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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [1]

Mustard —In a simile the word (σίναπι) occurs in  Matthew 13:31,  Mark 4:31,  Luke 13:19; as a bold metaphor, in  Matthew 17:20,  Luke 17:6. It used to be strongly contended that the mustard referred to is not any of the familiar wild species of the Holy Land (such as the Sinapis nigra ), but an arboreal plant ( Salvadora persica ) found in the extreme south or sub-tropical part of Palestine, and said to be called among the Arabs by the same name ( Khardal ) as mustard. This theory, however, may now be said to be exploded (cf. Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible, art. ‘Mustard’). The passages concerned clearly suggest, not a perennial shrub, but an annual sown among and comparable with other garden herbs; and if the expression ‘tree’ be a difficulty (‘great’ in  Luke 13:19 is of weak authority, cf. Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885), it is to be remembered that, when Jesus spoke to the multitude, it was in popular language. He meant that the tiny seed became to all intents a tree. An accurate botanist (Dr. Hooker) found the black mustard on the banks of the Jordan ‘ten feet high, drawn up amongst bushes, etc., and not thicker than whipcord.’ And Dr. Thomson says that he has seen it ‘on the rich plain of Akkâr as tall as the horse and his rider’ ( LB [Note: The Land and the Book.] , p. 414).

Equally prosaic is the criticism that the mustard is not ‘the least of all seeds’ (Mt.), or ‘less than all the seeds that be in the earth,’ i.e. annuals (Mk.). Enough, as before, that the language is not absolute and scientific. The mustard was probably the smallest a gardener ordinarily sowed. But the fact is, the saying is proverbial (found as such in the Talmud and in the Koran), and in good proverbs there is often the suppressed note of poetic licence (cf. the Semitic form of poetry in the introductory verse of the passage  Mark 4:30,  Luke 13:18). The broad effect of the image is plain, that out of a speck of seed there was to come in due course marvellously great growth—a plant towering among the pulse and pot-herbs like a Titan, and with branching sprays on which the birds of the air find shelter and rest.

The Arabs are given to special cultivation of mustard as a condiment (Hooker), and there is clearly emphasis on the statement that it was ‘a grain, (not a handful) which was taken ‘by a man’ (Mt. and Lk.) and cast ‘into his own garden.’ ( Luke 13:19 Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885)—the garden (‘field’ in  Matthew 13:31) being a place where, as observation attests, wild plants attain more than the normal size. Elsewhere this is the thought of Jesus—that God’s Kingdom is taken from the world and developed on lines of its own (cf. the fig-tree favoured by being put in the choice and carefully protected place usually devoted to vines,  Luke 13:6).

The essential point in the application is not any seeming rapidity of growth; rather it is the striking contrast between the initial insignificance and the amply beneficent result. Jesus, the spokesman of the coming Kingdom, was derided in His teaching, persecuted in His Person, doomed to violence and degradation; but He felt, and knew, and here affirms that the cause was supremely great, and that its greatness should be manifested to the world.

The remaining passages ( Matthew 17:20 and  Luke 17:6) describe the wonder-working power of faith, which, within its own sphere, produces miraculous results (cf. art. Faith in vol. i. p. 569).

George Murray.

Smith's Bible Dictionary [2]

Mustard. Mustard is mentioned in  Matthew 13:31;  Matthew 17:20;  Mark 4:31;  Luke 13:19;  Luke 117:6. It is generally agreed that the mustard tree of Scripture is the black mustard, ( Sinapis nigru ).

The objection commonly made against any sinapis being the plant of the parable is that the reed grew into "a tree," in which the fowls of the air are said to come and lodge.

As to this objection, it is urged, with great truth, that the expression is figurative and Oriental, and that in a proverbial simile, no literal accuracy is to be expected. It is an error, for which the language of Scripture is not accountable, to assert that the passage implies that birds "built their nests" in the tree: the Greek word has no such meaning; the word merely means "to settle or rest upon" anything for a longer or shorter time; nor is there any occasion to suppose that the expression "fowls of the air" denotes any other than the smaller insessorial kinds - linnets, finches, etc.

Hiller's explanation is probably the correct one, - that the birds came and settled on the mustard-plant, for the sake of the seed, of which they are very fond. Dr. Thomson also says, he has seen the wild mustard on the rich plain of Akkar, as tall as the horse and the rider. If, then, the wild plant on the rich plain of Akkar grows as high as a man on horseback, it might attain to the same or a greater height when in a cultivated garden.

The expression "which is indeed, the least of all seeds" is in all probability hyperbolical, to denote a very small seed indeed, as there are many seeds which are smaller than mustard. The Lord Jesus in his popular teaching," says Trench, ("Notes on Parables", 108), "adhered to the popular language;" and the mustard-seed was used proverbially to denote anything very minute; or may mean that it was the smallest of all garden seeds, which it is in truth.

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary [3]

σιναπι ,  Matthew 13:32;  Matthew 17:20;  Mark 4:31;  Luke 13:19;  Luke 17:6; a well known garden herb. Christ compares the kingdom of heaven to "a grain of mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in the earth, which indeed," said he, "is the least of all seeds; but when it is grown is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof,"  Matthew 13:31-32 . "This expression will not appear strange," says Sir Thomas Browne, "if we recollect that the mustard seed, though it be not simply and in itself the smallest of seeds, yet may be very well believed to be the smallest of such as are apt to grow unto a ligneous substance, and become a kind of tree." The expression, also, that it might grow into such dimensions that birds might lodge on its branches, may be literally conceived, if we allow the luxuriancy of plants in India above our northern regions. And he quotes upon this occasion what is recorded in the Jewish story, of a mustard tree that was to be climbed like a fig tree. The Talmud also mentions one whose branches were so extensive as to cover a tent. Without insisting on the accuracy of this, we may gather from it that we should not judge of eastern vegetables by those which are familiar to ourselves. Scheuchzer describes a species of mustard which grows several feet high, with a tapering stalk, and spreads into many branches. Of this arborescent or treelike vegetable, he gives a print; and Linnaeus mentions a species whose branches were real wood, which he names sinapi erucoides. But whatever kind of tree our Lord meant, it is clear, from the fact that he never takes his illustrations from any objects but such as were familiar, and often present in the scene around him, that he spoke of one which the Jews well knew to have minute seeds, and yet to be of so large growth as to afford shelter for the birds of the air.

Vine's Expository Dictionary of NT Words [4]

1: Σίναπι (Strong'S #4615 — Noun Neuter — sinapi — sin'-ap-ee )

a word of Egyptian origin, is translated "mustard seed" in the NT. "The conditions to be fulfilled by the mustard are that it should be a familiar plant, with a very small seed,  Matthew 17:20;  Luke 17:6 , sown in the earth, growing larger than garden herbs,  Matthew 13:31 , having large branches,  Mark 4:31 , ... attractive to birds,  Luke 13:19 [RV, '(became) a tree']. The cultivated mustard is sinapis nigra. The seed is well known for its minuteness. The mustards are annuals, reproduced with extraordinary rapidity ... In fat soil they often attain a height of 10 or 12 feet, and have branches which attract passing birds" (A. E. Post, in Hastings' Bib. Dic.)

 Matthew 13:32 John 17:14 Galatians 6:14 1—Peter 2:11 1—John 3:1

Fausset's Bible Dictionary [5]

 Matthew 13:31;  Matthew 17:20;  Mark 4:31;  Luke 13:19. Its "seed" is proverbial for smallness, therefore not the Salvador Ρersica (Arabic: Khardal , mustard), which moreover none would sow in his "garden," and which is not an "herb" but a "tree" strictly so-called. The mustard ( Sinapis Nigra ) is an "herb" (not strictly a tree), but so large that compared with the other "herbs" in the "garden" it is a "great tree." It reached as high as the horses' heads of the travelers Irby and Mangles, and as horse and rider in the rich plain of Akbar according to Dr. Thomson (Land and Book, 414). The words "the least of all seeds" are used comparatively to the increase, not absolutely; Christ used the popular language. "The fowls of the air" are the smaller insessorial birds, linnets and finches, etc., which settle upon ( Kateskeenosen , not 'lodged in'; 'rest,'  Acts 2:26) its branches," seeking the seed as food which they much relish.

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible [6]

MUSTARD (Gr. sinapi ). The seed of this plant is used proverbially for anything exceedingly small. In this sense it occurs in the Gospels (  Matthew 17:20 etc.), and in the Talmud (Buxtorf, Lex. s.v . ‘Chardal’). Jesus compares the Kingdom of heaven to the mustard seed (  Matthew 13:31 etc.). The plant intended is the Sinapis nigra (Arab. [Note: Arabic.] khardal ), which grows wild in Palestine, and is a familiar sight on the shores of Gennesaret. It is also found under cultivation, and in the gardens it reaches a great size, being often from 10 to 12 feet in height. An annual, growing from seed, it is naturally compared with other garden herbs, which, although it springs from the smallest seed, it quite outgrows. It bears a profusion of minute seeds, of which the birds are very fond, sitting (‘lodging’) on the branches as they eat. Although it is not properly’ a tree’ (  Luke 13:19 ), it quite accords with Oriental use to describe as such a great plant like this.

W. Ewing.

American Tract Society Bible Dictionary [7]

A species of this annual shrub is found in Palestine, growing to the height of seven to nine feet, and with a stem one inch thick. Prof. Hacket, while examining a field of these plants, saw a bird of the air come and lodge in the branches before him,  Matthew 13:31,32;  Mark 4:31,32 . Others suppose a tree is meant, called Salvadora Persica. It is found in Palestine, and bears berries containing small, mustard- like seeds. "A grain of mustard" was used proverbially to denote any thing extremely small,  Matthew 17:20 .

People's Dictionary of the Bible [8]

Mustard.  Matthew 13:31-32;  Matthew 17:20;  Luke 17:6. This plant is the black mustard ( Sinapis Nigra ). In the fertile and warm soil of Palestine, especially when cultivated, this herb must have reached considerable size. Dr. Thomson has seen it there as tall as the horse and his rider, and the ground near the Sea of Galilee is often "Gilded over with its yellow flowers."

Webster's Dictionary [9]

(1): ( n.) A powder or a paste made from the seeds of black or white mustard, used as a condiment and a rubefacient. Taken internally it is stimulant and diuretic, and in large doses is emetic.

(2): ( n.) The name of several cruciferous plants of the genus Brassica (formerly Sinapis), as white mustard (B. alba), black mustard (B. Nigra), wild mustard or charlock (B. Sinapistrum).

King James Dictionary [10]

MUS'TARD, n. A plant of the genus Sinapis,and its seed, which has a pungent taste and is a powerful stimulant. It is used externally in cataplasms, and internally as a diuretic and stimulant.

Easton's Bible Dictionary [11]

 Matthew 13:31,32 Mark 4:31,32 Luke 13:18,19

Holman Bible Dictionary [12]

 Matthew 13:31-32 Matthew 17:20

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia [13]

mus´tard ( σίναπι , sı́napi   Matthew 13:31;  Mark 4:31;  Luke 13:19;  Matthew 17:20;  Luke 17:6 : The minuteness of the seed is referred to in all these passages, while in the first three the large size of the herb growing from it is mentioned. In   Matthew 13:32 it is described as "greater than the herbs, and becometh a tree" (compare   Luke 13:19 ); in  Mark 4:32 it "becometh greater than all the herbs, and putteth out great branches." Several varieties of mustard (Arabic, khardal ) have notably small seed, and under favorable conditions grow in a few months into very tall herbs - 10 to 12 ft. The rapid growth of an annual herb to such a height must always be a striking fact. Sinapis nigra , the black mustard, which is cultivated, Sinapis alba , or white mustard, and Sinapis arvensis , or the charlock (all of Natural Order Cruciferae ), would, any one of them, suit the requirements of the parable; birds readily alight upon their branches to eat the seed ( Matthew 13:32 , etc.), not, be it noted, to build their nests, which is nowhere implied.

Among the rabbis a "grain of mustard" was a common expression for anything very minute, which explains Our Lord's phrase, "faith as a grain of mustard seed"  Matthew 17:20;  Luke 17:6 .

The suggestion that the New Testament references may allude to a tall shrub Salvadora persica , which grows on the southern shores of the Dead Sea, rests solely upon the fact that this plant is sometimes called khardal by the Arabs, but it has no serious claim to be the sinapi of the Bible.

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [14]

Bibliography Information McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Mustard'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.