What Is the Parable of the Sower? Bible Meaning and Text
The Parable of the Sower is recorded in three of the four biblical gospels. The human heart is like receptive soil to the seed of the Word of God. Jesus used this analogy in the Parable of the Sower.
- Greg Laurie Senior Pastor, Harvest Christian Fellowship
- 2019 19 Mar
What Is the Parable of the Sower?
The Parable of the Sower is recorded in three of the four biblical Gospels – Matthew 13:1-23, Mark 4:1-20, and Luke 8:1-15. The human heart is like receptive soil to the seed of the Word of God. Jesus used this analogy in the Parable of the Sower. The soil that the seed fell on represents four categories of hearers’ hearts, four different reactions to the Word of God: the hard heart, the shallow heart, the crowded heart, and the fruitful heart.
Bible Text of the Parable of the Sower
“That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away.
Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.”
“And when a great crowd was gathering and people from town after town came to him, he said in a parable: “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.” As he said these things, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
Meaning of the Parable of the Sower
“But other seed fell on good ground and yielded a crop that sprang up, increased and produced: some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred.” (Mark 4:8)
- First, there is the hard heart, the seed that falls along the roadside. This represents people who hear the Word of God, but never really believe.
- Then there is the shallow heart. That is the seed that falls on stony ground. This signifies the people who hear the Word of God and receive it with joy, but because there is no root to sustain them, they wither.
- Next, there is the crowded heart. That is the seed that falls on ground where weeds choke out its growth. Slowly and surely, these people, busy with the cares and riches of the world, just lose interest in the things of God.
- Finally, there is the fruitful heart that receives the Word. The seed falls on good ground and the plants produce a rich harvest.
We are the ones who determine what kind of soil our hearts will be. We decide whether we will have a hard heart, a shallow heart, a crowded heart, or a receptive heart. This is exactly what James meant when he said, “Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21).
The Word of God cannot work in our lives unless we have receptive hearts.
Parable of the Sower Summary
Watch Greg Gilbert discuss more details about each of the four soils.
In the Parable of the Soils, Jesus wanted to reveal to us the human heart in its response to the word of God. In other words, he gives us four different examples of how the human heart will often respond to the word of God. Starts out with a heart that is very hard and the seed, which is the word of God, falls on the path as Jesus calls it and the birds of the air come and just eat the seed right off of it. It’s as if someone sits under the preaching of the gospel and it doesn’t penetrate their heart at all. They’re simply there. It’s simply hitting their eardrums and bouncing right off. They never even hear it. It never penetrates and they walk away completely unaffected by the word of the gospel.
Another kind of soil that Jesus tells us about, another kind of human heart is one where the seed falls and in thorny soil and the seed sprouts up and it would be someone who says yes I believe this gospel. I want to live according to this gospel. But then the thorns or the cares of this world, as Jesus says, rise up and just choke it out. The person begins to get distracted by money or by the pursuit of power or by the pursuit of worldly pleasures and before long, the plant that grew out of the seed of the word, just shrivels up and dies.
Another kind of heart that Jesus talks about is one that falls in rocky soil. It’s a kind of soil that is very shallow because there’s rock underneath it and the seed falls and it germinates immediately. It just shoots up right because the roots don’t get very deep. And yet the sun comes out and persecution happens and because the word hasn’t had any deep rooting in the person’s heart, the pant shrivels under persecution.
The last kind of soil that Jesus talks about is a deep, fertile soil. The word of the gospel falls in that soil and it sends down roots, it sends then a deep foundation into the soil and grabs on and begins to get nourished by the soil. The plant sprouts up and it begins to produce fruit and that’s the kind of life Jesus is saying, that you ought to have. That’s the kind of response you ought to have to the gospel. Not when it gets choked out, not when it gets shriveled up by persecution, not one that just really doesn’t care and has no penetration at all. But one that receives the word and sends down roots into it, begins to get nourished by it and then creates fruit.
Grains, weeds, pearls, and treasures
Matthew’s addition of the parable of the weeds is an expansion of Mk 4:26-29. Mark’s parable about seeds explains to those how the kingdom of God is interpreted in a simple way. We are born, seeds our sown. The seeds would sprout and grow, he does not know how; this is talking about the miraculous growth as talked about in many parables. After we are sown, we grow miraculously until the grain is ripe, and we are cut down with his sickle. This is referring to the judgment, when the grain is ripe, when one becomes worthy, judgment will follow. Matthew’s expansion incorporates weeds along with the seeds that are sown. An enemy, the devil, has sown weeds in the same field that has been sown with seeds for grain. It would uproot the grain if they pulled the weeds out too soon. In order to have a successful harvest they must wait until both are full grown, then separate the grain and weeds. The weeds in this parable resemble sinners, those not with Christ. The harvest resembles a judgment kind of action, both the grains and weeds will meet death, the sickle, and then be judged on whether it is grain and will be saved, or it is weeds and will be burned. This symbolism is if you are grain you have been judged as worthy and will make it into the kingdom of God, while if you have gone against the grain (no pun intended) you are deemed a weed planted by the devil and will be burned.
Matthew depicts Jesus as a non-judgmental divine man! Matthew talks about when the harvest is happening, the reapers will be angles, and the weeds will be separated from the grain. Though one day there will be a harvest, a judgment day, Jesus will not be handpicking who is of grain or weed. It has already been decided who have been sown from the kingdom and the evil one. There is no opinion based system for the reapers, angels, when it is time for the harvest of our world.
I believe the pearl parable was placed after the interpretation of the weeds and the parable of the net because there were a small percentage of people who could not relate to grain, weeds, and fishing. I believe Matthew was targeting the more wealthy and powerful people to try and give them a parable that they could relate to and understand. Give them more of a reason that everyone can find the kingdom of god if they sacrifice enough.
I believe the treasure and pearl parables do not gain more of a specific meaning with a larger apocalyptic context. I personally think the weed interpretation is actually the best parable because it entails more realistic demands. A person has either been sown from the kingdom of God, or by the hand of the devil. When the harvest comes it will be cut and dry who is going to the furnace. When talking about treasure hidden in a field and one great pearl, I feel that there is more of a stretch of the interpretation. Being seen a seed of the devil is a lot more clear than not wanting to sell all of your possessions to obtain a pearl, where the pearl represents the kingdom of God. The grain and weed do not require the selling/trading of material items to reach the kingdom, that is why I do not think the pearl and treasure parables gain more.