NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
GOSPEL OF MATTHEW
Part II (con’t)
Verse 23: But what about the seed that fell on the good ground? That is like the people who hear the teaching and understand it. They grow and produce a good crop, sometimes 100 times more, sometimes 60 times more, and sometimes 30 times more.
Our Lord’s explanation of the parable of the farmer sowing seed is clear and precise. We find similar math in counting a harvest in Jewish writings where it says: “There was the case of someone who sowed a one fourth bushel of beans. These yielded seventy-five bushels. They said to him, ‘The Holy One blessed be He has began to bless you’.”1 This shows how figurative language can be translated into a literal understanding. For the disciples, it presents them with the option that Solomon described: “Knowledge begins with reverence and respect for the Lord, but stubborn fools hate wisdom and refuse to learn.”2 In other words, although God’s Word is good medicine for spiritual ignorance, not everyone likes its taste.
Now, for the doubters and skeptics Solomon has a different message that applies to Jesus’ efforts here, “Fools, how long will you love being ignorant? How long will you make fun of wisdom? How long will you hate knowledge? I wanted to tell you everything I knew and give you all my knowledge, but you didn’t listen to my advice and teaching”.3 But for those willing to listen, Solomon said, “Even the wise could become wiser by listening to these proverbs. They will gain understanding and learn to solve difficult problems. These sayings will help you understand proverbs, stories with hidden meanings, words of the wise, and other difficult sayings.”4
In other words, learning is like assembling building blocks where ideas is built upon facts. It can only go as high as a good foundation will support. But there are times when it takes quite a bit of digging to find a solid rock for the foundation. Solomon mentions this in his own way: “Listen to wisdom, and do your best to understand. Ask for good judgment. Cry out for understanding. Look for wisdom like silver. Search for it like hidden treasure. If you do this, you will understand what it means to respect the Lord, and you will come to know God. The Lord is the source of wisdom; knowledge and understanding come from his mouth”.5 We see how this applies to our Lord’s teaching and ministry.
Oft times I have found in talking with fellow ministers that they are familiar with the latest books on the shelves down at the local Bible book store, but when I bring up words like Concordance, Lexicon, Bible Word Studies, Bible Encyclopedias, Bible Dictionaries, etc., they look at me as though I am talking about Einstein’s theory of relativity. There is a big difference between words and concepts being planted in your head, and those that germinate and grow in your heart. Yes, read, and read a lot, but don’t always take the author’s word for it. Research it yourself and see what you find.6 But beware of this method, sometimes you will need the courage to throw away old, faulty concepts and ideas based on things you’ve heard to make room for ones that are more solid and explainable because you’ve done the research and study. That’s where commentaries come in, written by reputable scholars who know more about the subject than you do.
That’s what Ezekiel told the people of Israel, “Throw away all the terrible idols with which you committed your crimes! Change your heart and spirit”7 so that God can do what He said He would do, “I will also put a new spirit in you to change your way of thinking. I will take out the heart of stone from your body and give you a tender, human heart.”8 When one is willing to take the time to study God’s word, then, says the Psalmist, “You will grow strong, like a tree planted by a stream—a tree that produces fruit when it should and has leaves that never fall. Everything you do will be purposeful.”9
Verse 24: Then Jesus used another story to teach them. Jesus said, “God’s kingdom is like a man who planted good seed in his field.”
In the first parable about the farmer, Jesus spoke of the soil in which the seed was planted as critical to its possibility for germinating and growing. But in this parable our Lord extrapolates to the idea of the seed that fell on good ground continuing to grow even among the weeds. In such a case, it will have to fight to grow and live, and this will not only make it stronger, but will also allow for it to develop immunity to the pollen from nearby thorns and thistles that may try to attach themselves. This brings to mind what our Lord said about us being in the world but we are not of the world.10
One of the earliest church scholars, Origen, gives us this to consider: “You can also take the good seed to be children of the kingdom, because whatever good things are sown in the human soul, these are the offspring of the kingdom of God. They have been sown by the Word who was in the beginning with God. Wholesome words about anything are children of the kingdom.”11 And a later church writer gives us this: “The Lord clearly points out that He is the sower of good seeds. He does not cease to sow in this world as in a field. God’s word is like good seed in the hearts of people, so that each of us according to the seeds sown in us by God may bear spiritual and heavenly fruit.”12
Taking both of these thoughts and carrying them through this parable will give you a different vista of what a difference it makes in a person’s life to have the good seed sown in their hearts, and what effect it has on any community when good believers are planted in their midst. It also gives us a new view on why the enemy is so intent and dedicated to snuffing out any benefit a person or community may receive from such good seed planted among them.
Verse 25: That night, while everyone was asleep, the man’s opponent came and planted weeds among the wheat and then snuck away.
Only a person with a diabolical character would want to do such a thing. It may have been done out of envy, spite, hatred, jealousy, or pure evil. The Greek word translated here as weeds is “zizanion”, and refers to a type wild wheat called darnel or ryegrass that resembles wheat, but its grains are dark purple, so it is considered a weed. Jews understood “zunin” not to be a different plant from wheat, but a degenerate form of it.13 So we can see why this farmer’s jealous neighbor chose this to sow among his real wheat, hoping, no doubt, that the farmer wouldn’t be able to tell the difference until he tried to eat it or make bread from it. This Greek word for weed is found only here in Matthew.
The Ethiopian Version uses a word that is translated as “thistles.” The Jews were fully aware of this type of fake wheat, so they clearly understood what Jesus was describing. In Jewish writings we are told: “When wheat and darnel, which is an inferior quality of wheat usually not eaten by humans, are sown together in the field it does not constitute crossbreeding of unlike seeds, which are forbidden to be sown together.14 That’s because they have similarities.”15 So in this case, the man sowing these weeds was not breaking the law. However, not all Rabbis saw it this way. In one Targum we read: “It is forbidden to sow different species of seed to produce seeds in the fields; even if in different furrows, as it would still have the appearance of crossbreeding.”16 The mixing of such seeds in making products was also forbidden by many other Jewish Rabbis. They taught: “Whatever is of a different species than the other, may not be taken for offering sacrifices, even if it is a mixture of superior with inferior.”17 One Rabbi gives a list of items that cannot be mixed or substituted one for the other, and includes “wheat and wild wheat”.18
So we can see what Jesus was trying to explain about how those who are not watching and alert may be fooled by what they are told is the true Word of God, but in fact it is an imitation produced by man. So by Jesus comparing wheat and weeds, He is comparing the seed of the genuine Word of God with the look-alike word of man. From this we can extrapolate that since the word “seed” is also used of descendants, then we can say that the genuine Word of God will produce genuine believers, while the look-alike word of man will produce look-alike believers.
Origen makes this comment: “At that point the roaming devil sows what are called weeds—that is, faulty opinions—over and among the good seeds that are from the Word. According to this, the whole world might be called a field, and not the Church of God only. For the Son of Man sowed the good seed throughout the entire world, but the wicked one sowed weeds—that is, misleading words—which, spring from the distorted minds of the children of the evil one.”19 In other words, the method that Satan uses to bring confusion and disharmony among believers is by sowing deeds of discord among them. And he doesn’t use atheists or agnostics, but so-called ministers of the Gospel who put their ideas above those that the Holy Spirit brings into the heart and mind.
As for the believers, they can either seek to explain why these doctrines do not conform to the Word of God so that others are enlightened, or they can sit by and allow others to make up their own minds on whether what they hear is true or not, or one can react by wanting to destroy and eradicate these bad ideas by getting rid of the weeds. These are the options that our Lord now addresses.
Verse 26: Later, the wheat grew, and heads of grain grew on the plants. But at the same time, the weeds grew alongside.
One thing we should notice here is that both the good seed and bad seed are planted in the same soil. So we might ask once a person becomes a believer in the Word and accepts the Lord’s message with all their heart, is it possible that they might become susceptible to bad seed? The biggest factor in such consideration is that oft times the weeds may mimic the wheat. In other words, it looks right and sounds right so it must be right. If there is anything that the devil is good at, it is deception. Many false doctrines have infected the body of Christ because they seemed to make sense. But upon closer examination they were found to be defective. This does not mean that the good wheat is contaminated. The good wheat can still grow and produce.
Many of the things that are causing great confusion in the church today are all supposedly based on Scripture. But they are selected verses drawn from different contexts and combined with uninspired interpretations. Such as the overemphasis on prosperity, which the apostle Paul sternly warns against.20 Then we have the exaggerated view of God’s grace. It teaches that we no longer have to deal with sin because while good works cannot get us into heaven, bad works cannot keep us out. But the apostle John says such things are nonsense.21
There are many other questionable doctrines that led to such things as the “Jesus Only” movement, rejection of a literal hell, universal reconciliation that teaches all souls will wind up in heaven because of what they interpret being said in Colossians 1:20 and Romans 5:12-21. One of the best ways to test any such doctrine is to see how consistent it is with all the other scriptures on the same subject. That’s why I always follow this rule: If a minister starts his sermon by reading a verse of Scripture but then never gets back to it until the end, examine carefully what you hear in between.
Verse 27: Then the man’s servants came to him and said, “You planted good seed in your field. Where did these weeds come from?”
Here our Lord gets to the core of the problem: Where did this bad seed originate? Who was the inventor of this lookalike seed that many mistake for the real seed? Augustine has an interesting take on this subject. He writes: “The Lord then explained for us what He had said. See what we choose to be in His field. See which of the two we will be at harvest time. The field is the world, and the church is spread throughout the world. Let the one who is wheat persevere until the harvest; let those who are weeds be changed into wheat. There is this difference between people and real grain and real weeds, for what was grain in the field is grain and what were weeds are weeds. But in the Lord’s field, which is the church, at times what was grain turns into weeds and at times what were weeds turn into grain; and no one knows what they will be tomorrow.”22
What this early church teacher has to say seems more anecdotal than exegetical. When Jesus spoke to the crowd He did not seemed to be speaking to the Gentile world at large, but to those who already believed in God and needed to understand why what He came to say was important because He was sent by God to deliver the message. Remember, this comes on the heels of His opponents accusing Him of doing His miracles by the power of Beelzebub, and then asking for a sign to prove that it was God who really anointed and inspired Him.
Then when His own mother and brothers came to get Him because it was rumored that He was becoming disillusioned,23 our Lord then begins with His parable of the sower, illustrating why some would be able to accept Him for who He really is and others will find it difficult to do so. And yet, even among those who do accept Him, Satan will try to plant seeds intended to confound and confuse such believers. So it will be important to find out whether the Church or the World is the field in which the devil sows his heresy and misbelief, which then spawns weeds growing next to the wheat. So to answer the question asked early, “Where did the weeds come from”? Our Lord offers this explanation:
Verse 28: The man answered, “An enemy planted weeds.” The helpers asked, “Do you want us to go and pull up the weeds?”
A small but interesting dissertation can be made here. The farmer directed the sowing of the seed, not his servants. And aspiring reapers were his helpers, not his servants. As such they were untrained, so their request to pull up the weeds was denied, because it wasn’t the right time. Though they are not idly standing by, the duties of God’s children involving the harvest are still contingent upon God’s plan. As such, we are only tools in the Master’s hands, He is not a tool in our hands. Perhaps there were some in the crowd that started wondering if this story by Jesus was a secret attempt to identify them as the planters of the weeds.
To me, this explanation by Jesus is a clue on how we should all respond to any doctrine blossoming in among believers that does not bear the exact image of the doctrine that has been a long held belief by the congregation and one that is also believed to be founded firmly upon the teachings of Jesus and His apostles. The best way to counter many of these impromptu doctrines is to look at the seed it produces. Is that seed interested in self, or in others? Does it produce those who love the Lord with all their heart, soul, mind and strength, and there neighbor as themselves, or is it all about them? Do those produced by this seed seek first the kingdom of God, and then let Him add to their lives what He considers important, or do they spend most of their time asking for blessings they do not need? Sometimes, internal fighting within the church has done more to harm than the preaching of the true gospel has done to heal. Therefore our Lord gives us this answer through what the farmer has to say.
Verses 29-30: He answered, “No, because when you pull up the weeds, you might also pull up the wheat. Let the weeds and the wheat grow together until the harvest time. At the harvest time I will tell the workers this: First, gather the weeds and tie them together to be burned. Then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.
Early church theologian Chromatius offers this commentary: “When the servants of the householder, namely, the apostles, ask the Lord whether they should separate the weeds from the wheat, He allowed them both to grow together until the harvest—that is, until the end of time. He clearly indicated that He would send reapers at that time, namely, angels, so that, once they have separated the wheat from the weeds—that is, once the holy ones have been separated from the wicked—they may gather the righteous in heavenly kingdoms, like wheat in barns. All the wicked and sinners will burn amid the punishments of hell like weeds in the fire, where the Lord declares they will forever weep and grind their teeth.24 And when the Lord says there will be weeping and grinding of teeth, he is undoubtedly pointing to the future resurrection not only of the soul (as certain heretics would have it) but also of the body. Indeed, weeping and grinding of teeth are properly so-called punishments of the body. Therefore the gravity of the error that has a hold on heretics of this type can be seen from these words of the Lord, for they do not believe in the future resurrection of the body.”25
I’ve always tried to follow this same principle when talking to Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Moonies or other cults that have basic Christian roots, as well as Roman Catholics and Protestants such as Seventh Day Adventists, also Unitarians, Christian Scientists, etc. Instead of trying to pull out the false wheat and thereby run the risk of harming the truth they adhere to, I try to do what these servants of the farmer did and that was point out the difference in the grain.
1 Jerusalem Talmud, op. cit. First Division: Tractate Peah, Ch. 7:3 [II:7 K]
2 Proverbs 1:7
3 Ibid., 2:22-23; cf. 18:1-2
4 Proverbs 1:5-6
5 Ibid., 2:1-6
6Cf. Acts of the Apostles 17:11; 2 Timothy 2:15
7 Ezekiel 18:31
8 Ibid., 36:26
9 Psalm 1:3-5; cf. 92:13-15
10 See John 17:16
11 Origen, Commentary on Matthew 10.2
12 Chromatius: Tractate on Matthew 51.1
13 Jewish New Testament Commentary by David H. Stern, loc. cit.
14 See Leviticus 19:19
15 Jewish Mishnah, op. cit. First Division: Zeraim, Tractate Kilayim, Ch. 1:1
16 Ibid., Ch. 3:2
17 Ibid., Tractate Terumot, Ch. 2:6
18 Moses Maimonides, Mishnah Torah, op. cit. Sefer Zeraim, Tractate Kilaayim, Ch. 3, Halacha 3
19 Origen: Commentary on Matthew, 10.2
20 1 Timothy 6:9-11
21 1 John 1:7-9
22 Augustine: Sermon 73A.1
23 See Mark 3:21
24 See Matthew 13:42
25 Chromatius: Tractate on Matthew, 51.1.2