The Parable of the Sower

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Contents

Matthew 13:3-9, 18-23; Mark 4:3-20; Luke 8:4-15

Know ye not this parable? and how then will ye know all parables? Mark 4:13

Synopsis of Parable:

A sower went to sow. Some fell by the road, and birds ate it. Some fell on rocks and were burnt up. Some fell into thorns and were strangled. Some fell into soil, and bore fruit.

Parable Given in Response to:

Another parable by the seaside,(Matthew 13:1; Mark 4:1.) given to many people.(Luke 8:4.) Jesus spoke this parable first, before the Parable of the Tares.(Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43.)

Symbolism Chart

Symbol Meaning Verse Found Verse Interpreted
↓Sower He who Sows the Good Word Mark 4:3 Mark 4:14
↓The Seed The Word Mark 4:3 Mark 4:14
↓Seeds by the Way Side Men from whom Satan Stole the Word Mark 4:4 Mark 4:15
↓Seeds in the Stony Ground Men who Leave the Word when Persecution Comes Mark 4:5 Mark 4:16
↓Seeds in the Thorns Men who Heard the Word, but Cared More about this Life Mark 4:7 Mark 4:18
↓Seeds in the Soil Men who Heard the Word and Now Bear Fruit Mark 4:8 Mark 4:20

The Parable of the Sower

As presented in the King James Version of Mark 4:3-20
Click here to read the account in Matthew 13:3-9, 18-23.
Click here to read the account in Luke 8:4-15.


Mark 4:1And he began again to teach by the sea side: and there was gathered unto him a great multitude, so that he entered into a ship, and sat in the sea; and the whole multitude was by the sea on the land.
2And he taught them many things by parables, and said unto them in his doctrine,
3 Hearken; Behold, there went out a sower to sow:
4 And it came to pass, as he sowed, some fell by the way side, and the fowls of the air came and devoured it up.
5 And some fell on stony ground, where it had not much earth; and immediately it sprang up, because it had no depth of earth:
6 But when the sun was up, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away.
7 And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up, and choked it, and it yielded no fruit.
8 And other fell on good ground, and did yield fruit that sprang up and increased; and brought forth, some thirty, and some sixty, and some an hundred.
9And he said unto them, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.

10And when he was alone, they that were about him with the twelve asked of him the parable.
11And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables:
12 That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them.

13And he said unto them, Know ye not this parable? and how then will ye know all parables?
14 The sower soweth the word.
15 And these are they by the way side, where the word is sown; but when they have heard, Satan cometh immediately, and taketh away the word that was sown in their hearts.
16 And these are they likewise which are sown on stony ground; who, when they have heard the word, immediately receive it with gladness;
17 And have no root in themselves, and so endure but for a time: afterward, when affliction or persecution ariseth for the word's sake, immediately they are offended.
18 And these are they which are sown among thorns; such as hear the word,
19 And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful.
20 And these are they which are sown on good ground; such as hear the word, and receive it, and bring forth fruit, some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some an hundred.

Explanation of the Interpretation of Symbols

The Sower is He who Sows the Good Word Back to Top ↑

Who is the sower? Of this parable, this is the hardest question to answer, and one that benefits from the multiple retellings in the gospel. Jesus says, There went out a sower to sow. The sower soweth the word. Mark 4:3, 14 A sower went out to sow his seed. Luke 8:5 A sower went forth to sow. Matthew 13:3 It is only in Mark that Jesus interprets the sower for us, and he says that the sower is someone that spreads the word. So it could be Simon, Jeremy Bentham, you, or even me. There is nothing in the parable that disagrees with this interpretation or what Jesus said, The sower soweth the word. Mark 4:14

Most denominations agree that the sower is Jesus.

This interpretation has little basis. In the original Greek, articles like "the" and "a" do not exist, so we do not know by looking at the grammar if, in the parable, Jesus meant one specific sower, or just any sower. When looking at a broad variety of bible translations, they are split roughly 50-50 between putting "the" before "sower" and putting "a" before "sower." Even if this was not the case, since bible translations are made by groups of people with implicit biases, which show through in their translations, it would be foolish to trust theology on the translation on a grammar article that does not exist in the original language.

Since the original Greek cannot readily solve this problem, we must use our heads and look at the other accounts of the parable. In none of them did Jesus specify who exactly the sower was, he left it to be general. That is to say that anyone who sows the word could be the sower in this parable. Thus, the onus of burden to prove that it is Jesus is on those who claim it is Jesus, rather than anyone else that also spreads the word. Especially since if Jesus was the sower, he would have said so. He is not shy about saying he was a symbol in parables.(Matthew 13:37; John 10:7, 9, 11, 14.)

Logically, it makes sense that the sower is not Jesus. The sower does not necessarily make or provide the seeds; he sows them. Jesus, however, provided the seeds (the word). But it is not Jesus alone that spreads the word. While he was still alive, he had others spread the word.(Luke 10:1.) He told the eleven to continue spreading the word after his ascension.(Matthew 28:19, 20; Mark 16:15.) When the apostles found another man spreading word about Jesus, but not following the disciples, Jesus said to them: Forbid him not: for there is no man which shall do a miracle in my name, that can lightly speak evil of me. Mark 9:39 Were all these men only reapers, collecting the goods from people already familiar with the word? If that was the case, then why did Jesus instruct them to say unto them, The kingdom of God is come nigh unto you ?Luke 10:9 If they were ready to be harvested, they would have already have had the seed planted in them. These people must have gone out to sow the seeds in people.

You can sow what you will not reap, but it is impossible to reap what is not sowed. Let us make an example. If a modern person listening to an evangelist heard the word, and after thinking about it for fifty weeks sought a different evangelist to tell them more about the Father, who was it that sowed? We know the seed came from Jesus(John 3:16; 4:14; 5:24; 8:31; 14:6.) and is here to stay.(Matthew 24:35; Mark 13:31; Luke 21:33.) But without that evangelist, this person would not have heard of the word. Thus, it must have been the original evangelist that sowed the seed.

The interpretation that anyone can sow the word, and not just Jesus, works with the rest of the parable. Not all attempts of sowing the word are fruitful, and this was true of Jesus in the gospel and of us today. When a seed does finally fall on good ground, Jesus says that it yield[ed] fruit that sprang up and increased; and brought forth, some thirty, and some sixty, and some an hundred. Mark 4:8 Consider this. What is in fruit? Seeds. What was the parent plant grown from? Seeds. What would happen if the seeds were extracted and sowed again? If they were in good soil, they would bear fruit again! The seed came from Jesus, but who put the first seeds into the ground. Now we have grown from those seeds and plant our own fruit. We are the sowers.

The Seed is the Word Back to Top ↑

The sower soweth the word. Mark 4:14 This is hard to deny, even though the subject of that sentence is the sower, and not the seed. Some might somehow misunderstand, and think the seed is not the word. Fortunately, Jesus says plainly in another account The seed is the word of God. Luke 8:11 Jesus specifies this more, equating the word of God to the word of the kingdom. When any one heareth the word of the kingdom... Matthew 13:19

It is the word of God that is critical to be planted. Jesus referenced Deuteronomy when he said, It is written, That man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God. Luke 4:4 cf. Deuteronomy 8:3

And yet, it is not the Word of God given prior to Jesus that gives life. When answering some Jewish questioners, he said, Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape. And ye have not his word abiding in you: for whom he hath sent, him ye believe not. Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life. John 5:37-40 This is an interesting saying for multiple reasons. First, it shows that just reading the Old Testament does not put the Word in you. Second, those that have the Word look for Jesus. Third, it is Jesus, not the Old Testament, that gives life. Jesus claims that he is the one that gives life multiple times.(See John 3:36; 6:35; 8:12, 51; 11:25; 17:3.)

For this parable, it is the gospel of the kingdom that Jesus meant by referencing the seed. It was Jesus who came with the gospel of the kingdom. And it is the gospel that Jesus wanted spread when he said, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. Mark 16:15

As an aside, even though Jesus physically spoke the words, we call them the words of God because God gave the words to Jesus to speak. For I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak. John 12:49 Jesus confirms this and the status of the words later on in the fourth gospel: I have given them thy word...Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. John 17:14, 17

The Seeds by the Way Side are Men from whom Satan Stole the Word

These next four symbols are all reactions given by men when they hear the word. Of the first, the sower merely threw them to the side of the road. Jesus says of the men that receive these seeds that but when they have heard, Satan cometh immediately, and taketh away the word that was sown in their hearts. Mark 4:15

Admittedly, this is not the most descriptive explanation Mark could have given. Luke does no better, here Jesus is recorded as saying, Those by the way side are they that hear; then cometh the devil, and taketh away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. Luke 8:12 Once again, the men hear the word, then the devil comes and takes it out of them. It would seem odd that God would allow Satan to directly take beliefs and thoughts out of people.

Thankfully, Matthew records it better. Here, Jesus says When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side. Matthew 13:19 This time, we have important context we did not have in the other two verses, namely that the person who heard the word and does not understand it is the person to whom Satan steals the word from. Thus, it seems likely that the devil would be anyone trying to explain the kingdom to the confused person, but explaining it incorrectly. If they give an incorrect explanation, how is the confused person supposed to know the truth?

Some say that the seeds fallen on the wayside are those men who hear the word and ignore it. "In one ear and out the other," as they say. We disagree. Consider all the patches of dirt that do not have a seed land on it. These would be the men that did not hear the word. Consider now all the patches of dirt that a seed bounced off of them, but never landed. These would be the men that heard the word and instantly rejected it. Then consider the seed given in the parable where they landed on a patch of dirt. These are the people who do not understand, and when trying to figure it out, an enemy comes and takes the seed out of them like a bird might take a seed from the road.

If Nicodemus did not seek Jesus, he would be an example of a man whose seed fell on him on the roadside. Nicodemus was confused. Jesus said Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. John 3:3 Frankly, Nicodemus is right to be confused, that is a confusing statement to someone who has not had the benefit of hearing Jesus's other sayings. And so Nicodemus asks How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born?John 3:4 Even after Jesus explained a little, he was still confused, and asked again, How can these things be? John 3:9 Had Jesus not explained to Nicodemus what the gospel was, (see Jesus's response in John 3:14-21.) then surely Nicodemus's faith would have been taken away by his Pharisee brothers.(As it was, it seems his seed was fully planted because he defended Jesus among the Pharisees (John 7:45-52) and brought to Jesus's corpse burial spices (John 19:39)).

The Seeds in the Stony Ground are Men who Leave the Word when Persecution Comes Back to Top ↑

And these are they likewise which are sown on stony ground; who, when they have heard the word, immediately receive it with gladness; And have no root in themselves, and so endure but for a time: afterward, when affliction or persecution ariseth for the word's sake, immediately they are offended. Mark 4:16-17

These men are offended, possibly because they thought Jesus would solve everything. And yet, that is not what Jesus promises. Physically, Jesus tells us Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? Matthew 6:31 So regarding these things, we need not worry, because as Jesus says, your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. Matthew 6:32 But there is a condition. The very next thing Jesus says is But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Matthew 6:33 So, seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and then we can be assured water, food, and clothing.

Jesus said that persecution would come.(Matthew 5:11; 10:23; 23:34; Luke 11:49; 21:12; John 15:20.) Even if there was not persecution by other men, Jesus also said Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. John 15:2 Purging is not a pleasant process, and yet God will do it to us, regardless.

Jesus interprets another variation of this symbol. They on the rock are they, which, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away. Luke 8:13 We must understand the temptation here in the context of Jesus’s other sayings on this symbol. It is the temptation of listening to the persecutions and turning away from the Jesus in the gospels. The temptation to turn away from Jesus to learn how to play the piano or play more video games or focus on a job is in the next symbol.

The Seeds in the Thorns are Men who Heard the Word, but Cared More about this Life Back to Top ↑

And these are they which are sown among thorns; such as hear the word, And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful. Mark 4:18, 19

Jesus told us not to worry about food, water, and clothing.(Matthew 6:31-34; Luke 12:29-31.) If we should not worry about such foundational things like food and water, how then could we concern ourselves with money, entertainment, or finding a spouse?

Jesus was quite right to say that the cares of this world can choke the word. A man said to Jesus, Lord, I will follow thee; but let me first go bid them farewell, which are at home at my house. Luke 9:61 But Jesus would not even allow the man to say goodbye to his family, whom we can assume he loved. Instead, Jesus said, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God. Luke 9:62

Another man sought to follow Jesus, but he had one thing he wanted to do first. He asked Jesus, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father.Matthew 8:21 cf. Luke 9:59 Jesus would not have it. He said, Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead. Matthew 8:22 cf. Luke 9:60 Not even the death of a family member is more important than the kingdom of heaven. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness. Matthew 6:33

When Jesus said the deceifulness of riches, he was correct. He tells us to Sell that ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. Luke 12:33, 34 He does not need us to be rich. He does not even want us to be rich on earth. He wants us to lay up treasure in heaven.(Matthew 6:19-21.)

Jesus says, Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field. Matthew 13:44 This man selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field. Everything he had, he sold to secure that position in heaven. Likewise, Jesus says, Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it. Matthew 13:45, 46 What did this man do? He went and sold all that he had, and bought it. Everything, just for a heavenly treasure.

When a rich man, who knew and followed the law perfectly, sought to follow Jesus, Jesus put him to the test, saying If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. Matthew 19:22 cf Mark 10:21 But the man would not do it. And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions. Mark 10:22 cf. Mattew 19:22 This man cared more about the world, and his possessions, than he did about heaven and its wonders. That is why he turned away. The cares of the world choked him.

It is easy to love Jesus when the good times are here. When we are surrounded with a loving family, a secure job, plenty of food, and good friends, Christians believe that Jesus is with them. They then get complacent about studying his word. We should remember that Jesus will leave his sheep in the wilderness alone to track down one lost sheep.(See our article on the Parable of the Good Shepherd.) We should also remember that family, money, food, and especially friends are all things that Jesus does not think we need.

The Seeds in the Soil are Men who Heard the Word and Now Bear Fruit Back to Top ↑

Finally, we see the seeds that grow well. And these are they which are sown on good ground; such as hear the word, and receive it, and bring forth fruit, some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some an hundred. Mark 4:20

An apple seed cannot naturally produce oranges, and an olive seed does not produce potatoes. The seeds that are planted and live to bear fruit are plants that came from the word. Their fruit carry more seeds of the word. This is how Jesus's messages are continued today.

In Conclusion Back to Top ↑

The Parable of the Sower is important. It outlines the four main outcomes that result from people hearing the word, which allow us to think deeper into Jesus and the difficulty of receiving the kingdom of the world. It also allows us to prepare ourselves for their rejection of the word and allows us to understand why they rejected Jesus.

Jesus also points to this parable as being critical to understand other parables. Know ye not this parable? and how then will ye know all parables? Mark 4:13 With this parable, Jesus explains why he speaks in parables. Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables. Mark 4:11 cf. Luke 8:10 It is for the kingdom of God that Jesus spoke in parables. The kingdom of God is the center of everything Jesus teaches. Without the kingdom of God, there is no seed, and without the seed, there is no fruit.

It is very interesting to note that for Jesus the seed goes into a believer, and brings life (i.e. the plant), but then the plant dies. That is to say that just because a person hears the word, and believes it, does not mean that that person will remain into life. Jesus says He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life. John 5:24 So initially it seems that once life enters a person it stays forever.(This concept is also known as eternal salvation.) However, both this Parable of the Sower and a verse just five verses later show otherwise. And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation. John 5:29 If a person has heard the word, but then does evil, they would resurrect into the resurrection of damnation, which destroys the eternal salvation concept.


Matthew's Account of The Parable of the Sower

As presented in the King James Version of Matthew 13:3-9, 18-23
Click here to read the account in Luke 8:4-15.
Click here to return back to the account in Mark 4:3-20.


Matthew 13:1The same day went Jesus out of the house, and sat by the sea side.
2And great multitudes were gathered together unto him, so that he went into a ship, and sat; and the whole multitude stood on the shore.
3And he spake many things unto them in parables, saying, Behold, a sower went forth to sow;
4 And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up:
5 Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth:
6 And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away.
7 And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them:
8 But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold.
9 Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.

18 Hear ye therefore the parable of the sower.
19 When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side.
20 But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it;
21 Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended.
22 He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful.
23 But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.

Luke's Account of The Parable of the Sower

As presented in the King James Version of Luke 8:4-15
Click here to read the account in Matthew 13:3-9, 18-23.
Click here to return back to the account in Mark 4:3-20.


Luke 8:4And when much people were gathered together, and were come to him out of every city, he spake by a parable:
5 A sower went out to sow his seed: and as he sowed, some fell by the way side; and it was trodden down, and the fowls of the air devoured it.
6 And some fell upon a rock; and as soon as it was sprung up, it withered away, because it lacked moisture.
7 And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprang up with it, and choked it.
8 And other fell on good ground, and sprang up, and bare fruit an hundredfold. And when he had said these things, he cried, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.

9And his disciples asked him, saying, What might this parable be?
10And he said, Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to others in parables; that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand.
11 Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God.
12 Those by the way side are they that hear; then cometh the devil, and taketh away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved.
13 They on the rock are they, which, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away.
14 And that which fell among thorns are they, which, when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection.
15 But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience.

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