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Markus 4:1-35

The Parable of the Sower

4:1 Again he began to teach by the lake. Such a large crowd gathered around him that he got into a boat on the lake and sat there while 1  the whole crowd was on the shore by the lake. 4:2 He taught them many things in parables, 2  and in his teaching said to them: 4:3 “Listen! A sower went out to sow. 3  4:4 And as he sowed, some seed 4  fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. 4:5 Other seed fell on rocky ground 5  where it did not have much soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep. 6  4:6 When the sun came up it was scorched, and because it did not have sufficient root, 7  it withered. 4:7 Other seed fell among the thorns, 8  and they grew up and choked it, 9  and it did not produce grain. 4:8 But 10  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.” 4:9 And he said, “Whoever has ears to hear had better listen!” 11 

The Purpose of Parables

4:10 When he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. 4:11 He said to them, “The secret 12  of the kingdom of God has been given 13  to you. But to those outside, everything is in parables,

4:12 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. 14 

4:13 He said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? Then 15  how will you understand any parable? 4:14 The sower sows the word. 4:15 These are the ones on the path where the word is sown: Whenever they hear, immediately Satan 16  comes and snatches the word 17  that was sown in them. 4:16 These are the ones sown on rocky ground: As soon as they hear the word, they receive it with joy. 4:17 But 18  they have no root in themselves and do not endure. 19  Then, when trouble or persecution comes because of the word, immediately they fall away. 4:18 Others are the ones sown among thorns: They are those who hear the word, 4:19 but 20  worldly cares, the seductiveness of wealth, 21  and the desire for other things come in and choke the word, 22  and it produces nothing. 4:20 But 23  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.”

The Parable of the Lamp

4:21 He also said to them, “A lamp 24  isn’t brought to be put under a basket 25  or under a bed, is it? Isn’t it to be placed on a lampstand? 4:22 For nothing is hidden except to be revealed, 26  and nothing concealed except to be brought to light. 4:23 If anyone has ears to hear, he had better listen!” 27  4:24 And he said to them, “Take care about what you hear. The measure you use will be the measure you receive, 28  and more will be added to you. 4:25 For whoever has will be given more, but 29  whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.” 30 

The Parable of the Growing Seed

4:26 He also said, “The kingdom of God is like someone who spreads seed on the ground. 4:27 He goes to sleep and gets up, night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. 4:28 By itself the soil produces a crop, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 4:29 And when the grain is ripe, he sends in the sickle 31  because the harvest has come.” 32 

The Parable of the Mustard Seed

4:30 He also asked, “To what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable can we use to present it? 4:31 It is like a mustard seed 33  that when sown in the ground, even though it is the smallest of all the seeds in the ground – 4:32 when it is sown, it grows up, 34  becomes the greatest of all garden plants, and grows large branches so that the wild birds 35  can nest in its shade.” 36 

The Use of Parables

4:33 So 37  with many parables like these, he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear. 4:34 He did not speak to them without a parable. But privately he explained everything to his own disciples.

Stilling of a Storm

4:35 On that day, when evening came, Jesus 38  said to his disciples, “Let’s go across to the other side of the lake.” 39 

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[4:1]  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.

[4:2]  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.

[4:3]  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).

[4:4]  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.

[4:5]  5 sn The rocky ground in Palestine would be a limestone base lying right under the soil.

[4:5]  6 tn Grk “it did not have enough depth of earth.”

[4:6]  7 tn Grk “it did not have root.”

[4:7]  8 sn Palestinian weeds like these thorns could grow up to six feet in height and have a major root system.

[4:7]  9 sn That is, crowded out the good plants.

[4:8]  10 tn Here καί (kai) has been translated as “but” to indicate the contrast present in the final stage of the parable.

[4:9]  11 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).

[4:11]  12 tn Grk “the mystery.”

[4:11]  sn The key term secret (μυστήριον, musthrion) 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).

[4:11]  13 tn This is an example of a “divine passive,” with God understood to be the source of the revelation (see ExSyn 437-38).

[4:12]  14 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.

[4:13]  15 tn Grk “And.” Here καί (kai) has been translated as “then” to indicate the implied sequence of events within the narrative.

[4:15]  16 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.

[4:15]  17 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.

[4:17]  18 tn Grk “And.” Here καί (kai) has been translated as “but” to indicate the contrast present in this context.

[4:17]  19 tn Grk “are temporary.”

[4:19]  20 tn Grk “and.” Here καί (kai) has been translated as “but” to indicate the contrast present in this context.

[4:19]  21 tn Grk “the deceitfulness of riches.” Cf. BDAG 99 s.v. ἀπάτη 1, “the seduction which comes from wealth.”

[4:19]  22 sn That is, their concern for spiritual things is crowded out by material things.

[4:20]  23 tn Here καί (kai) has been translated as “but” to indicate the contrast present in this context.

[4:21]  24 sn The lamp is probably an ancient oil burning lamp or perhaps a candlestick. Jesus is comparing revelation to light, particularly the revelation of his ministry.

[4:21]  25 tn Or “a bowl”; this refers to any container for dry material of about eight liters (two gallons) capacity. It could be translated “basket, box, bowl” (L&N 6.151).

[4:22]  26 tn Or “disclosed.”

[4:23]  27 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 4:9; Luke 8:8, 14:35).

[4:24]  28 tn Grk “by [the measure] with which you measure it will be measured to you.”

[4:25]  29 tn Grk “and.” Here καί (kai) has been translated as “but” to indicate the contrast present in this context.

[4:25]  30 sn What he has will be taken from him. The meaning is that the one who accepts Jesus’ teaching concerning his person and the kingdom will receive a share in the kingdom now and even more in the future, but for the one who rejects Jesus’ words, the opportunity that that person presently possesses with respect to the kingdom will someday be taken away forever.

[4:29]  31 tn The Greek word εὐθύς (euqus, often translated “immediately” or “right away”) has not been translated here. It sometimes occurs with a weakened, inferential use (BDAG 406 s.v. 2), not contributing significantly to the flow of the narrative. For further discussion, see R. J. Decker, Temporal Deixis of the Greek Verb in the Gospel of Mark with Reference to Verbal Aspect (SBG 10), 73-77.

[4:29]  32 sn Because the harvest has come. This parable is found only in Mark (cf. Matt 13:24-30) and presents a complete picture of the coming of God’s kingdom: (1) sowing; (2) growth; (3) harvest. Some understand the parable as a reference to evangelism. While this is certainly involved, it does not seem to be the central idea. In contrast to the parable of the sower which emphasizes the quality of the different soils, this parable emphasizes the power of the seed to cause growth (with the clear implication that the mysterious growth of the kingdom is accomplished by God), apart from human understanding and observation.

[4:31]  33 sn Mustard seeds are known for their tiny size.

[4:32]  34 tn Mark 4:31-32 is fairly awkward in Greek. Literally the sentence reads as follows: “As a mustard seed, which when sown in the earth, being the smallest of all the seeds in the earth, and when it is sown, it grows up…” The structure has been rendered in more idiomatic English, although some of the awkward structure has been retained for rhetorical effect.

[4:32]  35 tn Grk “the birds of the sky” or “the birds of the heaven”; the Greek word οὐρανός (ouranos) may be translated either “sky” or “heaven,” depending on the context. The idiomatic expression “birds of the sky” refers to wild birds as opposed to domesticated fowl (cf. BDAG 809 s.v. πετεινόν).

[4:32]  36 sn The point of the parable seems to be that while the kingdom of God may appear to have insignificant and unnoticeable beginnings (i.e., in the ministry of Jesus), it will someday (i.e., at the second advent) be great and quite expansive. The kingdom, however, is not to be equated with the church, but rather the church is an expression of the kingdom. Also, there is important OT background in the image of the mustard seed that grew and became a tree: Ezek 17:22-24 pictures the reemergence of the Davidic house where people can find calm and shelter. Like the mustard seed, it would start out small but grow to significant size.

[4:33]  37 tn Grk “And.” Here καί (kai) has been translated as “so” to indicate the implied result of previous action(s) in the narrative.

[4:35]  38 tn Grk “he”; the referent (Jesus) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

[4:35]  39 tn The phrase “of the lake” is not in the Greek text but is clearly implied; it has been supplied here for clarity.

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