Mustard seed

Mustard is a plant of the genus sinapis, a pod-bearing, shrub-like plant, growing wild, and also cultivated in gardens. The little round seeds were an emblem of any small insignificant object.......

Mustard is a plant of the genus sinapis, a pod-bearing, shrub-like plant, growing wild, and also cultivated in gardens. The little round seeds were an emblem of any small insignificant object. It is not mentioned in the Old Testament; and in each of the three instances of its occurrence in the New Testament (Matt.13:31,32; Mk.4:31,32; Lk.13:18,19) it is spoken of only with reference to the smallness of its seed. The common mustard of Israel is the Sinapis nigra. This garden herb sometimes grows to a considerable height, so as to be spoken of as "a tree" as compared with garden herbs.

In Matthew 13:31-32, Jesus said that the mustard seed was "smaller than all other seeds", but that when it was full grown, it would be large enough for birds to nest in its branches.

Today, we know that there are seeds even smaller than the mustard seed. For instance, the orchid seed is so small and fine that it's almost dust-like. There are those who would also question whether a mustard seed could ever grow into a tree that is large enough to hold a bird nest.

Note, Jesus was not comparing the mustard seed to all other seeds in the world, but to seeds that a local, Palestinian farmer might have "sowed in his field", i.e., a key qualifying phrase in verse 31. And it's absolutely true that the black mustard seed (Brassica nigra=Sinapis nigra) was the smallest seed ever sown by a first-century farmer in that part of the world.

It's also true, as many modern-day encyclopedias will tell you, that the black mustard seed in Israel will typically grow to heights of 3.7 meters, or 12 (twelve) feet-plenty large enough to hold a bird nest.

It's important to remember that the Bible often uses everyday terminology in order to communicate simple truth. Even today, we might refer to a "sunset" when, technically, scientifically, we know that the sun never actually "sets", i.e., it's the earth that revolves.

The context of Matthew 13 makes it quite clear that Jesus was addressing a local lay audience, not an international conference of botanists. It seems that no reasonable person would therefore insist for very long that this text provides a viable basis for questioning either Jesus or the Bible, when it comes to getting the facts straight-scientifically, historically, or technically.


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