Mark 4:31 [It is] like a grain of mustard seed,

KJV Verse: 

Mark 4:31 [It is] like a grain of mustard seed, which, when it is sown in the earth, is less than all the seeds that be in the earth:

Greek Verse: 

Literal Alternative: 

Just as a grain of mustard that when it might be sown upon the earth least being all the ones upon the earth. 

Hidden Meaning: 

Jesus is differentiating here between the size of a piece of knowledge and its potential for yielding fruit. In his estimation, the basic idea of the universal rule, that is, the rules of God's reign, are not large or complex. The term he uses for "grain" is actually a metaphor in Greek for "a grain of sense." When you put this particular grain of sense into your relationships, which is Christ's symbol for term translated as "the earth" here, it doesn't matter that it seems so small, new, and perhaps naive. (The word used here for "small," also means "young.") This small, new idea has the potential within them to mature and grow over time.

The word translated as "it is like" has a very broad meaning, translating as "how", "when", "where", "just as", "like," and related words.

The Greek word translated as "a grain" means "a grain" and "a seed," but interestingly is used as a metaphor for a "grain of sense," which fits directly into the meaning here.

"Mustard seed," though translated as seed, is sinapi, which means simply "mustard."

The word translated as "which" is a demonstrative pronoun ("this" "that"), but it often acts as a pronoun ("the one that), especially a connective pronoun ("the one that") introducing a dependent clause.

The Greek word translated as "when" introduces a phrase that explains a certain condition so "whenever" or "since."

"It is sowed" is from a verb that that means "to sow seed", "to scatter like seed," and "to beget offspring.

The word translated as "in" means "against", "before", "during", "by" or "on."

The word translated as "the earth" means "ground" and "dirt". Translated as "earth", it refers to the physical planet, not society, which Christ describes as the world. See this article for more on these words.

The verb "is" here is the common form of "to be" in Greek. It means to have a certain characteristic or remain in a certain condition. It also equates terms or assigns characteristics. The form here is an adjective, "being". 

"Less" is a comparative adverb "small", "little," and "young." It is one of several words Christ uses to refer to children.

The word translated as "than all" is the Greek adjective meaning "all", "the whole", "every," and similar ideas. When it is used as a noun, we would say "everything." As an adverb, it means "in every way", "on every side," and "altogether." The "than" comes from the form." 

"Seeds" is the Greek word that means "seed", "sperm", "origin", "race", "descent," and "offspring." It was not used above. 

The word translated as "that" is the Greek article, "the," which usually proceeds a noun and, without a noun, takes the meaning of "the one." The Greek article is much closer to our demonstrative pronouns ("this", "that", "these", "those"). Here the form is plural so "those". See this article for more. 

There is no "be" here. 

The "one the earth" is a repeat of the words used above.

 

Wordplay: 

The wordplay in the verse using "grain" for "grain of sense" and "small" to also mean "young" only works in Greek. 

Vocabulary: 

ὡς (adv/conj) "It is like" is hos, an adverb which means to "thus", "as", "how", "when", "where", "like", "just as", "so far as", "as much as can be", "that", "in order that", "nearly (with numbers)," and "know that." --

κόκκῳ (noun sg masc dat) "Grain" is not from the Greek word for seed (sperma) used later in the verse, but from kokkos, which means "a grain" and "a seed," a metaphor for a "grain of sense."

σινάπεως, (noun sg neut gen) "Of mustard seed," is from sinapi, (sinapi) which means simply "mustard."

ὃς (pron sg masc nom) "Which" is from hos, which means "this", "that", "he", "she", "which", "what", "who", "whosoever", "where", "for which reason," and many similar meanings.

ὅταν (adv/conj) "When" is from hotan, which means "whenever (as a condition)," and "since (as a cause)." 

σπαρῇ (verb 3rd sg aor subj pass contr) "It is sowed" is from speirô, which is a verb, that means "to sow seed", "to scatter like seed," and "to beget offspring.

ἐπὶ (prep) "In" is epi, which means "on", "upon", "at", "by", "before", "across," "during", and "against." 

τῆς γῆς, (noun sg fem gen) "Earth" is ge, which means "the element of earth", "land (country)", "arable land", "the ground," and "the world" as the opposite of the sky. Like our English word "earth," it means both dirt and the planet. --

μικρότερον (adv comp) Least" is from mikros, which means "small", "little," and "young." It is one of several words Christ uses to refer to children.

ὂν (part sg pres act neut nom/acc) "Is" is from eimi, which means "to be", "to exist", "to be the case," and "is possible." (The future form is esomai. The 3rd person present indicative is "esti.")

πάντων (adj pl nuet/masc gen) "Of all" is from pas, which means "all", "the whole", "every", "anyone", "all kinds," and "anything." In the adverbial form, it means "every way", "on every side", "in every way," and "altogether."

τῶν σπερμάτων (noun pl neut gen) "Seed" is from sperma, which means "seed", "sperm", "origin", "race", "descent," and "offspring."

τῶν (article pl masc gen) "That" is the Greek article, "the," which usually proceeds a noun and, without a noun, takes the meaning of "the one" or, in the plural, "the ones." Here it is separated from its noun by a conjunction.

 

ἐπὶ (prep) "In" is epi, which means "on", "upon", "at", "by", "before", "across," "during", and "against." -- The word translated as "unto" means "against", "before", "during", "by" or "on."

τῆς γῆς, (noun sg fem gen) "Earth" is ge, which means "the element of earth", "land (country)", "arable land", "the ground," and "the world" as the opposite of the sky. Like our English word "earth," it means both dirt and the planet. -- The word translated as "earth" means "ground" and "dirt". Translated as "earth", it refers to the physical planet, not society, which Christ describes as the world. See this article for more on these words.

Related Verses: