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The Parable of the Sower

Again he began to teach by the lake. Such a large crowd gathered around him that he got into a boat[a] on the lake and sat there while[b] the whole crowd was on the shore by the lake. He taught them many things in parables,[c] and in his teaching said to them: “Listen! A sower went out to sow.[d] And as he sowed, some seed[e] fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. Other seed fell on rocky ground[f] where it did not have much soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep.[g] When the sun came up it was scorched, and because it did not have sufficient root,[h] it withered. Other seed fell among the thorns,[i] and they grew up and choked it,[j] and it did not produce grain. But[k] other seed fell on good soil and produced grain, sprouting and growing; some yielded thirty times as much, some sixty, and some a hundred times.” And he said, “Whoever has ears to hear had better listen!”[l]

The Purpose of Parables

10 When he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. 11 He said to them, “The secret[m] of the kingdom of God[n] has been given[o] to you. But to those outside, everything is in parables,

12 so that although they look they may look but not see,
and although they hear they may hear but not understand,
so they may not repent and be forgiven.”[p]

13 He said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? Then[q] how will you understand any parable? 14 The sower sows the word. 15 These are the ones on the path where the word is sown: Whenever they hear, immediately Satan[r] comes and snatches the word[s] that was sown in them. 16 These are the ones sown on rocky ground: As soon as they hear the word, they receive it with joy. 17 But[t] they have no root in themselves and do not endure.[u] Then, when trouble or persecution comes because of the word, immediately they fall away. 18 Others are the ones sown among thorns: They are those who hear the word, 19 but[v] worldly cares, the seductiveness of wealth,[w] and the desire for other things come in and choke the word,[x] and it produces nothing. 20 But[y] these are the ones sown on good soil: They hear the word and receive it and bear fruit, one thirty times as much, one sixty, and one a hundred.”

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  1. Mark 4:1 sn See the note at Mark 1:19 for a description of the first-century fishing boat discovered in 1986 near Tiberias on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee.
  2. Mark 4:1 tn Grk “and all the crowd.” The clause in this phrase, although coordinate in terms of grammar, is logically subordinate to the previous clause.
  3. Mark 4:2 sn Though parables can contain a variety of figures of speech (cf. 2:19-22; 3:23-25; 4:3-9, 26-32; 7:15-17; 13:28), many times they are simply stories that attempt to teach spiritual truth (which is unknown to the hearers) by using a comparison with something known to the hearers. In general, parables usually advance a single idea, though there may be many parts and characters in a single parable and subordinate ideas may expand the main idea further. The beauty of using the parable as a teaching device is that it draws the listener into the story, elicits an evaluation, and demands a response.
  4. Mark 4:3 sn A sower went out to sow. The background for this well-known parable, drawn from a typical scene in the Palestinian countryside, is a field through which a well worn path runs. Sowing would occur in late fall or early winter (October to December) in the rainy season, looking for sprouting in April or May and a June harvest. The use of seed as a figure for God’s giving life has OT roots (Isa 55:10-11). The point of the parable of the sower is to illustrate the various responses to the message of the kingdom of God (cf. 4:11).
  5. Mark 4:4 tn Mark’s version of the parable, like Luke’s (cf. Luke 8:4-8), uses the collective singular to refer to the seed throughout, so singular pronouns have been used consistently throughout this parable in the English translation. However, the parallel account in Matt 13:1-9 begins with plural pronouns in v. 4 but then switches to the collective singular in v. 5 ff.
  6. Mark 4:5 sn The rocky ground in Palestine would be a limestone base lying right under the soil.
  7. Mark 4:5 tn Grk “it had no depth of earth.”
  8. Mark 4:6 tn Grk “it did not have root.”
  9. Mark 4:7 sn Palestinian weeds like these thorns could grow up to 6 feet in height and have a major root system.
  10. Mark 4:7 sn That is, crowded out the good plants.
  11. Mark 4:8 tn Here καί (kai) has been translated as “but” to indicate the contrast present in the final stage of the parable.
  12. Mark 4:9 tn The translation “had better listen!” captures the force of the third person imperative more effectively than the traditional “let him hear,” which sounds more like a permissive than an imperative to the modern English reader. This was Jesus’ common expression to listen and heed carefully (cf. Matt 11:15; 13:9, 43; Mark 4:23; Luke 8:8; 14:35).
  13. Mark 4:11 tn Grk “the mystery.”sn The key term secret (μυστήριον, mustērion) can mean either (1) a new revelation or (2) a revealing interpretation of existing revelation as in Dan 2:17-23, 27-30. Jesus seems to be explaining how current events develop old promises, since the NT consistently links the events of Jesus’ ministry and message with old promises (Rom 1:1-4; Heb 1:1-2). The traditional translation of this word, “mystery,” is misleading to the modern English reader because it suggests a secret which people have tried to uncover but which they have failed to understand (L&N 28.77).
  14. Mark 4:11 sn The kingdom of God is a major theme of Jesus’ teaching. The nature of the kingdom of God in the NT and in Jesus’ teaching has long been debated by interpreters and scholars, with discussion primarily centering around the nature of the kingdom (earthly, heavenly, or both) and the kingdom’s arrival (present, future, or both). An additional major issue concerns the relationship between the kingdom of God and the person and work of Jesus himself.
  15. Mark 4:11 tn This is an example of a “divine passive,” with God understood to be the source of the revelation (see ExSyn 437-38).
  16. Mark 4:12 sn A quotation from Isa 6:9-10. Thus parables both conceal or reveal depending on whether one is open to hearing what they teach.
  17. Mark 4:13 tn Grk “And.” Here καί (kai) has been translated as “then” to indicate the implied sequence of events within the narrative.
  18. Mark 4:15 sn Interestingly, the synoptic parallels each use a different word for Satan here: Matt 13:19 has “the evil one,” while Luke 8:12 has “the devil.” This illustrates the fluidity of the gospel tradition in often using synonyms at the same point of the parallel tradition.
  19. Mark 4:15 sn The word of Jesus has the potential to save if it germinates in a person’s heart, something the devil is very much against.
  20. Mark 4:17 tn Grk “And.” Here καί (kai) has been translated as “but” to indicate the contrast present in this context.
  21. Mark 4:17 tn Grk “are temporary.”
  22. Mark 4:19 tn Grk “and.” Here καί (kai) has been translated as “but” to indicate the contrast present in this context.
  23. Mark 4:19 tn Grk “the deceitfulness of riches.” Cf. BDAG 99 s.v. ἀπάτη 1, “the seduction which comes from wealth.”
  24. Mark 4:19 sn That is, their concern for spiritual things is crowded out by material things.
  25. Mark 4:20 tn Here καί (kai) has been translated as “but” to indicate the contrast present in this context.