A Brief Reflection on Mark 4:1-20

Six Types of Soil

We are accustomed to seeing in the parable of the sower only the four types of soil that are presented by our Lord Jesus, but there are in fact six types of soil mentioned here, three bad and three good. These stand in diametrical opposition to one another, as the bad soils bear (i.)no crops, (ii.)crops that have no roots, and (iii.)thorns that grow up and choke the seed that was sown; and the good soils bear (i.)thirtyfold crops, (ii.)sixtyfold crops, and (iii.)a hundredfold crop. The significance of giving emphasis to this bad/good soil dichotomy is that Arminians and other conditionalists try to make use of this parable to support the idea that an individual can truly believe the Gospel and yet fall away. With this dichotomy, however, between those who bore absolutely no crops and those who bore crops in different quantities, we learn that those who have never yielded a single crop are to be classed with unregenerate and not the regenerate; those who bear fruit/foliage in keeping with repentance are, therefore, the sons of Abraham/sons of God by faith in Christ Jesus, those who are without crops, or who produce crops that shrivel away under persecution, or who produce thorns that choke the word out before it even gets a chance to yield crops are those who are dead in their sins.

What makes this parable even stronger is the metaphor itself of the human heart which is likened to soil. This analogy of such a passive part of God’s creation is given to us by the Holy Spirit as a picture of our own hearts that are either good for receiving the word and bearing crops/foliage/fruit, or bad and devoid of God’s Word, self-deceived and bearing false fruit, or bearing thorns that choke out the word of God. Soil is first mentioned in Genesis 1:11-13, and it is the recipient of God’s Word of blessing. The Lord commands that the land bring forth vegetation and it does, since God’s purpose is to bring forth life from it. Prior to the fall of Adam, the ground was blessed by God when it was created,[1] and was in a condition to yield vegetation, plants, and fruit trees at the life giving command of God.[2] Note that it is the Lord who is control here, creating blessed soil that will receive the Word and grow accordingly. Subsequent to the fall, however, it is the Lord who curses the soil/ground in response to Adam’s sin.[3] Because our natural father Adam sinned, all of the earth was placed under God’s curse. In fact, the entire universe is subject to corruption now, as Paul later will tell us.[4] Yet, we read here only of the earth, from which Adam himself was taken and formed.[5]

To limit the function of this close relationship of Adam to the earth as being merely one of historical significance is to miss what is clearly presented in our Lord’s parable: We are the dirt and we are either blessed of God and given the ability to be fruitful or we are under the curse and can, by the Lord’s judgment upon us, only bear thorns and thistles.[6] God is Sovereign over what land He makes useful and blesses with fruitfulness, as He is Sovereign over what land He curses with barrenness and thorns and thistles. Paul makes this clear in 1 Corinthians 3:5-9, as he states in no uncertain terms that his and Apollos’ work is not in and of itself effectual, for God alone gives the growth. It is God who causes the ground to bear crops, literally and metaphorically.

Similarities to 1 Corinthians 1-3

To the dismay of liberals throughout professing Christendom, there is no opposition between our Lord Jesus Christ and our brother Paul the apostle. This is evidenced in many places and very powerfully illustrated in this instance if we compare the teachings of our Lord in this parable and the teachings of Paul in 1 Corinthians 1-3. Below is table of comparison between the teachings in the parable of the Sower and the teachings in the first three chapters of 1 Corinthians.

Parable of the Sower 1 Corinthians 1-3
The Gospel is a mystery concealed and revealed by God (vv.10-12)Individuals are likened to soil (vv.15-20)

Preaching/Teaching is likened to Sowing seed

Those who hear & accept the Word do so with understanding (cf. Matt 13:23 & Mark 4:20)

Those who hear & accept with understanding exhibit growth (v. 20)

The Gospel is a mystery concealed and revealed by God (2:6-10)Individuals are likened to a field/ground (3:9)

Preaching/Teaching is likened to Sowing seed & watering sown fields (3:6)

Those who hear & accept the Word do so with understanding (2:12-14)

Those who hear  & accept with understanding exhibit growth (3:5-9)

What is lacking from our Lord’s parable is one element that Paul makes abundantly clear: The powerful working of the Holy Spirit in regenerating us, granting us faith and repentance, and sanctifying us, causing us to bear fruit in keeping with repentance. Those who deny that Christ and Paul taught the same doctrines are indicted here very strongly, seeing as Paul doesn’t contradict our Lord but only adds another element to the propositional truths relayed to us in Christ’s parables, further expounding on what Christ Himself would teach His eleven disciples later in the Upper Room discourse of John 14-16. The imagery used in our Lord’s parable, as I noted earlier, is derived from the Old Testament and cannot be properly understood apart from that context.


[1] Cf. Gen 1:10, where the Lord “saw that it [i.e. the earth (as well as the sea)] was good.”

[2] Cf. Gen 1:11, where we read “And God said…and it was so.”

[3] Cf. Gen 3:17-19

[4] Cf. Ro 8:20-21

[5] Cf. Gen 2:7

[6] Cf. Heb 6:7-8, where the apostle speaks in a similar manner, attributing the growth of useful crops to the blessing of God and the growth of thorns and thistles to the ground itself, which implies that it was never blessed by God to begin with but was remained under the curse.


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