Leaven should be one of the easiest symbols in the Bible to understand.
Leaven should be one of the easiest symbols in the Bible to understand but unfortunately when it comes to the parable of leaven as found in Matthew 13 this simple symbol gets completely turned around to mean the exact opposite. It is as if we treat a crown of thorns as if they were rose petals!
Leaven has always been a Biblical sign or symbol of corruption or evil influence. There is a very good reason for this interpretation: “leaven” is a remnant of dough that was allowed to rot or ferment. As it rotted or fermented, yeast (a fungus) from the air would land on and breed in the dough. This remnant of dough was then added to the next day’s batch of dough. Leaven signifies anything which rots and corrupts, not just physically but spiritually and morally as well.
In the parable of the kingdom of heaven from Mtt 13 leaven is incorrectly interpreted by many commentators to be the “secret power of the Gospel” which is able to infiltrate and transform every society on earth.
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.” Mtt 13:33
The sad truth is that Bible commentators struggle with the thought that the “kingdom of heaven” is being compared to something evil and full of corruption so they have twisted the obvious, historical meaning of leaven. Please notice that the woman hid the leaven in the flour, which is a very strange word picture for the wonderful act of preaching the Gospel to all the nations.
Are we really called to hide the life transforming power of the gospel? The verb “hid” translates from the Greek word “enkruptó” which reveals a common expression in English “encryption” — to put a message into code.
The reality is that in the Mtt 13 kingdom parables, Jesus is describing the kingdom of heaven as a entity that has mixture in it: be that wheat and tares or good fish and bad fish or abnormal growth from a mustard seed to a tree. He is describing the kingdom of heaven (or professing Christianity) from the time of His death until His Second Coming. That period where He as King is absent from the earth and is waiting at His Father’s throne “until God makes your enemies a footstool for your feet.” Ps 110:1
These are prophetic parables that reveal a glimpse of Jesus’ eschatology.
Below is a typical example how “Bible scholars” find their way from evil to good!
“In the Bible, yeast usually symbolizes that which is evil or unclean. Here, however, it is a symbol of growth. As yeast permeates a batch of dough, so the kingdom of heaven spreads through a person’s life. Or it may signify the growth of the kingdom by the inner working of the Holy Spirit (using God’s word).” NIV Study Bible
As we carefully search the Word of God, we find “leaven” is uniformly employed as a figure of that which is evil! It is used in both the Old and New Testaments as a symbol of corruption and its permeating and infecting nature.
Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, but 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. Exodus 12:15
“How is it that you do not understand that I did not speak to you concerning bread? But beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Then they understood that He did not say to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Matthew 16:11-12
“Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.” Luke 12:1
For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed. 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 Corinthians 5:7-8)
Again and again the leavening metaphor is a picture of corruption. To not see that, one has to almost purposely suppress the truth and this is a grave and serious danger as God has promised to send a “deluding influence” on those who did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved.
Considering that the Bible in both the Old and New Testaments consistently interprets the picture of leaven to be some form of corruption—sin, false doctrine, hypocrisy, malice, wickedness—that easily spreads to infect all, it is astounding that anyone can interpret the leaven as anything good. (Peter Ditzel)
Yours of the coming King,
For further study: B.W. Newton “Thoughts of the Apocalypse”
The emblem under which professing Christianity is presented to us in the Scripture after it had attained its evil pre-eminence in the earth, is of a woman, who having taken meal, leavened it, and stood prepared to feed those who came to her for food.
It is an emblem not to be confined to Romanism alone: it belongs to every system, which, professing to act in name of Christ mingles with Truth, corruption. But men have widely discovered that corruption has been mingled with that on which they were wont to feed as Truth, and have long begun to make that corruption excuse for rejecting the Truth itself. Another system is rapidly arising which professes its willingness to recognize and to cherish all forms of religious faith or observance, without definitely accepting any as true.
No system, of course, can be more comprehensive, none more conciliatory, than one which is willing to sanction and to shelter all totality of error. This system, it is true, is not yet fully formed. Yet it would not be difficult to enumerate its leading principles, and to point out the sphere in which those principles are at present chiefly found.
If the Scripture teaches us respecting the Woman who feeds the nations with her leavened meal; if it warns us also against her, not yet apparent, who bedecked with gold and precious stones and pearls, shall hold a golden cup wherewith she will make the nations drunk with the wine of fornication; we read likewise of another woman “clothed with the sun and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars” — emblems sufficiently indicative of the intrinsic excellency of that system before which at last all other systems shall bow, however little it may be at present manifested in the likeness of such glory.