7. The gospel, 13:1-52

iv] The parables of the mustard seed and yeast,


Matthew provides us with the setting of a crowd gathered by lake Galilee and Jesus speaking to them in parables. For this occasion Matthew selects three parables, the parable of the Weeds, the Mustard Seed and the Leaven.


Although these two kingdom parables are in the form of a riddle, their message is simple enough: the kingdom of God is at hand, Christ's reign has begun, now is the appointed hour, repent and believe.


i] Context: See 13:1-9.


ii] Structure: This passage, Two Kingdom Parables, presents as follows:

The parable of the Mustard Seed, v31-32;

The parable of the Leaven, v33.


iii] Interpretation:

Matthew presents two more model gospel sermons to further equip the church for gospel ministry. Again, because they are from the preaching tradition of Jesus, they are in an enigmatic form serving as an act of judgment upon Israel - ears that are hard of hearing deserve only riddles. The message, "repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near", stands at their center, while the development of that message is controlled by the explanation Jesus provides for the parable of the Weeds.

A little sown seed is now full grown with birds nesting in its branches.

The long-promised kingdom is upon us,

a time of blessing for those who repent / believe,

a time of cursing for those who ignore the news.

So, repent and believe.


Form: It is essential to distinguish between teaching parables (illustrations, proverbs,..) and kingdom parables (introduced by the tag, "the kingdom of heaven /God is like unto the situation where ...."). A kingdom parable is in the form of a riddle (Heb. masal - obscure / dark saying). The two parables before us are kingdom parables.


A short history of the interpretation of kingdom parables: Other than Augustine, and to some extent Calvin, most commentators up till recent times have treated these parables as allegories. In 1910 Julicher argued that they were simple stories with a single point. This move away from treating the kingdom parables as allegories was an important step in discerning their message.

The "consequente Eschatologie" school, led by Albert Schweitzer, argued that Jesus expected a catastrophic irruption of the kingdom of God closely related to his ministry. The mustard is a quick growing plant and illustrates well the immediacy of the kingdom. Of course, as there was no catastrophic arrival of the kingdom, then obviously Jesus was mistaken. Naturally, conservative scholars rejected this approach, along with all the amazing allegorizing of the early church.

Commentators today tend toward uncomplicated interpretations that aim at one central idea. So, for example, the parables of the Mustard Seed and the Yeast: Morris suggests that they illustrate growth; the kingdom starts out small and grows in greatness. Carson suggests contrast; the small beginnings of the kingdom contrast with its glorious end.

C.H. Dodd, with a realized eschatology that gives a little more credence to the ministry of Jesus than Schweitzer, articulated a view of the parables that should not be quickly dismissed. His book "The Parables of the Kingdom", Nisbet, London, 1935, is essential reading. Most conservative scholars who lean toward Dodd's approach are inclined toward an inaugurated eschatology (the kingdom is now / not yet), without underplaying the presentness, the immediacy, of the kingdom.

So then, an eschatological expectation approach to the interpretation of kingdom parables seems best. So for example, the parable of the Mustard Seed announces announces the immediacy of the kingdom - the tree is full grown, "repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near."


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

Text - 13:31

Parables of the kingdom: i] The parable of the Mustard Seed, v31-32. The situation is the planting of a very small seed in a garden with its consequent growth into a large bush. The idea of the kingdom as a great tree with birds flocking to its branches, is an image found in the Old Testament. It is most likely that Jesus is playing with this Old Testament picture, but of course, he puts his own twist on it. Jesus uses the image of a shrub and not a mighty cedar. The parable is usually interpreted in terms of either small beginnings, or growth (see v33 below), but we are best to follow Dodd who says of the parable of the mustard seed, "in this parable Jesus is asserting that the time has come when the blessings of the Reign of God are available for all men." The greatest of the herbs has become a tree and the birds of the air can now rest in its branches.

autoiV dat. pro. "[he told] them" - [he set before] them. Dative of direct object after the para prefix verb "to place before."

legwn (legw) pres. part. "-" - saying. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "to set before", "he set before and said", or adverbial, modal, expressing the manner of his action, "he put another parable before them, saying", ESV.

twn ouranwn (oV) gen. "[the kingdom] of heaven" - For the genitive see 13:24. The Gk. "of the heavens", pl., is not regarded as carrying any weight.

oJmoia adj. "[is] like" - Establishing a comparison; not "like a mustard seed", but "like the situation / may be compared to the situation where a man takes a mustard seed and plants it in his field. It may be the smallest of all seeds, but when it is grown ........"

sinapewV (i ewV) "mustard" - [seed] of mustard. The genitive is adjectival, attributive, limiting "seed", as NIV. The mustard seed was regarded as the smallest of seeds and was used in field planting rather than in a herb garden. Of course, in reality many seeds would be sown and not as here, one.

kokkw/ (oV) dat. "seed" - grain. Dative of comparison / of the thing compared; "like a seed of mustard." Any seed, including a pine cone.

labwn (lambanw) pres. part. "took" - taking, choosing. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "planted"; "took and planted."

en + dat. "in [his field]" - Local, expressing space / sphere.


men ...... de "though ......, ..." - Establishing an adversative comparative construction; "[which] on the one hand [is smaller than all of the seeds], but on the other hand ....." "It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it grows ....."

oJ mikroteron (mikron) adj. comp. "the smallest" - which [is] smaller / littler. Possibly best read as a comparative rather than a comparative serving as a superlative, as NIV, so "a very small seed". There are smaller seeds, although probably not for general agriculture at the time. It is a rather lateral idea, but is it possible that the focus of this parable is on the small seed, rather than the full-grown bush. We might then say of the parable that the kingdom comes like a thief in the night, unseen, as a little seed. "The kingdom of God does not come by looking for it nor shall they say, 'Look here! Look there', for the kingdom of God is within you (spiritual rather than physical)", Lk.17:20-21. This approach has merit, but the riddle probably lies with the end product, namely, a mustard seed which has now become a full grown tree.

pantwn gen. adj. "of all [your seeds]" - all [of the seeds]. The genitive is ablative expressing comparison, "smaller than all of the seeds."

o{tan + subj. "when" - This construction forms a temporal clause, as NIV.

auxhqh/ (auzanomai) aor. pas. subj. "it grows" - "When it has reached full growth", Barclay.

meizon (megaV) adj. comp. "largest" - larger. Possibly best read as a comparative rather than a comparative used for a superlative, as NIV, so "a very large garden plant." The mustard produces a plant larger than the normal plants used in a vegetable garden.

twn lacanwn (on) gen. "of garden plants" - an edible plant or vegetable. The genitive is ablative expressing comparison, "larger than the garden vegetables."

dedron (on) "tree" - The word "shrub" may be more appropriate since the mustard only grows to around 3 meters. In English we have a greater range of words denoting size: "bush/scrub", "shrub", "tree" ...

wJste + inf. "so that [ ...... come and perch]" - so that [ .... to come and to nest, live]. This construction forms a consecutive clause expressing result; "with the result that ...."

tou ouranou (oV) gen. "of the air" - of the heaven. The genitive is adjectival, possessive, or better, ablative, expressing source / origin; "from the heaven". "Heaven" here means "sky" and is probably best not translated; "birds even come and nest in its branches."

kataskhnoun (kataskhnow) pres. act. inf. "dwell" - perch. The infinitive, as with elqein, "to come", is linked to wJste to form a consecutive clause; "so that the birds come and make nests in its branches." The image of the kingdom as a great tree with birds flocking to its branches, is found in the Old Testament, Jud.9:15, Ezk.17:22-24, 31:3-14, Dan.4:7-23. It is most likely that Jesus is playing with this Old Testament picture, but of course, he puts his own twist on it. The mustard bush is only a shrub, not a mighty cedar. The kingdom, as it emerges in the person and work of Christ, is not quite what is expected. Of course, when it comes to interpretation, the debate rages over realized eschatology (the tree is now), or inaugurated eschatology (the tree is not yet). We face the same issue with the parable of the leaven. As noted above, inaugurated eschatology is probably the most acceptable approach, a now / not yet approach. Of course, such lateral thinking is not something we easily sit with. The oft run interpretation that focuses on either growth or contrast is probably not Jesus' intended meaning.


ii] The parable of the Leaven, v33. This parable, sitting in parallel with the parable of the Mustard Seed, has a long history of varied and wonderful interpretations. Modern commentators fall into three main camps:

a) Carson goes for the insignificant beginnings, magnificent end approach, "The kingdom produces ultimate consequences out of all proportion to its insignificant beginnings", so also McNeile, Luz, Hagner, Schweizer, Patte, Fenton, Mounce, D&A, Nolland, "what is happening in Jesus' presence makes certain the future (full) coming of the kingdom";

b) Morris goes for organic process / growth, the kingdom's "tiny beginnings would grow into something greater by far than any of the religions found in the disciples' contemporary world", so also France, Hendriksen, Hill, Blomberg, Filson, ....;

c) Dodd's realized eschatology seems the best approach to kingdom parables. With this approach the parable of the Leaven reveals "the pervasive power of the kingdom of heaven", Gundry, as a present reality, both realized and inaugurated, now / not yet. "The emphasis must lie upon the completion of the process of fermentation. The period of obscure development is over: the dough is completely leavened: the Kingdom of God, which the prophets until John made preparation, has now come", Dodd. There may be some qualifying of this fact in the parable, although if so, it is only secondary. So Keener, "Jesus insists that the kingdom, though present in a hidden (and anticipatory) way in the ministry of Jesus and his followers, (has arrived and) is the glorious anticipated kingdom of God."

autoiV dat. pro. "[he told] them" - [he said, spoke] to them. Dative of indirect object.

allhn adj. "still another" - another. "Another parable he told them was the following", Cassirer.

zumh/ (h) dat. "yeast" - leaven. Dative of comparison / of the thing compared. The normal practice at the time involved retaining a piece of dough from the previous bake of bread to mix with the new batch. Only after Passover was fresh dough prepared from newly formed yeast. Because the leaven was a rotting piece of food, it was often used to illustrate sin and its capacity to infect. This is obviously not the image here.

labousa (lambanw) aor. part. "took" - having taken. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "hid / mixed".

enekruyen (enkruptw) aor. "mixed" - hide, conceal in..... Therefore "mixed into", or "put into."

eiV + acc. "in" - into. Spacial.

sata tria "a large amount" - measures three = half a bushel. Actually, it is not possible to know exactly the amount of flour, which is why translations vary. It varies from enough bread for about 100 people, to enough bread for a large family.

aleurou (on) gen. "of flour" - of grain, meal. The genitive is adjectival, of content; "three measures full of / containing flour."

ezumwqh (zumow) aor. pas. "it worked" - leavened, fermented.

e{wV + gen. "until" - Temporal impersonal preposition.

ou| .... oJlon "all through the dough" - the whole [was leavened]. Adjective of no degree functioning as a substantive, the article taking a genitive after e{wV, "until".


iii] Prophecy and parables, v34-35. This editorial comment by Matthew makes it clear that at least at this point in his ministry, Jesus only ever addressed the crowds in parables (most likely kingdom parables is the intended sense). The quotation from Psalm 78:2 indicates that Matthew regards Jesus use of kingdom parables as a fulfillment of prophecy. The quotation also indicates that kingdom parables, although riddles / enigmas, contain a truth "hidden from the foundation of the world." This mystery / hidden truth, is God's intention to realize his long promised kingdom in and through the ministry of Jesus Christ, "for the final and perfect redemption of his people, cf., 1Cor.2:7, Col.1:26, Rom.9:23", Hagner.

en + dat. "in [parables]" - [Jesus spoke all these things] in [parables. Instrumental used of the preposition; "by means of parables."

toiV ocloiV (oV) dat. "to the crowd" - to the crowds. Dative of indirect object.

cwriV + gen. "without" - [he did not speak to them] without [parables]. Here as a preposition; "It was the practice of Jesus to say nothing to the crowds without making use of / without expressing the truth of the gospel in parables", cf., BAGD 2b.


The quotation from Psalm 78:2 recalls that throughout history divine truth has been conveyed in an enigmatic poetic form which defies human research. So, Jesus' kingdom parables are part of a long-standing history where divine truth is couched in an enigma.

oJtwV + subj. "so [was fulfilled]" - so that [might be fulfilled]. This construction usually introduces a final clause expressing purpose, "in order that", but consecutive expressing result is more likely here, "with the result that." Purpose = "this was done to fulfill the prophecy uttered by the prophet", Junkins. Result = "his storytelling fulfilled the prophecy", Peterson. The whole introductory clause serves as a standard citation statement, cf., 1:22 - there are ten such formula citations in Matthew.

to "what [was spoken]" - the thing [spoken]. The article serves as a nominalizer forming a noun clause object of the subjunctive verb "might be fulfilled"; "so might be fulfilled the thing spoken (the words which were spoken) by the prophet."

dia + gen. "through" - Expressing intermediate agency, "through, by."

profhtou (hV ou) gen. "the prophet" - Variant "the prophet Isaiah", although the quotation comes from the Psalms. The Psalms are usually viewed as having come from the hand of David whose words are often treated as prophetic.

legontoV (legw) pres. part. "-" - saying. The participle is adverbial, leaning toward temporal, but used to introduce a citation and so not translated.

en + dat. "in [parables]" - [I will open the mouth of me] in parables. An instrumental sense seems likely; "I will speak using only parables."

kekrummena (kruptw) perf. mid./pas. part. "things hidden" - [I will declare, tell] the things having been hidden. The participle, although anarthrous, serves as a substantive; "I will utter the things which have been veiled in secrecy", Barclay.

apo + gen. "since" - from. Temporal use of the preposition, as NIV; "since the world was created." The sense is not so much that these truths have remained hidden since the creation of the world, but that "they are not attainable by human search", Morris.

kosmou (oV) gen. "[the creation] of the world" - [setting of the foundation] of world. The genitive is usually treated as verbal, objective.


Matthew Introduction



[Pumpkin Cottage]