Parable of the Sower

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An icon depicting the Sower (Biserica Ortodoxă din Deal, Cluj-Napoca), Romania.

The Parable of the Sower is one of the parables of Jesus found in three (often called the Synoptic Gospels)[1] out of the four Canonical gospels and in the non-canonical Gospel of Thomas.[2] In this story, a sower dropped seed on the path, on rocky ground, and among thorns, and the seed was lost; but when seed fell on good earth, it grew, yielding thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.

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Parable Text from the Gospel of Mark (KJV)[edit]

Hearken; Behold, there went out a sower to sow: And it came to pass, as he sowed, some fell by the way side, and the birds of the air came and devoured it up. And some fell on stony ground, where it had not much earth; and immediately it sprang up, because it had no depth of earth: But when the sun was up, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away. And some fell among thorns, the thorns grew up, and choked it, and it yielded no fruit. And other fell on good ground, did yield fruit that sprang up and increased; and brought forth, some thirty, and some sixty, some an hundred. He said unto them, He that has ears to hear, let him hear.

Mark 4:3-9

The explanation given by Jesus:

And when he was alone, they that were about him with the twelve asked of him the parable. And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables: That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them. And he said unto them, Know ye not this parable? and how then will ye know all parables?

The sower soweth the word. And these are they by the way side, where the word is sown; but when they have heard, Satan cometh immediately, and taketh away the word that was sown in their hearts. And these are they likewise which are sown on stony ground; who, when they have heard the word, immediately receive it with gladness; And have no root in themselves, and so endure but for a time: afterward, when affliction or persecution ariseth for the word's sake, immediately they are offended. And these are they which are sown among thorns; such as hear the word, and the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful. And these are they which are sown on good ground; such as hear the word, and receive it, and bring forth fruit, some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some an hundred.

Mark 4:10-20

Comparisons Between Gospel of Thomas and Synoptic Gospels[edit]

Thomas, as usual, provides no narrative context whatsoever, nor any explanation, but the synoptics frame this parable as one of a group that were told by Jesus while he was standing on a boat in a lake. The parable tells of seeds that were erratically scattered, some falling on the road and consequently eaten by birds, some falling on rock and consequently unable to take root, and some falling on thorns which choked the seed and the birds ate them. It was, according to the parable, only the seeds that fell on good soil and were able to germinate, producing a crop thirty, sixty, or even a hundredfold, of what had been sown.

Though Thomas doesn't explain the parable at all, the synoptics state that the disciples failed to understand, and questioned Jesus why he was teaching by parables, but the synoptics state that Jesus waited until much later, until the crowds had left, before explaining the parables, stating to his disciples:

the secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to those on the outside, everything is said in parables so that they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding

The synoptics go on to state that Jesus quoted the Book of Isaiah, stating that by hearing you shall hear but not understand, by seeing you shall see and not perceive, and that the people were hard of hearing, with closed eyes Isaiah 6:9-10. After this, the synoptics provide an explanation of the parable:

Interpretations[edit]

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Landscape with the Parable of the Sower, 1557.

Most scholars think the parable was originally optimistic in outlook, in that despite failures eventually the "seed" will be successful, take root and produce a large "crop".[3] It is the first parable to occur in Mark, which according to the Q hypothesis was the first book it occurred in. Mark uses it to highlight the reaction Christ's previous teachings have had on people as well as the reaction the Christian message has had on the world over the three decades between Christ's ministry and the writing of the Gospel.[4]

Jesus says he is teaching in parables because he does not want everyone to understand him, only those who are his followers. Those outside the group are not meant to understand them. Thus one must already be committed to following Jesus to fully understand his message and that without that commitment one will never fully understand him or be helped by his message. If one does not correctly understand the parables, this is a sign that one is not a true disciple of Jesus.[5] He teaches in this way so that their sins will then not be forgiven. He quotes Isaiah 6:9-10, who also preached to Israel knowing that his message would go unheeded and not understood so that the Israelites' sins would not be forgiven and they would be punished by God for them.[4] Some debate whether this was Jesus' original meaning or whether Mark added this interpretation himself.[5] The full explanation of the meaning of the parable stresses that there will be difficulty in Jesus' message taking hold, perhaps an attempt by Mark to bolster his readers' faith, perhaps in the face of a persecution.[6] This parable seems to be essential for understanding all the rest of Jesus' parables, as it makes clear what is necessary to understand Jesus is a prior faith in him, and that Jesus will not enlighten those who refuse to believe, he will only confuse them.[7]

The parable has sometimes been taken to mean that there are (at least) three 'levels' of divine progress and salvation.[8]

Interpretations among Latter Day Saints[edit]

According to the various interpretations by members and leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (or "LDS Church"), the word generally refers to the whole of the Canonical Gospels, and that not everyone accepts the gospel with the same degree of commitment:

The parable taught clearly where the responsibility lay with regard to the kingdom of God and the reception of the gospel. It was not with the sower and it was not in the seed - it was in the 'soil,' the heart of man. - E. Keith Howick, The Parables of Jesus The Messiah (pg. 30)

Joseph Smith, Jr., the founder of the LDS Church, suggested that the Parable of the Sower demonstrated the effects that are produced by the preaching of the word, and he believed that the parable was a direct allusion to the commencement/setting-up of the Kingdom in that age.[9]

In the 19th century, President Heber C. Kimball spoke about a condition that illustrates the need for a deeply rooted, living faith capable of enduring challenges; a statement that is regarded by many Latter-day Saints as an increasingly important message for the LDS Church in modern times. Kimball stated, The time will come when no man nor woman will be able to endure on borrowed light. Each will have to be guided by the light within himself. If you do not have it, how can you stand.[10]

Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin in the October 2004 General Conference interpreted the parable of the sower as teaching the doctrine of patience—enduring to the end—and reinterpreted the meaning of each of the fates of the seeds. Wirthlin considered that each of the three negative fates referred to one of three obstacles to endurance:

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ see Mark 4:1-20, Matthew 13:1-23, and Luke 8:1-15
  2. ^ Thomas 9
  3. ^ Kilgallen p.82
  4. ^ a b Kilgallen p.83
  5. ^ a b Kilgallen p.84
  6. ^ Kilgallen p.85
  7. ^ Kilgallen p.86
  8. ^ For example, Irenaeus writes, 'there is this distinction between the habitation of those who produce an hundred-fold, and that of those who produce sixty-fold, and that of those who produce thirty-fold: for the first will be taken up into the heavens, the second will dwell in paradise, the last will inhabit the city; and that was on this account the Lord declared, "In My Father's house are many mansions." Book V:36:1 (Against Heresies)
  9. ^ Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pg. 97.
  10. ^ Quoted by Harold B. Lee in Conference Report, October 1965, pg. 128; see also Orson F. Whitney, Life of Heber C. Kimball, pg. 446, 449-50.
  11. ^ See Joseph B. Wirthlin, Press On Ensign, November 2004, 101.

References[edit]