The mustard seed is not the smallest seed in the world, and its a shrub, not a tree. Why did Jesus phrase this as He did? As the Bible is innerant, how can this be explained botanically?
Mark 4:30 - 32
ESV - 30 And he said, "With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? 31 It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth.
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✿ The mustard seed parable in Mark (Mk. 4:31-32), illustrating 'abnormal growth' of the kingdom of God among men. Instead of it remaining a refuge for true believers only, it was to become a place for professed Christians, ungodly men, and even demon powers to operate UNTIL Christ returns. It started off with Adam (one man) and today the World Population is estimated over 7+ Billions! ✿ Everything starts small in the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is like "a mustard seed." It is now a "little flock." Jesus taught His disciples about a gathering of "two or three." After His three and a half year ministry, they were about 120 disciples. They were with "one accord" (Acts 1:14,15). When the number multiplied to 3000, and then to 5000, they could maintain the same oneness (2:41,44; 4:4,32). ✿ The character of small units will be reflected in the larger group. Home cells are a good ground for exercising oneness. In the New Testament times they had local house gatherings. Christians of various Churches and denominations living in one locality can come together in spacious houses periodically for prayer and sharing. This kind of fellowship will not only enhance Christian unity but also leave a powerful impact on the non-Christian neighbours. What a thousand member Church will not be able to accomplish, local house groups will do much easily. This is how "fear come upon every soul," following Pentecost (Acts 2:43,46,47).
Sometimes, examples used in the Bible don't immediately make sense from our vantage point of culture or scientific knowledge. For example, the seed of the black mustard (Brassica Nigra) is not the smallest seed in the world. [The smallest seed belongs to a variety of orchid, and the smallest modern garden-variety seed is tobacco]. Yet does this mean Jesus lied or was misinformed? By no means! Rather, we have to look at the actual description He gave and the surrounding context. The black mustard seed was the smallest garden-variety seed in Palestine at the time of Christ that would have been cultivated. As such, Christ’s example would be known well to the farmers among his listeners, that the mustard seed was the ‘least of all seeds’. Jesus even clarifies the setting in Matt 13:31-32 with the greek words σπείρω (speiró), ἀγρός (agros), and λάχανον (lachanon). Speiro: 'To sow', designating that the man planted/sowed this seed, it was not a wild seed. Agros: 'A field, especially as bearing a crop. A country estate', showing that the field the plant was sown in belonged to the man, it was his own estate. Lachanon: 'garden plant, herb' showing that the field was for garden-herbs and vegetables, vs. Wild plants, literally herbs grown in ground cultivated by digging. As such, Jesus could rightly call the black mustard seed the 'least of all seeds'. This small seed grows to a plant larger than the other garden herbs, as a bush so large it could be called a ‘tree’. (Matt 13:32) It is not merely larger than other herbs and veggies in the garden, but large enough for birds to come dwell in and rest under its shadow (Mark 4:32). The climate of the Palestine region is ideal for the growth of the black mustard. While the average mustard plant worldwide grows 4-6ft, climate, such as the ideal conditions of the region of Palestine, can improve on that. Cultivated black mustard reaches an average height in Palestine of seven to nine feet. Wild mustard plants can easily grow upwards of ten feet, especially along the Jordan River. “It is the same as our own Mustard, but grows especially in the richer soils of the Jordan valley to a much greater size than in this country. We noticed its great height on the banks of the Jordan, as have several other travellers; and Dr. Thomson remarks that in the Plain of Acre he has seen it as tall as a horse and its rider" (Tristram, 'Nat. Hist. Of Bible,' p. 472, edit. 1889).” Compared to other herbs of the garden, this larger growing shrub could easily be seen as a ‘tree’. It’s branches can grow to about an inch thick and are woody. This would be an ideal resting place for birds, both within its branches (Matt 13:31) or in its shade (Mark 4:32). It is also of note that both Matt 13:31 and Mark 4:32 are direct references back to Ezek 17:13, which also shows the picture of a tree growing from humble origins to become a shelter for the birds, used in Ezekiel as a picture of the coming Messiah. Ezekiel 17:22-24: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will take a shoot from the very top of a cedar and plant it; I will break off a tender sprig from its topmost shoots and plant it on a high and lofty mountain. On the mountain heights of Israel I will plant it; it will produce branches and bear fruit and become a splendid cedar. Birds of every kind will nest in it; they will find shelter in the shade of its branches. All the trees of the forest will know that I the Lord bring down the tall tree and make the low tree grow tall. I dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish. “ ‘I the Lord have spoken, and I will do it.’ ” The parable itself signifies the external growth of the church from humble beginnings to worldwide, non-Christians (the birds) affected by it and even sheltering in it. As such, the mustard seed is an apt picture for growth from humble beginnings to greatness.
Jesus was not alluding to all the seeds on the planet, however, just those that a Palestinian rancher planted in his field. This is clarified by the passing expression "which a man took and planted in his field" (Mt 13:31, parallel to Mark 4:31-32). Furthermore, the mustard seed was the littlest of all seeds which the first-century Jewish rancher planted in his field. So there is no logical inconsistency here among science and Scripture. What Jesus said was truly evident in the setting in which He said it.
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