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CAN THE PARABLE OF WHEAT AND TARES BE APPLIED TO THE CHURCH?

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A Thesis
Presented to
the Faculty of the Department of
Romanian Adventist Theological Institute

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In Partial Fulfillment
of the Requirements for the Degree
Master of Theology

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by
Jarai Zsolt Sebestyen
October 2014

CHAPTER 1
INTRODUCTION
RESEARCH PROPOSAL
Background of the Problem
In the Bible we find several parables for which it is given also the
explanation. On of them is the parable of the wheat and the tares written in Mt
13:24-30 with it's explanation in verses 36-43. But even though for most elements of
the parables it is given the meaning the parable had been understood and applied in
many ways. The key point for the different views is the field element, identified in
verse 38 with the world which is like a frame for the parable. I reviewed a number
of authors and I found that there are four mainstreams according to how scholars
relate to this element.
Field not discussed
As a first mainstream I found that some scholars don't mention in their
commentary of the parable what is the field referring to. For example Dwight
Pentecost1 speaks about other elements of the parable but he don't define it's frame. In
his view the parable's main idea is that Satan is active.

Dwight Pentecost, The Parables of Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1982), 50.

The explanation belongs to Matthew, it is allegorical


A group of scholars sustain that the explanation was added by Matthew to
the parable told by Jesus and it is an allegorical explanation. In this mainstream are
The Jesus Seminar2 and Joachim Jeremias3. The later affirms that the parable's
message is a call to patience but Matthew transformed it with his explanation to a
parable of the last judgment.
Field explained only as the world
Other scholars apply directly the parable to the world taking in
consideration the explanation given in the Bible. Robert H. Stein4 in his book An
Introduction to the Parables of Jesus says that we should take the field referring to the
world as all the nations of the world. But he finds that this is somehow in an apparent
contradiction with verse 41 where the field is also called His kingdom. Some of the
possible solutions for this problem presented in the book are that the explanation
belongs to Matthew and he either misinterpreted the parable or he was inconsistent.
However the author suggests a harmonization for this apparent contradiction. He
argues that at the end of the time when everything that causes sin and all who do evil
will be weed out or with other words they will not enter into the kingdom of God so
as it is in Rev 11:15 the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord
and of his Christ. So it is not a contradiction to call the coming world which will be
without evil His kingdom.

2
Robert Walter Funk, Bernard Brandon Scott, and James R. Butts, The Parables of Jesus:
Red Letter Edition: a Report of the Jesus Seminar (Sonoma, CA: Polebridge Press, 1988), 25.

Joachim Jeremias, The parables of Jesus (New York: C. Scribner's Sons, 1963), 86-87.

Robert H. Stein, An Introduction to the Parables of Jesus (Philadelphia: Westminster


Press, 1981), 142-146.
4

In the other hand the author sustains that we cannot identify the kingdom
with the church the visible, impure church arguing that in no sayings of Jesus is
such an association. The author concludes that the parable speaks about the final
judgment and till then it calls for patience.
Other two authors who do this direct application of the parable are
Campbell Morgan5 and Bernard Brandon6. The former resolves the apparent
contradiction of the question if the field associated with the world can also be named
as His kingdom as it is in verse 41 by mentioning a text from the Old Testament, Ps
24:1, where we read this: The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it, the world, and
all who live in it. He explains that the parable is about imitation, the sons of the evil
one are imitating the sons of the kingdom, but we must leave it like this.
Craig L. Blomberg not only suggests that we should take the field as
referring to the world but he says that those who applies this to the church, they do
this despite the verses in which we find the explanation of the parable. He accuses
them that they shift to hastily from meaning to significance, or from Sitz im Leben
Jesu to life-setting in early Christianity 7 In his conclusion he disagrees with the idea
to use this parable as a justification for doing nothing to attempt to purify the
church8 and he also disagrees with the idea of a mixed church.

Campbell Morgan, The Parables and Metaphors of Our Lord (New York: Fleming H.
Revell, 1943), 49-54.
5

6
Bernard Brandon Scott, Hear Then the Parable: A Commentary on the Parables of Jesus
(Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1989), 313-314 .

Craig Blomberg, Interpreting the Parables (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press,

1990), 199.
Ibid., 200.

Field understood as referring also to the church


An another mainstream is to apply this parable to the church too. Well
known Christian representatives sustained this idea, starting with Augustine who
associates the tares with evil Christians and the field with the Church.9 In discussions
with Donatists which sustained the idea of a pure, Holy church without defilement,
Augustine used this parable as a proof that the Lord himself had not contemplated
his Church in its present state as perfectly free from evil.10 The catholic vision we
find in recent books also.11
Calvin12 catch up with Augustine's idea and says Christ afterwards adds
that the field is the world, yet he undoubtedly intended to apply this designation, in a
peculiar manner, to the Church, about which he had commenced the discourse.
Wesley makes a statement close to this Who sowed good seed in his field - God
sowed nothing but good in his whole creation. Christ sowed only the good seed of
truth in his Church.13
We find this view also in a number of Bible commentaries. The Seventhday Adventist Bible Commentary14 when speaking about the field it speaks first of all
Philip Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers. 1st Series, 14 vols. (Peabody, MA:
Hendrickson, 1995), 6:335.
9

Richard Chenevix Trench, Notes on the Parables of Our Lord (New-York: D. Appleton
& Company, 1855), 76.
10

Bla Tarjnyi, Evangliummagyarzatok II.: Pldabeszdek (Budapest: Szt. J.


Bibliatrsulat, 1998), 95-104.
11

12

Jean Calvin, A Harmony of the Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke (Grand Rapids, MI:
Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 1972), 100.

Wesley, John. Wesley's Notes on the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics
Ethereal Library), 35-36.
13

14

"Matthew, SDA Bible Commentary, ed. F. D. Nichol (Washington, DC: Review 11


and Herald Pub. Assn., 1953-57), 5:407.

about the world but later on it applies to the church also. In Commentary Critical and
Explanatory on the Whole Bible, when it speaks about tares it says 'false brethren'
among the members of the Church.15 The World Biblical Commentary first states that
the field [] cannot have been understood as the Church by the evangelist or his
readers.16 But later on, in the explanation of the parable it don't excludes the church
neither: The present age is thus one in which human society (and thus even the
Church) is a mixture of those of the evil one and those of the kingdom.17 Another
scholars who make this parable stand for the church is William Bengo Collyer.18
Statement of the Problem
Can the parable of Wheat and Tares from Matthew 13:21-30 be applied to
the church?
Claim
I think that we can apply this parable to the church. So by this study I want
to bring arguments for this claim. Most of those who applied this parable to the
church they did that without arguing why can they to that.
Justification for the Research
Richard Chenevix Trench gives a big importance for the study of the
association of the filed with the world. He says Over these few words, simple as they

Jamieson Robert, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown, A Commentary Critical and


Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1940), commentary on Mt 13:27,30.
15

16
Bruce M. Metzger, David Allan Hubbard, and Glenn W. Barker. Word Biblical
Commentary (Waco, Tex: Word Books, 1982), 33a:393.
17

Ibid., 395.

Collyer, William Bengo. Lectures on Scripture Parables (London: Black and Co.,
Walker & Edwards and Sherwood, Neely & Jones, 1815), 259.
18

may seem, there has perhaps been more contention than over any single phrase in the
Scripture, if we except the consecrating words at the Holy Eucharist.19 I think that
even though it is not that important but well understood this association we can
understand better the message of the parable and we can make right conclusions
referring to the church.
Methodology
Some of those who applied this parable to the church presented some
arguments but I want to add to their arguments the study of the word in
relation with the parable.

Richard Chenevix Trench, Notes on the Parables of Our Lord (New-York: D. Appleton
& Company, 1855), 76.
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CHAPTER 2
ARGUMENTATION
In the explanation of the parable Jesus associated the field with the world
(v. 41). The word which appears here, in the original language is for which
the most simple translation is the world. To see what this word means exactly, I
consulted different dictionaries. In A Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels20 we find 11
different ways of understanding this word. It is a very general word and the authors of
the Bible used it in different contexts with different meanings.
In The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia21 we find a more general
description of this word:
the material universe, as the great example of such order; then the moral
universe, the total system of intelligent creatures, perhaps sometimes including
angels (1Co 4:9), but as a rule human beings only; then, in view of the fact of
universal human failure, humanity in its sinful aspect, the spirit and forces of
fallen humanity regarded as antagonistic to God and to good, "all around us
which does not love God."
This dictionary advises us to analyze the context in order to find out the
most appropriate meaning of the word in the context by saying: The reader will find
the context a sure clue in all cases, and the study will be pregnant of instruction.22
While we analyze this word in it's context and in the larger context of the New
20

Robert Law, World, A Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels (1906).

21

Handley Dunelm, World (General), The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia

22

Ibid.

(1939).

Testament we have in mind the question of this study can we apply this parable to the
church? As such we want to see if this word includes also the church or put in an
another way does this word refers to the church also?
In the close context we see that is the explanation for the field. In
the parable the field goes through different stages. In the beginning it is an empty field
with nothing on it. The parable starts with the image of the sower who sows good
seed in the field. In this stage the field is wholly composed of wheat. As a next step
the enemy comes and sows between the wheat tares. In this stage the field is
composed of wheat and tares which grow together. The end of the parable is the
harvest when the weeds are collected and tied in bundles to be burned and the wheat
is gathered into the sowers barn.
In the initial state, before the parable's actions take place the field is an
empty place, it is like a frame for the parable. This being associated with the world the
best description of this it would be the created world, the whole word, our planet23
By this I suggest that we are told that the parable is referring to a situation which is
happening in the world, on our planet.
When we analyze the stage when only wheat can be found on the field it is
impossible to say that it cannot be applied to the church. A place where the sons of the
kingdom can be found is not else that the church. From here we go on to the next
stage when the enemy sows weed between the wheat. It is important to observe that
the weed it is sowed where the wheat is. Here we can refer to the former stage when
there was the field containing only wheat which I associated with the church. So the
weed is sowed in the church.
23

jszvetsgi grg-magyar sztr (1996), s.v. .

This view can be supported with Bible verses from the larger context of
the New Testament where we find verses containing the word referring to
the word with the church included or even some verses which use this word referring
to believers. Let us examine a list of such verses.
Matthew 26:13; I tell you the
truth, wherever this gospel is preached

World church included, or


especially in the church

throughout the world, what she has done


will also be told, in memory of her.
1 Peter 5:9; Resist him,
standing firm in the faith, because you

World containing the


brothers, members of the church

know that your brothers throughout the


world are undergoing the same kind of
sufferings.
John 12:19; So the Pharisees
said to one another, "See, this is getting

World those who were


interested in Jesus

us nowhere. Look how the whole world


has gone after him!"
John 18:20; I have spoken
openly to the world, Jesus replied. "I

World gathering of the


belivers

always taught in synagogues or at the


temple, where all the Jews come together.
I said nothing in secret.
1 John 4:17; In this way, love
is made complete among us so that we

World Those who are like


Him are in this world

will have confidence on the day of


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judgment, because in this world we are


like him.
John 6:33; For the bread of

World for those who belive,

God is he who comes down from heaven accept what Jesus offers
and gives life to the world.

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CHAPTER 3
CONCLUSIONS
The question of this study was if we can apply the parable of Wheat and
Tares to the Church? We saw that different scholars saw this problem in different
ways. Some of them argued that we cannot do this. Others applied it to the church but
without giving sound arguments for it. By analyzing the word in it's near
and larger context in this study I can add one more argument that we can apply this
parable to the church also.

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BIBLIOGRAPHY
Blomberg, Craig. Interpreting the Parables. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press,
1990.
Calvin, Jean. A Harmony of the Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke. Grand Rapids,
MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 1972.
Collyer, William Bengo. Lectures on Scripture Parables. London: Printed for Black
and Co., Walker & Edwards [and] Sherwood, Neely & Jones, 1815.
Dunelm, Handley. World (General). The International Standard Bible
Encyclopedia. Edited by James Orr. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub.
Co, 1939.
Funk, Robert Walter, Bernard Brandon Scott, and James R. Butts. The Parables of
Jesus: Red Letter Edition : a Report of the Jesus Seminar. Sonoma, CA:
Polebridge Press, 1988.
Hastings, James, Frederick C. Grant, and H. H. Rowley. Dictionary of the Bible. New
York: Scribner, 1963.
Jamieson, Robert, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown. A Commentary Critical and
Explanatory on the Whole Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1940.
Jeremias, Joachim. The parables of Jesus. New York: C. Scribner's Sons, 1963.
Law, Robert. World. A Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels. Edited by James
Hastings, John A. Selbie, and John C. Lambert. New York: C. Scribner's Sons,
1906.
Matthew. Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary. Edited by F. D. Nichol.
Washington, DC: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1953-57. 5:407.
Metzger, Bruce M., David Allan Hubbard, and Glenn W. Barker. Word Biblical
Commentary. 59 vols. Waco, Tex: Word Books, 1982.
Morgan, G. Campbell. The Parables and Metaphors of Our Lord. New York: Fleming
H. Revell, 1943.
Schaff, Philip. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers. 1st Series. 14 vols. Peabody, MA:
Hendrickson, 1995.

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Scott, Bernard Brandon. Hear Then the Parable: A Commentary on the Parables of
Jesus. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1989.

Stein, Robert H. An Introduction to the Parables of Jesus. Louisville: Westminster


John Knox Press, 1981.
Stein, Robert H. An Introduction to the Parables of Jesus. Philadelphia: Westminster
Press, 1981.
Tarjnyi, Bla. Evangliummagyarzatok II.: Pldabeszdek. Budapest:
Szt.J.Bibliatrsulat, 1998.
Trench, Richard Chenevix. Notes on the Parables of Our Lord. New-York: D.
Appleton & Company, 1855.
jszvetsgi grg-magyar sztr. Edited by Varga Zsigmond J. Budapest: Kalvin
Janos Kiadoja, 1996. S.v. .
Wesley, John. Wesley's Notes on the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics
Ethereal Library.

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