We’re Glad You Asked…
QUESTION: Would you please direct some commentary or insight regarding leaven, specifically as mentioned in Matthew 13:33 and Matthew 16:11. Is it possible that our Lord Jesus is saying in Matthew 13:33 that in final times the true gospel will be all leavened” in the sense of being pervaded by false doctrine as interpreted by Jesus in Matthew 16:11?
Is Matthew 13:33 the only place where leaven is considered a symbol of good? If it is a sign of the gospel, why was it “hid”?
ANSWER: It must be clarified at the outset that one cannot prove a doctrine by a type. A type shows how a doctrine works. It does not always deal with the moral quality of a given thing, but oftentimes it deals with the operative quality.
In the typology of leaven, the important understanding in comparing Matthew 13:33 and Matthew 16:11 is that in both cases the Savior was describing an expansive nature through permeation—in the former passage alluding to the Kingdom of God, and in the latter passage alluding to the evil doctrines of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
Regarding the question about the leaven being hidden if it is a sign of the gospel, other versions of the Bible render that word as “buried.” Indeed, that is the way that leaven is made to work. It is buried within the dough, where it feeds on the carbohydrates in order to grow.
With regard to understanding Matthew 13:33 as possibly meaning that in the end times the true gospel will be pervaded by false doctrine, the church-at-large will indeed be “leavened.” That is, the church that is identified as such will be composed of both saved and unsaved people. The true Church, the Body of Christ, is composed only of born-again believers and is merely a segment within the church-at-large.
With regard to the question about leaven being mentioned elsewhere in Scripture as a symbol of good, the answer is yes. The term is used elsewhere, not only as a symbol of good, but simply to indicate the stuff that makes bread rise. For example, Leviticus 7:13 specifically commanded that leaven be included in the sacrifice. On the other hand, the typology of leaven as a symbol of evil is established by Matthew 16:6, Matthew 16:11, 12, Mark 8:15 and Luke 12:1, and as a symbol of false doctrine by I Corinthians 5:7, 8.