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This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. Bible other translations

“nor do they understand.” Jesus spoke in parables to reveal the hearts of the people who were hearing him speak. Why did some people listen to Jesus but not understand? They did not bother to find out what the teachings meant. Humble, godly people found out what the parables meant while pious, arrogant people did not make the effort to find out. In their arrogance, they covered their ears and closed their hearts, as Matthew’s record portrays (Matthew 13:14-15). This truth is given via the idiom of permission by saying that God has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts (John 12:38-40). Matthew 13:13-15 cannot be understood without understanding the Semitic idiom that many scholars call “the idiom of permission” (for more on the idiom of permission, see commentary on Romans 9:18; for a good example of the idiom of permission see Exodus 4:21 and its commentary).

Why did the Lord speak to the crowds with parables? To this question, Christ could have responded that he takes his own advice, by not throwing his pearls before the swine (Matt. 7:6). Furthermore, God says, “Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, for he will despise the good sense of your words” (Prov. 23:9). Parables are designed so that the hearers must think, seek, and even ask to understand. By speaking to the crowds in this way, the Lord separates those who have a will to listen and learn from those who foolishly reject his teachings without giving them any thought.

All three synoptic gospels record the parable of the Sower in the context of the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah (Matt. 13:10-18; Mark 4:2-12; Luke 8:9-11). John does not relate the Sower parable but speaks of the prophecy of Isaiah (John 12:35-42). It is interesting that the Parable of the Sower is in this context, for that parable deals with how one’s heart is prepared to receive the Good News. In the Parable of the Sower there is no indication that God decides what kind of soil one’s heart is. Rather, it is the person who decides by their thoughts and actions what kind of soil they are. This is where the quotation from Isaiah comes in. Jesus says in Matthew the prophecy “is fulfilled” (Mat. 13:14, present indicative), in that some of those listening had dull hearts and could barely hear, and also that they chose to close their eyes and ears lest they see, hear, understand, and turn. The Greek word for “lest,” mepote (#3379 μήποτε), is an indicator of negative purpose, showing the sinful people purposely intended to not see, hear, or understand. Those Jews hardened their hearts against God, and in general evil people do not want to know God (cp. Job. 21:14; 22:17; Isa. 30:11; Micah 2:6).

John begins the record by pointing out that even though Jesus had done so many signs before these people, they still did not believe in him (John 12:37). This “resulted in” another word of Isaiah being fulfilled regarding Israel’s unbelief: “Who has believed what he heard from us” (John 12:38). The “resulted in” in John 12:38 comes from the Greek preposition hina which in that verse introduced a result clause (cp. commentary on Matt. 2:15; “resulting in…what was spoken being fulfilled”). John says it was “for this reason,” “on account of this,” (Greek: dia touto) that these people could not believe (John 12:39). That is to say, because they rejected Jesus and refused to believe, “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them” (John 12:40).

God is portrayed as doing the blinding and hardening in the passage in John. Yet we know from Matthew these people hardened their own hearts first by choosing not to believe. John tells us that it was because of this unbelief they were blinded. How are we to understand this blinding? It is not as though God actively hardens the hearts of those who close their eyes to the truth. Rather, he has allowed them to be blinded by setting in place a spiritual principle that while one is rejecting Jesus they are left in a state of spiritual blindness. It is the idiom of permission. Scripture teaches that in actuality, the Devil is the one who blinds these people: “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:4); it is only when they turn to the Lord that the veil is taken away (2 Cor. 3:14-16). Unbelievers have dull hearts and ears that can barely hear, but whether they will turn to the Lord or decide to close their eyes is their free choice. If they turn to him, the veil is lifted off their hearts and they can see. But if they choose to reject Christ and close their eyes then those people remain under Satan’s dominion of spiritual blindness. This is why Christ told these people, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you… While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light (John 12:35-36).

Once someone rejects the light they are “overtaken” by darkness and they remain in that state until they turn to the Lord and are healed. Only in the sense of the idiom of permission can it be said that God blinds people and hardens their hearts. Thus we can get to the proper understanding of passages like Matthew 13:13-15 only if we consider the whole of scripture and understand the language and idioms that it uses. We must put the records together to understand the full picture, that people first choose to harden their own hearts and as a result, they are left in a state of spiritual blindness.

When this record occurs in Mark 4:12 and Luke 8:10 it comes in the form of two purpose-result clauses (see commentary on Matt. 2:15; “resulting in…what was spoken being fulfilled”), thus sandwiching the truth revealed in Matthew and John together into one perspective. Taken together and in the scope of Scripture, they show that Jesus taught in parables “so that” the people may see but not perceive, and hear but not understand (cp. Mark 4:12). The “so that” indicates the purpose and the result of the speaking in parables, which was to teach the humble and godly but reveal the arrogant heart of the ungodly.


Commentary for: Matthew 13:13