What does Matthew 13:23 mean?
ESV: As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”
NIV: But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.'
NASB: But the one sown with seed on the good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces, some a hundred, some sixty, and some thirty times as much.'
CSB: But the one sown on the good ground--this is one who hears and understands the word, who does produce fruit and yields: some a hundred, some sixty, some thirty times what was sown."
NLT: The seed that fell on good soil represents those who truly hear and understand God’s word and produce a harvest of thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times as much as had been planted!'
KJV: But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.
Jesus is explaining the meaning behind His parable about the sower (Matthew 13:1–9), an enrichment given only to His disciples (Matthew 13:10–17). He has connected the seed that failed to produce fruitful plants to the kind of soil it fell on. That soil represented different kinds of people. Some did not understand. Others made a shallow commitment to the kingdom. Still others failed to thrive because of a focus on wealth and the cares of the world (Matthew 13:19–22).
Now, though, Jesus comes to the good soil. These are the people who both hear and understand the word of the kingdom, with Jesus as its king. They receive this teaching and commit to Him with a clear and steady focus. The result, like that of a successful crop of grain, is to reproduce themselves in service they provide. They also generate other, equally fruitful members, who also make a commitment to the Messiah and the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus describes yields of a hundredfold, sixtyfold, and thirtyfold. Commentators disagree on whether these would have been good crop yields for grain during Jesus' day. Perhaps they would have been excellent in the arid regions of Palestine and merely adequate in the more fertile areas of Israel. In either case, Jesus is not literally talking about grain. He is describing committed disciples who, through their service and teaching and example, lead others to understand and receive the word of the kingdom.
Interpreters and scholars differ on the exact application of these verses. A minority suggest Jesus means this to be a parable about eternal salvation versus eternal damnation. Others interpret this as a lesson about productive disciples versus unproductive followers. Most suggest the parable should be read within the context of Jesus' ministry to Israel; those who grow into productive plants are the Israelites who receive Jesus as the Messiah and become participants in the kingdom He is establishing. There are certainly useful parallels for salvation and discipleship, but the main context of the passage does not seem to be about those topics.
Matthew 13:18–23 explains the lesson behind the parable of the seed-thrower who dropped seeds on four different types of soil (Matthew 13:1–9). The hardpacked soil of the path represents those who don't understand teaching about the kingdom of heaven, so the evil one steals it away. The rocky soil is those who receive the Word gladly but fall away under pressure. The thorny soil is those who are unproductive because of the cares of life and lies about money. Only those who receive the Word and reproduce it represent the good soil. While this is an important explanation, Christians often differ about how those categories relate to specific issues such as salvation. The four groups represented are not necessarily meant to form a spectrum; each has its own lessons to teach.
Matthew 13 focuses mainly on a series of parables. Jesus first describes these to a large crowd along the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Later, in a house, He explains to the disciples the meanings of the parables of the sower, the weeds, and the fish caught in the net. Jesus then travels to Nazareth, teaches in the synagogue, and is rejected by the people of His original hometown.
Matthew 13 follows Jesus from the overcrowded house at the end of the previous chapter to a crowded beach on the Sea of Galilee. He teaches a large crowd in a series of parables, which He doesn't fully explain. However, He reveals their meaning to His disciples inside a nearby house. Jesus pictures the kingdom of heaven as a sower, a sabotaged field of wheat, a mustard seed, and a pearl dealer, among other things. He then travels to His original hometown of Nazareth where He is rejected by the people He grew up with. This leads Matthew back to depictions of Jesus' miracles, after sadly recording John the Baptist's death.
The Gospel of Matthew clearly shows the influence of its writer's background, and his effort to reach a specific audience. Matthew was one of Jesus' twelve disciples, a Jewish man, and a former tax collector. This profession would have required literacy, and Matthew may have transcribed some of Jesus' words as they were spoken. This book is filled with references to the Old Testament, demonstrating to Israel that Jesus is the Promised One. Matthew also includes many references to coins, likely due to his former profession. Matthew records extensive accounts of Jesus' teaching, more than the other three Gospels.
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