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In the parable of the sower in Mark 4, verse 17 says

“and they have no root in themselves, but are temporary; then, when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately they fall away.” (NASB)

This is referring to those who hear the word and receive it with joy initially — the seed that fell on “rocky soil.” What does “fall away” mean in this context? In the next example Jesus talks about the seed that gets choked up by thorns, and the result is that the seed does not bear fruit, but it seems that the belief in God/salvation is still there. In contrast, the seed that fell on rocky soil is akin to those who “fell away” after experiencing hardship due to their belief. Does “fall away” imply that they stop believing in Jesus? And if so, does this mean that they didn’t enter into His salvation and eternal life?

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    'Fall away' is σκανδαλίζω, skandalise Strong 4624 Thayer : to cause or make to stumble; to offend.
    – Nigel J
    Sep 6 '20 at 4:06
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"Fall away" translates the Greek σκανδαλίζονται (skandalizontai) which is a Verb - Present Indicative Middle or Passive voice - 3rd Person Plural; from the lexical form σκανδαλίζω (skandalizó) occurring 29 times in the NT. [Our English "scandalize" come directly from this word.]

BDAG provides two basic meanings for the word σκανδαλίζω (skandalizó):

  1. to cause to be brought to a downfall, cause to sin; eg, Matt 5:29, 13:21, 18:6, 8, Mark 4:17, 9:42, 45, Luke 17:2, 1 Cor 8:13, etc.
  2. to shock through word or action, give offense to, anger, shock; eg, Matt 17:27, 15:12, John 6:61, 2 Cor 11:29, etc.

Thus, BDAG suggests the first of these meanings applies in Mark 4:17.

It is significant, that the verb is in the middle or passive voice; we thus have two possibilities:

  • Middle voice: the person caused themselves to fall away; that is their faith in Jesus collapse because the "roots" were not deep enough
  • Passive voice: the person was caused to fall away by someone else because their "roots" were not deep enough

In either case, the person was not sufficiently rooted in the faith to withstand either their own upsets or those from others. In this imperfect world, there will alsways be upsets for a variety of reasons and we musty keep our eyes fixed in Jesus (Heb 12:2, 3).

UPDATE: Larger context.

The larger context of the entire parable provides four types of seed/people who receive/hear (in some sense) the saving Gospel truth depicted in the parable as the location where the seed fell:

  1. Path - people who loose it almost as soon as they hear the Gospel
  2. Rocky places - people who have no depth/root in the Gospel and while they receive the truth with joy, abandon it withing a "short" time.
  3. Among thorns - people who allow worldly matter (specifically worries, wealth, desires - compare 1 John 2:16) to become more important than a commitment to Jesus and Gospel truth
  4. Good soil - people who go on to produce "fruit" - more won to the Gospel (compare Matt 28:19, 20)

Now to the most delicate matter - is such a state temporary or permanent? Nobody but the Almighty can answer that question. In some the condition will be temporary - compare Jesus other parable of the Lost coin, the lost sheep and the lost son (Luke 15). That is, the answer depends on how each person responds to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and the decisions made.

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  • Thank you for this answer, Dottard! Do you mind also touching upon the last question - whether losing faith in Jesus means they will not receive salvation? I think what’s tripping me up is that “fall away” here seems to be a permanent state rather than a one-time sin, and so I’m wondering what that means in eternal terms.
    – Gremosa
    Sep 6 '20 at 19:29
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    @Gremosa - Further explanation added at your request.
    – Dottard
    Sep 6 '20 at 21:41
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The verb σκανδαλίζω (translated 'fall away') is a matter of stumbling over an obstacle, thus the concept is of being tripped up oneself, by circumstances, or of tripping up others by one's behaviour - in deeds and words.

One scandalises, that is to say one causes a 'scandal' causing others to be stumbled in their spiritual progress by one's own departure from truth and proper behaviour. It sets a bad example to others and confuses those who might, before, have been following in one's footsteps or just accompanying one on the path of truth and holiness.

The 'stumbling' and 'falling' is the opposite of uprightness. Instead of an upright walk, one has tripped and fallen. One is no longer upright. And it is a public scandal.

The roots did not go down deep enough to give stability. Because of the stoniness of the heart, there was no depth into which roots could penetrate the heart. Thus it was all on the surface. The word did not go down into the depths of the human heart, to give strength, to stabilise.

And at the first sign of upset, of turbulent circumstance, of disappointment, of unexpected difficulty or affliction, the candidate has tripped, stumbled, fallen.

And is scandalously no longer upright.

But the figure is not of a walk, a pathway, for the immediate figure is of a plant growing in a field, corn or wheat or similar. In this case, if there is stoniness, and if the roots do not penetrate the earth deeply enough, the plant wilts, the stem cracks and the plant falls over, its top parts now down on the ground, no longer drinking in the sunshine.

The plant is 'fallen away'. Collapsed. No longer upright.

And it is a 'scandal' to see the plant, among its upright fellows, now flattened on the earth, useless.

The lesson is that the word of God should go deeply into the heart and should not be hindered by obstructiveness, by hard-hearted resistance to the word of God. But rather the word should be permitted to sink deeply into the soul, accomplishing the purposes of the Spirit by its penetration.

Deeply, should it go into the deepest recesses of the heart. Rooting downwards into the depths.

Then there will be stability in the arena of the topsoil, strength to withstand the winds that blow and the rains that beat upon the house. As in another figure, that of the house that was built on rock not sand. Built upon hearing and doing (not just hearing, superficially).

These sayings of Jesus are for us to be instructed that we might not be shallow and superficial. That we might endure to the end, and not fall away.

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What does “fall away” mean in Mark 4’s Parable of the Sower?

In the parable of the sower in Mark 4, verse 16 and 17 says

16 "In a similar way these are the ones on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy; 17 “and they have no root in themselves, but are temporary; then, when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately they fall away.” (NASB)

Some other renderings of the verses 16 and 17.

New King James Version

16 These likewise are the ones sown on stony ground who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with gladness; 17And they have no root in themselves, and so endure only for a time. Afterward, when tribulation or persecution arises for the word’s sake, immediately they stumble.

Contemporary English Version

16 The seeds that fell on rocky ground are the people who gladly hear the message and accept it at once. 17 But they don't have roots, and they don't last very long. As soon as life gets hard or the message gets them in trouble, they give up.

Verse 16 and 17 refer to the group of people that initially hear the word and receive it with joy and may also make you feel good that you talked to them. Like the plants that sprout in shallow soil, their roots do not go deep and in the hot weather, they wither and die. Likewise, when ridicule is thrown at them by relatives or associates, they quickly lose interest.

Although in their hearts they know that the things they heard are from the Bible and felt gladness, due to the ridicule and scorn they feel it would be better not to continue studying. Dominated by fear of man and lack of love for God, they fall away.

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