Another parable spake he unto them; The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.Matthew 13:33
And again he said, Whereunto shall I liken the kingdom of God? It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.Luke 13:20-21
One of the most popular interpretations of this parable uses the position of the other New Testament references to leaven as a symbol of sin or false teaching. The Apostle Paul uses leaven as a symbol of false doctrine in the following passages:
Your glorying [is] not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened [bread] of sincerity and truth.1st Corinthians 5:6-8
A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.Galatians 5:9
Both of these passages warn the local church that a little bit of false teaching allowed into the church will permeate throughout the doctrine and practice of a church if it is allowed to remain. This is clearly seen through church history where a group will err from the truth and not repent. These groups then add error upon error until the organization looks more like a rock concert with a self-help motivational speaker than like a New Testament church. I cannot and will not argue against the Apostle Paul on this point. He was inspired by God to write these words, and is therefore the rule we must follow.
Since Paul uses leaven as his metaphor, some interpret Jesus’ parable in the same way. I give liberty to those who interpret it this way as long as it is not taken too far. This interpretation taken to the extreme could possibly contradict the parable of the mustard seed. It is for this reason that I do not believe this is what Jesus meant in this parable.
Up to this point, all the kingdom parables have been quite positive in nature. Even the parable of the wheat and the tares shows us that Jesus is still in charge of His kingdom. This interpretation turns this parable into a very dark one where the kingdom seems to be overtaken with error and evil.
As I said before, I give liberty to those who understand it this way as long as it is not taken too far. In my next article, I hope to present a different interpretation that I believe holds the same triumphant character that the other parables hold.