sat down: The custom among Jewish teachers.
on the beach: Along the shore of the Sea of Galilee near Capernaum, there is a spot that forms a natural amphitheater. The good acoustic properties of this location would have allowed a large crowd to hear Jesus speak to them from a boat.
illustrations: Or “parables.” The Greek word pa·ra·bo·leʹ, which literally means “a placing beside (together),” may be in the form of a parable, a proverb, or an illustration. Jesus often explains a thing by ‘placing it beside,’ or comparing it with, another similar thing. (Mr 4:30) His illustrations were short and usually fictitious narratives from which a moral or spiritual truth could be drawn.
Look!: The Greek word i·douʹ, here rendered “look!,” is often used to focus attention on what follows, encouraging the reader to visualize the scene or to take note of a detail in a narrative. It is also used to add emphasis or to introduce something new or surprising. In the Christian Greek Scriptures, the term occurs most frequently in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke and in the book of Revelation. A corresponding expression is often used in the Hebrew Scriptures.
rocky ground: Not referring to spots where rocks were scattered in the soil but to bedrock or a shelf of rock where there was little soil. The parallel account at Lu 8:6 says that some seed fell “on the rock.” Such terrain would prevent seeds from sinking their roots deep enough to find needed moisture.
among the thorns: Jesus is evidently referring, not to full-grown thornbushes, but to weeds that had not been cleaned out of the plowed soil. These would grow and choke out the newly planted seeds.
truly: Greek, a·menʹ, a transliteration of the Hebrew ʼa·menʹ, meaning “so be it,” or “surely.” Jesus frequently uses this expression to preface a statement, a promise, or a prophecy, thereby emphasizing its absolute truthfulness and reliability. Jesus’ use of “truly,” or amen, in this way is said to be unique in sacred literature. When repeated in succession (a·menʹ a·menʹ), as is the case throughout the Gospel of John, Jesus’ expression is translated “most truly.”
system of things: The Greek word ai·onʹ, having the basic meaning “age,” can refer to a state of affairs or to features that distinguish a certain period of time, epoch, or age. Here the term is connected with the anxieties and problems that characterize life in the present system of things.
oversowed: This hostile act was not unknown in the ancient Near East.
weeds: Generally believed to be bearded darnel (Lolium temulentum), a species of the grass family. This poisonous plant closely resembles wheat when the wheat is in its early stages of development, before it reaches maturity.
The slaves said: Although a few manuscripts read “They said,” the current reading has stronger manuscript support.
uproot the wheat with them: The roots of the weeds and wheat would have become intertwined. So even if the weeds were identified, uprooting them would result in loss of the wheat.
collect the weeds: When bearded darnel (see study note on Mt 13:25) reaches maturity, it can readily be distinguished from wheat.
mustard grain: Several kinds of mustard plants are found growing wild in Israel. Black mustard (Brassica nigra) is the variety commonly cultivated. The relatively small seed, 1-1.6 mm (0.039 to 0.063 in.) in diameter and weighing 1 mg (0.000035 oz) produces a treelike plant. Some varieties of the mustard plant attain a height of up to 4.5 m (15 ft).
the tiniest of all the seeds: The mustard seed was used in ancient Jewish writings as a figure of speech for the very smallest measure of size. Although there are smaller seeds known today, it was evidently the tiniest of seeds gathered and sown by Galilean farmers in Jesus’ day.
leaven: That is, a small piece of fermented dough held over from a previous kneading and mixed into a new batch of dough to make it rise. Jesus here refers to the normal process of baking bread. Although the Bible often uses leaven to represent sin and corruption (see study note on Mt 16:6), it does not always have a negative connotation (Le 7:11-15). Here the fermenting process evidently pictures the spread of something good.
to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: This is a quote from Ps 78:2, where the psalmist (here referred to as “the prophet”) used illustrative language to recount much of the history of God’s dealings with the nation of Israel. Similarly, Jesus freely used figurative language in the many illustrations he used to teach his disciples and the crowds that followed him.
since the founding: Or possibly, “since the founding of the world.” This longer reading is found in some ancient manuscripts that add the Greek word for “world.” (Compare study note on Mt 25:34.) Other ancient manuscripts have the shorter wording used here in the main text.
Son of man: Or “Son of a human.” This expression occurs about 80 times in the Gospels. Jesus used it to refer to himself, evidently emphasizing that he was truly human, born from a woman, and that he was a fitting human counterpart to Adam, having the power to redeem humankind from sin and death. (Ro 5:12, 14-15) The same expression also identified Jesus as the Messiah, or the Christ.
world: Refers to the world of mankind.
lawlessness: See study note on Mt 24:12.
gnashing of their teeth: Or “grinding (clenching) their teeth.” The expression can include the idea of anguish, despair, and anger, possibly accompanied by bitter words and violent action.
everything: Although one early manuscript omits the Greek word panʹta (all; everything) here, the current reading has stronger support in both early and later manuscripts.
pearl: In Bible times, fine pearls were harvested from the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf, and the Indian Ocean. This doubtless explains why Jesus spoke of the merchant who had to travel and expend effort to seek such a pearl.
unsuitable: May refer to fish without fins and scales, which were unclean according to the Mosaic Law and could not be eaten, or may possibly refer to any other inedible fish that were caught.
public instructor: Or “learned person.” The Greek word gram·ma·teusʹ is rendered “scribe” when referring to a group of Jewish teachers who were versed in the Law, but here the expression is used with regard to Jesus’ disciples who were trained to teach others.
his home territory: Lit., “his father’s place,” that is, his hometown, Nazareth, the area from which his immediate family came.
carpenter’s son: The Greek word teʹkton, rendered “carpenter,” is a general term that can refer to any artisan or builder. When it refers to a woodworker, it can mean one who works in the building trade, in the construction of furniture, or in the making of other types of wooden objects. Justin Martyr, of the second century C.E., wrote that Jesus worked “as a carpenter when among men, making ploughs and yokes.” Early Bible translations in ancient languages also support the idea of a woodworker. Jesus was known both as “the carpenter’s son” and as “the carpenter.” (Mr 6:3) Evidently, Jesus learned carpentry from his adoptive father, Joseph. Such an apprenticeship would typically have begun when a boy was about 12 to 15 years of age and would stretch over many years.
brothers: The Greek word a·del·phosʹ can refer to a spiritual relationship in the Bible, but here it is used of Jesus’ half brothers, the younger sons of Joseph and Mary. Some who believe that Mary remained a virgin after the birth of Jesus claim that here a·del·phosʹ refers to cousins. However, the Christian Greek Scriptures use a distinct term for “cousin” (Greek, a·ne·psi·osʹ at Col 4:10) and a different term for “the son of Paul’s sister” (Ac 23:16). Also, Lu 21:16 uses the plural forms of the Greek words a·del·phosʹ and syg·ge·nesʹ (rendered “brothers and relatives”). These examples show that the terms denoting familial relationships are not used loosely or indiscriminately in the Christian Greek Scriptures.
Judas: This half brother of Jesus is evidently the Jude (Greek, I·ouʹdas) who wrote the Bible book by that name.
The water level and topography of the Sea of Galilee have changed over the centuries since Jesus’ day. But it may have been in this area that Jesus spoke from a boat to the crowds. Jesus’ voice would have been amplified as it bounced off the surface of the water.
In Bible times, various means of sowing seed were used. Sowers might carry a bag of seed tied across the shoulder and around the waist; others would form a pouch for the seed in a part of their outer garment. They would then disperse the seed by hand, using long sweeping motions. Because the fields were cut through with hard-packed footpaths, the sower had to make sure that the seed landed on good soil. Seed was covered as soon as possible so that the birds did not eat it.
Storehouses could be found throughout Israel and were used to hold threshed grain. Some facilities might also be used to hold oil and wine or even precious metals or stones.
Of the various types of seeds that were gathered and sown by Galilean farmers, the mustard seed was evidently the tiniest. This seed was used in ancient Jewish writings as a figure of speech for the very smallest measure of size.
Dragnets in Jesus’ day were likely made from the fibers of the flax plant. According to some sources, a dragnet might have been up to 300 m (about 1,000 ft) long with weights attached to the bottom edge and floats attached to the top. Fishermen used a boat to drop the dragnet into the water. Sometimes they would take the long ropes attached to the ends of the net ashore, where several men on each rope gradually pulled the net onto the beach. The net gathered everything in its path.
This reconstruction, which incorporates some features of the first-century synagogue found at Gamla, located about 10 km (6 mi) northeast of the Sea of Galilee, gives an idea of what an ancient synagogue may have looked like.