Is the Kingdom of heaven likened to leaven good or bad?

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Question / Comment - Is the Kingdom likened to leaven good or bad?

Dear Brother in Christ,

I commend you for an outstanding accomplishment in your online bible study website, 'Jesus Plus Nothing.' However, I would offer for your consideration that
perhaps you are not entirely accurate with your interpretation of Matt. 13:33 as used in 'The Message of Judges: Chapter 16'

While I agree that leaven is a symbol for spiritual teaching, and can represent false teaching ('Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees' Matt. 16:11) I don't believe that it represents false teaching in this particular passage. Indeed, if you take the context of Jesus' parables together, it is obvious that He is talking about the Kingdom of Heaven. He even says, 'The Kingdom of Heaven is like leaven...' Clearly, He is not talking about false teaching.

The parables of the leaven, and the mustard seed just before it, demonstrate the irresistible power of the Kingdom of God - for once God has determined to do a thing, nothing can stop it from being accomplished. Jesus brought us the Kingdom of Heaven. He plants that small grain of Truth in believers; He mixes that leaven in our hearts - and the power of the Kingdom is unstoppable.

Indeed, the impact of the false teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees is only illuminated because he talks of the Kingdom of Heaven as a leaven FIRST. By setting up this parable first, He then makes the destructive power of false teaching that much more stark.

As a brother in Christ, I submit this to you for your consideration.
JPN Reply:


thanks for the email and your thoughts on the parable. Concerning this parable, if you look up any commentary they will say that there is really only two ways to take it - as I have, and, as you have! I am quite familiar with the way you see this parable as it is quite a common interpretation. For myself however, I don't believe it is the correct way to interpret it. There are a few reasons for this - firstly, leaven is never used in the Bible as something positive. In every other passage in the Bible where it is used, it stands as a type of false teaching or sin. So I don't agree with what you wrote below when you said 'While I agree that leaven is a symbol for spiritual teaching'... I don't believe it is used as a symbol for spiritual teaching. It is used only in a negative sense. ie false teaching. See 1 Cor 5:6-8 and Gal 5:9.

Also I don't have a problem that Jesus said that 'the Kingdom of Heaven is like leaven...' All through these parables Jesus taught that both the good and the bad would be working within the Kingdom of Heaven. There would be both good seed sowed, and weeds sowed by the enemy within the field. That's why in Matt 13:41, Jesus says that at the end of the age, His angels will be sent out to remove "from His Kingdom" everything that causes sin and all who do evil.

In the Believers Bible Commentary, William MacDonald writes the following concerning this parable about the leaven:

"A common interpretation is that the meal is the world and the leaven is the gospel which will be preached throughout the whole earth until everyone gets saved. This view however is contradicted by scripture, history, and by current events. Leaven is always a type of evil in the Bible. When God commanded His people to rid their homes of leaven (Ex 12:15), they understood this. If anyone ate what was leavened from the first till the seventh day of this feast of unleavened bread, he would be cut off from Israel. Jesus warned against the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees (Matt 16:6,12) and the leaven of Herod (Mark 8:15). In 1 Cor 5:6-8 leaven is defined as malice and evil and in the context of Gal 5:9 shows that there is means false teaching... So in this parable the Lord warns against the permeating power of evil working in the kingdom of heaven... We believe that in this parable the meal represents the food of God's people as found in the Bible. The leaven is evil doctrine..."

So, I'm not sure if you'll see things my way but hopefully I have addressed why I believe this to be the correct interpretation of the parable. It remains true to the rest of the Bible and what leaven is a type of, as well as being something that the disciples of Jesus' time would have understood. And, lastly, and unfortunately, it seems to be increasingly true in these last days as evil and false teaching increases throughout the church and the world.

Though we may disagree on this point, I'm glad you have enjoyed the site and thanks again for writing in.

All the best and may God bless.
His JPN Reply:

Nope, sorry. I must remain unpersuaded.

Both the context and Jesus' own words make it a very difficult stretch to think that Jesus was calling the Kingdom of heaven something corrupt here.

As for the idea that leaven is always something negative in the scriptures, I would remind you that Jesus turned many traditional teachings on their heads, whether it was rescinding an 'eye for an eye' or telling his disciples they must drink his blood and eat his flesh in order to have eternal life.

To quote William Barclay (The Gospel of Matthew, Volume 2, page 79):

'In Jewish language and thought, leaven is almost always connected with an evil influence...It may well be that Jesus chose this illustration of the Kingdom
deliberately. There would be a certain shock in hearing the Kingdom of God compared to leaven; and the shock would arouse interest and rivet attention, as an illustration from an unusual and unexpected source always does.

'The whole point of the parable lies in one thing - the overwhelming power of the leaven. Leaven changed the character of a whole baking ...The introduction of the leaven causes a transformation in the dough; and the coming of the Kingdom causes a transformation in life.'

Fortunately, we can agree to disagree as it doesn't pertain to the centrality of our common faith in Jesus Christ as Lord.

God bless
JPN Reply:


thanks for the reply, and as you said in the last paragraph, we will have to agree to disagree on this one. One thing I have always liked about the Bible (and it is something that to me shows that God, not man, is the author), is that the types used are consistent throughout. I believe that this is the case with Jesus' use of leaven. But I won't press the point and like I said in the earlier email, there are many who interpret this parable as you do, and that's fine. Thank you for the spirit in which you wrote. What's the old saying...

In essentials unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, charity.

All the best
Someone Else's Response:


I have been studying the word and the use of “leaven”. I have read your e-mail concerning leaven and the interpretation. But when people consider Matthew 13:33 no one seems to look at Leviticus 23:16-17 “And you shall count for yourselves from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering: seven Sabbaths shall be completed. 16 Count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath; then you shall offer a new grain offering to the LORD. You shall bring from your dwellings two wave loaves of two-tenths of an ephah. They shall be of fine flour; they shall be baked with leaven. They are the firstfruits to the LORD.” The fifth is Pentecost and on this is the only feast that leaven in baked in the two wave loaves. This the birthday of the church there is apostasy in the church and we read in Revelation that in the church of Laodicea Jesus is standing out side of the church and knocking at the door.

What are your thoughts on this?

JPN Reply:


thanks for the email and the interesting scripture. It really is a great scripture and a great picture of what God did on the day of Pentecost. My understanding of this passage is that the leaven speaks of sin, the fine flour is usually a type of the perfect nature of Jesus and the two loaves that were waved before the Lord are a type of the Jews and Gentiles that become one body (the Church - the body of Christ) on the day of Pentecost.

So I believe it is saying that on the day of Pentecost, that which was waved and offered up to God was a type of both Jews and Gentile believers (though not perfect in and of themselves for the sinful nature still remains - leaven), yet believers who possessed the perfect nature of Christ ("Christ in you, the hope of glory!" - fine flour). And you will also note that the two loaves of bread were offered to God with something...

Lev 23:18 "Present with this bread seven male lambs, each a year old and without defect..."

This shows that the believers are totally accepted to God for they are presented to Him with the perfect sacrifice of the Lamb who took away the sin of the world - The Lord Jesus!

As for tying this passage in with apostasy... I don't personally believe it was trying to say there was apostasy right from the foundation of the Church - more a pointer to the fact that sin and corruption still remained within the Church and we do see examples of this being dealt with as in Acts 5. Maybe it's just a difference over the words we would use. Apostasy is a falling away from the faith where as the leaven in this offering speaks more of the sin that still remained within those offered to God. In terms of Laodicea, it is likely that Revelation was written around 95-96 AD and certainly at that time this church was incredibly lukewarm and, as you pointed out, Christ is seen as being outside that church. This itself, I believe, is a type of the church (in the West at least) in the days leading up to the return of Jesus. I wish it wasn't but the signs of this seem to only increase as time goes on.

Anyway, that's my thoughts and thanks again for the interesting scriptures.

All the best

Someone else joins the conversion:

I read a comment you made about leaven, that leaven never represented something good and that Matthew 13:33 is not using leaven to represent the kingdom growth. You say there are no scriptures that put leaven in any good light.
KJV Leviticus 23:16-17
16. Even unto the morrow after the seventh sabbath shall ye number fifty days; and ye shall offer a new meat offering unto the Lord.
17. Ye shall bring out of your habitations two wave loaves of two tenth deals; they shall be of fine flour; they shall be baken with leaven; they are the firstfruits unto the Lord.
Here, the first fruits of God are represented by the two loaves baked with leaven. Leaven in scripture is "spirit" good or evil and a person can be leavened with either one. Paul says to remove the old leaven, the evil, so that you become a "new lump" to be leavened with the spirit of God.
Jesus was made known by the breaking of bread because the bread Jesus broke was leavened and this event took place during the days of unleavened bread.
KJV Luke 24:34-35
34. Saying, The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon.
35. And they told what things were done in the way, and how he was known of them in breaking of bread.
JPN Reply:


thanks for the email. Some quick points....

1. I haven't heard of leaven meaning 'spirit' as you say. It doesn't mean that. Do you have scripture references for saying that?

2. Jesus wasn't eating leavened bread during the feast of unleavened bread. I don't know why you would say that? Exodus 12:15 says that if anyone ate leavened bread during this time, they were to be cut of from the nation. There wasn't even allowed to be leaven within their house (Ex 13:7). It was a perpetual ordinance for Israel (Ex 12:14)... Based on what references do you think that Jesus and the disciples were disobeying God's command and eating leavened bread during this time?

3. Paul does not say that we are to be leavened with the spirit of God. You need to be careful with saying things that are not Biblical. He does say that we are a new lump but look at what he says about this:
1Co 5:7 Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed.
1Co 5:8 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.
He tells us to be a new lump that is UNLEAVENED. There is no thought of leaven being a good thing or being 'leavened with the spirit of God'.

4. Lev 23:16-17 speaks of the presenting of the church on the day of Pentecost. Most believe that the two loaves represent the Jews and Gentiles. Because there was still sin in the church, this particular offering still had leaven in it. I'll include a couple of quotes:

J.Vernon McGee from Back to the Bible:
"Do you notice anything startling about this verse? We have said that leaven is the principle of evil and that it was not to be in the offerings. Here is the exception. This is typifying the church, and it is a new offering in that it is a meal offering with leaven included. What does it mean? It means there is evil in the church. This is obvious to the most casual observer. I was a pastor for forty years. I have served in four different states from the Atlantic to the Pacific. I have been in some wonderful churches, and I look back on those years with a real joy. I've had wonderful fellowship with the members of these churches. They have loved me and I have loved them; we have been very close. However I happen to be able to testify that there is evil in the church. That is why leaven is included in this offering. This speaks of the visible church down on earth, the church as you and I see it and know it. There is evil in it. The Lord knew that long before the church even existed!"

A C Gaebelin from the Annotated Bible:
The Feast of Weeks--After seven Sabbaths had passed by, fifty days counted, a new meal offering was brought and two wave loaves baken with leaven. This is the feast of Pentecost (named on account of the fifty days). It is also called the feast of weeks, as seven weeks had passed by. Exactly fifty days after the waving of the firstfruits, on the morrow of the Sabbath, when Christ arose, the Holy Spirit came down out of heaven to form the church on earth. The meal offering as we saw in the first part of the book is the type of Christ in His perfect humanity. Pure flour, oil mingled with it, and oil poured upon it. Here is a new meal offering. It does not typify Christ, but those who are one with Him, His believing
people. The oil, the Holy Spirit came on the day of Pentecost upon them, as the oil was poured upon the meal offering. The two loaves, baken with leaven, typify also the church. Sin is still there. Pure flour was in the loaves (the new nature), but baken with leaven (the old nature). The two loaves, no doubt, refer us to the Jews and Gentiles, which compose the new meal offering. And here is the sin offering, which was absent at the waving of the sheaf of firstfruits on the morrow after the Sabbath. The leaven and the sin offering indicate the presence of sin, as it is the case. Yet the loaves are waved in the presence of Jehovah and fully accepted.

Hope this helps.
Their Reply:

Check out the Greek word "artos" used in the gospel for the type of bread Jesus broke after his resurrection, the word for unleavened bread is "azumos".
The "old leaven" means there is a new leaven, purge out the old to receive the new. The old was evil the new is good. The two loaves on Pentecost symbolize the total church from before and after Christ and the leaven is the Holy Spirit. The first fruits must be holy and without the leaven of malice and wickedness but are a new lump, not the old lump. Leaven is a type for spirit, good or evil and people can be leavened with either.
JPN Reply:


I checked out Artos and Azumos. It is true that Azumos is used for unleavened bread but Artos is simply a general name for bread that is used of both unleavened and leavened bread. The following article is useful:

To quote part of it concerning the bread Jesus ate:

The original language provides no assistance in ascertaining whether the bread was leavened or not. The Greek word used to identify the bread distributed by Christ at the Last Supper is artos (Matthew 26:26; Mark 14:22; Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 11:24), which is the general word for any kind of bread (Arndt and Gingrich, 1967, p. 110). The use of this word does not exclude the possibility that it was unleavened bread, since the Septuagint translators the word artos to refer to unleavened bread (Leviticus 8:2,26). At the same time, use of the term does not demand that it was unleavened bread. In fact, another Greek word, azumos, could have been used to mean strictly unleavened bread (Arndt and Gingrich, p. 19). Therefore, from the word used to describe the bread eaten by Jesus at the Last Supper, we can deduce only that it could have been either leavened or unleavened. As noted earlier, the only way to prove from the Bible that the bread was unleavened is to verify that Jesus ate the Last Supper on the 14 th of Nisan—the actual Passover.

So do I think that Jesus broke God's commandment and ate leavened bread during the feast of unleavened bread as you maintain? No I don't.

As for your comment that "old leaven" means there is a new leaven that we receive, that is simply your thoughts. There is not one Biblical passage that says that. The passage doesn't contrast old leaven with new leaven. It simply contrasts the 'old leaven' (which is described as malice and wickedness) with UNLEAVENED bread (which is sincerity and truth). The passage is very clear - Paul does not say your are leavened with a new leaven. He says you are UNLEAVENED. And he says it twice! It is clear as day and you are ignoring the obvious to be frank. Why would Paul say that Christians are UNLEAVENED if in fact, as your theory goes, we are leavened with a new leaven?

1Co 5:7 Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are  in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed.
1Co 5:8 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.

Even if we go back to the Old Testament types the teaching is the same. There was leavened bread and unleavened. There wasn't a different kind of leaven or a new leaven as you would maintain.

All the best,

I'll leave you with Vine's Dictionary notes on leaven

(G2219), "leaven, sour dough, in a high state of fermentation," was used in general in making bread. It required time to fulfill the process. Hence, when food was required at short notice, unleavened cakes were used, e.g., Gen_18:6;  Gen_19:3;  Exo_12:8. The Israelites were forbidden to use "leaven" for seven days at the time of Passover, that they might be reminded that the Lord brought them out of Egypt "in haste,"  Deu_16:3, with  Exo_12:11; the unleavened bread, insipid in taste, reminding them, too, of their afflictions, and of the need of self-judgment, is called "the bread of affliction." "Leaven" was forbidden in all offerings to the Lord by fire,  Lev_2:11;  Lev_6:17. Being bred of corruption and spreading through the mass of that in which it is mixed, and therefore symbolizing the pervasive character of evil, "leaven" was utterly inconsistent in offerings which typified the propitiatory sacrifice of Christ.
In the OT "leaven" is not used in a metaphorical sense. In the NT it is used (a) metaphorically (1) of corrupt doctrine,

Mat_13:33 and  Luk_13:21, of error as mixed with the truth (there is no valid reason for regarding the symbol here differently from its application elsewhere in the NT);  Mat_16:6,  Mat_16:11;  Mar_8:15 (1st part);  Luk_12:1; that the kingdom of heaven is likened to "leaven," does not mean that the kingdom is "leaven." The same statement, as made in other parables, shows that it is the whole parable which constitutes the similitude of the kingdom; the history of Christendom confirms the fact that the pure meal of the doctrine of Christ has been adulterated with error; (2) of corrupt practices,  Mar_8:15 (2nd part), the reference to the Herodians being especially applied to their irreligion;  1Co_5:7,  1Co_5:8; (b) literally in  Mat_16:12, and in the general statements in  1Co_5:6 and  Gal_5:9, where the implied applications are to corrupt practice and corrupt doctrine respectively.