Johannes Heinrich August Ebrard Hermann Olshausen.

Biblical commentary on the New Testament, Volume 1 online

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■ grace, be ennobled into a good and fruitful soil for the divine word,
and the good ground, on the other, by faithlessness, be desolated
and destroyed, [Most certainly the four varieties of soul represent
not four classes of natural endowments, but four modes of relation
to the Gospel, e. g., the rocky soil marks the man who is never spirit-
ually converted ; the thorny soil, him who is indeed converted, but
by unfaithfulness in pursuing sanctification, falls from his state of
grace, etc.*^] Mark makes an addition (Mark iv. 26-29), which pre-
sents the comparison of the seed sown in the field with a modifica-
tion not found in the^ other evangelists. It stands in Immediate
connexion with the preceding idea, that wherever the divine prin-
ciple takes root in a soul, it manifests itself in ever increasing bless-
ing according to the power which dwells in it, and which is ever
tending to outward manifestation. The comparison therefore sets
forth this indwelling energy (and in this respect it is allied to the
parable of the leaven), quite as strongly as it does the inability of him
who soweth the seed of the divine word to effect its growth, that
growth proceeding wholly from itself as the general law of all devel-
opment implies. (Mark iv. 26, 27, contains a representation of the
gradual growth of the seed without the co-operation of the sower ;
KaOevdELv^ iyeiQEoOai^ sleeping and waking^ is merely a description of
what happens in ordinary life, which excludes any further attention
to the seed that has been so^n. Independently of the efforts of man
the earth itself [avroimrTi] brings forth fniit. What properly be-
longs to the seed is here attributed to the earth, as determining its

* The first variety marks a heart uninfluenced by divine truth ; the second, a super-
ficial, not a real conversion ; so the third, if the unfruitfulne^s is to be taken as abs(h
lute.— [K.



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488 Matthew XIII. 18-23.

growth ; otherwise, it is of no importance to the understanding of
the similitude. The expression avrofLaTo^^sel/^moved, spontaneous,
does not occur elsewhere, except at Acts xii. 10. The growth
by progressive stages, is described by the words x^^ [the first
springing of the com which is grass-like], ardxv^ [the sprout-
ing of the ears], oXrog [the ripened grain]. In verse 29th, Trapadutj
soil. tavToVj produces itself, is used after the analogy of the Latin
se dare, tradere, as Virgil, Georg. i. 287, muUa adeo gelida
melius se nocte dederunt Compare also the Hebrew b>^, the Chal-
dee, D>«j, Ezra vii. 19 [see Bvxd, Lex. Talm. p. 2422]. Apinavov
sickle, stands for the labourers bearing the sickle ; the 6e^(rraiy see
Matth. xiii. 39.) There is only one difficulty in this parabolical dis-
course, as given by Mark, the circumstance namely, that the sower,
who after scattering the seed goes away, is none other than the Son
of man, as our Lord's explanations afterwards shew (Matth. xiiL 37),
and as is indeed indicated by the very'fact, that the Lord, when the
harvest is come, sends the reapers into the field, an act which, ac-
cording to Matth. xiii. 39, must be referred to the time of the judg-
ment (icgcmg). But in what sense it can be said of the Lord that he
lets the field grow without caring for its advancement, one does not
well see, inasmuch as grace is required equally at the commence-
ment and throughout the course of the divine life. Every thing
would appear to harmonize better if we could understand by the man
who sows, any and every teacher who may be labouring in the Lord's
vineyard, and who certainly after implanting the word in the heart,
must leave it to its own further development. Perhaps, however,
such difficulties shew that the similitudes ought not to be pushed
thus far. The very nature of a similitude implies that on some point
or other, the thing compared must diflbr from that to which it is
likened, else the two would be identical. But in this case we are
precluded from this recourse, by observing that this abandonment of
care for the seed sown is the specific point of the comparison. Un-
less, therefore, the whole is to have the appearance of inanity, mean-
ing and force must be give'n to this point. Perhaps then, according
to Matth. ix. 15, the meaning of the entire parabolical discourse
may be taken in this way : although spiritual life in its development
in man, is never absolutely without the grace and presence of the
Lord, yet may it be said that there are two special periods when
that grace is pre-eminently active. The first is the commencement
of the life (the sowing), the second is the ripening of the fruit (the
harvest). Between these points lies a period, during which it may
be said, that comparatively the soul is without the Lord, the divine
life implanted in man developing its(*lf according to its own inherent
power, and to this season perhaps, a season of internal struggle and
conflict, the Lord here refers. Thus understood, the comparison



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Matthew XIII. 18-23. 489

gains for itself, at least, a specific meaning, and its connexion is
made clear with what had gone before. Nor does this explanation
exclude a reference to individual human teachers, only this does not
appear as the thing primarily intended.

It is in another sense, however, that the words : hg ydg dv £xv '^•
r. A., for whoever hath, etc., are interwoven into the discourse by
Matth. in the verses of which we are now to give the explanation.
According to ver. 10, seq. the disciples came to Jesus and asked him
generally what was his purpose in thus speaking in parables {Starl iv
TrapaPokalg XaXelg avrdlg;). The Lord replies, that he employed
them on account of the differences in the character of his hearers,
some of whom he wished to understand him, others not. In speak-
ing by parables, this twofold object would be gained, for everything
that it was needful for him to state would thus be declared, but in
a form so veiled that only those understood it who were designed
to understand it. Among these the disciples are mentioned first of
all, and in this connexion is it said " for whosoever hath,'' etc., (ver.
12.) The idea thus appears under a different form from that in
which we find it in Luke and Mark. The apostles are represented
as they who have, on whom, for this reason, there flows in the
abundance {nepCoaEVfia), but the rest as they who have not, who lose
for this reason what they already have, to whom the appearance of
the light itself tends to bring destruction. Before considering,
however, this idea, which is further developed in the following
verses, we must attend to the expression : fivarripta Tijg PaacXeiag
tCjv ovpavCiv (rov Qeov), mysteries of the kingdom of heaven (of God),
It marks the general object of the parables, and in those very
parables which follow throughout this chapter, reference to it is
express and constant. The word fiv<rrrjpiov then, from fivio) to
initiate, is in the New Testament used to denote the divine
counsels, decrees, doctrines, which, as such, could never have be-
come known to men as such, to men if left to themselves. (So the
Heb. tn in the Old Testament.) Nowhere, however, are these de-
crees, etc., represented as absolutely and eternally hid, and incapa-
ble of being known ; but God, who at the prompting of his own
love reveals himself and all that is in him, is constantly (by his Jtto-
KciXvipLg) revealing his mysteries ; yet not in such a way that they
cease to be mysteries (jivoTTJpca) ; they retain for ever their divine
character, which exalted them above all the powers of discovery be-
longing to man himself; instead of hidden, they have become un-
veiled fjLvaTTJpia. (1 Cor. ii. 7 ; Rom. xvi. 25.) According to this
view, the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven denote the whole sys-
tem of divine counsels, ordinances, and doctrines, which have been
revealed through Christ, and through the new economy which he
founded. They stand in contrast, as it were, with the mysteries of



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490 Matthew XIII. 18-23.

the law (jivarijgca rov vSfiav), which, after the fulfilment of the Old
Testament economy, had to make way for a new system of mysteries.
This whole collection of mysteries, however, was made known only
fo some {vfuv SeSotcu yvdvat)^ from others it was hid (according to
Mark rolg tfo), to tJiose without, as opposed to the apostles rolg eaw,
those within. Compare Paul's mode of expression on this subject
at 1 Cor. V. 12, 13 ; Col. iv. 5 ; 1 Thess. iv. 12.) In the didorai, it
is given, there is an unmistakeable reference to the decree of God.
It implies first, the positive exercise of divine grace, in communicat-
ing the blessing, and, negatively, the inability of man's will to attain
of itself the thing bestowed. He uses the expression in the same
sense as at Matthew xix. 11 ; xx. 23, and especially at John iii. 27 ;
vi. 65 ; xix. 11, with the addition of dvcjOev^ Ik tov ov^avov. But
this idea, that the passage asserts the giving and the withholding a
knowledge of the secrets of the divine kingdom, forms precisely the
great difficulty that meets us in this and the following verses (ver.
13-15), where at greater length it is explained, and founded on Old
Testament prophecy.

According to the narrative of Matthew xiii. 13, the idea cer-
tainly seems put in such a form as to intimate that Christ's speaking
in parables was simply a consequence resulting from the blind-
ness and insensibility of a portion of his hearers. For the expression
employed is, I speak in parables because seeing, etc. (h napaPoXal^
AaAw 5tc pXarovreg ov pXhrovai k, t. A.), while Mark and Luke in the
corresponding passage give, in order that seeing they may not see
(Jva pXinovreg fiij pXhroxji), words which obviously mean that their
failing to understand him was the olyect designed by our Lord in
using the language of the parables. But that in Matthew's account
of our Lord's discourse he meant to convey no meaning dififerent
from that of the other evangelists, is shewn first by the quotation
from the Old Testament, which of itself expresses as strongly the
same idea, and in the next place, if we take the ort in ver. 13, to
denote the cause which led to his speaking in parables, it implies
something self-contradictory. " For this reason do I speak to them
in parables, because they do not understand," is a mode of thought
which admits of no justification.* For if they wholly failed to
comprehend him, we do not see why the Lord did not speak at
once in simple unfigurative terms, in which there would, at least,
have been a better chance of his being understood than in speaking
before men of dull apprehension in language obscure and veiled.
And according to this view, the possibility of his being understood

* The words could only be so interpreted if the parables were to be considered as
means for facilitating the understanding of the subject referred to. But against this view
the passage kKiivoig 6k oh dcdorai (v. 11), is so decisive that the point admits of no farther
discussion.



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Matthew XIII. 10^15. 491

must, to a'certain extent, be assumed, as otherwise it would have
been more to the purpose for him to have refrained from speak-
ing altogether. On the other hand, the idea is a veiy simple
• one : — " I speak in parables in order that they may not under-
stand," and this view has been attempted to be got rid of simply on
account of the dogmatic difficulties it involves — difficulties which
do not concern the interpreter of Scripture. According to the
connexion, therefore, the words in Matth. xiii. 13 should be translated
only in this way, " I speak to them in parables,/or seeing, they see
not," so that the result is represented as an effect contemplated and
designed. ,This is plainly shewn also immediately afterwards at ver.
16, by the expression fiTJnoTe IScoai, lest perchance they may see, in
the prophecy of Isaiah (comp. Mark iv. 12.) Attempts have been
made, it is true, to put such a meaning on the /i^frrore here, and the
Iva in Luke and Mark, as to take away from both particles the idea
of design. And it is not to be denied that fiTJnoTe (as was already
remarked in regard to Iva on MattL i. 22), sometimes, in the New
Testament, wants the sense of intention, or design. Especially
convincing in support of this view of firj-rrore, is the passage 2 Tim, ii
25, fiTJTTOTe 6u) avrolg 6 Oebg fierdvoLav^ which it is utterly impossible to
translate, "m order that God may not grant them repentance,"
but rather " whether God (el nore) will not bestow on them repen-
tance." According to this the passage before us (ver. 15) might be
rendered — whetherihey might not see, whether they might not hear.
The reference however to the prophecy (Isa. vi. 9, 10), which is also
introduced in the same sense at John xii. 39, seq.; Acts xxviii. 26,
seq., admits no interpretation of the passage except the teleologicaL
Matthew and also Luke in the Acts of the Apostles, follow with
unimportant variations the reading of the LXX. while John, on
the contrary, has given a translation of his own which expresses
however the idea with the utmost distinctness. He writes ovic
ifdvvavTo mareveiv^ they could not believe, and Iva firj ISuxjc, that they
may not see, so that only the utmost violence of interpretation will
allow the passage any other sense than this, -that the design wag
they should not understand. The connexion of the words also in
the Old Testament clearly shews the same meaning. (Compare
Gesenius in his Commentary on the passage Isa. vi. 9, 10.) It is
represented as the penalty, as the curse of sin, that it prevents
man's understanding the revelation of divine truth. (The pXeneiv
and dicoveLv, seeing and hearing^ as contrasted with the ov awuTai,
ovK IdelVy not understanding, not seeing, denote the opportunity
given of understanding the divine will as being unfolded in their
immediate presence, while they did not possess the susceptibility
necessary for embracing it. This want of susceptibility — the ina-
bility to believe — ^is denoted by tnaxOvdr] = itt»n, " to become fat^*



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492 Matthew XIII. 10-17.

in the sense of " to become unfeeling or insensible" It stands as
parallel to the "i?sh and »^n which in the Greek are rendered Papic^
dKoveiv^ KOfj^veiv, KofifjLveiv is a barharous form for KaTafiveiv=L
KXeUtv Tovg dipSaXfiovg. The verb i7naTgi<peiv = ^^^ to abandon a
path which had been already entered on, denotes here, as frequently
elsewhere the turning of the soul from darkness to light. In the
last clause, kqX ldaG)fiai avrovg^ a various reading, Idaofiai, is found,
which certainly has been transferred from the LXX. in order to
soften the passage by giving to the words the sense of " but I will
heal them/' This interpretation however does not agree with the
connexion of the Hebrew, in which kb-jj aw;, holds a position entire-
ly parallel. In Mark accordingly, the whole force of the idea is
preserved, though the figure of " healing" (ldaofiat\ is explained
by the words " that their sins may not be forgiven them," a render-
ing transferred also to the Chaldee version.) In its original connex-
ion, the passage Isa. vi. 9, 10, refers primarily to the contemporaries
of Isaiah. Matthew sees in it a reference to the contemporaries of
Jesus, not judging capriciously, but taking a profound view of its
real import. For the phenomena of the prophetic times did not
diflfer from those of the age of our Saviour ; regarded in their es-
sential relations, they were identical. Divine truth, as disclosed in
the discourse of Isaiah, was met by the insensibility of the people
wht)m he summoned to spiritual effort, and the curse of their sin
was that they did not even recognise the evidences of divinity. In '
the time of Jesus the same nation went through the same experience,
with only this difference, that in Jesus there was exhibited to the
people the purest manifestation of Divinity, of which Isaiah pre-
sented but a faint reflection. Inasmuch then, as even this splendour
of divine light was unrecognised by them, the curse of sin was ex-
hibited in all its magnitude, and the prophet's' words met here their
entire fulfilment. [Tho great body of the people were carnally-
minded. Hence Jesus was compelled to select his disciples, and
hence also to reveal truth in the enigmatical form of parables, in-
telligible to the spirituarty-minded disciples, but destined to remain
inexplicable to the can/il populace — to all, in fact, who are carnally-
minded.]

Ver. 16, 17. — ^In contrast with the curse, which strikes these
hardened hearts, follows the blessing which is imparted to the be-
lieving and receptive spirits of the disciples. The d<l>OaXfioi, cjto,
eyes, ears, arc mentioned as the organs of reception in general,
which have theli analogies in the inner man. At Luke x. 23, these
words occur in an entirely different connexion, to which we shall
attend hereafter. He adds, that Jesus addressed these words to the
disciples w^ipp by themselves {kut* Idiav = KarofiSva^, Mark iv. 10,
34), 4 A*or vhich might have been inferred even from their contents.



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Matthew XIII. 16, 17 ; 24-30. 498

The comparison of his disciples to the TrpocpTjrcu, prophets^ and. the
diKcuoL, righteom meUy of the Old Testament (Luke, instead of the
ducaioi, has the word paacXeTgy kings^ an expression, however, which
must in this case be held as applying to righteous kings), would
have been unintelligible to the multitude. Finally the idea ex-
pressed in ver. 17, is simply an exposition of the frequently occur-
ring TrXeXov 'l6)va, ttXbIov loXonoJvog cide, a greater than Jonah, than
Solomon is here (Matth. xii. 41, 42)^ All the longing desires of the
pious throughout the Old Testament centred in the Messiah. To
behold him was the loftiest object of Old Testament hope. This
blessing was granted to the disciples, and all their happiness, all
their glory, consisted in this, that they were illumined by the radi-
ance of the Sun of righteousness. . The special grace thus vouch-
safed is brought to their remembrance by Christ, not to exalt
them above the Old Testament saints, but to lay them low before
the Lord.

Yer. 24-30. — From this same figure of seed-sowing, arises a
second similitude, which however contemplates a different aspect of
the kingdom of God. Of this parabolic statement also, an authen-
tic explanation is given by the Lord, ver. 36-41, which again we
shall take up immediately. (The d)fioi(A>drj ^ paocXeia rCov ovpavCjv
dvOpamu), the kingdom of heaven is likened to a man, is an abbreviated
form of expression — one point of the similitude is brought promi-
nently forward, and on it the comparison is concentrated. Here it
is the man who scatters the seed, and so at ver. 33, it is, the fv/i^,
leaven, at ver. 44, the OTjoavpSg^ treasure, at ver. 47, tho aayTJvTj, net,
at ver. 45, the dvOpomog tfinopog, merchant. The word TrapariOivai =
65^, is here selected with, reference to the enigmatical character of
parabolical language — ^he laid the parable before them, for solu-
tion. In the (Tnelpeiv h rw dypoi, we must beware of supposing that
there is any confounding of elg and tv, he sowed upon his field as
the place of his labour. The night-time is described (tv r& KaOev-
dav Tovg dvOp^TTovg), as at Job xxxiii. 15. Ver. 25. — f<avm, in the
Talmud rs^tt. Comp. Buxtorf. Lex. Talm. fol. 680, Suid. t} h tw
(t/tw alpa, i. e,, lolium [ Virg, Eel. v. 37, infelix lolium] cockle, dar-
nel. The weed shewed itself first at the springing time \pXaoTdveLv\,
and latterly when the fruit was forming [Kapirov ttouIv], and it could
not therefore be then stifled by the grain. Ver. 28. — ' KTreTddovreg
<jvXkE^(ji>Hev, go and gather up, represented as spoken, after the anal-
ogy of the Hebrew, :j^n^ in the house of the olKodeanoTTjg, but neither
here nor in any other passage where :jVn is used are we to regard it
as an empty pleonasm. Ver. 30. — QepLOTjjg = 6 Oepl^cjv, occurs only
here : diofii] is also an dna^ Xeyo^ov = nri «. Exodus xii. 22. An
Old Testament comparison lies at the foundation of this whole par-
able of the burning up of the tares. Comp. 2 Sam. xxiii 7, where



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494 Matthew XIII. 24-30; 36-43.

the same reference had already been made to the final judgment
The dTTodTJKTj corresponds to the Hebrew, ns*!«, ^^ granary, store-
house,"

Vcr. 36-48. — The explanation of the parable was in this instance
also communicated to the disciples when alone, after the people
had been dismissed (ver. 86). In brief clauses our Lord expounds
the several portions of the comparison, the last point, however, the
final separation of the good from the bad, on which the whole turns,
being given with more minuteness. But for this express exposition
by Christ another interpretation would unquestionably at firet sight
have suggested itself. Jesus explains the field as being the world
(kSoiw^), the good seed as the children of the kingdom (viol ttj^
PaaiXetag), the tares (j^i^dvia) as the children of the wicked one {vldi
Tov novripovy^ and consequently the whole human race, good and bad
together, are viewed as the corn that is growing up in the world, a
word which here seems like (yrhis terrarum, to denote the universal
earth. The generality of this reference does not appear at first
sight to agree with the connexion, since the subject of discourse is
not the whole world (ver. 24), but the kingdom of heaven. That
in the world at large evil intermingles itself with good, is obvious
at a glance, but it is strange that in the kingdom of God itself,
even to its close, the same intermixture should be seen, for the ex-
press design of that kingdom is to represent the good. Beyond all
doubt, then, this similitude must be understood of the kingdom of
God, which, however, is here in so far termed the world, as viewed
ideally, it is destined to pervade the whole world, or conversely, the
world is ideally represented as destined of God to become his kiog-
dom.* The derangement of this original purpose by the influence
of the kingdom of darkness, the Saviour here explains, and defines
the relative connexion of good and evil in the church of God on
earth, as well under the Old as the New Testament, down to the
final judgment. The Son of man, consequently appears here again,
in his ideal dignity (comp. Dan. vii. 13), as the adversary of the
devil, as from the beginning onward he has been W9rking out the
victory of good among the human race. This, moreover, is another
of the passages in which Christ refers in his teaching literally and
directly to the devil. The disciples had requested an authoritative
exposition of a similitude that was dark to them. Ill no point of
view was there an occasion for concession to popular prejudice (even
if the idea of such accommod^ation were not essentially inconsistent

* The (as yet vacant) soil on which the seed is sown is the tcorld. The field, which
consists of tares -and grain in inseparable miztare, is the church. The kingdom of God
exists not in visible separation trom the world, but as mingled with the world — as a churdi.
Hence again the church is not identical with the kingdom of God, but a blending of the
kingdom of Ood and the world;-!-[E.



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Matthew XIII. 36-43. 495

with the holy character of Jesus), and still less for recourse to
proverbs or any thing else of the kind. While, however, the par-
able as a whole is clear, yet on particular points we are met by
important difficulties. Thus the contrast of the child of the king-
dom (ylb^ TTJg Paaikelag), and of the wicked one {tov novrjpov)^ seems
to point to an absolute severance of individuals, which might again
seem to favour the doctrine of predestination. But the prohibition
forbidding the rooting out of evil (ver. 28) at once sufficiently shows
that neither the children of the kingdom are conceived of as en-
tirely dissevered from evil, nor the children of the wicked one
as wholly dissociated from good. The one class appear only aa
in a certain respect the concentration of good (not however that
. any irresistible grace preserves them from falling back), the other
as the concentration of evil (not however that any decree of repro-
bation forces them into wickedness, and holds them back from the
possibility of repentance), drawn by birth, circumstances, educa-
tion, now more towards the one element, now more towards the
other. For though all men are involved in sin, yet are they not all



Online LibraryJohannes Heinrich August Ebrard Hermann OlshausenBiblical commentary on the New Testament, Volume 1 → online text (page 59 of 75)