From Matthew 13:31-32,

31 He [Jesus] put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; 32 it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

Is it true that mustard seeds are smaller than all other seeds?

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    Please see my question on Biblical Hermeneuitcs. The mustard seed was popularly used as a symbol of smallness just like Reno calling itself the "The Biggest Little City in the World". It's a conceptual metaphor. Jun 5, 2014 at 3:59
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    @JonEricson Those are interesting reads, but this question is not concerned with metaphorical interpretations. It is concerned with, in particular, the literal interpretation.
    – user19593
    Jun 5, 2014 at 4:32
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    Where is the notable claim? What sense does it have to take a metaphoric text in literal sense?
    – Suma
    Jun 5, 2014 at 8:25
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    It gets worse: mustard is not to my knowledge "the greatest of shrubs" (it does grow pretty tall, but I've seen taller) and on the whole birds don't nest in its branches. In other news, I have some doubts that girls don't want to do anything at all other than have fun. Jun 5, 2014 at 14:04
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    I am interested in the literal interpretation of, "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed," and the literal interpretation of, "Love is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get." Is it true you never know (what about those pictures and descriptions that come on the paper on top)?Can the OP and literal interpretations answerers be serious?
    – user1873
    Jun 5, 2014 at 15:40

3 Answers 3


To repeat Oddthinking's answer, that is a simple NO. The mustard seed is far from the smallest. That distinction belongs to the Orchid. With over 26,000 species, many having seeds no larger than grains of dust from 0.4mm to 0.2mm in size. This document (PDF) actually gives a pretty full accounting of Orchid seeds.



Several sources put mustard seeds as between 1 and 2 or 3 mm in diameter.

For example:

During the hulling of white mustard seeds and rapeseeds, 1.4 mm to 2.8 mm in diameter, on a disk equipped with blades [...]

Meanwhile, begonia seeds, as an example, are much smaller:

Species description Begonia fangii [...] Seeds many, brown, ellipsoid, 0.5-0.6 mm long, 0.3-0.35 mm in diam.


No, but one should not expect a literal interpretation of of parable.

It is a good idea to use an interlinerar bible when reading translated works. A concordance or other search tool that allows you to search in multiple languages can also be useful to determine the best translation. In this particular instance, the translation you quoted above seems fairly accurate.

The important part of Matthew 13:31-32 that you seem to be overlooking is that Jesus is speaking in parables to the multitudes. These stories are used to illustrate a religious or moral attitude, and need not be factual. There are multiple interpretations of what this parable is meant to symbolize, but no religious scholar takes that passage literally.

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    So the parts that science shows to be untrue are parable, but all the rest is the direct word of god. Where did you happen to find this decoder ring? Jun 7, 2014 at 3:14
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    You wouldn't admonish Aesop for saying town mice have dining tables, that they talk, or that they express emotion. If you would, you might want to try out that secret decoder ring (which the science of Linguistics have shown to be true).
    – user1873
    Jun 7, 2014 at 4:48
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    @LarianLeQuella You say "direct word of god" but many (perhaps most) Christians (except in the USA) don't necessarily believe that everything in the bible is meant literally. According to the Catholic church, for example, the "decoder ring" you asked about is a) being informed by the Holy Spirit when you read b) being informed by the Magisterium i.e. the teachings of the Church.
    – ChrisW
    Jun 7, 2014 at 8:24
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    the bible specifically states that a passage is figurative -- Matthew 13:3 says, "And he spake many things unto them in parables, saying, Behold, a sower went forth to sow;" and later, "And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables?"
    – ChrisW
    Jun 7, 2014 at 9:12
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    @LarianLeQuella, don't let your religious fervor cloud your judgement. Just realize that you didn't notice that that particular passage specifically noted that the mustard metaphor was a parable. There is no shame in that. You might want to remove the board from your own eye before worrying about the speck in others's eyes.
    – user1873
    Jun 8, 2014 at 5:11

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