Matthew 13:3

ESV And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow.
NIV Then he told them many things in parables, saying: 'A farmer went out to sow his seed.
NASB And He told them many things in parables, saying, 'Behold, the sower went out to sow;
CSB Then he told them many things in parables, saying, "Consider the sower who went out to sow.
NLT He told many stories in the form of parables, such as this one: 'Listen! A farmer went out to plant some seeds.
KJV And he spake many things unto them in parables, saying, Behold, a sower went forth to sow;

What does Matthew 13:3 mean?

The setting for this long teaching session to follow has been established. Jesus sits on a boat a little out from the shore of the Sea of Galilee. A large crowd stands on the beach to listen (Matthew 13:1–2). Matthew now reveals that Jesus will speak to them in "parables."

The word "parable" is a combination of the Greek words para and ballō, literally meaning "to throw alongside." Most parables are like sermon illustrations. They use some example or story from everyday life to bring to light the truth of an idea. Simply stating a spiritual idea is one thing; connecting it to a story makes it much easier to understand and remember. At the same time, parables—when not explicitly explained—can also disguise the full message. This is a point Jesus will make later in this very chapter (Matthew 13:10–11).

This raises an important caution about parables: it is tempting to read meanings into them which are not intended. Not every minute detail in a parable necessarily lines up with some exact point about the kingdom of heaven. Parables, by their very nature, are meant to give a general sense of an idea, not the tiniest details. For instance, this verse begins a parable about a person "sowing" seeds, which involves throwing or scattering them. However, this does not mean believers ought to randomly or casually "toss" the gospel into the world. Trying to read such minute detail out of a parable completely misses the point.

Teachers throughout the ages have used parables in their teaching. Many of Jesus' parables begin with the words "the kingdom of heaven is like…" So far in Matthew's gospel, the heart of Jesus' teaching has been that the kingdom of heaven is near. The parables serve several functions, but one is to give those who can understand a better idea of what Jesus means when He talks about the kingdom of heaven. Christ will interpret two of the parables for His disciples, to help them better understand their meaning and how to think about parables, in general.

The first of Jesus' parables in this chapter begins by introducing a seed-sower. Aside from the fishing industry, Galilee was an overwhelmingly rural and agricultural region. Those gathered on the beach listening would immediately have seen in their minds the picture of a sower, someone planting a field. He or she would carry seeds in a pouch (or perhaps in the folds of a garment). He would grab a handful of those seeds and toss them out across the field as he walked methodically to gain the maximum coverage.

Many of Jesus' parables describe agricultural settings. Elite teachers may not have been concerned with being understood by the common people. Jesus, though, uses language and images the common people will recognize.
What is the Gospel?
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