Why Did Christ Speak in Parables? An Essay by Katina Michael (Final Submission)

Below is the final version of my draft essay. I received very positive feedback after my draft submission, but also some critical changes to be made before final submission. I tried my best to address these as per the suggestions of my tutor. I gained so much from taking this final redraft process seriously. My thanks to my tutor Rev. Dr. Alexander Tefft for his guidance and time in extensive feedback provided. In many ways I almost felt this was like a peer review of my paper, and I likewise responded by addressing a line by line list of corrections made.

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This paper explores why Christ spoke in parables in the context of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The word parable, means “putting things side by side”. In the Synoptic Gospels, official parables number thirty, however this number varies depending on the criteria for accepting a passage of New Testament (NT) Scripture as a standalone parable. Importantly, a parable should not be confused with mashal, which is to be found in the Old Testament, and which contained only a single message. The parables of Christ are rich in form and content in the Synoptic Gospels and lend themselves to being interpreted allegorically, as well as literally. In the Gospel of John, Christ’s parables are presented using hypostatic language. Somehow Christ is able to reach out to the crowds who have come to hear Him, using only simple stories they could grasp that were contextually set in everyday life. And yet at once the listener who stood among the masses could place himself or herself typologically within the parable; free to choose whether they would follow the Great Storyteller or would resist His message (Beavis 2001, p. 3). Christ’s parables are universal, they have traversed space and time, they are equally relevant today as they were over 2000 years ago. Plainly, Christ wished to ensure that everyone who heard him teach could comprehend his profound message and come to the realisation of the state of their personhood with a clear way forward toward salvation. I intend to prove that the parables of Christ are the basis of Christian ethical judgement, and not merely explicit didacticism. This paper is broken into five parts: definitional; biblical sources; Early Church Fathers; modern scholarship; and discussion.

Parable as Allegory in Context of the NT

The word parable (the Greek root-word παραβολή [Gk], parabole) means “comparison”, and was the manner in which the primitive Christian Church described the stories that Christ used to illustrate his teachings (Potapov 2000). According to Victor Potapov (2000), "a parable is a spiritual lesson of a story developed by comparison to everyday life. The Lord's parables draw memorable details from nature, human, social, economic, or religious life of His time." A parable is similar to an allegory, although the latter usually denotes a more detailed comparison of elements of a tale (Tasker 1962, p. 932). There is no doubt among Eastern Orthodox scholars, that the parables of the New Testament were allegories and lent themselves to allegorical interpretation demonstrated by Christ Himself and the Fathers of the Church. Christ masterfully uses vivid images from everyday life to ensure the listener has every opportunity to connect with spiritual truth in a life-long manner (Beavis 2001, p. 11).

At various times in one’s life, the parables might take on layered meaning, or dependent on the state of the penitent, he or she may find himself or herself as one or more of the characters depicted. For example, in the Parable of the Lost Son (Luke 15:11-32), the Christian might find himself in the role of the forgiving father, the repentant younger son, or the older son. The ultimate language of the parables is not one of coercion but love and freedom. Somehow the listener/ reader of the parables of the New Testament is led to a place of self-confrontation (Kirkwood 1983, p. 59), awareness and logical conclusion, that the only means of salvation is through love in action.

In examining Scripture, Christ answers the question posed by the disciples: “Why do You speak to them in parables?” (Matt. 13:10) explicitly in the Parable of the Sower (Matt. 13:10-17; Mark 4:10-12; Luke 8:9-10).

10 And the disciples came and said to Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?” 11 He answered and said to them, “Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12 For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. 13 Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. 14 And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says: ‘Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, And seeing you will see and not perceive; 15 For the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, And their eyes they have closed, Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, So that I should heal them.’ 16 But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear; 17 for assuredly, I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it?

Matt. 13:10-17

 

Despite the seeming simplicity of the stories through which Christ revealed deep spiritual truths, it was those innocent at heart, whose soul was ready to accept the light shining forth, who understood what Christ taught (Orthodox Study Bible 1991, p. 37) and who were given to “know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven.” The Pharisees who were present in the large crowds, and who were highly educated, were hard of heart, so did not “see” and did not “perceive”, and could not “hear” and had not “understanding” (Matt. 13:13) (Marshall 1978, p. 321, 323).

The result of the Pharisaic blindness and deafness was that they would remain in their sin, while the faithful who repented were open to the good news of the Kingdom of God (Orthodox Study Bible 1993, p. 93; Goldingay 1995, p. 79). Christ relies on the parabolic approach to minister to the crowds, “but to those who are outside, all things come in parables” (Matt. 13:11-12). Yet he emphasised, even to the disciples (Marshall 1978, p. 318 citing Schürmann 1976), that if they could not comprehend even this parable, then how were they to understand the rest (Matt. 13:13). It is important to note, that Christ does not deliberately make people unreceptive to His message, rather it is individual persons who must take responsibility for being insensitive to the truth (Orthodox Study Bible 1993, p. 38). It was also this form of teaching that allowed Christ to execute the divine plan without a premature arrest by the authorities. The sacred parables then, served three distinct purposes, namely: “to reveal, to conceal, and to perpetuate” (Whedon 1874, p. 163).

What is at stake here for those who have shunned the light? While the Parable of the Sower only appears in the Synoptic Gospels, the Gospel of John adopts the language of hypostatic paradigms. While John’s style of writing differs from that of the Synoptics, the message is the same. Only, in John, the dialogue between Christ and a representative typology through a given individual (i.e. paroimiai 'figures') becomes the hypostatic parable. Consider Christ’s words to Nicodemus in John 3:1-21. After explaining to Nicodemus that he must be “born again” (John 3:3), Nicodemus is confused (John 3:4). Christ questions him, “Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things?” (John 3:10). And again, “if I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” (John 3:12). Compare this passage of Scripture with “all things come in parables” (Mark 4:11). John’s form of “parables” are recorded using a different style, to emphasise one’s personal relationship with Christ, and demonstrate that the faithful need spiritual eyes and ears to comprehend the multiple layers of meaning in the parabolic method we find in the Synoptic Gospels (Orthodox Study Bible 1993, p. 38), and in this way come to know God intimately.

The Early Church Fathers on Interpreting the Parables

Certainly the Early Church Fathers interpreted the parables using the allegorical method (Stein 1981, p. 42; Papakosta 1929). And this method gained momentum over time and geographical expanse (Table 1). No doubt the Fathers were influenced by Christ’s own example. He offered a detailed explanation for the Parable of the Sower (Matt. 13:18-23; Mark 4:3-9; Luke 8:4-8). As Trench (1867, p. 15) noted, “as the allegory proceeds, the interpretation proceeds hand-in-hand with that, or, at least never falls far behind.” There is also strong speculation that the allegorical method, was already popularised through the heroes of Homer, making it a “ready-made tool” which could be applied to the Scriptures (Stein, 1981, p. 43). But why the form of a parable?

Table 1 Representative Early Church Fathers Who Allegorised the Parables

Caption: Descriptions are summarised and slightly adapted from Stein (1981, ch. 4) and Stavrianos (2012, pp. 29-48). For example, while the Early Church Fathers might have differed on identifying who the “robbers” were in the story of the Good Samaritan, they indeed all agreed that the Good Samaritan was none other than Christ Himself. For a comprehensive analysis of Patristic Thought with respect to The Good Samaritan, refer to Stavrianos (2012).

Parables provide an avenue for layered meanings- from the superficial experiences of every-day living (which must have come forth from Christ’s own exposure to various controversies), to the very deep spiritual layer where the believer is confronted with one’s own sin and through the parables finds a means to recalibrate his or her life to Christ. In many ways, Christ is delivering an ethical discourse using guiding principles, without well-defined direct commandments as found in the Old Testament, prevalent in Exodus 20:1-17 with the words “You shall not” and also in the exhaustive ritual, legal and moral practices described in Leviticus. Rather, Christ uses non-coercive language to bring the listener to a point in the transmission of the word of realisation, if their heart is open to the message of Christ.  As W.H. Auden has so magnificently put it: “You cannot tell people what to do, you can only tell them parables; …particular stories of particular people and experiences, from which each according to his immediate and peculiar needs may draw his own conclusions” (Bozorth 2005, p. 183). Christ’s parables are unique and allow for flexibility in allegorical interpretation throughout the ages, which is what makes them so accessible. In John’s Gospel, when the language of the “person” is instituted, and typological characters are presented to us in dialogue with Christ, every Christian is being encouraged to develop a deeper relationship with Christ the Son of God through the Parables. Yet for some, “the tradition of the early church is seen almost exclusively as something to be overcome” (Kingsbury 1972, p. 107, Sider 1983, p. 62).

Warnings Against Over-Elaborating the Parables

It should be emphasised however, that not all of the Early Church Fathers agreed with the extreme use of the allegorical method of interpretation. According to Stein (1981, p. 47): “Men like Isidore of Pelusium (360-435), Basil (ca. 329-379), Theodore of Mopsuestia (350?-428), and Chrysostom (349-407) protested against the allegorical method.” Stein quotes St. John Chrysostom who believed it was neither wise nor correct: “to inquire curiously into all things in parables word by word but when we have learnt the object for which it was composed, to read this, and not to busy oneself about anything further.” And Papadopoulos (1999, p. 108) noted that St. Chrysostom interprets the parables as “the elevation of the soul to the heavenly”. Perhaps Stein uses language that is too strong here, rather than “protest” he should have rather said, that Fathers like St. Basil and St. Chrysostom were more preoccupied with the whole message of the parable, than trying to tie back every word to a present context. For example, there were stark differences in the way that St. Augustine and Origen of Alexandria allegorised the interpretation of the Parable of the Sower (Caird 1980, p. 165). Had they gone too far? Possibly.

The interpreter should be wary of over-elaboration or over-simplification when it comes to the parables (Tasker 1962, p. 933).  But this does not mean we reject the allegorical interpretation that was always intended by Christ. For if allegory was missing, the Parables found in the New Testament would not have differed to those of the Old Testament, they would have been merely simple illustrations (e.g. 1 Sam. 24:13; Ezekiel 18:2-3). Rightly, St. Chrysostom of Constantinople who was from the Antiochian School, was resistant to “flights of fancy,” preferring to discern the scope and purpose for each parable, rather than to “find a special significance in each circumstance or incident” (Unger 1980, p. 824). This does not mean however, that St. Chrysostom shied away from interpreting the Parables himself. See, for example, Homily XLV. Matt. XIII. 10, 11, where St. Chrysostom explains why the Pharisees did the very opposite to what Christ called the crowds to do: “not only disbelieving, not only not hearkening, but even waging war, and disposed to be very bitter against all” that Christ said, all because, “They heard heavily.” St. Gregory of Nyssa considered “allegorical interpretation necessary at points where symbolism or the words covered a deeper meaning”, and he also accepted the literal interpretation (Stavrianos 2012, p. 43). Even St. Basil of Caesarea wrote in the Hexaemeron VIII.2 (PG 29:188), as quoted by Stavrianos (2012, p. 44): “to take [just] the literal sense and stop there is to have the heart covered by the veil of Jewish literalism.”

The Rise and Impact of the New Hermeneutic

In 1888 Adolf Jülicher's two volume seminal work, Die Gleichnisreden Jesu was a major influence against the centuries-old tradition of allegorical interpretation of the Parables of Christ. Jülicher was more preoccupied with the form of parables, seeking “clear-cut definitions” of differences between parables, allegories, similes, and metaphors. He simply took the parables literally and stressed they only had one point of comparison, not many (Caird 1980, p. 161). C.H. Dodd (1935) who was then followed by J. Jeremias (1947) and A.M. Hunter (1958) “rejected Jülicher's moralistic interpretations in favour of the now generally accepted thesis that the parables had a particular reference to the ministry of Jesus and the crisis it inaugurated…” (Caird 1980, p. 162). In an attempt to develop and in some cases correct Jülicher’s claims, form criticism and redaction criticism scholarship in Germany, and literary-critical studies in the United States, have proliferated in the field of “new hermeneutics” (Blomberg 1991, pp. 50-55; Goldingay 1995, p. 79). As a result, there are now definitions abounding for different types of parables (e.g. simple simile, simple metaphors, simile story, metaphor story, example story). Stein (1994) beautifully, dedicates several chapters to the form of Jesus’s writings, and the parables, describing him as an “outstanding” and “exciting” teacher; a “personality” who was “authoritative”. He continues to describe that Christ used certain devices of language to attract attention from his audience, including exaggeration, hyperbole, ‘paronomasia’ (i.e. pun), simile, metaphor, riddles, paradox, fortiori statements, synonymous parallelism, and more (Stein 1994, pp. 7-24). The whole topic has become somewhat of a minefield if the critic is drawn in to the details of labelling. Perhaps about the only light to have come forth from all of this modern scholarship, is the uniqueness of the Parables of Christ in the Gospels. No matter how hard scholars have tried to encapsulate the formula used by Christ when speaking in Parables, they have found themselves in a tangle. They could have only been written by the Son of God (Lithgow 1907, p. 538). Scripture is the living Word, the text is dynamic and ever-changing, it is universal yet personal (Hogan 2016, pp. 119-120), and couched in history, all at the same time.

Modern Scholarship versus Early Christian Teaching on the Parables

It would be all too easy to dismiss the work of the modern scholars which has gone against the grain of tradition, as being written by those ‘who had eyes but could not see’. Jeremias lays blame for the state of parabolic interpretation with the “early Christian teachers” (Tasker 1962, p. 932). But even Stein (1994, p. 37) himself had to admit: “[i]t would appear that some parables possess undeniable allegorical elements” (e.g. the Parable of the Wedding Feast in Matt. 22:1-14). Dodd, in particular, takes exception with the fact that Christian preachers today deliver sermons that are far removed from the original meaning/ function of the parable, as set in the time of Christ (i.e. Sitz em Leiben). Stavrianos (2012, p. 29), in his study of The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) in Patristic thought, emphasises: “…even though the central truth of the parable remains the same, Christians in every era can adapt it to their reality, thus giving it new meaning and perspective.”

There is no doubt, that outside the confines of the established church, there are so-called preachers who teach falsehoods, for example, the so-named “prosperity gospel” whose message bears no relationship to what was intended by Christ. These are contemporary secular interpretations. St. Basil of Caesarea warned against those who would take Holy Scripture, and instead of using common sense for their explanations, use “fancy wishes… to suit their allegories, like the interpreters of dreams who explain visions in sleep to make them serve their own end” (St. Basil quoted in Stavrianos 2012, p. 44). Of course, the Fathers seemingly would agree with Jülicher, that the "parables were intended to illustrate one truth only" (Tasker 1962, p. 932) but the Fathers would deviate in their belief, emphasising that each Parable consisted of multiple layers of the “one truth”. Consider a kernel and its shell; it is one object that contains several layers, despite that scholars such as Via and Crossan prefer the onion motif of layering (Parris 2002, pp. 34-37). As devoted Christians, the more layers uncovered, the closer the relationship hypostatically proceeds to Christ the Saviour.

Discussion on Why Christ Spoke in Parables

Christ Incarnate came to deliver His message by empathically placing Himself in the shoes of humans: “Jesus comes and stands where the hearer already stands" (Craddock 2002, pp. 88-89). His parables (i.e. teachings) were inextricably linked to His Person (Blomberg 1991, p. 74). Such was His love for humankind that he set his parables in everyday life, to captivate the imagination equally of the rich and poor man, the educated and uneducated, the respected and the outcast, the healthy and the sick. Whether tax collector, fallen or adulteress, Samaritan, Publican or farmer- all people are His Creation, and He went to great lengths, even descending from on high to reach all people, and to save all people, using accessible language. “He mixes the realistic with the extraordinary and improbable” (Via 1974, p. 105). He gives the hearer the freedom to manoeuvre (Peta Sherlock private comms cited in Goldingay 1995), to find the space required to make correction. It is a daily choice one makes whether or not to follow Him. Christ’s parables were not only prophetic in depicting how He Himself would suffer (Matt. 5:1-12; Barbu 2009, pp. 262-263) but somehow simultaneously represented universal contexts in which hearers could fully relate: “[d]ifferent facets also come home to individual hearers at different times in their lives; there is no once for all hearing of a story” (Goldingay 1995, p. 78).  A sound Orthodox Christian framework that can be followed for understanding why Christ spoke in parables is presented by Potapov (2000). He has written, Christ spoke in parables for three reasons: (1) to help listeners recall vivid images from ordinary life, and to ponder on the deeper message behind the allegory; (2) parables carried a double meaning and were deliberately indirect so that Christ could carry out the divine plan in full without being prematurely accused by the Pharisees; and (3) the parable format preserved the purity of Christ’s teachings.

Christ’s parables were comprehensible, accessible, and non-coercive. Christ spoke in parables so that everyone could understand His teachings. The parables are illustrations set in-context that help people to remember to love others, despite the preconceived stereotypes. Christ was not coercive. We the hearer of the Word, can place ourselves almost with certainty in the shoes of one or more of the characters depicted in the parable itself. At times, the penitent might feel convicted, for example in the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13, having sown seed by the wayside (v. 4), on stony places (v. 5), among thorns (v. 7) (Marshall 1978, p. 320). Christ spoke simply to give the masses a choice to believe in Him through faith. The unbelievers would not understand his parabolic message, because they maintained their unbelief through hardness of heart. G.A. Kennedy cited by Black (2000, p. 389), concurred with Potapov’s second point noting that Christ spoke in parables to ensure the divine plan would be completed without interruption. If the Pharisees would have detected his claim to being the Son of God, Christ would have been unable to continue preaching to the crowds freely.

Christ's parables are unique, beautiful, and moving to one's soul (Rindge 2014, p. 403). They are better than the finest poetry or music; artistic and imaginative. They often began or closed with rhetorical questions that Jesus Himself went on to answer, that “transforms the audience” by imagination (Rindge 2014, p. 408). Christ's parables stand apart from any other writing of its type: they are layered in meaning but maintain one truth. This shows the connection to allegory, and multiple meanings that can be derived from the same story- literal, moral and spiritual. Christ's parables are also universal, they have withstood the test of time and continue to be relevant (Hebrews 13:8), and applicable to all. Christ pierces the conscience and personal thoughts and heart of every person through the parables, and offers him a way toward personal and inner transfiguration (Barbu 2009, p. 262). So Christ might have preached to the masses only through the parabolic device, but inwardly, every individual would reflect on their personal state of spirituality. The believer is compelled to participate in God’s mystery, being drawn in to hear His word. For example, in Matthew 21:30-32, Christ asks rhetorically: "Which of the two did the will of his father?” Each individual knows in his/ her heart, which did the will of his father, despite that the outcome is paradoxical and antinomic. In the Parable of the Lost Son (Luke 15:11-32) the hero is the son who repented, not the second son who seemingly never sinned because he did not take his father's inheritance squandering it away in the world like the prodigal. This approach turns things upside down but does so legitimately. There is hope for even the greatest sinner. Are we willing to believe and grow in faith?

Conclusion

While modern parabolic scholarship (e.g. form criticism and literary-critical studies) has been at odds with the tradition as recorded by the Early Church Fathers, there are two main points of agreement. First, that in fact some of the Parables are truly meant as “allegories” in the technical literary sense, and second, each parable has a single truth, though the Fathers would contend there are multiple layers of the one truth to be extracted at face value, in moral value and spiritual, among other perspectives. The warnings of St. John Chrysostom and St. Basil the Great should be heeded when the Parables of Jesus are over-elaborated but at the same time Christ’s example is altogether present in the Scriptures. In this paper, the Parable of the Sower was used to illustrate “allegory in action”, and here is found Christ’s own example of explaining what He Himself meant by the story. While the Parables are easily recognisable in the Synoptic Gospels, there are numerous examples of parables present in the Gospel of John. The technique however in John’s writing, seems juxtaposed against the writings of Matthew, Mark and Luke the evangelists. In the Synoptics, Christ speaks to the crowds in Parables and then each has the choice of whether or not to apply these principles to themselves personally. In the Gospel of John, rather, we see “encounters” between Christ and typological figures (e.g. the Good Samaritan) that then can be used to represent universal principles. The Parables are the basis for Christian Ethics despite that they are never made explicit, hearers who wish to come to a closer knowledge of God and enter a deeper personal relationship with Him, are led to a place of everlasting love.

Bibliography

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Beavis MA. (2001) The Power of Jesus' Parables: Were they polemical or irenic? Journal for the Study of the New Testament 82: 3-30.

Blomberg CL. (1991) Interpreting the parables of Jesus: Where are we and where do we go from here? Catholic Biblical Quarterly 53: 50-78.

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Caird GB. (1980) The Language and Imagery of the Bible, London: Duckworth.

Christos P. (1989) Greek Patrologiae, Vol. 4, Thessalonika: Kyromanos.

Craddock, F.B. (2002) Overhearing the Gospel: Revised and Expanded Edition, Chalice Press.

Dodd CH. (1978) The Parables Of The Kingdom, Glasgow: AbeBooks.

Goldingay J. (1995) Models for Interpretation of Scripture, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Kingsbury JD. (1972) The Parables of Jesus in Current Research. Dialog 11: 107.

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Hunter AM. (1960) Interpreting The Parables, London: SCM Press.

Jeremias J. (2002) The Parables of Jesus, London: SCM Press.

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Lithgow, RM. (1907), The Theology of the Parables. Expositor Times 18: pp. 538-542.

Marshall IH. (1978) The Gospel of Luke: A Commentary on the Greek Text, Exeter: The Paternoster Press.

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Why Did Christ Speak in Parables: An Essay by Katina Michael (Draft Only)

Tutor: Fr Dr Alexander Tefft

Lecturer: Fr Dr Nikolai Sakharov

Course: The Gospels - CF102

Institute: IOCS - Cambridge

 

 

Contents

Introduction. 3

What is a Parable in the Context of the NT?. 4

Parable as Allegory. 4

Layered Meanings of Parables. 4

Evidence in Scripture. 5

The Parable of the Sower Explained. 5

The Parabolic Approach to Teaching the Crowds. 5

“Hypostatic Parables” in the Gospel of John. 7

Early Church Fathers. 7

Interpreting and Explaining the Parables. 7

Warnings Against Over-Elaborating the Parables. 8

The Rise of the New Hermeneutic. 10

The Influence of Form Criticism and Literary-Critical Studies. 10

Modern Scholarship versus Early Christian Teaching on the Parables. 11

Discussion. 12

Christ’s Parables are Accessible, Personal, Prophetic and Universal 12

Conclusion. 14

References. 15

Bibliography. 17

 

Introduction

This paper explores why Christ spoke in parables in the context of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The word parable, means “putting things side by side”. In the Synoptic Gospels, official parables number thirty, however this number varies depending on the criteria for accepting a passage of New Testament (NT) Scripture as a standalone parable. Importantly, a parable should not be confused with mashal, which is to be found in the Old Testament, and which contained only a single message. The parables of Christ are rich in form and content in the Synoptic Gospels and lend themselves to being interpreted allegorically, as well as literally. In the Gospel of John, Christ’s parables are presented using hypostatic language. Somehow Christ is able to reach out to the crowds who have come to hear Him, using only simple stories they could grasp that were contextually set in everyday life. And yet at once the listener who stood among the masses could place himself or herself typologically within the parable; free to choose whether they would follow the Great Storyteller or would resist His message (Beavis 2001, p. 3). Christ’s parables are universal, they have traversed space and time, they are equally relevant today as they were over 2000 years ago. Plainly, Christ wished to ensure that everyone who heard him teach could comprehend his profound message and come to the realisation of the state of their personhood with a clear way forward toward salvation. This paper is broken into five parts: definitional; biblical sources; early church fathers; modern scholarship; and discussion.

What is a Parable in the Context of the NT?

Parable as Allegory

The word parable (the Greek root-word παραβολή [Gk], parabole) means “comparison”, and was the manner in which the primitive Christian Church described the stories that Christ used to illustrate his teachings (Potapov 2000). According to Potapov (2000), "a parable is a spiritual lesson of a story developed by comparison to everyday life. The Lord's parables draw memorable details from nature, human, social, economic, or religious life of His time." A parable is similar to an allegory, although the latter usually denotes a more detailed comparison of elements of a tale (Tasker 1962, p. 932). There is no doubt among Eastern Orthodox scholars, that the parables of the New Testament were allegories and lent themselves to allegorical interpretation demonstrated by Christ Himself and the Fathers of the Church. Christ masterfully uses vivid images from everyday life to ensure the listener has every opportunity to connect with spiritual truth in a life-long manner (Beavis 2001, p. 11).

Layered Meanings of Parables

At various times in one’s life, the parables might take on layered meaning, or dependent on the state of the penitent, he or she may find himself or herself as one or more of the characters depicted. For example, in the Parable of the Lost Son (Luke 15:11-32), the Christian might find himself in the role of the forgiving father, the repentant younger son, or the older son. The ultimate language of the parables is not one of coercion but love and freedom. Somehow the listener/ reader of the parables of the New Testament is led to a place of self-confrontation (Kirkwood 1983, p. 59), awareness and logical conclusion, that the only means of salvation is through love in action.

Evidence in Scripture

The Parable of the Sower Explained

In examining Scripture (Table 1), Christ answers the question posed by the disciples: “Why do You speak to them in parables?” (Matt. 13:10) explicitly in the Parable of the Sower (Matt. 13:10-17; Mark 4:10-12; Luke 8:9-10). Despite the seeming simplicity of the stories through which Christ revealed deep spiritual truths, it was those innocent at heart, whose soul was ready to accept the light shining forth, who understood what Christ taught (Orthodox Study Bible 1991, p. 37) and who were given to “know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven.” The Pharisees who were present in the large crowds, and who were highly educated, were hard of heart, so did not “see” and did not “perceive”, and could not “hear” and had not “understanding” (Matt. 13:12) (Marshall 1978, p. 321, 323).

The Parabolic Approach to Teaching the Crowds

The result of the Pharisaic blindness and deafness was that they would remain in their sin, while the faithful who repented were open to the good news of the Kingdom of God (Orthodox Study Bible 1993, p. 93; Goldingay 1995, p. 79). Christ relies on the parabolic approach to minister to the crowds, “but to those who are outside, all things come in parables” (Matt. 13:11-12). Yet he emphasised, even to the disciples (Marshall 1978, p. 318 citing Schurmann), that if they could not comprehend even this parable, then how were they to understand the rest (Matt. 13:13). It is important to note, that Christ does not deliberately make people unreceptive to His message, rather it is individual persons who must take responsibility for being insensitive to the truth (Orthodox Study Bible 1993, p. 38). It was also this form of teaching that allowed Christ to execute the divine plan without a premature arrest by the authorities. The sacred parables then, served three distinct purposes, namely: “to reveal, to conceal, and to perpetuate” (Whedon 1874, p. 163).

Table 1 Scriptural Comparison of the Parable of the Sower in the Synoptic Gospels

 Matt. 13:10-17

10 And the disciples came and said to Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?”
11 He answered and said to them, “Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12 For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. 13 Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. 14 And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says:
‘Hearing you will hear and shall not understand,
And seeing you will see and not perceive;
15 For the hearts of this people have grown dull.
Their ears are hard of hearing,
And their eyes they have closed,
Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears,
Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn,
So that I should heal them.’
16 But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear; 17 for assuredly, I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it?

Mark 4:10-12

10 But when He was alone, those around Him with the twelve asked Him about the parable. 11 And He said to them, “To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God; but to those who are outside, all things come in parables, 12 so that
‘Seeing they may see and not perceive,
And hearing they may hear and not understand;
Lest they should turn,
And their sins be forgiven them.’”

Luke 8:9-10

9 Then His disciples asked Him, saying, “What does this parable mean?”
10 And He said, “To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is given in parables, that
‘Seeing they may not see,
And hearing they may not understand.’

 

“Hypostatic Parables” in the Gospel of John

What is at stake here for those who have shunned the light? While the Parable of the Sower only appears in the Synoptic Gospels, the Gospel of John adopts the language of hypostatic paradigms. While John’s style of writing differs to that of the Synoptics, the message is the same. Only, in John, the dialogue between Christ and a representative typology through a given individual (i.e. paroimiai 'figures') becomes the hypostatic parable. Consider Christ’s words to Nicodemus in John 3:1-21. After explaining to Nicodemus that he must be “born again” (John 3:3), Nicodemus is confused (John 3:4). Christ questions him, “Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things?” (John 3:10). And again, “if I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” (John 3:12). Compare this passage of Scripture with “all things come in parables” (Mark 4:11). John’s form of “parables” are recorded using a different style, to emphasise one’s personal relationship with Christ, and demonstrate that the faithful need spiritual eyes and ears to comprehend the multiple layers of meaning in the parabolic method we find in the Synoptic Gospels (Orthodox Study Bible 1993, p. 38), and in this way come to know God intimately.

Early Church Fathers

Interpreting and Explaining the Parables

Certainly the early church fathers interpreted the parables using the allegorical method (Stein 1981, p. 42; Papakosta 1929). And this method gained momentum over time and geographical expanse (Table 2). No doubt the Fathers were influenced by Christ’s own example. He offered a detailed explanation for the Parable of the Sower (Matt. 13:18-23; Mark 4:3-9; Luke 8:4-8). As Trench (1867, p. 15) noted, “as the allegory proceeds, the interpretation proceeds hand-in-hand with that, or, at least never falls far behind.” There is also strong speculation that the allegorical method, was already popularised through the heroes of Homer, making it a “ready-made tool” which could be applied to the Scriptures (Stein, 1981, p. 43). But why the form of a parable?

Parables provide an avenue for layered meanings- from the superficial experiences of every-day living (which must have come forth from Christ’s own exposure to various controversies), to the very deep spiritual layer where the believer is confronted with one’s own sin and through the parables finds a means to recalibrate his or her life to Christ. In many ways, Christ is delivering an ethical discourse using guiding principles, without well-defined direct commandments as found in the Old Testament, prevalent in Exodus 20:1-17 with the words “You shall not” and also in the exhaustive ritual, legal and moral practices described in Leviticus. Rather, Christ uses non-coercive language to bring the listener (and later, the reader), to a point in the transmission of the word (and later, text) to a point of realisation, if their heart is open to the message of Christ.

As W.H. Auden has so magnificently put it: “You cannot tell people what to do, you can only tell them parables; …particular stories of particular people and experiences, from which each according to his immediate and peculiar needs may draw his own conclusions” (Bozorth 2005, p. 183). Christ’s parables are unique and allow for flexibility in allegorical interpretation throughout the ages, which is what makes them so accessible. In John’s Gospel, when the language of the “person” is instituted, and typological characters are presented to us in dialogue with Christ, every Christian is being encouraged to develop a deeper relationship with Christ the Son of God through the Parables. Yet for some, “the tradition of the early church is seen almost exclusively as something to be overcome” (Kingsbury 1972, p. 107, Sider 1983, p. 62).

Warnings Against Over-Elaborating the Parables

It should be emphasised however, that not all of the early church fathers agreed with the extreme use of the allegorical method of interpretation. According to Stein (1981, p. 47): “Men like Isidore of Pelusium (360-435), Basil (ca. 329-379), Theodore of Mopsuestia (350?-428), and Chrysostom (349-407) protested against the allegorical method.” Stein quotes Chrysostom who believed it was neither wise nor correct: “to inquire curiously into all things in parables word by word but when we have learnt the object for which it was composed, to read this, and not to busy oneself about anything further.” And Papadopoulos (1999, p. 108) noted that Chrysostom interprets the parables as “the elevation of the soul to the heavenly”. Perhaps Stein uses language that is too strong here, rather than “protest” he should have rather said, that Fathers like Basil and Chrysostom were more preoccupied with the whole message of the parable, than trying to tie back every word to a present context. For example, there were stark differences in the way that Augustine and Origen allegorised the interpretation of the Parable of the Sower (Caird 1980, p. 165). Had they gone too far? Possibly.

Table 2 Representative Early Church Fathers Who Allegorised the Parables

Caption:   Descriptions are summarised and slightly adapted from Stein (1981, ch. 4) and Stavrianos (2012, pp. 29-48). While the early church fathers might have differed on identifying who the “robbers” were in the story of the good Samaritan, they indeed all agreed that the good Samaritan was none other than Christ Himself. For a comprehensive analysis at Patristric Thought with respect to  The Good Samaritan , refer to Stavrianos (2012).

Caption: Descriptions are summarised and slightly adapted from Stein (1981, ch. 4) and Stavrianos (2012, pp. 29-48). While the early church fathers might have differed on identifying who the “robbers” were in the story of the good Samaritan, they indeed all agreed that the good Samaritan was none other than Christ Himself. For a comprehensive analysis at Patristric Thought with respect to The Good Samaritan, refer to Stavrianos (2012).

The interpreter should be wary of over-elaboration or over-simplification when it comes to the parables (Tasker 1962, p. 933).  But this does not mean we reject the allegorical interpretation that was always intended by Christ. For if allegory was missing, the Parables found in the New Testament would not have differed to those of the Old Testament, they would have been merely simple illustrations (e.g. 1 Sam. 24:13; Ezekiel 18:2-3). Rightly, John Chrysostom of Constantinople who was from the Antiochian School, was resistant to “flights of fancy,” preferring to discern the scope and purpose for each parable, rather than to “find a special significance in each circumstance or incident” (Unger 1980, p. 824). This does not mean however, that Chrysostom shied away from interpreting the Parables himself. See, for example, Homily XLV. Matt. XIII. 10, 11, where Chrysostom explains why the Pharisees did the very opposite to what Christ called the crowds to do: “not only disbelieving, not only not hearkening, but even waging war, and disposed to be very bitter against all” that Christ said, all because “They heard heavily.” St Gregory of Nyssa considered “allegorical interpretation necessary at points where symbolism or the words covered a deeper meaning”, and he also accepted the literal interpretation (Stavrianos 2012, p. 43) Even St Basil of Caesarea wrote in the Hexaemeron VIII.2 (PG 29:188), as quoted by Stavrianos (2012, p. 44), wrote: “to take [just] the literal sense and stop there is to have the heart covered by the veil of Jewish literalism.”

The Rise of the New Hermeneutic

The Impact of Form Criticism, Redaction Criticism & Literary-Critical Studies

In 1888 Adolf Jülicher's two volume seminal work, Die Gleichnisreden Jesu was a major influence against the centuries-old tradition of allegorical interpretation of the Parables of Christ. Jülicher was more preoccupied with the form of parables, seeking “clear-cut definitions” of differences between parables, allegories, similes, and metaphors. He simply took the parables literally and stressed they only had one point of comparison, not many (Caird 1980, p. 161). C.H. Dodd (1935) who was then followed by J. Jeremias (1947) and A.M. Hunter (1958) “rejected Julicher's moralistic interpretations in favour of the now generally accepted thesis that the parables had a particular reference to the ministry of Jesus and the crisis it inaugurated…” (Caird 1980, p. 162).

In an attempt to develop and in some cases correct Jülicher’s claims, form criticism and redaction criticism scholarship in Germany, and literary-critical studies in the United States, have proliferated in the field of “new hermeneutics” (Blomberg 1991, pp. 50-55; Goldingay 1995, p. 79). As a result, there are now definitions abounding for different types of parables (e.g. simple simile, simple metaphors, simile story, metaphor story, example story). Stein (1994) beautifully, dedicates several chapters to the form of Jesus’s writings, and the parables, describing him as an “outstanding” and “exciting” teacher; a “personality” who was “authoritative”. He continues to describe that Christ used certain devices of language to attract attention from his audience, including exaggeration, hyperbole, ‘paronomasia’ (i.e. pun), simile, metaphor, riddles, paradox, fortiori statements, synonymous parallelism, and more (Stein 1994, pp. 7-24).

The whole topic has become somewhat of a minefield if the critic is drawn in to the details of labelling. Perhaps about the only light to have come forth from all of this modern scholarship, is the uniqueness of the Parables of Christ in the Gospels. No matter how hard scholars have tried to encapsulate the formula used by Christ when speaking in Parables, they have found themselves in a tangle. They could have only been written by the Son of God (Lithgow 1907, p. 538). Scripture is the living Word, the text is dynamic and ever-changing, it is universal yet personal (Hogan 2016, pp. 119-120), and couched in history, all at the same time.

Modern Scholarship versus Early Christian Teaching on the Parables

It would be all too easy to dismiss the work of the modern scholars which has gone against the grain of tradition, as being written by those ‘who had eyes but could not see’. Jeremias lays blame for the state of parabolic interpretation with the “early Christian teachers” (Tasker 1962, p. 932). But even Stein (1994, p. 37) himself had to admit: “[i]t would appear that some parables possess undeniable allegorical elements” (e.g. the Parable of the Wedding Feast in Matt. 22:1-14). Dodd in particular takes exception with the fact that Christian preachers today deliver sermons that are far removed from the original meaning/ function of the parable, as set in the time of Christ (i.e. Sitz em Leiben). Stavrianos (2012, p. 29), in his study of The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) in Patristic thought, emphasises: “…even though the central truth of the parable remains the same, Christians in every era can adapt it to their reality, thus giving it new meaning and perspective.”

There is no doubt, that outside the confines of the established church, there are so-called preachers who teach falsehoods, for example, the so-named “prosperity gospel” whose message bears no relationship to what was intended by Christ. These are contemporary secular interpretations. St Basil of Caesarea warned against those who would take Holy Scripture, and instead of using common sense for their explanations, use “fancy wishes… to suit their allegories, like the interpreters of dreams who explain visions in sleep to make them serve their own end” (St Basil quoted in Stavrianos 2012, p. 44). Of course, the Fathers seemingly would agree with Jülicher, that the "parables were intended to illustrate one truth only" (Tasker 1962, p. 932) but the Fathers would deviate in their belief, emphasising that each Parable consisted of multiple layers of the “one truth”. Consider a kernel and its shell; it is one object that contains several layers, despite that scholars such as Via and Crossan prefer the onion motif of layering (Parris 2002, pp. 34-37). As devoted Christians, the more layers uncovered, the closer the relationship hypostatically proceeds to Christ the Saviour.

Discussion

Christ’s Parables are Accessible, Personal, Prophetic and Universal

Christ Incarnate did not come speaking in complex technical “God language” that no one would be able to understand but using baby language, “goo-goo, ga-ga” principles. He came to deliver His message by empathically placing Himself in the shoes of humans, with all their weakness and frailty: “Jesus comes and stands where the hearer already stands" (Craddock 2002, pp. 88-89). Born in a manger, Christ continued his mission with the humble parabolic “story” formula which carried the most profound of messages. His parables (i.e. teachings) were inextricably linked to His Person (Blomberg 1991, p. 74). Such was His love for humankind that he set his parables in everyday life, to captivate the imagination equally of the rich and poor man, the educated and uneducated, the respected and the outcast, the healthy and the sick. Whether tax collector, fallen or adulteress, Samaritan, Publican or farmer- all people are His Creation, and He went to great lengths, even descending from on high to reach all people, and to save all people, using accessible language. “He mixes the realistic with the extraordinary and improbable” (Via 1974, 105). He gives the hearer the freedom to manoeuvre (Peta Sherlock private comms cited in Goldingay 1995), to find the space required to make correction. It is a daily choice one makes whether or not to follow Him.

Christ’s parables were not only prophetic in depicting how He Himself would suffer (Matt. 5:1-12; Barbu 2009, p. 262-263) but somehow simultaneously represented universal contexts in which hearers could fully relate: “[d]ifferent facets also come home to individual hearers at different times in their lives; there is no once for all hearing of a story” (Goldingay 1995, p. 78). As Potapov (2000) has written, Christ spoke in parables for three reasons: (1) to help listeners recall vivid images from ordinary life, and to ponder on the deeper message behind the allegory; (2) parables carried a double meaning and were deliberately indirect so that Christ could carry out the divine plan in full without being prematurely accused by the Pharisees; and (3) the parable format preserved the purity of Christ’s teachings. In Table 3, an original table, is presented stating 15 main reasons why Christ spoke in parables.

Table X. 15 Reasons Why Christ Spoke in Parables

Reason/ Description

Comprehensibility: Christ spoke in parables, effectively stories with meaning, so that everyone could understand his teachings.

Uniqueness: Christ's parables are unique in their manner. He only spoke to the masses without using this approach.

Non-Coercive: Parables are illustrations set in-context that help people to remember to love others. It is easier to forget a list of commands versus a story that has a setting in everyday life. Christ did not come giving laws to be followed. He could have said: "I command you to do x or y." But he was not coercive and did not wish to force anything on anyone. Instead, he spoke lovingly and softly, and even gave the listener the opportunity to reflect on the interpretation of his story.

Tangible: Everyone remembers stories because they are tangible and people can relate to them.

Artistic and Imaginative: Christ's parables are unique, and beautiful, and moving to one's soul (Rindge 2014, p. 403). They are better than the finest poetry or music. They often began or closed with rhetorical questions that Jesus Himself went on to answer, that “transforms the audience” by imagination (Rindge 2014, p. 408).

Participatory: There is a moral at the end- that take home message for each listener. They were therefore in some way participatory. The listener would be drawn in to hear His word. E.g. Matthew 21:30-32: "Which of the two did the will of his father?”

Layered Meaning, One Truth: Christ's parables have got more than one meaning as the traditional parables found in the Old Testament had only one single meaning (mashal). This shows the connection to allegory, and multiple meanings.

Accessible: Christ spoke simply to give the masses a choice to believe in Him through faith. The unbelievers would not understand even his simple parables, not because they were complex but because they maintained their unbelief through hardness of heart. Still because Christ was not speaking in sophisticated language to deliver his teachings, he gave each person a choice whether or not to follow him.

Universal: Christ's parables were universal, would withstand the test of time and continue to be relevant (Hebrews 13:8), and applicable to all even if they had not been in a given described context. E.g. we may not all sow seeds today but we have all seen in one way or another on television or the internet someone else sowing seeds. We get that seeds need to be thrown into furrows in soil in order to take root etc.

Empathic: A fine methodology ensues in the parables themselves. We the hearer of the Word, can place ourselves almost with certainty in the shoes of one or more of the characters depicted in the parable itself. We all know whom we'd like to be in the story, yet find ourselves challenged at various times having sinned against God and our fellow brothers and sisters in a manner that places us somewhere where we do not wish to be. At times the penitent might feel convicted especially in the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13, that they have sown seed by the wayside (v. 4), on stony places (v. 5), among thorns (v. 7) (Marshall 1978, p. 320). The hope, of course, for the Christian is to always sow seed on "good ground" (v. 8) and that is one’s life-long challenge.

Human: Christ places himself on the same 'level playing field' as his fellow man by speaking to them using every day contexts.

Perfection: Christ comes preaching a unique message in a unique way. There is something different about Him. His message is perfect. It is fair, and it is true. The parables were perfect, like the Logos. The parables are profound, like nothing that has ever been preached before. The moral of the stories are so convincing in terms of ethics, living by these principles would mean a life worth living.

Antinomic & Paradoxical: There is something antinomic, almost paradoxical about Christ’s message. Often members who would otherwise be shunned by a community, are held up as an example to us, because they have repented of their ways. In the Parable of the Lost Son (Luke 15:11-32) the hero is the son who repented, not the second son who seemingly never sinned because he did not take his father's inheritance squandering it away in the world like the prodigal. This approach turns things upside down but does so legitimately. There is hope for even the greatest sinner. Are we willing to believe and grow in faith?

Personal: Christ pierces the conscience and personal thoughts and heart of every person through the parables, and offers him a way toward personal and inner transfiguration (Barbu 2009, p. 262). He takes us to that point so effortlessly it seems, until we recognise through a process of self-awareness that we need to continue to develop our character. So he might have preached to the masses, but inwardly, every individual would reflect on the person he/she was. The allegory is a strong device type. But despite the seeming simplicity of the stories they are so difficult to uphold morally.

Concealment: Christ spoke in parables to ensure the divine plan would be completed without interruption (G.A. Kennedy cited by Black 2000, p. 389). If the Pharisees would have detected his claim to being the Son of God, Christ would have been unable to continue preaching to the crowds freely.

Caption: The research conducted in preparation for Table 3 has been taken from a vast list of sources which appear in the wider Bibliography of this paper. Note: while the table is original in full, it has been greatly inspired by the ten Lectures of Fr Nikolai Sakharov for CF102 at the Institute of Orthodox Christian Studies.

Conclusion

While modern parabolic scholarship (e.g. form criticism and literary-critical studies) has been at odds with the tradition as recorded by the early church fathers, there are two main points of agreement. First, that in fact some of the Parables are truly meant as “allegories” in the technical literary sense, and second, each parable has a single truth, though the Fathers would contend there are multiple layers of the same truth to be extracted at face value, in moral value and spiritual, among other perspectives. The warnings of St John Chrysostom and St Basil the Great should be heeded when the Parables of Jesus are over-elaborated but at the same time Christ’s example is altogether present in the Scriptures. In this paper, the Parable of the Sower was used to illustrate “allegory in action”, and here is found Christ’s own example of explaining what He Himself meant by the story. While the Parables are easily recognisable in the Synoptic Gospels, there are numerous examples of parables present in the Gospel of John. The technique however in John’s writing, seems juxtaposed against the writings of Matthew, Mark and Luke the evangelists. In the Synoptics, Christ speaks to the crowds in Parables and then each has the choice of whether or not to apply these principles to themselves personally. While in John, we see “encounters” between Christ and typological figures (e.g. the Good Samaritan) that then can be used to represent universal principles. The Parables are the basis for Christian Ethics despite that they are never made explicit, hearers who wish to come to a closer knowledge of God and enter a deeper personal relationship with Him, are led to a place of everlasting love.

 

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Harnisch W. (1992) Language of the possible: The parables of Jesus in the conflict between rhetoric and poetry. Studia Theologica - Nordic Journal of Theology 46: 41-54.

Hedrick CW. (2004) Many Things in Parables: Jesus and His Modern Critics, London: Westminster John Knox Press.

Hendrickx H. (1986) The Parables of Jesus, London.

Hendriksen W. (1979) New Testament Commentary: The Gospel of Luke, Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust.

Hunter AM. (1958) The Interpretation of the Parables. Expositor Times: 100-104.

Jones GV. (1964) The Art and Truth of the Parables: A Study in their Literary Form and Modern Interpretation, London.

Jones PR. (1980) The Modern Study of Parables. SWJT 22: 7-22.

Jordan GJ. (1934) The Classification of the Parable. The Expository Times: 246-251.

Jülicher A. (1888) Die Gleichnisreden Jesu

Keddie GJ. (1994) He Spoke in Parables, Oregon: Wipf & Stock.

Kendall RT. (2006) The Parables of Jesus, Grand Rapids: Chosen Books.

Kirkwood WG. (1983) Storytelling and self‐confrontation: Parables as communication strategies. Quarterly Journal of Speech 69: 58-74.

Kirkwood WG. (1985) Parables as metaphors and examples. Quarterly Journal of Speech 71: 422-440.

Kissinger WS. (1979) The Parables of Jesus.

Kistemaker SJ. (1980) The Parables of Jesus.

Ladd GE. (1964) Jesus and the Kingdom.

Ladd GE. (1993) A Theology of the New Testament, Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Lambrecht J. (1981) Once More Astonished: The Parables of Jesus.

Leary C. (1986) Parables and Fairy Tales. Religious Education 81: 485-499.

Linnemann E. (1966) Jesus of the Parables: Introduction and Exposition.

Lithgow RM. (1905) A Simple Scheme of the Parables. Expositor Times: 470-472.

Lithgow RM. (1907) The Theology of the Parables. Expositor Times: 538-542.

Lithgow RM. (1908a) The Development of Christ's Doctrine During His Earthly Ministry. Expositor Times: 126-131.

Lithgow RM. (1908b) Man's Spiritual Development as Depicted in Christ's Parables. Expositor Times: 543-547.

Lithgow RM. (1909) The Symbolism of the Parables. Expositor Times: 217-220.

Lithgow RM. (1911) The Eschatology of the Parables. Expositor Times: 469-474.

Lithgow RM. (1912) The Minor Parables, the Metaphors and Similes of the Synoptic Gospels. Expositor Times: 537-540.

Little JC. (1976) Parable Research in the Twentieth Century. ET 87: 356-360.

Marshall IH. (1963) Eschatology and the Parables.

McLaughlin EW. (2009) Engendering the Imago Dei: How Christ Grounds Our Lives as Parables of the Divine Image. Priscilla Papers 23: 16-20.

Ministry CCAR. (2003) What are the parables that Jesus taught? Available at: https://carm.org/whataretheparablesjesustaught.

Morris L. (1974) Luke: An Introduction and Commentary, Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press.

Moule CFD. (1961) The Parables of the Jesus of history and the Lord of faith. Religion in Education 28: 60-64.

Oesterley WOE. (1936) The Gospel Parables in Light of their Jewish Background.

Orr J. (1939) Parable. The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia. Michigan: WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Pianzin TM. (2007) Parables of Jesus: In the Light of Its Historical, Geographical and Socio-Cultural Setting, Oklahoma: Tate Publishing.

Plummer A. (1981) The Gospel According to S. Luke, Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark.

Reardon P. (2003) The Parables and the Structure of the World, New Jersey.

Ricoeur P. (1981) The 'Kingdom' in the Parables of Jesus. ATR 63: 165-169.

Sabourin L. (1976) Parables of the Kingdom. BTB 6: 115-160.

Schwager D. (2015) The Parables of Jesus. Available at: http://www.rc.net/wcc/readings/parable1.htm.

Scott B. (1989) Hear then the Parables: A Commentary on the Parables of Jesus.

Slee N. (1983) Parable teaching: Exploring new worlds. British Journal of Religious Education 5: 134-146.

Slee N. (1985) Parables and Women's Experiences. Religious Education 80: 232-245.

Smith BTD. (1937) The Parables of the Synoptic Gospels.

Stein RH. (1985) The Parables of Jesus in Recent Study. WW 5: 248-257.

Tasker RVG. (1961) Matthew: An Introduction and Commentary, Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press.

Trench. Notes on the Parables. 9.

Wenham D. (1989) The Parables of Jesus.

White EGH. (2000) Christ's Object Lessons, USA: Review and Herald Publishing Association.

Wink W. (1973) The Bible in Human Transformation: toward a new paradigm for Bible study: Fortress.

Woodhull K. (2013) The Art of Parabling: Leveraging the Narrative Parables of Jesus as Models of Missional Engagement. Missiology: An International Review 41: 74-86.

Young CE. (1950) Christ the Teacher. Religion in Education 17: 46-49.

The Interpretation of Holy Scripture (Dunnett, 1984)

Parable (Luke 18:9-14)

p. 172

"What is the point of the parable? Is it to condemn Pharisees, depressed tax collectors, or to teach about humility and confession of sin? Is it a parable about how to pray about the nature of God who justifies the ungodly? The last question will remind us of the criticisms of an "objective" view of the parable levelled by W. Wink. He alerts us as to how the modern reader has "actually turned it into its opposite", by identifying with the tax collector (strangely, "the good guy" as against "the bad guy"). Because the reader to take the two men as "dual aspects of a single alienating structure", to see ourselves as making both responses, and to "transcend both by the reconciliation under the justifying love of God". What he has done, while possibly overstating the case, is to show modern listeners (with the long Christian tradition), that the impact of the story is quite different from that in the original setting.

"This is a fine example of how our mindsets, our horizon must be corrected in order to merge with that of the writer/text of Scripture. It is a call both to recover the original sense of the text and to bring a legitimate application into the present." [[W. Wink, the Bible in human transformation: toward a new paradigm for Bible study Fortress, 1973, pp.41 – 43.]]

Models for Interpretation of Scripture (Goldingay, 1995)

How Stories Preach

p. 71

"stories are a key means by which Scripture communicates and therefore a key resource for the preacher. How do these stories work as a way of preaching? How do they suggest we go about preaching on them?

p. 76

How Stories Engage their Readers

"stories engage their readers. How do they do that, and how do we enable them to do that in the retelling?...

First, each story has a beginning, a middle, and an end; that is, stories are structured. Each story has a plot of some kind. We are presented with a problem that is to be solved; quite likely there are difficulties to be overcome on the way or consequences when the main events are over...

Second, each story offers a concrete portrayal of a series of events against the particular historical, geographical, social, and cultural background. There is movement from one area to another, political and religious heroes and villains passed before the audiences eyes and pressure points of economical family or social life are alluded to or emphasised.

p. 77

a third feature of biblical stories is that they invite their hearers to identify their life and circumstances with those that they presuppose. In this way a story makes clear in the telling that it is about the hero as well is about the subject. Features that mark biblical stories as an historical often originate with a characteristic...

For a fourth feature of many stories is their focus on individual people with him the hearers are invited to identify will stop..

p. 78

"The stories engage their hearers by offering them various characters with whom to identify. Different hearers then grasp different facets of the stories is significance, so that group meditation on a story naturally leads different people to focus on and identify with different characters in a way that can then be illuminating for the whole group. Different facets also come home to individual hearers are different times in their lives; there is no once for all hearing of a story. Our task as preachers is to open up as much as possible of the resources that lie in these various character portrayals, all of which can open up for people aspects of the Gospel. Our task is to help people to get into the story, identifying with characters and situations as if hearing for the first time, so that they can in doing so respond to the gospel in the way that they must."

Interpreting the parables

"among the stories in Scripture, for a number of reasons the interpretation of Jesus as parables deserves particular attention. One reason is that they have been the subject of much productive modern study with challenging but helpful implications for the pulpit."

"One stream of that recent studies represented by books in the parables by C.H. Dodd, J. Jeremias, and A.M. Hunter, this concern has been to locate the origin and significance of parables in the life of Jesus. It has tended to stress that they were designed to make one point, often a different point from the one on which modern preachers focus."

p. 79

"thus the meaning of the parable of the talents (Matthew 25) does not lie in the varying numbers of talents that the different servants are given, nor should these talents be confused with "talents" in the sense the word has for us. The question the parable asks is "what's would you do with a bag of gold?"; The Pharisees were like people entrusted with the bag of gold, who looked after it instead of investing it."

"This parable, and others, thus have the original context in the life of Jesus with the crisis that he's coming brought to people. That is a different context from the one presupposed by the interpretations given to the parables by the evangelists, who were also concern for the parables are significant in the life of the church. This tradition of understanding the parables can seem to imply that we simply throw away the evangelist's additions to and interpretations of the parables. But our attitude to the additions and interpretation surely rather be that the evangelists are modelling what we ourselves do, taking the kind of thing Jesus was saying and applying it to the situations of their day in the context of the church, living as they did (like us) after the resurrection."

"A second fruit for modern approach the parables is the stream associated with the "new hermeneutic" in Germany and with the literary – critical study in the United States and represented by works of writers such as E. Fuchs, E. Linnemann, D.O. Via, J.D. Cross and, R.W. Funk. The key aspect of the parables from which the new hermeneutic begins is the way in which they concern the ordinary, everyday world of the hearers. Sometimes they do so by telling a straightforward story about everyday life that they imply embodies what the rule of God is like, without quite making it clear how the parable illustrates the nature of God's rule. The People's's response to the parable of the sower (Mark four) is puzzlement: it is a clear enough story, but what is it point? Stories like that make people think and help open the rights to the gospel if they are willing to open them but they do so indirectly and let people of the book if they want to avoid seeing the point".

p. 80

"Jesus is parables thus communicate in a different and less direct way from that which is characteristic of the Gospels as a whole will of more direct forms of preaching."

"To save sinners, God seizes them to the imagination"; preachers placed themselves at the service of the saving act by the engagement of their own imagination."

"If understanding a factual story depends on allowing ourselves to be drawn into it, this is the more true of a fictional story such as a parable. The new hermeneutic has shown special interest in the kind of parable in which Jesus begins in peoples is realistic, everyday world, the world of home and family, of work and worship, of sewing and harvest, of shepherding and labouring, of weddings and funerals, I Pharisees, tax farms, priests, Levites, and Samaritans. He thus draws his hearers into his stories, because they manifestly relate to their world. There are they are at home in the stories, nodding in understanding as they unfold."

"Near the end Jesus is stories turned surrealist; they checked out of that world and somersault into a topsy-turvy one in which attacks fine farmer finds God's favour, some people get a day's pay for an hour's work, the people we would expect to help a victim do not, in the last person we would expect to do so does. The parables make a backdoor assault on the familiar worlds in which the people live with God, with a lightning speed that the evasive heart of the listener is hard put to match.… The parables portray a realistic but strange world – a threatening but better world, one transformed by God's grace. The credit world before peoples eyes and ears, a familiar world into which people cannot help but be drawn, but then challenge them as to whether they will live according to the logic of merit that is inherent in this familiar world or go with God into a world that lives according to the illogic of grace. They create a new world, the price being the destruction of the old one. They are understood only by those who are drawn into them and go through this world destroying, world creating prices. In telling parables, a language event takes place. The hearers do not interpret the parables the parables interpret the hearers.

p.81

"the nature of what was going on when Jesus told parables enables us to perceive where the central problem in preaching on them lies. Jesus moved from peoples familiar, everyday world to an unfamiliar, revolutionary world. But where people were once at home, now there is obscurity for us. We wonder why the bridesmaids were having to wait for the bridegroom at night; the arrangements for the wedding seem very strange unlike our entirely rational way.

p. 82

Precisely because Jesus started from the everyday life of his culture, what was formerly familiar is now quite obscure. We are no longer instinctively aware of the residences of words as Pharisee and Samaritan in the vocabulary of the first century due conversely what was previously surprising and objectionable is now familiar and natural. We know the tax farmer will go home justified, so we identify with him; when the Samaritan will help the marked man, and we are happy to identify with him. It is difficult for us to accounts of the way in which words as Pharisee and Samaritan of turned 180° around in their meeting since Jesus is day. Pharisee then meant someone who was especially committed to a life of faith and obedience, and the word carried no overtone of hypocrisy; change in the terms meaning causes us inevitably to miss the scandal of users claim that God prefer the tax farms prayer to the Pharisees. The Samaritans were apostate people from this North, far from being as they are now for us the people we can be sure we'll listen to us when no one else will. We inevitably missed the impossibility in Jesus as juxtaposition of the words good and Samaritan. At best the parables in our obscure; at worst, when they seem clear they make a point contrary to the one Jesus wanted to make."

"We have noted already that a common way to preach in the parables as on other stories in Scripture, is 1st to summarise the story, than to offer straightforward direct teaching on the topic the parable covers, of the kind that appears in the sermon on the Mount or the epistles. The fatal weakness of this approach is 80 fails to do what Jesus was doing when he himself spoke his parables."

p. 84

"there is one further feature of the parables that makes interpretation of them deserve special consideration. There is something characteristic and distinctive of the parables in the ministry of Jesus. He made a point of communicating by this means. Indeed, parables are not merely a dynamic way of communicating but a witness to the love of Jesus for those he addresses. The picture part of the parable constructs a world into which the hero may enter. In the picture part Jesus is not it simply, in the first place, make the hearer adjusted Jesus's viewpoint; instead Jesus himself enters the everyday world of the hearer. Hence he speaks about farming, housekeeping, trading, children's games, and looking for lost objects, not merely to give sermon illustrations or to make is teaching more vivid, but quite literally enter the world of the hearer. "The parables and body in microcosm the principle of the incarnation. Jesus comes and stands with the hearer already stands." [[Craddock, Overhearing the Gospel 88-89.]]

"Indeed, even when a parable somersault into a fantastic world, "it is a fantastic that remains fantastic of the everyday, without the supernatural, as it appears in fairytales or in myths". [[Ricoeur, "the kingdom in the parables of Jesus", 167.]] Here, too, the parables of Jesus correspond to the person and life of Jesus. They "manifest this incarnational principle – this serious treatment of the everyday – by combining the realistic with the extraordinary and improbable". [[Via, The Parables 105]]. Jesus did that not merely in his words but in his life. He is "God's Parable" the title of a book by F.H. Borsch). Grace is the most prominent theme of the parables, grace is a fundamental feature of the way they communicate (because they do not force anything on us but leave us room to manoeuvre), and grace with the parabler himself is. [[Peta Sherlock, private comms.]]

 

The Language and Imagery of the Bible (Caird, 1980)

Comparative Language II: Special Forms

p. 160 

"Simile and metaphor between them exhaust the possibilities of comparison. But there are some forms of simile and metaphor which appeared to be distinguished from the rest and from each other by possessing labels of their own: fable, myth, parable and allegory."

p. 161

"The problems presented by parable and allegory are quite different, arising largely from overzealous definition. People with tiny minds are inclined to believe that, if classificatory terms exist, the must also exist distinct classes of objects to which they refer. A story with a hidden meaning, therefore, must be either a parable or an allegory, and we must so define the terms as to render them mutually exclusive. Jesus told parables, not allegory is. If, then, we find in the Gospels a story which falls within the definition of allegory (e.g. the story of the wicked tenants in Mark 12:1-9), it cannot be authentic. But we have only to examine this argument closely to see that every single step in it contains a logical fallacy. The distinction between parable and allegory is not as easy as that. H.W.Fowler in Modern English Usage went so far as to say that 'allegory (utterings things otherwise) and parable (putting side-by-side) are almost exchangeable terms', and the distinction between them was only a matter of idiomatic usage. If, as we shall see, he too was overstating his case, at least he was erring on the right side."

The natural but mistaken tendency to look for clear-cut definitions receive vigourous encouragement from the immense authority Adolf Julicher, whose two-volume work, Die Gleichnisreden Jesu, has dominated the study of the Gospel parables for nearly a century. Julicher was a pioneer who enabled new Testament scholarship to break once and for all with the centuries long tradition of allegorical interpretation. But he had an obsessive preoccupation with literal speech… And he relied far too heavily on Greek and Latin authors who gave the impression that simile and metaphor, like other figures of speech, were optional rhetorical ornaments.. Parable, properly understood, was extended simile; allegory was 'many metaphors'…. Mark made the mistake of turning the parables of Jesus into allegory is (particularly the Sower), and it is therefore hardly surprising that he held the view that they were intended to mystify. The other difference between parable and allegory was that a parable has only one point of comparison, while an allegory has many. When Julicher applied these principles to the exposition of the parables of Jesus, the one point always turned out to be a moral platitude."

p. 162

"Julicher's house of cards has had a long stand, chiefly because his dictum that a parable was only one point of comparison appeal to the current mood of scholarship: it seemed integral to his refutation of allegory is, and it was congenial to the atomic theory of Form Criticism. C.H. Dodd, for example, followed by J. Jeremias, rejected Julicher's moralistic interpretations in favour of the now generally accepted thesis that the parables had a particular reference to the ministry of Jesus and the crisis it inaugurated; yet he accepted without question the single correspondence hypothesis."

Julicher's argument needs correction in fact at no fewer than six points. And these are listed on page 162.

"The Gospel writers give the name parable to sayings of Jesus which are of five different types:

1.simple simile: 'the kingdom of God is like yeast…' (Matthew 13:33)

2. simple metaphors: e.g. 'do not throw your pearls to the pigs...' (Matthew 7:6) 

3. simile story; e.g. the labourers in the vine yard (Matthew 20:1 – 16).

4. metaphor story: e.g. the prodigal son (Luke 15:11 – 32)

5. example story: the good Samaritan, the rich full, dives and Lazarus, the Pharisee in the publican (Luke 10:30 – 37; 12:17 – 21; 16:19 – 31; 18:9 – 14).

p. 163

"the generally accepted view has been that of Julie Carter, that a parable has only one point of comparison, whereas in allegory every detail is significant. Now the strength of this position is that some of the parables are what in the last chapter we have called metaphors (or similes) of low correspondence and high development..."

p. 164

"another possible distinction is that a parable asks for a decision, while allegory is designed only to instruct.... A third possibility is that a parable is always treated daily life, while the details of an allegory are dictated by the interpretation and make no proper sense until they are decoded..."

p. 165

"As one criterion after another fails us, it begins to look as if we should be wise to refrain from drawing hard and fast lines. Nevertheless, several generations of scholars have made strenuous attempts to do so and the reason lies in the revolt against along accepted practical practice of allegorical interpretation. Dodd quotes as a cautionary example Augustine ... of the good Samaritan, in which the man is Adam Jerusalem the heavenly city, Jericho the moon – the symbol of mortality; the thieves of the devil and his angels, who strip the man of immortality by persuading him to censor to leave him spiritually half dead… Most modern readers agree with Dodd that this is far ago bears no relationship to the real meaning of the parable. But the point to bear in mind that there is a world of difference between allegory is Asian and allegory. And allegory is a story intended by the author to convey a hidden meaning, and it is correctly interpreted when they intended meaning is perceived. To allegorise is to impose on a story hidden meanings which the original author neither intended nor envisage; it is to treat as allegory that which was not intended as allegory. Here, as in all questions of meaning the intention of author or Speaker is paramount. An adverse judgement on allegory is no more entails a repudiation of allegory that a refusal to treat poetry as prose entails a rejection of prose if Jesus in fact compose similitude is with more than one point of comparison, it makes little difference to our understanding of them whether we call them parables or allegory is, so long as we recognise that to identify intended points is not to allegorise."

p. 167

parable and allegory, then our partial synonyms, and it is less important to distinguish between them than it is to distinguish between allegory, which the author intended, and allegorical embellishment or interpretation, which he did not. But allegorical interpretation (or allegory is in) is itself an ambiguous term, covering at least five different types of exegesis."

There is:

1. rationalist Allegorism

2.moralist allegorism

3.atomic allegorism

4.exegetical allegorism

5.polemical allegorism

The Method and Message of Jesus' Teachings (Robert H. Stein)

Chapter 2: The Form of Jesus' Teaching

"It is evidence from the preceding chapter that Jesus was, among other things, an outstanding teacher. Without the use of modern-day audiovisual materials and props it captured the attention of his audience. This ability of Jesus at times even credit problems for him. According to Mark 4:1, on one occasion Jesus attracted such a large crowd by his teaching that he had to enter into a boat on the Sea of Galilee and teach from it."

"Why was Jesus such a fascinating teacher? What caused these large crowds to follow him? In reply one might say that it was what Jesus said that drew the crowds. With Jesus the voice of prophecy had once again return to Israel after 400 years.... One reason people came to Jesus was that many were convinced that God was speaking to Jesus of Nazareth and that what he was saying was indeed the word of God... Yet all Christian teachers and preachers must confess that at times that proclaim the same what, the same word of God that Jesus taught, and have been less than exciting. There must therefore be other factors that, together with the Whites, make Jesus and exciting teacher."

p. 8
"... All of this is of course is true. The what of his message and the who, that is, the personality and the authority, of the messenger, all played a part in making Jesus and exciting teacher.
There is still another factor that may Jesus a great teacher, however, we is frequently overlooked. This is the how, or the exciting manner in which Jesus taught. The purpose of this chapter is to investigate some of the forms and techniques that Jesus used as the medium for his message."

"One means by which Jesus sought to capture the attention of his listeners was that of overstating the truth in such a way that the resulting exaggeration forcefully brought home the point he was attempting to make. Such overstatement is a characteristic of Semitic speech, and we possess numerous examples of this in the Gospels. In Luke 14:26, Jesus says:
whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple."

p.11

"Closely related to Jesus's use of overstatement is his use of hyperbole. Both have in common the use of exaggeration. Which are distinguished the two, however, but the degree of exaggeration involved and define as overstatement are saying that could be understood, although of course incorrectly, is literal in its application or portrayal. In hyperbole is a gross exaggeration make such a literal fulfillment or portrayal impossible...."

p. 12
"Another form that Jesus used in his teaching was the pun. A pun is a play on words in which either homonyms like sounding words suggest two or more different meanings."

p. 13

"The term "paronomasia" is sometimes used to describe the former aspect of a pun. The use of puns by Jesus is frequently not evident in an English, or for that matter any other, translation of the Bible.
And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.
The play on words in this saying is evident also in Greek, with the terms Petros and petra are use respectively for Peter and rock."

p. 14
A simile is an explicit comparison between two things that are essentially unlike each other and that are introduced by a connective such as like, as, or than or by a verb such as seems in our discussion of parables, it will become evident that some similes in the Gospels are parables, for a parable in essence a simile. When a simile is expended into a picture, the result is a similitude. When it is expended into a story, the result is a story parable. It is obvious therefore that a division between a simile and a parable will be somewhat arbitrary. What we have included here as examples of simile other similes not usually listed as parables some examples of simile are:
"see, I'm sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves."

p. 15
"A metaphor, like a simile, is a comparison between two essentially unlike things. In contrast to a simile, however, were an explicit comparison is made the eye is like a lamp for the body the metaphor makes an implicit comparison the eye is the lamp of the body the Gospels contain numerous examples of such figures of speech for Jesus was fond of using analogies. As in the case of the simile, so he also it is evidence that some metaphors can also be defined as parables so that any absolute distinction between the two is impossible."

p. 17
"As has been mentioned above, the teaching of Jesus stands in continuity with the wisdom tradition of the Middle East. Nowhere is this more evident than in his use of Proverbs. For our purpose we shall speak of Proverbs in a broad sense and include problem Proverbs, maxims, aphorisms, wisdom sayings, folk proverbs, and others. We shall define a proverb as a terse pithy saying that contains in a striking manner and memorable statement. At times such a statement gives advice on moral behaviour and becomes an ethical maxim. At times that a statement is an ingeniously worded paradox... Generally a proverb is characterised by succinctness and consists of one sentence: "for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

p. 18
"The use of riddles by Jesus has numerous parallels in the OT. The most famous example of a riddle in a in the Bible is probably Sampson's riddle in judges 14:14: out of the eater came something to eat. Out of the strong came something sweet."

p. 19
"In the sayings of Jesus we possess several statements that are paradoxical in nature by this we mean that the statements appear contradictory. This apparent contradiction must be understood in the light of the beliefs and values present in Jesus's day among his contemporaries, for in another context with different values and beliefs his statements were not appear contradictory."

Some other examples of Jesus's use of paradox are: he sat down opposite the treasury, and watch the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put into small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, truly I tell you this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury for all of them have contributed out of their abundance but she added the poverty has put in everything she had, and she had to live on.

p. 20
"An a fortiori statement is not so much a figure of speech is a type of argument in which the conclusion follows with even greater logical necessity then the already accepted fact or conclusion previously given.... "Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone?"

p.21
"Defined narrowly, irony is a subtle use of contrast between what is actually stated in what is more or less wryly suggested. Frequently there is present a feigned sense of ignorance. Was at a conference becomes crude or heavy-handed and as a result loses much of its cleverness to become sarcasm. In this narrow sense a statement or expression is ironic when it's intended meaning is the opposite of the literal meaning of the statement."

p. 23
"Several centuries before the time of Jesus, Socrates made famous the use of questions as a method of instruction. In so doing Socrates was well aware that by his use of questions he fought his audience to become involved in the learning process. Jesus also knew the merits of this Socratic method and frequently use questions in his teaching. He used them in a variety of ways and in a variety of situations. One way was that of drawing from his audience the correct answer he sought by drawing out the correct answer from his list listeners rather than simply declaring it, Jesus impressed his point more convincingly upon their minds."
"Who do people say that I am? And they answered him, John the Baptist; and others, Elisha; and still others, one of the profits. He asked them who do you say that I am Peter answered him, you are the Messiah and sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.
A more polemical use of this method of teaching was Jesus's use of the counter question. Like a fortiori, the counter question is a method of argumentation. The counter question should be defined here is a question raised by Jesus in response to a question these either stated or implied will be a situation to which he is expected of feels constrained to reply. In contrast, however, to his use of rhetorical questions, Jesus always expected from his audience of verbal or a lesser mental response to his counterquestion."

p. 25
"There are a number of occasions in the Gospels with the teaching of Jesus was mediated through particular action on these occasions the action of Jesus was not simply an illustration to support a verbal utterance, but the teaching was non-verbal and contained in the action itself. The action of Jesus in these instances was often carefully planned and thought out in order to serve as an instructive tool for his disciples and his audience. A verbal commentary or explanation might follow, but the action itself is parabolic and was meant to teach. An example of such an action is found in Luke he entered Jericho and was passing through its. A man was their names are Kai S; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature."

p. 26
"In the Gospels there are numerous examples of poetry in the sayings of Jesus. This poetry is frequently unrecognised because the sayings lack rhyme, but what is basic to poetry is not so much rhyme but rhythm. The poetry of Jesus is to be found not in its rhyme but in its rhythmic balance. The expression frequently used describe this kind of poetry is parallel-ismus membe yeah membrorum, or parallelism in the members. Generally five kinds of parallelism are listed: synonymous, antithetical, synthetic, step or climactic, and chiasmic."

p. 27
Synonymous parallelism
This form of parallelism there is a correspondence between the various lines or/fees, and the lines that follow are essentially synonymous repetitions of the 1st to be more precise wishes say that the succeeding lines are similar at that were is at times they are simply synonymous and emphasise the point by means of repetition at times they may clarify or intensify the first line ask and it will be given new search and you will find knock and the door will be open for you for everyone who asks receives and everyone who searches finds for everyone who knocks the door will be opened."

p. 28
"In this form of parallelism is sometimes called formal or constructive parallelism, the thought of the second line neither repeats nor contrast the thought of the first line other supplements and brings it to completion as a result in this form of parallelism the second line causes the thought of the first line to continue and flow on further."

p. 29
They do all their deeds to be seen by others for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long."

p. 32
"The purpose of this chapter was to describe some of the forms that Jesus used to present his message. In seeking to understand his message, we must keep in mind that Jesus was born, raised, and lived in a culture quite different from the scientific culture of our day. In an age that is concerned with computer accuracy we must be careful not to demand the same kind of interest and concern on the part of Jesus. Jesus's words were not meant to be photographic portraits are laboratory descriptions for a scientific culture but rather impressionistic stories and sayings are sought in a storytelling culture describe the arrival of the kingdom of God. Scientific description is merely one method of describing reality. At times and in certain contexts it is no doubt the best method, but in other contexts it is inappropriate or, at least, less suitable than others. A scientist does not use scientific terminology to describe his love to his beloved even if she too is a scientist! Is language is far far far more impressionistic and must be understood as impressionistic language."

"The form or vehicle that Jesus used to convey his message is clearly not the language of 20th century science but rather the metaphorical, exaggerating, impressionistic language of a culture that love to tell stories. The vehicle that Jesus used to convey his message is, however, not an end in itself. It is the message far more than the medium that is paramount, for that message was and is the Word of God. To understand that word correctly, however, requires us to understand the vehicle that Jesus used. This does not mean, as some maintain, that we are to distinguish between the message of Jesus and the divine message contained in Jesus's message. When dealing here with different levels of revelation in Jesus's message but rather with the need to distinguish the form of that message and its content. This distinction is most evident in Jesus's use of overstatement and hyperbole, to varying degrees it is also applicable in his use of other forms as well. It is evident that Jesus thought his hearers were capable of making this distinction expected them to do so, and it is likewise evident that the Gospel writers thought the same and expected the same from their readers." 

p. 33

Chapter 3: The Parables of Jesus

"The most famous form used by Jesus in his teaching is the parable. Scholars have frequently pointed out that this is the most characteristic element of his teaching, for not less than 35% of his teaching in the synoptic gospels is found in parabolic form."

The definition of a parable
"The importance of the parables and the amount of parabolic teaching with possessing the Gospels is generally recognised. Most people, however, are far from clear as to what a parable is! In church school would frequently teach that a parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. Sometimes a parable is defined as a short fictitious story the teacher is a moral or religious principle. The Greek word parabolic refers essentially to a comparison the two most basic forms of comparison other simile and the metaphor is that whereas a metaphor contains an implied comparison or likeness the fox knew just what to do, the simile contains a stated likeness the thief like a fox knew just what to do. Another way of stating that is at a metaphor suggests a comparison were is a simile explicitly states that comparison. If one expands a simile the result is a similitude. If one strings together a series of metaphors, the result is an allegory."

p. 34

"Basic to the classical Greek understanding of the parable is this idea of analogy. A parable, by this way of thinking is an analogy. It may be brief or extended, but it is generally an analogy used in an illustrative way."

"In recent discussion a sharp distinction is sometimes made between a simile and the metaphor, and the supposed metaphysical quality of metaphor has been attributed to parables. Yet as we seek to understand the way in which Jesus defined to understood a parable, it is more profitable to understand old Testament and rabbinic ideas of what a parable is in the views of the classical Greek modern writers for Jesus thinking was more influenced by the former than the latter. In the Septuagint the term parabolic translates the Hebrew word I shall in all but two instances. Since the term that Jesus used for parable was Michelle, which is translated in the Gospels is parabolic, it is therefore from the Hebrew conception of what Michelle is that we should seek to discover how Jesus understood a parable in the OT the term shall had a wide range of meanings and could refer to any of the following:
proverb in 1 Samuel 24:13 we read as the ancient proverb I shall says, out of the wicked comes forth wickedness."

"In the light of the broad usage of the term shall in the old Testament as well as in the rabbinic writings, it is surprising to find that the term parabole in the Gospels also refers to a great variety of different figures of speech."

p. 37
"Allegory. In an allegory the details of the story not simply local colouring to fill out the story. They are not simply parts of the main story, as in the story an example parables, but are of great importance in and of themselves and must be interpreted. Has been a great deal of resistance since the work at of June seeing any allegorical element in the parables of Jesus. This was a natural overreaction to the allegorical method of interpretation of the early church. It is now generally recognised that the that a priori exclusion of allegory from Jesus is teaching his illegitimate some of the gospel parables are allegorical in nature and it is naive to assume that where is the early church and the evangelists could have created allegory is Jesus could not! Whether or not Jesus use allegory cannot be determined on the grounds but can be determined only by examining the texts. It would appear that some parables possess undeniable allegorical elements. A good example of allegory the Gospels is Matthew 22:2-14:
the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king gave a wedding banquet for his son."

p. 38
Jesus's use of parables
"A critical question that must be raised at this point, because the Gospels themselves raises, is why Jesus taught in parables. According to the popular definition of the parable as an illustrator restoring, one would have to answer this question by saying that Jesus is parables primarily to illustrate his message. That some parables are illustratory is self-evident. We have even defined one group of parables as example parables. There is an extremely important passage in Mark however that seems to contradict this explanation. The crux interpreter, found in Mark 4:10-12, reads as follows: when he was alone, those who were around him along with the 12 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 comes in parables; in order that (hina) 'they may indeed look, but not perceive, and may indeed listen, but not understand; so that hey may not turn again and be forgiven."

"... Mark seems to be saying that Jesus taught in parables in order that his hearers might not understand, to that they could not repent and be forgiven. The translation of the inner as so that instead of in order that tends to minimise the intent character of the inner this has been rectified the NRSV."

p. 40
"Jesus's opponents continually sought to find fault with him and his message. Thus they sought to acquire information that would be helpful in discrediting him in the eyes of the people as well as in the eyes of Rome. A message on the coming of the kingdom of God could easily be misunderstood or misused by his opponents. By his use of parables Jesus made it more difficult for his opponents to bring such possessions against him. It is probable that Jesus prefer the title son of man over that of Christ Messiah for a similar reason for the latter title had many political and militaristic connotations and was thus liable to be misunderstood or as this was not the case with the title son of man. Coming of the kingdom that we misunderstood in a similar way by the Romans this could very well have been interpreted as a revolutionary or at least a political threat and challenge. As a result, Jesus frequently used parables to protect himself from such misunderstandings by those outside."

"The fact that for centuries the meaning of the parables has been lost through allegorical interpretation and ignorance of the Sitz im Leben of Jesus also indicates that the parables are not self-evident illustrations..."

"A second possible reason for the use of parables by Jesus appears to contradict the first. Jesus used parables to illustrate and reveal his message to his followers." 

p. 41
"Certainly the parable of the good Samaritan illustrates who is my neighbour Luke 10:29 in a most unforgettable way, even as a story of the Prodigal son illustrates the love of God for sinners and is choice welcome of the repentant in a heart's moving manner there is the full truth in the view that some parables at least I meant to illustrate. Frequently the meaning of the parable was available only to the disciples to whom he explained everything in private.
A third possible reason for Jesus' use of parables may have been to disarm his listeners... In a similar way the parables of Jesus often disarmed his opponents, so that frequently they listen to him without raising a shield of defence only to find out too late that the parable was in effect directed toward them. An example of this is found in Mark 12:1 – 11, after which Mark comments, when they realised that he had told this parable against them, they wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowd. In this regard what should also compare Luke 15:1 – two and the resultant trilogy of parables."

The source of the material for Jesus is parables
"Where did Jesus obtain the illustrations and examples that he incorporated into his parables? As one reads the parables, one is struck by their real life, down to earth chara although exaggeration is frequently present, Jesus is parables are not fables or fairytales. What we have described in the parables stems from everyday experience. No doubt many of them arose out of experiences that Jesus had as a child, youth, young man in Nazareth. Perhaps one summer he observed two men building homes for themselves in Nazareth. ... Later on in his ministry, Jesus remembered the incident and likened the people's response to the Word of God in a similar way. To heed his teachings was to be like the wise man and build one's life on a firm foundation." 

p. 42
"The material of Jesus is parables and teaching came primarily from his own observations and experiences in the rural environment of Galilee. It is interesting to note that the apostle Paul also drew examples from his experiences in life, but in contrast to the rural imagery of Jesus, Paul drew his examples from a cosmopolitan environment."

p. 43
"We might add that we find no real parallel to Jesus's use of parables and the entire NT excluding of course the Gospels and in the early church fathers. This indicates that know one was creating parabolic stories in the early church, and thus it is difficult to argue that the parables are creations of the early church read back into the ministry of Jesus."

p. 44
"A third reason for acknowledging the authenticity of the parables is that they correspond well with that language and content of other sayings which scholars agree Jesus answered. Most scholars today hold that such themes as the kingdom of God, the fatherhood of God, the offer of salvation to publicans and sinners, and the emphasis on the internal motivation and not just the external appearance of an action stem from Jesus, and these themes are continually found in the parables. In the light of the above, there is therefore general agreement among scholars that when we come to the parables of Jesus we arrive at the bedrock of his teachings."

An Introduction to the Parables of Jesus (Robert H. Stein, 1981)

Chapter 4: How the Parables were Interpreted

p. 42
it has been said often that the ignorance of history dooms one to repeat its mistakes, for a knowledge of the pass reveals to us the mistakes that we should avoid future as well as the successes that we should emulate. In seeking to understand how to interpret the parables of Jesus, we can learn a great deal from the ways in which the parables have been interpreted throughout church history. A discussion of how to interpret the parables will be divided into two chapters. The first will deal with parabolic interpretation from the earliest church fathers into the modern period of 1888. Here was shall look at the ruling method of interpreting that dominated the Christian church the allegorical method in the next chapter we shall look at the insights that have been gained into how to interpret the parable since the appearance of Adolf Julicher's great great work, Die Gleichnisreden Jesu, in 1888.

During this period of the early church the allegorical method of interpreting the parables came to dominate the scene no doubt the early church fathers were greatly influenced in this by the fact that for centuries it was popular to allegorise the heroes of Homer and their actions in order to satisfy the scruples of the morally sensitive. Allegory was the means by which the actions of these ancient heroes, whose morality and standards were no longer acceptable, could be adapted and still be useful to later generations... 

p. 43
The early church, therefore, had a ready-made tool which you could use for similar purposes, and is not surprising, therefore, to observe that the early church fathers who came out of a Greek milieu proceeded to apply this method to the interpretation of the Scriptures. Various Old Testament passages that appeared to be unacceptable to them were simply allegorised, so that a "deeper", more acceptable meaning could be found that was "Christian". It needed only be mentioned that this is still done at times today. Many Christians, for example, throughout the history of the church (this holds also for Judaism) have found the literal meaning of the Song of Songs as either unacceptable or at least inadequate. As a result, the "true" or "deeper" meaning was seen as an allegory of the love of Christ for the church (or of Yaweh for Israel)! Furthermore, the fact that certain parables are given in allegorical interpretation in the Gospels themselves (cf. Mark 4:3-9 with 4:13-20; Matt 13:24-29 with 13: 36-43) no doubt gave the impression to many that all the parables were to be treated in this manner.

In the light of the above, it is not surprising that the allegorical method was used quite extensively by the early church in the interpretation of the parables of Jesus... 

In the writings of Irenaeus (ca.130-ca.200) we possess several examples of the allegorical method of interpretation in his treatment of the labourers in the vine yard (Matt 20:1-6). He interpreted the first call to workers referring to those whom God called at the beginning of the creation...  

p. 44
Tertullian (ca.160-ca. 220), despite some excellent insights into parabolic interpretation, also interpreted the parables allegorically. This can be seen in his treatment of the parable of the gracious father (Luke 15:11-32).  Tertullian interpreted this parable in the following way: the older son represents the due who is envious of the divine offer of salvation to the Gentiles; the father represents God; the younger son represents the Christian; the inheritance that was wandered represents the wisdom and natural ability to know God which meant possesses as his birthright; the citizen in the far country represented the devil; this wine represent the Demon; the robe represents the Sun ship which Adam lost through the transgression; the ring represents Christian baptism; the feast represents the sacrament of the Lord's supper; and the fatted calf slain for the prodigal represents the saviour present at the Lord's supper... A contemporary of Irenaeus and Tertullian was Clement of Alexandria (Ca.150-ca.215). Clement follows the Alexandrian hermeneutical tradition and allegorises the parable of the good Samaritan more fully than anyone previous.
Clement's successor as head of the catechetical school in Alexandria was Origen (ca. 184-254). It is uncertain as to how much Origen may have been influenced by Clement, but the allegorical tendency we

p.45
founding Clement became a science with Origen. Origen maintained that the scriptures possessed a threefold sense even as man, according to 1 Thess 5:23, possessed a threefold nature. Even as man, according to Origen's interpretation of this passage, contained a body, soul, and spirit, so also did the Scriptures possess a body or the literal sense of the text (which was primarily for those people unable to arrive the deeper meaning i.e., the uneducated), a soul or the moral (also called the tropological) sense of the text, and a spirit or the spiritual sense of the text."


Although Origens allegorical treatment of Scripture in general met substantial opposition, the allegorical interpretation gain strength.

p. 46
other church fathers continue to allegorise the parable of the good Samaritan. Ambrose of Milan (339 – 390) also saw the good Samaritan as a reference to Christ, but the man is going down from Jerusalem to Jericho was seen as a reference not to the fall of Adam but the questions shrinking back from a martyrs conflict the pleasures and comforts of this world... It is with Augustine (354 – 430), however, that the allegorisation of this parable reaches its high point in the early church ... From the above it is evidence that the allegorical method was a dominating way in which the parables of Jesus were interpreted in the early church. This is revealed quite clearly that the vast geographical area in which this method reigned: Irenaeus (Lyons); Tertullian
p.47
(Carthage); Clement (Alexandria); Origen (Alexandria, Caesarea); Ambrose (Milan); Augustine (Hippo).  There was some protest in the early church against this method of interpretation, especially from the church fathers in Antioch. Men like Isidore of Pelusium (360 – 435), Basil (ca.329 – 379), Theodore of Mopsuestia (350?-428), and Chrysostom (349-407)  Protested against the allegorical method. "The latter even said that it was neither wise nor correct "to inquire curiously into all things in parables word by word but when we have learnt the object for which it was composed, to read this, and not to busy oneself about anything further." At best, however, such protests were simply voices crying in the wilderness, for the allegorical method of interpretation clearly dominated not only the interpretation of the parables or biblical interpretation as well."

Gospel Parables, An Orthodox Commentary (Potapov)

This blogpost is a summary of key ideas that may be linked to my forthcoming essay on the parables of the synoptic gospels. The source can be found here: http://www.fatheralexander.org/booklets/english/parables_potapov.htm

"Since the time of the primitive Christian Church, parable has been the term for a story told by the Lord Jesus Christ to illustrate His teaching. The Greek root-word, parabole, means comparison."

"So a parable is a spiritual lesson of a story developed by comparison to everyday life. The Lord's parables draw memorable details from nature, human, social, economic, or religious life of His time."

"Characteristically, all oral teachers of the eastern cast of mind teach by comparisons and riddles, using homely images to stir curiosity and reflection. So His parables use images from life in this world to discover spiritual truth."

"The Savior also told sacred insights in parables for three practical reasons.

First, His parables were hard for many listeners to grasp, but His listeners could recall the vivid details from ordinary life long enough to discover the wisdom behind the allegory.

Second, the Lord Jesus Christ told parables to make men expect a double meaning, and to make them want to discover the fullness of the divine plan for their conversion. Because the Church and Kingdom that our Lord founded differ so sharply from the Jewish expectation of the Messiah at that time, that the Lord's teaching had to be cautious and indirect. His parables use allegory to compare the recognizable world to the start, development, mixed character, and final triumph of Church and Kingdom. What may seem simple to us, of course, was a intriguing riddle to His contemporaries.

And third, the Lord used the parable format because His followers could not readily forget or misinterpret the commonplace images. The parable format preserves the purity of Christ's teaching in distinct but evocative images."

"Narrative parables have another advantage over oral lecturing. Parables teach how to live by divine law both in private and in public. Christ's parables have lost no clarity, immediacy, or beauty during 20 centuries across many civilizations in many translations. In all settings, His parables show the unified spiritual and physical worlds."

"Most parables try to describe the Heavenly Father or the Lord Jesus Christ in His historical mission or in His future glory. Parables with two main characters usually show the Father and the Son. The Father's love in sending His Son is the main teaching of the Lord Jesus. The parables disclose the new Kingdom that God plans for the world."

"Differing scholars may count all the parables as between 27 and 50 in number. One scholar may call a parable what another calls a metaphor. One can also count them in terms of the three periods of the Savior's earthly ministry." 

"The first group has the parables told by Christ soon after the Sermon on the Mount, between the second and third Passovers of His ministry. This first group tells about conditions for spreading and strengthening the Kingdom of God: the parables of the sower, of the tares, of the seed growing secretly, of the mustard seed, of the pearl of great price, and others."

"The Lord Jesus Christ told His second group of parables toward the end of the third year of His ministry. These parables tell of God's love and kindness toward repentant people. Here belong the parables of the lost sheep, the prodigal son, the unmerciful servant, the good Samaritan, the fool-hardy rich man, the wise builder, the unrighteous judge, and others."

"He told His third group of parables not long before His Passion on the Cross. They speak of God's kindness and man's accountability before God. These parables also foretell Christ's Second Coming, the Dreaded Judgment, the punishment that will befall unbelievers, and the reward of eternal life that will befall the righteous. Here are the parables of the fruitless fig tree, the wicked husbandmen, the great supper, the talents, the ten virgins, the laborers in the vineyard, and certain others."

"One cannot love by coercion. One can love only in freedom. Therefore love is the action, sign, and fact of freedom."

"As we have seen, the Lord frequently used parables to explain the truths of his teaching. The Lord began to use parables only after the final selection of His apostles, and even the parables often amazed even them, who would ask His further explanation. The Gospel parables comprise approximately one-third of the Savior's recorded words."

"We find moral value in all of the Savior's parables, and some are remarkable too as literature, such as the Parable of the Prodigal Son. No day passes without our recalling images from Gospel parables. Often we call a compassionate man "a good Samaritan." We often cite such concepts as a "a far country" and "prodigal son." We acknowledge the importance of not hiding a "lamp under a bushel," and we grasp the necessary multiplication of "talents" given by God and not putting off our affairs until the "eleventh hour."

"This frequent recollection, however, does not mean that we have absorbed all their lessons. We must again and again turn to them to manage our spiritual lives. Despite 2000 years since their appearance, each is current and topical as part of the Good Tidings, the Gospel. The parables are filled with the mysteries "of the Kingdom of God" (Mark 4:11) that has drawn nigh, that the Sole Physician of men's souls and bodies has come, Who heals the lepers, Who takes from us the burden of the ancient curse, Who finds the lost sheep, Who opens the entry to the heavenly fatherland, Who invites the outcast and homeless to His Divine wedding banquet, Who generously recompenses those who have not earned full wages, and Who fills the hearts of the earthborn with great joy."

Why did Christ Speak in Parables?

I have been thinking deeply about the reason why Christ spoke in parables. Below is a short list of possible reasons, that I will continue to explore further support in the bibliography I have sourced already.

1. Christ spoke in parables, effectively stories with meaning, so that everyone could understand his teachings.

2. Christ's parables are unique in their manner. He hardly (if at all) spoke to the masses without using this approach.

3. Parables are illustrations set in-context that help people to remember to love others. It is easier to forget a list of commands versus a story that has a setting in everyday life. Everyone remembers stories because they are tangible and people can relate to them.

4. Christ's parables are unique, and beautiful, and moving to one's soul. They are better than the finest poetry or music. They often began or closed with rhetorical questions that Jesus himself went on to answer, or in fact a moral at the end- that take home message for each of us listening. They were therefore in some way participatory. The listener would be drawn in to hear His word.

5. Christ's parables have got more than one meaning as the traditional parables found in the Old Testament had only one single meaning (mashal). This shows the connection to allegory, and multiple meanings.

6. Christ spoke simply to give the masses a choice to believe in him through faith. The unbelievers would not understand even his simple parables, not because they were complex but because they maintained their unbelief through hardness of heart. Still because Christ was not speaking in sophisticated language to deliver his teachings, he gave each person a choice whether or not to follow him.

7. Christ's parables were universal, would withstand the test of time and continue to be relevant (Hebrews 13:8), and applicable to all even if they had not been in a given described context. E.g. we may not all sow seeds today but we have all seen in one way or another on television or the internet someone else sowing seeds. We get that seeds need to be thrown into furrows in soil in order to take root etc.

8. Christ did not come giving laws to be followed. He could have said: "I command you to do x or y." But he was not coercive and did not wish to force anything on anyone. Instead, he spoke lovingly and softly, and even gave the listener the opportunity to reflect on the interpretation of his story. E.g. Matthew 21:30-32 "Which of the two did the will of his father?”

9. A fine methodology ensues in the parables themselves. We the hearer of the Word, can place ourselves almost with certainty in the shoes of one or more of the characters depicted in the parable itself. We all know whom we'd like to be in the story, yet find ourselves challenged at various times having sinned against God and our fellow brothers and sisters in a manner that places us somewhere where we should not wish to be. I feel convicted especially in the parable of the sower Matthew 13, that I have sown seed by the wayside (v. 4), on stony places (v. 5), among thorns (v. 7). My hope is to always sow seed on "good ground" (v. 8) and that is our life-challenge.

10. Christ places himself on the same 'level playing field' as his fellow man by speaking to them using parables. The allegory is a strong device type but despite the simplicity of the stories they are so difficult to uphold morally.

11. Christ comes preaching a unique message in a unique way. There is something different about him. His message is perfect. It is fair, and it is true.

12. Christ employs empathic intelligence through the storytelling in his parables. There is something antonymic, almost paradoxical about his message. Often members who would otherwise be shunned by a community, are held up as an example to us, because they have repented of their ways. In the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) the hero is the son who repented, not the second son who seemingly never sinned because he did not take his father's inheritance squandering it away in the world like the prodigal. This approach turns things upside down but does so legitimately. There is hope for even the greatest sinner. Are we willing to believe and grow in faith?

13. Christ pierces the conscience and personal thoughts and heart of every person through the parables. He takes us to that point so effortlessly it seems, until we recognise through a process of self-awareness that we need to continue to develop our character. So he might have preached to the masses, but inwardly, every individual would reflect on the person he/she was.

14. The parables were perfect, like the Logos. The parables are profound, like nothing that has ever been preached before. The moral of the stories are so convincing in terms of ethics, living by these principles would mean a life worth living.

* A quality about the parables as recorded by the evangelists Matthew, Mark and Luke, is that they do not contradict each other in teaching.

What is a parable? (New Bible Dictionary)

Parables and allegories

"The word 'parable' by derivation means 'putting things side by side', and is similar to the word 'allegory', which by derivation means 'saying things in a different way'. The object of teaching by parables and allegories is the same. It is to enlighten the listener by presenting him with interesting illustrations, from which he can draw out for himself moral and religious truth. The value of such a method is twofold. First, it makes the assimilation of such truth easier, for 'truth embodied in a tale shall enter in at lowly doors'; and secondly, the truth so learned is more likely to remain fixed in the memory, for by drawing his own deductions from the illustrations the learner is in effect teaching himself. But, while 'parable' and 'allegory' are by derivation and meaning almost indistinguishable, in common usage 'parable' has come to be limited to the somewhat protracted simile or the short descriptive story, designed to inculcate a single truth or answer in a single question. 'Allegory', on the other hand, denotes the more elaborate tale, in which a comparison is to be found in all or most of the details." Source: The New Bible Dictionary, p. 932.

The Interpretation of the Parables

The categorisation of the parables varies: conundrum, elaborate comparisons, detailed allegorical interpretations, others plainly just allegories.

As Christian preachers tried to use the parables for homiletic purposes in modern times, they stretched the allegory, placing it in a modern context. This led to some criticism by scholars such as Julicher who asserted that the "parables were intended to illustrate one truth only" Source: The New Bible Dictionary, p. 932.

Christ's parables had "several lessons". For example, Luke xv. 11-32 in the parable of the prodigal son. 1. joy of the Father-God in forgiving his children, 2. nature of repentance, 3. upon sin of jealousy and self-righteousness. Source: The New Bible Dictionary, p. 932.

Recent scholars like Jeremias, have attempted to distinguish between "the comparatively simple lessons that Jesus meant His parables to convey and the more elaborate meaning given to them by early Christian teachers..." Source: The New Bible Dictionary, p. 932.

We do not always know the "occasion" of the parable or the person whom it was originally addressed to.

The stories of Jesus were remembered long after the circumstances that gave rise to them were forgotten; and the evangelists have fitted them in to their narratives but not always telling us the context. Source: The New Bible Dictionary, p. 932f.

Need to be wary of over-elaboration or over-simplification of the parables. Source: The New Bible Dictionary, p. 933.

"The sudden discovery of [the Kingdom of God] is a matter for great joy." Source: The New Bible Dictionary, p. 933.

Characteristics of the Parables

Illustrations for His parables came from nature, from familiar customs of everyday life, sometimes from well-known events in human history, from occasional happenings, and not improbable contingencies. Source: The New Bible Dictionary, p. 933.

"When the truth to be taught is something beyond the experience of His listeners the parable not only becomes more fictitious but more didactic in character..." Source: The New Bible Dictionary, p. 933.

Some of the parables are sufficiently obvious from the story itself, but even these stories are capped with a dictum. At other occasions, we find Jesus eliciting from a listener the point of a parable by a question... Source: The New Bible Dictionary, p. 933.

"More often, the story is told without additions, and the hearers are left to draw their own deductions from it. That the right inference was often drawn, even though it proved unacceptable..." Source: The New Bible Dictionary, p. 933.

Those "of the school of realised eschatology assume that the kingdom of God is wholly present in the teaching and deeds of Jesus. Consequently, to them the parables of the kingdom are essentially parables of fulfillment." Source: The New Bible Dictionary, p. 933.

The Purpose of the Parables

"The parables of Jesus may have, and often have had, the effect of hardening the unbeliever. For the truth is that the parables of Jesus are unique. The parables of other teachers and moralists can to some extent be separated from the teachers themselves. But Jesus and his parables are inseparable. To fail to understand Him is to fail to understand his parables. Source: The New Bible Dictionary, p. 934.

John's Gospel

In the Gospel of John we do not really find parables but we find paroimiai 'figures'; and figurative or allegorical descriptions of Himself. The Good Shepherd, The True Vine, The Door, The Light of the World, The Way, The Truth and The Life. Source: The New Bible Dictionary, p. 934.

 

Why did Christ Speak in Parables? Notes from the Orthodox Study Bible

Mark 4:13

See "Why Parables?" Mark 4:10-13 New King James Version (NKJV)

The Purpose of Parables
10 But when He was alone, those around Him with the twelve asked Him about the parable. 11 And He said to them, “To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God; but to those who are outside, all things come in parables, 12 so that
‘Seeing they may see and not perceive,
And hearing they may hear and not understand;
Lest they should turn,
And their sins be forgiven them.’”[a]
The Parable of the Sower Explained
13 And He said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables?

Orthodox Study Bible: "4:11 The mystery is the reality of the presence of the Kingdom itself, revealed in Jesus and perceived by faith. 4:12 ...referring to the hardness of heart as the cause of lack of understanding. Jesus is not disclosing truth to some while hiding it from others. He proclaims the Good News of the Kingdom openly to all, but only those who repent and believe can perceive the power of the Kingdom in Him and in their lives. 4:13 Discipleship requires both that we have a personal relationship with Christ and that we understand what He teaches." p. 92f

Matthew 13:11

Orthodox Study Bible: "13:11 The mysteries of the kingdom are not mere esoteric concepts or a body of religious truth only for the elite. Nor is true understanding of the parables simply an intellectual apprehension. Even the disciples find His message hard to understand. Jesus preached and taught the same message to all; but it is the "babes," the simple and innocent, who are open to the gospel and have the faith to receive this mystery." p. 37

Luke 8:16

Orthodox Study Bible: "8:9,10: The mysteries of the kingdom are revealed to the faithful, but hidden from those with unresponsive hearts. 8:11: The explanations of the parable are easily grasped. But only with the eyes of faith does one see and know that Jesus Himself is truly the Savior. 8:18: Taking heed to hear Jesus, the Word of God, brings light (vv. 16, 17) within the soul. It must not be covered but allowed to shine forth. The more one permits Gods' light to shine, the more light is given." p. 158

Orthodox Study Bible Article (p. 38)

"Parables are stories in word-pictures, revealing spiritual truth. The Hebrew and Aramaic words for parable also mean "allegory", "riddle", or "proverb". The Scriptures, especially the Gospels, are filled with parables-- images drawn from daily life in the world to represent and communicate the deep things of God." Parables give us glimpses of Him whose thoughts are not our thoughts and whose ways are not our ways (Is. 55:8, 9).
The truth communicated by Jesus' parables, however, is not evident to all who hear them. One must have spiritual eyes to see and spiritual ears to hear, and even then there are degrees of understanding of the parables."
"... In Mark 4:11... [Jesus] does not mean He used parables to blind the people or to lead them to punishment. On the contrary, it demonstrates that the people are responsible for their own receptivity: having grown dull and insensitive, they are unwilling to accept the message of the parables."
"Parables challenge the hearer and call for faith to perceive the mysteries of the Kingdom. Insight into God's Kingdom does not come simply through an intellectual understanding of the parables. Spiritual enlightenment is communicated through faith in the Person, words, and deeds of the Lord Jesus Christ."
"In opening to us the door to the Kingdom of Heaven, the parables help us to love God and to know Him, to understand and believe His grace, mercy and forgiveness, and to order our lives according to His Holy Word."

Sub-Topic Lecture 5 - Parables

These notes are assembled after listening to the lecture delivered by Rev. Dr. Nikolai Sakharov. Disclaimer: Any errors are completely my own as I intertwine the lecture material with my own reflections and additional source material.

What was the reason behind Christ teaching in parables? E.g. Matthew 13.

Without a parable, the Lord did not speak to the masses at all. Why did Christ refuse to speak to the masses directly, with clarity?

Scholars have tried to explain why Christ spoke in parables. E.g. see book by Adolf Julicher. It is claimed that Christ used parables in a different way, as simple illustrations, not as allegories. In allegories, every detail stands for something else. The reader/listener has to decipher what every element means. Christ is the interpreter. But today, modern scholars say the interpreters are the Early Church community.

Allegory definition: a representation of an abstract or spiritual meaning through concrete or material forms; figurative treatment of one subject under the guise of another.

Parables in the Old Testament were not used as a parable but as an allegory. E.g. mashal. Mashal is only an illustration, but allegory conveys the message (is the carrier). In mashal there is only one single point/message. But in allegory there are different points/messages. 

The Eastern Orthodox believe that the parables are allegories and were meant to always be allegories. Scholar Jeremias has written about this. Apart from the law, Christ's main language of teaching was parables.

It is a unique approach that Christ uses to convey his message. On any direct matter, Christ does not use "direct language" but indirect.

Bozorth: Psychology works, however, only insofar as it recognises differences. It is 'opposed to all generalisations', and so is art: "You cannot tell people what to do, you can only tell them parables; and that is what art really is; particular stories of particular people and experiences, from which each according to his immediate and peculiar needs may draw his own conclusions (W.H. Auden)." * The Cambridge Companion to W. H. Auden

Other quotations:

  • "With Jesus, the device of parabolic utterance is used not to explain things to people's satisfaction but to call attention to the unsatisfactoriness of all their previous explanations and understandings." (Robert Farrar Capon, The Parables of the Kingdom, page 6)
  • "Neither a parable nor any other metaphor 'says one thing and means another.' A parable is a particular way of speaking, not a code, and what it means is what it says." (Matthew Black)

Christ's language was not coercive. It is a language that does not address us by force. When a person is confronted with a parable, without force, he is free to follow or not to follow. It is a personal choice.

E.g. Mark 4:1-12: Christ tells us why he speaks in parables. So they cannot understand anything? Logical ordering and cause and effect was absent in Old Testament. People were rather given a "space" to see or hear in NT. "Thou shalt not..." in OT, "blessed are meek" in NT. The person is a free person. Christ speaks to the person "on par" as a fellow human.

There are never direct injunctions on others. You give someone the general principle and they can follow or not follow.

E.g. if a monk asked for guidance on the intake of food to Saint Silouan, St Silouan would not give exact portions but would say: "eat as much as you need so that when you desire to pray you are not weighed down, or sleepy."

E.g. in John after the resurrection, Peter says: "I am going fishing"... and the other apostles decided: "we are going with you." Non-coercive language is used there also.

Some modern scholars say that parables have lost their meaning, that they were not universal in their meaning. Eastern Orthodox disagree- that the parables are universal and always relevant. There will for instance, always be fathers and sons, banquets, people are late, not attending, workers, seeds thrown on ground etc. The subjects of Christ's parables are all related to eternal issues.

If you want to preserve your message for posterity, parables are a wonderful language. They have a tremendous ability to survive from generation to generation. Ideal language to communicate eternal truth.

Via Otto: parables also have artistic value in them. E.g. prodigal son. The meeting with father, running to greet his child. Art. Literature. Power. Artistic. Gave the parables longevity.

Michael Borg: "Parables do not preach at you. They do not in a sense even teach you. They permeate your inner self, of something which is often indefinable but lies I suspect near the heart of God. They are an open gate leading through to a place not of conduct or morality, but beyond them to something that changes men and women, almost without their realising that such a process is happening. They are grace bearing, and an open-ended grace at that."

James Preach: What is new in every moment. Jesus' parables functioned to free the human mind, to free consciousness and intelligence for voluntary engagement with that which is alive. The function to invite the listener to enter the personal mode of being human. Life. Freedom. Christ was an original master. 

Parables cross borders, frontiers of any culture. Unique. Universal.

 

My Revised Bibliography for the Parables Essay

Have included journal articles into this original bibliography of books on the parables. Will continue to tweak the list of citations as I come across new source material. But for now, this is it, and my background reading on these sources begins in earnest.

(1993) The Orthodox Study Bible: New Testament and Psalms (New King James Version), Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Allen HJB. (2012) The Parables of Christ are Timeless: An example of Roland Allen’s originality introduced by his grandson. Transformation 29: 186-188.

Altizer TJ. (1980) Total Presence : The Language Of Jesus And The Language Of Today, New York: The Davies Group.

Ball M. (2002) The Foolish Risks of God, London.

Barbu L. (2009) The ‘poor in spirit’ and our life in Christ: an Eastern Orthodox perspective on Christian discipleship. Studies in Christian Ethics 22: 261-274.

Barclay W. (1999) The Parables of Jesus, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press.

Beavis MA. (2001) The Power of Jesus' Parables: Were they polemical or irenic? Journal for the Study of the New Testament 82: 3-30.

Bergstrom C. (1996) Parables: The obvious and the obscure. Calliope 6: 9.

Berryman JW. (1979) Being in Parables with Children. Religious Education 74: 271-285.

Black CC. (2000) Four Stations en route to a Parabolic Homiletic. Interpretation 54: 386-397.

Blomberg CL. (1990) Interpreting The Parables, Leicester.

Blomberg CL. (1991) Interpreting the parables of Jesus: Where are we and where do we go from here? . Catholic Biblical Quarterly 53.

Boobyer GH. (1951) The Interpretation of the Parables of Jesus. Expositor Times: 131-134.

Boucher MI. (1977) The Mysterious Parable: A Literary Study, Washington.

Breech J. (1983) The Silence Of Jesus. The Authentic Voice of the Historical Man, Philadelphia.

Bridges LM. (2007) Preaching the Parables of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel in Ordinary Time: The Extraordinary Tales of God’s World. Review and Expositor 104: 325-362.

Brooks A. (1921) The Teaching in Parables. Expositor Times: 170-172.

Caird GB. (1980) The Language and Imagery of the Bible, London: Duckworth.

Cole A. (1961) Mark: An Introduction and Commentary, Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press.

Cousins P. (1960) The parables of the kingdom and the first-century messianic hope. Religion in Education 27: 107-109.

Craig BM. (2016) Reflections on the Readings of Sundays and Feasts. The Australasian Catholic Record March-May: 97-117.

Crossan JD. (2002) Interpretation: A Journal of Bible & Theology. 56 3.

Culbertson PL. (1995) A Word Fitly Spoken: Context, Transmission, and Adoption of the Parables of Jesus, New York.

Dahl NA. (1951) The parables of growth. Studia Theologica - Nordic Journal of Theology 5: 132-166.

Dodd CH. (1978) The Parables Of The Kingdom, Glasgow.

Douglas JD. (1962) Parable. The New Bible Dictionary. Inter-Varsity Press.

Drury J. (1985) The Parables In The Gospels: History And Allegory, London.

Dunnett WM. (1984) The Interpretation of Holy Scripture: Issues, Principles, Models (An Introduction to Hermeneutics), Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Dykes DO. (2011) Jesus Storyteller: Timeless Truths from His Parables, Texas: Fluency Organisation.

Florovsky FG. (1987) Reflections on the Critique of the Theology of the Reformation.

Goldingay J. (1995) Models for Interpretation of Scripture, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Green EH. (2009) Speaking in parables: the responses of students to a Bible‐based ethos in a Christian City Technology College. Cambridge Journal of Education\ 39: 443-456.

Harnisch W. (1992) Language of the possible: The parables of Jesus in the conflict between rhetoric and poetry. Studia Theologica - Nordic Journal of Theology 46: 41-54.

Hedrick CW. (2004) Many Things in Parables: Jesus and His Modern Critics, London: Westminster John Knox Press.

Hendrickx H. (1986) The Parables of Jesus, London.

Hendriksen W. (1979) New Testament Commentary: The Gospel of Luke, Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust.

Hogan PC. (2016) Jesus’s Parables: Simulation, Stories, and Narrative Idiolect. Narrative 24: 113-133.

Hunter AM. (1958) The Interpretation of the Parables. Expositor Times: 100-104.

Hunter AM. (1960) Interpreting The Parables, London.

Jeremias J. (2002) The Parables of Jesus, London.

Jones GV. (1964) The Art and Truth of the Parables: A Study in their Literary Form and Modern Interpretation, London.

Jordan GJ. (1934) The Classification of the Parable. The Expository Times: 246-251.

Keddie GJ. (1994) He Spoke in Parables, Oregon: Wipf & Stock.

Kendall RT. (2006) The Parables of Jesus, Grand Rapids: Chosen Books.

Kirkwood WG. (1983) Storytelling and self‐confrontation: Parables as communication strategies. Quarterly Journal of Speech 69: 58-74.

Kirkwood WG. (1985) Parables as metaphors and examples. Quarterly Journal of Speech 71: 422-440.

Leary C. (1986) Parables and Fairy Tales. Religious Education 81: 485-499.

Lithgow RM. (1905) A Simple Scheme of the Parables. Expositor Times: 470-472.

Lithgow RM. (1907) The Theology of the Parables. Expositor Times: 538-542.

Lithgow RM. (1908a) The Development of Christ's Doctrine During His Earthly Ministry. Expositor Times: 126-131.

Lithgow RM. (1908b) Man's Spiritual Development as Depicted in Christ's Parables. Expositor Times: 543-547.

Lithgow RM. (1909) The Symbolism of the Parables. Expositor Times: 217-220.

Lithgow RM. (1911) The Eschatology of the Parables. Expositor Times: 469-474.

Lithgow RM. (1912) The Minor Parables, the Metaphors and Similes of the Synoptic Gospels. Expositor Times: 537-540.

Marshall IH. (1978) The Gospel of Luke: A Commentary on the Greek Text, Exeter: The Paternoster Press.

McLaughlin EW. (2009) Engendering the Imago Dei: How Christ Grounds Our Lives as Parables of the Divine Image. Priscilla Papers 23: 16-20.

Ministry CCAR. (2003) What are the parables that Jesus taught? Available at: https://carm.org/whataretheparablesjesustaught.

Morris L. (1974) Luke: An Introduction and Commentary, Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press.

Moule CFD. (1961) The Parables of the Jesus of history and the Lord of faith. Religion in Education 28: 60-64.

Orr J. (1939) Parable. The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia. Michigan: WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Parris DP. (2002) Imitating the Parables: Allegory, Narrative and the Role of Mimesis. Journal for the Study of the New Testament 25: 33-53.

Pianzin TM. (2007) Parables of Jesus: In the Light of Its Historical, Geographical and Socio-Cultural Setting, Oklahoma: Tate Publishing.

Plummer A. (1981) The Gospel According to S. Luke, Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark.

Potapov V. (2000) Gospel parables, an Orthodox commentary. Available at: http://www.fatheralexander.org/booklets/english/parables_potapov.htm.

Reardon P. (2003) The Parables and the Structure of the World, New Jersey.

Rindge MS. (2014) Luke’s Artistic Parables: Narratives of Subversion, Imagination, and Transformation. Interpretation: Journal of Bible and Theology 68: 403-415.

Schwager D. (2015) The Parables of Jesus. Available at: http://www.rc.net/wcc/readings/parable1.htm.

Sider JW. (1983) Rediscovering the Parables: the Logic of the Jeremias Tradition. Journal of Biblical Literature 102: 61-83.

Slee N. (1983) Parable teaching: Exploring new worlds. British Journal of Religious Education 5: 134-146.

Slee N. (1985) Parables and Women's Experiences. Religious Education 80: 232-245.

Stavrianos K. (2012) The Parable of the Good Samaritan in Patristic Thought. Greek Orthodox Theological Review 57: 1-4.

Stein RH. (1981) An Introduction to the Parables of Jesus, Philadelphia.

Tasker RVG. (1961) Matthew: An Introduction and Commentary, Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press.

Unger MF. (1957) Parable. Unger's Bible Dictionary. Chicago: Moody Press.

Via O. (1974) The Parables: Their Literary and Existential Dimension, Philadelphia.

White EGH. (2000) Christ's Object Lessons, USA: Review and Herald Publishing Association.

Woodhull K. (2013) The Art of Parabling: Leveraging the Narrative Parables of Jesus as Models of Missional Engagement. Missiology: An International Review 41: 74-86.

Young CE. (1950) Christ the Teacher. Religion in Education 17: 46-49.

 

Source References on the Parables

The following 37 or so references are relevant to the question: "Why did Christ speak in parables?" About 12 of the references have come from Recommended Readings in Topic 5, the rest have come from a variety of sources. I've yet to search online for journals that might shed light on this question.

For those who do not have access to relevant libraries or cannot afford to purchase copies of the texts, you could always try searching Google Books: https://books.google.com.au/

(1993) The Orthodox Study Bible: New Testament and Psalms (New King James Version), Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Altizer TJ. (1980) Total Presence : The Language Of Jesus And The Language Of Today, New York: The Davies Group.

Ball M. (2002) The Foolish Risks of God, London.

Barclay W. (1999) The Parables of Jesus, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press.

Blomberg CL. (1990) Interpreting The Parables, Leicester.

Boucher MI. (1977) The Mysterious Parable: A Literary Study, Washington.

Breech J. (1983) The Silence Of Jesus. The Authentic Voice of the Historical Man, Philadelphia.

Caird GB. (1980) The Language and Imagery of the Bible, London: Duckworth.

Cole A. (1961) Mark: An Introduction and Commentary, Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press.

Culbertson PL. (1995) A Word Fitly Spoken: Context, Transmission, and Adoption of the Parables of Jesus, New York.

Dodd CH. (1978) The Parables Of The Kingdom, Glasgow.

Douglas JD. (1962) Parable. The New Bible Dictionary. Inter-Varsity Press.

Drury J. (1985) The Parables In The Gospels: History And Allegory, London.

Dunnett WM. (1984) The Interpretation of Holy Scripture: Issues, Principles, Models (An Introduction to Hermeneutics), Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Dykes DO. (2011) Jesus Storyteller: Timeless Truths from His Parables, Texas: Fluency Organisation.

Florovsky FG. (1987) Reflections on the Critique of the Theology of the Reformation.

Goldingay J. (1995) Models for Interpretation of Scripture, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Hedrick CW. (2004) Many Things in Parables: Jesus and His Modern Critics, London: Westminster John Knox Press.

Hendrickx H. (1986) The Parables of Jesus, London.

Hendriksen W. (1979) New Testament Commentary: The Gospel of Luke, Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust.

Hunter AM. (1960) Interpreting The Parables, London.

Jeremias J. (2002) The Parables of Jesus, London.

Jones GV. (1964) The Art and Truth of the Parables: A Study in their Literary Form and Modern Interpretation, London.

Keddie GJ. (1994) He Spoke in Parables, Oregon: Wipf & Stock.

Kendall RT. (2006) The Parables of Jesus, Grand Rapids: Chosen Books.

Marshall IH. (1978) The Gospel of Luke: A Commentary on the Greek Text, Exeter: The Paternoster Press.

Morris L. (1974) Luke: An Introduction and Commentary, Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press.

Orr J. (1939) Parable. The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia. Michigan: WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Pianzin TM. (2007) Parables of Jesus: In the Light of Its Historical, Geographical and Socio-Cultural Setting, Oklahoma: Tate Publishing.

Plummer A. (1981) The Gospel According to S. Luke, Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark.

Potapov V. (2000) Gospel parables, an Orthodox commentary. Available at: http://www.fatheralexander.org/booklets/english/parables_potapov.htm.

Reardon P. (2003) The Parables and the Structure of the World, New Jersey.

Stein RH. (1981) An Introduction to the Parables of Jesus, Philadelphia.

Tasker RVG. (1961) Matthew: An Introduction and Commentary, Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press.

Unger MF. (1957) Parable. Unger's Bible Dictionary. Chicago: Moody Press.

Via O. (1974) The Parables: Their Literary and Existential Dimension, Philadelphia.

White EGH. (2000) Christ's Object Lessons, USA: Review and Herald Publishing Association.