7. The gospel, 13:1-53

ii] Understanding the purpose of kingdom parables


Matthew has just recorded the teaching parable of the Four Soils and will go on to record Jesus' explanation. At this point though, he breaks from the setting where Jesus is preaching to a large crowd beside lake Galilee, and records a private word with his disciples. In this passage Jesus explains the reason for the particular form of gospel preaching he has adopted when addressing his fellow Israelites, namely, his inclination to speak in riddles / kingdom parables.


When people reject a clear word from God they are, in an act of judgment, left with riddles.


i] Context: See 13:1-9.


ii] Structure: Understanding the purpose of parables:

The disciples' question, v10

why riddles?

Jesus' answer, v11:

the divine prerogative in revelation.

Explanation, v12-17:

Saying, v12:

"the one who has ..." - seeks.

"the one who has not ..." - does not seek.

Saying - does not seek, v13:

"though, they do not see; ...."

Textual support Isaiah 6:9-10, v14-15.

Sayings - seeks:, v16-17:

"blessed are your eyes because they see ...."

"many prophets and righteous longed to see what ....."


Carson suggests that the passage evidences a chiastic structure where seven points are stated and then restated in reverse. His observation is certainly convincing, but either way, the passage evidences careful crafting on Matthew's part.


iii] Interpretation:

The disciples open with a question concerning Jesus' propensity to present the gospel in the form of a riddle; "Why?", v10. Jesus answers in terms of the divine prerogative, as it relates to the disciples and to unbelievers, v11, and then goes on to explain how this is played out for believers and unbelievers, v12. Jesus then explains the function of the divine prerogative, as it relates to unbelievers, in the terms of divine judgment for a calloused heart, a heart that has rejected God's covenant mercy, v13. Jesus then supports his argument in v14-15 by quoting Isaiah 6:9-10. He then proclaims the blessedness of his disciples, a state of blessedness long yearned for by God's faithful people, v16-17. The disciples' hearts are not callused because, as seekers, they have thrown themselves on God's covenant mercy and so have heard, understood and appropriated for themselves the kingdom now being realized in and through God's messiah, Jesus, the Christ.


Why take the good seed of the gospel and craft it into a riddle? The parable of the Sower provides a literary vehicle (illustrating the failure and fruiting of good seed) within which the form and intent of kingdom parables / gospel riddles is raised and explained. The parable of the sower / seed / soils is not itself a kingdom parable; it is not a riddle, but rather a teaching parable.

It is quite possible that the uneasy fit of v10-17, within the parable of the sower / soils and its explanation, results from its insertion during the formative years of gospel tradition. The incorporation of this pericope may have served to provide a theological explanation for both the failure and fruiting of the good seed / "the message about the kingdom" / "the word." The seed / word often fails to bear fruit because many who hear the word are like hard, shallow and weedy soil, their "heart has grown dull and their ears are hard of hearing ....." On the other hand, it is "given to the disciples to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven" because they follow Jesus in repentance and faith and thus the fruit of everlasting life is theirs.

Yet, it seems more likely that this pericope answers a conundrum - why take the good seed of the gospel and craft it into a riddle? The divine initiative in seemingly blinding some to the gospel while giving sight to others has prompted a steady flow of apologia on God's behalf, cf., France, p508-10. Mark's statement that kingdom parables are proclaimed iJna "that seeing they may see but not understand" (usually understood to express purpose, but does he intend result?) only reinforces this need to defend God's justice.

Setting aside the obvious difficulties encountered when the modern mind tries to come to grips with the extent of the divine will, Matthew's use of Isaiah 6:9-10, LXX, reminds us that the issue here is divine judgment, not predestination. The gospel is good news for the seeker, the one waiting expectantly for the dawning of God's new age, the one who, like the disciples, proselqonteV ... eipan, v10, "come and ask" and are inevitably blessed with eyes that see and ears that hear, v16. Such will always be the case, but at this point in Jesus' ministry, Israel can rightly be described as a "sinful and adulterous generation." Yes, some individuals were still responding in faith to Jesus, but Israel as a whole has rejected their Christ / messiah. So, for Israel, a people whose "ears are hard of hearing", God now speaks in riddles as an act of judgment. Note how the apostle Paul makes use of the same idea in addressing the misuse of tongues in Corinth. Used without an interpretation, a "tongue" is a sign of God's judgment on "unbelievers" / those without faith, whereas prophecy, a clear word, is a sign of God's blessing on "believers" / those with faith, cf., 1Cor.14:21-22.

Matthew's intention in this chapter is to provide insight into the workings of the gospel and so equip the church for mission. Jesus' gospel sermons will serve as models to this end, but their particular form, that of a riddle, requires explanation. In one sense, Jesus' preaching was contextual; a riddle for dull ears as an act of judgment on Israel, a "sinful and adulterous generation." In another sense, it is part of a long history where divine truth is couched in a poetic enigma available only to those with eyes to see, cf., v34-35 - divine truth is not attained by human analysis, but rather, is revealed by divine will. So on one hand, the church, post Christ's ascension, will proclaim a clear message; the same message, but no longer a riddle. But on the other hand, the church will still proclaim an enigma, a message that defies human analysis, available only to the seeker, gifted, as an act of grace for their seeking, so that they can "understand with their heart and turn."


iv] Synoptics:

Verses 10-13 align with Mark 4:10-12, with the saying in v12 aligning with Mark 4:25. The quote from Isaiah, v14-15, is Matthew's contribution, although it is from the LXX and not MT so it may well be part of Matthew's source material rather than his contribution to the pericope. Verses 16-17 align with Luke 10:23-24, usually viewed as a Q logion.


v] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.

Text - 13:10

The purpose of kingdom parables, v10-17: i] The disciples ask their question: "why do you preach the gospel in riddles?", v10. The disciples don't understand why Jesus speaks to the crowd in parables, why he speaks in picture stories that seem to have no meaning, stories that are more like riddles. So, they ask Jesus for an explanation.

proselqonteV (prosercomai) aor. part. "came" - [and the disciples] approaching. An attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "asked". "The disciples approached him and said (asked)."

autw/ dat. pro. "-" - [said] to him. Dative of indirect object.

dia ti "why" - because why. Introducing a causal interrogative clause.

laleiV (lalew) "do you speak" - are you speaking. The present tense, being durative, may express continued speech, although speech by its very nature is durative.

autoiV dat. prod. "to the people" - to them. Dative of indirect object. "To them" = "to the populous / crowds / people."

en + dat. "in" - in, on. Instrumental, expressing means, "by means of parables." Note how Matthew has clarified the question as recorded in Mark. The disciples are asking "the purpose behind parabolic teaching", D&A, although in Luke they are asking for the meaning of the parable of the Sower.

parabolaiV (h) "parables" - parables, poems, proverbs, stories, similes, extended metaphors, illustrations, allegories. The plural should be noted. As above, kingdom parables / gospel riddles.


ii] Jesus gives his answer: "the gospel is for you, not for them", v11. The capacity to access the promised blessings of the covenant "have been given to you", people like the disciples, seekers who repent and believe, "but not to them", the religious elite or amazed crowds, people who do not seek, who do not repent and believe. See the key words ginwskw, "to know", and musthrion, "mystery, secret." So, Jesus' answer is that the blessings of God's coming kingdom, once hidden, but now revealed, are for seekers only. The good news of God's eternal kindness found in Christ is for those with a heart receptive to God, a broken and contrite heart, a heart open to God's mercy. The good news is not for those with a calloused heart, those who are disinterested. For those with a calloused heart Jesus proclaims the gospel in parables, in riddles, as an act of judgment upon those who have no interest in seeking God's mercy.

de "-" - but/and. Transitional; "and he answered them", ESV.

oJ ... apokriqeiV (apokrinomai) aor. pas. part. "he replied" - having answered [he said to them]. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "said"; "answered and said" - redundant, so "he said."

oJti "because" - that. Introducing a dependent statement, direct speech, but possibly as NIV, introducing a causal clause, "because ...." Causal is assumed by most commentators; "because the secrets of the kingdom are for you and not for others."

gnwnai (ginwskw) aor. inf. "the knowledge" - [to you it has been given] to know, understand. The infinitive introduces a noun clause, subject of the verb "has been given"; "to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you." The business of knowing is something more than just intellectual thought. To the Semitic mind, a person "knows" their wife or husband, is possessed by and possesses the other in their one-flesh union. So, the "secrets of the kingdom" are not just truths to be considered intellectually, but are truths to be possessed and experienced. By responding in faith to the preaching of the gospel of God's grace in Christ / of the promised blessings of the covenant / eternal life, the disciples receive what is promised. This knowing / possessing / experiencing, is not available ekeinoiV, "to them", ie., to those who do not seek, who do not repent and believe; "to them" the gospel, the mystery / secret concerning God's coming kingdom, remains a riddle.

ta musthria (on) "the secrets" - the mysteries. Accusative direct object of the infinitive "to know." Kingdom mysteries are secrets once hidden now revealed. In Daniel "the mysteries /secrets", refer to eschatological secrets, portents of what God has decreed that will take place in the future, so Carson; "the mysteries of the end days concerning the coming kingdom that shall never be destroyed", Nolland. In the gospels the mystery is the gospel itself, the announcement of the coming kingdom of God/Heaven, a secret now revealed and realized in Christ; "the kingdom which is to come in apocalyptic power, as foreseen by Daniel, has in fact entered the world in advance, in a hidden form to work within and among men", Ladd. For the apostle Paul, "the mystery" is the gospel, not "all one in Christ" (a consequence of), but "the unsearchable riches of Christ" (grace), Eph.3:8. Matthew's use of the plural is somewhat of a problem, especially as Mark uses the singular. Matthew is probably just following Daniel (Dan.2:28), for in reality there is only one mystery / secret, namely "the kingdom of God has come upon you" (inaugurated and realized!) - the promised blessings of the covenant are there for the taking. Israel's failure to take this reality to its heart means that this secret is now only "to you" and "not to them." "I have facilitated the secrets of the kingdom of Heaven for you."

thV basileiaV (a) gen. "of the kingdom [of heaven]" - For the genitive see 3:2.

uJmin dat. pro. "to you" - Dative of interest, advantage, emphatic by position, "for you"; "to you has been given the secrets ....."

de "but" - but/and [it has not been granted to them]. Transitional, indicating a step to a contrasting point, although not strong; "but it has not been given to them." The pronoun ekeinoiV, "to them", is a dative of direct object. "But to them that privilege has not been given", Barclay.


iii] Explanation, v12-17. a) Saying, v12. Jesus explains why "the gospel is for you and not for them" by means of a proverbial truth, cf., 25:29. Of course, Jesus' words are enigmatic and leave us with no idea of what it is that the disciples have that the crowd does not have, nor what it is that will be given to the disciples so that they end up with an abundance. The answer lies in the quote from Isaiah. It's all about the heart, an open responsive heart that craves God's covenant mercy, as opposed to a calloused heart closed to divine mercy. A responsive heart, a repentant heart, is open to the gospel and so receives divine grace / the promised blessings of the covenant; the calloused heart, unrepentant, unbelieving, receives riddles and ends up losing everything. In the end, it is between those who seek God's mercy in Christ and those who ignore it.

gar "-" - for. Introducing a causal clause serving to explain why the secrets have been given to the disciples and not "them".

oJstiV indef. pro. "whoever" - who, whoever [has]. Introducing a headless relative clause; "If anybody already has", Barclay.

doqhsetai (didwmi) fut. pas. "will be given more" - it will be given.

autw/ dat. pro. "-" - to him. Dative of indirect object. Probably "it will be given to him", "whosoever hath, to him shall be given", AV, or "for to him who has more will be given", TNT, but the pronoun may be taken with perisseuqhsetai "it will be given and will abound to him."

perisseuqhsetai (perisseuw) fut. pas. "abundance" - [and] he will have much more than enough, extreme abundance, overflowing abundance. "Everyone who has something will be given more", CEV.

kai "even [what he has]" - [but whoever does not have] and = even [what he has]. Probably ascensive, as NIV.

arqhsetai (airw) fut. pas. "will be taken" - Note Peterson's take on this verse as he tries to draw out the sense of the proverb; "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."

ap (apo) + gen. "from [him]" - Expressing separation; "away from."


b) Those who ignore, v13. The gospel of God's saving grace is for "you" and "not to them", for those who have a repentant heart, and not for those who have a calloused heart. Jesus dia touto "therefore" presents the gospel in parables/riddles (kingdom parables = "the kingdom of heaven is like the situation where ......"), oJti (as Mark 4:12 iJna + subj = epexegetic.) "such that" although the unrepentant look, they actually can't see, and although they hear, they can't understand. Although the kingdom parable can still gather a seeker, it primarily functions as a tool of divine judgment damning the unrepentant sinner. They hear the words, but don't really understand the hidden message. They are left to "go through life with their eyes open, but seeing nothing, and with their ears open, but understanding nothing of what they hear", Phillips - an allusion to Isaiah 6:9, cf. Jer.5:23. The interpretation of this verse is open to some debate, see oJti below.

dia touto "this is why" - because of this. This prepositional phrase may be treated as causal, "because of this", referring backward, even forward when followed by oJti, which is the case here and in 24:44. None-the-less, Runge argues that it usually serves to introduce an important proposition, ie., inferential, "therefore". So, this construction is sometimes used "in real and supposed answers and inferences", BAGD, and is often viewed as the case here, so "for this reason." The reason for Jesus speaking in riddles is because seeing they do not see, hearing they do not hear or understand, ie., it points forward. So, not "the reason I use parables is because", but, "therefore I speak to them in parables."

autoiV dat. pro. "to them" - [i am speaking in parables] to them. Dative of indirect object.

en "in [parables]" - The preposition is probably instrumental, expressing means, "by means of parables."

oJti "-" - that. Here probably introducing an object clause / dependent statement of indirect speech in the form of a Biblical allusion. Yet, it should be noted that most commentators take oJti here to express cause/reason, "because", picking up from the dia touto, "for this reason", at the beginning of the verse, such that Matthew "makes the seeing and not seeing, hearing and not hearing, Jesus' reason for speaking to false disciples in parables", whereas "Mark's in order that makes the seeing and yet not perceiving, hearing yet not understanding, the divine judgmental purpose behind Jesus' speaking to nondisciples in parables", Gundry. Thus, Jesus speaks in parables because the people are dull of hearing / spiritually insensitive = not seekers. In this translation Matthew's "because" "puts the emphasis unambiguously on human responsibility", D&A. In Mark's construction of v13b he uses iJna + subj., usually read as a purpose clause, "in order that", expressing divine election. None-the-less it is worth noting that iJna + subj. can form a consecutive adverbial clause expressing result, and more importantly, it can form an explanatory noun clause functioning as an epexegetic infinitive. Interestingly, oJti can function in a similar way. So, oJti probably introduces an object clause, explanatory, expressing the divine intention of the parables, namely to blind those who though seeing, refuse to see; they refuse to take hold of all that is offered them in Christ.

bleponteV (blepw) pres. part. "though seeing, [they do not see]" - seeing [they do not see, hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand]. As with akouonteV, "hearing", it is possible to treat this participle with a finite verb as periphrastic, serving to emphasize the statement, "seeing they do not see", or even stronger, expressing "a willful closed mindedness: they will not see, hear or understand", Hagner. Possibly just adverbial, concessive, as NIV. Jesus preaches in riddles such that although they see they end up understanding nothing; "Although they look, they do not see." They have seen Jesus, heard the gospel, witnessed the signs, but have not responded in faith. So, Jesus speaks in riddles as a sign of judgment.


c) Jesus now supports his argument from scripture, v14-15. The text confirms Jesus' use of riddles is an act of divine judgment upon a people of "calloused" heart, an unrepentant, unbelieving people disinterested in God's covenant mercy now realized in Christ. The state of this unbelieving generation will be (3rd. person, ie., a statement of future fact) one of seeing, but not seeing, hearing, but not understanding, and this because God's revelation of the gospel for them is, as an act of judgment (an unclear message in the form of kingdom parables), v14. The reason (gar) for their state of loss (2nd. person, ie., descriptive of their condition) lies with their calloused thinking, v15a, a thinking that determines not to take note of the gospel (mhpote) "in order not" to assimilate its message and be saved, v15b. The text follows the LXX, but is close to the MT where the words become a divine pronouncement. It is usually argued that Matthew has inserted the quote from Isaiah 6:9-10, although Mark may well have dropped it, since there is strong evidence that Jesus' words were commonly supported by fulfillment texts, probably from Jesus himself, cf. Lk.24:27.

autoiV dat. pro. "in them" - [and the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled] in, to them. The dative of reference / respect, "with respect to them"; "in their case", ESV.

anaplhroutai (anaplhrow) pres. pas. "is fulfilled" - is fulfilled, supplied. The prefix gives the sense "fulfilled completely", although the present tense is best taken a durative, "is being fulfilled completely", rather than aoristic, a punctiliar "is fulfilled." "In their case the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled", Moffatt.

hJ profhteia "the prophecy" - Nominative subject of the verb "to fulfill." The prophetic words of Isaiah rather than the act of prophesying.

Hsaiou (aV ou) gen. "of Isaiah" - The genitive may be treated as adjectival, idiomatic / author, or verbal, subjective, or possibly just ablative, source / origin.

hJ legousa (legw) pres. part. "-" - the one saying. The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting "the prophecy"; "that says"; ESV.

akoh/ (h) dat. "you will be ever hearing" - [you will hear] in hearing. The use of the dative here is Semitic, "you will hear with hearing" = "you will listen intently but never understand" ; "listening and listening again, but you will never understand."

kai "but" - and. Here with an adversative sense, "and yet."

ou mh + subj. "never [understand]" - [may] not ever [understand, perceive, comprehend]. Subjunctive of emphatic negation.

bleponteV (blepw) pres. part. "you will be ever seeing" - [and] seeing [you will see]. Possibly just an attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "you will see", "you will see and see, but never perceive", Moffatt, or adverbial, temporal, "while seeing you see but never perceive." Olmstead suggests that it serves as a Hebrew infinitive absolute. If this is the case then the dative akoh/, "in hearing" may also be serving as a Hebrew infinitive absolute; see MHT 1.

ou mh + subj. "never perceiving" - [and may] never ever [see, perceive]. A subjunctive of emphatic negation.


gar "for" - for. Introducing a causal clause explaining why the judgment upon Israel is in the form of an unclear revelation. The MT version is somewhat difficult in that it is in the form of a command, "make this people's heart fat." The LXX has clearly shifted the responsibility for this condition from God to the people, "thus the robust Hebrew idiom, with its characteristic disregard for second causes, has been made more compatible with a Greek world view", France.

tou laou (oV) gen. "[this] people's" - [the heart] of [this] people. The genitive is adjectival, possessive.

h kardia (a) "heart" - Nominative subject of the verb "to grow dull." Not the seat of feelings, since this is the stomach, but rather the seat of rational thought, the center of reasoning. So, the words here serve as a "metaphor for a sensibility that has been coarsened", Nolland. "The mind of this people has become lazily shut", Barclay.

epacunqh (pacunw) aor. pas. "calloused" - has been made thick, fat = dull, insensitive. The people's thinking has become dulled - their brain is callused. Just as it is possible to callus the conscience with constant sinning, so it is possible to callus our spiritual perception by constantly ignoring the still small voice.

barewV adv. "[they] hardly [hear]" - [and with ears they hear] with difficulty. Modal adverb expressing manner; "barely hear", ESV.

toiV wsin (ou\V wtoV) dat. "with their ears" - The dative is instrumental, expressing means, as NIV.

mhpote + subj."otherwise" - [and the eyes of them are closed] perhaps / lest [they see]. Probably serving to introduce a negated final clause expressing purpose; "lest" = in order that [it might] not = in order that they might not see, hear, understand, turn and heal themselves. . Luz points out that the conjunction "has a purposive meaning in seven cases in Matthew and expresses a feeling of concern." Although the action here may be viewed as God's, it is more likely a description of Israel's act of unbelief. "Israel has closed it's ears and eyes in order not to come to understand and to turn", Luz. The hearers are insensitive to divine truth, unwilling to submit to it and act on it. They don't act on it "lest" they find themselves confronted by the divine and thus, slaves to God rather than sin. Such a condition rightly deserves judgment. "They have shut their eyes so that they might not [see]", NRSV.

toiV ofqalmoiV (oV) dat. "with their eyes" - with their eyes [and with the ears they hear and with the heart they understand and they turn and I will heal them]. As with "ears" and "hearts", the dative is instrumental, expressing means, as NIV.


d) Blessed are those who see, v16-17. On the other hand, the disciples "are in a happy state: they are not publicly identified as outsiders to what God is doing by being addressed only in parables; instead they are treated as intimate insiders to God's action", Nolland. The disciples are blessed (by God) because they have sought and found what God's faithful children in the past longed to see and hear. The prophets of old waited expectantly for the coming of the messiah and the dawning of the kingdom, and the disciples have found both in Jesus, and as a consequence are blessed indeed. For these seekers, these "little ones", the secrets of the kingdom are theirs to know / experience.

de "but" - but/and. Transitional, indicating a step to a contrast; "however, as for yourselves, ...", Cassirer.

makarioi adj. "blessed are" - [the eyes of you are] happy, blessed. Predicate adjective. Literally it is "the eyes of you" that are blessed, but this inevitably entails the person as well. Certainly "happy", "fortunate", TEV, even "lucky", but better "blessed" in the sense of being a recipient of divine favour; "God has blessed you", CEV.

uJmwn gen. pro. "your [eyes]" - Emphatic by position, the genitive being possessive. The disciples are the recipients of divine favor.

oJti "because" - because [they see, and the ears of you are blessed] because [they hear]. Introducing a causal clauses explaining why the eyes / ears of the disciples are blessed.

blepousin (blepw) pres. "they see" - The eyes that see and the ears that hear take a durative present tense. The disciples are blessed in their ongoing reception of the gospel of God's grace, by which reception (seeing and hearing) they appropriate that grace.


Jesus tells his disciples why they are blessed, v17. "It should make the disciples grateful and alert to know that they live in dramatic days of powerful fulfillment. The effective reign of God is being established [before their very eyes]", Filson.

gar "for" - Possibly causal, as NIV, although the conjunction may simply serve here to attach this final saying and so it may be left untranslated, as Barclay, or it may even serve to supply an emphatic signal, "indeed, I can give you solemn assurance of this, many prophets ....", Cassirer.

amhn ... legw uJmin "I tell you the truth" - truly i say to you. Underlining what follows.

oJti "-" - that. Here introducing a dependent statement os indirect speech,expressing what Jesus wants to communicate to his disciples.

dikaioi adj. "righteous men" - [many prophets and] righteous ones. The adjective serves as a substantive, nominative subject of the verb "to desire." The great ones of the past, "men and women of faith", probably not "good people", CEV, but "saints", REB.

epequmhsan (epiqumew) aor. "longed" - desired, longed for. Those saints in the past who, like Abraham, rested in faith on the promises of God in hope for the fulfillment of those promises, yearned in vain.

idein (eidon) aor. inf. "to see" - to see [what you see and they did not see it, and to hear what you hear and they did not hear it]. The infinitive may be classified as complementary, completing the sense of the verb "desired", or, following a cognitive verb, as introducing a dependent statement of perception expressing what they desired. They "longed to see the events which you are seeing, and did not see them, and hear the words which you are hearing, and did not hear them", Barclay.


Matthew Introduction



[Pumpkin Cottage]