Mark 4:10
And when he was alone, they that were about him with the twelve asked of him the parable.
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(10) They that were about him.—In St. Matthew, simply, “the disciples.” Here the presence of others besides the Twelve is directly asserted.



Mark 4:10 - Mark 4:20

Dean Stanley and others have pointed out how the natural features of the land round the lake of Gennesaret are reflected in the parable of the sower. But we must go deeper than that to find its occasion. It was not because Jesus may have seen a sower in a field which had these three varieties of soil that He spoke, but because He saw the frivolous crowd gathered to hear His words. The sad, grave description of the threefold kinds of vainly-sown ground is the transcript of His clear and sorrowful insight into the real worth of the enthusiasm of the eager listeners on the beach. He was under no illusions about it; and, in this parable, He seeks to warn His disciples against expecting much from it, and to bring its subjects to a soberer estimate of what His word required of them. The full force and pathos of the parable is felt only when it is regarded as the expression of our Lord’s keen consciousness of His wasted words. This passage falls into two parts-Christ’s explanation of the reasons for His use of parables, and His interpretation of the parable itself.

I. Christ was the centre of three circles:

The outermost consisting of the fluctuating masses of merely curious hearers; the second, of true but somewhat loosely attached disciples, whom Mark here calls ‘they that were about Him’; and the innermost, the twelve. The two latter appear, in our first verse, as asking further instruction as to ‘the parable,’ a phrase which includes both parts of Christ’s answer. The statement of His reason for the use of parables is startling. It sounds as if those who needed light most were to get least of it, and as if the parabolic form was deliberately adopted for the express purpose of hiding the truth. No wonder that men have shrunk from such a thought, and tried to soften down the terrible words. Inasmuch as a parable is the presentation of some spiritual truth under the guise of an incident belonging to the material sphere, it follows, from its very nature, that it may either reveal or hide the truth, and that it will do the former to susceptible, and the latter to unsusceptible, souls. The eye may either dwell upon the coloured glass or on the light that streams through it; and, as is the case with all revelations of spiritual realities through sensuous mediums, gross and earthly hearts will not rise above the medium, which to them, by their own fault, becomes a medium of obscuration, not of revelation. This double aspect belongs to all revelation, which is both a ‘savour of life unto life and of death unto death.’ It is most conspicuous in the parable, which careless listeners may take for a mere story, and which those who feel and see more deeply will apprehend in its depth. These twofold effects are certain, and must therefore be embraced in Christ’s purpose; for we cannot suppose that issues of His teaching escaped His foresight; and all must be regarded as part of His design. But may we not draw a distinction between design and desire? The primary purpose of all revelation is to reveal. If the only intention were to hide, silence would secure that, and the parable were needless. But if the twofold operation is intended, we can understand how mercy and righteous retribution both preside over the use of parables; how the thin veil hides that it may reveal, and how the very obscurity may draw some grosser souls to a longer gaze, and so may lead to a perception of the truth, which, in its purer form, they are neither worthy nor capable of receiving. No doubt, our Lord here announces a very solemn law, which runs through all the divine dealings, ‘To him that hath shall be given; and from him that hath not, shall be taken away even that which he hath.’

II. We turn to the exposition of the parable of the sower, or rather of the fourfold soils in which he sows the seed.

A sentence at the beginning disposes of the personality of the sower, which in Mark’s version does not refer exclusively to Christ, but includes all who carry the word to men. The likening of ‘the word’ to seed needs no explanation. The tiny, living nucleus of force, which is thrown broadcast, and must sink underground in order to grow, which does grow, and comes to light again in a form which fills the whole field where it is sown, and nourishes life as well as supplies material for another sowing, is the truest symbol of the truth in its working on the spirit. The threefold causes of failure are arranged in progressive order. At every stage of growth there are enemies. The first sowing never gets into the ground at all; the second grows a little, but its greenness soon withers; the third has a longer life, and a yet sadder failure, because a nearer approach to fertility. The types of character represented are unreceptive carelessness, emotional facility of acceptance, and earthly-mindedness, scotched, but not killed, by the word. The dangers which assault, but too successfully, the seed are the personal activity of Satan, opposition from without, and conflicting desires within. On all the soils the seed has been sown by hand; for drills are modern inventions; and sowing broadcast is the only right husbandry in Christ’s field with Christ’s seed. He is a poor workman, and an unfaithful one, who wants to pick his ground. Sow everywhere; ‘Thou canst not tell which shall prosper, whether this or that.’ The character of the soil is not irrevocably fixed; but the trodden path may be broken up to softness, and the stony heart changed, and the soul filled with cares and lusts be cleared, and any soil may become good ground. So the seed is to be flung out broadcast; and prayer for seed and soil will often turn the weeping sower into the joyous reaper.

The seed sown on the trodden footpath running across the field never sinks below the surface. It lies there, and has no real contact, nor any chance of growth. It must be in, not on, the ground, if its mysterious power is to be put forth. A pebble is as likely to grow as a seed, if both lie side by side, on the surface. Is not this the description of a mournfully large proportion of hearers of God’s truth? It never gets deeper than their ears, or, at the most, effects a shallow lodgment on the surface of their minds. So many feet pass along the path, and beat it into hardness, that the truth has no chance to take root. Habitual indifference to the gospel, masked by an utterly unmeaning and unreal acceptance of it, and by equally habitual decorous attendance on its preaching, is the condition of a dreadfully large proportion of church-goers. Their very familiarity with the truth robs it of all penetrating power. They know all about it, as they suppose; and so they listen to it as they would to the clank of a mill-wheel to which they were accustomed, missing its noise if it stops, and liking to be sent to sleep by its hum. Familiar truth often lies ‘bedridden in the dormitory of the soul, beside exploded errors.’

And what comes of this idle hearing, without acceptance or obedience? Truth which is common, and which a man supposes himself to believe, without having ever reflected on it, or let it influence conduct, is sure to die out. If we do not turn our beliefs into practice they will not long be our beliefs. Neglected impressions fade; the seed is only safe when it is buried. There are flocks of hungry, sharp-eyed, quick-flying thieves ready to pounce down on every exposed grain. So Mark uses here again his favourite ‘straightway’ to express the swift disappearance of the seed. As soon as the preacher’s voice is silent, or the book closed, the words are forgotten. The impression of a gliding keel on a smooth lake is not more evanescent.

The distinct reference to Satan as the agent in removing the seed is not to be passed by lightly. Christ’s words about demons have been emptied of meaning by the allegation that He was only accommodating Himself to the superstition of the times, but no explanation of that sort will do in this case. He surely commits Himself here to the assertion of the existence and agency of Satan; and surely those who profess to receive His words as the truth ought not to make light of them, in reference to so solemn and awe-inspiring a revelation.

The seed gets rather farther on the road to fruit in the second case. A thin surface of mould above a shelf of rock is like a forcing-house in hot countries. The stone keeps the heat and stimulates growth. The very thing that prevents deep rooting facilitates rapid shooting. The green spikelets will be above ground there long before they show in deeper soil. There would be many such hearers in the ‘very great multitude’ on the shore, who were attracted, they scarcely knew why, and were the more enthusiastic the less they understood the real scope of Christ’s teaching. The disciple who pressed forward with his excited and unasked ‘Master, I will follow Thee whithersoever Thou goest!’ was one of such-well-meaning, perfectly sincere, warmly affected, and completely unreliable. Lightly come is lightly go. When such people forsake their fervent purposes, and turn their backs on what they have been so eagerly pursuing, they are quite consistent; for they are obeying the uppermost impulse in both cases, and, as they were easily drawn to follow without consideration, they are easily driven back with as little. The first taste of supposed good secured their giddy-pated adhesion; the first taste of trouble ensures their desertion. They are the same men acting in the same fashion at both times. Two things are marked by our Lord as suspicious in such easily won discipleship-its suddenness and its joyfulness. Feelings which are so easily stirred are superficial. A puff of wind sets a shallow pond in wavelets. Quick maturity means brief life and swift decay, as every ‘revival’ shows. The more earnestly we believe in the possibility of sudden conversions, the more we should remember this warning, and make sure that, if they are sudden, they shall be thorough, which they may be. The swiftness is not so suspicious if it be not accompanied with the other doubtful characteristic-namely, immediate joy. Joy is the result of true acceptance of the gospel; but not the first result. Without consciousness of sin and apprehension of judgment there is no conversion. We lay down no rules as to depth or duration of the ‘godly sorrow’ which precedes all well-grounded ‘joy in the Lord’; but the Christianity which has taken a flying leap over the valley of humiliation will scarcely reach a firm standing on the rock. He who ‘straightway with joy’ receives the word, will straightway, with equal precipitation, cast it away when the difficulties and oppositions which meet all true discipleship begin to develop themselves. Fair-weather crews will desert when storms begin to blow.

The third sort of soil brings things still farther on before failure comes. The seed is not only covered and germinating, but has actually begun to be fruitful. The thorns are supposed to have been cut down, but their roots have been left, and they grow faster than the wheat. They take the ‘goodness’ out of the ground, and block out sun and air; and so the stalks, which promised well, begin to get pale and droop, and the half-formed ear comes to nothing, or, as the other version of the parable has it, brings ‘forth no fruit to perfection.’ There are two crops fighting for the upper hand on the one ground, and the earlier possessor wins. The ‘struggle for existence’ ends with the ‘survival of the fittest’; that is, of the worst, to which the natural bent of the desires and inclinations of the unrenewed man is more congenial. The ‘cares of this world’ and the ‘deceitfulness of riches’ are but two sides of one thing. The poor man has cares; the rich man has the illusions of his wealth. Both men agree in thinking that this world’s good is most desirable. The one is anxious because he has not enough of it, or fears to lose what he has; the other man is full of foolish confidence because he has much. Eager desires after creatural good are common to both; and, what with the anxiety lest they lose, and the self-satisfaction because they have, and the mouths watering for the world’s good, there is no force of will, nor warmth of love, nor clearness of vision, left for better things. That is the history of the fall of many a professing Christian, who never apostatises, and keeps up a reputable appearance of godliness to the end; but the old worldliness, which was cut down for a while, has sprung again in his heart, and, by slow degrees, the word is ‘choked’-a most expressive picture of the silent, gradual dying-out of its power for want of sun and air-and ‘he’ or ‘it’ ‘becometh unfruitful,’ relapsing from a previous condition of fruit-bearing into sterility. No heart can mature two crops. We must choose between God and Mammon-between the word and the world.

There is nothing fixed or necessary in the faults of these three classes, and they are not so much the characteristics of separate types of men as evils common to all hearers, against which all have to guard. They depend upon the will and affections much more than on anything in temperament fixed and not to be got rid of. So there is no reason why any one of the three should not become ‘good soil’: and it is to be noted that the characteristic of that soil is simply that it receives and grows the seed. Any heart that will, can do that; and that is all that is needed. But to do it, there will have to be diligent care, lest we fall into any of the evils pointed at in the preceding parts of the parable, which are ever waiting to entrap us. The true ‘accepting’ of the word requires that we shall not let it lie on the surface of our minds, as in the case of the first; nor be satisfied with its penetrating a little deeper and striking root in our emotions, like the second, of whom it is said with such profound truth, that they ‘have no root in themselves,’ their roots being only in the superficial part of their being, and never going down to the true central self; nor let competing desires grow up unchecked, like the third; but cherish the ‘word of the truth of the gospel’ in our deepest hearts, guard it against foes, let it rule there, and mould all our conduct in conformity with its blessed principles. The true Christian is he who can truly say, ‘Thy word have I hid in mine heart.’ If we do, we shall be fruitful, because it will bear fruit in us. No man is obliged, by temperament or circumstances, to be ‘wayside,’ or ‘stony,’ or ‘thorny’ ground. Wherever a heart opens to receive the gospel, and keeps it fast, there the increase will be realised-not in equal measure in all, but in each according to faithfulness and diligence. Mark arranges the various yields in ascending scale, as if to teach our hopes and aims a growing largeness, while Matthew orders them in the opposite fashion, as if to teach that, while the hundredfold, which is possible for all, is best, the smaller yield is accepted by the great Lord of the harvest, who Himself not only sows the seed, but gives it its vitality, blesses its springing, and rejoices to gather the wheat into His barn.

Mark 4:10-12. When he was alone — That is, retired apart from the multitude. Unto them that are without — So the Jews termed the heathen: so our Lord terms all obstinate unbelievers; for they shall not enter into the kingdom; they shall abide in outer darkness. So that seeing they may see, and not perceive — They would not see before; now they could not, God having given them up to the blindness which they had chosen.

4:1-20 This parable contained instruction so important, that all capable of hearing were bound to attend to it. There are many things we are concerned to know; and if we understand not the plain truths of the gospel, how shall we learn those more difficult! It will help us to value the privileges we enjoy as disciples of Christ, if we seriously consider the deplorable state of all who have not such privileges. In the great field of the church, the word of God is dispensed to all. Of the many that hear the word of the gospel, but few receive it, so as to bring forth fruit. Many are much affected with the word for the present, who yet receive no abiding benefit. The word does not leave abiding impressions upon the minds of men, because their hearts are not duly disposed to receive it. The devil is very busy about careless hearers, as the fowls of the air go about the seed that lies above ground. Many continue in a barren, false profession, and go down to hell. Impressions that are not deep, will not last. Many do not mind heart-work, without which religion is nothing. Others are hindered from profiting by the word of God, by abundance of the world. And those who have but little of the world, may yet be ruined by indulging the body. God expects and requires fruit from those who enjoy the gospel, a temper of mind and Christian graces daily exercised, Christian duties duly performed. Let us look to the Lord, that by his new-creating grace our hearts may become good ground, and that the good seed of the word may produce in our lives those good words and works which are through Jesus Christ, to the praise and glory of God the Father.See the notes at Matthew 13:10-17. On Mark 4:12, see the notes at John 12:39-40.

When he was alone - That is, separate from the multitude. When he withdrew from the multitude a few followed him for the purpose of more instruction.

10. And when he was alone, they that were about him with the twelve—probably those who followed Him most closely and were firmest in discipleship, next to the Twelve.

asked of him the parable—The reply would seem to intimate that this parable of the sower was of that fundamental, comprehensive, and introductory character which we have assigned to it (see on [1423]Mt 13:1).

Reason for Teaching in Parables (Mr 4:11, 12, 21-25).

See Poole on "Mark 4:3"

And when he was alone,.... After the multitude was dismissed, and he either remained in the ship, or left it, and retired to some private place, it may be to Simon's house in Capernaum. The Syriac, Persic, and Ethiopic versions read, "when they were alone"; meaning as follows,

they that were about him with the twelve; that is, such disciples of his, who, besides the twelve, constantly attended him; perhaps those who now were, or hereafter were the seventy disciples. The Vulgate Latin reads, "the twelve that were with him". In Beza's most ancient copy it is read, "his disciples"; and to this agrees the Persic version; and so the other evangelists, Matthew and Luke, relate, that his disciples came and

asked of him the parable; the meaning of it, and why he chose this way of speaking to the people, Matthew 13:10, though that word may include others besides the twelve.

And when he was {c} alone, they that were {d} about him with the twelve asked of him the parable.

(c) Literally, solitary.

(d) They that followed him at his heels.

Mark 4:10-20. See on Matthew 13:10-23. Comp. Luke 8:9-15.

καταμόνας] therefore, according to Mark, no longer in the ship, Mark 4:1.

οἱ περὶ αὐτόν] they who besides and next after the Twelve were the more confidential disciples of Jesus. A more precise definition than in Matthew and Luke. Of the Seventy (Euthymius Zigabenus) Mark has no mention. We may add that Matthew could not have better made use of the expression οἱ περὶ αὐτὸν σὺν τοῖς δώδεκα. (Holtzmann, who therefore pronounces it not to belong to the primitive-Mark), nor could he not use it at all (Weiss in the Zeitschr. f. D. Theol. 1864, p. 86 f.). He has only changed the detailed description of Mark into the usual expression, and he goes to work in general less accurately in delineating the situation.

τὰς παραβ.] see Mark 4:2.

Mark 4:11. δέδοται] of the spiritual giving brought about by making them capable of knowing; hence γνῶναι, (which here is spurious) in Matthew and Luke.

τοῖς ἔξω] that is, to those who are outside of our circle, to the people. The sense of οἱ ἔξω is always determined by the contrast to it. In the Epistles it is the non-Christians (1 Corinthians 5:12 f.; Colossians 4:5; 1 Thessalonians 4:12; 1 Timothy 3:7). We are the less entitled to discover here, with de Wette, an unsuitable ὕστερον πρότερον of expression, seeing that the expression in itself so relative does not even in the Talmud denote always the non-Jews (Schoettgen, ad 1 Corinthians 5:12 f.), but also those who do not profess the doctrine of the הכמים—the היצונים; see Lightfoot, p. 609.

ἐν παραβ. τὰ πάντα γίνεται] ἐν παραβ. has the emphasis: in parables the whole is imparted to them, so that there is not communicated to them in addition the abstract doctrine itself. All that is delivered to them of the mystery of the Messiah’s kingdom—that is, of the divine counsel concerning it, which was first unveiled in the gospel—is conveyed to them under a veil of parable, and not otherwise. On γίνεται, comp. Herod. ix. 46: ἡμῖν οἱ λόγοι γεγόνασι, Thucyd. v. 111, al.

Mark 4:12. ἵνα] not: ita ut, as Wolf, Bengel, Rosenmüller, Kuinoel, and others would have it, but, as it always is (comp. on Matthew 1:22), a pure particle of design. The unbelieving people are, by the very fact that the communications of the mystery of the Messiah’s kingdom are made to them in parables and not otherwise, intended not to attain to insight into this mystery, and thereby to conversion and forgiveness. This idea of the divine Nemesis is expressed under a remembrance of Isaiah 6:9-10, which prophetic passage appears in Matthew (less originally) as a formal citation by Jesus, and in an altered significance of bearing attended by a weakening of its teleological point. Baur, indeed, finds the aim expressed in Mark (for it is in nowise to be explained away) absolutely inconceivable; but it is to be conceived of as a mediate, not as a final, aim—a “judicium divinum” (Bengel), which has a paedagogic purpose.

Mark 4:13. After Jesus, Mark 4:11-12, has expressed the right of His disciples to learn, not merely, like the unbelieving multitude, the parables themselves, but also their meaning—the μυστήριον contained in them—and has thus acknowledged their question in Mark 4:10 as justified, He addresses Himself now, with a new commencement of His discourse (καὶ λέγει αὐτοῖς, comp. Mark 4:21; Mark 4:24; Mark 4:26; Mark 4:30; Mark 4:35), to the purpose of answering that question, and that with reference to the particular concrete parable, Mark 4:3 ff. To this parable, which is conceived as having suggested the general question of Mark 4:10 (hence τ. παραβολὴν ταύτην), He confines Himself, and introduces the exposition to be given with the words: Know ye not this parable, and how shall ye (in general) understand all parables? These words are merely intended to lead back in a lively manner, after the digression of Mark 4:11-12, to the point of the question at Mark 4:10, the reply to which then begins at Mark 4:14 with respect to that special parable. A reproach is by some found in the words (since unto you it is given, etc., Mark 4:11, it surprises me, that ye know not, etc.). See Fritzsche and de Wette, the latter accusing Mark of placing quite inappropriately in the mouth of Jesus an unseasonable reproach. But Mark himself pronounces decisively against the entire supposition of this connection by his καὶ λέγει αὐτοῖς, whereby he separates the discourse of Mark 4:13 from what has gone before. If the assumed connection were correct, Mark must have omitted this introduction of a new portion of discourse, and instead of οὐκ οἴδατε must have used perhaps καὶ ὑμεῖς οὐκ οἴδατε, or some similar link of connection with what precedes. Moreover, Mark 4:13 is to be read as one question (comp. Lachmann and Tischendorf), and in such a way that καὶ πῶς κ.τ.λ. still depends on οὐκ οἴδατε (comp. Ewald); not, as Fritzsche would have it, in such a way that καί indicates the consequence, and there would result the meaning: “Ye understand not this parable, and are ye to understand all parables?” But this would rather result in the meaning: Ye understand not this parable; how is it, consequently, possible that ye shall understand all parables? And this would be a strange and unmeaning, because altogether self-evident consequence. Usually Mark 4:13 is divided into two questions (so, too, de Wette), and πάσας is taken as equivalent to: all the rest; but this is done quite without warrant, since the idea of λοιπάς would be precisely the point in virtue of the contrast which is assumed.

γνώσεσθε] future, because the disciples were not aware how they should attain to the understanding of the whole of the parables partly delivered already (Mark 4:2), partly still to be delivered in time to come.

The following interpretation of the parable, Mark 4:14-20, is “so vivid, rich, and peculiar, that there is good reason for finding in it words of Christ Himself,” Ewald.

Mark 4:15. Observe the difference between the local ὅπον and the temporal ὅταν, in connection with which καί is not adversative (Kuinoel, de Wette), but the simple conjunctive and: The following are those (who are sown) by the way-side: then, when the teaching is sown and they shall have heard, cometh straightway Satan, etc.

Mark 4:16. ὁμοίως] in like manner, after an analogous figurative reference, in symmetrical further interpretation of the parable. Translate: And the following are in like manner those who are sown on the stony ground: (namely) those who, when they shall have heard the word, immediately receive it with joy; and they have not root in themselves, etc. It is more in keeping with the simplicity and vividness of the discourse not to take the καὶ οὐκ ἔχουσι along with οἵ.

Mark 4:18 f. And there are others, who are sown among the thorns; these are they who, etc. If ἀκούοντες be read,—which, however, would arise more easily from the similar parallel of Matthew than ἀκούσαντες (B C D L Δ א, Tisch.) from the dissimilar one of Luke,—the course of events is set forth from the outset, whereas ἀκούσαντες sets it forth from the standpoint of the result (they have heard, and, etc.).

τὰ λοιπά] besides riches: sensual pleasure, honour, etc.

εἰσπορ.] namely, into that place whither the word that is heard has penetrated, into the heart. The expression does not quite fit into the parable itself; but this does not point to less of originality (Weiss). De Wette wrongly observes that εἰσπορ. is probably an erroneous explanation of the πορευόμενοι in Luke.

Mark 4:20. ἐν (not ἕν; see the critical remarks on Mark 4:8) τριάκοντα κ.τ.λ. is, it is true, so far out of keeping, that by retaining the numbers the discourse falls back from the interpretation into the figure; but the very repetition of the striking closing words of the parable, in which only the preposition is here accidentally changed, betokens the set purpose of solemn emphasis.

Mark 4:10-12. Disciples ask an explanation of the parable (Matthew 13:10-17, Luke 8:9-10). Mark 4:10. κατὰ μόνας (ὁδούς or χώρας understood), alone—οἱ περὶ αὐτὸν, those about Him, not = οἱ παρʼ αὐτοῦ (Mark 3:21), nor = the Twelve, who are separately mentioned (σὺν τ. δωδ.); an outer circle of disciples from which the Twelve were chosen.—τὰς παραβολάς, the parables, spoken that day. They asked Him about them, as to their meaning. The plural, well attested, implies that the parables of the day had a common drift. To explain one was to explain all. They were a complaint of the comparative fruitlessness of past efforts.

10–25. The Explanation of the Parable

10. And when he was alone] St Mark here anticipates what took place after the Saviour had “sent the multitudes away” and “gone into the house” (Matthew 13:36).

Mark 4:10. Οἱ περὶ αὐτὸν, they that were about Him) Who enjoyed the privilege of the first admission to His presence: ch. Mark 3:34.

Verse 10. - When he was alone. These words do not appear in St. Matthew's account. He simply says that " the disciples came and said unto him." This must have been upon some other occasion. It could not have been when be was preaching from the boat; for St. Mark says, they that were about him with the twelve. He is the only evangelist who notices this. We must not forget that, besides the twelve, there were seventy other disciples. They asked of him the parables (τὰς παραβολάς), according to the best reading. The inquiry was a general one, although St. Mark here gives the explanation of one only. Mark 4:10When he was alone

Mark only.

They that were about him with the twelve

Mark only. Matthew and Luke, the disciples.

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