The Sower (Part 3)

As I hope I made clear in part two of this series, my preferred way of reading the parable of the sower uses Level 2 (the parable in the narrative context of the gospel) liberally and Level 3 (the parable in the context of Scripture as a whole) more cautiously. I acknowledge that there are benefits to reading a parable using Level 1 (in isolation from its narrative context), or Levels 4-6 (in its cultural context, in the context of Christian theology, in the context of truth in general). But on their own, they either fail to give us enough direction on how to interpret the parable (Level 1) or gives us too many possible directions, potentially leading to interpretive paralysis and despair (Levels 4-6). When the parable of the sower is read in its narrative context, the meaning becomes clear, and in turn it clarifies what is going on in Jesus’ ministry as recounted by Mark in his gospel. The kingdom of God is near. It is being established through the sowing of the word by Jesus. In the people who hear, accept and act accordingly (bear fruit), it will grow up and produce fruit magnificently. So we need to consider carefully how we hear.

In part two I did not discuss an important facet of the interpretation of the sower parable: namely, the ambiguity concerning whether it is the word or the people who are sown. If you look carefully at verses 14-20, sometimes the seed that is sown is the word (14-15) and sometimes it is the people (16,18,20). What might be the significance of this? Was Mark just being sloppy?

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The Sower (Part 2)

In my last installment, I gave a brief introduction to the parables of Jesus in the gospels, and laid out a framework of “levels of meaning” that I claimed can useful contribute to our reading and understanding the parables. In the second part of this series I will demonstrate what I’m talking about by showing how it applies to the parable of the sower.

I chose to discuss the parable of the sower because it is the “parable of parables” or the “master parable.” In Mark 4:13 Jesus says to his disciples (the Twelve and the others around him), “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable?”

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The Sower (Part 1)

This is the first part of a three-part series on the parable of the sower, focused on the version of that parable that appears in Mark 4. In the second installment I will give my analysis of the parable itself, and in the third I will share some lessons I think the parable has for us.

To understand the parables of Jesus is crucial for anyone seriously interested in knowing what Jesus taught during his time on earth, since the New Testament gospels are the main documents that preserve the teachings of Jesus, and parables make up a large portion of these teachings – about thirty-five percent in the synoptic gospels (Snodgrass, 22). Jesus was clearly a teller of parables, so any student of Jesus’ teachings needs to come to terms with the parables. For people in UBF, understanding the parables takes on additional significance since the gospels make up the bread and butter of our theological understanding. Sunday sermons and correlated Bible studies typically move passage-by-passage through a book of the Bible, and the general pattern of book selection in many UBF chapters takes one of the gospels, then another OT or NT book, and then back to another of the gospels, alternating between a gospel and other books of the Bible. Knowing, then, what Jesus’ parables are supposed to be doing can only help us as we seek to follow him.

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