This is in response to the disciples asking why Jesus teaches in parables:

He said to them, "The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those outside, everything is in parables, so that although they look they may look but not see, and although they hear they may hear but not understand, so they may not repent and be forgiven." -Mark 4:11-12 New English Translation

Why does he say this? Why is he teaching at all if his intent is actually that the people not see, not understand, and not repent. It seems troubling.

  • 3
    It seems clear to me that Jesus is not saying here that he's deliberately misleading his students. Rather, that some will not understand his teachings (at first), and that only those who understand (or subsequently gain understanding) are capable of repenting. Dec 27, 2011 at 22:24
  • @RobertHarvey, indeed, you should make an answer of it then. I noticed that the author of 'Hard sayings of Jesus' amazon.com/Hard-Sayings-Jesus-Library/dp/0877849277 found it vexing enough for an entry on it, which is partly why I ask the question Dec 28, 2011 at 3:15
  • 2
    It wouldn't surprise me in the least. I'm not a Biblical scholar, and so don't feel like I could answer the question in a scholarly way, but I have noticed that some Christian intellectuals seem to make these things more difficult than they actually are. Dec 28, 2011 at 3:21
  • Read the rest: “ ‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’ ...."
    – Red fx
    Nov 23, 2017 at 11:54
  • This verse sounds gnostic to me. Make of that what you will.
    – Phil Goetz
    Feb 25, 2018 at 19:01

10 Answers 10


Your Bible is missing the double quotes. Jesus is quoting Isaiah:

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” “Here I am,” I said; “send me!” And he replied: Go and say to this people: Listen carefully, but do not understand! Look intently, but do not perceive! Make the heart of this people sluggish, dull their ears and close their eyes; Lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and their heart understand, and they turn and be healed.

Isaiah 6:8-10 (NABRE)

I think He's describing the process shown in the OT and exemplified throughout human history, not issuing a command.

According to the intratext in the NABRE, this is also quoted in

John 12:40; Acts 28:26; and Romans 11:8.

I can't say that I particularly understand the meaning of Jesus' words, but hopefully it'll point you in the right direction.

  • 4
    I think you can expand on this even more by adding Matthew 13 which is the same event (Parabal of the Sower), written a little differently. I think Matthew explains it better Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah.
    – styfle
    Dec 27, 2011 at 21:12
  • Feel free to edit it in there because you're absolutely right and the syncopation betwixt the two Gospels ought to be proof enough.
    – Peter Turner
    Dec 27, 2011 at 22:41
  • I did some major editing. I hope I didn't change your original intent.
    – styfle
    Jan 1, 2012 at 22:52
  • It just told me "You do not have edit privileges. Your edit will be placed in a queue until it is peer reviewed." So how do I know how it was reviewed?
    – styfle
    Jan 14, 2012 at 11:05

In your question, you recognize the inconsistency of the life and teachings of Jesus with the idea that Jesus did not want people to repent and be forgiven.

Indeed, the Bible is very clear that salvation is offered to all the world. Just a few references:

New Testament

  • For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 ESV
  • O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! Luke 13:34 ESV
  • And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, Revelation 7:9 ESV
  • And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself. John 12:32 ESV

So, anyone who believes receives eternal life. God loved the whole world--not just a few people. Jesus desired to gather in all of Israel, but the problem was the will of the people that would not follow God. Ultimately, people from every tribe, language, people and nation will be among those who do believe and do receive eternal life.

General revelation is given to all people, indeed, but why give general revelation or special revelation (in the Scriptures) to anyone if God doesn't want them to repent?

So, to conclude from the Mark 4:11-12 passage that Jesus does not want people to repent is inconsistent with the rest of Scripture. Consequently, that can be eliminated as a possible interpretation at the very beginning.

One possible explanation for this, however, is that in speaking in parables, Jesus gives sufficient light/revelation for anyone to come to Him, yet does not give too much light that a person may not refuse to come to Him. To those who harden their hearts, God allows them to do that without overwhelming them to the point of destroying their will.

As C. S. Lewis poignantly stated in The Screwtape Letters

“The Irresistible and the Indisputable are the two weapons which the very nature of his scheme forbids him to use. Merely to override a human will… would be for Him useless. He cannot ravish. He can only woo” (C.S. Lewis, Screwtape Letters).

One final verse is important to understand:

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you,[a] not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 2 Peter 3:9 ESV

So, Jesus does want all people to repent and believe and receive eternal life, and, indeed, He gives light to everyone (John 1:9)--sufficient light to believe, yet not much light to deprive us of our own wills.


A comment suggested that the "whole world" idea is strictly New Testament, while the Old Testament is all about preference for one people (the Jews). However, the whole world idea is clearly presented in the Old Testament as well:

  • I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. Genesis 12:3 ESV
  • I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give to your offspring all these lands. And in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, Genesis 26:4 ESV
  • The Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them.” Exodus 7:5
  • he says: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” Isaiah 49:6 ESV

The covenant with Israel actually only spans from Abraham to Christ (~2,000 B.C. to 33 A.D.). However, that covenant was expressly for the purpose of being a blessing (and bringing salvation) to the whole world. At Babel, the people were dispersed all over the world. God chose Abraham to proclaim God to the nations from the very outset. In the lineage of Jesus Himself, we find Rahab from Jericho, Ruth from Moab, and Urriah the Hittite.

Space does not permit a full discussion here, but suffice it to say that the "ends of the earth" reach of God's salvation in the New Testament is merely a continuation of that which began with the command to Adam to "fill the earth".

  • The "whole world" aspect is a very NT thing; the OT is very much about prefering one set of peoples, while destroying (or ordering the destruction of) other peoples. Same unchanging God. Dec 27, 2011 at 19:52
  • 2
    @MarcGravell The idea of a the "whole world" has its origin in the Old Testament, so the New Testament is just a continuation of that theme. I have edited my answer to give a short intro into this. Specifically, Adam was told to fill the earth, and it wasn't until 2,000 years later that Abraham was chosen to be a blessing to all people.
    – Narnian
    Dec 27, 2011 at 20:29
  • I genuinely do appreciate the edit - and indeed there are a few quotations to that effect. The actions though, could be interpreted to give a different view. Dec 27, 2011 at 22:16
  • @MarcGravell I agree that there are certainly other interpretations that contradict this view. This view does have scriptural support, though, and is not an obscure or unfounded interpretation.
    – Narnian
    Dec 27, 2011 at 22:41
  • I don't disagree - I'm just saying: the many great mass-killings are also scriptural Dec 27, 2011 at 22:46

The Bible was written particularly for a certain time, place, and reason. Questions you must ask is Why was Mark written, to whom was it written, when to name a few. People often a phrase out of context and apply it to any situation which changes the meaning of the original text. This is also a problem of translations as the more translations there are can make it more difficult for others to find the right meaning. For example NIV is tailored for gender neutral, international reading, and for 12th grade and above. Certain sacrifices are made to get the word out as correct as possible so the group it is written to can understand it. That's why as you get more advanced in studying the text you will look at the original language to fine tune your understanding. With that being said current Greek is different than New Testament Greek from thousands of years ago.

Here is a quote from The KJV Bible commentary:

Christ’s use of parables explained. 4:10–12.

"10–11. Unto you. Jesus said the truth is made clear to those who believe and follow Him. Them that are without. Without (Gr exō) would be better translated “outside” because it refers to those who are “outside” the kingdom of God.

12.Lest … they should be converted. A superficial understanding of this quote from Isaiah 6:9–10 has confused some about the Lord’s instructions regarding evangelism. Here He explains that details about God’s kingdom are not to be used to “prove” God’s message to anyone. Faith precedes proof, not vice versa. People are won “through the foolishness of preaching” not scientific facts. If that were the case, faith would be nothing more than the recognition of revealed evidence. "

Somethings in the Bible to understand you must be a Believer in Christ. For example if I am explaining it correctly there is a box people inside and people outside. If you don't know what is is the box you will not understand. If you are in the box you can see what it contains or at least understand. The disciples are to spread the Word so that those who don't understand or know can have Faith without seeing the direct Miracles or image of God.

I have not dived deep into this study but merely scratched the surface with some of my resources that I have on hand.

Hope that gets you a little closer to understanding. A recent book that I found to be helpful is Grasping God's Word by Scott Duvall. Sample of Chapter 1. http://www.zondervan.com/media/samples/pdf/0310259665_samptxt.pdf

See Side-by-side textual comparison: Image Link https://i.stack.imgur.com/yXLZH.jpg

  • I upvoted but I think you should get rid of the intro since it is not relevant to the question or your answer. Also, it would be nice if you added your own words after the quote.
    – styfle
    Dec 27, 2011 at 21:03

Why does Jesus not want people to repent and be forgiven in Mark 4?

It is not that Jesus didn't want people to repent. Remember they were under the Law, he also had to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah. If they understood what Jesus was teaching in the parable of the sower they would have not crucified him "Jesus". He was take them for a covenant of law to a covenant of Faith and grace. That is the covenant we have, this parable teaches you how The Kingdom of God works. Don't believe me. I'll show you how it works. The word of God was sown in your heart it grew and grew and grew Harvest came in you got born again. Some grow faster than other but it happen, Just like that sown, grew, harvest. That is one area of your life the word produced a hundredfold return for the Kingdom of God.


The Catechism of the Catholic Church provides a brief explanation:

Jesus’ invitation to enter his kingdom comes in the form of parables, a characteristic feature of his teaching. Through his parables he invites people to the feast of the kingdom, but he also asks for a radical choice: to gain the kingdom, one must give everything. Words are not enough; deeds are required. The parables are like mirrors for man: will he be hard soil or good earth for the word? What use has he made of the talents he has received? Jesus and the presence of the kingdom in this world are secretly at the heart of the parables. One must enter the kingdom, that is, become a disciple of Christ, in order to “know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven.” For those who stay “outside,” everything remains enigmatic. (CCC 546)

So, in telling parables, it isn't that Christ wants to withhold salvation from anyone. He's permitting a choice. It's a small reflection of the choice demanded by the person of Jesus' Himself. You see this when He questions Peter:

27 Now Jesus and his disciples set out for the villages of Caesarea Philippi. Along the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 They said in reply, “John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others one of the prophets.” 29 And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter said to him in reply, “You are the Messiah.” 30 Then he warned them not to tell anyone about him. (Mark 8:27-30)

And at other times He states the choice-nature of salvation very explicitly:

9 “And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. (Luke 11:9-10)

So, He withholds understanding and salvation only from those who choose not to seek those things. In addition to respecting our freedom, this is simply how it works. Think of how easily an eager student understands what you're saying versus "that moron" in the chatroom you're arguing with!

And consider the verse that immediately precedes your problem verse:

And when he was alone, those present along with the Twelve questioned him about the parables.

The twelve are lumped together with some others who were present who didn't understand either. The difference between them and those who didn't understand is simply whether understanding was sought.

IN BRIEF: Jesus does want them to be forgiven and saved. But it requires them to explicitly choose [understanding,] forgiveness and salvation.


Jesus' insistence on initially keeping the fact that he is the Messiah under wraps is a theological construct called the Messianic Secret.

Several theories have been proposed:

  1. It's just a narrative device, used to add tension
  2. Jesus did not want his crucifixion to occur until enough of Israel had a chance to decide
  3. God's love constrains him to not overwhelm those whom he would have choose him
  4. In the early church, the author of Mark may have wanted to tone down the Messiah thing in order to not alienate the other Jews (Wrede's hypothesis)

And many, many others.


That is what you call 'lost in translation' this is what it says in Greek:

lest ever they should turn and they should be forgiven them

First, it talks about the secret of the Kingdom of God. Which the Bible says that it is here now.
Well, where is it? It is a secret only xtians know.

Thus, understanding the kingdom of God, Mark 4:12 then explains that IN THE UNLIKELY EVEN that they repent, then Christ Jesus will forgive then.

Ironically, not even xtians and all their denominations, agree about the what/where/how/when/why of the Kingdom of God. Mainly because of Luke 17:21 NET:

nor will they say, 'Look, here it is!' or 'There!' For indeed, the kingdom of God is in your midst

Why the conflict? Well Sociology has taught us that a successful leadership team needs 5-12 members to work. Coincidentally, in Acts 2 there were about 3000+ xtians lead by 12 Apostles. I think xtians lost this model. Rulers like The Pope want all the power in the Kingdom of God. Thus bringing discord and many denominations and nondenominations. That is my humble theory.

Why so much talk about the Kingdom of God. Well Christ Jesus spent a lot of time talking about it. I think the 1st century xtians had it down. I cannot say the same about the 21st century xtians. And that is where Mark 4:11-12 comes in - simply a warning.


You appear to be misreading this Scripture. As with most Scriptures, it is not possible to understand by taking a verse by itself. All surrounding factors must be taken into account for instance; we must understand, first of all who Jesus is talking to. In addition to that we must take into account who he is talking about. And lastly we must take into account the circumstance.

Also it is very difficult to understand the teachings of Jesus without referring back to the old Testament, since most of what Jesus said and did reflects directly back to it.

So let's break down this Scripture and see if we can determine exactly what Jesus was teaching.

Mark 4:11 KJV And he said unto them,

To whom is Jesus speaking? answer: He is speaking to those who have been with him to hear all that he has been teaching. These are also devout Jews who are well acquainted with the History of Israel, and with it's teachings, that is the Pentateuch and the prophets.(which incidentally may have a lot to do with why Jesus chose these specific twelve.)

Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God:

point 1. Here Jesus is saying that not only are they well versed in the Scriptures but they have been given special understanding, by both being with him all the time and revelation by the Holy Spirit

but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables:

Mark 4:14 The sower soweth the word.

point 2.

Here he is telling them that to the common people who are not as well versed as they are, therefore he (who was sent; by the Father; to the Nation of Israel) is giving them a simplified version.

point 3. Otherwise:

Mark 4:12 KJV That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand;

point 4. This is a direct reference to the Prophet Ezekiel , concerning the son of man, with which they were well acquainted.

Ezekiel 12:2 KJV Son of man, thou dwellest in the midst of a rebellious house, which have eyes to see, and see not; they have ears to hear, and hear not: for they are a rebellious house.

And if they did understand what the Prophet was saying, they would:

point 5.

lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them.

Turn back to God, and again become his people as promised in:

Leviticus 26:12 And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and ye shall be my people.

So from where am I drawing these conclusions?

point 1. My conclusion is drawn from:

Mark 4:13 KJV And he said unto them, Know ye not this parable? and how then will ye know all parables?

Here Jesus is saying don't you know the Prophet Isaiah's saying? and if you don't understand this simple saying how will you ever understand the other parables I teach?

point 2. The common people he was talking to, only had the teachings of the Sanhedrin to go by, and never analyzed the Scriptures for themselves.

points 3. through 5. Seem self evident.


This relates to what "Tom" wrote, but I was unable to comment.

Tom: "[Some things] in the Bible to understand you must be a Believer"

Me: It's difficult to relate to as a post-modern, but in the Middle Ages some spiritual knowledge was considered dangerous. If so, today we may be immune for unfortunate reasons!

The following per: Intro to Cloud of Unknowing, Top 7 Catholic Classics: On Loving God, the Cloud of Unknowing...,2012

"In the prologue of the Cloud of Unknowing we find the warning, so often prefixed to mediaeval mystical works, that it shall on no account be lent, given, or read to other men: who could not understand, and might misunderstand in a dangerous sense, its peculiar message. Nor was this warning a mere expression of literary vanity. If we may judge by the examples of possible misunderstanding against which he is careful to guard himself, the almost tiresome reminders that all his remarks are "spiritually, not bodily meant," the standard of intelligence which the author expected from his readers was not a high one. He even fears that some "young presumptuous spiritual disciples" may understand the injunction to "lift up the heart" in a merely physical manner; and either "stare in the stars as if they would be above the moon," or "travail their fleshly hearts outrageously in their breasts" in the effort to make literal "ascensions" to God. Eccentricities of this kind he finds not only foolish but dangerous; they outrage nature, destroy sanity and health, and "hurt full sore the silly soul, and make it fester in fantasy feigned of fiends." He observes with a touch of arrogance that his book is not intended for these undisciplined seekers after the abnormal and the marvellous, nor yet for "fleshly talkers, flatterers and blamers, . . . nor none of these curious, lettered, nor unlearned men."“

  • Please limit the answer section to provide an answer to the question being posed. Once you have earned enough reputation, you will be able to comment on posts.
    – agarza
    Apr 3 at 2:51
  • @agarza I did not want to detract from Tom's earlier contribution that I expanded on. Don't both address the original question, that Jesus was possibly not explicit because like medicine, some knowledge helps some but can harm others? Apr 3 at 13:11

Why does Jesus not want people to repent and be forgiven in Mark 4? He DOES want people to repent and be forgiven, your translation is inaccurate. Your same New English Translation says "No, I tell you! But unless you repent, you will all perish as well!" -Luke 13:3 New English Translation

It Should Say He told them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables 12 so that, “‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’” -Mark 4:11-12 (NIV)

Why does he say this? HE DOESN"T the New English Translation translated what he said incorrect.

Why is he teaching at all if his intent is actually that the people not see, not understand, and not repent. It seems troubling. It would be troubling if that is what he was teaching, but that is not what he was really teaching.

  • Do you have evidence for an incorrect translation? Apr 19, 2016 at 14:36

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