1. Exposition

Is there a difference in the focus of the enquiry by his followers, depending on whether or not “parables” is singular or plural?

Mark 4:10 (ESV)

10 And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables.

These followers ask him about “the parable” (most manuscripts). According to a small number of manuscripts, they asked about “the parables” (plural). In that case, the question is directed more clearly to the manner of instruction (in comparisons or images; the “parable” of the sower consists in fact of a “number of comparisons or parables”); see 4:2. Even when you follow the reference in the singular, the question about “the parable” is largely about Jesus’ manner of instruction. For the particular parable summons the hearers to “listen,” while at the same time Jesus makes listening more difficult by restricting himself to parables. The answer that the Lord is going to give therefore has to do on the one hand with his manner of speaking as such and on the other with the theme of the parable of the sower. The command, “listen,” (4:3, 9) returns (4:12) and so does losing what people heard (4:4–7, 12b).1