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In the parable of the Leaven from Matthew 13:33, why do some translations say that the woman in the parable "hid" the leaven in the dough (as opposed to mixed in other translations)? Is there a theological significance to this?

KJV: Another parable spake he unto them; The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.

NASB: He spoke another parable to them, “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three pecks of flour until it was all leavened.”

RSV: He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.”

Is there another term we might expect to see here in place of "hid" such as a Greek word for "mix" (Eg: μίγνυμι like in Luke 13:1), stir (Eg: ταράσσω like in John 5:7), or "knead" or is this a typical Greek phrase for this activity? If this is atypical phrasing, is there any theological conclusions that can be drawn from the author's choice to use atypical phrasing?

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Background

He spoke another parable to them, “The kingdom of the heavens is like leaven, which having taken, a woman concealed (ἐνέκρυψεν) into three measures of wheat-flour until which time the whole thing was leavened”. (Matthew 13:33 DLNT)

Thayer's states the meaning of ἐνέκρυψεν is to conceal in something. The only NT uses (Matthew 13:33 and Luke 13:21) contextually suggest mingling [G1470-ἐγκρύπτω]. Yet the extra-Biblical citations and use in the LXX do not reflect mingling or mixing. Therefore that the woman concealed the leaven in the flour is consistent with how the word is used outside the parable.

A parable is generally understood as a narrative using examples that are agreeable to the laws and usages of human life. [G3850-παραβολή] The challenge with this parable is Jesus appears to use the elements in ways that conflict with normal use. In addition to concealing the leaven, there is what it is placed in, meal or flour (not dough), and how it affects all despite having no liquid. In other words, taken literally the parable describes something that normally doesn't happen: yeast placed in flour does not normally permeate the entire substance or cause it to rise. This is obscured in some translations which have the "dough" "rise." However, as the Disciples Literal New Testament shows, none of those elements are present. In fact it is the ambiguous "whole" which becomes leavened.

Many commentators (Ellicott, MacLaren, Benson, Henry, Barnes, Jamieson-Fausset-Brown, Matthew Poole, Gill) see this parable as an illustration of the growth of the Church. Ellicott states:

The parable sets forth the working of the Church of Christ on the world, but not in the same way as that of the Mustard Seed. There the growth was outward, measured by the extension of the Church, dependent on its missionary efforts. Here the working is from within. 1

Following that line Ellicott notes that while leaven normally is symbolic of sin, here it is being used to describe the impact the Church may bring:

...can permeate the manners, feelings, and opinions of non-Christian societies until they become blessings and not curses to mankind. In the new feelings, gradually diffused, of Christendom as to slavery, prostitution, gladiatorial games—in the new reverence for childhood and womanhood, for poverty and sickness—we may trace the working of the leaven. 1

He also notes that the initial outpouring of the Holy Spirit occurred on the Day of Pentecost, a time when leavened bread is offered.

The significance of the three measures of meal is seen as symbolic although commentators offer differing possibilities of the exact nature of the symbolism: 1

  • All people Jewish, Greek, and Barbarian (Ellicott and Jamieson-Fausset-Brown)
  • Greek, Jewish, and Samaritan (Meyer)
  • Body (or heart), spirit, and soul (Ellicott, Jamieson-Fausset-Brown, and Meyer)
  • Noah’s three sons (Ellicott and Jamieson-Fausset-Brown)
  • The elect of God in the three known parts of the world (Gill)

While there is no agreement, the accepted sense is that the specific number, three, is purposeful to in some way symbolize an entire group. This is consistent with the ending where “the whole” (ὅλος) becomes leavened.

The Christian perspective on the collection of parables in Matthew 13 is to see them solely as positive: since heaven is good a parable about heaven should be descriptive of that good. However, both the parable of the Mustard Seed and the Leaven use negative imagery (birds and leaven) and describe a distorted and, in the case of the Mustard Seed, grotesque picture. Since there was/will be war in heaven (Revelation 12:7) it is possible these parables might be descriptive of how the kingdom of heaven was temporarily distorted. Also, in each case the kingdom is described as οὐρανῶν which as the DLNT shows is the plural heavens, not the singular heaven:

For truly, I say to you, until heaven (οὐρανὸς) and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. (Matthew 5:18 ESV)

As Jesus differentiates between the singular heaven and plural heavens, our understanding of the parables of the kingdom of the heavens should be open to and consistent with this use.

Old Testament

Since the word ἐνέκρυψεν is used only in this parable (Matthew and Luke), another option is to consider the meaning from the OT which is how the original audience would relate to the story. If ἐνέκρυψεν means to conceal in something, then what it is concealed in is equally significant.

Two commentaries (Bengel’s Gnomem and the Cambridge Bible) make note of the amount of flour in the parable and see a connection to Sarah (which would parallel the role of the woman in the parable). The Cambridge Bible notes the connection with Genesis 18:6:

[three measures] Literally, three seahs. In Genesis 18:6, Abraham bids Sarah “make ready three ‘seahs’ of fine meal, knead it and make cakes upon the hearth.” 1

And Abraham went quickly into the tent to Sarah and said, “Quick! Three seahs of fine flour! Knead it, and make cakes.” (Genesis 18:6 ESV)

Though flour and the amount are correct, nothing is hidden and there is no mention of leaven which if present does not permeate, it is mixed quickly by Sarah. 2 Other aspects of the Genesis event which follow the parable are the number of visitors, three, whose purpose is to execute judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah just as bringing judgment is part of the kingdom parables (Tares and the Net).

Another OT connection is from ἐνέκρυψεν in the LXX translation of Hosea where the meaning is to conceal and the use is in agreement with understanding leaven as sin:

συστροφὴν ἀδικίας Εφραιμ ἐγκεκρυμμένη ἡ ἁμαρτία αὐτοῦ (LXX)

The iniquity of Ephraim is bound up; his sin is hid (צְפוּנָ֖ה). (Hosea 13:12 KJV)
Ephraim’s guilt is bound up, his sin is stored away [for future retribution] (Hosea 13:12 JPS)

As the JPS shows, צְפוּנָ֖ה means stored up, or concealed in something for future use. Within the context of Hosea where Israel is described as married to God (2:4), the role of the woman in the parable is also present. The number three plays a part in the message through the references to Judah and the duplicative description of Northern Kingdom as both Israel and Ephraim (ie 5:3).

One other possible OT reference is the citation of Psalm 78 which immediately follows the parable:

All these things Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed, he said nothing to them without a parable. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet: “I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world.” (Matthew 13:34-35 ESV)

I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings (חִ֝יד֗וֹת) from of old (Psalm 78:2 ESV)
I open with a simile my mouth, I bring forth hidden things of old (YLT)

חִ֝יד֗וֹת means dark, perplexing, difficult, or riddle [H2420-חִידָה] So the parables of the Mustard Seed and Leaven would be those perplexing, difficult, dark teachings about the kingdom of the heavens.

Psalm 78 recounts (reinterprets?) the history of Israel. It begins by noting Jacob and Israel before recording an enigmatic statement about Ephraim:

He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children (5 ESV)

The Ephraimites, armed with the bow, turned back on the day of battle. They did not keep God's covenant, but refused to walk according to his law. They forgot his works and the wonders that he had shown them. (9-11 ESV)

In this case the OT use of “parable” begins with two three-fold references: Jacob, Israel, and Ephraim and testimony, law, and covenant. The parable repeatedly references the sin of the people and ends with another three-fold reference which could include a reference to heaven:

He rejected the tent of Joseph; he did not choose the tribe of Ephraim, but he chose the tribe of Judah, Mount Zion, which he loves. He built his sanctuary like the high heavens, like the earth, which he has founded forever. (67-69 ESV)

It ends with a final three-fold statement of David, Jacob, and Israel:

He chose David his servant and took him from the sheepfolds; from following the nursing ewes he brought him to shepherd Jacob his people, Israel his inheritance. (70-71 ESV)

Since the OT has three distinct connections to the parable, the Genesis account of Sodom and Gomorrah, Hosea's prophesy, and Psalm 78. interpreting the parable using the OT is reasonable and likely how it would be taken by original audience.

Conculsion

Based on the silence of the NT to elucidate the meaning of the parable further, the OT is the logical place from which to draw the meaning of the leaven being hid.

There are three distinct connections each of which includes the sense of sin or iniquity and judgment. Therefore leaven should be taken as it normally is in Scripture: it means sin or iniquity. The woman is symbolic of Israel and the three measures symbolize various divisions or descriptions in the history of Israel. The message of the parable (as with the overall sense of Matthew 13) is one of judgment.

In my opinion the significance of "hid" is that it relates to Satan and those responsible for leading Israel into worshiping false gods. That is, Satan's sin was hidden or concealed throughout the history of Israel. While the nation has gone after false gods, Satan's role has been concealed.


1. [Commentaries on Matthew 13:33]
2. The parable does not necessarily exclude the leaven being mixed. If Sarah's bread included leaven, Abraham's instruction to act quickly means the whole would be affected by mixing not by leavening nor would it have time to rise.

  • I liked the note about leaven being connected to Pentecost. While it typically signified sin, Christ forgave sins and Christ, like the bread is risen and in this way, I could see this parable pointing towards Pentecost. I am surprised no commentators connect the 3 measures to the 3 persons of the trinity. But I'm not so sure about the connection to the OT. I suspect the reason that ἐνέκρυψεν is connected to concealing is because concealment most often was done by burying. For example it was common for Roman soldiers and others to bury their wages because there were no banks. – James Shewey Jan 25 '17 at 19:51
  • Carrying your wages with you wherever you went was risky - you could be robbed of all your material wealth. Therefore burying it was usually seen as the safest option, and this was commonly done (Eg, see the parable of the Talents Matthew 25:14-30). Thus, I suspect that burying was synonymous with concealment. This makes the mixing of the leaven more obvious - she's not "hiding" the leaven in the dough, she is "Burying" the leaven in the dough. If you ever see bakers mix dough, they repeatedly fold it over "burying" the middle section (and yeast) in order to mix it. – James Shewey Jan 25 '17 at 19:55
  • If this is correct, then there is no significance to "hiding" the leaven because the baker is not hiding the leaven, just mixing it. I may have to turn this into a proper answer at some point. – James Shewey Jan 25 '17 at 19:56
  • @JamesShewey I did not give much attention to the idea of dough since what is described is flour. Dough could be inferred but the description of the Exodus in the LXX uses a different word, so I think flour not dough is correct. – Revelation Lad Jan 25 '17 at 21:03
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John Chrysostom commented on this particular Greek usage back in the 4th century in his (Greek) Homily XLVI on the Gospel of St. Matthew

For He said not, "put", simply, but "hid".

The point of the instruction was that the Apostles were commanded to interact with their respective societies and not to simply live somehow separately among non-Christians.

Chrysostom further explains:

The Kingdom of Heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, until the whole was leavened.

For as converts the large quantity of meal into its own quality, even so shall ye convert the whole world.

For say not this to me: "What shall we be able to do, twelve men, throwing ourselves upon so vast a multitude?" Nay, vor this very thing most of all makes your might conspicuous, that ye mix with the multitude and are not put to flight. As therefore the leaven then leavens the lump when it comes close to the meal, and not simply close, but so as to be actually mixed with it (for He said not, "put", simply, but "hid")

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This parable is much simpler than many are making it out to be.

When we add leaven to flour, it is no longer separable from the flour, nor is it distinguishable from it. You can’t point and say ‘here is the leaven’, and you can’t remove it or prevent it from leavening the flour once it’s mixed in.

In this way the kingdom of heaven enters the world and is ‘hidden’.

If a portion of flour contains leaven, when it is Used to make dough it is not the leaven that rises, but the whole portion of dough. In this way we see the impact of the leaven, not the leaven itself.

So the kingdom of heaven is not something we can point to and say ‘here it is’, in an effort to define or distinguish it from what it is not.

And whenever someone says ‘behold the kingdom of heaven’, they are pointing to the impact of the kingdom in the world, not the kingdom itself.

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Why does the woman “hide” the leaven in the parable?

Is there a theological significance to this?

The Koine Greek word that appears in the scriptures is " ἐνέκρυψεν" pronounced "enekrypsen" and literally means "hid"

Yeast is a piece of dough that is left aside for a few days to ferment, it was either dissolved in water in the kneading trough before adding the flour, or hid in the dough and then kneaded with the dough thus causing it to be mixed in it. The later appears the method mentioned by Jesus.

The Parable of the Leaven

Matthew 13:33 (NIV)

33 He told them still another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough."

Luke 13:20-21 (NASB)

20" And again He said, “To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? 21 It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three [a]pecks of flour until

Is there a theological significance to this?

The leaven spreads though out the dough causing it to ferment, the leaven represents the good news of the Kingdom of God, the dough represents mankind and the fermenting which is pervasive , represents the preaching work.

NOTES: The leaven was usually cut into smaller pieces and poked (hide) in the dough,when kneaded,the leaven spread evenly in the dough.

  • By "theological significance of this" I specifically meant the activity of "hiding" the leaven - as opposed to merely mixing. Like, why didn't the author choose to use μίγνυμι to describe the activity like in Luke 13:1 or ταράσσω like in John 5:7? – James Shewey Feb 5 '19 at 17:42
  • James Shewey: ταράσσω ,=tarasso= has been stirred, μίγνυμι =emixen=ἔμιξεν=had mingled. Since the leaven was cut into pieces and poked (hide)into the dough , the dough was then kneaded causing the leaven to spread in it. I believe that the word" hid" is the correct word to use, as it is not possible to "ταράσσω" stirred, or "μίγνυμι"mingled the leaven into the dough. If however the leaven was dissolved in water, then one the words you mentioned could have been used . Both words are still in use in todays demotic based Greek. – Ozzie Nicolas Feb 6 '19 at 12:21
  • Since the leaven was cut into pieces and poked (hide)into the dough , - if you included this and a note that the LXX translates "Knead" as "hid" - eg the kneading in Gen 18:6 - I would make this the accepted answer. There is no theological significance that should be ascribed to "hiding" the dough - that was just Greek phrasing and reading into that to find a theological significance would be a mistake. – James Shewey Feb 6 '19 at 18:33
  • James Shewey: Genesis 18:6 LXX reads :" And Abraam hasted to the tent to Sarrha, and said to her, Hasten, and knead three measures of fine flour, and make cakes." I am not in a position to confirm that the LXX translades "knead as hid" but I will insert that "the leaven was cut into pieces and poked (hide)into the dough." – Ozzie Nicolas Feb 6 '19 at 19:41
  • I can confirm it - in Greek it's "ἐγκρυφίας" (enkryfías) which looks to be a form of " ἐνέκρυψεν" (enkrypsen). – James Shewey Feb 7 '19 at 20:09
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Have found a couple of verses in OT that will help clear up the proper interpretation of Mt 13:33 & Luke's reference to the leaven hid in the three measures of meal. First you must use the KJV to see it, have not found any other version to be as clear here. Second turn to Ezekiel 17:2 where we learn a parable is actually a riddle; riddles can NOT be taken at face value. Now turn to Proverbs 26:7 which says, The legs of the lame are not equal: so is a parable in the mouth of fools. Looked up Hebrew word translated fool here it is better translated [thee] self confident. Now the lame mans legs are unequal so is a self confident mans interpretation of leaven in Mt 13:33 & Luke when he interprets the leaven as the gospel itself which is unequal with the Torah/law which defines leaven for us as evil/sin. now read on to Proverbs 26:9 As a thorn goeth up into the hand of a drunkard, so is a parable in the mouths of fools. The self confident like the drunk who feels no pain does not recognize his spiritual hurt either in his unequal, contrary understanding to His law in regard to leaven.

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I looked through the answers and I didn’t see what I’m about to say but I’ll keep it short because there’s no need to repeat certain things already stated.

I think what is most significant is that mix is used in conjunction with the kingdom of Heaven but hid is used in conjunction kingdom of God.

The two are not the same. What is different is not the same. The kingdom of Heaven is visible to all but the kingdom of God is not visible to all, therefore it is hidden.

““And again He said, "To what shall I compare the kingdom of God?” ‭‭It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three pecks of flour until it was all leavened."” ‭‭Luke‬ ‭13:20,21‬ ‭

“He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.”” ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭13:33‬ ‭

Notice the distinctions

“And as you go, preach, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand.' Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. Freely you received, freely give.” ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭10:7-8‬ ‭NASB

These are all outward signs, visible to those born again and those not born again alike

This list is repeated to John the Baptist’s disciples and the word in the Greek is significant

“And He answered and said to them, "Go and report to John what you have seen and heard: the BLIND RECEIVE SIGHT, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the POOR HAVE THE GOSPEL PREACHED TO THEM.” ‭‭Luke‬ ‭7:22‬ ‭NASB‬‬

This word ειδετε means you can see the things with your physical eyes as well as mentally depending on the context.

Now contrast this with the kingdom of God.

“Jesus answered and said to him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God."” ‭‭John‬ ‭3:3‬ ‭NASB‬‬

The Greek ιδειν is important in that it means to perceive with the physical eyes or perceive with the mind. Therefore you can do neither for the kingdom of God unless you are at the very least born again. I don’t want to go down this trail of explaining the kingdom of God and who and when it can be seen.

The fact that mix is used in one instance and hid in another is deliberate and consistent with the subject matter, kingdom of Heaven or kingdom of God respectively.

I have addressed the question, I don’t see the need to address a question that is not asked, namely what’s the difference between the kingdom of Heaven and the kingdom of God. If this doesn’t suffice please let me know.

  • 1
    I just noticed I got a false positive answer by mixing the translations. The translations among stick either to hid or mix for both passages. I don’t know how to fix this other than to admit I made a mistake. – Nihil Sine Deo Feb 8 '19 at 22:35
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The Greek verb ἐνέκρυψεν used in Matthew 13:33 means 'hid' and is essentially the same as in Luke 13:21, both verses regarded by New Testament scholars as being based on the hypothetical 'Q' document. Thus, a literal translation from the Greek would be hid, and even the hypothetical Q version is in agreement. However, this literal translation does not portray the meaning very well, so some modern translations, such as NIV and others, replace this by 'mixed into', even estimating the size of three measures of flour:

Matthew 13:33 (NIV): He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.”

This seems a strange parable to use about the kingdom of heaven, as leaven is used almost universally in both the Old and the New Testaments as a symbol of corruption1. Some modern commentators see this and the use of the verb 'hid' to suggest some form of trickery on the part of the woman in the parable2. Nevertheless, Craig A. Evans (The Bible Knowledge Background Commentary: Matthew-Luke, Volume 1, page 273) says it is "a simple parable with no allegorical elements".


1 See, for example Matthew 16:6 and 1 Corinthians 5:8.

2See for example Ray C. Stedman ('The Case of the Sneaky Housewife')

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