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Jesus teaches from a boat - Artist unknown

After chastising the Pharisees because they asked for a sign, Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Large crowds gathered around him, so he got into a boat while the people stood on the shore. He told them many things in parables, including the parable of the sower.

The Sower - Artist unknownA farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path and the birds came and ate it. Some fell in rocky places where there was not much soil. The plants sprang quickly but because the soil was shallow, when the sun came up the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seeds fell on good soil where it produced a crop – a hundred, sixty, or thirty times what was sown.

The disciples asked him, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?”

Jesus replied,

“Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you but not to them. Whoever has will be given more and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. This is why I speak in parables.”

Jesus told the disciples:

“Though seeing, they do not see. Though hearing, they do not hear or understand. In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: ‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding. You will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For the people’s heart has become calloused. They hardly hear with their ears and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and in turn, and I would heal them.’

But blessed are your eyes because they see and your ears because they hear. Many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.

Listen to what the parable of the sower means:

When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path.

The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.

The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful.

But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty, or thirty times what was sown.”

What the story means to us today

To understand Jesus’ parables, you must have an open, receptive mind

Jesus teaches from a boat - courtesy Free Bible Images - Artist unknownParables, at least in part, are meant to be veiled revelations. You must be receptive to understand them. Jesus explained how people often do not see what is right before them. Those with hardened hearts, who will never believe, will never understand the meaning of Jesus’ parables. Jesus’ parables would only be clear to those who are willing to believe. To those who refuse to listen, Christ’s lessons will be forever lost.

Additional thoughts and considerations

Jesus leaves the crowd and boards a boat

The story begins by noting that the crowds were large and Jesus was forced into a boat. Some may mistakenly believe that Jesus climbed into the boat to escape the crowd. But the verses clearly tell us that the people stood on the shore listening as Jesus taught them through parables from the boat.

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Jesus decision to move offshore was simple science. Jesus used the boat as a presentation platform and to amplify his speech. By speaking from a boat, he used the water as a stage and took advantage of an easier line of sight and the water’s ability to carry sound.

The parable of the sower explained

The parable of the sower uses an analogy of a sower planting seeds. Seeds that fell on the hardened path were eaten by birds, never to take root. Seeds that were planted in shallow, rocky soil took root but were scorched when the shallow soil was heated by the sun. Seeds planted among thorns are overtaken by the thorns and choked out. Only seeds planted in good soil are fruitful and multiply.

The parable of the sower is about understanding God’s word. The seeds (representing people) are all the same on the inside but their development (Christianity) differs according to their character (the soil).

If a person is not receptive to Christianity’s message, they will never understand it. On the surface, they may seem receptive but shallow soil cannot sustain growth. Their knowledge is snatched away from them like the seed eaten by a bird.

Some people experience a brief period of excitement when first introduced to Christianity. We see this demonstrated on Easter Sunday and in church revivals. But they do not recognize that Christianity is not always an easy path to take. It requires dedication and sometimes, discomfort. As soon as pain or trouble presents itself, these people will be lost, just like the seed planted on rocky soil that is washed away by the rains or scorched by the sun.

Sometimes Christianity’s message falls upon a person who is more concerned with life’s pleasures and wealth than the effort it takes to be a faithful Christian. The message gets lost among all the other things life presents. Those people will lose Christianity’s message and like the seed planted among thorns, Christianity will never take root in the person’s soul.

Another reason parables are effective teaching methods

In addition to a test of character, the use of parables presents another advantage. Parables are meant to use figures of speech to teach a lesson. They use something known to the listener to teach something that is unknown or unfamiliar to them. This teaching device is quite effective by making the lesson easier for the listener to understand. It also requires the listener actively evaluate the story, interpret it, then respond. A parable makes a lesson easier to understand and easier to remember.

Were parables meant to hide Christianity’s lessons from non-believers?

The Parable of the Sower - Artist unknownSome propose that Jesus spoke in parables to hide lessons from non-believers, a type of “divine rejection” intended to condemn certain people. The presupposition is similar to concepts in Islam (that only Muslims can understand the Koran) or the erroneous concept of “predestination”, the belief that a person is destined to heaven or hell with no opportunity for redemption. This would be an inaccurate simplification of the verses.

Why would Jesus use parables to hide the truth from the crowds rather than simply not speaking to the masses at all? Jesus had no reason to use parables to reject non-believers. As demonstrated throughout New Testament scripture, Jesus spoke to all, spreading his message of salvation to every person willing to listen and consider the truths that he taught.

Does this mean we should not attempt to spread God’s word to non-believers?

As with all scripture, we must remember to interpret the lesson in context of the time it was delivered. Jesus had very little time to spread the word. He had only a few years to deliver his message. It was never his intent to spread the gospel throughout the world. His objective was to spread the gospel as far as he could during the limited time he had on earth. Even the disciples had limited time to spread the gospel before they were imprisoned or executed.

Jesus’ point was quite logical even by today’s standards. He and his disciples could not waste time trying to convince stubborn non-believers. Instead, they spread the word to those willing to listen and moved on. To some degree, the same logic holds true today. Christians should spend their time sharing the word of God where it matters most. If you have the time to convince a stubborn non-believer, by all means, do it. If not, move on to where your time would be better spent and spread the word to those that are willing to listen.

Whoever has will be given more

Jesus tells the disciples, “Whoever has will be given more, and will have an abundance. But whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.”

In other words, those that are willing to listen will be given more – now and in the future. But those who reject Jesus’ words will not only lose the lesson Jesus offered, but ultimately, will lose the opportunity to share in the rewards of heaven.

Prophets and righteous people longed to see what the disciples saw but did not see it

Parable of the Sower - Artist unknownThis verse may be confusing to some who may wonder, what did the Old Testament prophets fail to see? How could righteous prophets be blind to God’s word? The proper interpretation is clear if you read the verse in the manner Jesus and other characters in ancient Israel spoke. The message given in this verse is reiterated in other scripture (e.g. 1 Peter 1:10, Hebrew 1:1). Jesus is not saying that Old Testament prophets were blind or resistant to God’s word. He is simply saying God’s grace was revealed (through Jesus) after their deaths.

The Old Testament prophets spoke of the “grace” that ultimately God delivered to mankind through Jesus Christ. However, the Old Testament prophets died before it came to fulfillment. Jesus is letting the disciples know they are truly blessed. They are the ones to whom God revealed his ultimate plan for mankind’s salvation. Truly the disciples were blessed to live in the era of Jesus and experience his miraculous message firsthand.

The science and history behind the story

Rocky ground in Palestine

It is common for foreigners to think of Middle East geography as sand and dirt. However, in Palestine, “rocky ground” was quite common. Much of the land in Palestine has a thick limestone base lying just beneath the surface of soil. This is the “rocky soil” Jesus spoke of.

Notes on Biblical translation

The “secrets” of the kingdom of heaven contained in parables

The disciples asked Jesus why he spoke to the people in parables. In most translations, Jesus says “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you but not to them.” The word translated as “secrets” can also be translated as “mysteries” meaning either a new revelation or a new interpretation. But in modern-day, the word “mysteries” implies a knowledge that can never be understood or is perpetually unknown. Thus, most translations use the word “secret” instead.

The “evil one”

Jesus says when anyone hears the word about the kingdom and does not understand it, the “evil one” comes and snatches what was sown in his heart. It is interesting that the words referring to Satan are different in each gospel. Mark 4:5 uses the word “Satan” while Luke 8:12 uses “devil”. There is no difference in Satan, devil, or evil one. In ancient Israel, just as today, Satan goes by a variety of names.

“A hundred, sixty, or thirty times what was sown”

The Sower Sowing the Seed - Artist unknownJesus says, seed sown on good soil is the person who hears the word and understands. He bears fruit, yielding “a hundred, sixty, or thirty times what was sown.” The original Greek text switches from a singular “he” to three individual people. Thus, the phrase could more accurately be rendered as “in one instance a hundred, in another instance sixty, and in a third instance thirty times”.

Bible Text

NIV

13 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. 2 Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. 3 Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. 9 Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

10 The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?”

11 He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. 12 Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables:

“Though seeing, they do not see;

though hearing, they do not hear or understand.

14 In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:

“ ‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding;

you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.

15 For this people’s heart has become calloused;

they hardly hear with their ears,

and they have closed their eyes.

Otherwise they might see with their eyes,

hear with their ears,

understand with their hearts

and turn, and I would heal them.’

16 But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. 17 For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.

18 “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19 When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. 20 The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 22 The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. 23 But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

Christ the Sower - Artist UnknownThe New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011. Print.

The NET Bible

13:1 On that day after Jesus went out of the house, he sat by the lake. 13:2 And such a large crowd gathered around him that he got into a boat to sit while the whole crowd stood on the shore. 13:3 He told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. 13:4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. 13:5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground where they did not have much soil. They sprang up quickly because the soil was not deep. 13:6 But when the sun came up, they were scorched, and because they did not have sufficient root, they withered. 13:7 Other seeds fell among the thorns, and they grew up and choked them. 13:8 But other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundred times as much, some sixty, and some thirty. 13:9 The one who has ears had better listen!”

13:10 Then the disciples came to him and said, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” 13:11 He replied, “You have been given the opportunity to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but they have not. 13:12 For whoever has will be given more, and will have an abundance. But whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. 13:13 For this reason I speak to them in parables: Although they see they do not see, and although they hear they do not hear nor do they understand. 13:14 And concerning them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:

‘You will listen carefully yet will never understand,

you will look closely yet will never comprehend.

13:15 For the heart of this people has become dull;

they are hard of hearing,

and they have shut their eyes,

so that they would not see with their eyes

and hear with their ears

and understand with their hearts

and turn, and I would heal them.’

13:16 “But your eyes are blessed because they see, and your ears because they hear. 13:17 For I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.

13:18 “So listen to the parable of the sower: 13:19 When anyone hears the word about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches what was sown in his heart; this is the seed sown along the path. 13:20 The seed sown on rocky ground is the person who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy. 13:21 But he has no root in himself and does not endure; when trouble or persecution comes because of the word, immediately he falls away. 13:22 The seed sown among thorns is the person who hears the word, but worldly cares and the seductiveness of wealth choke the word, so it produces nothing. 13:23 But as for the seed sown on good soil, this is the person who hears the word and understands. He bears fruit, yielding a hundred, sixty, or thirty times what was sown.”

The Sower - James Tissot (1894)Biblical Studies Press. The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible. Biblical Studies Press, 2006. Print.

New King James Version

13 On the same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the sea. 2 And great multitudes were gathered together to Him, so that He got into a boat and sat; and the whole multitude stood on the shore.

3 Then He spoke many things to them in parables, saying: “Behold, a sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them. 5 Some fell on stony places, where they did not have much earth; and they immediately sprang up because they had no depth of earth. 6 But when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away. 7 And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them. 8 But others fell on good ground and yielded a crop: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9 He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”

10 And the disciples came and said to Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?”

11 He answered and said to them, “Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12 For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. 13 Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. 14 And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says:

‘Hearing you will hear and shall not understand,

And seeing you will see and not perceive;

15 For the hearts of this people have grown dull.

Their ears are hard of hearing,

And their eyes they have closed,

Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears,

Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn,

So that I should heal them.’

16 But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear; 17 for assuredly, I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.

18 “Therefore hear the parable of the sower: 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, then the wicked one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is he who received seed by the wayside. 20 But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21 yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles. 22 Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful. 23 But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.”

Parable of the Seed - Artist UnknownThe New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982. Print.

The Message

1–3 13 At about that same time Jesus left the house and sat on the beach. In no time at all a crowd gathered along the shoreline, forcing him to get into a boat. Using the boat as a pulpit, he addressed his congregation, telling stories.

3–8 “What do you make of this? A farmer planted seed. As he scattered the seed, some of it fell on the road, and birds ate it. Some fell in the gravel; it sprouted quickly but didn’t put down roots, so when the sun came up it withered just as quickly. Some fell in the weeds; as it came up, it was strangled by the weeds. Some fell on good earth, and produced a harvest beyond his wildest dreams.

9 “Are you listening to this? Really listening?”

10 The disciples came up and asked, “Why do you tell stories?”

11–15 He replied, “You’ve been given insight into God’s kingdom. You know how it works. Not everybody has this gift, this insight; it hasn’t been given to them. Whenever someone has a ready heart for this, the insights and understandings flow freely. But if there is no readiness, any trace of receptivity soon disappears. That’s why I tell stories: to create readiness, to nudge the people toward receptive insight. In their present state they can stare till doomsday and not see it, listen till they’re blue in the face and not get it. I don’t want Isaiah’s forecast repeated all over again:

Your ears are open but you don’t hear a thing.

Your eyes are awake but you don’t see a thing.

The people are blockheads!

They stick their fingers in their ears

so they won’t have to listen;

They screw their eyes shut

so they won’t have to look,

so they won’t have to deal with me face-to-face

and let me heal them.

16–17 “But you have God-blessed eyes—eyes that see! And God-blessed ears—ears that hear! A lot of people, prophets and humble believers among them, would have given anything to see what you are seeing, to hear what you are hearing, but never had the chance.

18–19 “Study this story of the farmer planting seed. When anyone hears news of the kingdom and doesn’t take it in, it just remains on the surface, and so the Evil One comes along and plucks it right out of that person’s heart. This is the seed the farmer scatters on the road.

20–21 “The seed cast in the gravel—this is the person who hears and instantly responds with enthusiasm. But there is no soil of character, and so when the emotions wear off and some difficulty arrives, there is nothing to show for it.

22 “The seed cast in the weeds is the person who hears the kingdom news, but weeds of worry and illusions about getting more and wanting everything under the sun strangle what was heard, and nothing comes of it.

23 “The seed cast on good earth is the person who hears and takes in the News, and then produces a harvest beyond his wildest dreams.”

The Parable of the Sower - courtesy Free Bible Images - Artist unknownPeterson, Eugene H. The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2005. Print.

King James Version

13 The same day went Jesus out of the house, and sat by the sea side. 2 And great multitudes were gathered together unto him, so that he went into a ship, and sat; and the whole multitude stood on the shore. 3 And he spake many things unto them in parables, saying, Behold, a sower went forth to sow; 4 And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up: 5 Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth: 6 And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. 7 And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them: 8 But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold. 9 Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.

10 And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables? 11 He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. 12 For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath. 13 Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. 14 And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: 15 For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them. 16 But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear. 17 For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them. 18 Hear ye therefore the parable of the sower. 19 When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side. 20 But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it; 21 Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended. 22 He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful. 23 But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.

The Holy Bible: King James Version. Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009. Print.

Sources: NIV, The Message, The NET Bible, King James Version, NET Bible Notes, Faithlife Study Bible, The Apologetics Study Bible, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Commentary, The Bible Reader’s Companion, Matthew Henry’s Commentary, Holman Concise Bible Commentary, The Bible Exposition Commentary, The Teacher’s Bible Commentary, The Teacher’s Commentary, The Bible Guide, Word Studies in the New Testament, Holman Bible Handbook, Calvin Commentaries, Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines, The New Manner and Customs of the Bible, Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, The Lexham Bible Dictionary, Easton’s Bible Dictionary, Harper’s Bible Dictionary, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, The Archaeological Encyclopedia, Biblical Archaeology Review, The New Bible Dictionary, The Lexham Analytical Lexicon, Glossary of Morpho-Syntactic Database
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