034 The Sower

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(1) Thom 9
(2) Mark 4:3-8 = Matt 13:3b-8 = Luke 8:5-8a
(3) 1Clem 24:5

Crossan analysis: Item: 34
Stratum: I (30-60 CE)
Attestation: Triple
Historicity: +


(1) Thom 9

Jesus said, "Look, the sower went out, took a handful (of seeds), and scattered (them). /2/ Some fell on the road, and the birds came and gathered them. /3/ 0thers fell on rock, and they didn't take root in the soil and didn't produce heads of grain. /4/ Others fell on thorns, and they choked the seeds and worms ate them. /5/ And others fell on good soil, and it produced a good crop: it yielded sixty per measure and one hundred twenty per measure. [Complete Gospels]

(2) Mark 4:3-8 = Matt 13:3b-8 = Luke 8:5-8a

"Listen! A sower went out to sow. /4/ And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. /5/ Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and it sprang up quickly, since it had no depth of soil. /6/ And when the sun rose, it was scorched; and since it had no root, it withered away. /7/ Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. /8/ Other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold."

= Matt 13:3b-8

And he told them many things in parables, saying: "Listen! A sower went out to sow. /4/ And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. /5/ Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. /6/ But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. /7/ Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. /8/ Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.

=Luke 8:5-8a

"A sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell on the path and was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up. /6/ Some fell on the rock; and as it grew up, it withered for lack of moisture. /7/ Some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew with it and choked it. /8/ Some fell into good soil, and when it grew, it produced a hundredfold."

(3) 1Clem 24:5

Chapter 24: God continually shows us in Nature that there will be a Resurrection

Let us consider, beloved, how the Lord continually proves to us that there shall be a future resurrection, of which He has rendered the Lord Jesus Christ the first-fruits by raising Him from the dead. Let us contemplate, beloved, the resurrection which is at all times taking place. Day and night declare to us a resurrection. The night sinks to sleep, and the day arises; the day [again] departs, and the night comes on. Let us behold the fruits [of the earth], how the sowing of grain takes place. The sower goes forth, and casts it into the ground; and the seed being thus scattered, though dry and naked when it fell upon the earth, is gradually dissolved. Then out of its dissolution the mighty power of the providence of the Lord raises it up again, and from one seed many arise and bring forth fruit.




John Dominic Crossan

Crossan [Historical Jesus, 295] draws on this parable as an example of those sayings that express a "serene" confidence in our access to God and of eventual success despite variable outcomes in the meantime:

Any peasant would recognize its balance of three, that is, multiple, losses and gains in the normal process of sowing. yet its serene message of gains despite losses and even of multiple forms of gain puts in narrative form the same message of assured success. The roots of that assurance become clear in 82 Against Anxieties [1/2], where God's care for nature's birds and flowers should obviate human worries about food and clothing. The parallels to Stoic-Cynic admonitions are, as F. Gerald Downing indicates, quite striking (Christ and the Cynics: Jesus and Other Radical Preachers in First-Century Tradition. JSOT Manuals, 4. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press,1988. Pp. 70-71). The serenity and security passed by Jesus to his followers derives not from knowing hidden mysteries of past or present but from watching nature's rhythms of here and now.

Jesus Seminar

The commentary in The Five Gospels (p. 54) reports that the Fellows of the Jesus Seminar concluded that the underlying parable could be traced back to Jesus as a parable that is now attested in two (Mark and Thomas), and possibly three (Mark, Thomas and Luke) independent sources. While Mark has preserved much of the original triadic structure of the parable, and is perhaps the only source to preserve the original ending, Thomas has preserved the form closest to the actual words of Jesus. Mark has modified the parable to reflect his idea (made explicit in vss 11-20) that the secret of the kingdom is only revealed to the disciples in private: see also Mark 7:17-23; 9:28-29; 13:1-37.

Gerd Luedemann

Luedemann [Jesus, 25-29] identifies stages in the tradition history for this parable. He distinguishes between the original saying, its later Christian interpretation (vss. 14-20) still in the pre-Markan stage, and then the form in Mark and the Synoptic parallels.

His reasons for attributing the interpretation to later tradition are:

  1. Christian terminology alien to the remainder of Jesus' teaching but well attested in the writings of early Christianity. He notes the absolute use of 'word': which is spread by the preacher (Mark 1:45; Acts 8:4; 2Tim 4:2; etc) received by the hearers (1Thess 1:6; 2:13; Acts 17:11; etc) with joy (1Thess 1:6); attracts hostile reactions (1Thess 1:6; 2Tim 1:8; 2:9) and becomes an offence (1Pet 2:8); and yet grows (Acts 6:7; 12:24; 19:20; Col 1:6) and brings forth fruit (Col 1:6,10).
  2. Other terms in the text occur nowhere else in the Synoptics but are familiar in other parts of the NT: the metaphorical use of 'sow' for preaching (1Cor 9:11; etc) and of 'root' in the sense of inner steadfastness (Col 2:7; Eph 3:17).
  3. A psychological interest in the disposition of the various audiences displaces the original <??> eschatological focus.
  4. GThom is literary evidence that the parable actually did circulate without an interpretation.

He concludes: "the parable goes back to Jesus: however -- because we do not know what it really refers to -- that does not yet tell us anything about its meaning." Luedemann then cites, with implicit approval, the comments of Rudolph Bultmann:

Is the meaning consolation for everyone, even if not all the work bears fruit? Is the parable in this sense a quasi-resigned, quasi-grateful monologue of Jesus? Is it an admonition to those who hear the divine word? The preaching of Jesus? Or in the original parable is there no reflection on the word at all and is the meaning the people sown in the world?

Luedemann's own interpretation runs as follows:

First the sowing is depicted, and in the final verse it is already harvest time. The breaking in of the kingly rule of God is compared with this. It is confronted with manifold failure and resistance in the present. So the message of the parable calls for confidence. Despite all failure and resistance, God produces the glorious end from the hopeless beginnings. As a parable of Jesus, it then expresses Jesus' confidence -- a confidence which suffered a defeat because the kingdom of God did not in fact break in. (p. 29)

John P. Meier

While he does not discuss this parable in the first three volumes of his Marginal Jew, Meier does cite with implicit approval the suggestion by Tuckett that "some redactional traits from Mark can be found in sayings 9 and 20" of Thomas [page 136].



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