to Matthew, Mark & Luke

2. The Sower
Matt 13:1-9 // Mark 4:1-9 // Luke 8:4-8

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Another Telling

The fact that the Gospel of Thomas preserves the parable of the sower without either setting or concluding aphorism confirms the impression that these three elements were originally independent of each other.

Thomas 9
1 Jesus said:
  "Look!  The sower went out,
  took a handful [of seeds]
  and scattered [them].
Some fell on the road
  and the birds of the air came
  and collected them.
3 Others fell on rock,
  and they did not take root in the soil
  and didn't produce heads of grain.
4 Others fell on thorns,
  and they choked the seeds
  and worms ate them.
  And others fell on good soil,
  and it produced a good crop;
  it yielded 60 per measure
  & 120 per measure.

Thomas preserves 

  • the basic narrative structure, 

  • the four soils & 

  • some other terms (blue text) 

that are common to all synoptic versions of this parable. 

Unlike the texts of Matthew & Luke, however, Thomas' version cannot be traced directly to any written text. The rhetorical style of its opening is closest to Mark's. But Thomas' description of the first two destinations of the scattered seed and the productivity of the fourth uses phrasing closer to Luke (red text). Yet Thomas preserves some scattered wording common to Matthew & Mark that Luke omits (teal text).  

The bulk of Thomas' wording, however, is independent of all the synoptics. There are no echoes of wording peculiar to Matthew's version. So, if the compiler of the gospel of Thomas got this parable from the canonical gospels, he had to

  • extract it from its synoptic context,
  • echo a few words from Mark & a few from Luke,
  • alter the conclusion &
  • paraphrase the rest.

A far simpler & more plausible explanation is that Thomas, like Mark, recorded this parable from an oral source. Thomas is clear evidence that the parable of the sower circulated in early Christian circles without reference to its original setting. Thus, the synoptic writers were free to report it in any context they thought appropriate.


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last revised 11 December 2019

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