7. The gospel, 13:1-52

iv] The parables of the mustard seed and yeast,


Matthew continues to provide us with examples of Jesus' gospel preaching, here the parables of the Mustard Seed and the Leaven.


The kingdom of heaven 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.

Citation, v34-35.


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 as an act of judgment upon Israel - ears that are hard of hearing deserve only riddles. The message is simple enough: "repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near." As for the interpretation of the message, it is controlled by Jesus' explanation of the parable of the Weeds.

A little seed once sown has become a full grown shrub with birds nesting in its branches.

A little yeast mixed in the dough has leavened the whole lump:

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: As already noted, 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. See 13:24-30, 36-43.


A short history on 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 well illustrates the immediacy of the kingdom. Of course, as there was no catastrophic arrival of the kingdom, then obviously Jesus was mistaken. Conservative scholars rejected this approach, along with all the amazing allegorizing of the early church. They tended toward an uncomplicated interpretation that aims at one central idea. So Morris, for example, suggests that the Mustard Seed and the Yeast 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 is widely accepted today. His book "The Parables of the Kingdom", Nisbet, London, 1935, is essential reading. Most scholars who accept Dodd's approach balance his realized eschatology with a complementary inaugurated eschatology - the kingdom is now / not yet.

So, an eschatological expectation approach to the interpretation of kingdom parables seems best. The parables of both the Mustard Seed and the Leaven announce 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 parable describes 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, 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. The long promised reign of God is upon us, his covenant blessings are now ours to possess - "Come unto me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest", Matt.11:28.

autoiV dat. pro. "[he told] them" - [he set before] them [another parable]. Dative of indirect object, although the para prefix verb "to place before" can take a dative of direct object.

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 3:2. The Gk. plural "heavens" is not regarded as carrying any weight.

oJmoia adj. "[is] like" - Predicate adjective. 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, and it is certainly not the smallest of seeds.

kokkw/ (oV) dat. "seed" - grain. Dative complement of the adjective "like" / dative of the thing compared; "like a seed of mustard."

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

en + dat. "in [his field]" - [planted] in [the field of him]. Local, expressing space.


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 than. Predicate adjective. 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.

twn spermatwn (a atoV) gen. "of [all] seeds" - [all] of the seeds. The genitive is ablative expressing comparison, "smaller than all of the seeds", or adjectival, partitive.

o{tan + subj. "when" - [but] 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" - [it is] larger than. Predicate adjective. 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" - [all] the edible plant or vegetable. The genitive is ablative expressing comparison, "larger than the garden vegetables", or adjectival, partitive.

dedron (on) "tree" - [and it becomes] a tree. Predicate nominative. 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 [the birds of heaven come and 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, possibly possessive, but better, attributive, idiomatic / local; "the birds that fly in the air". "Heaven" here means "sky" and is probably best not translated; "birds even come and nest in its branches."

kataskhnoun (kataskhnow) pres. act. inf. "dwell" - [and] perch, rest [in the branches of it]. The infinitive, as with elqein, "to come", is linked to wJste to introduce a consecutive clause; "so that the birds come and make nests in its branches." As already noted, 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. Yet, 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, the kingdom is both inaugurated and realized, both now / not yet. 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:

• 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";

• 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, ....;

• 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."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", Keener.

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

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

zumh/ (h) dat. "yeast" - [the kingdom of the heavens is like] leaven. Dative complement of the adjective "like" / 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 to produce sourdough. Only after Passover was fresh leaven produced. 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. "The kingdom of heaven may be compared with the situation where a woman takes ......"

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

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

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

sata tria "a large amount" - three measures = 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, attributive, idiomatic / content; "three measures full of / containing flour."

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

e{wV ou| "until" - Temporal impersonal construction, expressing time up to.

oJlon adj. "all through the dough" - the whole [was leavened]. Adjective of no degree serving as a substantive, nominative subject of the verb "to ferment." With an eschatological expectation approach, the fact that the dough was all leavened serves as the central point of the parable - the kingdom of God is at hand.


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 expressing exception; "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.

oJpwV + 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 pJhqen (legw) aor. pas. part. "what [was spoken]" - the thing [spoken]. The participle serves as a substantive, nominative subject of the verb "to fulfill"; "so that the thing spoken (the words which were spoken) by the prophet might be fulfilled."

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, "when he said", or attributive, "who said", but used to introduce a citation and so best 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 / by means of parables." Possibly adverbial, expressing manner.

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 adjectival, usually treated as verbal, objective, but possibly possessive, or epexegetic, "the creation, namely, of the world", "ie., when the world was made."


Matthew Introduction



[Pumpkin Cottage]