Various substances were known to have fermenting qualities; but the ordinary leaven consisted of a lump of old dough in a high state of fermentation, which was mixed into the mass of dough prepared for baking. The use of leaven was strictly forbidden in all offerings made to the Lord by fire. During the passover the Jews were commanded to put every particle of leaven from the house. The most prominent idea associated with leaven in connection with the corruption which it had undergone,a nd which it communicated to bread in the process of fermentation. It is to this property of leaven that our Saviour points when he speaks of the "leaven (i.e. the corrupt doctrine) of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees," ( Matthew 16:6 ) and St. Paul, when he speaks of the "old leaven." ( 1 Corinthians 5:7 ) (Another quality in leaven is noticed in the Bible, namely, its secretly penetrating and diffusive power. In this respect it was emblematic of moral influence generally, whether good or bad; and hence our Saviour adopts it as illustrating the growth of the kingdom of heaven in the individual heart and in the world at large: because (1) its source is from without; (2) it is secret in its operation; (3) it spreads by contact of particle with particle; (4) it is widely diffusive, one particle of leaven being able to change any number of particles of flour; and because (5) it does not act like water, moistening a certain amount of flour, but is like a plant, changing the particles it comes in contact with into its own nature, with like propagating power. --ED.)
[T] indicates this entry was also found in Torrey's Topical Textbook
[B] indicates this entry was also found in Baker's Evangelical Dictionary
[E] indicates this entry was also found in Easton's Bible Dictionary
Bibliography InformationSmith, William, Dr. "Entry for 'Leaven'". "Smith's Bible Dictionary".