The journey begins, 1:1-5:43

5. The Word - the good news of the kingdom, 4:1-34

iii] The parable of the growing seed and mustard seed


A large crowd, eager to hear what Jesus has to say, has gathered by the lakeside. With the crowd pressing in, Jesus mounts a fishing boat, moves out into the lake a little way, and sitting in the stern, he begins teaching the people in parables. The narrative logic is interrupted by Jesus' explanation to the disciples of the parable of the sower and why he speaks to the crowd in parables, but then, Mark continues by recording two examples of Jesus' kingdom parables.


Now is the hour for the realisation / inauguration of God's righteous reign. "The kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe the gospel."


i] Context: See 4:1-25.


ii] Background: Jesus' use of parables; See 4:1-25.


iii] Structure: The parables of the growing seed and mustard bush:

The parable of the growing seed, v26-29;

The parable of the mustard seed, v30-32.

Editorial comment, v33-34:

Jesus' general preaching was in the form of kingdom parables, v33;

to his disciples Jesus "explained everything", v34.


iv] Interpretation:

Both these parables are often interpreted as if illustrating growth in the kingdom, the movement of time from small beginnings to ultimate fulfilment, eg., the growth in the Christian church from its earliest days. This interpretation is derived from the parable of the sower where it is assumed that the "seed" = "word" formula applies to all Jesus' parables. Yet ,it is more likely that both these parables proclaim the immediacy of the kingdom. See C.H. Dodd The Parables of the Kingdom, but note that Dodd's realised eschatology always stands in tension with inaugurated eschatology - now/not yet.

Although often viewed as allegories, these two parables present as gospel presentations designed for a people with ears that don't want to hear. They serve to draw out the true seeker, while, in an act of judgment, confuse those who have chosen to reject a clear word from God. As with all kingdom parables, they begin with the phrase "the kingdom of God / heaven is like....."; "like = may be compared to the situation where ...." They announce the righteous reign of God in the person of Jesus, whose coming has released mysterious forces which even now inaugurate that reign, a reign that will be fully realised at the eschaton. In this sense, they are mysterious enigmatic utterances similar to an Old Testament riddle, a marsal, a riddle which conceals its meaning from the hearer, eg., 2Sam.12:5f. It is within an environment of disbelief and opposition that Jesus has used these parables, but in simple terms, they proclaim that "the kingdom of God is at hand / is bursting in upon us."


v] Synoptics:

The parable of the Growing Seed, v26-29. This short parable partly aligns with Matthew's parable of the weeds in the field, 13:24-30. Although some six words are common to both parables, Mark's version is without the weeds, and more particularly, without the commentary / interpretation. Markan priority is indicated, although we may just have two totally different parables.

The parable of the Mustard Seed, v30-32. Matt.13:31-32, Lk.13:18-19. Luke leaves out the comment that the mustard seed is the smallest of all seeds. A small / large comparison is likely to be original, but "smallest" is problematic.

Jesus' use of parables, v33-34. Matt.13:34-35. Matthew's addition of the quote from Isaiah supports Markan priority, although it seems strange for Matthew to move this pericope from after the parable of the Mustard Seed to after the parable of the Yeast.


vi] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage can be found in the pew-level sermon notes The growing seed and mustard bush.

Text - 4:26

Two kingdom parables, v26-32: i] The parable of the growing seed, v26-29. Mark's "he also said", introduces another unit of teaching, here another kingdom parable. The introductory phrase "the kingdom of God" clues us to the fact that this story is a riddle; it tells us a secret about the kingdom. "God's cosmic intrusion into human affairs may be compared with the situation where a person, as it were, might sow a field. The grain germinates, grows, and when ripe, then comes the harvest. Although often treated as a parable of growth, it is more likely proclaiming the inauguration / realisation of the reign of God in Christ. The harvest is now, "the kingdom at hand", the reign of God begun.

elegen (legw) imperf. "he [also] said" - [and] he was saying. Used to introduce a new element in the episode. "Another saying of his was this", Weymouth.

ouJtwV adv. "this is what [the kingdom of God] is like" - thus, in this was, so [is the kingdom of god]. Predicate adverb used as a comparative; "God's righteous reign may be compared with the situation where ......" For "the kingdom of God", see 1:15.

wJV + subj. "[a man scatters seed]" - as, like. The use of this construction here is often regarded as faulty (missing en, ean), either bad grammar or a textual error, cf., Gundry, p223 - typical of loose Koine Gk!! Possibly conditional, "as if a man should sow a crop", but also possibly comparative, "where a man, as it were, might sow a field", even epexegetical, so Decker.

anqrwpoV (oV) "a man" - a man. Jesus is often identified with the sower in the parable of the sower, but this sower "does not know." The image of an ignorant Jesus is unlikely, and in any case, kingdom parables are not allegories where each element represents something, or someone.

balh/ (ballw) aor. subj. "scatters" - might throw. The aorist subjunctive may be futuristic, "as a man will sow", Moulton, (the aorist subjunctive does function, at times, as if it were a future indicative), but it is more likely that the subjunctive is a product of narrative style used for a hypothetical situation. Note the flurry of subjunctives that follow. The aorist tense is punctiliar, here describing the act of sowing a field, while in the following verses, the present tense dominates, expressing the ongoing action of growth.

ton sporon (oV) sing. "seed" - the seed. A singular collective seed is described, unlike the parable of the sower. The parable of the sower is often regarded as a "type" parable providing the clues to the interpretation of the kingdom parables. It is on this basis that the "seed" is often regarded as the word of God, the gospel. Yet, this assumes again that the kingdom parables are allegories where individual elements are assigned a meaning. It is more likely that the parable of the sower is a teaching parable about parables (note, it does not begin with the phrase "the kingdom of God/heaven is like"). The parable of the sower explains the function of kingdom parables, namely that they are gospel presentations, and as such prompt a varied response.

epi + gen. "on" - upon [the soil]. Spatial.


nukta (nux nuktoV) "Night [and day]" - [and] night [and day]. "Night" and "day" are accusative of time, expressing extent. Night comes first because the day begins at sunset.

kaqeudh/ (kaqeudw) pres. subj. "whether he sleeps" - he might sleep. Mark continues to use subjunctives to express a hypothetical situation: egeirhtai, "rise", blasta, "sprouts", mhkunhtai, "grows". It is also possibly that the subjunctive is used as a temporal indicator; "it is as if a man should sow a crop in his land, and then go to sleep and wake again, night after night, day after day, while the crop sprouts and grows", Knox. Another possibility is that the construction wJV + subj. in v26 has influenced the use of subjunctive verbs in this verse, so conditional,"as if", or comparative, "as it were."

kai ..... kai .... "or [gets up]" - and [rise] and [the seed]. Correlative use of the conjunction kai, expressing the ongoing business of working each day and sleeping each night. "He wakens in the morning and he goes to sleep at night", Barclay.

mhkunhtai (mhkunw) aor. subj. "grows" - becomes long, grows up. This descriptive of growth, expressed also in v28, naturally prompts the idea that the parable is about the growth of the kingdom - it starts out small in the ministry of Jesus and ends up with the heavenly assembly in the last day, or even the growth of the church. The parable of the Mustard Seed is also often understood as a parable of growth. Yet, the parable is probably not about growth. "While the seed sprouts and grows", Torrey.

wJV "how" - [he does not know] how the seed grows. When used after verbs of saying or thinking, this conjunction will often introduce a dependant statement. Here the perception is assumed, namely, that the seed grows. A temporal use is also possible; "while it happens." "He has no idea how it happens", Phillips.


automath adj. "all by itself" - on its own, by itself. Functioning as an adverb, with the sense "spontaneously". Referring to something which happens without visible cause, BAGD. "With no help from anyone", Barclay.

carton (oV) "stalk" - [the soil bears fruit, first] grass. Here "the green shoot", Taylor.

eiten "then" - then. Temporal adverb. Ionic form of eita used only here in the NT, but common in papyri of the time.

plhrhV adj. "full [kernel]" - [a head of grain, then] full [wheat]. "Full" in the sense of "ripe". They "grow into plants that produce grain", CEV.

en dat. "in" - in [the head]. Local, expressing space; "then the ripe grain in the ear."


The language of this verse reflects Joel 3:13 and is shaped to serve as the punch line. This verse reinforces the view that the parable is not about growth, but about harvest, a harvest which announces that "the kingdom of God is at hand" - the harvest is come.

de "-" - but/and. The postpositive conjunction is transitional, introducing a contrast and therefore a climax to the story. "But no sooner is the crop ready", Weymouth.

oJtan + subj. "as soon as [the grain is ripe]" - when [the crop]. Introducing an indefinite temporal clause, "but whenever the crop is ready", Moffatt, although usually translated with the more definite sense, "when", as NIV.

paradoi (paradidwmi) aor. subj. "is ripe" - permits, allows / hand over. Here the classical, "permits" = "ready", "when its crop is ready", Black. Aramaic usage, "fully mature", Manson.

euquV "-" - immediately. Somewhat redundant given oJtan, but serving to compress time and underline urgency; "He sends his reapers in without delay", Phillips.

apostellei (apostellw) pres. "he puts [the sickle to it]" - he sends [the sickle]. "He sends forth / puts forth the sickle", although more likely reflecting the Joel source, "wields / applies the sickle." Certainly imaging the letting loose of the reapers ,and so "send" can be rendered, "then he sends the reapers", Weymouth.

oJti "because" - because. Introducing a causal clause explaining why he, the farmer, puts the sickle to the grain, because the grain is ready to harvest.

paresthken (paristhmi) perf. "[the harvest] has come" - [the harvest] has caused to be, arrived. Here the perfect underlines a point of time; "is here", Cranfield.


ii] The parable of the mustard seed, v30-32. This parable makes the same point as the parable of the growing seed. Of course, if the above interpretation is correct, then the traditional names for these parables is misleading. The parable of the mustard seed becomes the parable of the full-grown mustard bush and the parable of the growing seed becomes the parable of the seed ripe for harvest. Again, the parable is best taken to reveal "the catastrophic irruption of the Reign of God into human affairs", Mann, rather than be "understood as embodying ideas of growth", eg., "God's reign may seem small and insignificant in its beginnings, but it holds within it the most surprising forces", Moule. Even with an eschatological climactic approach to this kingdom parable, there still remains the temptation to draw any number of allegorical applications from the different elements in the parable. Mann probably sets the limits with "God's reign is already present and people are already seeking its shelter and its promises." Interpretations of kingdom parables are only limited by the limits of one's imagination.

pwV + subj. "what" - [and he was saying] how, in what way. Deliberative / interrogative particle. A textual variant has "with what."

oJmoiwswmen (oJmoiow) aor. subj. "is like" - shall we compare. A deliberative subjunctive, as NIV, "how shall we ...?". "To what shall we compare", Moffatt.

thn basileian tou qeou "the kingdom of God" - See v1:15.

h "or" - or. The disjunctive here introduces a tautology, a restated idea; Semitic parallelism .

en + dat. "-" - in, with, by [what]. Here taking an instrumental sense, expressing means, "by what parable." Variant "what kind."

parabolh/ (h) "parable" - proverb, parable, poem. Is Mark intending us to understand the word as a technical descriptive, thus "parable", so NIV, or is he just describing a parallelism between the kingdom and the story, "by what comparison ('similitude / figure', Taylor) can we represent it?"

qwmen (tiqhmi) aor. subj. "shall we use to describe it" - may we present [it]? Again the subjunctive is deliberative. Here in the sense of presenting an idea. A variant exists which has "may we compare." "What picture can we use to represent it", Barclay.


The kingdom of God may be compared to the situation where a small mustard seed is planted and grows into a shrub large enough for birds to find shade in its branches. The kingdom promised long ago has found its fulfilment in Jesus. The tree is now full-grown and Israel may rest in its shade, Ez.17:22-24 - "the kingdom of God is at hand."

Mark's parenthesis, "which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground", is regarded with suspicion by some commentators. It's originality is questioned, or at least is regarded as Mark's own comment concerning mustard seeds. The comment is actually wrong in that the mustard is a small seed, but not the smallest, and the grammar is faulty, prompting textual variations.

wJV "it is like" - as. For the syntax see wJV, v26. "With what will we compare the kingdom of God, what illustration best describes it? It may be compared to the situation where a mustard seed ........ is sown, grows up, and becomes ......."

sinapewV (i ewV) gen. "[a] mustard" - a mustard plant. The genitive is adjectival, attributive, limiting "seed".

kokkw/ (oV) dat. "seed" - grain, seed. Dative of comparison, or following an assumed en, see wJV, v26.

o{tan + subj. "-" - [which] when [it is sown upon the earth]. Introducing an indefinite temporal clause, translated as definite.

o]n (eimi) pres. neut. part. of verb to-be. "[which] is" - being. Since this adjectival participle agrees with "grain" it should be masculine, but has been attracted to "offspring" which is neuter.

mikroteron (mikroV) comp. adj. "the smallest" - smaller. The comparative here is used for the superlative. Although not the smallest seed, it was proverbially regarded as the smallest. Torrey suggests that an Aramaic original may have read "which is less than all the seeds."

pantwn gen. adj. "of all" - of = than all. The genitive is ablative, of comparison.

twn spermatwn (a atoV) gen. "seeds" - of the seeds, offspring. The genitive is adjectival, partitive.

twn gen. "-" - the [upon the earth]. This article serves as an adjectivizer, turning the prepositional phrase "upon the earth" into an attributive modifier limiting "seeds"; "seeds which are on the earth."


The riddle of the parable is deciphered by means of its Biblical precedence: Ps. 104:12, Ezk.17:23, 31:6, Dan.4:12, 14, 21 - that day, the day when Israel will find shelter, "is at hand."

kai "yet" - and. Here slightly adversative; "but / yet."

oJtan + subj. "when [planted]" - when [it is sown]. Introducing an indefinite temporal clause, translated as definite.

meizon (megaV) comp. adj. "the largest" - [it grows up and becomes] larger, greater. Predicate adjective; the comparative used for the superlative. "It keeps on growing until it becomes the biggest of all kitchen herbs", Barclay.

pantwn gen. adj. "of all" - of = than all. The genitive is ablative, of comparison; "greater than all ...."

twn lacanwn (on) gen. "the garden plants" - of the vegetables. The genitive is adjectival, partitive; "of garden herbs", Taylor.

wJste + inf. "that" - [and makes large branches] so that, in order that. Introducing a consecutive clause expressing result; "with the result that."

tou ouranou (oV) gen. "-" - [the birds] of heaven. The genitive is adjectival, attributive, limiting "birds"; "wild birds."

dunasqai (dunamai) pres. inf. "can" - are able. Infinitive following wJste. "The birds of heaven" serves as the accusative subject of the infinitive.

kataskhnoun (kataskhnow) pres. inf. "perch" - to nest, settle, live, dwell, camp. The infinitive is complementary, completing the sense of the infinitive "to be able / can." "Perch" is unlikely, "nest", Cranfield, but better, "rest under its shadow", Taylor.

uJpo + acc. "in" - under [the shade of it]. Spatial.


iii] Conclusion, v33-34. These verses are probably an editorial comment, added by Mark and repeated by Matthew, or added by Matthew and repeated by Mark???? Of course, they may well be part of the received tradition, possibly from a proto-Mark document, or retained within the oral tradition. The two verses summarise Jesus' teaching methodology. With general congregations Jesus teaches with stories / illustrations / parables, riddles, but with his disciples he undertakes more detailed exposition - "to you it has been granted to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven."

As already indicated, due to a rejection of the gospel, Jesus began presenting the gospel in the form of kingdom parables, riddles. These serve as an act of judgment upon a people whose ears have grown dull, but at the same time they serve as a sign to those seeking the coming kingdom. When Mark refers to "similar parables" he probably has in mind similar kingdom parables and so akouein is not "understand", but rather "hear." Probably "as they were willing to hear" - an audience can take only so many riddles; understanding requires interpretation. "As they were able to hear it", NRSV, ESV. Probably not "to the extent they were able to understand", Guelich.

parabolaiV (h) dat. "[with many similar] parables" - [and with many similar] parables. The dative is instrumental, expressing means, "with / by many such parables."

autoiV dat. pro. "to them" - [he was speaking] to them [the word]. Dative of indirect object.

kaqwV "as much as" - as. The sense here is unclear, but probably expressing a characteristic quality / standard, "in accordance with what they were able / willing to hear."

akouein (akouw) pres. inf. "hear / understand" - [they were able] to hear. Complementary infinitive.


autoiV dat. pro. "to them" - [but/and he was not speaking] to them [apart from, without, parables]. Dative of indirect object.

kat idian "when he was alone" - [but/and according to one's own = privately. This idiomatic prepositional phrase is adverbial; "privately."

toiV ..... maqhtaiV (hV ou) dat. "disciples" - [he was explaining everything] to [own's own = his own] disciples]. Dative of indirect object.


Mark Introduction



[Pumpkin Cottage]