This is one of a few parables Jesus gave explanation to help disciples for understanding of its messages, which should provide us the hermeneutic clues.

Text: Mt. 13:18-23(ESV) (also, Mk.4:13-20; Lk. 8:11-15)

“Hear then the parable of the sower: 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. 20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, 21 yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. 22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. 23 As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

  • Since the disciples had to ask the meaning, it is clear that it was also, at first, hidden from the disciples (as well as those others). The difference between the other 'them' and the disciples . . . was that the disciples had Jesus teach them.
    – Nigel J
    Jul 16 '20 at 11:57

They are the superficial shallow believers.

In the original parable to the crowds, Jesus said in Matthew 13

5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away.

Then privately to the disciples, Jesus said in Matthew 13

20 The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.

They were also prophesied by Isaiah:

Matthew 13:14 In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:
“ ‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
15For this people’s heart has become calloused;
they hardly hear with their ears,
and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them.’

They are the superficial shallow believers due to their hardness of heart.


By "them" I assume we mean that in Matt 13:11, "He replied, “The knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them."

Jesus is talking to His disciples and the crowds (V1) by the sea. However, in V10 we now have a restricted audience of just the disciples.

"them" is used by Jesus in contradistinction to the disciples; that is Jesus could have said, "The knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you [ie, the disciples], but not to them [ie, others who are not disciples.]"

The Bible makes this point several times and in different ways such as:

  • 1 Cor 2:14 - The natural man does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God. For they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.
  • John 16:13 - But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth.

It is little wonder that Paul declared in Rom 8:9, "You, however, are controlled not by the flesh, but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ."

Thus, without the gift of the Holy Spirit, we can understand nothing of the Bible's teaching and nothing about the truth of Jesus. Indeed, Paul also says that we do not even know how or what to pray for without the prompting of the Spirit (Rom 8:26).

We have several instances of people in the NT praying for the gift of the Holy Spirit such as: Acts 8:15, Eph 1:17, 3:16, Phil 1:19, 2 Kings 2:16, etc.

Thus, it appears that Jesus' disciples (in the broadest sense) are those with the gift of the Spirit who only are capable of understanding the spiritual principles of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Ellicott observes (comments on Matt 13:11):

To know the mysteries.—The Greek word, like “parable,” has passed into modern languages, and has suffered some change of meaning in the process. Strictly speaking, it does not mean, as we sometimes use it—when we speak, e.g., of the mystery of the Trinity, a truth which none can understand—something “awfully obscure” (the definition given in Johnson’s Dictionary), but one which, kept a secret from others, has been revealed to the initiated. Interpreted by our Lord’s teaching up to this time, the mysteries of the kingdom may be referred to the new birth of water and the Spirit (John 3:5), the judgment to be exercised hereafter by the Son of Man (John 5:25), the power of the Son of Man to forgive sins (John 9:6), the new ideas (no other word will express the fact so well) which He had proclaimed as to the Sabbath (John 12:8), and fasting, and prayer, and alms (John 6:1-18). Those ideas had been proved occasions of offence, and therefore, for the present, the Teacher falls back upon a method of more exoteric instruction.

Barnes also notes that:

To the disciples it was given to know these truths. This was important for them, as they were to carry the gospel around the globe. To the others it was not "then" given. They were too gross, too earthly; they had too, grovelling conceptions of the Messiah's kingdom to understand these truths, even if communicated to them. They were not to preach the gospel, and hence our Saviour was at particular pains to instruct his apostles in the system which they were to preach. The Pharisees, and Jews generally, were not prepared to receive the system, and would not have believed it, and therefore he purposely employed a kind of teaching which was intended for his apostles only.

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