of the Soils
PART I: THE PATTERN PARABLESIntroduction
CHAPTER 1 PARABLE OF THE SOILS
The Parable of the Soils is found in all three of
the synoptic Gospels: Matthew 13:1-23; Mark 4:1-20;
This parable is a pattern or key to the other parables
of Jesus, since Jesus explains this parable in detail. [R.
C. Trench, NOTES ON THE PARABLES OF OUR LORD,
(Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1948), pp. 16, 29-33].
The Parable of the Soils is sometimes called TheThe Story
Parable of the Sower. It deals with the inner
transformation of an individual when he hears the
Word of God:
Again Jesus began to teach by the lake.
The crowd that gathered around him was
so large that he got into a boat and sat
in it out on the lake, while all the
people were along the shore at the
water's edge. He taught them many things
by parables, and in his teaching said:
"Listen! 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, so that they did not
bear grain. Still other seed fell on good
soil. It came up, grew and produced a
crop, multiplying thirty, sixty, or even
a hundred times."
Then Jesus said, "He who has ears
to hear, let him hear."
When he was alone, the Twelve and
the others around him asked him about the
parables. He told them, "The secret of
the kingdom of God has been given to you.
But to those on the outside everything
is said in parables so that,
"`they may be ever seeing but
and ever hearing but never
otherwise they might turn and be
Then Jesus said to them, "Don't you
understand this parable? How then will
you understand any parable? The farmer
sows the word. Some people are like
seed along the path, where the word is
sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan
comes and takes away the word that was
sown in them. Others, like seed sown on
rocky places, hear the word and at once
receive it with joy. But since they have
no root, they last only a short time.
When trouble or persecution comes because
of the word, they quickly fall away.
Still others, like seed sown among
thorns, hear the word; but the worries
of this life, the deceitfulness of
wealth and the desires for other things
come in and choke the word, making it
unfruitful. Others, like seed sown on
good soil, hear the word, accept it,
and produce a crop--thirty, sixty or even
a hundred times what was sown. (Mark
4:1-20, New International Version).
The setting is a natural amphitheater. Jesus sat in a
boat and the people sat on the shore. The water carried the
voice of Jesus to the people who lined the gently
There may have been a farmer sowing grain in the
distance when Jesus called out, "Look! A farmer was sowing
seed and some of the seed fell on the hard-packed soil by the
Thus Jesus began with a familiar event to teach a
truth that would affect the destiny of billions of people.
Hence, Jesus placed an unknown spiritual truth alongside a
known earthly truth in order to teach a new spiritual truth
to those who would listen. If one chose to harden his heart
and not receive more spiritual understanding, he would never
understand the truth.
THE FIRST SOIL WAS A HARD-PACKED SOIL. It represented the
person with a hardened heart. The Word of God did not
penetrate and was consequently stolen by Satan. The person
represented here never had saving faith, since "...faith
cometh by hearing and hearing by the word of God." (Romans
THE SECOND SOIL CONSISTED OF AN EXTREMELY THIN LAYER OF SOIL
OVER A SOLID ROCK. The person represented here received the
Word in a "soulish," superficial way and immediately fell
when under pressure.
THE THIRD SOIL WAS GOOD, BUT WAS INFESTED WITH THORNS.
The person represented here was a genuine Christian, but he
allowed legitimate concerns as well as materialistic values
to take precedence over the Word of God. Thus, there was not
a complete Christlike transformation in his being.
Luke's account is as follows:
The seed that fell among thorns stands
for those who hear, but as they go on
their way they are choked by life's
worries, riches and pleasures, and they
do not mature. (Luke 8:14, New Inter-
Ralph Earle calls this troublesome trio, "Life's Three
Greatest Threats." The word "worries" (or cares, anxieties)
is translated from the Greek word MERIMNON, which means
"to be drawn in different directions." [Ralph G. Turnbull,
gen. ed., PROCLAIMING THE NEW TESTAMENT (Grand Rapids:
Baker Book House, 1961), THE GOSPEL OF LUKE, by Ralph Earle,
ThD, p. 40]. There are many legitimate concerns that pull
us apart in this age of anxiety: the responsibilities
involved with employment, government, school, family, church,
friends, community, finances, health, etc. One must learn
to say a polite "No" to some expectations.
The hunger for riches and material "security" can be
enslaving. Money and material things are amoral--
covetousness is the culprit (1 Timothy 6:10; Exodus 20:17).
Jesus warns against trying to serve God and mammon (riches)
in Matthew 6. God will take care of us when we place him
first. God is our security.
Pleasures can also be our enemies. The relentless pursuit
of pleasure characterizes our age. Pleasures are basically
good, if practiced in the right context. Sex between
husband and wife is God-ordained. Eating is both a pleasure
and necessary, but must be done in balance. Recreation
also is necessary, but must be balanced with work and
service. Fellowship is good--for instance a father must
spend time with his children and wife first--instead of too
much time at work or "with the boys."
THE FOURTH SOIL WAS GOOD IN VARYING DEGREES. The persons
represented here were Christians who opened their hearts to
the Word of God in varying degrees and were transformed
correspondingly. Jesus is the primary sower, the soil is the
human heart and the Word of God is first an abstract Word
that becomes an incarnate word. To say it another way, the
Word is form and when superimposed upon a malformed human,
that human becomes a new Christlike being.
Jesus teaches us that the place of the Bible is not on a
fireplace mantel, coffee table, bookshelf, etc., but in the
human heart. THE BEST TRANSLATION OF THE WORD OF GOD IS A
HUMAN BEING. God abstracted his essential nature and placed
it in a book as a means to reproduce himself in the human
heart. The Holy Spirit superintends the process from start
to finish. The purpose of the abstract Word of God is to
transform the individual into the image of Christ. Once one
understands God's purpose relative to the Word of God, he can
cooperate in the process.
A Christian Epistemology
In the Parable of the Soils, Jesus teaches the
importance of WHAT and HOW one hears. Using these scriptures
along with other selected scriptures, a basic outline for a
Christian epistemology can be constructed.
Ideally, the whole Word of God would be received.
Jesus said, "... Take care WHAT [italics mine] you listen
to." (Mark 4:24a, New American Standard Bible). He also
said, "Therefore take care HOW [italics mine] you listen...."
(Luke 8:18, New American Standard Bible). In this case, the
Word of God would be received into the body (through the eye,
ear, or touch gates); into the soul (through the
conscious, then through the preconscious, then through the
unconscious); and into the heart or spirit (the deepest level
Another possibility would be the reception of the Word
on a mere intellectual plane. The Word would stop
somewhere in the mind and go no deeper. In this case, the individual
would not have saving faith. John Wesley warned of the danger of
"mental assent" being substituted for faith.
Then there are some who immediately "turn off" the Gospel
either mentally or by actually doing something physical
like switching channels on a television set to avoid the Word
Tragically, there are those who completely avoid contact
with the Gospel. They have made a foolish choice to
reject Christ and have learned how to minimize exposure to
the truth of God's Word.
Some substitutes for the Word of God are mentioned in
the Bible. One is human reason and mere sense perception.
Reason and sense perception are both good. However, the
Word of God must transcend them. One biblical example of the
taking of the Word of God above human reason and sense
perception is the case of Joshua and Caleb in Numbers 13-14.
Another substitute for the Word can be the traditions
Then some Pharisees and teachers of the
law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and
asked, "Why do your disciples break the
tradition of the elders? They don't
wash their hands before they eat!"
Jesus replied, "And why do you break
the command of God for the sake of
your tradition? For God said, `Honor
your father and mother' and `Anyone who
curses his father or mother must be put
to death.' But you say that if a man
says to his father or mother, `Whatever
help you might otherwise have received
from me is a gift devoted to God,'he is
not to 'honor his father' with it.
Thus you nullify the word of God for the
sake of your tradition. You hypocrites!
Isaiah was right when he prophesied about
"These people honor me with their
but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
their teachings are but rules
taught by men.'"
(Matthew 15:1-9, New International Version).
Many traditions that religious people have inherited
are not scriptural. Their sources may be rationalistic as
cited above, or traditions may stem from ignorance and
superstition. However, it would not be proper to throw out
all tradition. The proper way to deal with tradition is to
hold on to the best understanding of God's Word that we have.
However, we must constantly revise our understanding of
the Word of God according to new light that the Holy Spirit
Another substitute for the Word can be the philosophies
See to it that no one takes you captive
through hollow and deceptive philosophy,
which depends on human tradition and the
basic principles of this world rather
than on Christ. (Colossians 2:8, New
For the message of the cross is
foolishness to those who are perishing,
but to us who are being saved it is the
power of God. For it is Written:
"I will destroy the wisdom of the
the intelligence of the intelligent I
Where is the wise man? Where is the
scholar? Where is the philosopher of
this age? Has not God made foolish the
wisdom of the world? For since in the
wisdom of God the world through its
wisdom did not know him, God was pleased
through the foolishness of what was
preached to save those who believe. Jews
demand miraculous signs and Greeks look
for wisdom, but we preach Christ
crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and
foolishness to Gentiles, but to those
whom God has called, both Jews and
Greeks, Christ the power of God and the
wisdom of God. For the foolishness of
God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the
weakness of God is stronger than man's
strength. (1 Corinthians 1:18-25, New
We all have a guiding philosophy or theology. It may
not be systematized and written in philosophical or
theological language, but it is there nonetheless. The
important thing is to continually upgrade it with the Word of
At the extreme end of the substitute spectrum is
the position most opposed to the Word of God: doctrines of
demons. The world is filled with many voices, religions,
philosophies and ideologies. Some of them are inspired by
The Spirit clearly says that in
later times some will abandon the faith
and follow deceiving spirits and things
taught by demons. Such teachings come
through hypocritical liars, whose
consciences have been seared as with a
hot iron. (1 Timothy 4:1-2, New
Keep in mind that some may have been brought up in
beliefs that were inspired by demons, but who haven't
rejected Christ. They can be delivered from wrong beliefs.
Probably the most common predicament of Christians
today is the position of having a "curious mixture" of the
Word of God and other content.
It is also common to hold part of the Word of God on an
intellectual level and part on a heart (spirit) level.
As wrong beliefs are purged and the Word of God is
internalized, at least two things begin to happen: (1) the
self is actually conformed more and more into the likeness of
Christ and (2) the self-image is corrected. As a result of
both of these, self-esteem begins to make a corresponding
rise. Then, the Christian's prayer life becomes more
effective and his work for the Master becomes more
Internalizing the Word of God
Here are nine practical steps to help internalize the
Word of God. The first step is to reestablish a right
relationship with God. Confess all known sin to God. Then
make things right with people. After we clear our
conscience, then we must choose to obey God as a lifestyle.
This means walking in the light of God's Word as the Holy
Spirit illuminates his Word.
The second step is to pray in the Spirit in order that
the heart might be further prepared to receive the Word. The
third step is to quiet the body and mind. Involved in this
would be to perform all mundane duties possible so that the
mind is undivided. Since psychomotor functions tend to
distract, it would be better to sit or lie down. It is
important to rid ourselves of both internal and external
distractions before, during and after Bible reading and
meditation. A good time for Bible reading would be shortly
before going to sleep.
The fourth step is to read the Word. It is good to read
a small portion carefully. (There is a time to read large
portions quickly, but not for this exercise). Some key
scriptures should be memorized.
Step five involves meditation. Christian meditation is
not "emptying" the mind (to let the devil write on it), but
rather it is filling the mind with the Word and allowing the
Holy Spirit to give us understanding of it.
The sixth step is actually receiving the Word into
our heart. Some may think that they have done this when the
Word is still on the intellectual level. How do we know if
we have internalized a particular truth of the Word of God?
We have internalized a truth when we automatically ACT on it!
The seventh step is to think God's thoughts (Word)
consciously as a practice.
The eighth step is to practice speaking God's thoughts
consciously. The ninth step is to practice acting out God's
IT IS OF UTMOST IMPORTANCE
TO RECEIVE THE WORD OF GOD ALONE
INTO THE HUMAN HEART.
There is hope for us all. If we take care HOW and WHAT we hear,
...the hard soil may again become soft--the
shallow soil deep--the soil beset with thorns
clear. For the heavenly seed, if acted on by the
soil, also reacts more mightily upon it (Jer.
xxii. 29). (Trench, NOTES ON THE PARABLES OF OUR
LORD, p. 33). END