Tunnel Vision

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Some time ago in church, we read mark 4, specifically Mark 4:11-12. The lead in to those verses is the well-known parable of the sower, and the lead out is Jesus explaining said parable to his disciples (and us), but smack dab in the middle of that Jesus says this:

11 And He was saying to them, "To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God, but those who are outside get everything in parables, 12 so that WHILE SEEING, THEY MAY SEE AND NOT PERCEIVE, AND WHILE HEARING, THEY MAY HEAR AND NOT UNDERSTAND, OTHERWISE THEY MIGHT RETURN AND BE FORGIVEN."

Thus ensued an hour long discussion on why on earth Jesus wouldn’t want them to “return and be forgiven”, as that passage seems to imply. All sorts of ideas were thrown around, such as “perhaps it would have been too much to reveal all at once, and by speaking in parables things are revealed more slowly, over time”, and other such ideas that I neither remember nor care to repeat. During that entire discussion, the entire church, myself included, missed the vital point that would have made things clear. Some of you reading this have probably already caught it: see those all-caps in verse 12? Yep, Jesus is quoting the old testament. Specifically, in this case, Isaiah 6:9. Do some research into the events surrounding that prophesy, and things become more clear.

In fact, you don’t even have to go back to the old testament to help understand the passage. All you have to do is look at Mathew 13. Same story: Parable of the sower, followed by explanation of the same. Even most of the wording is identical, which should give a warm fuzzy feeling that not only are the two passages recounting the same event, but both of them got it right. And sure enough, right in the middle of this passage, Jesus says the same thing. But here it is worded slightly differently (starting in verse 11 for consistancy sake):

11Jesus answered them, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted. 12“For whoever has, to him more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him. 13“Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.

14“In their case the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled, which says, … [emphasis mine]

And there it is, clear as day. He’s not speaking in parables so that they don’t see and hear (at least, notstrictly speaking), but rather because bydoingso it proves they see and do not percieve, hear and do not understand,therefore fullfilling the prophecy of Isaiah. Quite simply,“I speak to them in parables because they are the fullfilment of the prophesy of Isaiah, and by speaking to them in parables the prophecy isfulfilled.” No more, no less. There are no complicated motives involved here, he is simply fulling yet another prophecy. If only someone in our church had picked up on the fact that he was quoting the oldtestament, or on the fact that Matthew stated the same thing more clearly, we could have saved an hour of fruitless discussion. Oh well. Live and learn, I guess.

The real point I want to make here, however, is why I hate bible studies that focus on one passage, or one book, or the like: by looking at what specific passages say, rather than what the bible says as a whole, it is SO easy to miss things like this. The wording in Mark is,admittedly, somewhat confusing. But as soon as you get your nose out of that passage and look at the rest of the bible, it becomes clear what Jesus is really trying to say. And THAT is how to study the bible: by asking the question“what does the bible have to say about xyz”, NOT by asking“what is this passage here saying”. The former brings understanding. The latter, hours of fruitless discussion and mis-understanding. I for one, want the understanding.

Israel Brewster 2011-2016