(This is part of my Exegetical Compilation series, the contents for which can be found here.)
Three parables from this chapter are often appealed to as evidence for hopeless punishment, whether that God has no intention of saving some sinners from sin (Calvinistic), or that God is incompetent to save all sinners from sin (Arminianistic).
Any interpretation should keep in mind, however, that (as GosMatt makes clearer than the other Synoptics), Jesus has just recently shifted over to parables the afternoon after the Pharisees of Capernaum had charged Him with serving and healing by the power of the devil, when He had healed a demonized man (as Matthew also somewhat clarifies) whose latter state was worse than his former. (Matt 12, the immediately preceding chapter.) The Pharisees are condemned by Jesus for being willing to contradict their own principles in order to put limits on God’s intentions or capabilities in saving people from sin; so we afterward ought to be loath to interpret Jesus’ parables (and to interpret His interpretation of His parables!) with limits on His salvation of people from sin.
In regard to the parable with good soil vs. barren, thorny, and rocky soils: the apostles and disciples themselves misunderstood the parable so as to need explanation, but Jesus in explaining it to them said “Whenever anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it” they are like the ones on whom the seed is sown by the road! Moreover, all the apostles and disciples ended up having no firm root and fell away immediately (though to various degrees) when persecution arose–and this was after having had the parable explained to them! So they were ones on whom the seed was sown in rocky places. Again, Peter routinely had problems realizing he was supposed to be evangelizing Gentiles and not only Jews, and wasn’t called to make converts to “Judaism” per se. St. Paul consequently had some sharp things to say about him being afraid of the opinion of others!–and that all happened well into the post-resurrection ministry! Peter (if not the others) counts as one on whom the seed was sown among the thorns! Considering that no one regards God has having failed to save the apostles from sin, much less as not intending to save them from sin in the first place, and considering that the apostles exemplified all three poor soils, the soils should not be regarded as a hopeless fate and/or punishment.
In regard to the parable of the wheat and the tares: the “sons of the kingdom” regarded as the “wheat” by Jesus in His explanation, are also (by the exact same phrase) warned by Jesus back in Matt 8:12 that they would be wailing and gnashing their teeth over having been thrown outside and seeing people they weren’t expecting to be saved entering into the kingdom to dine with the patriarchs at the table of the Lord! So at the very least there aren’t two completely separate people of elect and non-elect in this parable: the sons of the kingdom may be sons of the evil one (apparently by being sure God will not save various people!) and punished thereby. (To which could be added that the parable has nothing at all to say about conversion, as well as the landowner being surprised and impotent to do anything about the enemy sowing the tares, so Calvs and Arms must both acknowledge that the details shouldn’t be held to rigorously even in a “spiritual” sense.)
Relatedly, who are the wheat, whom the tares resemble until the end of the age when their rotten poisonousness shows forth? Jesus in explaining the parable quotes Daniel 12:3 in reference to them shining forth (like the sun in GosMatt, like the blue sky and the stars in Daniel into the eons of the eons): they are the instructors, or those who have insight, and those who lead the many to righteousness, who having died will be raised to eonian life. Those who are raised from death to eonian contempt or abhorrence would be those who, by contrast, are not concerned with leading the many to righteousness. What do the righteous understand? The angel of God explains to Daniel shortly afterward (almost the end of the final prophecy given to Daniel): “Many will be purged, made white (or purified) and refined (i.e. in a furnace); but the unjust will act unjustly and none of the unjust will understand but the instructors (or those who have insight) will understand.”
In regard to the parable about the good fish and the bad fish: Jesus reverses the actual imagery somewhat, with the explanation being that the bad fish are thrown in the fire – where, per Matt 8:12, the sons of the kingdom will also be thrown if they don’t cooperate with God bringing in people whom the sons aren’t expecting to be brought in!) If the lake == hades/Gehenna, which would be typical Jewish poetic imagery, that means the good fish as being saved out of the spirit prison but others thrown back in. That would run rather counter to the notion that the good fish don’t go to spirit prison in the first place, and tends to suggest salvation of penitent post-mortem spirits. Which could work with Calvinism, too, so long as the Calvinist allows post-mortem salvation of the elect. But the details of the parable subtly undermine any notion of two absolutely separate people in the Calvinistic sense required. Unless Calvinists are saying that God only saves people who are already good enough to be saved to begin with (which Calvs strongly argue against vs. the implications of Arm soteriology).
The most that can be said for sure of the parable is that it teaches punishment of the wicked eventually in fire and with weeping and gnashing of teeth (which “sons of the kingdom” may also be punished with per Matt 8!), which is a belief Arms and (purgatorial) Kaths share with Calvs. What it means for them to be so punished has to be established elsewhere.
But, per GosMatt’s preceding account of the sin against the Holy Spirit, the meaning mustn’t involve denying that God is able and willing to save those whose latter states are worse than their former. And per Jesus’ reference to Daniel 12, the furnace into which the fish are thrown (13:49-50) and the tares (13:42), the same furnace into which even sons of the kingdom may be thrown who are not expecting various people to be saved into the kingdom (Matt 8:12), is for refining the many clean, purifying them white, polished to brightness. But the unjust will not understand this, even to the end of the age, although the instructors will know.
(It may also be observed that in Mark’s report of this incident, in GosMark 4:24-5, he includes this warning, a version of which is often found elsewhere in the Synoptics connected to warnings against being unmerciful: “Take care what you listen to. By what measuring standard you measure it shall be measured to you, and more shall be given to you besides! For whoever is having, to him more shall be given; but whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him.”)
Members are welcome to add further or alternate interpretations below, and/or to add links to discussions of these parables. One thread on the forum with a wide range of commentary about the wheat and the tares can be found here for example; new ones should be added below as well.
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