Bible Study in the Parable of the Soils

Seed from the good soil

How to understand the teachings of Jesus

"A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. He who has ears, let him hear" (Matthew 13:1-23)

In the parable of the soils the interpretation of each soil can differ not only in our conversion, but also in our maturing process. It is easy to see how we can all point to times in our own lives when we have allowed the soils of our heart to be hard, rocky, weedy, or fertile. How is each soil instructive to the process of conversion and how does it affect our growth in Christian maturity?

In order to gain insight into any passage in the Bible, it is important to understand the context in which it was written.

First- let’s take a look at who this parable was originally told to…who are the characters? To start with we have the large crowds mentioned in all three gospels who were considered on the “outside”, “But to those on the outside everything is said in parables” (Mark 4:11). Then we have those on the inside…those who are given “the secret of the kingdom of God” (Mark 4:10), referring here to the twelve disciples, and in Luke 8:3, we see the mention of several women with them who were financially supporting the disciples from their own means. These people are the original audience for this story.

Next- let’s consider the historical context. Jesus always used examples that were relateable to those he was speaking to. In this instance he uses an example of farming. This would make the story understandable in the sense that planting and harvest were common in the everyday lives of the people during this time in history. They would be familiar with how important it is to plant seed in fertile, well-tilled soil. They would also know what would happen to seeds that fell on hard soil, among rocks, or in with weeds. They know that the goal of planting is a crop or harvest.

Now we will consider the literary context. Mark begins with a command: listen! He concludes by calling out, "he who has ears to hear, let him hear" (Mark 4:9). This tells us that what he is going to say is very important, and to pay attention. After the command to listen, he then proceeds to tell a story of a farmer who plants a crop, the seed is scattered, and finally at the conclusion, we see the results of the planting: the crop or lack of it.

The word crop is from the Greek word, “karpos”. It refers to[1]:

  1. work, act, deed
  2. to gather fruit (i.e. a reaped harvest) into life eternal (as into a granary), is used in fig. discourse of those who by their labours have fitted souls to obtain eternal life

The hard path

The Soils

The significance of the seed is the crop that’s produced from the “good soil”. This good soil is interpreted in two different ways. It can be the condition of the heart when the word of God first comes to a person entering the kingdom. It can also refer to the heart of the follower of Christ and how productive their maturity is…what kind of fruit is produced for the kingdom of God, and how much it is increasing. This also helps us to understand the other three soil conditions.

The path is a place where the soil has been walked on for some time. It has been pack down and hardened by use. Seeds thrown on a path will not germinate. This soil is unfertile because “when anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart” (Matthew 13:18). This can take place when someone first hears the Word of God, or it can also happen in their maturing process when we allow our hearts to be hardened to truth…the seed never grows to a harvest.

“Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root” (Mark 4:5-6). This is the seed that is received with “joy” but it doesn’t last long when the good times are over and hardships happen. This would be a good example of how easy it is to have an emotional response to the Word, either as a believer or as a seeker, but when the emotional high is over, and we are faced with a difficulty, there isn’t any fruit. It is rather anti-climactic.

The other seed fell among the weeds. This is probably the easiest place for all of us to lose our opportunity to produce fruit. In our maturing process or in our seeking, we often let the cares of the world choke out any fruit that could have been produced. Also, the cares of the world can keep us so busy that we never have time to even consider or “listen” to the Word being sown. We don’t “have ears to hear”. We just go from day to day trying to take care of the problems and worries of that day…never producing the fruit that could have come from that day.

“Then Jesus said to them, ‘Don't you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable?’” (Mark 4:13).

Jesus is basically telling his disciples that the ability to understand his teachings are based on the "condition of the soil” that the teaching falls on. The key is to prepare our hearts so that the seed of God’s Word falls on good soil so that we can produce fruit for the kingdom of God.

Pray today that God will prepare your heart for wisdom in understanding his Word.

[1] Taken from Bible study tools looking up the passage from the NASB (Crosswalk, 2008).

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