4:2 He taught them many things in parables, 1 and in his teaching said to them: 4:3 “Listen! A sower went out to sow. 2 4:4 And as he sowed, some seed 3 fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. 4:5 Other seed fell on rocky ground 4 where it did not have much soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep. 5 4:6 When the sun came up it was scorched, and because it did not have sufficient root, 6 it withered. 4:7 Other seed fell among the thorns, 7 and they grew up and choked it, 8 and it did not produce grain. 4:8 But 9 other seed fell on good soil and produced grain, sprouting and growing; some yielded thirty times as much, some sixty, and some a hundred times.” 4:9 And he said, “Whoever has ears to hear had better listen!” 10
1 sn Though parables can contain a variety of figures of speech (cf. 2:19-22; 3:23-25; 4:3-9, 26-32; 7:15-17; 13:28), many times they are simply stories that attempt to teach spiritual truth (which is unknown to the hearers) by using a comparison with something known to the hearers. In general, parables usually advance a single idea, though there may be many parts and characters in a single parable and subordinate ideas may expand the main idea further. The beauty of using the parable as a teaching device is that it draws the listener into the story, elicits an evaluation, and demands a response.
2 sn A sower went out to sow. The background for this well-known parable, drawn from a typical scene in the Palestinian countryside, is a field through which a well worn path runs. Sowing would occur in late fall or early winter (October to December) in the rainy season, looking for sprouting in April or May and a June harvest. The use of seed as a figure for God’s giving life has OT roots (Isa 55:10-11). The point of the parable of the sower is to illustrate the various responses to the message of the kingdom of God (cf. 4:11).
3 tn Mark’s version of the parable, like Luke’s (cf. Luke 8:4-8), uses the collective singular to refer to the seed throughout, so singular pronouns have been used consistently throughout this parable in the English translation. However, the parallel account in Matt 13:1-9 begins with plural pronouns in v. 4 but then switches to the collective singular in v. 5 ff.
4 sn The rocky ground in Palestine would be a limestone base lying right under the soil.
5 tn Grk “it did not have enough depth of earth.”
6 tn Grk “it did not have root.”
7 sn Palestinian weeds like these thorns could grow up to six feet in height and have a major root system.
8 sn That is, crowded out the good plants.
9 tn Here καί (kai) has been translated as “but” to indicate the contrast present in the final stage of the parable.
10 tn The translation “had better listen!” captures the force of the third person imperative more effectively than the traditional “let him hear,” which sounds more like a permissive than an imperative to the modern English reader. This was Jesus’ common expression to listen and heed carefully (cf. Matt 11:15; 13:9, 43; Mark 4:23; Luke 8:8, 14:35).