wheat and tares

One of the kingdom parables is often misinterpreted. I am amazed at this since our Lord Jesus Christ himself gave us the proper interpretation. Here is the parable:

Matthew 13:24 Jesus presented another parable to them, saying, "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 "But while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went away. 26 "But when the wheat sprouted and bore grain, then the tares became evident also. 27 "The slaves of the landowner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ 28 "And he said to them, ‘An enemy has done this!’ The slaves said to him, ‘Do you want us, then, to go and gather them up?’ 29 "But he said, ‘No; for while you are gathering up the tares, you may uproot the wheat with them.

What is the popular misinterpretation?

Many, many, many people, pastors, laymen, and [yes, believe it] ‘scholars’ alike say that this is a parable of the church – that the reality is you will find unregenerate people in the church, you can just as well expect it.

What is the proper interpretation? Let’s let the Lord speak:

Matthew 13:36 Then He left the crowds and went into the house. And His disciples came to Him and said, "Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field." 37 And He said, "The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man, 38 and the field is the world; and as for the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the evil one; 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil, and the harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are angels. 40 "So just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age. 41 "The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, 42 and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 "Then THE RIGHTEOUS WILL SHINE FORTH AS THE SUN in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.

It really bugs me when people misinterpret this parable. It bugs me when other people don’t call the misinterpreters on this error. This is an elementary grade school kind of interpretation issue. What exactly is the problem with the authority of the Lord to tell us what he meant?

I thought the young fundamentalists were the ones who looked up the verse.



  1. I was gonna straighten him out but Jim said ‘get back on topic!’
    No, actually, there were bigger fish to fry there, like the whole idea that the way to handle the imperfection of local churches is to shun church entirely.
    But in Tim D’s defense, I’ll suggest that the “visible church” application of the parable is not far off.
    That is, though it’s about the “Kingdom” (not the church), Jesus has the “kingdom” consisting of both believers and unbelievers (the lawless are taken “out of” it). This presents a bit of a “problem” since Paul speaks of the kingdom as though it were synonymous with being in Christ (e.g., Rom.14.17, 1Cor.4.19-20).
    So whatever way one handles it, it involves more than just looking up the verse.
    The solution I lean toward is that Jesus was speaking of the kingdom in a visible (rather than essential) sense in that particular passage, and so–though not identical with the church–there is considerable overlap at the present time. What’s missing now is the whole geopolitical dimension, but when that comes, it seems to me that’s in addition to the kingdom aspect Paul talks about–the fullness of it.
    So you still have the same phenomenon: people who profess but do not possess.

    • Hi Aaron,

      Thanks for the comment. This parable is one of my pet peeves I would say. I recognize there are issues in understanding what ‘the kingdom’ means, etc, but the salient points that Jesus intended to make clear were these:

      1. The field is the world. No way that can be the church.
      2. The harvest is the end of the age. Has nothing to do with church discipline or membership.

      It really bugs me when Jesus made the sphere of the parable crystal clear. He was talking about the world, not the church.

      I will grant he was also talking about the kingdom, but that is a much bigger topic than just the church. I think we can safely say that without defining one way or another exactly what the kingdom is.

      It also bothered me to see fellows who should know better just give the comment a pass.

      But then, it is one of my hermeneutical pet peeves.

      It almost tempted me to sign up for SI again.

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  2. Don,

    I believe that the kingdom parables are intended for the work of the kingdom in the age in which we live. Jesus wants us to know that there are tares among the wheat. Who are the wheat?

    Isn’t the point too that the tares look like wheat? So during the day in which we live, outward appearance is not all that comes into play?

    So does this apply to the church? Yes, as we do the work of the church, we need to be sure to understand that there is some impostor wheat, or even that you need to examine yourself to see if you are in the faith, since God is going to judge in the end.

  3. Keith says:

    Yes, the field is the world, but the crop is the kingdom. The son of man gathers the tares, “out of His kingdom.”

    So, if these tares were not even a part of the visible church, in what way were they in the kingdom?

    I think that most folks understand Jesus interpretation to mean that early in the growing season all of the crop appears to be genuine (wheat), but at the time of the harvest, it will be clear that some is false (tares).

    Furthermore, even if this parable doesn’t teach that there will be unregenerate folks in the church alongside the regenerate, other portions of Scripture and simple observation do.

    • The authoritative statement with respect to this parable is Jesus: The field is the world. Everything in interpreting this parable depends on accepting this statement and Jesus’ authority in making the statement.

      The field is the world, the parable is a parable of the kingdom. Therefore, the kingdom encompasses all that the word ‘world’ means. It cannot mean church in any sense here. It doesn’t matter that the true wheat undoubtedly includes people in the church (but likely not exclusively – OT saints, Tribulation saints [sorry Keith], millennial saints). The field is the world. That statement determines all the meaning in the parable.

      One of the problems people have with parables is trying to prove too much by them. They are usually meant to prove one point and some of the details in the story are not necessarily intended to prove any point.

      In this case, we are given the authoritative interpretation and I would say, let’s stick with that.

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  4. Don, what do you believe is the practical value of the parable of the tares and the wheat for us today?

    • I believe it teaches us some principles eschatologically and is in line with Jesus’ teaching that if his kingdom were of this world, then would his servants fight. Remember, in the parable, the servants ask the Lord if they should remove the tares. It is quite plain that the tares are obvious before the harvest. But the Lord says no, they will be removed in the harvest by the Lord and his angels. We are not given a sword in this dispensation, other than the sword of the Word.

      So… Zwingli was dead wrong, for one thing. (And literally dead as a result.)

      We are to wait for the Lord to remove the tares in his time, not ours.

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  5. Keith says:

    “It cannot mean church in any sense here.”

    Huh? Any sense? You must not be aware of all the senses.

    “It doesn’t matter that the true wheat undoubtedly includes people in the church (but likely not exclusively – OT saints, Tribulation saints [sorry Keith], millennial saints).”

    Huh again? You complain that people make parables mean too much but you want to reduce the use of the word church to the faithful from only one portion of history — that’s the pot calling the kettle black. Who gets harvested? Well, it’s not just believers from some made up church “age”, but all the good seed.

    “The field is the world.”

    Yes it is. What is the harvest?

    • The church is something Jesus Christ built. It does not include all believers from all periods of time. Read Mt 16. What tense does Jesus use?

      The harvest at the end of the age is all believers from all time.

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  6. Keith says:

    So what do you call the assembly of all believers from all time?

    • Believers, saints, the redeemed… there are quite a number of biblical terms.

      The church is a specific subset of these people.

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3