top of page

Shavua Tov

Only six days until Shabbat!

  • Daniel Botkin

The Parable of the Hidden Leaven

“The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened” (Matt. 13:33).

In preparation for Passover, we are commanded to remove the leaven from our homes and to eat no leavened food during the week of Passover and Unleavened Bread.

In some Jewish families it is a custom for the children to hide a few small pieces of leavened bread in the house after all the other known leaven has been removed. Then during the final search for leaven, the father takes a light and diligently searches for the final crumbs of leaven that the children have hidden. When he finds them, he carefully sweeps them up and disposes of them outside.

In Yeshua’s parable we see leaven being hidden not by children but by a woman. She hides it in three measures of meal, and it spreads until the whole lump is leavened. What is this parable meant to teach us?

The popular interpretation goes something like this. The woman is the Church, the Bride of Christ. The leaven is the gospel. The three measures of meal represent the world. The Church takes the gospel into the world, and the gospel spreads like leaven throughout the world until the whole world is eventually converted to Christianity.

Based on this popular interpretation of the parable, Christians sometimes talk about our need to “be like a little leaven” as we spread the gospel.

It is true that we should spread the gospel. And it is true that the positive influence of the gospel can spread like leaven spreads in dough, and thereby bring blessings and benefits to society. However, I do not believe that this is the lesson we are meant to learn from this parable. Let me explain why I disagree with this view.

The three parables that immediately precede this parable all contain sinister elements: fowls of the air taking away the seeds sown by the wayside, seeds being scorched because they had no root and could not endure the heat of persecution, seeds being choked by the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches; tares among the wheat; fowls of the air lodging in the tree that grew from a mustard seed.

Just as these three preceding parables have sinister elements, I believe that this Parable of the Hidden Leaven is likewise meant to teach us about something sinister, not something positive. There are a number of different reasons why I reject the popular notion that this parable is a positive lesson about the gospel spreading throughout the world like leaven. Here are my reasons.

  1. In the parable, “the whole was leavened.” But the whole world will not be converted, nor will the entire world benefit from the positive influence of the gospel. Some parts of the world vehemently reject the gospel and thereby store up more wrath for themselves.

  2. In the parable, the leaven was “hid.” But the gospel is not supposed to be hidden, it is supposed to be openly proclaimed. “Ye are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick, and it giveth light unto all that are in the house” (Matt. 5:14f). Hidden leaven is not a good symbol for the gospel, because the gospel spreads by being openly proclaimed, not by being hidden.

  3. Everywhere else in both the Old Testament and New Testament Scriptures, the symbolic meaning of leaven is always something bad and sinister. It is never something good. Leaven symbolically represents false doctrine, hypocrisy, sin, pride, arrogance, malice, and wickedness. (See Matthew 16:11f, Mark 8:15-17, Luke 12:1, 1 Corinthians 5:6-8.) In the Old Testament Scriptures, God said, “Thou shalt not offer the blood of My sacrifice with leaven” and “No meal offering which ye shall bring unto the LORD shall be made with leaven.” (See Exodus 34:25 & Leviticus 2:11.) Leaven was strictly forbidden during Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. (See Exodus 12:15, 19 & 13:7; Deut. 16:4.)

The symbolic meaning of leaven as something bad is consistent throughout the Bible. Therefore it is highly unlikely that Yeshua meant for the hidden leaven in this parable to represent the gospel. C. I. Scofield said that this notion of the gospel as leaven “is open to fatal objection. It does violence to the unvarying symbolical meaning of leaven, and especially to the meaning fixed by our Lord Himself.” (See Scofield Reference Bible, 1917 Edition.)

Because the symbolic meaning of leaven is always something negative and sinister every place else in the Bible, I see no reason to suppose that leaven represents the gospel in The Parable of the Hidden Leaven, especially if the parable can be understood in a way that maintains the consistent symbolism of leaven as something negative and sinister.

“So, Daniel, what lesson do you see in this parable? Who or what does the woman represent? What is the leaven, and why is it hidden? What does the meal represent, and why are there three measures? Why not one, or two, or four measures?”

1. THE WOMAN. It is true that the Church, the Body of Messiah, is sometimes spoken of as a woman. In Revelation the Bride is revealed “arrayed in fine linen, clean and white” (Rev. 19:8). But before the Bride is revealed in Revelation 19, a different woman is revealed in Revelation 17. She is the Whore of Babylon, the Mother of Harlots, “arrayed in purple and scarlet color, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand, full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication” (Rev. 17:4).

If The Parable of the Hidden Leaven is meant to be understood as a warning of something sinister, as I believe it is, then the most obvious candidate for the woman who hid the leaven would be this Whore of Babylon.

C. I. Scofield says this about the woman in The Parable of the Hidden Leaven: “A woman, in the bad ethical sense, always symbolizes something out of place religiously (see Zech. 5:6). In Thyatira it was a woman [Jezebel] teaching (cf. Rev. 2:20 with Rev. 17:1-6).”

I see the woman in the parable not as the Church but as the whorish religious systems that are based on the principles of Babylon, the Mother of Harlots, who tries to impersonate the true Church.

2. THE LEAVEN AND WHY IT IS HIDDEN. I believe the leaven in this parable represents the very same things that leaven represents everywhere else in the Bible: false doctrine, hypocrisy, sin, pride, arrogance, malice, and wickedness. The harlot religious system, posing as the true Bride of Christ, infects God’s people with all these forms of leaven.

The reason the leaven must be hidden is obvious. If you want to poison a flock of sheep, you do not try to feed the sheep straight poison. You do not let them see all the warning labels on the packaging. You secretly hide enough poison in the sheep’s food until the whole flock is poisoned with leaven.

Historically, that is exactly what happened to the Church. It started even before the Apostles died. Paul, John, and Jude wrote about it. Paul said “the mystery of iniquity [NIV, ‘the secret power of lawlessness’] doth already work” (2 Thes. 2:7). John wrote about the domineering Diotrephes, who cast the brethren out of the church (3 John 9f), which means the people who remained in the church were not true brethren. Jude wrote that “certain men crept in unawares” and turned the grace of God into lasciviousness (Jude 4).

3. THE MEAL. In the Bible, the grain offerings were food for the priests. Meal is used to make bread. I believe that the three measures of meal in this parable represent sound teaching that provides spiritual food for Yeshua’s sheep, so that they might be “nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine” (1 Tim. 4:6). But the Mother of Harlots subtly introduced false doctrines, which are now mingled with good doctrine. Those who do not know the Scriptures cannot discern which doctrines are true and which are false.

Scofield states: “Interpreting the parable by these familiar symbols, it constitutes a warning that the true doctrine, given for the nourishment of the children of the kingdom (Mt. 4:4; 1 Tim. 4:6; 1 Pet. 2:2), would be mingled with corrupting false doctrine, and that officially, by the apostate church itself (1 Tim. 4:1-3; 2 Tim. 2:17, 18; 4:3, 4; 2 Pet. 2:1-3).”

4. WHY THREE MEASURES OF MEAL? Why did the Lord specify three measures of meal in this parable? I cannot say with absolute certainty, but I can offer three possibilities.

  • A. When viewing the parable as a warning of false doctrine being mingled with true doctrine, the first thing that comes to my mind when I think of three measures of meal is the fact that Christianity consists of three major groups: the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, and the Protestant Church. The good doctrines of all three of these branches of Christianity have been mingled with some leaven of false doctrine, and Christianity as a whole has been leavened.

  • B. Trinitarians might like to view the three measures of meal as doctrines about the Father, doctrines about the Son, and doctrines about the Holy Spirit being infected with leaven. Christendom certainly has some false teachings about the anatomy of the Creator. In past centuries, the Church burned men at the stake if they held a different view of the Creator’s anatomy.

  • C. Another possibility is to view the three measures of meal as the three major monotheistic religions that claim to worship the God of Abraham: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Judaism is still infected with the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Christianity is infected with the leaven of antinomianism and anti-Semitism. Islam is infected with the leaven of jihad and disdain for all non-Muslims.

Maybe the three measures of meal represent all three of these things. Or maybe they do not represent any of these three possibilities that I have suggested. Maybe the Lord specified three measures for no other reason except that three measures was the standard amount of measures used to make a loaf of bread in those days. I don’t know. I do not want to read too much into it. That is why I present these three ideas about the three measures only as possibilities. So take your pick.

Whichever view you take of The Parable of the Hidden Leaven, be sure to purge out the leaven of malice and wickedness from your heart in preparation for Passover this year.

Happy Passover!

| DB

52 views1 comment

Recent Posts

See All

Second Passover

Passover is one of three annual pilgrimage festivals, when all the males of Israel were expected to be in Jerusalem. (See Exodus 23:14-17.) There is the normal Passover, and there is also Pesach Sheni

The Parable of the Hidden Leaven

“The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened” (Matt. 13:33). In preparation for Passover, we are commanded to remove t

1 Comment

Apr 16

Passing over, baptised, washed clean, going thru the "rinse" cycle, growing into the fulness and stature of Messiah! Hallelu-Yehovah!

Featured Posts
Follow Me
  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • YouTube
bottom of page