Luke 8:1–15 . . . Bible Study Summary with Videos and Questions
The Well-Known and Ready-to-Apply “Parable of the ______"
We'll divide today's study into three distinct segments: (1) "Jesus' Band of Proclaimers"; (2) "The Telling of the Parable of the Soils"; and (3) "The Parable of the Soils, Explained."
Jesus' Band of Proclaimers (8:1–3)
At this point in time, Jesus and his traveling band of disciples were moving continually (v. 1a). The verb translated "traveled," Greek diodeuo, "go, travel through, go about," suggests a continued action: He didn't just travel from Town A to City B; he remained on the move. Jesus' action is expressed by two verbs: kerusso, "announce, herald, preach, and proclaim" and euangelizo, "bring or announce good news", from which we get "evangelize." The band was proclaiming "the good news of the kingdom of God."
Imagine the excitement level knowing that Jesus had come to town. The farmers would have left their fields; women stopped dealing with food and clothing; children ended their games; everyone gathered to listen to the Master, a famous visiting teacher whose reputation preceded him. Jesus speaks of the kingdom of God, not as a far-away place but as one being present and powerful, small but growing.
What impact might Jesus have had on the people traveling with him on these preaching trips? They heard the same message day after day. Though Jesus preached with some variation in each town, his followers could probably recite his teachings word for word.
Luke gives us unique insight (vv. 1–3) into the make-up of his traveling band. Traveling with him are: the Twelve Apostles (6:1–16); healed women; and many others. Mary Magdalene, the first witness to the Risen Christ (John 20), is one of this larger group of disciples. We know little about her early life except what Luke tells us in vv. 2–3. We learn three or four things about her: She was from Magdala (probably on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee); she was from a wealthy family, since she helped support Jesus and his disciples; she was troubled, but Jesus had healed her by casting out of her seven demons; she was devoted to Jesus.
Luke also mentions Joanna (wife of Cuza, the manager of Herod Agrippa's household), Susanna, and many others. Our general view of the woman's place in Judaism stresses the patriarchal power structure. But the way Jesus treats women, ministers to their needs, and allows them to travel as a regular part of his team is unparalleled in ancient history. Verse 3 is fascinating: "These women were helping to support them out of their own means." Women helped meet his financial needs. We're told of no other supporters of Jesus' mission than these women! They were Jesus' first financial supporters.
The Telling of the Parable of the Soils (8:4–10)
In this segment, we'll look at the physical condition of the soils and Jesus' reason for using parables. Vv. 11–15 highlight the spiritual truths that the soils represent.
Luke describes the day (v. 4) when thousands heard Jesus relate a relevant parable. What had started with teaching in synagogues had completely outgrown such buildings. Large crowds now attended his teachings, many journeying long distances. Most of Jesus' parables are simple stories told to make a point.
Soil Type 1 — The Path (v. 5) The sowing that Jesus describes involved scattering a handful of seed evenly on a field. Hearers in the crowd that day sowed seed that way and immediately appreciated his story. He said that some seed fell along the path, the narrow strip of hardened dirt on which the farmer walked. Because the soil of the path wasn't plowed, seeds remained on the ground surface "and the birds of the air ate it up."
Soil Type 2 — Rocky Soil (v. 6) Next, Jesus notes that some seed fell on rock. For a while, new plants would spring up, growing vigorously, until they ran out of moisture. Since they couldn't develop a root into deep soil, they'd quickly wither and die.
Soil Type 3 — Thorny Soil (v. 7) No farmer purposely scatters seed onto thorny soil. But there may be thorn seed within the soil (such as Star Thistle in California) in spots. Among the crowd to whom Jesus speaks are farmers, with their wives and children, nodding their heads and smiling about familiar thorns.
Soil Type 4 — Good Soil (v. 8a) In a good year, for example, a field might yield 100 grains of wheat for every seed sown: a hundred-fold. It was the sower's goal that the seeds would grow, be strong, flourish in the sun, and produce an abundant harvest.
Jesus told his parable that day, then stopped. Over the hillsides are hundreds, thousands of eager listeners pondering, thinking: What does it mean? What's he getting at?
"Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear." Those in the crowd had ears and heard the parable! But Jesus was challenging the hearers to understand, apply, and obey what they'd heard. Note that the essence of this parable is about hearing, then taking the next step. The disciples can't figure it out, so they ask him during a lull in the teaching, "What does that parable mean, Teacher?"
He says in v. 10, "The knowledge of the secrets (mysterion) of the kingdom of God has been given to you." The Greek word mysterion which translates "secrets," refers to "the secret plan of God," which can only be known through revelation by God, not discovered by careful detective work. While parables illustrate truths, some require knowledge of their meaning to understand them. Those who are hungry for this knowledge will, as the disciples did, seek it out; others, who lack spiritual hunger, won't.
Before Jesus explains the parable, he tells us: Not everyone who hears his parables will understand. He then quotes from Isaiah's commission from God (Isaiah 6:9–10).
The Parable of the Soils, Explained (8:11–15)
Because Jesus' disciples still don't understand what the parable means (v. 9), he helps them identify the various soil [people] types. (Note: This parable is recorded in all three synoptic gospels: Matthew 13:1–23; Mark 4:1–20; Luke 8:4–15. Of the three gospel writers, Matthew's version is the most complete; Luke writes the least.)
Jesus doesn't emphasize the sower in this parable; nor does he focus on the seed, i.e., the Word of God. The same seed can produce huge crops or nothing; it all depends on the quality of the soil on which that seed is sown. Though Jesus doesn't identify the sower, Jesus himself would be the First Sower of his words, his teachings, his explanation of the kingdom of God, his revelations about the Father.
The first soil type is the hard-packed path between the fields (v. 12). The seed never sinks into the soil. The devil, represented in the parable by birds, gobbles up the seed before it can germinate in the soil, representing unbelievers who hear the Word but have closed minds. Unreceptive, words bounce off them.
The second soil type is the thin layer of soil over a shelf of rock (v. 13). There's enough soil for early growth when spring rains moisten soil. But the searing heat of summer soon comes. The plant has put out green leaves but its root system hasn't penetrated the moist soil below. The rock prevents its growth, and new plants quickly wither. Jesus is describing people who've made only a surface commitment. When "push comes to shove," they fade away. When the heat is on, surface Christians wither.
The third soil type is the the thorny soil, where thorns grow up alongside the wheat plants, out-competing them for sunlight and water. As a result, wheat never bears a cultivatable head of grain, because it's stunted, as Jesus tells us, by worries, riches, and pleasures. Worries: Being consumed by life's worries can choke one's spiritual life. Worry competes with your faith, time, and dedication, strangling your relationship with God and his Word in your life. Riches: Jesus lists "riches" among thorns, but in our society most people are actively seeking riches! Is your quest for greater material security taking more focus away from your relationship with God? Do your possessions belong to the Lord or would you wrestle him for them if he were to demand them? Pleasures: The third thorn Jesus identifies in Luke's Gospel is "pleasures." Jesus says clearly to his disciples that the pleasure principle will surely choke out his life in people, making our lives spiritually fruitless and barren.
How are we to produce a good crop? The fourth type of soil is called "good soil," representing hearers who possess a "good heart." Four characteristics of a good heart are given in this passage: (1) hearing the Word, (2) retaining the Word, (3) persevering in the Word, and then (4) producing a harvestable crop.
Encouragement to "Seed Sowers" The Word of God requires a faith response for it to flourish. Not everyone comes with a persistent, wholehearted, Jesus-loving faith. "Don't be discouraged," Jesus is telling us. The Word won't grow in everyone; but it will grow in those who receive it eagerly and wholeheartedly.
Don't be discouraged; continue to faithfully sow the Word in people's lives and yours.
- Q. 1 In what way does Jesus' teaching harden people's hearts?
- Q. 2 Why, according to v. 13, do some people demonstrate "flash-in-the-pan Christianity"? Do you know any?
- Q. 3 Which of the thorns that Jesus mentions in v. 14 do you think is the most dangerous for others and you: worries, riches, or pleasure?
New International Version (NIV) [To view it in a different version, click here; also listen to chapter 8.]
† Watch this passage-specific video clip from Jesus Film Project titled "Parable of the Sower and the Seed."
The Parable of the Sower
8 After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, 2and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; 3Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod's household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.
4While a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town after town, he told this parable: 5"A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds ate it up. 6Some fell on rocky ground, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. 7Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. 8Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown."
When he said this, he called out, "Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear."
9His disciples asked him what this parable meant. 10He said, "The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that,
"'though seeing, they may not see;
though hearing, they may not understand.'
11"This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. 12Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. 13Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. 14The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life's worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. 15But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.