a plant of the genus sinapis, a pod-bearing, shrub-like plant, growing wild, and also cultivated in gardens. The little round seeds were an emblem of any small insignificant object. It is not mentioned in the Old Testament; and in each of the three instances of its occurrence in the New Testament ( Matthew 13:31 Matthew 13:32 ; Mark 4:31 Mark 4:32 ; Luke 13:18 Luke 13:19 ) it is spoken of only with reference to the smallness of its seed. The common mustard of Palestine is the Sinapis nigra. This garden herb sometimes grows to a considerable height, so as to be spoken of as "a tree" as compared with garden herbs.
is mentioned in ( Matthew 13:31 ; 17:20 ; Mark 4:31 ; Luke 13:19 ; 17:6 ) It is generally agreed that the mustard tree of Scripture is the black mustard (Sinapis nigru ). The objection commonly made against any sinapis being the plant of the parable is that the reed grew into "a tree," in which the fowls of the air are said to come and lodge. As to this objection, it is urged with great truth that the expression is figurative and Oriental, and that in a proverbial simile no literal accuracy is to be expected. It is an error, for which the language of Scripture is not accountable, to assert that the passage implies that birds "built their nests" in the tree: the Greek word has no such meaning; the word merely means "to settle or rest upon" anything for a longer or shorter time; nor is there any occasion to suppose that the expression "fowls of the air" denotes any other than the smaller insessorial kinds--linnets, finches, etc. Hillers explanation is probably the correct one,--that the birds came and settled on the mustard-plant for the sake of the seed, of which they are very fond. Dr. Thomson also says he has seen the wild mustard on the rich plain of Akkar as tall as the horse and the rider. If, then, the wild plant on the rich plain of Akkar grows as high as a man on horseback, it might attain to the same or a greater height when in a cultivated garden. The expression "which is indeed-the least of all seeds" is in all probability hyperbolical, to denote a very small seed indeed, as there are many seeds which are smaller than mustard. The Lord in his popular teaching," says Trench ("Notes on Parables", 108), "adhered to the popular language;" and the mustard-seed was used proverbially to denote anything very minute; or may mean that it was the smallest of all garden seeds, which it is in truth.
The minuteness of the seed is referred to in all these passages, while in the first three the large size of the herb growing from it is mentioned. In Matthew 13:32 it is described as "greater than the herbs, and becometh a tree" (compare Luke 13:19); in Mark 4:32 it "becometh greater than all the herbs, and putteth out great branches." Several varieties of mustard (Arabic, khardal) have notably small seed, and under favorable conditions grow in a few months into very tall herbs--10 to 12 ft. The rapid growth of an annual herb to such a height must always be a striking fact. Sinapis nigra, the black mustard, which is cultivated, Sinapis alba, or white mustard, and Sinapis arvensis, or the charlock (all of Natural Order Cruciferae), would, any one of them, suit the requirements of the parable; birds readily alight upon their branches to eat the seed (Matthew 13:32, etc.), not, be it noted, to build their nests, which is nowhere implied.
The suggestion that the New Testament references may allude to a tall shrub Salvadora persica, which grows on the southern shores of the Dead Sea, rests solely upon the fact that this plant is sometimes called khardal by the Arabs, but it has no serious claim to be the sinapi of the Bible.
E. W. G. Masterman
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