Sunday, May 1, 2011

Introduction to the Parables of Jesus Part I

Introduction to the 
Parables of Jesus
(Part I)

"All these things Jesus said to the crowds in parables; in deed, he said nothing to them without a parable. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet: 'I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world.'" (Matthew 13:34-35, ESV)

Jesus drew pictures of his teaching from the familiar area in which his people lived in by teaching in parables. Jesus would tell a story by taking items or experiences from the everyday lives of his listeners in order to teach his lesson and to get his point across. Many times Jesus would state his point at the end of his story which would then give his listeners ample time to meditate on what he had taught. This way the main point of his story would impact his listeners.

The difficulty that confronted Jesus' audience was that the story could be heard and the application was missed. His audience could hear the story and even nod in agreement or affirmation because they knew the situation within the parable well but miss the significance of the lesson. The application was often lost on his listeners.

Jesus gave a very startling and troubling explanation concerning his use of parables. This explanation is found in Mark 4:10-12 - "And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. And He said to them, "To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, so that they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven."

Jesus chose to teach with parables so that those whom the Father had given to him would hear and respond and all those whom the Father had not given him would continue to go on there way without understanding the point, turning from their sin, and receiving forgiveness.

In this brief introduction I want to cover (five) 5 areas of major importance. In order to understand, interpret, and draw application from the parables that Jesus told we must get a handle on these five (5) areas of importance.

The Individualization of Parables

The word parable παραβολη (par-ab-ol-ay’) means "a placing of one thing by the side of another, juxtaposition, as of ships in battle; "a comparing, comparison of one thing with another, likeness, similitude; "an example by which a doctrine or precept is illustrated." Parables have a very broad meaning. However, there are individual types of parables. Parables can generally be individualized, or divided, into three main types - true parables, story parables, and illustrative parables.

1.  True Parables - these parables use an illustration from everyday life of all those who heard the parable. The truth in the parable is acknowledged which disallows for any objection or criticism. For example, everyone has seen seeds grow in a field; or yeast at work in a batch of dough; or even children playing in the marketplace. These types of parables begin with a self-evident truth that depicts some form of natural or human life.

2.  Story Parables - these types of parables do not rest on an obvious truth or a generally accepted custom. These parables typically tell a story that has taken place sometime in the past. The story or event itself is not the key  focus. The key focus in a story parable is the truth that is being conveyed in the story. The story may or not be true, may or may not have happened. The story form is utilized in order to teach a particular truth.

3.  Illustrative Parables - these types of parables are known as example stories.The main point in these parables are examples, illustrations, or truths to be imitated or avoided. These types of parables focus on the character or conduct of an individual.

For the record, a parable is not an allegory. In an allegory names, features, circumstances, and et. cetera are used as substitutes for reality. Every fact, feature, or name symbolizes something and therefore must be translated point by point in order for the reader or hearer to understand the truth or principles depicted by the symbols.

A parable is usually true to life and typically teaches one basic truth. Parables are stores, examples, illustrations and truths taken from the everyday world in which Jesus lived. Jesus utilized parables to convey spiritual truths by the means of comparing these in a single point. One must never try to analyze each point in a parable or interpret a parable as an allegory. To do so would obscure or obliterate the truth contained within the parable.

The Irregularity of Parables

As a general rule parables are designed to teach one basic lesson, truth, or principle. As almost anything, parables can be at times irregular. For example, the Parable of the Sower is made up of four (4) distinct parts with each part requiring an interpretation. Another example of a parable with an irregularity is that of The Parable of the Wedding Banquet. Contained within this parable is another parable, The Parable of the Guest With an Improper Wedding Garment. When one is interpreting a parable that is complex and irregular great care must be exercised in the interpretative process. There are times when a parable may have more than one basic lesson, truth, or principle.

A second thing to keep in mind when reading and interpreting parables is that the main point or the lesson is rarely found in the beginning of the parable. More often than not the main point being taught comes at the very end of the parable. For example, it wasn't the priest or the Levite

In summary, Jesus used parables to explain truths and principles to his listeners. Most follow the general rules of proper hermeneutics in regards to interpretation and application. However, a few will be fraught with irregularities requiring the bible reader to carefully apply the rules of hermeneutics in order to reach the point that Jesus intended.


IanH said...

I found this a very good explanation of how and why. Thanks, Gregg.

Anonymous said...

Awesome start, Gregg! I can't wait to read more of this series. :)

Pat Donovan said...

This is a very hard thing for most to understand. I can here the question now, it would go. If God is love then why would he make it difficult for the people to understand? and, Why would he do it on purpose? God is so much more than love alone, those who benefit from Gods love and mercy, benefit with out merit, and those who don't are simply receiving what everybody diserves.

Michael Wright said...

Very helpful. It really lays out the parables in a way that's easy to understand. Thanks for posting.