Why Leaven Is A Type of Evil – Always.
For most people today the biblical metaphor of leaven typifying evil (or sin) is not too hard to understand. The ancient Hebrews knew that leaven was to be kept out of their grain offerings and removed completely from their homes during Passover. Leaven was excluded because fermentation was an apt symbol of the working of corruption in the human heart.
“Leaven is actually the process of deterioration by rotting.” (Chuck Smith)
For thousands of years, Jewish society understood leaven as a type of “incipient evil” — evil in its embryonic and ever-expanding state. It starts small and insignificant but will eventually corrupt the entire batch. Never in their wildest dreams would they use an expression like the “leaven of the gospel penetrating all levels of society.”
Here is what they knew of it:
‘On the first day you shall remove leaven from your houses; for whoever eats anything leavened from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel. (Ex 12:15)
Jesus Christ later made the same usage of the word when He told His disciples to:
“Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” Mk 8:15
“Then they understood that He did not say to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Mtt 16:12
Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.” Luke 12:1
The apostle Paul, who wrote most of the New testament, was consistent in his use of leaven:
Therefore let us celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. I Cor 5:8
Now here comes the twist — calling evil good?
So what are we to do when the kingdom of heaven is compared to leaven as in the famous Parable of Leaven from Matthew 13?
He spoke another parable to them, “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three pecks of flour until it was all leavened.” Matthew 13:33
Well, traditionally, THE standard (and popular-like-WalMart) answer is that in this case leaven is a type of good and leaven is used here as an “infiltrating power” – like an invisible virus – which will impact the whole batch, signifying the power of the gospel to transform all levels of society, etc. To me this interpretation fits a rather overly optimistic view of the Gospel in disregard to the clear teaching of the text. Just a few verses earlier Jesus taught that “an enemy” would sow (imitation) tares amongst the true wheat and they would both grow together – sons of the kingdom and sons of the evil one – until the harvest, until the end of the age.
“So just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Mtt 13: 40-42
This is like straining the metaphor of a “thorn” until it suggests something beautiful! Isn’t it strange how quickly we set aside Jesus’ exhortation to the disciples:“However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?”(Luke 18:8)
Just a few sentences earlier Jesus had equaled the days of His Second Coming with the days of Noah — which is not too exciting a picture when we think back that only eight people were saved through the ark, even after 100 years of warning!
“Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man.” Luke 17:26
Why did the woman hide the leaven in the flour?
I understand that leaven can easily be compared to something small but packed with power; like TNT! Like the small mustard seed of the previous parable… BUT what does it mean that the woman hides the leaven in the flour?
In Greek the word “hid in” is “enkrupto”. Strong’s Concordance tells us that it means: to hide, conceal; to conceal (that it may not become known).
Interestingly enough, “enkrupto” has a similar meaning in our modern English. It is the same word from which we get our word “encrypt”. Here is where we can start to see another way to interpret this verse along a different path than the popular one!
A general tells his lieutenant, “Encrypt this message and take it to the colonel at the front line.” What does the lieutenant do when he encrypts it? He mixes up the letters according to a code, and only a person with the key to the encryption knows what the message is saying. (Richard T. Ritenbaugh)
Does not history lead us to the true meaning of this parable?
Leaven is symbolic of things that disintegrate, break up, and corrupt. The leaven of the Pharisees was hypocritical formality. That of the Sadducees was skepticism. Herod’s was of shameful self-indulgence in worldly desires. The leaven of those who have distorted doctrine down through the ages has been greed, pride, control, and worldly desires. Martin G. Collins
Leaven is evil. Leaven is false teaching and hypocrisy. Was not the kingdom infiltrated by countless false teachers, false elders, false brethren and false apostles who wormed their way into the early church and beyond, eager to tickle the ears of their audience?
Paul, in his last letter, gave Timothy a stern warning of such influence of leaven:
“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. (2 Tim 4:3-4)
I cannot do better than to close with another quote by an author who has spent considerable time in this chapter and is bringing forth its true meaning.
Jesus warns in this parable that false doctrines would be infused by stealth into the church, and these evil beliefs would corrupt, erode, and destroy relationships. If the false doctrines are allowed to grow, affection and loving concern in service to one another are thwarted. The phrase “until all was leavened” is a sobering indication that the church would be plagued by insensitive, uncaring, self-absorbed, self-centered attitudes that would spread through the church just as leaven spreads through bread dough. The apostle Paul tells us “through love serve one another” (Gal. 5:13), which is an antidote to the woman’s devious subterfuge. (Richard T. Ritenbaugh)
Yours for the Coming One,