Parable of the Tares

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The enemy sowing weeds, c. 1540

The Parable of the Tares, (also known as the Parable of the Weeds, Parable of the Wheat and Tares, Parable of the Wheat and Weeds, or the Parable of the Weeds in the Grain), is one of the parables of Jesus, which appears in only one of the Canonical gospels of the New Testament. According to the Matthew 13:24-30 during the final judgment, the angels will separate the "sons of the evil one" (the "tares" or weeds) from the "sons of the kingdom" (the wheat). It follows the Parable of the Sower, and precedes the Parable of the Mustard Seed.

An abbreviated version of the parable also appears in the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas (Saying 57).[1]

Narrative[edit]

The parable is as follows:

Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field:

But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way.

But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also.

So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares?

He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up?

But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them.

Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.
—Matthew 13:24-30, Holy Bible: King James Version

The word translated "tares" in the King James Version is ζιζάνια (zizania), plural of ζιζάνιον (zizanion). This word is thought to mean darnel (Lolium temulentum),[2][3] a ryegrass which looks much like wheat in its early stages of growth.[4] Roman law prohibited sowing darnel among the wheat of an enemy,[4][5] suggesting that the scenario presented here is realistic.[6] Many translations use "weeds" instead of "tares".

A similar metaphor is wheat and chaff, replacing (growing) tares by (waste) chaff, and in other places in the Bible "wicked ones" are likened to chaff.

Interpretation[edit]

An eschatological interpretation[6] is provided by Jesus in verses Matthew 13:36-43 of the chapter:

Then Jesus sent the multitudes away, and went into the house. His disciples came to him, saying, "Explain to us the parable of the darnel weeds of the field." He answered them, "He who sows the good seed is the Son of Man, the field is the world; and the good seed, these are the children of the Kingdom; and the darnel weeds are the children of the evil one. The enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. As therefore the darnel weeds are gathered up and burned with fire; so will it be at the end of this age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will gather out of his Kingdom all things that cause stumbling, and those who do iniquity, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be weeping and the gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine forth like the sun in the Kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

—Matthew 13:36-43, World English Bible
Félicien Rops, Satan Sowing Seeds, pencil, c. 1872

Although Jesus has distinguished between people who are part of the Kingdom of Heaven and those who are not, this difference may not always be readily apparent, as the parable of the Leaven indicates.[6] However, the final judgment will be the "ultimate turning-point when the period of the secret growth of God's kingdom alongside the continued activity of the evil one will be brought to an end, and the new age which was inaugurated in principle in Jesus' earthly ministry will be gloriously consummated."[6]

St. Augustine pointed out that the invisible distinction between "wheat" and "tares" also runs through the Church:

O you Christians, whose lives are good, you sigh and groan as being few among many, few among very many. The winter will pass away, the summer will come; lo! The harvest will soon be here. The angels will come who can make the separation, and who cannot make mistakes. ... I tell you of a truth, my Beloved, even in these high seats there is both wheat, and tares, and among the laity there is wheat, and tares. Let the good tolerate the bad; let the bad change themselves, and imitate the good. Let us all, if it may be so, attain to God; let us all through His mercy escape the evil of this world. Let us seek after good days, for we are now in evil days; but in the evil days let us not blaspheme, that so we may be able to arrive at the good days.[7]

Religious toleration[edit]

The weeds or "tares" were probably darnel.

The Parable of the Tares has often been cited in support of various degrees of religious toleration.

In his "Letter to Bishop Roger of Chalons", Bishop Wazo of Liege (c. 985-1048 AD) relied on the parable[8] to argue that "the church should let dissent grow with orthodoxy until the Lord comes to separate and judge them".[9]

Martin Luther preached a sermon on the parable in which he affirmed that only God can separate false from true believers and noted that killing heretics or unbelievers ends any opportunity they may have for salvation:

"From this observe what raging and furious people we have been these many years, in that we desired to force others to believe; the Turks with the sword, heretics with fire, the Jews with death, and thus outroot the tares by our own power, as if we were the ones who could reign over hearts and spirits, and make them pious and right, which God's Word alone must do. But by murder we separate the people from the Word, so that it cannot possibly work upon them and we bring thus, with one stroke a double murder upon ourselves, as far as it lies in our power, namely, in that we murder the body for time and the soul for eternity, and afterwards say we did God a service by our actions, and wish to merit something special in heaven."

He concluded that "although the tares hinder the wheat, yet they make it the more beautiful to behold".[10]

Roger Williams, a Baptist theologian and founder of Rhode Island, used this parable to support government toleration of all of the "weeds" (heretics) in the world, because civil persecution often inadvertently hurts the "wheat" (believers) too. Instead, Williams believed it was God's duty to judge in the end, not man's. This parable lent further support to Williams' Biblical philosophy of a wall of separation between church and state as described in his 1644 book, The Bloody Tenent of Persecution.[11]

John Milton, in Areopagitica (1644), calling for freedom of speech and condemning Parliament's attempt to license printing, referred to this parable and the Parable of Drawing in the Net both only found in Matthew 13:[12]

(I)t is not possible for man to sever the wheat from the tares, the good fish from the other fry; that must be the Angels' ministry at the end of mortal things.

Depictions[edit]

Parable of the Wheat and the Tares by Abraham Bloemaert (1624)

This parable has been depicted by several artists, including William Blake, Abraham Bloemaert, Albin Egger-Lienz, Domenico Fetti, Jan Luyken, John Everett Millais, Félicien Rops, James Tissot.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Gospel of Thomas: Lamb translation and Patterson/Meyer translation.
  2. ^ Liddell H G and Scott R, A Greek-English Lexicon, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1843–1996, under "ζιζάνια". The plural form (Zizania) has in modern times been adopted as the botanical name for wild rice.
  3. ^ "Thayer's Lexicon: ζιζάνια". Blueletterbible.org. Retrieved 2013-11-09. 
  4. ^ a b Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, Eerdmans, 2009, ISBN 0-8028-6498-8, pp. 386-387.
  5. ^ Ramesh Khatry, The Authenticity of the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares and Its Interpretation, Universal Publishers, 2000, ISBN 1-58112-094-X, p. 35.
  6. ^ a b c d R. T. France, The Gospel According to Matthew: An introduction and commentary, Eerdmans, 1985, ISBN 0-8028-0063-7, pp. 225-227.
  7. ^ "Augustine, Sermon #23 on the New Testament". Newadvent.org. Retrieved 2013-11-09. 
  8. ^ Landes, Richard. "The Birth of Heresy: A Millennial Phenomenon,". Journal of Religious History 24.1 (2000): 26 -43. Retrieved December 13, 2010. 
  9. ^ Jeffrey Burton Russell, Dissent and Order in the Middle Ages: The Search for Legitimate Authority (New York: Twayne Publishers 1992), p. 23
  10. ^ The Sermons of Martin Luther II. p. 100-106 (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House 1906). Retrieved January 13, 2011. 
  11. ^ James P. Byrd (2002). "The challenges of Roger Williams: religious liberty, violent persecution, and the Bible". Mercer University Press. Retrieved July 20, 2009. 
  12. ^ "The Areopagitica". Gutenberg.org.