Some notes on the parable of the wheat and the tares:
- The parable is found in two sources, Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 and the Gospel of Thomas 57.
- The Gospel of Thomas version is the more succinct of the two: “Jesus said: The kingdom of the Father is like a man who had [good] seed. His enemy came by night and sowed weeds among the good seed. The man did not allow them to pull up the weeds. He said to them: Lest you go and pull up the weeds, (and) pull up the wheat with it. For on the day of the harvest the weeds will be manifest; they will be pulled up and burned.”
- The tares (or weeds) are poisonous darnel (lolium temulentum) and in their early stages of growth are hard to distinguish from wheat.
- According to the commentary offered in Matthew (believed by some to be the work of Matthew and not original to Jesus),[a] the sower is Jesus, the field is the world, the good seeds are the righteous, the weeds are the wicked, the enemy is the Devil, the harvest is the end of the world, and the reapers are the angels.
- That the commentary is not original to Jesus is suggested by both its absence in Thomas and also the use of expressions which it seems unlikely Jesus would have used. For example, the use of διαβολοσ “devil” rather than “Satan,” the former representing a later (post-Jesus) stratum of linguistic tradition in the New Testament.[b]
- The interpretation misses an important point in the parable, one which might suggest Jesus’ original intent. The servants volunteer to pull up the weeds but are told not to and to leave the wheat and the weeds together until the harvest when they will be separated under the farmer’s command: “The workers for the Kingdom should devote themselves to positive action; they must leave judgement to God at the moment chosen by him, and known to him alone.”[c] The parable seems to be calling for the patience to not weed prematurely rather than focusing on the Last Judgement.[d]
- This is especially important because there are so many weeds. Any attempt at reaping by human hands will damage the wheat.
- Taken together with Jesus’ other teachings, it seems that any confidence as to who is wheat and who is a weed may be unfounded. Things are often turned upside down in Jesus’ kingdom.
a. Geza Vermes, The Authentic Gospel of Jesus, 140-141.
b. See Joachim Jeremias, The Parables of Jesus, 81.
c. Vermes, 141.
d. Jeremias, 81.