What does it mean to “fall away”?

When reading the parable of the soils in the gospels (Mark 4:3-20), I have always assumed that the bad soils where the seed landed - the path, the rocks, and the thorny ground - represented people who heard the gospel but never truly became Christians. In the explanation of the parable in verse 17, Jesus says

when distress or persecution comes because of the word, [they] immediately fall away.

In contrast to these 3 soils, I have understood the good soil to represent the true believer - the one who has salvation.

In Mark 14, just before Jesus is betrayed, he tells his disciples,

All of you will fall away

As we know, the disciples do scatter after Jesus’ betrayal but I’ve never really questioned their salvation in that process. This has raised a question for me now. Is ‘falling away’ representing the lack of salvation in the parable of the soils or not?

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Ooo, fascinating question… I don’t have a knowledge of the Greek or a Greek translation, so I’m wondering if same word is used in both instances. All I have are footnotes and study Bibles!

My ESV footnote notes that “fall away” in Mark 4 can also be translated as “stumble”. Thus, to me, it would make sense if it was the same word both times, for the threat of persecution/distress is exactly what made the disciples scatter/fall away/stumble.

So, if we go back to the parable, shallow root leaves the sapling vulnerable to the elements. And when the storms of life come, it is easily overwhelmed – the joy that they first had is easily washed away. To me, that speaks more to a vulnerability rather than a definite “loss of salvation”. After all, can a washed away seed reroot? The disciples did. Or like some others, did the faith seed die as a result of being uprooted?

Sidenote: After reflecting above, I went to the NJKV study Bible and noticed that both instances were translated as “stumble”…so maybe it is the same word?!

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Oh good idea about looking at the Greek. Just had a look at an interlinear online which says in Mark 4:17 the Greek word for fall away is skandalizontai and when Jesus speaks to his disciples in Mark 14 the word is skandalisthesesthe which I take to be the same word? I’m afraid I only did a year of Greek a very long time ago and I didn’t really pay much attention back then sadly :grimacing:.

I love this observational question. It gives less finality about the fate of those who do get swayed by persecution and worries of this life. I see the grace of God in the parable of nature as well as in the subsequent story of the disciples after the resurrection. So it may be better to say that ‘fall away’ isn’t loss of salvation but is a stumbling. And that provides hope, doesn’t it.

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I’ve been thinking more about this this morning…

First off, thank you for bringing in the Greek! :laughing: Skandalizontai – gives a deeper meaning for me for the English word “scandal”. But I digress…

My Bible fell open this morning (providentially??) to Matthew’s version of this teaching event (Mt. 13:1-17), which is nearly verbatim of the Mark account. Last night, I did not read the entire passage/parable…only Jesus’ interpretation starting in Mk 4:14, and I was focusing more on the root. This morning, however, as I read the parable itself, the soil image jumped out at me. (I’m remembering now how this is can be alternatively referred to as the 'Parable of the Soils".)

5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. [NIV]

So while the issue is shallow root, the deeper issue (quite literally) is rocky soil that does not facilitate a deep, hearty, resilient rootedness. Because the seed cannot go deep, it shoots up above ground immediately. It gives a good show without the wait.

Jesus goes on to describe this shallow-rooted plant as being scorched by the trials and sufferings of life. And following this scorching, there is a withering. But though withering will most likely lead to death, it doesn’t have to if it is tended to.

If we’re running with the garden metaphor, then Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances cleared away the rocks in their respective heart-soils so that The Seed could take deeper root. Then Pentecost could be seen as a massive shot of Miracle-Gro, allowing for fruitfulness. :smile:

Interestingly, this is calling to mind the Diocletian Persecution of the Christian church in the Roman empire in the early 4th c. AD. When the persecutions ended with Constantine, there was a huge discussion about what “stumbling” or “falling away” meant and whether those who compromised to escape persecution (i.e. traditores…traitors) were to be disqualified from leadership. Pretty sure this is what the Donatist controversy was about? But I need to find unpack my church history books to make sure!

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Thank you - you’ve given me lots of things to think about!

I’ll be honest, I’ve never heard about the Donatist controversy (or maybe I did in my Later Roman Empire lecture classes at Uni, but again wasn’t paying attention…) so I’m inspired to go and research that. It sounds fascinating that it hinges upon this very topic.

I take so much encouragement from this idea. Although rocky ground can be fatal, it doesn’t have to be. This links well with the Together prayer course around the writings of Brother Lawrence and how he found himself drifting and learned to bring himself back to God each time. Every time he found God welcoming and loving. So this idea of ‘stumbling away’ really is not necessarily a salvific issue (is that the correct word?)


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