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÷÷MARK 4



The Parable of the Sower The Parable of the Sower Teaching in Parables The Parable of the Sower Parable of the Sower
4:1-9 4:1-9 4:1-9 4:1-2 4:1-9
The Purpose of the Parables The Purpose of Parables   The Purpose of Parables Why Jesus Spoke in Parables
The Parable of the Sower Explained The Parable of the Sower Explained   Jesus Explains the Parable of the Sower The Parable of the Sower Explained
4:13-20 4:13-20 4:13-20 4:13-20 4:13-20
A Light Under a Bushel Light Under a Basket   A Lamp Under a Bowl Receiving and Handling the Teaching of Jesus
4:21-23 4:21-25 4:21-25 4:21-23 4:21-23
        Parable of the Measure
4:24-25     4:24-25 4:24-25
The Parable of the Growing Seed The Parable of the Growing Seed The Seed Growing


The Parable of the Growing Seed Parable of the Seed Growing by Itself
4:26-29 4:26-29 4:26-29 4:26-29 4:26-29
The Parable of the Mustard Seed The Parable of the Mustard Seed The Mustard Seed The Parable of the Mustard Seed Parable of the Mustard Seed
4:30-32 4:30-32 4:30-32 4:30-32 4:30-32
The Use of Parables Jesus' Use of Parables     The Use of Parables
4:33-34 4:33-34 4:33-34 4:33-34 4:33-34
The Calming of A Storm Wind and Wave Obey Wind and Sea Calmed Jesus Calms a Storm The Calming of the Storm
4:35-41 4:35-41 4:35-41 4:35-38 4:35-41

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Bible Interpretation Seminar")


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

  1. First paragraph
  2. Second paragraph
  3. Third paragraph, etc.


A. The next several chapters in Mark reflect the growing opposition of the religious leaders. Mark contrasts Jesus' popularity with the crowds with His unpopularity with the religious leadership.


B. Jesus has moved from synagogue preaching to open air meetings. This was one way of reducing the influence of the religious leadership and accentuating the opportunity of the general population to hear His words.


C. The understanding of parables was and is related to a prior faith commitment. Even the Apostles did not initially understand Jesus' parabolic teachings. In some ways understanding is dependent upon

1. election

2. the illuminating power of the Spirit

3. a willingness to repent and believe

Understanding involves a divine empowering and a human faith response!


D.  "Parable" is a compound word in Greek meaning "to throw alongside." Common occurrences were used to illustrate spiritual truths. However it must be remembered that to Gospel writers this Greek word reflected the Hebrew mashal (BDB 605), which meant "riddle" or "proverb," a word of wisdom. One must be willing to rethink issues and expected outcomes in light of the surprising nature of the kingdom of God which is now present in Jesus. For some hearers parables hide truth (cf. Mark 4:10-12).


E. The parables in Mark 4 have parallels in Matthew and Luke


Mark Matthew Luke
The Four Soils
A Light Hidden
The Seed Growing
The Mustard Seed
Use of Parables
(cf. Mark 4:10-12)






F. The Parable of the Soils or the Parable of the Sower, found in all the Synoptic Gospels, is the interpretive key to the others. Jesus took time to explain it in private to the disciples. Until this they did not understand, so what is the chance that others did? This parable has typological and/or allegorical aspects, which must be identified or the intended meaning is lost.


G. Mark 4:21-25 is repeated in Matthew in different contexts:

Mark 4:21 – Matthew 5:15

Mark 4:22 – Matthew 10:26

Mark 4:24 – Matthew 7:2

Mark 4:25 – Matthew 13:12; 25:29

There are at least two explanations

1. Jesus repeated and reapplied His teachings and illustrations to different groups at different times.

2. The Gospel writers are selecting, arranging, and adapting Jesus' words for their own literary and theological purposes (cf. How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Gordon Fee and Doug Stuart, pp. 113-134).


H. Mark records a series of miracles which reveal Jesus' power and authority in Mark 4:35-8:26. The miracles were meant to confirm the truthfulness of Jesus' radical new teachings. He made Himself the issue!


Special Topic: Interpreting Parables


÷MARK 4:1-9

 1He began to teach again by the sea. And such a very large crowd gathered to Him that He got into a boat in the sea and sat down; and the whole crowd was by the sea on the land. 2And He was teaching them many things in parables, and was saying to them in His teaching, 3"Listen to this! Behold, the sower went out to sow; 4as he was sowing, some seed fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate it up. 5Other seed fell on the rocky ground where it did not have much soil; and immediately it sprang up because it had no depth of soil. 6And after the sun had risen, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away. 7Other seed fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked it, and it yielded no crop. 8Other seeds fell into the good soil, and as they grew up and increased, they yielded a crop and produced thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold." 9And He was saying, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear."

4:1 "He began to teach again by the sea" This was not something entirely new (cf. Mark 2:13; 3:7), but now that the synagogue was becoming increasingly closed to Him, He continued these open air teaching services. Jesus wanted the common person to have access to Him and His teachings.

▣ "such a very large crowd gathered" There was a large crowd, but the parable implies that few responded. The presence of a large crowd is a recurrent theme in Mark (cf. Mark 2:13; 3:9; 4:1,36; 5:31; 7:33; 8:1,2; 9:14,17; 14:43; 15:8).

▣ "a boat" This Greek term referred to a sail boat. In Mark 3:9 Jesus asked for a waiting row boat in case the pressure of the crowd became too great. It then would became a speaking platform. Every sick person wanted to touch Him. What a press this must have caused.

▣ "sat down" One wonders if Jesus' sitting (i.e., versus standing) reflects the cultural norm of Jewish teachers (i.e., the rabbis sat to teach) or if this was caused by the instability of the boat.

▣ "on the land" Jesus may have been using the natural voice amplification of the water to speak to such a large crowd.

4:2 "He was teaching them" This is an imperfect active indicative meaning He taught again and again (i.e., "many things").

▣ "parables" See Special Topic: Interpreting Parables.

4:3 "'Listen to this'" This is a present active imperative. Remember, parables were given orally. The rabbis would teach, then summarize, then illustrate. Jesus follows this pattern (cf. William L. Blevins' Birth of a New Testament, pp. 1-13).

▣ "sower" This was a very common sight in Galilee. This parable makes so much sense when one realizes how these village farmers plowed all of the ground around their villages. These farrows were across paths, weeds, etc. Then they sowed the entire field by hand. Jesus used this common practice to illustrate spiritual receptivity (i.e., four kinds of soils).

4:4 "beside the road" This refers to the public footpaths through the collective fields of the villages. When these fields were plowed the trails disappeared briefly but they quickly reappeared with use.

4:5 "rocky ground" This referred to a rocky formation, under just a few inches of soil, not loose rocks in the field. The shallowness of the soil was not obvious to the viewer.

4:7 "among the thorns" This referred to the well-established thorn patches that were also not visible after plowing.

4:8 "yielded a crop and produced thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold" Different types of soil and location allowed different amounts of fruit. There are several manuscript variants related to the preposition en. However, the variety of Greek manuscript variations really does not change the meaning of the text. Probably all three should be en, which would follow an Aramaic influence.

4:9, 23 "'He who has ears to hear, let him hear'" This is a Semitic idiom. It shows the need for careful thought and personal application (cf. Matt. 11:15; 13:9,43; Luke 8:8; 14:35; Rev. 2:7,11,17,29; 3:6,13,22; 13:9). This probably reflects the Hebrew prayer, the Shema (cf. Deut. 6:4), which meant "to hear so as to do." Hearing must result in action (cf. James 2:14-26).

÷MARK 4:10-12

 10As soon as He was alone, His followers, along with the twelve, began asking Him about the parables. 11And He was saying to them, "To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God, but those who are outside get everything in parables, 12so that while seeing, they may see and not perceive, and while hearing, they may hear and not understand, otherwise they might return and be forgiven."

4:10 "As soon as He was alone" This means alone with the disciples. They were apparently embarrassed to ask questions in public. It is obvious they did not understand the parable.

4:11 "To you has been given" This is perfect passive indicative. We are responsible stewards of the spiritual truths we possess. "To whom much is given, much is required" (cf. Luke 12:48).

This private teaching, which seems to be a regular occurrence, may explain the differences between the Synoptic Gospels and John's Gospel. Jesus speaks very differently in John. It is possible that the parabolic teachings, so common in the Synoptics, was done before the crowds and that the totally different style (i.e., "I Am" statements) were done in private with the disciples and this is what the Gospel of John records.

It is just possible that this whole issue of special instruction for the Twelve may have functioned in the early church as a way of accentuating Apostolic authority. They, and they alone, knew the "true" interpretation of Jesus' words. All revelation comes through these chosen and inspired disciples.

▣ "the mystery" This is the Greek term mustērion. It is used in the NT in several different senses. In this context it is revealed truth which the leaders and the crowd could not comprehend (cf. Isa. 6:9-10).

Special Topic: Mystery in the Gospels

▣ "kingdom of God" See note at Mark 1:15.

Special Topic: The Kingdom of God

▣ "but those who are outside" The Holy Spirit and personal receptivity are both needed to understand spiritual truth. Those who reject the Spirit commit the sin of Mark 3:29. Parables had the dual purpose of hiding truth (cf. Matt. 11:25-27) and clearly revealing truth (cf. Luke 10:29 and the parable that follows). The heart of the hearer is the key.

4:12 This quote is from an Aramaic Targum of Isa. 6:9. The Matthean parallel from the Septuagint quotes both Isa. 6:9 and 10. Isaiah's preaching was rejected by the hard-headed Israelites he addressed in the eighth century b.c. Jesus' hearers in the first century a.d. similarly rejected His teaching. subjunctive verbs dominate this quote, which shows the volitional contingency on the part of the hearers.

Although Mark is writing to Gentiles, probably Romans, he often alludes to OT texts (cf. Mark 1:2-3; 2:25-26; 4:12; 10:6-8,19; 12:26,29-31,36).

▣ "they might return" This was the OT (i.e., shub, BDB 996) term for repentance.

Special Topic: Repentance (OT)

÷MARK 4:13-20

 13And He said to them, "Do you not understand this parable? How will you understand all the parables? 14The sower sows the word. 15These are the ones who are beside the road where the word is sown; and when they hear, immediately Satan comes and takes away the word which has been sown in them. 16In a similar way these are the ones on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy; 17and they have no firm root in themselves, but are only temporary; then, when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately they fall away. 18And others are the ones on whom seed was sown among the thorns; these are the ones who have heard the word, 19but the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. 20And those are the ones on whom seed was sown on the good soil; and they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold."

4:13 "Do you not understand this parable? How will you understand all the parables" This statement is unique to Mark, but shows that Jesus expected the disciples to understand. His family did not understand, the crowds did not understand, the religious leaders did not understand, and even the disciples, without special attention and explanation, did not understand.

This parable is a paradigm for the others. Here are several key principles for interpreting parables:

  1. take note of the historical and literary contexts
  2. identify the central truth
  3. do not push the details
  4. check the Gospel parallels
  5. look for the unexpected twist or culturally surprising statement which will be the call to action based on the new kingdom ethic

4:14 The seed refers to gospel proclamation. Matthew's parallel (cf. Mark 13:19) calls it "the word of the Kingdom."

4:15 "Satan" This robbery of truth is expressed so clearly in 2 Cor. 4:4. The Matthew parallel (cf. Matt. 13:19) adds that "they do not understand it," then Satan takes it out of the mind and heart so they don't think more about it.

Special Topic: Satan

▣ "takes away" This Greek term airō can mean

  1. to destroy (cf. John 11:48)
  2. to take a person's life (cf. Luke 23:18; Acts 12:19)

No word, no life!

4:16 "when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy" Initial acceptance of a truth is not the only criterion (cf. Mark 4:17 and 19). Biblical faith is not based on a past emotional decision, but on a growing relationship. Salvation is not a fire insurance policy or a ticket to heaven, but a restored "image of God," which allows intimate, daily fellowship with God. A joyful germination is no substitute for a fruit-bearing relationship (cf. Mark 4:20).

4:17 "and they have no firm root in themselves" This parallels John's use of believe in Mark 8:30ff.

Special Topic: Apostasy

▣ "when affliction or persecution arises" Perseverance is the evidence of true faith.

Special Topic: The Need to Persevere

▣ "because of the word" Notice that persecution is related to the gospel (cf. Matt. 5:10-12; 1 Pet. 2:11-12,21; 3:14-17; 4:12-16). God's Son, God's word, and God's people are targets in a fallen world.

4:18 The third kind of soil refers to those who hear the word, but external problems (cf. Mark 4:19) cause it (i.e., the seed – the word) to die. Notice the clear difference between germination and fruit-bearing! A good start does not win the race, but a good finish (cf. John 15; Hebrews 11).

4:19 "worries of the world and deceitfulness of riches" These refer to the temptations of this fallen world (or age).

4:20 "thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold" The amount is not as significant as the fruit bearing!

÷MARK 4:21-25

 21And He was saying to them, "A lamp is not brought to be put under a basket, is it, or under a bed? Is it not brought to be put on the lampstand? 22For nothing is hidden, except to be revealed; nor has anything been secret, but that it would come to light. 23If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear." 24And He was saying to them, "Take care what you listen to. By your standard of measure it will be measured to you; and more will be given you besides. 25For whoever has, to him more shall be given; and whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him."

4:21 "lamp" The first two questions of Mark 4:21 grammatically expect a "no" answer. Light is meant to illuminate. Belief is meant to bear fruit. This paragraph explains why many did not understand Jesus' parables. The parables are meant to illumine, but human's evil hearts and motives, not God, block the light. God wants to communicate (cf. Mark 4:22).

Jesus, in light of the immediate context, must be speaking of the future proclamation of the full gospel after His resurrection and ascension. The recurring Messianic Secret of Mark, the concealing of truth caused by the use of parables, and the lack of understanding on the part of the inner circle of disciples demands this be seen in a future context (i.e., post-Pentecost).

▣ "basket" This was a container holding about a peck or two gallons of dry measure. This term is a Latinism, probably confirming that Mark's Gospel was written for Romans.

▣ "a bed" Literally this is "pallet." This was used not only for sleeping (cf. Mark 7:30), but for a cushion while eating in a reclining position.

▣ "lampstand" This could refer to several different ways by which lights were positioned so as to give off the most illumination:

  1. an out-cropping in the wall
  2. a hanger on the wall
  3. some type of pedestal

4:23 "if" This is a first class conditional sentence. Jesus is assuming that some (eventually) will understand His person, mission, and promises.

4:24-25 This states a spiritual principle. The gospel message is scattered abroad; the key to growth is the type of soil on which it falls. Mankind's openness to spiritual truth is crucial. This not only refers to initial response but continuing response. A shallow, emotional response will be rejected.

4:24 "Take care what you listen to" This refers to the personal acceptance or rejection of Jesus. The rabbis believed that the mind was a plowed garden ready for seed. What we let our eyes see and ears hear (cf. Mark 4:9,23) takes root. We become what we dwell on, focus on, make priority!

▣ "by your standard of measure it will be measured to you" This verse has nothing to do with financial giving, but with spiritual discernment. This truth is also expressed in Matt. 5:7; 6:14-15; 18:21-35; Mark 11:25; Luke 6:36-37; James 2:13; 5:9. This is not a works righteousness, but the truth that how one acts reveals his heart. Believers have a new heart and a new family.

4:25 When it comes to the gospel, it continues to give and give to those who have responded, but to those who reject it, it leaves nothing! Jesus is using a paradoxical proverb (cf. Mark 4:22,25;6:4; 8:35; 10:43-44). This was typical of near eastern teachers.

This passage employs a passive construction, which is probably a circumlocution for God. God is the unexpressed agent of the action.

Special Topic: Eastern Literature (biblical paradoxes)

÷MARK 4:26-29

 26And He was saying, "The kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the soil; 27and he goes to bed at night and gets up by day, and the seed sprouts and grows—how, he himself does not know. 28The soil produces crops by itself; first the blade, then the head, then the mature grain in the head. 29But when the crop permits, he immediately puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come."

4:26 "seed" This parable is unique to Mark. Because of Mark 4:14 we know this refers to the gospel message. Growth is a result of good seed and good soil. This is the divine and human aspects of covenant.

4:27-29 This may reflect salvation as a process (cf. 1 Cor. 1:18; 15:2; 2 Cor. 2:15; 2 Pet. 3:18). This parable describes the mysterious and amazing growth of faith in the life of the fallen children of Adam. The goal is fruit!

Secial Topic: Salvation (Greek verb tenses)

4:29 "puts in the sickle" This is a metaphor for the end-time harvesting. It refers to judgment day (cf. Joel 3:13; Matt. 3:12; 13:30).

÷MARK 4:30-32

 30And He said, "How shall we picture the kingdom of God, or by what parable shall we present it? 31It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the soil, though it is smaller than all the seeds that are upon the soil, 32yet when it is sown, it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and forms large branches; so that the birds of the air can nest under its shade."

4:30 This is paralleled in Matt. 13:31-32.

4:31 "a mustard seed" The rabbis said it was the smallest of seeds. Yet the bush grew to over twelve feet tall. This parable parallels the one above. Spiritual growth may start small, but the results are enormous! As the seed of the gospel grows in the heart of an individual into Christlikeness, so too, the kingdom of God grows into a universal kingdom (cf. Matt. 13:33).

4:32 The end of this verse may be an allusion to the huge trees in the OT texts of Ezek. 17:22-24 and Dan. 4:11-12 that represent a kingdom.

÷MARK 4:33-34

 33With many such parables He was speaking the word to them, so far as they were able to hear it; 34and He did not speak to them without a parable; but He was explaining everything privately to His own disciples.

4:33 "With many such parables He was speaking the word to them" We only have recorded a small part of Jesus' oral ministry (cf. John 21:25). All of us wish we had more of Jesus' teachings and actions (cf. John 20:30), but we need to realize that we have everything we need to know about God, sin, life, death, etc (cf. John 20:31). We must act on what we have been given. These two verses are parallel to Matt. 13:33-35.

▣ "so far as they were able to hear it" This refers to their spiritual receptivity (cf. Mark 4:9,23). Believers today have the benefit of the indwelling Holy Spirit to help us understand Jesus' words.

4:34 This reflects the previous statements of Mark 4:10-12 and 13.

÷MARK 4:35-41

 35On that day, when evening came, He said to them, "Let us go over to the other side." 36Leaving the crowd, they took Him along with them in the boat, just as He was; and other boats were with Him. 37And there arose a fierce gale of wind, and the waves were breaking over the boat so much that the boat was already filling up. 38Jesus Himself was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke Him and said to Him, "Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?" 39And He got up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, "Hush, be still." And the wind died down and it became perfectly calm. 40And He said to them, "Why are you afraid? How is it that you have no faith?" 41They became very much afraid and said to one another, "Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?"

4:35-41 This begins an extended context of miracles, Mark 4:35-8:26. Jesus confirmed His message by showing His power. This specific event is paralleled in Matt. 8:18,23-27 and Luke 8:22-25.

4:36 This verse has several odd features not found in the parallels.

  1. What does "just as He was" mean? TEV translates it "the disciples got into the boat in which Jesus was already sitting." This seems to be the best option.
  2. What does "and other boats were with Him" refer to? Was the apostolic group in several small boats or did other boats also find themselves in the storm?

These are obviously eye-witness details (i.e., Peter's), but their purpose and implications are uncertain.

4:37 "And there arose a fierce gale of wind" Sudden violent storms are common on the Sea of Galilee because of the surrounding hills and its being situated below sea level. This must have been a particularly bad storm because even the seasoned fishermen among them became afraid.

4:38 This event was obviously used to depict Jesus' calm and the disciples' fear of current circumstances. The question about Jesus' care is a universal one. If God is loving and all powerful, why do believers face the threatening trials of life?

▣ perishing" See Special Topic: Destruction (apollumi).

4:39 This powerfully demonstrated the power and authority of Jesus—even inanimate forces of nature obey Him.

▣ "Hush, be still" This is a present active imperative followed by a perfect passive imperative. Jesus, as God the Father's agent of creation (cf. John 1:3,10; 1 Cor. 8:6; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2), had, and has, power over it (cf. Ps. 33:7; 65:2; 147:18).

4:40 This is a good question for all believers in every situation. Jesus is teaching His disciples by word and deed.

4:41 This verse clearly displays the theological infancy of the Apostles. The context contrasts several types of unbelief:

  1. His family's
  2. the religious leaders'
  3. the disciples'

Numbers 1 and 3 are spiritually growing. Their unbelief is based on ignorance, but number 2 is willful. They are given sign after sign, truth after truth, but because of preexisting biases the religious leaders not only refuse to believe, but attribute Jesus' actions and teachings to Satan's power! This is the unpardonable sin!


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

1. Why is this parable (Mark 4:3-5) so important in interpreting all others?

2. How is the relationship between God's sovereignty and man's free-will dealt with in this passage?

3. Give the central truth of these:

a. Mark 4:21-23

b. Mark 4:24-25

c. Mark 4:28-29

d. Mark 4:30-32

4. What is the basic truth of all these parables? (Remember context)

5. List the three groups in this context that do not believe.


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