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Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology [1]

In the New Testament the noun for "leaven" is zume [Ζύμη] and the verb for "to leaven" is zumoo [Ζυμόω]. The noun occurs eleven times, and the verb four times. There are, however, really only three distinct uses of "leaven" in the New Testament.

The first occurrence is in the parable of the leaven ( Matthew 13:33;  Luke 13:20-21 ). This parable teaches that the reign of God is like what happens when leaven permeates a batch of dough. Jesus' point is that the small, insignificant beginnings of God's reign in himself will one day be great. Although the parable does not describe how this will happen, it alludes to Jesus' future reign as the Son of Man.

The second occurrence of "leaven" is Jesus' warning to his disciples ( Matthew 16:5-12;  Mark 8:15;  Luke 12:1-12 ). Mark (8:11-15) presents Jesus' warning following the Pharisees' questioning of Jesus about a sign from heaven. After Jesus' curt statement that no sign will be given to this generation, he and his disciples sail across the Sea of Galilee. In the boat Jesus warns them about leaven, really meaning the attitude or perspective of the Pharisees and Herod. In the ensuing discussion (8:16-21) it is apparent that the attitude that Jesus is warning about is that of blindness toward his identity as the Messiah. He repeatedly asks them, "Do you still not understand?" (8:21). And significantly, after Jesus performs a second remarkable process miracle of Jesus' healing the blind man (vv. 22-26 — the first was 7:31-37), Peter "finally" confesses that Jesus is the Messiah (8:27-30). For Mark, then, leaven stands for the obdurate refusal to perceive that Jesus is the Messiah.

Matthew (16:1-6) presents Jesus' warning in the same context as Mark, but brings out some distinctive nuances. Matthew records that Jesus' response to the questioning of the Pharisees and Sadducees included some symbolic discussion about weather and a reference to "the sign of Jonah" (v. 4). Then, in the following discussion with his disciples after they have reached the other side, Jesus warns against the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Matthew clarifies with Jesus' statement (v. 12) that the disciples finally understood that Jesus was referring to the teaching ( didache [Διδαχή]) of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Matthew does not record either process miracle, but immediately narrates the confession of Peter that Jesus is the Messiah. The way Matthew presents the whole scene, with the explicit use of teaching in verse 12, seems to focus the meaning of leaven in his Gospel on the attitude of the rejection of Jesus by the Pharisees and Sadducees. The meaning is essentially the same as in Mark, but Mark's sensitivity to the struggle of the disciples to perceive Jesus' identity as symbolized in the two process miracles is not present in Matthew.

Luke (12:1-12) presents Jesus' warning about leaven in the context of his large central section on Jesus' teaching journey to Jerusalem (9:51-19:44). He has just narrated Jesus' woes on the Pharisees and Scribes (11:37-53) and now describes the gathering of a large crowd. Jesus warns his disciples against the leaven of the Pharisees, which Luke notes is hypocrisy (v. 1). Thus, Luke brings out that Pharisaical hypocrisy is the point of Jesus' warning. Luke then illustrates this with Jesus' words about everything being finally revealed (vv. 2-3). And, significantly, he continues with Jesus' further discussion about the proper fear of God, rather than fearing human persecutors (vv. 4-5). Following this Luke includes Jesus' words about acknowledging him before men (vv. 8-10) and his encouragement that the Holy Spirit will assist them in times of persecution (vv. 11-12). Thus, Jesus' warning about the leaven of the Pharisees in Luke seems to stress preparation for times of persecution.

The third occurrence of "leaven" in the New Testament is found in Paul's letters. In what is probably his earliest letter, Paul cites the proverbial statement, "A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough" ( Galatians 5:9 ). This proverb is intended by Paul to cause the Galatians to expel the dangerous Judaizers from their churches. Leaven here symbolizes wrong teaching that destroys true Christianity.

The same proverbial citation and symbolism occur in  1 Corinthians 5 . Here Paul is strongly urging the Corinthians to expel the incestuous offender from the church. In the development of his argument Paul includes the statement, "Don't you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough?" (v. 6). He then explains that "Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed" (v. 7). He refers to "the old yeast of malice and wickedness" (v. 8). Paul makes his point that just as at the Passover ancient Israel was instructed to remove any leaven from their homes, so now the church, believing Israel, must remove all sin and evil in order to worship God in the observance of the new Passover of the Lord's Supper. Here, leaven symbolizes sin that defiles the believer and disrupts the church's worship of God. First Corinthians 5:1-8 also reminds us that the Old Testament background (leaven or leavened is used twenty-two times in the Old Testament) and foundational meaning of leaven goes back to the Passover of  Exodus 12-13 and the instruction given in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Throughout the Old Testament, and into the first century a.d., leaven symbolized corruption, defilement, and sin.Hobert K. Farrell

Bibliography . R. A. Cole, Galatians  ; F. E. Gaebelein, The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 8; L. Morris, 1Corinthians  ; R. Young, Analytical Concordance to the Bible .

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [2]

LEAVEN. —The effect of leaven upon dough to which it is added is due to minute living organisms disseminated through it in great numbers. These organisms are one or more species of yeast-fungi. They are the most important agents of the alcoholic fermentation, which they produce in dough as well as in solutions of sugar. Whether lodged in sour dough (leaven) or collected free out of fermenting vats (compressed yeast), they cause the same effect when introduced into bread sponge. At the present time leaven is not so much used for the lightening of bread as yeast, because it is apt to impart to bread a sour taste and a disagreeable odour.

Yeast-fungi were first recognized (1680) by the Dutch naturalist Leuwenhöck in the scum floating on the surface of fermenting beer. With his imperfect lenses he was able to observe little of their structure beyond the fact that they were very small globules. They are now known to be single-celled plants, having for the most part an oval or ellipsoidal shape. The individual yeast-cell consists of a mass of protoplasm enclosed in a delicate wall of cellulose. The protoplasm, as in the case of all the fungi, contains no chlorophyll, and is, accordingly, dependent upon organic matter for its nourishment. It is granular, and usually shows one large non-contractile vacuole or several small vacuoles containing water. It has also a nucleus, which, however, can be brought into view only after special treatment. The size of the yeast-cell varies from 1.5 microns to 15 microns in diameter. (The micron equals 1/25000 inch). During the inactive stage the cells are isolated, but in an actively fermenting medium they occur in groups or families, organically united and consisting of from two to six or eight members in varying stages of development. When the members reach maturity, they separate from one another, each one having the capacity to produce a new group. This is the method by which the plant propagates itself. An isolated cell sends out a little pimple or bud on the surface. The bud is destined to become an independent cell of the same size as the cell which produced it; but, before it is mature, it may itself form a bud which in turn may form another bud of its own, the mother-cell in the meantime forming a second bud at a different point. A sort of chain of sprouts, usually curved, is formed as the result of this process of budding or gemmation . The successive buds round up and finally separate themselves as independent individuals. Pasteur, to whose elaborate investigations we are deeply indebted for our knowledge of the agents and the process of fermentation, found that two cells produced eight in two hours at a temperature of 13 degrees C. The multiplication is more rapid at a higher temperature.

Yeast-fungi secure their food for the most part from weak solutions of grape-sugar. They convert grape-sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide. This conversion is known as the alcoholic fermentation. The same action takes place in moistened wheat-flour when yeast is mixed with it. The wheat grain contains a ferment, diastase , whose function is the conversion of the insoluble starch of the grain into soluble grape-sugar for the nourishment of the embryo when the grain germinates. Diastase is present, of course, in wheat-flour, and when the conditions of moisture and temperature are supplied, as in a gently heated bread sponge, it effects the same conversion as under natural conditions in the germinating grain. Some of the flour starch is changed into grape-sugar, in which the yeast-cells excite the alcoholic fermentation. The bubbles of the gas carbon dioxide produced in the fermentation are entangled in the glutinous sponge, and, expanded by heat, puff it up or lighten it. If, now, more flour is thoroughly mixed with this sponge so as to scatter the yeast-cells of the sponge throughout the mass, the whole will shortly be leavened by the gas which continues to be given off by the agency of the rapidly multiplying cells. A practically indefinite quantity of flour so treated can be leavened by ‘a little leaven.’

The week which began with the Passover is called ‘the days of unleavened bread’ ( Matthew 26:17,  Mark 14:1;  Mark 14:12,  Luke 22:1;  Luke 22:7), from the practice enjoined in  Exodus 23:15,  Leviticus 23:6,  Deuteronomy 16:3-4;  Deuteronomy 16:8.

The effect of leaven in raising a mass of dough (see above) is the basis of our Lord’s parable of the Leaven ( Matthew 13:33,  Luke 13:20-21), which sets forth the gradual and pervasive influence of the Kingdom of God upon the whole of human society.

The fermentation produced by leaven was regarded as a species of putrefaction, and this, together with the tendency of leaven to spread, explains the figure in which ‘the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees’ stands for their corrupt teaching ( Matthew 16:6;  Matthew 16:11,  Mark 8:15), or, as St. Luke puts it more specifically in the case of the Pharisees, their hypocrisy ( Luke 12:1). ‘The leaven of Herod’ ( Mark 8:15) similarly denotes the policy of the Herodian party.

Literature.—Trench, Dods, Bruce, Orelli on the Parables; Winterbotham, Kingdom of Heaven , 70; Drummond, Stones Rolled Away , 144; Scott-Holland, God’s City , 143; Macmillan, Two Worlds are Ours , 153; R. Flint, Christ’s Kingdom , 170.

W. L. Poteat and James Patrick.

Fausset's Bible Dictionary [3]

Seor . A lump of old dough in high fermentation. As making it and leavening bread with it took time, unleavened bread was used in sudden emergencies ( Genesis 18:6;  Genesis 19:3). It was forbidden in all offerings to the Lord by fire ( Leviticus 2:11;  Leviticus 7:12). The Israelites on pain of death were to have none in their houses or in the land during Passover for seven days, from 14th Nisan ( Exodus 12:15;  Exodus 12:19;  Exodus 12:39;  Exodus 13:7;  Exodus 23:18;  Deuteronomy 16:3-4). Salt was its opposite, and was never to be absent from the altar burnt offering, representing the incorruptible imperishableness of Jehovah's covenant. Honey as liable to ferment also was excluded from the altar burnt offerings. Leaven reminded Israel of the haste with which they fled from Egypt, and of their sufferings, which answer to the insipidity of unleavened bread, "the bread of affliction."

Its prominent symbolical meaning was, it is bred of corruption and corrupts the mass with which it is mixed. Hence it represents "malice" (the evil habit) and "wickedness" (evil coming out in word and deed) as opposed to "sincerity" and "truth" ( 1 Corinthians 5:7). The Jews searched with extreme care their houses, to purge out every particle of leaven. So Christians ought to search their hearts and purge out every corruption ( Psalms 139:23-24). It also symbolizes corrupt doctrine ( Matthew 16:6). Another quality is its secretly penetrating and diffusive influence:  1 Corinthians 5:6, "a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump," the influence of one sinner corrupts many ( Ecclesiastes 9:18); but in  Galatians 5:9 a little legalism mixed with the gospel corrupts its purity. Though elsewhere used in a bad sense, leaven in  Matthew 13:33 represents the gospel principle working silently "without observation" from within, until the whole is leavened, just as the mustard tree represents its diffusion externally; so "flesh," though usually in a bad sense, in  Ezekiel 11:19 is in a good sense.

The decomposition of social elements, accompanying and providentially preparing the way for the gospel, makes the image appropriate. Leaven was allowed to be offered in the firstfruits and tithes ( Deuteronomy 26:2;  Deuteronomy 26:12;  2 Chronicles 31:5), the Pentecostal loaves ( Leviticus 23:15;  Leviticus 23:17), and the peace offering ( Leviticus 7:13). See  Leviticus 2:11 "as an oblation of firstfruits ye shall offer them (leaven and honey) unto the Lord, but they shall not be burnt on the altar for a sweet savour." In  Amos 4:5 the leavened bread was "with the sacrifice of thanksgiving of the peace offerings," not with burnt offerings of animals on the altar. Perhaps however the command is ironical, "offer by burning (margin) a sacrifice ... with leaven" (which was forbidden), your very offerings being open insults to God.

Bridgeway Bible Dictionary [4]

Among the Hebrews, leaven (or yeast) was very important. It had a practical use in making bread and a symbolic significance in religious rituals.

People made leaven by mixing the flour of certain cereals with water, and allowing the mixture to stand till it fermented. When making leavened bread, they mixed this fermented portion with dough, so that when the dough was baked in the oven the bread would rise ( Matthew 13:33;  1 Corinthians 5:6). Leavened bread was light and rounded, unleavened bread heavy and flat. An easier way of making leaven for future batches of bread was to remove a small piece of leavened dough before baking and leaving it stand till it too fermented.

The first mention of any ritual significance of leaven was at the time of the Passover when Israel escaped from Egypt. During the week after the Passover escape, the people had no time to bake their bread leavened. They had to carry their dough and baking pans with them, baking as they went ( Exodus 12:11;  Exodus 12:18;  Exodus 12:34;  Exodus 12:39). Each year from that time on, the people were to hold a symbolic re-enactment of the Passover along with a week-long Feast of Unleavened Bread. This was to remind them of Israel’s hurried and unceremonious departure from Egypt. They were to leave no leaven in their houses during the week of the feast ( Exodus 12:14-20;  Exodus 23:15;  Mark 14:1; see Passover ).

Nothing containing leaven was to be offered on the altar of sacrifice. This was probably because leaven spoiled easily, and there was to be no trace of corruption in the sacrifices ( Exodus 23:18;  Exodus 34:25;  Leviticus 2:11;  Leviticus 7:12;  Leviticus 10:12). However, leavened bread, representing the ordinary food of the people, was presented to God at the Feast of Harvest, as an expression of gratitude to him for their daily food ( Leviticus 23:15-20). Leavened bread offered with the peace offering was not burnt on the altar, but eaten in the meal that followed ( Leviticus 7:11-14).

Because it tended to corrupt and because it affected everything it touched, leaven developed a deeper symbolic meaning. Jesus saw the Pharisees, the Sadducees and Herod as evil influences that spread through Israel as leaven spreads through a lump of dough. He warned his disciples to beware of the leaven-like effect of such people. Their hypocrisy, teaching and ungodliness could quickly have a corrupting effect on others ( Matthew 16:5-12;  Mark 8:15;  Luke 12:1-3).

Just as Israelites cleaned all leaven out of their houses at the time of the Passover, so Christians should clean the leaven of sin and wrong teaching out of their church. If left unchecked, sin will spread yeast-like through the church ( 1 Corinthians 5:6-8;  Galatians 5:7-9).

In one of Jesus’ parables, by contrast, leaven is used figuratively in a good sense. Just as leaven spreads through the dough into which it is put, so will Christ’s kingdom spread throughout the world ( Matthew 13:33).

Vine's Expository Dictionary of NT Words [5]

A — 1: Ζύμη (Strong'S #2219 — Noun Feminine — zume — dzoo'-may )

"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.,  Genesis 18:6;  19:3;  Exodus 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,"  Deuteronomy 16:3 , with  Exodus 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,  Leviticus 2:11;  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.

 Matthew 13:33 Luke 13:21 Matthew 16:6,11 Mark 8:15  Luke 12:1 Mark 8:15  1—Corinthians 5:7,8 Matthew 16:12 1—Corinthians 5:6 Galatians 5:9

B — 1: Ζυμόω (Strong'S #2220 — Verb — zumoo — dzoo-mo'-o )

signifies "to leaven, to act as leaven," Passive Voice in  Matthew 13:33;  Luke 13:21; Active Voice in  1—Corinthians 5:6;  Galatians 5:9 .

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible [6]

LEAVEN. The leaven both of OT and of NT may be assumed to have always consisted of a piece of fermented dough from a previous baking. There is no clear trace, even in the Mishna, of other sorts of leaven, such as the lees of wine or those enumerated by Pliny ( Hist. Nat . xviii. 26). In ordinary cases, in the preparation of the household bread, the lump of dough, above referred to, was either broken down into the water in the kneading trough (see Bread) before the fresh flour was added, or it might be ‘hid’ in the latter and kneaded along with it, as in the parable,   Matthew 13:33 . The bread made from dough thus prepared was ‘leavened bread’ (  Exodus 12:16 and oft.); cakes made from flour without the addition of leaven received the special name mazzoth , ‘unleavened cakes,’ which gave their name to’ the feast of unleavened cakes’ (  Exodus 23:15 = etc, EV [Note: English Version.] ‘unleavened bread’).

The prohibition of leavened bread during the continuance of this Feast, including the Passover, is probably another illustration of conservatism in ritual, the nomadic ancestors of the Hebrews, like the Bedouin of the present day, having made their bread without leaven. The further exclusion of leaven from the offerings placed upon the altar of J″ [Note: Jahweh.] although admitted when the bread was to be eaten by the priests ( Leviticus 7:13;   Leviticus 23:17 ) is to be explained, like the similar exclusion of honey, from the standpoint that fermentation implied a process of corruption in the dough. The antiquity of this prohibition is attested by its occurrence in the earliest legislation (  Exodus 34:35;   Exodus 23:18 ). It does not seem to have been observed, however, in Amos’ day in the Northern Kingdom (see the Comm. on   Amos 4:5 ).

This antique view of leaven as (in Plutarch’s words) ‘itself the offspring of corruption, and corrupting the mass of dough with which it has been mixed,’ is reflected in the figurative use of ‘leaven’ in such passages as  Matthew 16:6 ||, and especially in the proverbial saying twice quoted by St. Paul, ‘a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump’ (  1 Corinthians 5:8 ,   Galatians 5:9; cf.   1 Corinthians 5:7 f.). In   Matthew 13:33 , however, it is the silent but all-pervading action of leaven in the mass of the dough that is the point of comparison.

A. R. S. Kennedy.

Easton's Bible Dictionary [7]

  • Heb. hamets, properly "ferment." In  Numbers 6:3 , "vinegar of wine" is more correctly "fermented wine." In  Exodus 13:7 , the proper rendering would be, "Unfermented things [Heb. matstsoth] shall be consumed during the seven days; and there shall not be seen with thee fermented things [hamets], and there shall not be seen with thee leavened mass [seor] in all thy borders." The chemical definition of ferment or yeast is "a substance in a state of putrefaction, the atoms of which are in a continual motion."

    The use of leaven was strictly forbidden in all offerings made to the Lord by fire ( Leviticus 2:11;  7:12;  8:2;  Numbers 6:15 ). Its secretly penetrating and diffusive power is referred to in  1 Corinthians 5:6 . In this respect it is used to illustrate the growth of the kingdom of heaven both in the individual heart and in the world ( Matthew 13:33 ). It is a figure also of corruptness and of perverseness of heart and life ( Matthew 16:6,11;  Mark 8:15;  1 Corinthians 5:7,8 ).

    Copyright Statement These dictionary topics are from M.G. Easton M.A., DD Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Third Edition, published by Thomas Nelson, 1897. Public Domain.

    Bibliography Information Easton, Matthew George. Entry for 'Leaven'. Easton's Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/ebd/l/leaven.html. 1897.

  • Morrish Bible Dictionary [8]

    This was early used in the fermentation of bread. As a symbol it is always used in scripture for the working of the human element, whether mind or flesh, in the things of God, and hence evil. It was strictly forbidden to be burnt in any offering made by fire ( Leviticus 2:11 ); but in the peace offering, besides the unleavened cakes and wafers, the offerer was to present leavened bread, which was to be eaten.  Leviticus 7:12,13;  Leviticus 23:17,18 . Its presence here might seem to suggest an exception to the statement that leaven always signifies that form of evil; but it is not, for the peace offering typifies worship, and there, alas, the worshipper is not entirely free from indwelling sin. In the parable of 'the leaven hid in the meal,' it also represents the same evil, which in an insidiousway permeates the mass with which it is mixed. The solemn words are added, "till the whole was leavened."  Luke 13:20,21 . It is only a too true similitude of the kingdom of God, for everywhere evil is spreading therein. In  Matthew 16:6-12 leaven is applied to the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. In the church, leaven when discovered must be purged out, for "a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump,"  1 Corinthians 5:6-8 but in the kingdom it is represented as working until all is leavened.   Matthew 13:33 . It is then that the King will purge out from His kingdom all that offend and commit iniquity, and cast them into a furnace of fire.

    Smith's Bible Dictionary [9]

    Leaven. Various substances were known to have fermenting qualities; but the ordinary leaven consisted of a lump of old dough in a high state of fermentation, which was mixed into the mass of dough prepared for baking. The use of leaven was strictly forbidden in all offerings made to the Lord by fire. During the Passover , the Jews were commanded to put every particle of leaven from the house.

    The most prominent idea associated with leaven in connection with the Corruption which it had undergone, and which it communicated to bread in the process of fermentation. It is to this property of leaven that our Saviour points when he speaks of the "leaven (that is, the corrupt doctrine) of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees,"  Matthew 16:6 and St. Paul, when he speaks of the "old leaven."  1 Corinthians 5:7.

    (Another quality in leaven is noticed in the Bible, namely, its secretly penetrating and diffusive power. In this respect it was emblematic of moral influence generally, whether good or bad; and hence our Saviour adopts it as illustrating the growth of the kingdom of heaven in the individual heart and in the world at large: because

    (1) its source is from without;

    (2) it is secret in its operation;

    (3) it spreads by contact of particle with particle;

    (4) it is widely diffusive, one particle of leaven being able to change any number of particles of flour; and because

    (5) it does not act like water, moistening a certain amount of flour, but is like a plant, changing the particles it comes in contact with into its own nature, with like propagating power. - Editor).

    People's Dictionary of the Bible [10]

    Leaven. Any substance that promotes fermentation. Sour dough is generally used in the East for this purpose; lees of wine are also employed. The fermentation produced is a kind of putrefaction; indeed it is distributed into three kinds, the vinous, the acetous, the putrefactive. All leaven was prohibited in meat-offerings,  Leviticus 2:11;  Leviticus 7:12;  Leviticus 8:2;  Numbers 6:15, and specially in the paschal feast of the Hebrews,  Exodus 12:3;  Exodus 12:19-20; whence this was often called "the feast of unleavened bread."  Matthew 26:17. The nature of leaven, affecting the whole lump of the substance to which it is added, furnishes some striking illustrations in Scripture,  Matthew 13:33;  Matthew 16:6;  1 Corinthians 6:6; as also does the corruption it had undergone; thus we have warnings in  Luke 12:1;  1 Corinthians 5:7-8, where the word is symbolically used for corruptness of life, or doctrine.

    Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary [11]

    The Hebrews were forbidden by the law to eat leavened bread, or a food with leaven in it, during the seven days of the passover,  Exodus 12:15-19;  Leviticus 2:11 . They were very careful in purifying their houses from all leaven before this feast began. God forbad either leaven or honey to be offered to him in his temple; that is, in cakes or in any baked meats. But on other occasions they might offer leavened bread or honey. St. Paul,  1 Corinthians 5:7-8 , expresses his desire that the faithful should celebrate the Christian passover with unleavened bread; which, figuratively, signifies sincerity and truth. In this he teaches us two things; first, that the law which obliged the Jews to a literal observance of the passover is no longer in force; and, secondly, that by unleavened bread, truth and purity of heart were denoted. The same Apostle alludes to the ceremony used at the passover, when he says, "A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump;" that is, a small portion of leaven, in a quantity of bread or paste, corrupts the whole, and renders it unclean. Our Saviour, in the Gospel,  Matthew 16:11 , warns his Apostles to beware of the leaven of the Herodians and Pharisees; meaning their doctrines.

    Holman Bible Dictionary [12]

     Leviticus 7:11-13 Leviticus 23:17 Leviticus 2:11-12 1 Samuel 18:24 Leviticus 23:4-8 Exodus 12:14-20

    In the New Testament, leaven is a symbol of any evil influence which, if allowed to remain, can corrupt the body of believers. Jesus warned His disciples against the leaven of the Pharisees, their teaching and hypocrisy ( Matthew 16:5-12;  Luke 12:1 ). Paul urged the Corinthians to remove wickedness from their midst and become fresh dough, unleavened loaves of sincerity and truth ( 1 Corinthians 5:6-13 ). Jesus also used leaven to illustrate the pervasive growth of the kingdom of God ( Matthew 13:33 ).

    Barbara J. Bruce

    Wilson's Dictionary of Bible Types [13]

    (b) In every place where leaven is mentioned, it is a type of evil teachings, evil doctrines and evil practices. It is always to be put away and cast out as an unclean thing. The Gospel is never called leaven. Nothing good is ever compared to leaven. Nothing good is ever said about leaven. In every place it is mentioned, leaven is defiling and is to be put away. (See  Exodus 12:15;  Leviticus 2:11;  1 Corinthians 5:6).

     Matthew 13:33 (a) The leaven in this case is a type of evil doctrines, taught by the apostate church. The woman is the apostate church, the meal is the Word of GOD, the leaven is wrong and evil teachings concerning the Word of GOD. Every false religion mixes false teachings in with the Scriptures and thereby poisons those who eat it. The leaven is never the Gospel. There is no place in the Bible where leaven is spoken of in an approving way, nor is it ever related to anything good.

    American Tract Society Bible Dictionary [14]

    Sourdough which is kept over from one baking to another, in order to raise the new dough. Leaven was forbidden in the Hebrews during the seven days of the Passover, in memory of what their ancestors did when they went out of Egypt, they being then obliged to carry unleavened meal with them, and to make bread in haste, the Egyptians pressing them to be gone,  Exodus 12:15,19 . They were very careful in cleansing their houses from it before this feast began,  1 Corinthians 5:6 . God forbade either leaven or honey to be offered to him in his temple,  Leviticus 2:11 . The pervading and transforming effect of leaven is used in illustration of the like influence on society, exerted by the purifying principles of the gospel, or by false doctrines and corrupt men,  Matthew 12:23   16:6-12   1 Corinthians 5:6-8 .

    King James Dictionary [15]

    LEAVEN, n. lev'n. L. levo, Eng. to lift.

    1. A mass of sour dough, which, mixed with a larger quantity of dough or paste, produces fermentation in it and renders it light. During the seven days of the passover, no leaven was permitted to be in the houses of the Jews.  Exodus 12 . 2. Any thing which makes a general change in the mass. It generally means something which corrupts or depraves that with which it is mixed.

    Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.

     Matthew 16 .

    LEAVEN, lev'n.

    1. To excite fermentation in to raise and make light, as dough or paste.

    A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.  1 Corinthians 5 .

    2. to taint to imbue.

    Webster's Dictionary [16]

    (1): ( n.) Any substance that produces, or is designed to produce, fermentation, as in dough or liquids; esp., a portion of fermenting dough, which, mixed with a larger quantity of dough, produces a general change in the mass, and renders it light; yeast; barm.

    (2): ( v. t.) To imbue; to infect; to vitiate.

    (3): ( v. t.) To make light by the action of leaven; to cause to ferment.

    (4): ( n.) Anything which makes a general assimilating (especially a corrupting) change in the mass.

    Hawker's Poor Man's Concordance And Dictionary [17]

    The leaven among the Jews, became an object of much religious concern. They were cautious that no leaven should be found in their houses. (See  Exodus 12:15-19) No doubt this had a gospel signification, and was intended to teach, that nothing would be permitted to leaven or mingle with the blood and righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ, for acceptance before God.

    International Standard Bible Encyclopedia [18]

    lev ´- n ( שׂאר , se'ōr , חמץ , ḥāmec  ; ζύμη , zúmē  ; Latin fermentum ): The nomadic ancestors of the Hebrews, like the Bedouin of today, probably made their bread without leaven; but leaven came to play a great part in their bread-making, their law and ritual, and their religious teaching (see   Exodus 12:15 ,  Exodus 12:19;  Exodus 13:7;  Leviticus 2:11;  Deuteronomy 16:4;  Matthew 13:33;  Matthew 16:6-12;  Mark 8:15 f;   Luke 12:1;  Luke 13:21 ).

    (1) In Bread-Making.

    The form of leaven used in bread-making and the method of using it were simple and definite. The "leaven" consisted always, so far as the evidence goes, of a piece of fermented dough kept over from a former baking. There is no trace of the use of other sorts of leaven, such as the lees of wine or those mentioned by Pliny ( Nh , xviii. 26). The lump of dough thus preserved was either dissolved in water in the kneading-trough before the flour was added, or was "hid" in the flour (the King James Version "meal") and kneaded along with it, as was the case mentioned in the parable ( Matthew 13:33 ). The bread thus made was known as "leavened," as distinguished from "unleavened" bread ( Exodus 12:15 , etc.). See Bread .

    (2) In Law and Ritual.

    The ritual prohibition of leaven during "the feast of unleavened bread" including the Passover ( Exodus 23:15 , etc.) is a matter inviting restudy. For the historical explanation given in the Scriptures, see especially  Exodus 12:34-39;  Exodus 13:3 ff;   Deuteronomy 16:3 . The antiquity of the prohibition is witnessed by its occurrence in the earliest legislation ( Exodus 23:18;  Exodus 34:25 ). A natural reason for the prohibition, like that of the similar exclusion of honey, is sought on the ground that fermentation implied a process of corruption. Plutarch voices this ancient view of the matter when he speaks of it as "itself the offspring of corruption, and corrupting the mass of dough with which it is mixed." Fermentatum is used in Persius ( Sat. , i. 24) for "corruption." For this reason doubtless it was excluded also from the offerings placed upon the altar of Yahweh, cakes made from flour without leaven, and these only, being allowed. The regulation name for these "unleavened cakes" was maccōth ( Leviticus 10:12 ). Two exceptions to this rule should be noted ( Leviticus 7:13; compare  Amos 4:5 ): "leavened bread" was an accompaniment of the thank offering as leavened loaves were used also in the wave offering of  Leviticus 23:17 . Rabbinical writers regularly use leaven as a symbol of evil (Lightfoot).

    (3) In Teaching.

    The figurative uses of leaven in the New Testament, no less than with the rabbins, reflect the ancient view of it as "corrupt and corrupting," in parts at least, e.g.  Matthew 16:6 parallel, and especially the proverbial saying twice quoted by Paul, "A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump" (  1 Corinthians 5:6 f;   Galatians 5:9 ). But as Jesus used it in  Matthew 13:33 , "The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven," it is clearly the hidden, silent, mysterious but all-pervading and transforming action of the leaven in the measures of flour that is the point of the comparison.


    Nowack, Hebrew Arch. , II, 145 f; Talmud, Berakhoth, 17a; Lightfoot, Hor. Hebrew. on   Matthew 16:6 .