Sep 11, 2009

The Thorny Ground Hearer

"And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprang up with it, and choked it."

"And that which fell among thorns are they, which, when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection."
(Luke 8: 7, 14 KJV)

Mark adds, “and the lust of other things.” (Mark 4:19)

Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr. wrote:

"Two twentieth century commentators that I admire misinterpreted “the seed among thorns” in the Parable of the Sower. Out of respect for the otherwise good work of these men, I am not giving their names. But I will quote them to show how the interpretation of this part of the parable went wrong in the twentieth century. (The other parts too - SG) The first one said, “The seed that fell among thorns represents those who hear the word and receive it. Such people are evidently saved, but their lives do not bring forth good fruit for the Master.” The other commentator said, “Time absorbing interests…in anything other than the kingdom of God will prevent the believer from bringing any fruit to perfection.” Both of these good men are wrong when they call those represented by the “seed among thorns” “saved” and “believers.” The truth is that the seed which falls among thorns represents unbelievers who are not saved!

The old commentators like Matthew Poole; Matthew Henry; John Gill; John Trapp; John Peter Lange; and Jamieson, Fausset and Brown said that the thorny ground represents people who were never truly converted. For instance, John Trapp said, “Their hearts [remained] fastened to earthly [things], they proved also unfruitful…[they] fell short of heaven” (John Trapp, A Commentary on the Old and New Testaments, Tanski Publications, 1997 reprint, volume V, pp. 176-177).

The old commentators said that the thorny ground hearers were not saved. Dr. McGee followed these old commentators when he said, “These three types of soil do not represent three types of believers – they are not believers at all! They have heard the word, and only professed to receive it” (J. Vernon McGee, Th.D., Thru the Bible, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1983, volume IV, p. 73)."
(emphasis mine - SG)

I am fairly confident that Dr. Hymers is correct about the novelty of the view that makes either the shallow or thorny ground hearers to be genuine disciples. I have myself stated that one of the many things that the Campbellites and Hardshells, the infamous historical schismatic "twins," per B. H. Carroll, had in common, was their error regarding the parable of the soils. Both took novel views. It may be true that the twentieth century gave prominence to these novel and erroneous views, but they had been uttered by some in the nineteenth century, by Campbellites and Hardshells. Both Campbellites and Hardshells now both confess that the shallow and thorny ground hearers were genuine disciples who had been regenerated or born again.

See here for the full article by Dr. Hymers

This hearer or receiver of the word may be called "suffocated," or "stifled," or "stunted." He brings "no fruit to perfection," thus may be also styled "fruitless."

In true believers, the word or seed takes deep root, which is necessary for growth of fruit, so the prophet spoke of taking "root downward," and bearing "fruit upward." (Isaiah 37: 31 KJV) Without sufficient growth downward, in the root system, there will be no final fruit, though there may be "budding" and "blossoming." The thorny ground hearer, like the shallow ground hearer, does not have the seed to take deep root within his soul. It is superficially received.

"But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience." (Luke 8: 15 KJV)

The introductory word "but" is meant to introduce a "contrast." The good ground hearer is unlike the wayside, shallow, or thorny ground hearer. Whereas the good ground hearer "keeps" the word and "brings forth fruit with patience (perseverence)," the others do not. All three others were "fruitless." Some sprouted, became plants, and yet, like the "fig tree" that Jesus "cursed," had "leaves" but no "fruit." The thorny ground hearer did not "keep" the word nor did he bring forth lasting fruit.

Christians in Appearance Only

Jesus said that we should "not judge according to the appearance." (John 7: 24 KJV) Things are not always as they seem. There are those who "appear" to be "sheep," having on sheep clothing, but who are inwardly, secretly, "ravening wolves." (Matt. 7: 15 KJV) He also spoke of the religious leaders of the Jews as being "whitewashed" (Matt. 23: 27; Acts 23: 3 KJV). They were "outwardly," in "appearance," holy people, but inwardly they were utterly filthy.

Jesus said of the religious imposters:

"If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloak for their sin." (John 15: 22 KJV)

And, in the context of explaining the parable of the soils, Jesus said:

"For nothing is secret, that shall not be made manifest; neither any thing hid, that shall not be known and come abroad." (Luke 8: 17 KJV)

It is clear that these two verses of instruction and warning concern those who "look like" they are genuine servants and holy people of God, or genuine saints. What has been "hidden" and kept "secret," by these hypocrites and pretenders, is their true identity. Notice these verses and how they show Jesus unmasking the hypocrites.

"Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity." (Matt. 23: 25-28 KJV)

Thus, when Jesus speaks of that final revelation of the hypocrites, in the day of judgment, he alludes directly to the hypocrites in the parable, the ones who became believers externally, but not inwardly, the ones who were only believers in "appearance," but not in reality.

Thorny ground is deceptive ground. It looks good and clean, appearing on the surface to be good ground. The only way to discover its true quality is to dig into it to discover its depth and suitableness for farming.

The Greek word for “choke” means to be suffocated by drowning or overgrowth” (Strong). In Mark 4:7, the Greek word is different, meaning to be “completely suffocated by crowding.” W. E. Vine says the word in Mark “gives the idea of choking together with crowding.”

Examples of Thorny Ground Hearers

1. Annanias and Sapphira (Acts 5: 1-10)
2. Demas (II Tim. 4: 1)
3. Simon the Sorcerer (Acts 8: 9-24)
4. Laodacean Believers (Rev. 3: 14-22)
5. Hymenaeus and Alexander (I Tim. 1: 19, 20)
6. Judas (John 12: 6)

Though the term "falling away" is not used with reference to the thorny ground hearer, this does not mean that there is no kind of "falling" experienced by him. The shallow ground hearer "departs" from the faith, giving heed to heresies of every kind, such as "Hymenaeus and Alexander" who denied the Christian creed. (I Tim. 1: 19, 20) The thorny ground hearer rather denies the faith by worldly living. In fact, the thorny ground hearer represents the careless Christian. The thorny ground hearer is one who "professes to know God (and Christ), but in works deny him." (Titus 1: 16)

The Slothful Christian

The thorny ground hearer is not only a fruitless professing Christian, but he is a slothful one. He is described in these verses.

"I went past the field of a sluggard, past the vineyard of someone who has no sense; thorns had come up everywhere, the ground was covered with weeds, and the stone wall was in ruins. I applied my heart to what I observed and learned a lesson from what I saw: a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest--and poverty will come on you like a thief and scarcity like an armed man." (Proverbs 14: 30-34)

"The way of the sluggard is blocked with thorns, but the path of the upright is a highway." (Proverbs 15:19)

"Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned." (Hebrews 6:7-8)

Warnings against riches are given to Christians (I Tim. 6) in order that they might not become thorny ground hearers.

We conclude therefore that the thorny ground hearer, like the shallow ground hearer, was never truly saved initially and this was revealed by the lifestyle that followed the professed conversion.


R. L. Hymers, Jr. said...

Dear Stephen:

Thank you for posting my comments on the various types of ground. We don't have ANY Hardshell Baptists in Los Angeles that I know of, and very few Campbellites.
If any are here, they keep themselves well out of sight! I don't deal with the views of these "fringe groups." I am only interest in what mainstream Baptist and Protestant scholars have said. Again thank you for printing my comments.

You may be interested in reading my sermon on "Ken Ham's Misguided Book." It will be put up on my website later this evening at It deals with the same subject as the one above.

Yours in Jesus,

Dr. Hymers

Stephen Garrett said...

Dear Dr. Hymers:

You are quite welcome.

Yes, these groups are "fringe groups" of a sort, but in some areas the Campbellites are very numerous. Also, historically, the Hardshells initially took the majority of Baptists during the division in the 1830's and 40's.

Besides this, I consider the "born again before faith" view of many of today's "Reformed" Calvinists, to not be a "fringe group." Even though these brethren generally agree that only the good ground hearer was truly saved, yet they say he was regenerated before he believed, since the ground was made good before the seed was sown. I take this as a novel interpretation, dangerous, and a grievous error. Some of these brethren put a "gap in time" between the making the ground good (regeneration) and the sowing of the seed (faith and conversion). What do you think?

Thanks for your visit and comments. Come again.