Parables from Matthew 13 - Meaning and interpretation

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Puritan Board Sophomore
Some debate arose between myself and some friends last night regarding the proper interpretation of the parables Jesus tells in Matthew 13, particularly these two:

31 He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field.
32 It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

33 He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.”

Now I don't have an official interpretation of the parable dealing with leaven and three measures of flour, but as far as the mustard seed one is concerned, I understand it thus: the mustard seed represents the true church in the New Testament era, which begins as a very small community, but gradually grows larger and larger than all other groups, and it is a benefit and a blessing to those who are even not a part of it (the birds).

Now this is my untrained interpretation of it, which seems to me to be a common sense reading of the parable to anyone who has no real extensive knowledge. What is your (and perhaps major historical figures') take on it?


Staff member
I think you're close, Steven. I would add that the kingdom of heaven looks small and insignificant to most people. And yet it will cover the entire earth one day. I think the birds are more part of the parable, and are not necessarily referring to something specific. The parable of the yeast is different, however, in that the significance lies in the secrecy of how the kingdom of God works. The Holy Spirit works in the hearts of people, not in outward conquering of land and people.


Puritan Board Sophomore

My friend, under the influence of a certain person who has been teaching at a local church lately, has interpreted the parable like this: firstly, there is no such thing as a mustard tree because mustard plants only grow to the size of six-foot bushes at best; so, he takes the mustard tree to be representative of an overly large community (basically, the "external" church, of which not every member is also a member of the "internal" or "real" church), and the birds are representative of dangerous reprobates who come in and spread false doctrines and teachings and such.

I don't think that's a plausible reading at all of the text. His argument was along these lines: birds represent evil and destructive forces in a parable told earlier in the dialogue, and therefore they should also represent evil and destructive forces in this one, as well. I think that is invalid as I think it is the nature of a parable to be isolated and present a completed picture entirely on its own, not borrowing from previous stories or parables to attain a complete meaning.


Puritan Board Junior
I think the birds are more part of the parable, and are not necessarily referring to something specific.

Just to "add to" what greenbaggins is saying about the "birds of the air", this is from John Gill and quite interesting:

So that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof: by "the birds of the air", some think angels are meant, compared to "birds" for their harmlessness and innocence; for their readiness and swiftness to do the will of God; and for their warbling notes and tuneful songs of praise; and who may be called birds "of the air", or heaven, because of their habitation: now these delight to be in the church, to be under the shadow of the Gospel ministry, and to look into the mysteries of it. Though rather, the saints and people of God are intended, who, in Scripture, are sometimes compared to particular birds; as to the eagle, the dove, and sparrow; and to birds in general, because timorous, weak, and defenceless, are exposed to danger, and wonderfully delivered, and are very subject to wander and go astray; and because of their chirpings, and singing songs of praise to their God and Redeemer; and to birds of the air or heaven, because they are heaven born souls, are partakers of the heavenly calling, and are pressing for, and soaring aloft towards the high calling of God in Christ: now the Gospel ministry, and the Gospel church state, are very useful to these; they "come" thereunto willingly, and cheerfully, deliberately, and with dependence on the grace and strength of Christ; humbly, under a sense of their own unworthiness, and yet with joy and thankfulness; heartily, and with their faces thitherwards, and they also "lodge" therein. This is what they desire, and their hearts are set upon; here they determine to be, and it is their happiness to be here; the shadow of Gospel ordinances is very delightful, very refreshing, and very fruitful to them, and under which saints dwell with great safety; and what a coming of these birds will there be hither, and a tabernacling of them herein, at the latter day! which are greatly designed in this part of the parable,
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