Church and World in Matthew 13:38

The passage in question is part of the parable of the wheat and the tares. I grew up thinking that it was about the church, specifically, that it was about the mixed nature of the church. I find out today that many scholars have thought this throughout history, although they have been somewhat less than thorough about the meaning of this particular verse.

In the Federal Vision controversy, much has been made of the fact that the field is the world, and not the church. The implications drawn by FV proponents from this fact went far beyond the text, however, as they made claims regarding the non-mixed character of the church, the “All or nothing,” as Klaas Schilder would say.

The position I now hold is that the verse talks about wherever Christians (wheat) are found, including the church. There are two main exegetical reasons for this. The first is verse 24, which tells us that this parable is about the kingdom of God. Now, the kingdom of God can refer to God’s overall reign. However, it can certainly refer to the church as well. At any rate, the kingdom of God includes the church. What really ices the argument, however, is verse 25’s phrasing “among the wheat” (ἀνὰ μέσον τοῦ σίτου). This plainly indicates that the weeds (probably a form of darnel, which looks a lot like wheat while growing up) are sown wherever the wheat is. So, by the FV’s own argument, this parable has to be talking about the church, since the church is where all the wheat is. Of course, most would admit that there are Christians outside the church. However, almost all Christians belong to the church. Therefore, the parable is mostly about the church in its mixed character.

13 Comments

  1. greenbaggins said,

    September 11, 2008 at 5:21 pm

    It is not a prohibition against church discipline, as Matthew 18 makes very plain. It is a caution against the overzealous application of discipline, since we cannot read the human heart.

  2. ReformedSinner said,

    September 11, 2008 at 7:54 pm

    just a question, is rey new or he’s an old adversary? Interesting gentleman.

  3. jared said,

    September 11, 2008 at 8:07 pm

    Lane, how does your position differ from Fv? If FVists say that the passage refers to the whole world (which obviously includes the church) and you say it talks about where ever Christians are found “including the church”, then what’s the substantial difference? It seems to me that Jesus’ interpretation of the parable of the sower is quite plain and clear and not difficult: the world is God’s. In the world are God’s people and Satan’s people. Satan’s people will eventually be removed and God’s people will shine like the sun.

  4. greenbaggins said,

    September 12, 2008 at 9:00 am

    Jared, the FV interpretation tends to a denial of the mixed character of the church. My interpretation does not. In other words, does the mixed nature of the field include or exclude the church?

  5. Kevin said,

    September 12, 2008 at 9:27 am

    Jesus said the field is the world pretty plainly here…I don’t see how that can be interpreted as the Church by anyone.

    I am intrigued, however, by your comments of Christians existing apart from the church. Are you speaking of “church” in an institutional sense? If not, your comments don’t make much ecclesiological sense, since the Church is made up of Christians. Where believers are, the Church is.

  6. greenbaggins said,

    September 12, 2008 at 9:46 am

    Kevin, what I’m saying is not that the field equals the church. I’m saying that the field includes the whole church, contrary to many who would almost exclude the church from the field.

    As to the church, I would say that there are some very isolated Christians out there who are not part of a church. I do not say that church membership is, in absolutely every case, essential to being a Christian. What is important regarding the church is that everyone who is a Christian is striving to join the Christian church.

  7. Steven Carr said,

    September 12, 2008 at 10:29 am

    Hmmm….your interpretation is a bit dubious I must say…I am going to have to think it over a bit before I can make a final judgment, though. I’ll get back to you on this one.

  8. ray said,

    September 12, 2008 at 10:42 am

    Hi Kevin,

    1. Calvin’s commentary states:

    “In my opinion, the design of the parable is simply this: So long as the pilgrimage of the Church in this world continues, bad men and hypocrites will mingle in it with those who are good and upright, that the children of God may be armed with patience and, in the midst of offenses which are fitted to disturb them, may preserve unbroken stedfastness of faith. It is an appropriate comparison, when the Lord calls the Church his field, for believers are the seed of it; and though Christ afterwards adds that the field is the world, yet he undoubtedly intended to apply this designation, in a peculiar manner, to the Church, about which he had commenced the discourse. But as he was about to drive his plough through every country of the world, so as to cultivate fields, and scatter the seed of life, throughout the whole world, he has employed a synecdoche, to make the world denote what more strictly belonged only to a part of it.”

    So Calvin does concede your point but explains why it should be the church in particular within the world. The church in this world would be the organism. This would be the visible church, I would gather, because verse 39 speaks that the harvest is the end of the world. The invisible catholic church of Christ never ends, though the visible manifestation which Calvin speaks of does end. It is called a field of wheat … not a field of tares or weeds.

  9. greenbaggins said,

    September 12, 2008 at 10:46 am

    Thanks, Ray. I hadn’t even read Calvin on this verse, but I find my interpretation is right in line with his.

  10. Kyle said,

    September 12, 2008 at 12:30 pm

    Lane, re: 2,

    It is not a prohibition against church discipline, as Matthew 18 makes very plain. It is a caution against the overzealous application of discipline, since we cannot read the human heart.

    I don’t think it’s actually a caution against overzealous discipline (although we may make that application). It is really a statement re: eschatology, that is, although the kingdom is not now pure, on the final day God will separate the wicked from the righteous & destroy them. Rey’s criticism simply doesn’t apply.

  11. Ron Henzel said,

    September 12, 2008 at 1:57 pm

    Rey,

    Leave it to you to focus on “made up non-existent” parables. Your ability to multiply lame caricatures of Reformed exegesis and theology never ceases to amaze.

  12. its.reed said,

    September 12, 2008 at 4:06 pm

    Rey:

    Do you find speaking in judgmental riddles a task to which God has particularly called you?

    It would be rather pleasant and enjoyable to have you begin a conversation couched in a humble tone of concern for others, instead of the hubristic, pontificating comments which seem to be so common for you.

  13. jared said,

    September 12, 2008 at 8:02 pm

    Lane,

    The field is where the wheat grows, I don’t know how that could exclude the church if the church (both visible and invisible) is made up primarily and exclusively (in respect to visibility and invisibility) of wheat. I’m not convinced that FVists would disagree with me on this point.


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