Why Only the Good Soil is a True Believer in Matthew 13

In an effort to guard against salvation by human merit, various scholars holding to a “loss of rewards view” have interpreted Jesus’ parable of the soils to indicate that the thorny soil represents genuine Christians, despite their lack of fruit (13:22). In their view, the lack of fruit will result in a loss of temporal and/or eternal rewards in heaven but not in a failure to reach heaven. This paper argues that Matthew intends his readers to see only the good soil as participating in God’s saving reign (i.e., as a “true believer”), because bearing fruit is an essential confirming evidence of belonging to Christ’s kingdom. The paper demonstrates the thesis in four steps: (1) a brief exegesis of Matthew 13:1-8, 18-23; (2) a survey of Matthew’s teachings on fruitfulness (Matt 3:7-12; 7:15-23; 12:33-37; 21:33-46); (3) a survey of representative OT texts on fruitfulness in the new covenant era; and (4) a theological summary. Rather than fruitfulness indicating a believer’s merit, the paper will demonstrate that Matthew defines fruitfulness as good works enabled by God, based upon the work of Christ. Fruitfulness confirms and does not ground one’s status as a kingdom citizen. Theologically speaking, this paper argues against a “loss of rewards” interpretation, which potentially encourages nominal believers toward apathy about their lack of fruit. Positively, the paper contributes to Reformed views of perseverance and assurance, including the “test of genuineness view” and, more significantly, to Schreiner and Caneday’s “warnings as a means of perseverance view.”

3 thoughts on “Why Only the Good Soil is a True Believer in Matthew 13”

  1. Interesting but concerns
    Possibly a good paper and could be accepted. I don’t think we will at SF. But possibly for NT issues and interpretation. No sure how in depth it will be — but it might be a thoughtful interpretive work with implications for the christian life.

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