The table below illustrates the similarities and differences in the three verbs employed by Matthew, Mark, and Luke to describe the good-soil people in the parable of the sower:
Verb One -- ἀκούειν
Verb Two --
Verb Three -- καρποφορειν
For the first and third verbs, Matthew, Mark, and Luke use the same verbs -- to hear (ἀκούειν) and to fruit (καρποφορειν). However, each Synoptic gospel uses a different second verb to characterize the reaction of good-soil people to the Word.
Matthew’s version -- συνιείς, from the roots συν (with) and ίημι (join together). Comparable to the word synthesize. The good-soil people are those who hear the Word from Jesus, synthesize something old with something new, and then produce inward and outward fruits.
Mark’s version -- παραδέχονται, from the roots παρα (from) and δέχομαι (receive). To receive from, to accept. The good-soil people hear the Word from Jesus, take it in, accept this new thing, and then produce inward and outward fruits.
Luke’s version -- κατέχουσιν, from the roots κατά (down) and ἔχω (have). To hold on to, to hold fast to, to align with one thing over against something else. The good-soil people hear the Word from Jesus, embrace something new, abandon something old, and then produce inward and outward fruits.
Matthew and Luke don’t explain what the something old and something new are. The new could be faith in Jesus or his teachings. The old could be old religious beliefs or lifestyles. The parable doesn’t elaborate, so that leaves my imagination free to fill in the blanks.
Let’s imagine that in Matthew the good-soil people incorporate Jesus’ teachings into their previous beliefs, and in Luke, they abandon their old beliefs and make a new faith commitment to Jesus. Such interpretations are consistent with some scholarly theories on the intended audience of each of these gospels.
Matthew was written for Jews-Christians who were learning to adjust their understanding of Judaism and align it with Jesus’ new interpretation of what it meant to have faith and to live a faithful life. Luke was written for Gentiles who faced the prospect of abandoning their old gods after coming to have faith in Christ.
The audience in Mark isn’t as easy to pin down solely based on the author’s verb choice in the parable. In Mark, the good-soil people are mentally persuaded by the Word. This could represents a synthesis with previous beliefs, a break with old traditions in favor of the new, or a syncretism that receives the new yet retains the old ways. In order to figure out which (if any) of these interpretations was accurate, I scanned the entire gospel looking for clues.
The Gospel of Mark has a promising beginning. Jesus quickly becomes popular as a healer, is swarmed by crowds, and so must keep to the countryside. Just as quickly; however, the religious leaders reject both Jesus’ explanation of the source of his healing power along with his other teachings, as well. Subsequent chapters move between scenes where Jesus is accepted by the crowds and his disciples, and then scenes where he is challenged by the religious leaders and even the members of his own family.
Halfway through the gospel, Jesus predicts that he will be killed by his enemies. He prepares his disciples for the inevitable and teaches them how to persevere without him. At the same time that he is instructing his followers, he is also defending himself against increasingly hostile critics.
Welcome Jesus- Rebuff Jesus. Accept Jesus’ power- Challenge Jesus’ power. Receive Jesus’ teachings - Reject Jesus’ teachings. Mark repeatedly weaves together these opposing reactions to Jesus. Until the end of the gospel, when the women flee from the empty tomb, too frightened to tell anyone the news that Jesus has risen. Fear and shock have made the good-soil people barren.
Fear and shock will cause even a good person to run from the truth. There will be no synthesizing of new beliefs with old ones, no abandoning of old gods in favor of a new one, no creative tension that maintains both the old religion and the new. Rather, the fearful will only be able to accept the new (in one way or another) after they calm down and cease to be afraid.
After studying Mark, I’m left with the impression that the emphasis is on the last verb -- to fruit. The type of acceptance is not as important as the end result. What matters most is receiving the Word in such a way that it produces inward and outward spiritual fruit.
So, look for signs that your faith is flourishing. Evaluate yourself from every angle, and see if you find evidence of Christian fruitfulness. If you do, then you’ll have assurance that your way of accepting the Word has been effective. If you don’t, then consider the possibility that fear is causing you to flee from the promise of new life.