Seed, sowing

A seed carries within itself new life. Paradoxically, it has to be buried before it can bring forth that new life; as a result, seeds and those who sow them are often used metaphorically in the Bible to convey ideas.

Seed in the Old Testament

In Old Testament times, the seed was vital because of the importance of agriculture for survival. One example of this is the story of Joseph (son of Jacob), which describes how Joseph saves the people of Egypt from a famine by advising them to plant plenty of seed in order to store grain for use in a future drought. Also, the growth of seed, watered by rain and nurtured by the sun, both of which God was believed to be providing, is seen as showing the goodness of God. This can be seen, for example, in Zechariah 8:12, ‘The seed will grow well … the ground will produce its crops, and the heavens will drop their dew.'

Seed as ‘descendants'

The word ‘seed' is also very much associated with the creation of new life within a family. ‘The seed of Abraham' refers to all his descendants. (See also Big ideas: Creation, creativity, image of God)

Seed and sowing in stories told by Jesus

Parable of the SowerIn the New Testament, Jesus uses the idea of seed metaphorically in a parable to explain how different people receive the word of God. Christ, who sows the word of God in human hearts, scatters the seed, but some falls on stony ground or is choked by weeds. However, those who receive and understand the word of God are like the good soil which nurtures the seed (Matthew 13:3-9). In another parable he compares the Kingdom of God to a mustard-seed, which is ‘the smallest of all seeds' but which, as it grows, develops into a well-established tree (Matthew 13:31-32). (See also Big ideas: Parables.)

Jesus also used the image of a seed to explain how his death and resurrection (see Big ideas: Death and resurrection) would have a significant impact on the world, resulting in the redemption of humankind (see Big ideas: Redemption, salvation). He explained that, just as a seed would not grow unless it was buried, so he had to die and be buried before his word could be spread: ‘unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds' (John 12:24).

Sowing and judgement

The product of a seed is also used symbolically to stand for the natural consequences of one's actions, both positive as well as negative. Paul warned that ‘people reap what they sow. Those who sow to please their sinful nature … will reap destruction; those who sow to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life' (Galatians 6:8).

Seed or sowing in literature

Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden

Images of natural growth and of planting are often found in literature, reflecting the idea of a small beginning producing new spiritual life. One of the best known of these in Western literature is the children's story The Secret Garden, where Colin and Mary plant seeds in a hidden and neglected garden, epitomising the new way of life they have found through love and friendship.

Related topics

Big ideas: Creation, creativity, image of God; Parables; Death and resurrection; Redemption, salvation

Other cultural references

Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden

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