The Parable of the Mustard Seed -- By: Mark L. Bailey

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 155:620 (Oct 1998)
Article: The Parable of the Mustard Seed
Author: Mark L. Bailey


The Parable of the Mustard Seed*

Mark L. Bailey

Mark L. Bailey is Vice President for Academic Affairs, Academic Dean, and Professor of Bible Exposition at Dallas Theological Seminary, Dallas, Texas.

*This is article four in the eight-part series “The Kingdom in the Parables of Matthew 13.”

The parables of the mustard seed and of the leavening process are much briefer than the parables of the sower and of the tares and are sometimes called similitudes. The parable of the mustard seed is recorded in Matthew 13:31–32; Mark 4:30–32; and Luke 13:18–19. It is the only parable that all three Synoptic writers called a parable of the kingdom.

In Mark and Luke Jesus introduced the parable by asking two questions (Mark 4:30; Luke 13:18). In Matthew the parable is introduced as another in a series with the phrase, “He presented [παρέθηκεν, ‘placed before’] another [ἄλλην] parable” (Matt. 13:31). Matthew then changed from “the kingdom of heaven may be compared [ὡμοιώθη],” which was used in verse 24, to the formula that characterized the remaining five parables of this chapter, “the kingdom of heaven is like.” This formula, using the present tense with the comparative, is typical of Matthew.1 Matthew and Luke contain the same narrative form of the parable, but Matthew and Mark emphasized the contrast between the small beginnings and the great fulfillment. Donahue observed, “The three evangelists freely adapted an original parable to their own purpose.”2

The Setting

In Matthew and Mark the temporal and geographical settings are the same as those of the parables of the sower and the tares. The verbal continuity with the previous parables includes the catchwords of “sowing,” “seed,” and “field.” As for the literary setting in Matthew, this parable is the third one that revealed the mysteries of the kingdom, and the

first of two with themes of growth rather than planting.

The structure of the parable of the mustard seed in Mark is chiastic:

“when [it is] sown”

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