The Parable of the Leavening Process -- By: Mark L. Bailey

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 156:621 (Jan 1999)
Article: The Parable of the Leavening Process
Author: Mark L. Bailey


The Parable of the Leavening Process*

Mark L. Bailey

The parable of the leavening process follows the parable of the mustard seed in Matthew and Luke. As in that parable Matthew used a statement of introduction (“The kingdom of heaven is like,” Matt. 13:20), compared to the introductory question in Luke 13:20 (“To what shall I compare the kingdom of God?”). The parable itself is virtually identical in Matthew and Luke. Like that of the mustard seed the analogy in Matthew is said to concern “the kingdom of heaven,” whereas in Luke it is “the kingdom of God.”1

The Setting

Spoken on the great day of Sabbath controversy and rejection, this is the second of two growth parables, the fourth parable in Matthew 13, and the last of those spoken by Jesus to the crowd beside the Sea of Galilee. After the parable Jesus explained why He used the parabolic method with the crowds, adding a validating Old Testament quotation from Psalm 78:2 (LXX, 77:2). Hunter’s argument for calling this the parable of the “leavening process” is impressive. “The Kingdom. .. is being compared not to the leaven but to what happens when you put leaven into a batch of meal-a heaving, panting mass, swelling and bursting with bubbles, and all the commotion indicating something live and at work below: in one phrase, a ferment, pervasive, dynamic, resistless.”2 The emphasis is on the dynamic of permeation more than simply a referent identification for leaven.

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

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

The Need or Problem Prompting the Parable

As with all the parables various motives have been proposed for this one. Drury links it with the two previous ones as stressing the “intermediate state of confusion, littleness, and hiddenness” in which “the confusion will clarify, the littleness grow, and the hiddenness be seen.”3 Some see the purpose as an encouragement to the disciples who may have felt intimidated because of opposition. For example Blomberg sees the parable as a counter to “defeatism or siege mentality when Christian...

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