After telling the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13, Jesus begins by explaining the parable to his disciples. He concludes his explanation in verse 23 by saying

But as for the seed sown on good soil, this is the person who hears the word and understands. He bears fruit, yielding a hundred, sixty, or thirty times what was sown. (NET)

I have a set of related questions:

  • Why are three specific values given. Why not four? Or two?
  • Why is the pattern of multiples of thirty broken (e.g., why not 90, 60, 30)?
  • Is there any meaning behind the numbers chosen?
  • Why are the values descending (instead of ascending)?
  • Why not simply say "with some bearing fruit and others yielding fruit abundantly" or some such similar (and more general) thing?


The parable is found in Matthew 13:1-9; Mark 4:1-9; Luke 8:4-8 (or read also in convenient parallel columns). The key verse of interest has these synoptic parallels (NASB), first in the parable itself:

|       Mt 13:8       |       Mk 4:8        |      Lk 8:8a        |
| And others fell     | Other *seeds* fell  | Other *seed* fell   |
| on the good soil    | into the good soil, | into the good soil, |
|                     | and as they grew up | and grew up,        |
|                     | and increased,      |                     |
| and yielded a crop, | they yielded a crop |                     |
|                     | and produced        | and produced a crop |
| some a hundredfold, | thirty,             | a hundred times     |
| some sixty,         | sixty,              |                     |
| and some thirty.    | and a hundredfold.  |                     |
|                     |                     | as great.           |

And also in the accompanying explanation:

|        Mt 13:23        |        Mk 4:20         |           Lk 8:15            |
| And the one            | And those are the ones |                              |
| on whom seed was sown  | on whom seed was sown  | But the *seed*               |
| on the good soil,      | on the good soil;      | in the good soil,            |
| this is the man        |                        | these are the ones           |
| who hears the word     | and they hear the word | who have heard the word      |
|                        | and accept it          | in an honest and good heart, |
| and understands it;    |                        | and hold it fast,            |
| who indeed bears fruit | and bear fruit,        | and bear fruit               |
| and brings forth,      |                        |                              |
| some a hundredfold,    | thirty,                |                              |
| some sixty,            | sixty,                 |                              |
| and some thirty.       | and a hundredfold.     |                              |
|                        |                        | with perseverance.           |
  • 2
    The descending thing is especially weird considering it's ascending in Mark's version! Luke only has a hundred. – curiousdannii Jul 20 '17 at 8:17

In an agrarian society where grains are the main crop one's ability to feed oneself is largely related to the size of the yield. The "yield" vs the investment is the "profit" or "return on investment (ROI)". In some pursuits one speaks in terms of percentages, such as a "10% profit" but in the case of wheat production one normally speaks of bushels per acre in round numbers:


100 bushels per acre is considered an excellent yield. Depending on other factors one might more realistically target or reach 90, 60, 40, 30 or other appropriate numbers of bushels per acre. The numbers supplied in the parable seem to reflect that successful farming is not a particular number but rather the best yields that the land and conditions will support. The fact that the numbers in the parable versions are in different orders suggests that the order is not significant.

The parable does not focus on the weather or the quality of the seed which in reality are HUGE factors for yield. Instead he focuses on the preparation of the soil as metaphors for the preparation of the "heart". The seed is the message, the rain is the vehicle of divine stimulation and nourishment which are not being considered but the reception, condition, response and protection of the message is what is being shown to be key to yield.

Agrarian Society

Note also that the translation "bears fruit" is a bit misleading. What is in view is not fruit such as apples and oranges but rather grains where the harvest is more seeds. A grain/seed of wheat gives rise to a plant that bears more seeds:

New International Version John 12:24 Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.

So from the point of view of the seed, the one seed reproduces itself. Jesus is a special case. In his death and resurrection produced a tree of gargantuan proportion and incorporates all of the saints who likewise participate in his death and resurrection:

NIV Matthew 13: 31He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”

New International Version Romans 6:5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his.


The last type of soil that Jesus comments on is the fine soil. This refers to those who hear the word and accept it into their heart, getting the real sense of it. With what result? They “bear fruit.” Because of their circumstances, such as age or health, not all can do the same; one produces 100 times more, another 60 times more, and another 30 times more. Yes, blessings in serving God come to <<<“ones who, after hearing the word with a fine and good heart, retain it and bear fruit with endurance.”>>>—Luke 8:15.

  • 1
    @ONicolas, instead of "<<< >>>" for accent, please use the provided formatting tools. Thanks. – Ruminator Aug 28 '17 at 21:27

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