Matthew 13:3
And he spake many things unto them in parables, saying, Behold, a sower went forth to sow;
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(3) He spake many things unto them in parables.—This is the first occurrence of the word in St. Matthew’s Gospel, and it is clear from the question of the disciples in Matthew 13:10 that it was in some sense a new form of teaching to them. There had been illustrations and similitudes before, as in that of the houses built on the sand and on the rock in Matthew 7:24-27, and that of the unclean spirit in Matthew 12:43-45, but now for the first time He speaks to the multitude in a parable, without an explanation. The word, which has passed through its use in the Gospels into most modern European languages (palabras, parôle, parabel), means literally, a comparison. It had been employed by the Greek translators of the Old Testament for the Hebrew word mashed, which we commonly render by “proverb,” and which, like the Greek parabole, has the sense of similitude. Of many, perhaps of most, Eastern proverbs it was true that they were condensed parables, just as many parables are expanded proverbs. (Comp. John 16:25; John 16:29.) In the later and New Testament use of the word, however, the parable takes the fuller form of a narrative embracing facts natural and probable in themselves, and in this respect differs from the fable which (as in those of Æsop and Phædrus, or that of the trees choosing a king in Judges 9:8-15) does not keep within the limits even of possibility. The mode of teaching by parables was familiar enough in the schools of the Rabbis, and the Talmud contains many of great beauty and interest. As used by them, however, they were regarded as belonging to those who were receiving a higher education, and the son of Sirach was expressing the current feeling of the schools when he said of the tillers of the soil and the herdsmen of flocks that they “were not found where parables were spoken” (Ecclesiasticus 38:33). With what purpose our Lord now used this mode of instruction will appear in His answer to the question of the disciples. The prominence given in the first three Gospels to the parable that follows, shows how deep an impression it made on the minds of men, and so far justified the choice of this method of teaching by the divine Master.

(3) A sower.—Literally, the sower—the man whose form and work were so familiar, in the seed-time of the year, to the peasants of Galilee. The outward frame-work of the parable requires us to remember the features in which Eastern tillage differs from our own. The ground less perfectly cleared—the road passing across the field—the rock often cropping out, or lying under an inch or two of soil—the patch of good ground rewarding, by what might be called a lucky chance rather than skill of husbandry, the labour of the husbandman.

Matthew 13:3. And he spake many things unto them — “Delivered many doctrines of the highest importance, wisely making choice of such for the subject of his sermons, when he had the greatest number of hearers, because on those occasions there was a probability of doing the most good by them.” In parables — The word parable sometimes signifies a sublime discourse, elevated beyond the common forms of speech, as Numbers 23:7; Numbers 24:15; Job 27:1; Job 29:1, where see the notes: sometimes a mere proverb, or adage, such as those mentioned Luke 4:23, Physician, heal thyself; and Luke 6:39, Can the blind lead the blind? in both which places the word παραβολη, parable, is used in the original, and in the former place is rendered proverb in our translation. Sometimes the word means an apologue, or fable, as Ezekiel 17:2, where also see the note. But here, and generally in the gospels, the word is to be understood, according to its Greek etymology, as signifying a similitude or comparison, namely, taken from the ordinary affairs of men, and used to illustrate the things of God. As this is the first time the term occurs in this history, and as we shall frequently meet with it hereafter, it may not be improper to make the following general observations, applicable, more or less, to all our Lord’s parables. 1st. It is not necessary to a parable that the matter contained, or things related in it, should be true in fact. For parables are not spoken to inform us in matters of fact, but in some spiritual truths, to which they bear some proportion. This we see in Jotham’s parable of the trees going to choose themselves a king, Jdg 9:7 to Jdg 15:2 d. It is not necessary that all the actions of men, mentioned in a parable, should be morally just and good. The actions of the unjust steward, Luke 16:1-8, were not Song of Solomon 3 dly. For the right understanding of a parable, our great care must be to attend to the main scope of it; or to what our Lord had chiefly in view, and designed to teach by it. 4th. This may be learned, either from his general or more particular explication of it; or from what hath been termed the pro-parabola, or preface to the parable; or the epi-parabola, or conclusion of it. 5th. It is not to be expected that all the particular actions or things represented in a parable, should be answered by something in the explication. Lastly, Though the scope of the parable be the main thing we are to attend to, yet it may collaterally inform us in several other things also. This way of teaching, extremely common in the eastern countries, and much used by our Lord, was particularly calculated to draw and fix the attention of mankind; to excite the inquiry of such as were well disposed, and to lead them to a serious examination and diligent searching after the truth veiled under such emblems; to teach, in a manner the most natural, beautiful, and instructive, by common and familiar objects, the most divine and important doctrines, and give clearer ideas of them than could have been otherwise attained; to cause divine truths to make a more deep and lasting impression on men’s minds, and to be better remembered. Our Lord’s parables were particularly adapted to produce this last-mentioned effect, being generally taken from those objects about which his hearers were daily employed, or which daily came under their observation. Add to this, he taught by parables, that he might convey in a manner the least offensive some very ungrateful and unpalatable truths, such as the rejection of the Jews and the calling of the Gentiles. It must be observed, also, as we learn from Matthew 13:11-15, that, by an awful mixture of justice and mercy, our Lord intended hereby to throw a veil over some of the mysteries of his kingdom, and to conceal from the proud and careless those truths which, if they understood, he foresaw they would only abuse to their greater condemnation.

In this chapter our Lord delivers seven parables, directing the four former, as being of general concern, to all the people; the three latter, to his disciples. He begins with the parable of a sower who cast his seed on four different kinds of ground, only one of which brought forth fruit, not because of any difference in the seed wherewith the others were sown, or any defect in the cultivation of them, but because of other reasons specified in the parable. And these were designed to represent four classes of hearers of the word of God, only one of which bears fruit to his glory; not because a different doctrine is declared to the others, or less labour bestowed upon them, but because of the hinderances of fruitfulness spoken of in the explanation of the parable. How exquisitely proper was this parable to be an introduction to all the rest! inasmuch as in it our Lord shows us why, when the same sower, he himself, or any messenger of his, always sows the same seed, it does not always produce the same effect.

13:1-23 Jesus entered into a boat that he might be the less pressed, and be the better heard by the people. By this he teaches us in the outward circumstances of worship not to covet that which is stately, but to make the best of the conveniences God in his providence allots to us. Christ taught in parables. Thereby the things of God were made more plain and easy to those willing to be taught, and at the same time more difficult and obscure to those who were willingly ignorant. The parable of the sower is plain. The seed sown is the word of God. The sower is our Lord Jesus Christ, by himself, or by his ministers. Preaching to a multitude is sowing the corn; we know not where it will light. Some sort of ground, though we take ever so much pains with it, brings forth no fruit to purpose, while the good soil brings forth plentifully. So it is with the hearts of men, whose different characters are here described by four sorts of ground. Careless, trifling hearers, are an easy prey to Satan; who, as he is the great murderer of souls, so he is the great thief of sermons, and will be sure to rob us of the word, if we take not care to keep it. Hypocrites, like the stony ground, often get the start of true Christians in the shows of profession. Many are glad to hear a good sermon, who do not profit by it. They are told of free salvation, of the believer's privileges, and the happiness of heaven; and, without any change of heart, without any abiding conviction of their own depravity, their need of a Saviour, or the excellence of holiness, they soon profess an unwarranted assurance. But when some heavy trial threatens them, or some sinful advantage may be had, they give up or disguise their profession, or turn to some easier system. Worldly cares are fitly compared to thorns, for they came in with sin, and are a fruit of the curse; they are good in their place to stop a gap, but a man must be well armed that has much to do with them; they are entangling, vexing, scratching, and their end is to be burned, Heb 6:8. Worldly cares are great hinderances to our profiting by the word of God. The deceitfulness of riches does the mischief; they cannot be said to deceive us unless we put our trust in them, then they choke the good seed. What distinguished the good ground was fruitfulness. By this true Christians are distinguished from hypocrites. Christ does not say that this good ground has no stones in it, or no thorns; but none that could hinder its fruitfulness. All are not alike; we should aim at the highest, to bring forth most fruit. The sense of hearing cannot be better employed than in hearing God's word; and let us look to ourselves that we may know what sort of hearers we are.In parables - The word "parable" is derived from a Greek word signifying "to compare together," and denotes a similitude taken from a natural object to illustrate a spiritual or moral subject. It is a narrative of some fictitious or real event, in order to illustrate more clearly some truth that the speaker wished to communicate. In early ages it was much used. Pagan writers, as Aesop, often employed it. In the time of Christ it was in common use. The prophets had used it, and Christ employed it often in teaching his disciples. It is not necessary to suppose that the narratives were strictly true. The main thing - "the inculcation of spiritual truth" - was gained equally, whether it was true or was only a supposed case. Nor was there any dishonesty in this. It was well understood no person was deceived. The speaker was not "understood" to affirm the thing "literally narrated," but only to fix the attention more firmly on the moral truth that he presented. The "design" of speaking in parables was the following:

1. To convey truth in a more interesting manner to the mind, adding to the truth conveyed the beauty of a lovely image or narrative.

2. To teach spiritual truth so as to arrest the attention of ignorant people, making an appeal to them through the "senses."

3. To convey some offensive truth, some pointed personal rebuke. in such a way as to bring it "home" to the conscience. Of this kind was the parable which Nathan delivered to David 2 Samuel 12:1-7, and many of our Saviour's parables addressed to the Jews.

4. To "conceal" from one part of his audience truths which he intended others should understand. Thus Christ often, by this means, delivered truths to his disciples in the presence of the Jews, which he well knew the Jews would not understand; truths pertaining to them particularly, and which he was under no obligations to explain to the Jews. See Mark 4:33; Matthew 13:13-16.

Our Saviour's parables are distinguished above all others for clearness, purity, chasteness, importance of instruction, and simplicity. They are taken mostly from the affairs of common life, and intelligible, therefore, to all people. They contain much of "himself" - his doctrine, life, design in coming, and claims, and are therefore of importance to all people; and they are told in a style of simplicity intelligible to the child, yet instructive to people of every rank and age. In his parables, as in all his instructions, he excelled all people in the purity, importance, and sublimity of his doctrine.

Matthew 13:3

A sower went forth to sow - The image here is taken from an employment known to all people, and therefore intelligible to all.

Nor can there be a more striking illustration of preaching the gospel than placing the seed in the ground, to spring up hereafter and bear fruit.

Sower - One who sows or scatters seed - a farmer. It is not improbable that one was near the Saviour when he spoke this parable.

3. And he spake many things unto them in parables, saying, &c.—These parables are SEVEN in number; and it is not a little remarkable that while this is the sacred number, the first FOUR of them were spoken to the mixed multitude, while the remaining THREE were spoken to the Twelve in private—these divisions, four and three, being themselves notable in the symbolical arithmetic of Scripture. Another thing remarkable in the structure of these parables is, that while the first of the Seven—that of the Sower—is of the nature of an Introduction to the whole, the remaining Six consist of three pairs—the Second and Seventh, the Third and Fourth, and the Fifth and Sixth, corresponding to each other; each pair setting forth the same general truths, but with a certain diversity of aspect. All this can hardly be accidental.

First Parable: The Sower (Mt 13:3-9, 18-23).

This parable may be entitled, The Effect of the Word Dependent on the State of the Heart. For the exposition of this parable, see on [1286]Mr 4:1-9, 14-20.

Reason for Teaching in Parables (Mt 13:10-17).

Ver. 1-3. Mark saith, Mark 4:1, He began again to teach by the seaside: 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. Luke, Luke 8:4, saith no more than, when much people were gathered together, and were come to him out of every city, he spake by a parable. Two evangelists agree that this sermon of our Saviour’s was preached out of a ship, to multitudes that stood on the shore. The occasion of his going into a ship was the throng of people, both for his own and their convenience. It is here said that he sat; this, we observed before, was the usual gesture of the teacher amongst the Jews. This sermon is said to have been made the same day, which some observe in historical narrations is to be taken strictly, and lets us know the assiduity of Christ in his work.

And he spake many things unto them in parables: the term parable often in Scripture signifies dark sayings, or proverbial speeches, Ezekiel 17:2 20:49. But in the Gospels it generally hath another sense, and signifies similitudes or comparisons of things. This being the first time we have met with the term, and the first formed and perfect parable we have met with, because we shall meet with the term often hereafter, with many formed parables, I shall here give some notes which may be not only of use to understand the following parables we shall meet with in this chapter, but in the following part of the Gospel.

1. A parable, in the gospel sense of the term, signifieth a similitude, taken from the ordinary actions of men, and made use of to inform us in one or more points of spiritual doctrines.

2. That it is not necessary to a parable that the matter contained in it should be true in matter of fact; for it is not brought to inform us in a matter of fact, but in some spiritual truth, to which it bears some proportion. This we see in Jotham’s parable of the trees going to choose themselves a king, &c.

3. That it is not necessary that all the actions of men mentioned in a parable should be morally just and honest. The actions of the unjust steward, Luke 16:1, &c., were not so.

4. That, for the right understanding of a parable, our great care must be to consider the main scope of it, whither the story tends, and what our Saviour designed principally by the parable to instruct and teach the people by that discourse.

5. That the main scope of the parable is to be learned, either from our Saviour’s general or more particular explication of it, either from the proparabola, or preface to it, or from the epiparabola, or the conclusion of it.

6. It is not to be expected that all particular actions represented in a parable should be answered by something in the explication of it.

7. Lastly, though the scope of the parable be the main thing we are to attend unto, and in which it doth instruct us, yet it may collaterally inform us in several things besides that point which is in it chiefly attended.

It is said that our Saviour spake many things to the multitude in parables, covering truths under similitudes fetched from such ordinary actions as men did or might do. This was a very ancient way of instruction, by fables or parables, as we may learn by Jotham’s parable, Judges 9:7,8, &c. It is now much out of use with us, but amongst the Jews was very ordinary; so as our Saviour spake to them in their own dialect. It had a double advantage upon their hearers:

1. Upon their memory, we being very apt to remember stories.

2. Upon their minds, to put them upon studying the meaning of what they heard so delivered; and also upon their affections, similitudes contributing much to excite affection.

But withal it had this disadvantage, that he who so taught was not understood of a great part of his auditory.

And he spake many things unto them in parables,.... For the parables of the sower, and the different sorts of ground the seed fell in, of the wheat and tares, of the grain of mustard seed, of the leaven in three measures of meal, of the treasure hid in a field, of the pearl of great price, of the net cast into the sea, and of the householder, were all delivered at this time. This way of speaking by parables was much in use among the eastern nations, and particularly the Jews. R. Meir was very famous among them for this way of teaching: they say (a),

"that when R. Meir died, , "they that were skilled in, and used parables, ceased".''

The commentators (b) on this passage say,

"that he preached a third part tradition, and a third part mystical discourse, , "and a third part parables":''

which method of discoursing was judged both pleasant and profitable, and what served to raise the attention of the hearer, and to fix what was delivered the more firmly in their minds: what was our Lord's reason for using them, may be seen in Matthew 13:13. He begins with the parable of the sower. The design of which is to set forth the nature of the word of God, the work and business of the ministers of it, the different success of the preaching of it, and the fruitfulness of it; and to show when it is truly received, and the various degrees of fruit it produces; that the efficacy of it depends on the grace of God, which makes the heart good, and fit to receive it; and how few they be which hear the word to any spiritual advantage and benefit; and how far persons may go in hearing, and yet fall short of the grace of God; and therefore no dependence is to be had on the external hearing of the word.

Behold, a sower went forth to sow; Luke adds, "his seed"; as does also Munster's Hebrew Gospel here; and Mark introduces the parable thus, "hearken, behold!" it being a matter of great importance and concern, which is expressed by this parable, it deserves the most diligent attention. By "the sower" is meant "the son of man", as may be learnt from the explanation of another parable, Matthew 13:37 which is Jesus Christ himself, who is often so called on account of his human nature; and may the rather be thought to be intended here, since the seed he sowed is called "his seed"; meaning the Gospel, of which he is the author, publisher, sum and substance; and since he is, by way of eminency, called , "the sower"; which must be understood of him as a prophet, or preacher of the word, who was eminently sent of God, and richly qualified for such an office, and was most diligent in it, and yet his success was but small. Indeed, every minister of the Gospel may be called a sower, who bears precious seed, sows spiritual things, and though in tears, he shall not return empty, but shall reap in joy, and bring his sheaves with him. This sower "went forth" from his own house to his field; which, as applied to Christ, may intend his incarnation, his coming into this world by the assumption of human nature, his appearance in the public ministry, in the land of Judea, and his going forth still in his ministers, and by his Spirit, in the preaching of the Gospel; and, as applied to the preachers of the word, may be explained of their commission, of their being sent, and of their going forth into the field of the world, preaching the Gospel every where. The end of the sower's going forth is to "sow his seed": by "his seed" is meant the word, the word of God; see Mark 4:14 so called, because of the choiceness and excellency of it in itself, that grain which is reserved for seed being usually the best of the kind; and because of its smallness, it being mean and contemptible in the eyes of those, who know not the nature of it; and because of the generative virtue it has, though not without a divine influence. Nor does it bring forth fruit, unless it is sown in the heart, as seed in the earth; where its operation is secret, its growth and increase gradual, and its fruitfulness different. By "sowing", is meant preaching; which, as sowing, requires knowledge and skill, and an open and liberal hand; keeping back nothing that is profitable, a declaring the same doctrine in one place as another; and designs a constant ministration of it, notwithstanding all discouragements, and a patient waiting for success.

(a) Misn. Sota, c. 9. sect. 15. (b) Jarchi & Bartenora in ib. e Talmud. Bab. Sanhedrim, fol. 38. 2.

And he spake many things unto them in parables, saying, Behold, a sower went forth to sow;
Matthew 13:3 f. Παραβολή (Arist. Rhet. ii. 20), מָשָׁל, the narrating of an incident which, though imaginary, still falls within the sphere of natural events, with the view of thereby illustrating some truth or other (ἵνα καὶ ἐμφατικώτερον τὸν λόγον ποιήσῃ, καὶ πλείονα τὴν μνήμην ἐνθῇ, καὶ ὑπʼ ὄψιν ἀγάγῃ τὰ πράγματα, Chrysostom). See Unger, de parabolar. Jesu natura, interpretatione, usu, 1828, who gives the following definition: collatio per narratiunculam fictam, sed veri similem,[448] serio illustrans rem sublimiorem.[449] The correct canon for the interpretation of the parables is already to be found in Chrysostom on Matthew 20:1 : ΟὐΔῈ ΧΡῊ ΠΆΝΤΑ ΤᾺ ἘΝ ΤΑῖς ΠΑΡΑΒΟΛΑῖς ΚΑΤᾺ ΛΈΞΙΝ ΠΕΡΙΕΡΓΆΖΕΣΘΑΙ, ἈΛΛᾺ ΤῸΝ ΣΚΌΠΟΝ ΜΑΘΌΝΤΕς, ΔΙʼ ὋΝ ΣΥΝΕΤΈΘΗ, ΤΟῦΤΟΝ ΔΡΈΠΕΣΘΑΙ ΚΑῚ ΜΗΔῈΝ ΠΟΛΥΠΡΑΓΜΟΝΕῖΝ ΠΕΡΑΙΤΈΡΩ.

] the sower, whom I have in view. Present participle, used as a substantive. See on Matthew 2:20. A similar parable is given in the Jerusalem Talmud Kilaim I. f. 27.

ΠΑΡᾺ Τ. ὉΔΌΝ] upon the road (which went round the edge of the field), so that it was not ploughed in or harrowed in along with the rest.

τὰ πετρώδη] the rocky parts, i.e. “saxum continuum sub terrae superficie tenui,” Bengel.

[448] To be distinguished from the fable, which, for example, may introduce animals, trees, and such like as speaking and acting. “Fabula est, in qua nec vera nec verisimiles res continentur,” Cic. invent. i. 19. So far as appears from the New Testament, Christ never made use of the fable; as little did the apostles; in the Old Testament, in Jdg 9:8 ff.

[449] Observe, moreover, that the New Testament παραβολή and מָשָׁל may mean something more comprehensive and less definite (including every description of figurative speech, Mark 3:23; Mark 4:30; Mark 7:17; Luke 4:23; Luke 5:36; Luke 6:39; Luke 14:7; Matthew 15:15; Matthew 24:32) than is implied in the above definition of the parable as a hermeneutical terminus technicus. Comp. the Johannean παροιμία (note on John 10:6). John does not use the word parable; but then he does not report any such among the sayings of Jesus, though he has a few allegories; as, for example, those of the vine and the good shepherd.

Matthew 13:3-9. The Parable.

3. in parables] Up to this time Jesus had preached repentance, proclaiming the kingdom, and setting forth the laws of it in direct terms. He now indicates by parables the reception, growth, characteristics, and future of the kingdom. The reason for this manner of teaching is given below, Matthew 13:10-15.

A parable (Hebr. mashal) = “a likeness” or “comparison.” Parables differ from fables in being pictures of possible occurrences—frequently of actual daily occurrences,—and in teaching religious truths rather than moral truths.

Matthew 13:3. Ἐν παραβολαῖς, in parables) The Evangelist here indicates a remarkable period of Christ’s teaching to the people in Galilee, as to the chief priests and elders of the people in Jerusalem. See Mark 12:1,—ἤρξατο αὐτοῖς ἐν παραβολαῖς λέγειν, He BEGAN to speak to them in parables.[597] Parables are frequent in the East: but our Lord had previously taught much, in both places, without parables. The parables in the present passage are seven: four addressed to the people, in Matthew 13:3; Matthew 13:24; Matthew 13:31; Matthew 13:33; and three to the disciples, in Matthew 13:44-45; Matthew 13:47.[598] The first four and the last three form severally two groups, which are, respectively, intimately connected together. The former are connected by the formula, “another parable;” the latter, by the formula, “Again the kingdom of heaven is like” And since the seventh refers more than any of the others to the end of the world, which the first does not refer to at all, but applies the prophecy of Isaiah to the people at the time of our Lord’s teaching,—these seven parables have a most recondite meaning (see Matthew 13:35), applying especially to distinct periods of the Church’s history and condition, besides the common and universal principles which they teach concerning the course and administration of the kingdom of heaven: and this in such a manner, that each begins successively to be fulfilled after that which preceded it, though no preceding one concludes before the beginning of that which follows. The first and second, and only these two, were explained to the apostles. In the first, before the explanation—in the second, after it—occurs the formula, “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear. The first, indeed, was fulfilled, as we have already observed, in the first age—namely, that of our Lord’s ministry; the second, in that of His apostles, and thenceforward, for then men began to sleep (see Matthew 13:25); the third and fourth denote the propagation of the kingdom of God among princes and the whole human race; the fifth describes the darker condition of the Church; the sixth, the state of the kingdom of God when esteemed above all things; the seventh, the condition of the Church in the last days, greatly mixed. It may be asked, whether these seven parables extend through the whole period of the New Testament dispensation in such a manner that the three latter begin from the goal of the four former; or whether those four extend from the beginning to the end, and also these three? On the settlement of these questions depends a more accurate distribution, which I leave to be decided by the wise, [merely subjoining the following sketch]:—

[597] Compare Matthew 21:23. [Qy. 28].—E. B.

[598] The parable concerning the four different kinds of soil the Saviour explained to His disciples, at their request, before that He returned to the house—all other witnesses, however, being out of the way—whether His explanation was given on the sea or on land, Matthew 13:10; with which comp. Mark 4:10. Then next He set forth the rest of the parables before the multitude, Mark 4:33; and, returning to the house, He cleared up also the parable of the tares for the disciples, who begged Him to do so, Matthew 13:36; with which comp. Mark 4:34. After the setting forth of these parables, of which several are derived from the tillage of land, within the lapse of a few days the barley harvest began. In like manner the parable of the net (Matthew 13:47) cast into the sea, was put forth close by the sea.—Harm., p. 322.

1. The time of the apostles, Matthew 13:162. After the decease of the apostles, Matthew 13:253. Constantine, Matthew 13:324. Nine centuries under the trumpet of the seventh angel, Matthew 13:335. The kingdom of the Beast, and the Reformation, Matthew 13:446. The kingdom of God esteemed above all things, Satan being bound, Matthew 13:467. The last confusion, Matthew 13:47Ο σπείρων.—He that soweth) in the present tense; i.e. Christ.

Verse 3. - And he spake many things. Of which but a few are here recorded (cf. vers. 34, 51). Unto them in parables. Taking the expression in the widest sense, "speaking in parables" began in the very earliest ages, when natural or spiritual truths were described under figures taken from everyday life, and continues until the present time, more especially among Eastern nations. Interesting examples of such a method of instruction are to be seen in the Haggadoth (which are frequently parabolic narratives) of the Talmuds and other Jewish works. But both myth (cf. Alford) and parabolic Haggada share the common danger of being misunderstood as narratives which are intended to be taken literally, while in the parable, in the narrower sense of the word, such a confusion is hardly possible. For the narrative then suggests, either by its introduction or its structure, that it is only the mirror by which a truth can be seen, and is not the truth itself. Such parables also, though seldom even approaching in beauty to our Lord's, are very frequent in Jewish writings, though they come but seldom in the Old Testament (Isaiah 28:23-29; 2 Samuel 12:1-6; 2 Samuel 14:6-11; 1 Kings 20:35-40; comp. also Isaiah 5:1-7 and Ezekiel 17:1-10, which are rather allegories; and Judges 9:7-15 and 2 Kings 14:9, which are fables). (On the distinction of parable in the narrower sense from fable, myth, proverb, allegory, see Alford and Trench.) Weiss ('Life,' 2:115) thinks that the most profound reason of all which the Lord had for employing parables was that he wished to show that the same regulations which hold good for the world round us and ourselves in relation to the world and each other, hold good also in the higher ethical and religious life. But at the most this can have been a very subsidiary motive with him. Saying, Behold, a sower. Observe that our Lord enters upon his parable at once (contrast ver. 24). He will attract attention. Mark's "Hear ye" would have forwarded this. A sower; literally, the sower, as the Revised Version; i.e. the sower of whom I am about to speak (cf. Driver on 1 Samuel 19:13; also Matthew 1:23; Matthew 12:43). Went forth. In the Greek this verb comes first, as though our Lord wished to call attention, not so much to the sower himself as to his action. To sow. (For the minute adherence to actual life throughout the whole of this parable, see by all means Thomson's 'Land and the Book,' p. 82, edit. 1887; Stanley's 'Sinai and Palestine,' pp. 425, sqq., edit. 1868.) Matthew 13:3Parables (παραβολαῖς)

From παρά, beside, and βάλλω, to throw. A parable is a form of teaching in which one thing is thrown beside another. Hence its radical idea is comparison. Sir John Cheke renders biword, and the same idea is conveyed by the German Beispiel, a pattern or example ; bei, beside, and the old high German spel, discourse or narration.

The word is used with a wide range in scripture, but always involves the idea of comparison:

1. Of brief sayings, having an oracular or proverbial character. Thus Peter (Matthew 15:15), referring to the words "If the blind lead the blind," etc., says, "declare unto us this parable." Compare Luke 6:39. So of the patched garment (Luke 5:36), and the guest who assumes the highest place at the feast (Luke 14:7, Luke 14:11). Compare, also, Matthew 24:39; Mark 13:28.

2. Of a proverb. The word for proverb (παροιμία) has the same idea at the root as parable. It is παρά, beside, οἶμος, a way or road. Either a trite, wayside saying (Trench), or a path by the side of the high road (Godet). See Luke 4:23; 1 Samuel 24:13.

3. Of a song or poem, in which an example is set up by way of comparison. See Micah 2:4; Habakkuk 2:6.

4. Of a word or discourse which is enigmatical or obscure until the meaning is developed by application or comparison. It occurs along with the words αἴνιγμα, enigma, and πρόβλημα, a problem, something put forth or proposed (πρό, in front, βάλλω, to throw). See Psalm 49:4 (Sept. 48:4); Psalm 78:2 (Sept. 77:2); Proverbs 1:6, where we have παραβολὴν, parable; σκοτεινὸν λόγον, dark saying; and αἰνίγματα, enigmas. Used also of the sayings of Balaam (Numbers 23:7, Numbers 23:18; Numbers 24:3, Numbers 24:15).

In this sense Christ uses parables symbolically to expound the mysteries of the kingdom of God; as utterances which conceal from one class what they reveal to another (Matthew 13:11-17), and in which familiar facts of the earthly life are used figuratively to expound truths of the higher life. The un-spiritual do not link these facts of the natural life with those of the supernatural, which are not discerned by them (1 Corinthians 2:14), and therefore they need an interpreter of the relation between the two. Such symbols assume the existence of a law common to the natural and spiritual worlds under which the symbol and the thing symbolized alike work; so that the one does not merely resemble the other superficially, but stands in actual coherence and harmony with it. Christ formulates such a law in connection with the parables of the Talents and the Sower. "To him that hath shall be given. From him that hath not shall be taken away." That is a law of morals and religion, as of business and agriculture. One must have in order to make. Interest requires capital. Fruit requires not only seed but soil. Spiritual fruitfulness requires an honest and good heart. Similarly, the law of growth as set forth in the parable of the Mustard Seed, is a law common to nature and to the kingdom of God. The great forces in both kingdoms are germinal, enwrapped in small seeds which unfold from within by an inherent power of growth.

5. A parable is also an example or type; furnishing a model or a warning; as the Good Samaritan, the Rich Fool, the Pharisee and the Publican. The element of comparison enters here as between the particular incident imagined or recounted, and all cases of a similar kind.

The term parable, however, as employed in ordinary Christian phraseology, is limited to those utterances of Christ which are marked by a complete figurative history or narrative. It is thus defined by Goebel ("Parables of Jesus"). "A narrative moving within the sphere of physical or human life, not professing to describe an event which actually took place, but expressly imagined for the purpose of representing, in pictorial figure, a truth belonging to the sphere of religion, and therefore referring to the relation of man or mankind to God."

In form the New Testament parables resemble the fable. The distinction between them does not turn on the respective use of rational and irrational beings speaking and acting. There are fables where the actors are human. Nor does the fable always deal with the impossible, since there are fables in which an animal, for instance, does nothing contrary to its nature. The distinction lies in the religious character of the New Testament parable as contrasted with the secular character of the fable. While the parable exhibits the relations of man to God, the fable teaches lessons of worldly policy or natural morality and utility. "The parable is predominantly symbolic; the fable, for the most part, typical, and therefore presents its teaching only in the form of example, for which reason it chooses animals by preference, not as symbolic, but as typical figures; never symbolic in the sense in which the parable mostly is, because the higher invisible world, of which the parable sees and exhibits the symbol in the visible world of nature and man, lies far from it. Hence the parable can never work with fantastic figures like speaking animals, trees," etc. (Goebel, condensed).

The parable differs from the allegory in that there is in the latter "an interpenetration of the thing signified and the thing signifying; the qualities and properties of the first being attributed to the last," and the two being thus blended instead of being kept distinct and parallel. See, for example, the allegory of the Vine and the Branches (John 15) where Christ at once identifies himself with the figure' "I am the true vine." Thus the allegory, unlike the parable, carries its own interpretation with it.

Parable and proverb are often used interchangeably in the ;New Testament; the fundamental conception being, as we have seen, the same in both, the same Hebrew word representing both, and both being enigmatical. They differ rather in extent than in essence; the parable being a proverb expanded and carried into detail, and being necessarily figurative, which the proverb is not; though the range of the proverb is wider, since the parable expands only one particular case of a proverb. (See Trench, "Notes on the Parables," Introd.)

A sower (ὁ σπείρων)


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