Where does the Parable of the Sower begin? (Mark 4:3)

By Peter J. Williams, Associate Editor

The Greek New Testament, Produced at Tyndale House, Cambridge published this month by Crossway and Cambridge University Press is the first printed edition of the Greek New Testament to take all its paragraph marks from early manuscripts.

Most ancient manuscripts of the New Testament contained some sort of paragraph marks. Two common methods of paragraphing were putting the first letter of a line out into the margin (called ekthesis) and putting a small horizontal line (called a paragraphos) above the first word of a new section. In addition spaces of various sizes could be left at the end of a section.

In our edition we decided only to accept paragraph divisions based on early manuscripts.

This led us to a surprising conclusion in Mark 4:3 where Jesus begins the Parable of the Sower: we decided we had to put the paragraph mark after the first word of Jesus’s speech.

The text runs literally like this:

4:2 ‘and he [Jesus] was teaching them many things in parables and was saying to them in his teaching, 4:3 “Listen. Look. The sower went out to sow.”’

The Greek word “Listen” is akouete (related to the word acoustic).

The Greek word for “Look” is idou (distantly related to the word video).

In our edition we put the paragraph mark after “Listen,” following the earliest Greek manuscripts of this passage. Codex Sinaiticus (pictured right, see right hand column lines 5 and 6) from the Fourth Century and Codex Alexandrinus and Codex Bezae from the Fifth Century all have clear paragraph marks here. So probably does Codex Vaticanus, from the Fourth Century, which has a paragraphos added by a later hand. The remaining manuscript Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus from the Fifth Century has a line break here, but no clear sign of paragraph division.

What’s so surprising is that these manuscripts don’t otherwise appear to be particularly closely related in other textual features. Codex Bezae (with ekthesis at line 4, pictured right) is quite different otherwise from Codex Sinaiticus. This raises the question of whether the paragraph mark is in fact a shared inheritance from when the Gospel of Mark was first written or circulated.

This paragraph division makes for a much more engaging opening. No longer do Jesus’s instructions to listen and look run together in a blend of the aural and visual. Rather the text provides us first with Jesus’s address to his hearers:

“Listen up”

Now they’re listening, he begins his story:

“Look. Use the eye of your imagination and see the sower is going out and sowing.”

For more details and pictures of the manuscripts, see here.

From 15 November, the new edition of the Greek New Testament is available from Crossway as well as Amazon.