Question:

I have a Bible question, sir.

In Matthew 13:31-32 and in Mark 4:30-32, does Jesus say that the mustard seed is the smallest of all seeds? I have read that the orchid seed is the smallest seed. I'm a little confused. Can you please tell me what Jesus meant when he said that the mustard seed was the smallest seed? It is also found in Luke 13:18–19, but God does not say it is the smallest there.

Since Jesus cannot ever lie, can you please explain this parable to me?

Thank you.

Answer:

"He presented another parable to them, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field; and this is smaller than all other seeds, but when it is full grown, it is larger than the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches'" (Matthew 13:31-32).

"And He said, 'How shall we picture the kingdom of God, or by what parable shall we present it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the soil, though it is smaller than all the seeds that are upon the soil, yet when it is sown, it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and forms large branches; so that the birds of the air can nest under its shade'" (Mark 4:30-32).

"So He was saying, 'What is the kingdom of God like, and to what shall I compare it? It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and threw into his own garden; and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air nested in its branches'" (Luke 13:18-19).

A part of the difficulty comes from the translation from Greek to English. A very literal translation of the Greek text says, "Like is the kingdom of the heavens to a grain of mustard, which having taken, a man sowed in the field his; which less indeed is than all the seeds, when but it be grown, greater than the herbs is, and becomes a tree, so that to come the birds of the heaven and in the branches its." The question is: What is "all?" Is Jesus discussing every possible seed in the world? From the context, the parable is discussing the various types of seeds that a Jewish farmer might sow in his field. Of all those possible seeds, the black mustard is the smallest seed that might be sown. From that seed comes a plant that can grow ten to twelve feet tall -- large enough to attract birds.

Jesus' parable is not about the selection of the absolute smallest seed in the world. Yes, some orchid seeds are smaller than the black mustard, but orchids don't grow into large plants and this parable is about a trait of the kingdom. From seemingly small beginnings it is going to grow very large. It is not a wild product -- it is something that was purposely planted by the Master-Farmer (God) to have a purpose.

Thus, for this parable, of all the seeds a Jewish farmer might plant, the tiny mustard seed best illustrates what the growth of the kingdom of God would be like in the world.

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