Was Jesus Wrong About the Mustard Seed?

  Was Jesus wrong when He said the mustard seed was "the smallest of all the seeds?"

  In Matthew 13, Jesus says:

31 “... The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. 

32 It’s the smallest of all the seeds, but when grown, it’s taller than the vegetables and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the sky come and nest in its branches.” (see also Mark 4:30-32)

  Critics of the Bible have jumped on this, saying that Jesus was wrong because the mustard seed is not the smallest seed on earth. They are correct that it is not because, in fact, the world's smallest seed is that of a species of orchid.  

  But most critics usually ignore a very important principle of Bible interpretation, and that is: context, context, context. 

  Like all excellent communicators, Jesus always addressed His audience in ways that they would most readily relate to. He was not there to give a science lesson using knowledge available to readers in  the 21st century because that was not His purpose. Rather, He was teaching members of an agricultural society in 1st century Israel, and in such a way that they would remember His words most easily. 

  That is why Jesus gave them an example that any of them would find in their vegetable gardens, since the mustard seed is, in fact,  the smallest seed found in garden variety plants found in Israel. After all, it would not have done His followers very much good for Jesus to speak about orchids when His audience was composed not florists or garden hobbyists, but of farmers, fishermen and tradesmen. 

A Corn Bunting amid mustard flowers, 
in southeastern Turkey
(picture and caption from Wikimedia)

  Continuing on the issue of the context of this passage, Dr. James White of Alpha and Omega Ministries (http://www.aomin.org) reminds us that this discussion is taking place in a Jewish environment when he points out that the mustard seed was the smallest of the seeds that Jewish law allowed. In short, the mustard is kosher. This can be seen in the Jewish Oral Traditions known as the Mishnah, or "Oral Torah:"

  Mishnah 3.2. Cucumbers and cucumber-melons do not constitute kil'ayim one with the other. R. Judah said they do constitute kil'ayim. Garden-lettuce and wild lettuce, or endives and wild endives, or leek and wild leek, or coriander and wild coriander, or mustard and Egyptian mustard, or the Egyptian and the bitter-apple, beans and beans in carob-shaped pods do not constitute kil'ayim one with the other.
  And so we see that Jesus was not just correct about the mustard seed being the smallest of seeds allowed to His Jewish listeners, but that He was also a very skilled communicator, well aware of which examples were best to use for His audience.

  Jesus is Lord!

  Thanks to Dr. White for this little nugget of information.

  See also:

  The Problem Of The Mustard Seed by John A. Sproule  


  Episode of "The Dividing Line" with Dr. James White, June 11, 2014 


  Jewish Mishnah 3.2 regarding Kil'ayim (prohibitions)  



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