The Parable of the Sower
1 Again he began to teach by the lake. Such a large crowd gathered around him that he got into a boat on the lake and sat there while#tn Grk “and all the crowd.” The clause in this phrase, although coordinate in terms of grammar, is logically subordinate to the previous clause. the whole crowd was on the shore by the lake. 2 He taught them many things in parables,#sn Though parables can contain a variety of figures of speech (cf. 2:19-22; 3:23-25; 4:3-9, 26-32; 7:15-17; 13:28), many times they are simply stories that attempt to teach spiritual truth (which is unknown to the hearers) by using a comparison with something known to the hearers. In general, parables usually advance a single idea, though there may be many parts and characters in a single parable and subordinate ideas may expand the main idea further. The beauty of using the parable as a teaching device is that it draws the listener into the story, elicits an evaluation, and demands a response. and in his teaching said to them: 3 “Listen! A sower went out to sow.#sn A sower went out to sow. The background for this well-known parable, drawn from a typical scene in the Palestinian countryside, is a field through which a well worn path runs. Sowing would occur in late fall or early winter (October to December) in the rainy season, looking for sprouting in April or May and a June harvest. The use of seed as a figure for God’s giving life has OT roots (Isa 55:10-11). The point of the parable of the sower is to illustrate the various responses to the message of the kingdom of God (cf. 4:11). 4 And as he sowed, some seed#tn Mark’s version of the parable, like Luke’s (cf. Luke 8:4-8), uses the collective singular to refer to the seed throughout, so singular pronouns have been used consistently throughout this parable in the English translation. However, the parallel account in Matt 13:1-9 begins with plural pronouns in v. 4 but then switches to the collective singular in v. 5 ff. fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. 5 Other seed fell on rocky ground#sn The rocky ground in Palestine would be a limestone base lying right under the soil. where it did not have much soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep.#tn Grk “it did not have enough depth of earth.” 6 When the sun came up it was scorched, and because it did not have sufficient root,#tn Grk “it did not have root.” it withered. 7 Other seed fell among the thorns,#sn Palestinian weeds like these thorns could grow up to six feet in height and have a major root system. and they grew up and choked it,#sn That is, crowded out the good plants. and it did not produce grain. 8 But#tn Here καί (kai) has been translated as “but” to indicate the contrast present in the final stage of the parable. other seed fell on good soil and produced grain, sprouting and growing; some yielded thirty times as much, some sixty, and some a hundred times.” 9 And he said, “Whoever has ears to hear had better listen!”#tn The translation “had better listen!” captures the force of the third person imperative more effectively than the traditional “let him hear,” which sounds more like a permissive than an imperative to the modern English reader. This was Jesus’ common expression to listen and heed carefully (cf. Matt 11:15; 13:9, 43; Mark 4:23; Luke 8:8, 14:35).
The Purpose of Parables
10 When he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. 11 He said to them, “The secret#tn Grk “the mystery.”sn The key term secret (μυστήριον, musthrion) can mean either (1) a new revelation or (2) a revealing interpretation of existing revelation as in Dan 2:17-23, 27-30. Jesus seems to be explaining how current events develop old promises, since the NT consistently links the events of Jesus’ ministry and message with old promises (Rom 1:1-4; Heb 1:1-2). The traditional translation of this word, “mystery,” is misleading to the modern English reader because it suggests a secret which people have tried to uncover but which they have failed to understand (L&N 28.77). of the kingdom of God has been given#tn This is an example of a “divine passive,” with God understood to be the source of the revelation (see ExSyn 437-38). to you. But to those outside, everything is in parables,
12 so that although they look they may look but not see,
and although they hear they may hear but not understand,
so they may not repent and be forgiven.”#sn A quotation from Isa 6:9-10. Thus parables both conceal or reveal depending on whether one is open to hearing what they teach.
13 He said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? Then#tn Grk “And.” Here καί (kai) has been translated as “then” to indicate the implied sequence of events within the narrative. how will you understand any parable? 14 The sower sows the word. 15 These are the ones on the path where the word is sown: Whenever they hear, immediately Satan#sn Interestingly, the synoptic parallels each use a different word for Satan here: Matt 13:19 has “the evil one,” while Luke 8:12 has “the devil.” This illustrates the fluidity of the gospel tradition in often using synonyms at the same point of the parallel tradition. comes and snatches the word#sn The word of Jesus has the potential to save if it germinates in a person’s heart, something the devil is very much against. that was sown in them. 16 These are the ones sown on rocky ground: As soon as they hear the word, they receive it with joy. 17 But#tn Grk “And.” Here καί (kai) has been translated as “but” to indicate the contrast present in this context. they have no root in themselves and do not endure.#tn Grk “are temporary.” Then, when trouble or persecution comes because of the word, immediately they fall away. 18 Others are the ones sown among thorns: They are those who hear the word, 19 but#tn Grk “and.” Here καί (kai) has been translated as “but” to indicate the contrast present in this context. worldly cares, the seductiveness of wealth,#tn Grk “the deceitfulness of riches.” Cf. BDAG 99 s.v. ἀπάτη 1, “the seduction which comes from wealth.” and the desire for other things come in and choke the word,#sn That is, their concern for spiritual things is crowded out by material things. and it produces nothing. 20 But#tn Here καί (kai) has been translated as “but” to indicate the contrast present in this context. these are the ones sown on good soil: They hear the word and receive it and bear fruit, one thirty times as much, one sixty, and one a hundred.”
The Parable of the Lamp
21 He also said to them, “A lamp#sn The lamp is probably an ancient oil burning lamp or perhaps a candlestick. Jesus is comparing revelation to light, particularly the revelation of his ministry. isn’t brought to be put under a basket#tn Or “a bowl”; this refers to any container for dry material of about eight liters (two gallons) capacity. It could be translated “basket, box, bowl” (L&N 6.151). or under a bed, is it? Isn’t it to be placed on a lampstand? 22 For nothing is hidden except to be revealed,#tn Or “disclosed.” and nothing concealed except to be brought to light. 23 If anyone has ears to hear, he had better listen!”#tn The translation “had better listen!” captures the force of the third person imperative more effectively than the traditional “let him hear,” which sounds more like a permissive than an imperative to the modern English reader. This was Jesus’ common expression to listen and heed carefully (cf. Matt 11:15; 13:9, 43; Mark 4:9; Luke 8:8, 14:35). 24 And he said to them, “Take care about what you hear. The measure you use will be the measure you receive,#tn Grk “by [the measure] with which you measure it will be measured to you.” and more will be added to you. 25 For whoever has will be given more, but#tn Grk “and.” Here καί (kai) has been translated as “but” to indicate the contrast present in this context. whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.”#sn What he has will be taken from him. The meaning is that the one who accepts Jesus’ teaching concerning his person and the kingdom will receive a share in the kingdom now and even more in the future, but for the one who rejects Jesus’ words, the opportunity that that person presently possesses with respect to the kingdom will someday be taken away forever.
The Parable of the Growing Seed
26 He also said, “The kingdom of God is like someone who spreads seed on the ground. 27 He goes to sleep and gets up, night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. 28 By itself the soil produces a crop, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29 And when the grain is ripe, he sends in the sickle#tn The Greek word εὐθύς (euqus, often translated “immediately” or “right away”) has not been translated here. It sometimes occurs with a weakened, inferential use (BDAG 406 s.v. 2), not contributing significantly to the flow of the narrative. For further discussion, see R. J. Decker, Temporal Deixis of the Greek Verb in the Gospel of Mark with Reference to Verbal Aspect (SBG 10), 73-77. because the harvest has come.”#sn Because the harvest has come. This parable is found only in Mark (cf. Matt 13:24-30) and presents a complete picture of the coming of God’s kingdom: (1) sowing; (2) growth; (3) harvest. Some understand the parable as a reference to evangelism. While this is certainly involved, it does not seem to be the central idea. In contrast to the parable of the sower which emphasizes the quality of the different soils, this parable emphasizes the power of the seed to cause growth (with the clear implication that the mysterious growth of the kingdom is accomplished by God), apart from human understanding and observation.
The Parable of the Mustard Seed
30 He also asked, “To what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable can we use to present it? 31 It is like a mustard seed#sn Mustard seeds are known for their tiny size. that when sown in the ground, even though it is the smallest of all the seeds in the ground – 32 when it is sown, it grows up,#tn Mark 4:31-32 is fairly awkward in Greek. Literally the sentence reads as follows: “As a mustard seed, which when sown in the earth, being the smallest of all the seeds in the earth, and when it is sown, it grows up…” The structure has been rendered in more idiomatic English, although some of the awkward structure has been retained for rhetorical effect. becomes the greatest of all garden plants, and grows large branches so that the wild birds#tn Grk “the birds of the sky” or “the birds of the heaven”; the Greek word οὐρανός (ouranos) may be translated either “sky” or “heaven,” depending on the context. The idiomatic expression “birds of the sky” refers to wild birds as opposed to domesticated fowl (cf. BDAG 809 s.v. πετεινόν). can nest in its shade.”#sn The point of the parable seems to be that while the kingdom of God may appear to have insignificant and unnoticeable beginnings (i.e., in the ministry of Jesus), it will someday (i.e., at the second advent) be great and quite expansive. The kingdom, however, is not to be equated with the church, but rather the church is an expression of the kingdom. Also, there is important OT background in the image of the mustard seed that grew and became a tree: Ezek 17:22-24 pictures the reemergence of the Davidic house where people can find calm and shelter. Like the mustard seed, it would start out small but grow to significant size.
The Use of Parables
33 So#tn Grk “And.” Here καί (kai) has been translated as “so” to indicate the implied result of previous action(s) in the narrative. with many parables like these, he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear. 34 He did not speak to them without a parable. But privately he explained everything to his own disciples.
Stilling of a Storm
35 On that day, when evening came, Jesus#tn Grk “he”; the referent (Jesus) has been specified in the translation for clarity. said to his disciples, “Let’s go across to the other side of the lake.”#tn The phrase “of the lake” is not in the Greek text but is clearly implied; it has been supplied here for clarity. 36 So#tn Grk “And.” Here καί (kai) has been translated as “so” to indicate the response to Jesus’ request. after leaving the crowd, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat,#tn It is possible that this prepositional phrase modifies “as he was,” not “they took him along.” The meaning would then be “they took him along in the boat in which he was already sitting” (see 4:1).sn A boat that held all the disciples would be of significant size. and other boats were with him. 37 Now#tn Grk “And.” Here καί (kai) has been translated as “now” to indicate the transition to a new topic. a great windstorm#tn Or “a squall.”sn The Sea of Galilee is located in a depression some 700 ft (200 m) below sea level and is surrounded by hills. Frequently a rush of wind and the right mix of temperatures can cause a storm to come suddenly on the lake. Storms on the Sea of Galilee were known for their suddenness and violence. developed and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was nearly swamped. 38 But#tn Grk “And.” Here καί (kai) has been translated as “but” to indicate the contrast present in this context. he was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. They woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care that we are about to die?” 39 So#tn Grk “And.” Here καί (kai) has been translated as “so” to indicate the implied result of previous action(s) in the narrative. he got up and rebuked#tn Or “commanded” (often with the implication of a threat, L&N 33.331). the wind, and said to the sea,#sn Who has authority over the seas and winds is discussed in the OT: Ps 104:3; 135:7; 107:23-30. When Jesus rebuked the wind and the sea he was making a statement about who he was. “Be quiet! Calm down!” Then#tn Grk “And.” Here καί (kai) has been translated as “then” to indicate the implied sequence of events within the narrative. the wind stopped, and it was dead calm. 40 And he said to them, “Why are you cowardly? Do you still not have faith?” 41 They were overwhelmed by fear and said to one another, “Who then is this?#sn Jesus’ authority over creation raised a question for the disciples about who he was exactly (Who then is this?). This verse shows that the disciples followed Jesus even though they did not know all about him yet. Even the wind and sea obey him!”#sn This section in Mark (4:35-5:43) contains four miracles: (1) the calming of the storm; (2) the exorcism of the demon-possessed man; (3) the giving of life to Jairus’ daughter; (4) the healing of the woman hemorrhaging for twelve years. All these miracles demonstrate Jesus’ right to proclaim the kingdom message and his sovereign authority over forces, directly or indirectly, hostile to the kingdom. The last three may have been brought together to show that Jesus had power over all defilement, since contact with graves, blood, or a corpse was regarded under Jewish law as causing a state of ritual uncleanness.