THE PARABLE OF THE SOWERJust remember only that this fruit bearing is the case of what the Lord characterizes as a noble and good heart, and nothing more need be said.
By Edgar Jones
THE PARABLE OF THE SOWER
Some of Jesus' parables are very specific, pinpointing a particular aspect of the Gospel of the Kingdom. Others have a broader view, enlightening us as to some process ongoing in the operation of the kingdom in the world, and yet others have the full span of history in view. This is of the second type, providing light on a process ongoing in the world and under the administration of the kingdom. Jesus sometimes explained the meaning of a parable, and this is one of those that he immediately interpreted for his disciples.
We present both the parable and Jesus' interpretation below, to which we append comments intended to illuminate it further for you who inhabit the world of the Twenty-First Century. Time has not changed the meaning of the parable, but modern influences, faulty translation and transmission tend to obscure both the parable and its interpretation. The comments are to counter these things and not to amend the interpretation of Jesus, which is more than adequate.
All three of the synoptic evangelists included this parable, which means that all of them considered it a very important part of the teaching of the Lord. The presentation below, in parallel columns, of the parable as it appears in each gospel provides additional insight as to the process by which it has been preserved. By observing the differences in the telling by Matthew, Mark, and Luke we may draw some very important conclusions. Also, the absence of certain words may also tell us something important about the meaning. Now please examine the parable and proceed to the commentary appended below.
PARALLEL VERSIONS AND THE PROCESS OF PRESERVATION
Examine the parallel utterances that introduce the parable in each of the synoptics below, reproduced from above. Do you see differences? Yes! How to explain them?
Mark alone gives the Greek for the exhortation, Listen! Did Jesus speak the word? If so, why did Matthew and Luke not include it? If not, why did Mark include it? We do not know. Is it important? This could be very important when considering the meaning of the parable and especially the process of its preservation as this opening statement sets the stage for the whole. What is certain is that we do not know the exact words Jesus used. One could speculate that he told the parable many times on different occasions, and that his words were somewhat different each time. One evangelist then is influenced by one telling, the others by another. We do not know.
It becomes more complex, because we see that the Greek of Luke introduced a word that neither Matthew nor Mark thought to record: seed. Again, this may effect the meaning and is very relevant to our understanding of the process of transmission. Why did Luke alone include it? We do not know.
There are many such differences in these parables and throughout the gospels. While we cannot certainly say in any case why there is a difference, my conclusion is that they differ because those who heard Jesus speak remembered it differently when the time came for them to write or to repeat what they had heard. There were omissions, and also inclusions, by the evangelists due solely to faulty memories. That is the reason we have four gospels -- so as to get the full picture, one that any one writer would not provide. But these differences do not alter or detract from the message of Jesus, provided we listen to all of them to get the full testimony. We have differences in the texts because of imperfect transmission.
Our English versions of the New Testament contain yet another category of differences, those due to imperfect translation. We observe a cardinal example from this category involving the word seed. If you refer to Matthew's version above, and also Mark's, you will see that this word appears in verses 4, 5, 7, and 8 of both. This word is not there in the Greek! The Translators have added it, but it is completely unnecessary. Also, as we will see, they are inconsistent.
A Greek equivalent for seed occurs only in Luke 8:5 as indicated above. But Luke omits the Greek word thereafter in his version, and so do the translators. They patched it into Matthew and Mark -- why not Luke? The translators are inconsistent to say the least! Here, let us attend to an example from both Matthew and Mark that read the same:
4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path,It should read, to be consistent with the Greek:
4 And as he sowed, some fell along the path,. . ..And this is exactly the way Luke has it in this English version (RSV)! You can find more of this, including in the interpretation by Jesus below. The RSV is among the better versions, but one can see from this simple example that its translators took much liberty with the Word, and the reader should be wary.
Even here, although the influence on the meaning of the parable is not major, it yet may have a significant bearing on it. Why did Jesus not mention seed in either Matthew or Luke? This must surely be significant, and one can immediately surmise that he did not want, in this parable, to focus attention on the seed, but on the soil. This could influence our interpretation, which the translators have voided by sticking in the word.
It becomes yet more interesting when we compare this parable with the Parable of the Weeds, which only Matthew has preserved and in which Jesus specifically mentions seed as indicated by the inclusion of the Greek for seed. Here it would seem that the focus of the parable is on the seed, for when we compare the two we find these significant differences:
The Parable of the Sower involves a single seed and multiple soils.Interesting, isn't it? The interpretation of the latter parable is planned for a subsequent paper, in which we will show that the Parable of the Weeds is a companion parable to that of the Sower. For now, let us get on with the interpretation of the Parable of the Sower.
THE INTERPRETATION BY JESUS
COMMENTARY ON THE PARABLE OF THE SOWER
1. What is sown?
Mark makes this identification in the most concise way:
14 The sower sows the word.This word is further defined as the word of the kingdom (Matthew) and the word of God (Luke). But we can still misunderstand it, as many do, by supposing that this is further identified as the words recorded throughout the Bible. After years of examining all the gospels I can say with much assurance that when Jesus speaks thus, about the word of the kingdom or the word of God, he speaks specifically of the words that issued from his mouth, not from the pens of prophets and apostles. It is beyond the scope of this paper to justify this statement, but here is one example that indicates why I say this:
Additionally, it is the words of Jesus that produce eternal life, not the words of scripture, which only bear witness to him, according to this utterance:
That says it very nicely, and if there is any doubt but that it is only the words of Jesus that produce eternal life, consider this also:
The point is that the life is in the seed, and it is the seed (in the parable) that produces life. Therefore, the only word that can be represented by the seed is the Logos. That is the only word that produces life and that contains the life in itself, just as does a seed of grain. It is certain, therefore, that the seed identified in the parable as the word of God is more specifically the word of Jesus, from whose mouth the parable came!
2. Who is the sower?
In his interpretation, presented specifically for us who are his disciples, Jesus did not identify the sower. This may seem strange until we pause to consider that the focus here is not on the sower. It is not on the seed, and it is not on the sower. Still, we do not need to guess. The seed, being the Logos, can have only Jesus for its sower! We can get a confirmation of this by reference, again, to the Parable of the Weeds, where the sower is specifically identified as "the son of man." "Son of man" is a term that Jesus repeatedly uses to designate his own person.
3. What is the soil?
We have already decided that neither the seed nor the sower are the focus of the parable. This only leaves the soil, of which there are four kinds, and the fruit, of which there is but one kind. It is reasonable to conclude, therefore, that the soil is our prime focus, and that the purpose of the parable has to do with explaining the four different types and the differences between them. It would be natural for one to suppose that these four different soils, characterized as path, rocky ground, among thorns, and good soil represent four different types of people. They do, but the identification is more specific as necessary to express the full force of this parable. I will list here the parallel verses from each gospel, two of which specify the answer:
The soil, in the case of the path, is the heart of the person. Both Matthew and Luke so specify it as shown by the highlighted words, and Mark agrees also in speaking of the word which was sown in them. Being in them, it must point to the heart in each case. None of the gospels repeat the specification for either the rocky or the thorny soil, but when we come to the good soil Jesus tells us, according to Luke only:
. . . stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.We can confidently conclude, therefore, that in every case it is the heart of the human being that is the focus of Jesus' interest, for the character of the heart dictates the response to the Word. This is consistent with the just judgments of the Father, who never judges by the outer facade but ever looks upon our hearts. A word from the prophet Samuel is very relevant here:
 But the LORD said to Samuel, "Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the LORD sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.The response to the Logos of the path like hearts is such that, though they hear it or read it in the gospels, they neither understand it, retain it, nor persevere in it. Jesus explains that they are open to the operation of the evil one who snatches it away so that it has no effect. Such is the hard hearted one, who is immune to the Logos.
Now we proceed to examine Jesus' interpretation of the rocky soil hearts:
What happens in that case?
They join a church, become honored members of the fellowship of believers therein, grow old and die in the confidence that their faithfulness has assured them a place in heaven and in the hearts of their fellow church members who survive them. It happens every day -- indeed, this is the general pattern we observe everywhere in Christendom. At the funeral, the preacher always puts them in heaven.
Then, they rise at the judgment to hear these terrible words:
 And then will I declare to them, `I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.'This case arises only in an environment where the world has embraced a religion called Christianity, wherein the Christians are honored and protected as such by the forces that constitute the world. Such persons cannot be true disciples because, according to Jesus, true disciples always experience persecution in the world:
 In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.It is a promise! He further explained the reason for this tribulation as follows:
All who receive the seed (Logos) will suffer tribulation in the world. If tribulation does not arise in the world on account of the Logos, the Logos is not involved. It follows that all who do not experience tribulation or persecution in the world have not received the Logos. It follows further that such are not included in this case of the Parable of the Sower, because this case involves only those who have received the Logos to the point of persecution. Christians who are honored in and by the world are not to be included here because they have never received the Logos so as to fall away from it! Theirs must be a special case, and indeed it is a special case covered by The Parable of the Weeds. We must remember that this parable, in every case, is relative only to persons who have heard the true Word, the Logos that issued from the mouth of Jesus and who have received it. Even the hard hearted ones have received it, only to have it snatched away by the evil one before it can germinate. As for the real case defined and interpreted by Jesus above, his interpretation is sufficient for us.
Now we proceed to examine the third category, the thorny soil:
We must, as before, remain aware that this can apply only to persons who have truly heard and received the Logos. People also fall away or prove unfruitful to the nominal religion of Christianity, but they are not included here. This interpretation by Jesus is the case only of those who have received and retained the true Word, the Logos. It has germinated and produced life -- yes, it is eternal life, for that is the only life this seed produces, but it is unfruitful for the reasons indicated. The life in them is choked by life's worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature.
Put these two cases together, that of the rocky soil and the thorny soil, and we can learn something new, something wonderful that we may never have conceived, which is that Satan, the evil one of the world, has a double barrel approach in the response to those who have received the true Word. The devil is a carrot and stick sort of guy. If he cannot simply snatch the Word away -- then comes the stick. If the stick (tribulation) doesn't work, he brings forth the carrot (life's riches and pleasures)! You see how we must be wary of him, for he doesn't miss a bet! If he cannot shake us by tribulation, he will woo us by the treasure and riches of the world. Now let us examine the final case again:
All three witnesses state the response to the Logos in slightly different terms, but they are all appropriate, so I take it that we require all three for the full picture. These blessed ones hear the word, understand the word, accept the word, retain the word, persevere in the word, and bear fruit. We need only recall that it is the pure Logos, the holy seed that they have received, and not some counterfeit version to fully understand the interpretation of Jesus. Nothing else need be said, for we cannot add anything to it, and we must not take anything away from it.
In conclusion to this question, the soil represents the four different characterizations of the hearts of individuals who hear the Logos.
This brings us to the final question:
4. What is the fruit?
We who have a strong Evangelical influence behind us are likely to shoot from the hip in response to this question and suggest that the fruit must be in terms of children of God, such that every "good soil" disciple reproduces thirty, sixty, and a hundred fold more disciples. This would be a mistake and an erroneous conclusion. Think about it for a minute: Jesus did not interpret this for us, therefore is it not reasonable to suppose that we should have the moxie required to interpret it for ourselves, in the light of the context of the larger parable? The seed that was placed in the good soil he has identified as the Word of God. The produce of this soil must therefore be in terms of thirty, sixty, and an hundred fold of the Word. The fruit is the replication of the Word in the world, such that others will also hear it. This is certainly relevant to the reproduction of the children of God in the world, but it is not that reproduction in this parable. It is the production of more seed, for only that can become a multiple of what was put into the good soil, which is the seed.
Need confirmation? Just listen to the Lord, and you will have it:
 You brood of vipers! how can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.
We began, above, by considering the differences in the versions of the parable as presented by the three evangelists and considered the differences to have resulted primarily from errors in transmission. In most cases, we concluded that the differences are not really errors, but only the result of the need of each evangelist to supply what another had omitted due to imperfect memory. But there is one such difference that I held to the last because it is very important to a correct view of scripture. This pertains to the case of the rocky soil, that we reproduce here yet again:
I have struggled in every way to reconcile these versions, yet every effort has failed. The problem is with Luke, for both Matthew and Mark agree that the deficiency here is in the soil: it had not much soil. But Luke has: it had no moisture. Both Matthew and Mark record that immediately it sprang up. Luke agrees that it grew up. Any agronomist will tell us that this simply does not occur without moisture.
I have been attempting to get a good stand of fescue on my lawn. There has been progress, but it is slow, and I have had to reseed some bare spots several times, including recently. The instructions on the seed container are always specific: water it every day!
As a farm lad I watched many times after the planting and was always amazed to see the rows turn green with little sprouts of cotton or corn -- provided, that is, that there was moisture. Otherwise the seed simply lay in the dust waiting for a rain. Then, after the rain -- bingo! Standing at the ends of the rows we were wonderfully gratified to see the little shoots poking out of the moist soil from one end of the rows to the other. It was a beautiful, beautiful sight because it promised a crop for that year.
In all of his teaching and parables Jesus shows perfect familiarity with the technical details of farming in his time and place. This would be no exception; therefore he said nothing about moisture in this case, and Luke, or his source, remembering imperfectly and knowing little of agronomy, made an erroneous assumption and placed words in the mouth of Jesus that he never uttered. Indeed, the Greek New Testament word here is ikmas, (moisture) and there is no other record that Jesus uttered this word in any context. This is the only occurrence of the word in the entire New Testament!
We can learn much from this parable about the gospel and also about the process by which it comes to us involving transmission and translation. The Holy Spirit has guarded the faith to assure that the record accurately reveals the substance of the Gospel of the Kingdom. Neither transmission nor translation are perfect. But that has no effect on the Truth that the gospels record. It does have an effect on our perceptions of the inspiration of scripture that, if we are open to the Spirit, liberates us from insecurity in regard to our faith. We are not compelled to believe that every word or idea in the Bible is inspired of God, for it is not. We are free to believe the Truth, which is that the Holy Spirit utilized the services of fallible men to deliver the message to us, but in such a way as to assure that the essential message arrives unadulterated and accurate.
It is impossible that Christians -- churchmen and women -- will see the lessons of the Parable of the Sower aright because it contains a heavy judgment of themselves and their religion such as they are unprepared to acknowledge. That is why some parts of the gospel, which you have read here, are invisible to them. I can state this with some authority, having come out from among them very reluctantly yet under the powerful impression that I was being delivered from deceit and death. It is of such that Jesus applied the message of Isaiah when he said to those who filled the corresponding position in First Century Israel,
This is a difficult and sad conclusion to reach; if there were only one of them, it would be tragic. But there are and have been literally billions of these Christians that have heard the Word, the Logos of God as Jesus uttered it, but it did not take root. These are those represented by the path, where the Word is sown, but as the Lord explained,
Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.
How ironic, that these include the very ones that promote the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, or "once saved, always saved." Let us all be wary, for such is the Satanic power of deception that runs rampant in Christendom and throughout the world.