The Net Cast Widely

The Net Cast Widely. The net pictured here is a large dragnet, usually about six feet deep and up to several hundred feet wide, positioned in the lake by boats and requiring several men to operate (hence the plurals of v. 48). The picture is realistic, portraying an ordinary event with no surprising twists: The net brings in “every kind” of both good and bad fish, which are then sorted, the good being kept and the bad thrown out. Whatever the original meaning of the parable, Matthew’s own ecclesiastical application already appears in the telling of the parable itself. The bad fish are called “rotten” (sapra), inappropriate to fish that have just been caught, but used four times previously in Matthew’s description of bad “fruit” (works) presented by Christians, where it is appropriate (7:17-18; 12:33 twice). The fishers “sit” for the sorting, as will the Son of Man at the end (19:28; 25:31).

This parable then, like that of the “Wheat and Weeds.,” is one of judgment. It echoes not only the separation and destruction of the wicked, but also the motif of a mixture of good and bad until the time of final separation. The dragnet is inevitably indiscriminate in what it catches. As long as the fish remain in the lake, and indeed in the net, they remain undifferentiated. It is only when they come up for final scrutiny that some will be preserved and others destroyed

The Parable of the Net Explained. This interpretation is very like that of the parable of the weeds, vv. 36-43. Like the preceding interpretation, it concentrates entirely on the fate of the wicked, whose destiny is to be cast into the furnace of fire, with weeping and gnashing of teeth—all typical Matthean language for eschatological judgment, but not appropriate to fish, which are buried or thrown back into the water, not burned. The interpretation, allegorical as it is, does not represent the net to be the church, the fishers to be evangelists, etc. Matthew seems intentionally to forego the obvious opportunity to relate the parable to the story of the call of the fishers in 4:18-22. The parable is not a picture of evangelism, “fishing for people,” but a parable of final sorting and separation.

Understanding Parables. The opening description in 13:3 and the concluding transitional comment at 13:53 indicate that Matthew considers everything in between to be parables, including v. 52. Thus, although commentators have liked to find exactly seven parables in the chapter, Matthew apparently considered the concluding picture of the scribe to be a parable as well, a parabolic concluding picture on the use of parables.

The picture comes as an elaboration of the disciples’ affirmative response to Jesus’ question. They claim to understand. These words added to Mark are to make clear that, for Matthew, understanding is not an optional element of discipleship.

Matthew understood that parables were constructed from a “treasure”  of conventional metaphors, in which, for example, “king” or “father” customarily point to God, “harvest” or “accounting” to eschatological judgment, and such.’“ Both Jesus and Christian scribal teachers did this. The uniqueness of Jesus does not consist in the invention of radically new images, but in the surprising use to which they put the repertoire of familiar images. Vocabulary and style, as well as theology, indicate that

Matthew affirms both the old and the new (see 9:17). Like a skilled scribe, he brings out of his storehouse the treasures of his Jewish past (Scripture, stock of traditional imagery, perspectives, and concerns), as well as older Christian tradition (Mark). But he does not merely repeat the past. Alongside the old but introduces the new, presenting the old in a new light. Reclaiming it for the new situation in which he finds himself, seeing all thing in the light of the Christ event and the coming of the kingdom.  Even the unexpected order of “new and old” may be important: it is the new that provides the key to the appropriateness of the old, not vice versa


Matthew 13:47 net: The Greek sagēnē [EDNT 3:222] means a seine net which is either dragged between two boars, or is load out by a single boat and drawn to land with long ropes.

Matthew 13:48 net: The Greek sapra [EDNT 3:228] refers to either inedible fish or unclean seafood (cf. Lev 11:10-12) not having fins and scales


  • K. Beale and D. A. Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, UK: Baker Academic;  Apollos, 2007)
  • Eugene Boring, The Gospel of Matthew in The New Interpreter’s Bible, VIII (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1994) 312-16
  • Warren Carter, Matthew and the Margins: A Sociopolitical and Religious Reading (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Book, 2000) 295-98
  • T. France, The Gospel of Matthew in the New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing, 2007) 538-47
  • T. France, Matthew: An Introduction and Commentary in the Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Vol. 1, ed. Leon Morris (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1989) 232-35
  • Daniel J. Harrington, The Gospel of Matthew, vol. 1 of Sacra Pagina, ed. Daniel J. Harrington (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1991) 203-9
  • Daniel J. Harrington, “Matthew” in The Collegeville Bible Commentary, eds. Diane Bergant and Robert J. Karris (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1989) 882
  • Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing, 2009) 390-94
  • John P. Meier, Matthew, New Testament Message 3 (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1990) 151-54
  • Turner and D.L. Bock, Matthew and Mark in the Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, vol. 11 (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2005) 193-6


  • Gerhard Kittel, Gerhard Friedrich and Geoffrey William Bromiley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1995)
  • Horst Robert Balz and Gerhard Schneider, Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1990)

Scripture – The New American Bible © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C.

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