Summary: The Parable of the Leaven is the fourth parable in Matthew 13 (Matt. 13:33). J. Vernon McGee believes it to be “one of the key verses of the Bible!”
The Parable of the Leaven is the fourth parable in Matthew 13 (Matt. 13:33). J. Vernon McGee believes it to be “one of the key verses of the Bible!” This parable, as well as the Parable of the Mustard Seed, has been used to teach the extension of the Kingdom in its external as well as internal character. This is the popular teaching, and yet we believe these to be contrary to the teachings of the Scripture. Many teach that the leaven represents the Gospel, yet nowhere in God’s Word is leaven used in a beneficial sense. Leaven in the Bible always represents evil and corruption.
In the OT leaven was a type of sin, evil, or corruption. When the two angels visited Lot in Sodom they were invited to eat “unleavened bread” (Gen. 19:3). In connection with Israel’s redemption from Egypt they were to eat the Passover with “unleavened bread” (Ex. 12:8). Leaven was to be excluded from all blood offerings and sacrificial offerings made by fire. In Leviticus 7:13 the leaven is present in the offering because sin is still present in the offerer! Leaven was permitted in the two wave loaves of Leviticus 23:17 because they represent two classes, the Jew and Gentile who are now made one in Christ. Although saved, the old nature is still present. When bread typifies Christ, it is unleavened; when bread typifies man, it is always leavened.
Jesus warned the disciples to “beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees” (Matt. 16:6; cf. Lk. 12:1). The leaven of the Pharisees was “hypocrisy,” or as Lockyer notes, “hypocritical formality, or religiousness, a blinding externalism in religion, and it so today in the church’s legalism.” The leaven of the Sadducees was “rationalism,” and as Lockyer observes, “skepticism, or rationalism, is a denial of the supernatural, so common today among evolutionists.” The “leaven of Herod” (Mark 8:15) portrayed his “worldliness and political corruption.” Lockyer calls this “a debasing sensualism, the fruit of the two former…. Herod’s leaven consisted in power and greatness based upon the possession of material things. Is this not the sin of nations and men today?”
Paul addressed the Corinthians as being “puffed up” due to their failure to “purge out” the leaven affecting their fellowship (1 Cor. 5:6-8). Paul also spoke of the leaven of legalism in Galatians 5:7-9 where the believers were trying to mix law and grace. Wiersbe relates that, “the mustard seed illustrates the false outward expansion of the kingdom, while the leaven illustrates the inward development of false doctrine and false living.” The “meal” is representative of the Word of God, and the woman is introducing false doctrine into the Word until it is totally corrupted. A woman in Scripture represents a religious system for either good or bad. The woman “worked silently, stealthily, and secretly,” and so in the epistle the woman Jezebel “taught evil doctrine.” Lockyer relates, “her object in stealthily introducing a foreign and corrupting element into the meal was to effect its deterioration...." In the not too distant future the world church will again tyrannize the entirety of Christendom.