Monday, June 28, 2004

Parable of the Tares

In studying the parable of the tares (Matthew 13:24-30) this past week, I was amazed at how often interpreters missed a major teaching of the parable. What is surprising is that this truth is so self-evidently clear from Jesus' own interpretation of the parable(36-43). The question is what is the field in the parable? The answer seems obvious from Jesus, "the field is the world" (vs. 38). However, aside from a small handful of commentators, most identified the field as the church. Even John Calvin, a thoroughly careful interpreter of Scripture identified the field thus. Ridderbos and Kistlemaker were the only major commentators who accepted Jesus' own interpretation of his parable, and identified the field with the world. Why then do so many commentators seem to miss Jesus clear statement? I can think of two possible reasons. First, the other parables in this chapter and in the rest of Matthew are directed much more clearly to the church. While the simple equation of the kingdom and the church does not seem wise, they are clearly closely connected in Scripture. (The relation of he church and the kingdom would make a good future post!) So, since this connection is apparent in other places, one would naturally see this connection in this parable. Second, theologically, this interpreting is attractive. The visible church is clearly a mixed society of regenerate and unreasonable members; if the field were not so clearly identified as the world such a reading is natural.

However, Jesus is clear, the field is not the church, it is the world. While the first point is compelling, one should never explain away a passage's distinctiveness because it does not seem to mesh completely with everything else. To do so is to flatten the rich message which Scripture communicates. The parable of the tares teaches us much about the church, especially the churches relationship to the world in which it sojourns. Second, the truth that the visible church is a mixed church this side of the Lord's second coming is abundantly clear from both experience and Scripture. One needs spend only a little time in Paul's epistles to see this. For all that can trip up students of the Bible, even the most eminent ones, it is perplexing that sometimes how the simplest details prove to be so difficult.


Anonymous said...

hey i read it all by myself!!! hockd in foniks wurkd for mi!

Anonymous said...

I think you mean "hookd on fonix werkd fer meh."