The Parable of the Soil
4 And when a great crowd was gathering and people from town after town came to him, he said in a parable, 5 “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. 6 And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. 7 And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. 8 And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.” As he said these things, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” – Luke 8:4-8
As in most parables, the contrast in the soil is the foundation of the truth that Jesus is trying to communicate. This parable appears in all of the synoptic gospels and valuable insights can be drawn across them all. A more attentive focus on Luke’s approach will undergird the full covenant approach of Christ.
The first contrast in the parable is the most obvious: there is seed that does not even fall on soil (Luke 8:5). These individuals hear the word of God but do not believe and are not saved (Luke 8:12). This is an important contrast because the path is qualitatively different from the different soils. In every example the soil does bring life. The seed that falls on the rocky soil is representative of individuals who both “receive” and “believe” (Luke 8:13). These are individuals who rightfully could be said to have heard God’s word and developed faith (John 8:31, 44; Rom 10:9). But it is not a faith that endures.
The seed in the thorns is the word choked out by the world (Luke 8:14). This is not someone who ceases to “believe” but instead believes, relies, and trusts more in the world. In Matthew and Mark this soil is described as “unfruitful” (Matt 13:22; Mark 4:19) but in Luke’s version this soil does not bear “mature fruit” (Luke 8:14) or more literally it does not carry fruit to completion (telesphoreō G5052). This contrast is particularly valuable in the context of Luke for the final good soil hears the word, “hold[s] it fast,” and “bear[s] fruit with patience” (Luke 8:15).
Much like the author of Hebrews (who a few scholars do speculate could be Luke), the parable of the sower in Luke’s rendition presents a diverse case of responses to the word of God. The individuals represented by the path way never believes and is never “saved” (Luke 8:12) but they do hear. This is not the world per se, but those in particular who are privy to the proclamation of the gospel. It would seem safe to presume the language then of “saved” applies to the ones that experience belief of any quality. The rocky soil believes but then ceases to have faith. They have rejected the principal truths of the word in the light of persecution. They may retain the intellectual knowledge of the gospel, or doctrines of the church, but they fail to abide in the gospel’s power. The thorny soil never ceases to believe in the same sense but they are incapable of bearing to the end in faithfulness and fruitfulness. In contrast to all the other depictions, there is finally the soil that hears, obeys, holds fast, and patiently bears fruit.
It is only the last soil that would be called “saved” in the eschatological sense. These are those predestined to preservation and perseverance. What then is the proper terminology for the other soil? In light of Hebrews they should be called covenant members who have experienced the rains of God’s blessing in the Holy Spirit (Heb 6:4-8). They are those who have “faith” (Heb 11:29) but were destroyed (Jude 5). There is new life in these people that can only be wrought by the seed which is the word of God. This is not bad seed. The seed does not produce a bad crop. It is bad soil. In God’s providence He has sovereignly administered to each man a condition of varying receptivity to His word. This is the sovereign election proclaimed in the Reformation. He has also sovereignly given a corresponding grace to persevere in faithfulness.