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I’m have a hard time understanding the Parable of the Pearl. Mat.13:45-46. All of the Pastors I’ve talked to explain it this way; the merchant man is the sinners in the world and the pearl of great price is The One True God, Jesus Christ, so the sinner gave up all he had to get God, Jesus Christ.

So if this is the interpretation, how do we reconcile with all the scriptures that say that Christ, His salvation is a free gift? The parable does use the words “and bought it.” KJV “It” meaning the Pearl.

Of course, the parable is not just talking about money, but if a sinner gives all, or anything to receive “The One True God” then it would not be a free gift. So how do we reconcile “and bought it”, with the scriptures; Romans 6:23, Romans 8:32, Romans 5:15, 2 Corinthians 9:15, Ephesians 2:8 and John 4:10, which refer to it as a gift?

For example:

23 For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 6:23)

Now, I have read one commentary on the Book of Matthew, which interprets it differently: The merchant man would be: “The Son of Man,” Jesus Christ, who is the one who seeks the sinner. Christ gave up everything, He died to sell all, in order to buy us, His Church.

This seems to me to align with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but our Senior Pastor at our Church believes in the first interpretation and of course, I want unity in our Church. So, here is two questions:

    1. Can there be two interpretations of the Parable of the Pearl? Mat.13:45-46
    1. If the first interpretation is correct, how does one reconcile the phrase, “and bought it” with the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Is it bought or is it a gift?
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  • Welcome to SE-C. Please see the Tour and Help as to the purpose and the functioning of the site. I have edited only to adjust the typo and to assist your readership with paragraphing. Please feel free to roll back the edit if you so wish.
    – Nigel J
    Apr 9, 2021 at 23:33
  • Thank you Nigel J, I appreciate you helping me out. Apr 10, 2021 at 4:09
  • The beauty of the pearl comes from God and cannot be manufactured by man. If we consider the possibility that the pearl symbolizes something that is intrinsic to God’s kingdom, it opens other avenues for meaning. An alternate interpretation is that the pearl represents God’s righteousness, for which we are to give everything to gain. “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided to you” (Mt 6:33).
    – Nhi
    Feb 23 at 18:46

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I’d like to offer a different perspective to cut your pastor some slack. Not because I believe the answers here are all wrong, but because this site functions at its best when multiple perspectives are exchanged—and there are rational people who have read this passage different ways. That doesn’t mean they’re all right—but it doesn’t mean they’re all wrong either.

It’s worth exploring what is meant by “free” and “gift”

Free

We should be careful about decontextualizing what is meant by “free”. Economists are fond of pointing out “there’s no such thing as a free lunch,” because somebody paid for it. In the case of salvation, in an absolute sense it is neither free nor cheap—it cost the blood of Jesus Christ (see Hebrews 9:12).

The gift is freely given, but it certainly was not free (see Romans 8:32).

Gift

The Greek word behind the key references in the OP is charis (χάρις). I find the Romans 5:15 translation of the related χάρισμα as “free gift” from KJV, NASB, RSV, etc misleading. More careful (in this case) is the NIV, which omits the word “free”.

Brent Schmidt has written about the use of the word charis in Greco-Roman literature (see here) and the historical context is extraordinarily valuable.

The cliff-notes version: charis does not describe a “free lunch”; in Paul's day it described an asymmetric, reciprocal gift relationship. The giver offers something that the receiver could not hope to earn, but the receiver cannot simply take the gift and run—there are expectations of the recipient. The word charis does not describe a mere transaction, it describes a relationship.

Paul’s use of charis is a very effective description of a covenant. Romans 5:15 then describes a covenant relationship in which God provides the terms of the covenant and gives what could never be earned. The recipients enter into that covenant and take upon themselves sacred obligations—more on that below.

“All that he had”

As Revelation Lad already observed, 1 Corinthians 6:20 points out that we are bought with a price.

Additionally, Jesus’ teachings to the rich young ruler point out what Jesus expects of His followers (see Matt 19:16-22). The man was not asked to donate a particular amount; he was asked to donate what he had.

Paul himself understood well that being fully committed to Christ required great sacrifices (e.g. 2 Cor. 11:23-28, Acts 20:19-24).

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In this asymmetric grace relationship what did Jesus give? Everything.

In this asymmetric grace relationship what are we asked to give? Everything.

(Our "everything" is not remotely comparable to Jesus’ "everything")

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To build upon comments I shared in another post, if we say that we want God to forgive us but we don’t want Him to change us, we are completely missing the point. The point of Jesus asking everything from the rich young ruler, and asking everything of us, is not to pay for what He’s giving us, but to change us. To put it more poetically:

He is like a refiner’s fire

He wants to change my desire

His commands do not extract payment of a fine

They are given, His people to refine

(see also Malachi 3:3)

The things that are required of us (e.g. Matthew 7:21) do not pay for salvation; their purpose is not transactional, but transformational.

That’s probably about as far as I ought to go on a hermeneutics site. If anyone is interested, my theological thoughts on grace are found cumulatively here and here.

Conclusion

When the parable describes the merchant giving up “all that he had”, it can effectively describe Jesus’ descent from glory to rescue humanity (see John 17:5), and it describes what He has asked of us.

If the merchant in the parable is likened unto us, the emphasis is not on “buying” or “selling”—these transactional terms are used to convey cost and sacrifice—the emphasis is on the willingness to commit all that we have.

To borrow a common phrase, we can receive eternal life, but only if we’re willing to prioritize it above everything else. If there is anything we are not willing to give up—this was the point Jesus made to the rich young ruler—then it is that very thing that stands in our way of fully receiving His gifts.

In that sense we, like the merchant, are expected to be willing to give all that we have. Could that sacrifice mean dying for one’s faith? It certainly did for Peter, Paul, and others. But what if it means living for our faith—are we willing to do that too?

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    While checking on posts that I was following, I couldn't help noticing that you had modified this Q, which was of interest to me, so then of course I had to read your answer, which then led me to checking out your other relevant post, which then led to viewing your videos on "Grace". All in all, brilliant and incisive. I am not only upvoting this A. but I have also upvoted your other relevant post. Feb 17 at 21:59
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Our repentance, though necessary for salvation, does not earn salvation. Salvation upon mere repentance is a bargain.

The merchant sold all he had to buy the pearl because he knew he was getting a real bargain: the pearl was worth far more than all he had. Likewise, we cannot earn salvation, it is worth far more than we can pay.

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In those days there were no artificial pearls. In our day, we have 'cultivated' pearls that are actually artificial - produced by humans. Natural pearls are very valuable in monetary terms, as far as humans are concerned. A natural pearl has a lot more worth placed on it than an artificial pearl because natural pearls are quite rare, whereas 'cultivated' pearls are mass produced.

When Jesus gave that parable, everybody knew that pearls (all of them being natural) were rare items indeed, and that obtaining them was a dangerous, potentially deadly endeavour for the divers seeking to find them. This meant that people had to be prepared to pay a great deal of money in the market-place, even for just one pearl. Nobody could obtain a pearl without paying a very large sum of money indeed. Pearls were not dished out free.

This means that for the listeners of the parable to get the point Jesus was making, they would have to agree that it might take a man all the money he had to buy one. Indeed, the man in the parable sold everything he had to get enough cash to buy this pearl of great price. However, please note that Jesus is not here speaking directly about salvation. He is speaking about the treasure that is "the kingdom of heaven", as are the other very short parables attached to this discourse.

Finally, the way a pearl is formed within an oyster is relevant to the answer you seek. I quote from this book:

“It is wrongly supposed, traditionally, that a particle of sand begins the interior process whereby something is formulated within the fleshy tissue inside the shell of that creature, deep beneath the sea. What is grown is a composite of living secretion and of structural content, laid down, layer by layer, in laminate form until the end result is harder than bone. Its tensile strength is akin, I understand, to tooth enamel. It is of living substance, but it is structured, note well.

But what actually begins all this formulation is neither granular nor particulate – it is living. Either bacterial or viral in form, it is an infection that prompts the oyster to respond in the way it does. Thus, beneath the swelling waves of the sea… within the outer shell of the animal and, deeper still, in the very depths of the creature is another life… This life is that which causes a pearl to be produced – in time – within the depths of the oyster. And this – this – is the way in to the city Jerusalem which descends from God out of heaven [the kingdom of heaven]. For the pearly gates which men talk about and write about are not gates made out of millions of pearls that they might form a gatelike structure of mere pearly material. Not at all.

The way into the city is by a gate – which is a pearl. Each several gate – is a pearl. The pearl – as such, considered – is the way in to the heavenly city. The entrance is a matter of a life that, becoming resident deep within the creature, causes a structure to be formed that is more durable than flesh, and stronger than bone.

This shall endure unto everlasting life. For it is Christ himself who is formed within, in Spirit, when the Gospel is imbibed by the soul. But it must be the true Gospel – the apostolic Gospel, delivered in the beginning by Jesus Christ himself through chosen apostles, and conveyed, subsequently, by those called of Christ himself and from the throne of glory in the heavens.” The Gates of Pearl, pp48-49, Nigel Johnstone, Belmont Publications, 2016

Answer to your Question 1 - There are many lessons to be learned from this one, very short parable. Key to the correct interpretation is knowing that it speaks of what the kingdom of heaven is likened unto, by Jesus Christ, the only ‘way’ into the kingdom of heaven. Interpreting it on the basis of artificial, ‘cultivated’, man-made gospels will give wrong interpretations.

Answer to your Question 2 - The kingdom of heaven is beyond financial purchase, or of humans doing enough to 'earn' it. But Jesus expects all who desire the kingdom of heaven to be prepared to part with every material thing they have, to die to their lusts, desires and selfishness, for that's what children of the kingdom are like. He requires giving up one's own life for his sake, to die to sin and so to be raised to newness of spiritual life, without which nobody will be able to enter – through him – into the kingdom of heaven.

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My Answer Is the prospective of the different writer's of the books. James for instance mentions 'works' while Paul mentions his prospective of 'faith alone and NOT by works.' Yes, It seems contradictory because Christ used these two individuals through the Holy Spirit to 'ACHIEVE' the 'solution' at the time of writing their own input to the actual acts of the Christ which eventually, having been given the Holy Spirit after his resurrection and ascension. Apostles, by calling on His name (like as my example : a valid vaccine passport vs. an illegal one) were given the power to heal the sick and do everything but raise the dead. That takes prayer. Books of 1st & 2nd Corinthians Paul's & Timothy's testimony. Timothy was Paul's Son.

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The text throughout the whole chapter is about God making the move to save man.

““Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭13:45-46‬ ‭

In this case the merchant is God, who gave His Son in order that He might purchase the valuable He was after. And what does God seek? To redeem His creation, men.

The previous parable is the same thing, there is a treasure hidden in the earth, he sells everything to take ownership of that treasure.

Questions

1 - No there aren’t two interpretations to this parable there is one

2 - the first interpretation is incorrect so it cannot be reconciled with the gospel.

Men do not sell everything to gain the kingdom, rather the kingdom gave its most precious to gain men. The next parable afterwards speaks of the kingdom fishing for men. It can’t get clearer than that, the merchant cannot be men, if the pearls are likened to men.

“When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭13:48-50‬ ‭

It’s not only logical, contextual to the whole Old Testament message of the gospel but it’s the only interpretation that makes sense.

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The contradiction is caused by the misconception that grace covenant requires nothing but faith or religion alone from man. This is why many believers of religion alone would tend to snub or ignore the teachings of Jesus and other epistles and would focus on certain passages of Paul alone. Because that is the root of the misconception, the twisting of Paul's arguments against Mosaic law works (2 Peter 3:16-17).

Remember that your inextricable contradiction is not with just this Parable but all the parables of Jesus. The parables teach how God will judge all men on the basis of their works. The religion of the priests will prove worthless to them with respect to righteousness, and the works of an unbeliever (such as Samaritan) will save him.

Grace is defined as the gracious sacrifice of Christ, to which man has no contribution that he can boast of. In the covenantal aspect grace is defined by contrast with the old law covenant. Grace is the exemption from the law of Moses. Now the exemption from the law works doesn't mean exemption from all the works of commandments which are beyond Moses, that is the general law or the law of Christ. Paul himself taught that explicitly in those chapters you mentioned like Romans 6, Romans 2:6-12. 1 Corinthians 7:19: For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God.

If you believe that the grace covenant requires nothing from you, it means you are turning it into licentiousness or liberty to sin when it is only the liberty from the law of Moses. The error which all the apostles condemned. Do not confuse the grace of the sacrifice of Christ with the covenantal works required from you.

The parables teaches who will obtain the kingdom of heaven (eternal life). It describes how a man forsakes everything he has in this life, which is vain, to purchase a far greater treasure. Christ also commanded that believers have to forsake everything they love in the world, including family and take up their own cross to the point of death in order to fulfill his . It doesn't describe God purchasing the Kingdom of men by selling his earthly posessions. Other parables like Matthew 25 also shows the punishment for disobeying and not yielding fruits. The parables also describe the grace as a loan where God expects the servant to yield profit or carry forward the love & mercy to others. In fact the whole ministry of Jesus was about teaching the the tree that doesn't bear fruits will be cut off and thrown into fire. I'd encourage you to focus more on Christ and the commandments to remember that the justice of God cannot change. Any dogma and doctrine not built on truth and reason is not from God.

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In his commentary of Mark, D.E. Nineham explains the use of parables:

Parables were constantly used by the rabbis at and after the time of Our Lord, and the very numerous examples of their parables which have been preserved make it clear that they used them for the sole purpose of clarifying and driving home their teaching. When we observe the very close similarity of many of these rabbinic parables to Our Lord's - both in form and subject matter - it seems natural to suppose that he used parables in the same sort of way, and with the the same purpose, as the rabbis. That is to say, his general purpose in using parables was to make the truth as fully understood as possible; he may well have used parables, as the rabbis did, to provoke reflection and so bring his hears to a recognition of the truth.1

The most common interpretation of the parable is as the OP states:

All of the Pastors I’ve talked to explain it this way; the merchant man is the sinners in the world and the pearl of great price is The One True God, Jesus Christ, so the sinner gave up all he had to get God, Jesus Christ.

However, since a parable is only "the putting together of one thing along side of another by way of comparison or illustration," it is simply an analogy2which may have other comparisons. For example, it is possible to view the pearl as representing the sinner:

The familiar parables of the Hid Treasure and of the Pearl of Great Price are sometimes taken to illustrate how precious to the mind of Christ are his people and his Church, for which he gave up the glories of heaven and laid down his own life. This teaching is quite in accord with other Scripture, but it may be wiser to find here illustrations of the fact that one who really understands the Gospel message will be ready to make any possible sacrifice that he himself may become an heir of the Kingdom.3

Erdman correctly notes how it is the believer who has been purchased:

19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6 ESV) [also 1 Corinthians 7:23]

In that case, it is Christ who gave up all that He had (cf. Philippians 2:6-7).

Even if the pearl is the Gospel which the sinner values so much they are willing to give up everything to acquire it, the parable cannot be reduced to a financial transaction. Nowhere is "all that he has" quantified: it could be very little. And yet, as it stands, the parable implies the owner of the pearl is willing to accept whatever the merchant has to offer.

When the pearl represents the Gospel, no one really has enough to pay what it is worth; yet the sinner may acquire it since whatever "all that he has" is, is enough. It is not truly a "financial" transaction, since the owner is willing to accept less than what He paid to acquire it. From a financial perspective it can be said they are literally "giving it away."


1. D.E. Nineham, The Gospel of St. Mark, The Seabury Press, 1963, p. 128
2. Ibid., p. 126
3. Charles R. Erdman, The Gospel of Matthew, The Westminster Press, 1947, p. 108

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