Pesh.

19. αἱ μέριμναι—the cares. Literally, the distractions. They are the things that divide the unity of the spirit, drawing it off different ways. τοῦ αἰῶνος—the age. EV. world. There is only one passage, Hebrews 1:2, in which there is any call to render this word world instead of age. Here it means the present evil time. It is contrasted with the αἰὼν μέλλων, the coming time, in which good, instead of evil, will predominate.

Omit τούτου, this, after τοῦ αἰῶνος Tisch. Treg. WH. RV. א BCDL Δ 1, 102, mss. of Lat. Vet. Vulg. etc.

ἀπάτη τοῦ πλούτου—deceit of wealth, the power which it has to deceive men with its enticements, representing itself as the great good. τὰ λοιπὰ—not other things, but the remaining things. The article renders it definite. The other things of the same character as wealth are meant. συμπνίγουσι—the compound represents the completeness of the process, choke utterly.1 ἄκαρπος—unfruitful. The test of genuine appropriation of the truth is, that it produces effects of life and character corresponding to itself. The characteristic of this class of hearers is prepossession of the soil by alien things, which have not been weeded out. The warning against wealth in the ἀπάτη τ. πλούτου is characteristic of our Lord’s teaching.2

20. Καὶ ἐκεῖνοι—and those.

ἐκεῖνοι instead of οὗτοι, these, Tisch. Treg. WH. RV. א BCL Δ Pesh.

We have three different pronouns, or adjectives, used in pointing out the various classes of hearers. οὗτοι, then οὗτοι ὁμοίως, indicating a general resemblance; then ἄλλοι, denoting a specific difference; and finally ἐκεῖνοι, denoting contrast with all that precede. οἱ σπαρέντες—that were sown. The part. in the other cases has been present, denoting the general fact about seed sown in such places. The aor. here confines it to the particular case of the parable. οἵτινες—differs from the simple relative in that it generalizes the statement; whoever, or such as. παραδέχονται—Always, in the N.T., this denotes a favorable reception, to accept, the opposite of reject. καρποφοροῦσιν—bear fruit. This is what distinguishes the good soil from all others. What is planted in it bears fruit; truth becomes virtue in that soil. It does not denote the labors or success of this class of laborers in propagating truth. Our Lord distinguishes between this kind of fruit and the obedience which is the real test of discipleship, in Matthew 7:21-23. ἐν τριάκοντα —literally in thirty. The preposition denotes the number as that in which the fruit-bearing is accomplished.

The choice between ἐν and ἓν is a matter of interpretation, not of text, as the original had neither breathings nor accents. But all the accented uncials give ἐν, also 1, 33, 69, 124, Syrr.; so Tisch. Treg. WH. RV. Latt. Memph. read ἓν. Before the other numerals, WH. bracket ἐν, on account of its omission by BC* ἐν gives the better construction, and is the probable reading, as the neuter ἓν has nothing with which to agree.


Jesus is led on by the necessity of fruitfulness emphasized in the parable to present this under another analogy, of giving light. And this leads him to speak still further of the provision against hiding, or secrecy, in the Divine economy. Finally, to enforce what he has said of the way in which men treat the word, he enjoins on them to consider what they hear. It will be seen that there is a certain appositeness in the connection of these detached sayings. But in the case of the statement about secrecy, another connection is possible, at least.

21-25. 21. καὶ ἔλεγεν αὐτοῖς—And he said to them. This indicates a change of subject. Μήτι differs from μή, in strengthening the negative answer implied. The lamp does not come at all, does it? ὐπὸ τ. μόδιον—under the peck measure.1 λυχνία—lampstand2 It corresponds to λύχνος, lamp, in the preceding part of the statement.

Mt. introduces this proverb in the Sermon on the Mount, 5:14-16 with the meaning, The light that is in you is not meant to be hidden, but to shine forth in good deeds in the sight of men. And here, it is probably put into connection with the preceding statement about fruit-bearing, in order to enforce anew, under another figure, the fact that the ultimate end of truth in man is to come out into manifestation as virtue. Truth considered as seed, bears fruit; considered as light, it shines, but the one fact expressed in both figures is that it results in character and conduct.

22. οὐ γάρ ἐστί τι κρυπτόν, ἐὰν μὴ ἵνα φανερωθῇ—for there is nothing hidden, except that it may be manifested.

Omit the relative ὃ before ἐὰν μὴ, Tisch. Treg. WH. RV. א ABCKL Δ 1, 13, 28, 33, 69, 209. D 49, mss. of Lat. Vet. ἀλλʼ ἵνα, but that.

The ultimate end of the hiding is manifesting. This is a case of the argumentum a minori. Even what is hidden is hidden only for the purpose of ultimate manifestation, and how much more is this true of anything that is in its nature light, instead of dark. κρυπτόν is emphatic. The progress of all knowledge is the manifestation of this principle. The earth is full of secrets, hidden treasures and forces, but they have been hidden away, only in order that man may bring them forth out of their hiding, and enrich his life with them.

οὐδὲ ἐγένετο ἀπόκρυφον—nor did it become hidden away. This differs from the former by the difference between ἐγένετο and ἐστί. It points to the act of hiding, as that does to the state. Both are for the same purpose. God has secrets, mysteries, but they are not permanent secrets, only held in reserve for future revelation.

This statement about hiding for the sake of revealing is connected immediately by γὰρ with the preceding statement about hiding the light. But it would seem more natural to connect it with the μυστήριον, the secret of the kingdom, the preservation of which is said to be the object of the parable. With this addition, the statement about secret things becomes complete. It is only temporarily that the secret is kept by the parable. Ultimately, it becomes a means of revealing that which it temporarily hides. And this brings it under the great law stated by Jesus.

24. Καὶ ἔλεγεν αὐτοῖς—and he said to them. See note on v. 21. βλέπετε τί ἀκούετε—Consider what you hear. Not beware what you hear, be on your guard against hearing anything prejudicial to others. This meaning has been given to the words, because of a misunderstanding of the proverb which follows, which has been taken to mean here, as in Matthew 7:2, that men will treat you as you treat them. But this leaves the whole thing without any connection with the rest of the discourse, utterly irrelevant. Whereas it is evident that ἀκουέτω and ἀκούετε go together. And v. 25 is connected with this by γὰρ. Some meaning must be found for this, therefore, that will justify this connection. The meaning Consider what you hear is apposite to the connection with a parable which shows the consequences of inconsiderate hearing.

ἑν ᾧ μέτρῳ μετρεῖτε, μετρηθήσεται ὑμῖν—in what measure you measure it will be measured to you. As we have seen, the meaning of this familiar proverb in Matthew 7:2 does not fit here. In this passage, it means, Whatever measure you use yourself will be the one in which truth will be measured out to you. If a man accustoms himself to small measures of truth, small measures will be dealt out to him, and vice versa. καὶ προστεθήσεται ὑμῖν—and it shall be increased to you. This is commonly interpreted to mean that not only the same, but a larger measure will be dealt out to them. But this is inconsistent with the statement that in what measure they measure it will be measured to them. προστεθήσεται as well as μετρηθήσεται is modified by ἐν ᾧ μέτρῳ μετρεῖτε. In what measure you measure it shall be measured and increased to you. The measure and increase of their knowledge will both be proportioned to their own measures. Whatever they present will be filled.

Omit τοῖς ἀκούουσιν, who hear, after ὑμῖν, Tisch. Treg. WH. RV. א BCDL Δ 102, etc. Latt. Memph.

25. ὅς γὰρ ἔχει—for he who hath.

ἔχει, instead of ἂν ἔχῃ (who, instead of whoever), Tisch. Treg. WH. RV. א BCL Δ 13, 28, 69.

This again is a general proverb, applicable to many things, made to do duty in this high and homely discourse. It means in this connection, If a man has a well-stored mind, he will be continually adding to that store, and on the contrary, small knowledge tends to decrease. However, this does not apply to mental ability, but to the use that one makes of his ability, or, as it stands here, to the attentiveness with which he hears. It all depends on the principle that knowledge is a series of successive steps, in which each step depends on the preceding. On the other hand, if a man does not acquire knowledge, the disuse of his faculties implied in that will render them unfit for use.


It is significant that this most fundamental of all the parables is given by Mk. alone, who omits so many given by the other evangelists. It is fundamental, because it contains the truth about the adaptation of seed and soil, which underlies all these analogies drawn from the growth of the seed.

26-29. 26. ὡς ἄνθρωπος βάλῃ. The omission of ἐὰν renders the construction difficult, which probably accounts for its introduction by some copyist. Two constructions are possible; either ὡς ἄνθρωπος ὃς βάλλει; or ὡς ἐὰν ἄνθρωπος βάλῃ. The omission of ἐὰν in the original is probably a slip.

Omit ἐὰν after ὡς, Tisch. Treg. WH. RV. א BDgr. L Δ 13, 28, 33, 69, 118, 124, one ms. of Vulg. Memph.

τὸν σπόρον—the seed; the generic use of the article.

27. καθεύδῃ κ. ἐγείρηται νύκτα κ. ἡμέραν—sleeps and wakes during night and day. The acc. differs from the gen. in such designations of time by denoting duration, instead of periods of time at which the action occurs. The statement connects the two verbs, instead of separating them, and putting each with its appropriate time. βλαστᾷ καὶ μηκύνηται1—sprouts and grows. ὡς οὐκ οἶδεν αὐτός—αὐτός is emphatic; how, he knows not. This does not exclude the processes of cultivation, but refers to the power of growth in the plant itself, beyond the reach or knowledge of the sower.

28. αὐτομάτη ἡ γῆ2—the earth of itself. The absence of the connective γὰρ gives force to the statement by the abruptness of its introduction.

Omit γὰρ, for, before ἡ γῆ, Tisch. Treg. WH. RV. א ABCL, etc. Memph.edd. Harcl.

This statement, that the land bears fruit of itself, is the fact underlying all these analogies of seed and soil. The land contains in itself the elements needed for the nourishment and growth of the plant, and hence the great thing for man to do is to bring together these mutually adapted things, the seed and the soil. And in the spiritual realm, there is the same adaptation of the truth to the spirit of man. The mind of man is related to the truth as the soil to the seed. There may be minor differences of soil, as set forth in the Parable of the Sower, but the prime fact is this generic fitness. All the trust of man in the greatness and prevalence of the truth is warranted by this fact alone. The mind is adapted to the truth, as the eye to the light. This single fact creates the confidence shown by Jesus in the ultimate establishment of his kingdom, in spite of the obstacles which obstruct its progress. πρῶτον χόρτον, εἶτεν στάχυν, εἶτεν πλήρης σῖτος3—first blade, then ear, then full grain.

εἶτεν, instead of εἶτα, Tisch. WH. א* B* L Δ. πλήρης σῖτος, nom. instead of acc., Tisch. Treg. BD Memph. C* 271 read πλῆρες σῖτον.

χόρτον—literally, grass, i.e. the part of the grain which is like grass, before the grain heads out.

29. ὅταν δὲ παραδοῖ ὁ κάρπος—but whenever the fruit permits.4

παραδοῖ, instead of παραδῷ, Tisch. Treg. WH. א* BD Δ.

εὐθὺς ἀποστέλλει τὸ δρέπανον—immediately he sends forth the sickle. Sickle is here put by metonymy for the reapers. Immediately serves to mark vividly the time when man’s inaction ceases. No sooner does the fruit allow, than he puts in the sickle.


The meaning of the parable is, that direct agencies, human or divine, are employed only at the beginning and end of the process of establishing the kingdom of God. At the beginning, there is the sowing of the seed, the dissemination of the word among men. And at the end, there is the gathering of the fruit, of men in whom the processes of spiritual growth have reached completion, into his kingdom. During the intervening time, the result is left to the moral and spiritual self-action of humanity, which of itself acts vitally upon the word, turning it into truth of character and conduct. The emphasis of the parable is thus laid on the αὐτομάτη ἡ γῆ καρποφορεῖ, the earth of itself bears fruit. So Meyer. Weiss and Holtzmann and others maintain that the parable is only an adaptation of the Parable of the Tares, with the tares left out, and the note of gradual growth introduced, in order to introduce this element into the parabolic teaching. But this is to omit the very point of the parable, the reason for the inactivity during the intermediate period, which is found in the self-activity of the soil, the human spirit. Moreover, this is one of the places where, even more than usual, our Lord lays bare the roots, the essential principles of things. Morison also shows an equal ability to miss the mark, in his statement, that it is the seed which acts αὐτομάτη. It is not the seed which fructifies the earth, but the earth which fructifies the seed.


There is one lesson of the analogy of the growth from seed sown in the earth which remains to be shown. And the Parable of the Mustard Seed is introduced to teach this—that the small beginning and gradual growth is not inconsistent with a great result.

30-34. 30. πῶς ὁμοιώσωμεν τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ Θεοῦ, ἠ ἐν τίνι αὐτὴν παραβολῇ θῶμεν;1—How shall we liken the kingdom of God, or in what parable shall we set it forth, or place it?

Πῶς, instead of Τίνι, Tisch. Treg. WH. RV. א BCL Δ two mss. Lat. Vet. Harcl. marg. ἐν τίνι αὐτὴν παραβολῇ θῶμεν, instead of ποίᾳ παραβολῆ παραβάλωμεν αὐτήν, Tisch. Treg. WH. RV. א BC* L Δ Memph. Harcl. marg.

31. ὡς κόκκῳ σινάπεως—as to a grain of mustard.2 ὅς, ὅταν …, μικρότερον ὂν πάντων τῶν σπερμάτων …, καὶ ὅταν σπαρῇ3—which, whenever it is sown upon the earth, being (is) smaller than all the seeds upon the earth; and whenever it is sown, etc.

μικρότερον ὂν (omit ἐστὶ), Tisch. Treg. WH. RV. א BL D (L ὦν) two mss. Lat. Vet. μικρότερόν ἐστι D* M etc.

μεῖζον πάντων τῶν λαχάνων—greater than all the garden-herbs, or vegetables.

μεῖζον, instead of μείζων, Tisch. Treg. marg. WH. RV. א ABCELV 33.

This comparison is intended to denote the superiority of this plant to others of the class λάχανα to which it belongs, which have no woody fibre, like trees and shrubs, so that it even passes over into the latter class, making great branches under which the birds can find shade. And this is contrasted with the unusual smallness of the seed. Mk. and Lk. say directly that it becomes a δένδρον.4

ὥστε δύνασθαι ὑπὸ τὴν σκίαν αὐτοῦ τὰ πέτεινα τοῦ οὐρανοῦ κατασκηνοῦν—so that the birds of heaven can lodge (tent, or camp down under its shades.

This is a different account from that given in Mt. and Lk., where the birds are said to lodge in the branches. Here its greatness is described by saying that it affords shade for the birds. The parable means that the kingdom is like growing things in having small beginnings and a great ending.


In order to understand the significance of this group of parables, we have to learn not only their separate meanings, but their common features. They have a mystery of the kingdom to unfold, namely, the gradualness of its establishment, in opposition to the prevalent notion of its immediate setting up by a Divine, supernatural power. And they give one common reason for this, that the kingdom belongs to the class of things that grow subject to natural laws, not to those that are set up full-grown by external force. More particularly, the Parable of the Sower shows that the present slow growth is due to the differences of soil; that is, of spirit in the hearers. It is a matter of the Word and of hearers of the Word, and the result is largely influenced by the different classes of hearers. The Parable of the Ground Producing by Itself shows that the growth depends on forces hidden in the soil itself, that is, on the adaptation of the spirit to the truth, and that this common fitness underlies all differences of soil. The mind of man and the word of God are at bottom adapted to each other. The Parable of the Mustard Seed shows that small beginnings belong to the nature of the kingdom, but not less, large and complete results.

33. καὶ τοιαύταις παραβολαῖς πολλαῖς ἐλάλει αὐτοῖς τ. λόγον—and with many such parables he spoke to them the word. That is, the mystery of the kingdom which he was teaching them on this occasion. He did not confine himself to parables on other subjects and occasions.

καθὼς ἠδύναντο ἀκούειν1—as they were able to hear. This modification of the statement that he spoke to them in parables, does not mean that he spoke to them in such parables as they were able to hear, not going beyond that limit; but that he spoke to them in parables, as being the form of speech to which they were able to listen. He was not restricted by their only partial ability to hear to some parables, instead of others, but to parables in general, instead of some other mode of address. The mystery of the kingdom itself they were not able to hear, except in this veiled form.

34. τοῖς ἰδίοις μαθηταῖς—to his own disciples.

τοῖς ἰδίοις μαθηταῖς, instead of τοῖς μαθηταῖς αὐτοῦ, Tisch. Treg. marg. WH. RV. א BCL Δ.


35-41. Jesus and his disciples cross to the eastern side of the lake, and are overtaken by one of the sudden storms produced by the situation of this inland sea, which Jesus stills with a word.

35. ἐκείνῃ τ. ἡμέρᾳ—that day, viz. the day on which Jesus uttered the parables. Mt. connects this stilling of the storm with the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law, and the gathering of the multitude about him at that time. Cf. Matthew 8:14-27, and Mark 1:29-34. However, the mark of time in Mt. is not definite enough to create positive disagreement. Lk. says simply on one of the days. ὀψίας1—evening. It is either the time between three and six, or that between six and dark. Probably the former is meant here, as the latter time would not allow for the events that follow. Διέλθωμεν εἰς τὸ πέραν2—Let us cross over to the other side. Jesus’ frequent crossing to the other side of the lake was due to its unpopulated condition, and to the comparative ignorance of himself there, giving him an escape from the wearing ministries to the crowd on the populous west shore, and also frequently from his enemies.

36. παραλαμβάνουσιν αὐτὸν ὡς ἦν ἐν τ. πλοίῳ—they take him along as he was in the boat. This refers evidently to the boat from which Jesus taught the multitude, v. 1. The explanations of the parables, therefore, v. 10 sq.34, must have been made at some other time. It seems, according to this statement, that the disciples dismissed the multitudes without Jesus leaving the boat, and then, without further delay or preparation, took him along in the boat where he had remained all the time. Mt. makes the different statement, that Jesus embarked in the boat, and his disciples followed him.

καὶ ἄλλα πλοῖα ἦν μετʼ αὐτοῦ—And other boats were with him.

Omit δὲ after ἄλλα, Treg. WH. RV. א BC* L Δ Latt. etc. πλοῖα, instead of πλοιάρια, Tisch. Treg. WH. RV. א ABCDKM Δ 1, 13, 33, 69, etc.

μετʼ αὐτοῦ, with him, settles the fact, that the other boats were in their company. Jesus was followed about from place to place, not only by the twelve regularly and by appointment associated with him, but by other disciples more or less intimately attached to his person. These would follow him in boats across the lake. Mk., with his usual eye for a picture, adds this to complete the scene, and to be carried in the mind when the story of the storm is reached.

37. λαῖλαψ—a storm marked by frequent great gusts of wind. Mt. uses σεισμός, which means properly earthquake, but denoting here the turbulence of the storm.

καὶ τὰ κύματα ἐπέβαλλεν1—and the waves were beating into the boat. εἰς—into, not against. ὥστε ἤδη γεμίζεσθαι τ. πλοῖον—so that already the boat was filling. Not full, AV. The verb is present, and denotes the act in its progress, not its completion.

ἤδη γεμίζεσθαι τὸ πλοῖον, instead of αὐτὸ ἤδη γεμίζεσθαι, Tisch. Treg. WH. RV. אa BCDL Δ most mss. Lat. Vet. Vulg. Memph. Harcl. marg.

This repetition of the noun, instead of the pronoun, is quite in Mk.’s style.

38. καὶ αὐτὸς ἦν ἐν τῇ πρύμνῃ—And he was in the stern. The pronoun is emphatic.

ἐν τῇ πρύμνῃ, instead of ἐπὶ, Tisch. Treg. WH. RV. אABCDL Δ etc.

This sleep is noticeable, because it shows the fatigue of Jesus after his day’s work, and his unconsciousness of the violent storm. Διδάσκαλε—Teacher, not Master, by which the word is persistently mistranslated in the EV. The title used by the disciples was probably Rabbi. οὐ μέλει σοι; carest thou not? This question implies that they thought of Jesus as waking sufficiently to know what was going on, but going off to sleep again regardless of their fate.

39. ἐπετίμησε—he rebuked. The verb contains in itself not only the notion of chiding, but also of restraint by that means. Probably, all that Jesus said was Σιῶπα, πεφίμωσο, so that the chiding would be expressed in the tones of his voice. πεφίμωσο—be silent, be muzzled. Cf. 1 Corinthians 9:9, TR. The latter is not only a strong word in itself, but the perf. imp. strengthens the command, like our have done with it. It means not only be still, but stay so.2 ἐκόπασεν—ceased. This again is a descriptive word, denoting not only ceasing, but the ceasing of a tired person. γαλήνη μεγάλη—a great calm, contrasted with the great storm. Cf. v. 37.

40. Τί δειλοί ἐστε; οὔπω ἔχετε πίστιν;—Why are you fearful? have you not yet faith? The lack of faith is in himself, in his power and disposition to care for them, and, as implied in the οὔπω, after so many attestations of both. Their appeal to him while he was asleep had not been the calm invocation of a trusted power, but the frightened reproach of those whose faith is defeated by danger.

οὔπω, instead of οὕτω; πῶς οὐκ, Treg. WH. RV. א BDL Δ, most mss. Lat. Vet. Vulg. Memph.

41. ἐφοβήθησαν φόβον μέγαν—they were frightened a great fright.3 The subject is the disciples, who alone are mentioned here. Mt., on the contrary, says οἱ ἄνθρωποι. Τίς ἄρα—who then, a question inspired by what they had seen. ὅτι—that. But the conj. is causal, denoting the reason of their fright, and of the question that is forced from them. καὶ ὁ ἄνεμος κ. ἡ θάλασσα—even the wind and the sea. Not only diseases and demons, but the elements themselves. Their wonder in this case took the form of fear, corresponding to the feeling with which they regarded the power of the elements against which Jesus matched himself. ὑπακούει—obeys him. The wind and the sea are looked at collectively here, as making one great whole.

ὑπακούει, instead of ὑπακούουσιν, Tisch. Treg. WH. א* BCL Δ 1, 13, 28, 69, etc.

Weiss and Beyschlag rationalize this miracle after the same general fashion. The rebuke of the disciples grows into a rebuke of the elements, and the confidence of Jesus in his Father’s deliverance into an assertion of his own power to still the waves. Holtzmann adds to this the presence in the narrative of O.T. material, which has been used in building up the account. Weiss is not so rationalistic in this as the others, as he is contending only against the notion that Jesus performs the miracles himself, instead of the Father. The command given to the elements, he thinks, would be an assumption of power over them by Jesus himself. But any more so than the commands given to the demons? He acts throughout as God’s agent, but such an agent can order about demons and storms. Holtzmann is prepossessed against miracles in general; Beyschlag against miracles in the sphere of inanimate nature, where spirit does not act upon spirit. But the apostolic source of the narrative renders this rationalizing futile. The general fact of the miracles is established by this, and by their absolute uniqueness, conforming them to the unique quality of Jesus’ whole life in the moral sphere. This leaves room to exclude individual miracles for special reasons, or even to discriminate among kinds of miracles, as Beyschlag does. But Beyschlag’s principle excludes, e.g. the miracle of feeding the multitude, the best attested of all the miracles. And there is no other special improbability about this miracle of stilling the storm—on the contrary, a certain congruousness, a manifestation of the fact that the power resident in nature is in the last analysis spiritual, and that Jesus was the Agent of that Power.

Tisch. Tischendorf.

Treg. Tregelles.

WH. Westcott and Hort.

RV. Revised Version.

אԠCodex Sinaiticus.

B Codex Vaticanus.

C Codex Bezae.

L Codex Regius.

Δ̠Codex Sangallensis

13 Codex Regius.

28 Codex Regius.

69 Codex Leicestrensis.

K Codex Cyprius.

M Codex Campianus.

1 .Codex Basiliensis

33 Codex Regius.

209 An unnamed, valuable manuscript.

1 Mt. gives the same mark of the size of the multitude in this case. But it is one of the characteristic marks of this Gospel to emphasize the crowds that followed Jesus by some graphic touch. See 1:33, 2:2, 3:7, 20.

Lat. Vet. Vetus Latina.

2 See 3:23, note.

3 This is the generic use of the article, an individual being taken to represent the class. See Win. 18, 1.

1 On this use of the relative in antithetical statements, see Win. 17, 1 b.

A Codex Alexandrinus.

Vulg. Vulgate.

2 The proper correlative of ὃ μὲν is ὃ δὲ.

D Codex Ephraemi.

Memph. Memphitic.

3 This verb belongs to later Greek.

marg. Revided Version marg.

E Codex Basiliensis.

F Codex Borelli.

G Codex Wolfi A.

U Codex Nanianus.

V Codex Mosquensis.

Latt. Latin Versions.

Syrr. Syriac Versions.

1 The separation of καταμόνας into κατὰ μόνας is simply a matter of interpretation. χώρας is to be supplied with μόνας.

1 See 3:23, note.

Harcl. Harclean.

AV. Authorised Version.

346 Codex Ambrosianus.

Pesh. Peshito.

102 Codex Bibliothecae Mediceae.

1 συμπνίγουσι belongs to later Greek.

2 See 10:23-25. But this depreciation of wealth is specially a trait of Lk.’s Gospel. See 6:20, 24, 12:15-21, 16:9-12, 19-31.

1 The word μόδιος comes from the Latin modius, which denotes a peck measure. EV. bushel..

2 λυχνία is a later Greek form for λυχνεῖον..

1 βλαστᾷ is subj. from the form βλαστάω. μηκύνηται means literally to lengthen. It is used only here in N.T., and Isaiah 44:14 in the O.T. In both cases, it is used of the growth of plants, an unfamiliar use of the word.

2 αὐτομάτη occurs only twice in the N.T. On its adverbial use, see Win. 54, 2.

3 The nom. makes this statement independent of the preceding structure, and so calls attention to it.

4 So Thay.-Grm. Lex. Meyer, Weiss. The intrans. meaning, presents itself, is not attested. παραδοῖ is an irregular form of the sec. aor. subj., instead of παραδῷ.

1 The subj. in these verbs is the subj. of deliberative questions, in which the questioner consults another about the matter in hand. See Win. 41 a, 4.

2 This retains in the answer the construction of the question; supplying the omitted word, it would read, ὡς κόκκῳ σινάπεως ὁμοιώσομεν, as to a grain of mustard seed we will liken it.

3 There is a double anacoluthon here; first, the neuter, as if the antecedent were σπέρμα; and secondly, the participle, instead of the indicative. The whole sentence is thrown into confusion by this, so that a literal translation would read, which, whenever it is sown, being less than all seeds, and whenever it is sown, comes up, etc.

4 See Hackett, Illustrations of Scripture, p. 131.

1 The earlier classical form of καθώς is καθό or καθά. See Thay.-Grm. Lex. Win. 2, 1, d, e.

1 ὀψίας is used as an adjective only, outside of Biblical Greek. It means late.

2 Δι- in διέλθωμεν, like our word over, refers to the space to be passed through or over in reaching the point designated.

1 On this intransitive use of βάλλω and its compounds, see Win. 38, 1.

2 See Win. 43, 4.

3 See Win. 32, 2.

And he taught them many things by parables, and said unto them in his doctrine,
Hearken; Behold, there went out a sower to sow:
And it came to pass, as he sowed, some fell by the way side, and the fowls of the air came and devoured it up.
And some fell on stony ground, where it had not much earth; and immediately it sprang up, because it had no depth of earth:
But when the sun was up, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away.
And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up, and choked it, and it yielded no fruit.
And other fell on good ground, and did yield fruit that sprang up and increased; and brought forth, some thirty, and some sixty, and some an hundred.
And he said unto them, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.
And when he was alone, they that were about him with the twelve asked of him the parable.
And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables:
That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them.
And he said unto them, Know ye not this parable? and how then will ye know all parables?
The sower soweth the word.
And these are they by the way side, where the word is sown; but when they have heard, Satan cometh immediately, and taketh away the word that was sown in their hearts.
And these are they likewise which are sown on stony ground; who, when they have heard the word, immediately receive it with gladness;
And have no root in themselves, and so endure but for a time: afterward, when affliction or persecution ariseth for the word's sake, immediately they are offended.
And these are they which are sown among thorns; such as hear the word,
And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful.
And these are they which are sown on good ground; such as hear the word, and receive it, and bring forth fruit, some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some an hundred.
And he said unto them, Is a candle brought to be put under a bushel, or under a bed? and not to be set on a candlestick?
For there is nothing hid, which shall not be manifested; neither was any thing kept secret, but that it should come abroad.
If any man have ears to hear, let him hear.
And he said unto them, Take heed what ye hear: with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you: and unto you that hear shall more be given.
For he that hath, to him shall be given: and he that hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he hath.
And he said, So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground;
And should sleep, and rise night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how.
For the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear.
But when the fruit is brought forth, immediately he putteth in the sickle, because the harvest is come.
And he said, Whereunto shall we liken the kingdom of God? or with what comparison shall we compare it?
It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when it is sown in the earth, is less than all the seeds that be in the earth:
But when it is sown, it groweth up, and becometh greater than all herbs, and shooteth out great branches; so that the fowls of the air may lodge under the shadow of it.
And with many such parables spake he the word unto them, as they were able to hear it.
But without a parable spake he not unto them: and when they were alone, he expounded all things to his disciples.
And the same day, when the even was come, he saith unto them, Let us pass over unto the other side.
And when they had sent away the multitude, they took him even as he was in the ship. And there were also with him other little ships.
And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full.
And he was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow: and they awake him, and say unto him, Master, carest thou not that we perish?
And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.
And he said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith?
And they feared exceedingly, and said one to another, What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?
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