CF102 Lecture Summaries - The Gospels

The John Rylands Fragment John 18:31-33 (117-138 AD).  The earliest known copy of any portion of the New Testament is from a papyrus codex (2.5 by 3.5 inches). It dates from the first half of the second century A.D. 117-138. (P.52)The papyrus is written on both sides and contains portions of five verses from the gospel of John (18:31-33,37-38). Because this fragment was found in Egypt a distance from the place of composition (Asia Minor) it demonstrates the chain of transmission. The fragment belongs to the John Rylands Library at Manchester, England.

The John Rylands Fragment John 18:31-33 (117-138 AD). The earliest known copy of any portion of the New Testament is from a papyrus codex (2.5 by 3.5 inches). It dates from the first half of the second century A.D. 117-138. (P.52)The papyrus is written on both sides and contains portions of five verses from the gospel of John (18:31-33,37-38). Because this fragment was found in Egypt a distance from the place of composition (Asia Minor) it demonstrates the chain of transmission. The fragment belongs to the John Rylands Library at Manchester, England.


This module explores the Synoptic Gospels and the Gospel according to St John from an Orthodox perspective, with the intention of enabling students to develop an understanding of the historical context and theology(ies) of the Synoptic Gospels and that of St John.

The module aims to dedicate particular attention to understanding the writings of Evangelist John within the Orthodox tradition. It intends to do this by identifying and reflecting on some of the principal theological themes and questions of the Johannine writings.

Finally, the module will entertain the question how can modern biblical scholarship be useful to Christian believers wishing to grow closer to the Gospel text.

Lecture 1 - The Synoptic Gospels: Introduction

Students are introduced into the question of how Gospels should be studied. We touch on such methods as form criticism, narrative criticism. Special attention is given to the so-called “Synoptic Problem”. These methods are critically exposed in the light of an Orthodox approach.

Required Study:

Sanders and Davies: Studying the Synoptic Gospels
Stanton: The Gospels and Jesus
Fr John Florovsky: Bible Church Tradition (Chapter 1)
Fr John Breck: Orthodoxy and the Bible Today
Fr Demetrios Bathrellos: The Eastern Orthodox Tradition for Today and the Bible
Vesselin Kesich: The Gospel Image of Christ (Chapter 2)
Fr George Florovsky: The Lost Scriptural Mind
Fr George Florovsky: The Function of Tradition in the Ancient Church

Key Sources:

  • Stanton Graham, The Gospels and Jesus (Oxford, 1989).
  • Sanders E.P. and Davies M., Studying the Synoptic Gospels (London, 1989).
  • Tuckett, C. M. (ed.) Synoptic Studies (Sheffield, 1984).


Lecture 2 - The Gospel of Matthew

The Gospel of St Matthew is examined in a way that focuses on its treatment of the Jewish roots of Christianity. Students will be introduced to an Orthodox approach to Matthean theology: how does Christ “fulfil the Law and the Prophets” according to St Matthew?

Key Sources:

  • Kingsbury, J.D., Matthew: Structure, Christology, and Kingdom (London, 1976)
  • Meier J. P., The Vision of Matthew: Christ, Church and Morality in the First Gospel (New York, 1979)
  • Hill D., The Gospel of Matthew (London, 1972).
  • Beare F.W., The Gospel according to Matthew (Oxford, 1981).


Lecture 3 - The Gospel of Mark

The lecture studies theological traits of St Mark’s account, attempting in an Orthodox way to answer questions raised by modern scholarship, such as the so-called Messianic secret (W. Wrede) and others.

Key Sources:

  • Best E., Mark — the Gospel as Story (Edinburgh 1983).
  • Best E., Following Jesus: Discipleship in the Gospel of Mark (Sheffield, 1981)
  • Hooker M., The Message of Mark (London, 1983)
  • Nineham D. E., The Gospel of St Mark (Harmondsworth, 1963).
  • Schweizer E., The Good News according to Mark (London, 1971).


Lecture 4 - The Gospel of Luke

Major theological themes of St Luke’s Gospel are examined, such as St Luke’s emphasis on the Holy Spirit, his universalism, his view of history, as well as his concern for women, the poor, outcasts and sinners.

Stanton: The Gospels and Jesus

Key Sources:

  • Barrett C. K., Luke the Historian in Recent Study (London, 1961).
  • Conzelmann H., The Theology of St Luke (London, 1960).
  • Marshall I.H., Luke, Historian and Theologian (Exeter, 1970).
  • Caird G.B., Saint Luke (Harmondsworth, 1963).
  • Firzmayer J. A., The Gospel according to Luke (New York, 1981-1985).


Lecture 5a - The Parables

Why did Christ speak in parables? The lecture examines this main form of Christ’s teaching. We shall look for an Orthodox answer to the question of the purpose and nature of Christ’s parables.

  • Dodd C. H., The Parables of the Kingdom (London, 1935).
  • Drury J., The Parables in the Gospels (London, 1985).
  • Jeremias J., The Parables of Jesus (London, 1963).
  • Hendrickx H., The Parables of Jesus (London, 1986).
  • Breech J., The Silence of Jesus. The Authentic Voice of the Historical Man (Philadelphia 1983)
  • Jones G. V., The Art and Truth of the Parables : a Study in Their Literary Form and Modern Interpretation (London, 1964)

Lecture 5b- Miracles

We also consider the theological function of Christ’s miracles as it is understood by the Synoptic writers. 


Lecture 6 - The Synoptic Gospels - Eschatology

The lecture introduces students to the field of recent biblical studies on St John. It considers the methods of the historical approach such as form and redaction criticism, as well as narrative criticism, with particular attention to the theories about Johannine community developed by R. Brown and L. Martyn. The critical evaluation of these methods from the Orthodox point of view produces a set of assumptions essential for an Orthodox approach to the Gospel.

Key Sources:

  • Moore A.L., The Parousia in the New Testament (Leiden, 1966).
  • Culmann O., Salvation in History (London, 1967).
  • Conzelmann H., The Theology of St Luke (London, 1960)
  • Meier J. P., Matthew (1985)


Lecture 7 - The Gospel of John

This presentation briefly explores Incarnational Christology (with particular attention to the Prologue and concept of the Logos), and highlights the intensive Johannine interest in the personhood of Christ, focusing on the concept of the “Lamb of God”. It further examines the “relational” aspect of Johannine Christology and Triadology (the concept of the Paraclete receives special attention). 

Key Sources:

  • Kysar R., The Maverick Gospel (Atlanta, 1993).
  • Koester C. R., Symbolism in the Fourth Gospel (Minneapolis, 2003).
  • Lindars Barnabas, John (Sheffield, 1990).
  • Smailey S., John – Evangelist and Interpreter (Exeter, 1983).


Lecture 8 - The Christology of John's Gospel

Here we look at Johannine ethics with their focus on “personalistic righteousness”, thus explaining the difference of presentation when compared with the Synoptic Gospels. It focuses on St John’s language of stories and personages, which serve as hypostatic paradigms. It further examines the paradigms of righteousness and discipleship (Peter, Beloved Disciple) and the paradigmatic presentation of sin (Judas, the Jews).

Key Sources:

  • Smith D. M., The Theology of the Gospel of John (Cambridge, 1995).
  • Ashton J., Studying John: Approaches to the Fourth Gospel (Oxford, 1998)


Chester Beatty Papyri (250 AD).  This important papyri consists of three codices and contains most of the New Testament. (P.45, P.46, P.47). The first codex(P.45) has 30 leaves (pages) of papyrus codex. 2 from Matthew, 2 from John, 6 from Mark, 7 from Luke and 13 from Acts. Originally there were 220 pages measuring 8x10 inches each. (P.46)The second codex has 86 leaves 11x6.5 inches. 104 pages of Paul’s epistles. P.47 is made of 10 leaves from Revelation measuring 9.5 by 5.5 inches.

Chester Beatty Papyri (250 AD). This important papyri consists of three codices and contains most of the New Testament. (P.45, P.46, P.47). The first codex(P.45) has 30 leaves (pages) of papyrus codex. 2 from Matthew, 2 from John, 6 from Mark, 7 from Luke and 13 from Acts. Originally there were 220 pages measuring 8x10 inches each. (P.46)The second codex has 86 leaves 11x6.5 inches. 104 pages of Paul’s epistles. P.47 is made of 10 leaves from Revelation measuring 9.5 by 5.5 inches.

Lecture 9 - Language of the Person, Hypostasis in the Gospel of John

This lecture highlights the fundamental significance of the human person and personal relationship in St John’s kerygma. From this perspective the central concepts of “πιστεύειν”, “eternal life”, “flesh and spirit” are examined . It further focuses on St John’s ethics of interpersonal relationship with particular attention to chapter 17 and the epistles. 

  • Prof. Panagiotis Nellas: Why Did God Become Man? The Archetype of Humanity is the Incarnate Word

Key Sources:

  • Brown R., The Community of the Beloved Disciple (New York, 1979).
  • Martyn L., History and Theology in the Fourth Gospel (Nashville, 1979).


Lecture 10 - St John's Gospel - The genesis of persona: Johannine anthropology

In focus here are some questions raised by modern biblical studies concerning the ecclesiological and sacramental perspectives in St John, as well as the significance and function of Christ’s symbolic actions and miracles in the 4th Gospel.









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




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



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.


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.


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

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

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

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

Kennedy GA. (1984) New Testament Interpretation through Rhetorical Criticism, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

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

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Papakosta S. (1929) The Parables of the Lord, Athens: Zoe.

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

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

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

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: The Westminster Press.

Stein RH. (1994) The Method and Message of Jesus' Teachings, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press.

  Tasker RVG. (1962) Parables. In: Bruce FF, Tasker RVG, Packer JJ, et al. (eds) The New Bible Dictionary. Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press,        932-934.

Trench RC. (1867) Notes on the Parables, New York: D. Appleton & Company.

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

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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.

Bailey KE. (1983) Poet and Peasant through a Peasant's Eyes.

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

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

Baukham R. (1983) Synoptic Parables Again. NTS 29: 129-134.

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.

Black M. (1960) The Parables as Allegory. BJRL 42: 273-287.

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.

Carlston CE. (1975) The Parables of the Triple Tradition.

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.

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.

Gerhardsson B. (1988) The Narrative Meshalim in the Synoptic Gospels: A Comparison with the Narrative Meshalim in the OT. NTS 34: 339-363.

Gerhardsson B. (1991) "If we do not cut the parables out of their frames". NTS 37: 321-325.

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.

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.

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Ministry CCAR. (2003) What are the parables that Jesus taught? Available at:

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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.

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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:

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.

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Wenham D. (1989) The Parables of Jesus.

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

Topic Lecture 3 - St Mark's Gospel

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.

St Mark's Gospel is a very mysterious gospel. Mark's Gospel has been studied more intensively than any other gospel possibly. Most of the scholars have said it was the first gospel to be written. It has been given the pride of place in describing the historical Jesus.

If you look at the early church Mark is rather neglected. Scribes copied the gospel of some mark less than any other gospel. And few commentators discuss in detail. And if you look at the orthodox services, Mark's Gospel is used only occasionally. Why?

The reason is that most of the marketing material is found in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. We do not hear about the birth of Christ, there is also no clear account of the resurrection, there is not much teaching about Christ recorded. What is the reason behind this gospel? St Augustine believed that Mark merely abbreviated Matthew.


The Gospel of Mark was written by the well-respected disciple of Peter. We find references to Mark's Gospel in historical references. Mark had become Peter's interpreter Bishop Heraclius (?) tells us. St Ireneaus in 185 A.D. writes: "after that of Peter and Paul, Mark the disciple and interpreter of Peter, himself also handed down to us in writing the things that Peter had proclaimed. And in fact there are various reasons to believe that what we are dealing with here are sent Peter's testimony. Mark's Gospel is a fresh account of Jesus's life, the eyewitness view is present throughout. There are numerous passages which include Peter, more than any other gospel. These accounts are very vivid ones, we can even picture almost cinematographically, the dialogues between Peter and Christ. Then in Mark chapter 16 we have a sense of preferential treatment. Peter is singled out. "God tell his disciples, and Peter..."

The Gospel begins with Jesus's baptism. It was shortly after Peter meets Christ. Peter was a simple man and give any account of things which he had seen. For instance he didn't see the birth of Christ, so he didn't write about it. Then finally there is a mysterious young man in the garden of Gesthemane who is believed to be Mark himself. If you read chapter 14 this man runs away naked, and scholars believe it was possibly Mark himself, just to place himself in the story for instance.

In 1835 one of the modern scholars offered a neat explanation for the existence of Mark's Gospel. He came to believe that Mark's Gospel was the first gospel to be written, that is why it has survived in the church. There are a few reasons why Mark and authority and priority is accepted now, in modern academia. First if you analyse things logically indeed, Matthew and Luke contain Markan material. Then this particular scholar noted that Luke really changes the order of Mark and Matthew only does it in a few places. So they both follow Mark in their account. So there is a question also of style. Mark's style wasn't very advanced. He uses a lot of redundant phrases. "In evening when the sun set" this is the other evangelists who just said "in evening". It was somewhat abbreviated. There is a reference to a cushion in Mark, when Jesus slept in the boat – why would you mention this detail?

There is yet another point in favour of Markan priority. Scholars believe that in Mark we are dealing with the early stages of the formation of the Christian faith. Of course when Christ came people didn't know quickly who he was. He was the son of God the logos, the pre-eternal God, and people slowly began to figure out who Christ was. And throughout the whole of the new Testament we can discern three major types of Christology:

1. Adoptionistic Christology; if you read Mark's Gospel without reading any other gospel what picture do you get? We don't hear anything about Christ's supernatural birth, through the Holy Spirit. You simply have Jesus of Nazareth who came to be baptised in Jordan by John by the remission of sins. In Matthew, we find that that Matthew is rather embarrassed by this term "a baptism of repentance". The question is how could the sinless be baptised by a baptism of repentance? "And John the Baptist retorted, I need to be baptised by you and you come to me to be baptised?" In Matthew says, "this is my beloved son"; and in Mark the voice is attested to Christ himself "you might beloved son". So it looks like Jesus of Nazareth is a man, and is adopted by God the Father at his baptism. So in Matthew the word "this" is apparently addressed to the crowd, whereas in Mark "you" is addressed to Jesus himself. 

2. Yet in Matthew and Luke, we come to know that this man, Jesus of Nazareth, is born supernaturally, of the Holy Spirit. He's not adopted he is revealed to the crowds. He is revealed to Israel as an agent of God. 

3. In John's Gospel, the incarnation Christology. John receive something much bolder. Christ is before the incarnation. He was in the beginning with God. He is God himself.

However in recent years, scholars have begun to challenge this view of the three different types of Christologies. A book by Simon Gallico(?) Is called the preexistent son, so that in Matthew Mark and Luke we are dealing with the preexistence of Christ. Do you see any phrase in the Gospels that might points to this preexistence notion which is shared between the synoptic gospels? Remember what John the Baptist preached: "prepare the ways of the Lord..." And also this phrase: "I have come to fulfil the law". Meaning, I have come into the world.

Scholars tend to see a more authentic portrait of Christ in the Gospel of Mark. And the other evangelists are considered to have added additional details. For example in chapter 1, Jesus is said to be moved with anger. Could Christ be angry? As an Orthodox, I say why not? And Father Sophrony, had a very good explanation. Remember when a leper came to Christ begging him, "if you wish you can make me clean". And Father Sophrony commented "what are called request". If you wish you can make me clean, if you want to it is your business you can make me clean. And Christ was angered and said: "I will".

In the monastery of St John the Baptist a book was read of Bishop Simeon Tentranski (?) on the life of St John of Kronstandt. How he became a Christian healer of people who were suffering of illnesses, and infirmities. He used to pray like this in the beginning, "Lord if you will kill the servant" but once of a babushka came to him and said to him "don't pray like this, if you will", you must pray rather "heal this person". And after this he did bring this way. He would come to a person who was sick, he would take away all the medicines that were on the table, and pray over the person so they would be healed.

There is another reference to Jesus's anger. Jesus was angry over the hardness of their hearts, he said to them and stretch out your hand. And he was angry because the men were so hard hearted. In chapter 3, there is a reference that people thought that Christ was out of his mind, and neither of the two other evangelists mentioned this episode. Then in chapter 6:35, Jesus seems to fail to heal a person. He didn't seem lucky had an ability to heal more than a few people in his own country. And blame for this weakness is transferred to people because of their unbelief. And this was an unprecedented account that Christ could not heal. Then there is an interesting reference in chapter 4:38- you consider how the disciples addressed Christ, remember they were in the boat the boat was sinking and they awaken Christ and said to him: "master do you not care that we are about to perish". In some ways this is a disrespectful reference to Christ. In Matthew and Luke you have a different account, "Lord save us with perish." And here there is greater reference to Christ.

Then we have a strange passage, where Peter says to the Lord: "you are the Christ". And in the very next verse, what Christ actually says, "he charges them that they should not tell anyone of this". We do not he is Christ actually agreed with Peter on this statement. Than very next verse Christ said do not tell anything about me to anyone. And then he began to teach, that the son of man must suffer very many things. He seems to avoid this title of Messiah. Christ changes the discussion immediately to a different Christological title, the son of man. One of the explanations, for such a title as the word Messiah, carried for Mark too much political implications about kinship which was very dangerous at that time. There is another explanation which is offered by William Reid which concerns the messianic secret. In Mark's Gospel, crushed charges his disciples not to tell anyone about his miracles for example.

Why is this?

Mark seems to avoid Christological titles. And concentrates on the title "son of man". Why? If you look at this from a theological point of view, what does it mean to be Messiah in the Jewish mind? Scholars believe that actually it was phrases the political notion of Messiah in the gospel. The Christology is not static, but dramatic. The notion of the Messiah is changing throughout the whole of this gospel.

Mark can be divided into two parts the first section is chapters 1 to 8: we have Christ's teaching, we have about the coming kingdom, mighty miracles, and to miraculous feedings of thousands of people, where we encounter the whole spender of his divine power. However, Sir Peter confesses him as the Messiah, the turn of the Gospel changes. The journey towards Jerusalem begins towards the cross. At this point we don't hear about miracles anymore, and we have quite remarkable detail in chapter 10, and they walk towards Jerusalem, and Jesus walked before his disciples, and they were amazed, as they followed as they were afraid. So they followed him at a distance. At this point everything moves towards the cross, after the crucifixion of Christ when Centurion says: "this was the son of God".

Grace Stanton (?) believes that this plot is motivated by the adoptionist Christology. From human being, Christ becomes the son of God. Christ is adopted by God in baptism, and he develops his divine sons ship throughout the Gospel. And yet there is another twist, how can we explain this type of Christology as Orthodox? Why do you think Mark avoids these Christological titles such as Messiah? Instead Mark concentrates on the son of man, why? To look at the origin of this title, son of man, you find it in the book of Daniel chapter 7. Yes we can read into this title, the prophecy in the book of Daniel. But possibly Christ himself preferred this title. Why?

Father Sophrony, said if you look across ministry, he avoids at every cost the manifestation of his own divinity. Everything that it does, is done in the name of the Father. For example feeding the 5000, and any other miracle he prays to God the Father, he does not heal himself. And this is the kenotic way of Christ. Given the ambiguous title son of man, which in Aramaic meant simply a human being. At times Mark and the Lord play upon this ambiguity, "so you know that the son of man has authority upon earth to forgive sins". Does it refer to Christ alone? Or in fact to any human being? Chapter 28, "the son of man is also Lord of the Sabbath".

So Markan Christology, is a minimalist Christology. The title is almost neutral in itself. The son of man who suffers, the son of man who dies, the man who is crucified on the cross he rises on the third day and he will come again in his glory.

There is another interesting point about Mark's Gospel. He very often refers to Christ teaching. So he refers many times of the fact that Christ taught, but he never really spells out what he taught. Why do you think he never spells out his teachings? One of the answers is yes we have Christ's teaching in Matthew's Gospel, Luke's Gospel, perhaps there is no reason for this in Mark. Why do you think this is the case? It is possible, that he was just a very simple man. But there is also another twist to that, what is the point of teaching, we don't fulfil the teaching ourself.

Once there was a teacher who taught dogmatics, relying on God's providence. And once a student passing by saw this teacher enter a news agency and place numbers for a lottery. At this moment all his teachings collapsed in the eyes of the student. This is perhaps have your looks fathers view action more important than words. And if you look at St Paul's account of the teaching of Christ, he tries to present to us what Christ actually did for us, rather than what he said. In the Orthodox tradition, in apostolic tenants, there is an interesting chapter, chapter 11 telling us how to discern, whether a profit or a priest is reliable as a spiritual father, or not. Look at his action. If a profit does not live according to his prophecy, then he is a false prophet.

And if we look at Mark's Gospel market equates the notion of the "evangellion" with Christ himself. In this notion, "evangellion" is used by St Paul. Paul uses the term and refers to the death and resurrection of Christ in Philippians chapter 15., As well as the first Epistle to the Thessalonians.

For Mark it is the whole person of Christ. This is the Gospel for him. Mark uses the term "evangelion" seven times. Is different for Matthew: "whosever, loses his life for my sake and the gospel's sake shall save it". Chapter 10, "everything for my sake, and the Gospels sake". Evangellion is the whole teaching of Christ, his personhood. 

In Matthew's Gospel, Christ said to his disciples, "go into all the world, proclaimed the gospel". It is Christ himself chapter 16. And when we relate to the person, and make judgement about him or her, above all, it is not with the person says, bought the person does to us.

For example you can listen to a professor University for decades and are nothing about him, but when it comes to exams you will expect to a kind of result you will get from this professor, a good mark or a poor mark and you will decide on whether this is a good person or not. 

There is a notion referred to as "diastasis" which is the distance between actions and words.

And when Christ teaches, he is teaching by his example and by his actions. That is why Mark likes to emphasise that Christ taught with authority. Authority which is built on his actions. And best, writes, people are more interested in what Christ does than in who he is.  The question of Christ's nature is pursued strongly in this gospel. In Mark, they asked Jesus in effect, what can you do for us. The emphasis lay, continually on his activity. This is a key point when considering the theology of the person. We can only know a person, if that person manifests themselves through acts through their deeds.

The question is, why do we believe in Christ? What is the basis for our faith. Do we love his words, his teaching? I think we have faith in Christ because of what he does for us, what he did for us. If you look at our Orthodox liturgy, in our anaphora, Eucharist, we don't mention Christ's teaching but we mention his actions, and his sacrificial death. This is the basis of our love for Christ. We love him for his ministry, what he did for us not just for his words. That is why Mark is eager to put in as much of Christ's activities as he can, that is why we find in Mark quite a few general statements, summaries of Christ's ministries, to underline this principle person in action. For example in chapter 1:32-34, we have the general statement concerning healings, a summary that the evangelists himself has provided: "they brought to him all who were sick and possess with Demons, and the whole city was gathered around the door, and he healed many who were sick with various diseases and evil spirits…" We have a sense of the universal activity of Christ, who heals, who helps, who loves us.

In we see that in this short Gospel, which is very small in comparison to Matthews and Lukes, we have a miracle of the fitting of the crowd twice. And why do we have two events like this, in effect miracles, which are the same of the presentation and account? Chapter 6 Christ feeds 5000, and in chapter 8 he feeds 4000. Why in such a small Gospel, does market decide to put both of these accounts. Again, Mark wants us to feel what Christ does for mankind, and for us personally.

The other set of actions, activities of Christ, focuses on exorcisms. Again this is a silent pointer, to the identity of Christ, his battle for the sake of his people to defend the human race against evil powers. This is why we find such stories in this particular Gospel of Mark. At that time there was not such a strong distinction between illnesses and evil spirits. For many of the early Christians health was one and the same. See for example Mark 1:31, "he came to Peter's house, and held his mother... And instantly the fever left her". 

What is important in St Mark, is what Christ did for us, not so much what he actually said. Because when need to emphasise again, Peter only records what he sees with his own eyes. 

So it is person in action, Christology in action. It is a sense of fast paced drama. What we see in Mark's Gospel, are so many events, one going after another so quickly. That's why Mark uses present historical tense. Christ goes to the wilderness, Christ's sense, the leper asks. Every preposition begins with the word and, which links every event together, in one single fast paced drama.

Why this urgency?

Modern scholars, suggest that Mark has given us a liturgical text, to be read at once from the beginning to the end. In a book by G. Bauman (?) He suggests what we have in Mark is the question style of Passover known as "haggadah", the Jewish feast. This is when all the people of Jerusalem would go on like candles, and go to their houses, and in a family context, recite the same events using the typology of the feast, and the history of events. And Bauman suggests that Mark is this reinterpretation of this Jewish feast, Passover haggadah which is read in this family context, perhaps in a liturgical context in the Christian setting. 

But our response, is that Mark wants to build up a picture, a porch of Christ as a man of action to provoke a response of love in us towards him. Weis (and Marxton) (?) believe, that Mark's Gospel because of this intensity which builds up towards chapter 13, were Christ predicts what will happen to mankind in the future, eschatological discourse which is known as the Markan apocalypse, believe that Mark wrote this gospel as an apocalyptic document to give a signal to Christians, to flee from Judea... We read here about the destruction of the temple, about the abomination of desolation, let the reader understand, Mark's Gospel adds… And thus, the coming of Christ, signals the end of the world. The message is try to flee and pack up your things and go.

Every Gospel was designed, for liturgical use. Note that we read from the Gospel at a very important time in every liturgy in the Orthodox Church. For example at Matins, the Gospel is read at the very climax of the service. In our liturgy, in the Orthodox Eucharist, we read the Gospel just before the anaphora, and in the liturgy of the faithful begins.

Orthodox clergy this is especially an incredible experience, because the reading of the Gospel from the altar to those who believe in Christ, is a quite different experience than to simply reading it at home on your own by yourself. One can feel that there is a sense of communion, between the faithful and Christ.

If you read Mark's Gospel he get the sense that the disciples of Christ were rather inadequate, to put it mildly in the spiritual and mental abilities. Mark seems to highlight their weaknesses, their constant failures, even their stupidities at times. Christ seemed to have difficulties with them, their lack of understanding, he frequently has to clarify to explain his teaching to them, to spell it out for them. For example when Christ delivers his parable in chapter 4, the evangelist adds his own comment: "and many such parables he spoke to them to the crowds as they were able to hear it, and he didn't speak to the crowds without a parable, but privately to his disciples he explained everything..." To the disciples required a special explanation, because the crowds would understand what Christ was saying but as far as the disciples were concerned than it is a private session with Christ. Than it in explanation for each parable. In fact, the Pharisees understood Christ far more clearly, and much quicker than the disciples. And in chapter 12: "the Pharisees sought to seize Christ but they were afraid of the crowds for they knew that he spoke the parable against them". On two occasions, Jesus had to give further explanation to the disciples, privately in the house. In chapter 7, we read: "when he had entered the house, and that the people his disciples asked him about the parable..." The same story in chapter 10, when Christ but the but divorce, and delivered his teaching on managing divorce, the disciples did not quite understand it.. And in the house his disciples asked him again about the same". So what is going on?

Again in spite of this preferential treatment is disciples get from the Lord, they seem to miss obvious points, which is obvious even for the first time reader of the Gospel. For example Christ feeds the crowd twice, but yet, the disciples didn't quite get what this was all about. And any chapter 8 his disciples asked: "why do you discuss the fact that you have no bread, do you not see or understand, you half-hearted, do you not remember?" They always seem to do and say wrong thing, discouraging those who are bringing children to Christ. Not surprisingly Jesus is indignant, "that the children come to me, do not hinder them". And also an interesting fact is that the disciples are given authority over demons to exorcise evil spirits, they fail in their ministry chapter 9. Christ has a do it himself. And with all that they still dare to protest against someone who is casting out the evil spirit in Jesus's name.

In comparison in Matthew and Luke, to the portraits of the disciples, Mark doesn't want to smooth soften is criticism of the disciples." Do you not have eyes and do not see, and ease and do not hear, do you not remember..." And the same words in Matthew are softer. It is quite a different account. So what do you think, Mark is so harsh on the disciples? 

Mark is consistent in his portrait of the disciples. One of the explanations, which is offered by modern academia, is that if you look at the first century there was a controversy between the Jewish party and Jerusalem and the so-called Gentile party. See from the acts of the apostles a question about how Jewish Christianity should be, and one of the explanations is offered by scholars is that the Markan Gospel tries to undermine the authority of Jewish Christianity, in fact the disciples of Christ who seem to miss the main points which crisis brought to us, especially the universal mission to the Gentiles which was headed by Paul.

Indeed when we look at Mark's treatment of the old Testament, it doesn't quote much from the old Testament. And also he feels the need to explain Jewish customs for apparently a Gentile audience. He uses the translation of Aramaic words, for the benefit of the Gentile reader. His Gospel therefore is addressed to the Gentile reader, and trying to explain, that in fact, you can be Christians in Jerusalem. So that is one explanation that the authority of Jerusalem is undermined to leave the door open for the Gentiles. But really it doesn't seem that this is plausible.

There is another popular theory by Timothy Weedon, 1968 (?) Who suggests that Mark writes not against the apostles, but against certain views and misunderstandings about Christ in the early church. Until now you might have noticed that people are very much interested in miracles, for them Christ is someone who performs miracles to improve the quality of their very own life. In the first parts of Mark's Gospel we are dealing with miracles, but then we move towards the end and the less miracles we encounter. What Mark is trying to do is to divert the excitement from miracles to the cross of Christ. It is the main purpose of this coming, to die for us. And we see this kind of polemics the disciples about miracles, in the first chapter, remember how Peter finds Christ, when he was alone, and says "all are seeking you", and cross responds let us go into the next town so that I can proclaim the also because this is the reason why I came... Why did people seek Christ? Because he performed miracles

there is a painting showing Christ teaching, and then there is Christ in a boat on a lake, and his disciples are sitting in a circle right next to Christ. And then there is a crowd, the front a interested in what Christ has to say yet the people in the back somewhat chatting to one another. And the further away you go from Christ there is a huge crowd who are not interested at all in what Christ had to say, and they're waiting for just yet another miracle. Remember there was no TV, a lack of theatre, and the only excitement people would get us to see figures in the town. And what greater thing to watch than to see the performance of a miracle. It was a kind of entertainment. And what scholars believe, is that Mark is trying to divert the attention of of a figure, a type of hero who comes and performs miracles, Mark is trying to convey that Jesus is not this kind of figure. He came to die for us.

And get there is just even another explanation, to this portion of the disciples, given to us by William Reid, in his book titled messianic secrets. It is quite an old theory, because William Reid wrote his book the end of the 19th century. Read attempts to see the Gospel of Mark as an apology. Why so many Jews rejected Christ? Why Christ wasn't accepted on the whole by Israel? Why very few people comparatively followed Christ's message at that time. And Reid says, Mark is trying to find reasons, trying to explain to Jewish people why Christ was rejected. Indeed why Christ after every miracle, tells his disciples or those healed not to speak about the miracle. Why he silences the miracles? Why Christ speaks in parables to disguise his message. In Mark chapter 4, Christ speaks parables, "in order that seeing they may see and not see". So William Reid tries to read into Mark's text, so-called messianic secrets. He presents Christ as if he's trying to hide his Messiahship, and that is why Jewish people didn't accept Christ, because they fail to see, the Messiah ship of Christ. And there is a sense of predetermination, only the chosen people could see the Messiah in Christ before the rest of the people crisis trying to hide his Messiahship. Perhaps Protestant teaching could be built on that theory of predeterminism.

So what can we say about this as Orthodox people? First of all I would like to mention that there are positive elements of the disciples in Mark. If you are reading the Gospel for the first time, perhaps you would associate yourself with the disciples of Christ, rather than the Pharisees who were his opponents. This goes without saying. They are given to us as our example. And we should remember that it was to them work that was given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God, so there are positive features about the disciples there. The disciples are sharing with Christ his rejection, is critiqued by the Pharisees chapter 2, and the 12 a given authority to preach and to cast out Demons. So there is a positive elements about Christ disciples. One of the reasons for that, we need to know about not only the strength of the disciples, but also about their weaknesses. Even in Christ we see a moment in hesitation, and human weakness: "a father if it is possible let this cup pass from me". And we are given to see this weakness, and it is essential for us in our spiritual life to know, there are weaknesses even in such great people as the apostles. Because if we compared ourselves to others who were simply perfect, in terms of the apostles then we would not be able, as sinners to relate to them to their journeys. There would in fact be no hope of salvation. Saint Ephraim the Syrian says: "our church, is a church of perishing ones", so we need to keep in mind that we need to have these paradigms of weakness so we can build our strength through them.

Christ delivers his teaching only within the context of going towards Jerusalem, toward the cross. I don't think you will find any other founder of religion which would fulfil his teaching to such an extent, to the point of death. That is why Mark emphasises that Christ teaches with authority, which is built through his example. When Christ delivers his teaching about the cross and his death, about the necessity for us to follow the same path, when he himself is moving towards Jerusalem, to was the cross. It is there, that the unity between Christ teaching and his action, at the cross becomes complete, it is there that his word becomes flesh. Christ dies on the cross for us. It is the antipode of hypocrisy. The crucifixion is the seal of authenticity, for each of the words that Christ taught and said.

Topic Lecture 4 - The Gospel of Luke

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.

Luke's Gospel received particular popularity in modern times. Why? The reason behind this is perhaps this is the most inward Gospel, Jesus the man is in the focus. Luke is very sensitive to our concerns, Luke speaks about the role of women, people on the fringes of society, the poor and destitute, tax collectors, sinners et cetera.

In addition exclusively we read here on the parable of the good Samaritan, the prodigal son, the rich man Lazarus et cetera. So we may say that essential and the evangelists has shaped our church dogmatically, Luke has shaped Christianity in a popular and accessible way.


the uniform belief of the ancient church, is that it was Luke the physician that was the author of the Gospel of Luke. This is the same Luke the Paul mentions in Colossians, who is his companion. In 2008 a new theory appeared, that it was Luke the priest not a doctor that was the author. But then we have an early Christian writings, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, I Origen, Jerome, so we do know that he was Luke the doctor. And in fact there is a great deal of support they was Luke the doctor. There was a book by William Holbert, which analysed the medical language in the Gospel of Luke.

Luke probably wrote his gospel between 80 – 85 A.D, not far from the time that Matthew wrote his gospel. They both responded to this common situation when the vast majority of Jewish people had rejected the Gospel of Christ, and its future seems to lie with the Gentiles.

One of the reasons for the popularity of Luke's Gospel was its style. His writings are very close to poetry. If you look at our orthodox services, quite a few liturgical texts, are taken from the Gospel of Luke. For example the Magnificat "my soul does magnify the Lord", and elsewhere "let now thy servants depart in peace". We read this prayer in our Vespers.

There are other features that are endearing in this gospel. Luke brings the message of Christ down to earth as it were. He immerses the good news into the realm of history of mankind. It is because of mainly sent Luke that we cannot apply this fashionable word myth to the story of Jesus. Because to St Luke, Christ is not a myth, he is a person who worked and acted in history. And to ground this Christ event further, into history of mankind, he wrote a sequel to his gospel, the acts of the apostle. Perhaps you know, that sent Luke's Gospel and the acts of the Apostles were one and the same document and they were divided into two sections 1 the Gospel of Luke and one the acts of the apostle, by the early church. But for sent Luke, in his writing, it was one and the same event. The coming of Christ, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit onto the apostles and Christ disciples and their mission to the world was one and the same event.

Thematic approach to the Gospel of Luke

The very first theme is a very obvious one, this perspective in sent Luke, that moves all the acts of Christ towards the greatest event the Pentecost. The Gospel actually finishes of how the apostles remained in the temple waiting for the Holy Spirit, the outpouring. So it is no coincidence that some of the scholars describe the acts of the apostles, but the acts of the Holy Spirit. It is because of the activity of the Holy Spirit, the outpouring on the disciples. His last promise according to St Luke's Gospel, Jesus dispenses the spirit onto the disciples in chapter 24: "behold I send the promise of my father on you to sit in the seat of Jerusalem until you are clothed from power from on high".

If you look at the old Testament, you won't find many prophecies about Christ resurrection, or Christ's crucifixion. There are far more many prophecies about the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It is there that the heart of the Christ event lies. It is the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It is the result of Christ's ministry. The prophecies are the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. We find in the Ezekiel chapter 36, and the prophet Jeremiah chapter 36.

For the Jews, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, meant that the final one has arrived. It was the final apocalyptic event. No wonder that, that the Gospels are classified in apocalyptic genre at times. Why is this a distress on the Holy Spirit? If we, go back to Adam, he was created, as the son of God. And where was the last reference to the "sons of God" in the Bible, before the coming of Christ? Yes it was with respect to the sons of men. So what does it mean, is that Adam who was the disciple by virtue of his position of the Holy Spirit has lost this Sonship through losing the Holy Spirit. Recollect when the Lord said, "my spirit shall no longer strive with man, given his corruptions for his flesh". So possession of the Holy Spirit meant Sonship with God. These ideas you'll find in most of the fathers, especially St Athanasius, St Cyril of Alexandria who equates possession of the Holy Spirit with divine Sonship. And what we have now in the Christ event, is that we see a human being, born of the Holy Spirit, and Adam is restored. This is so important for sent Luke, this concentration of this period bearing capacity of humankind. 

Recollect how Luke opens the very first preaching of Christ. Christ says: "the spirit of the Lord is on me." If you compare how the Holy Spirit operated in the old Testament, and in the new Testament, what is the difference? Because the prophets did speak through the power of the Holy Spirit. So in the old Testament prophets, the spirit of the Lord would come and descend on the prophet, and the prophet would at a prophecy, and in the spirit would leave there was no ontological union between man and the Holy Spirit. And in fact, in some of the scholars like Conzleman (?) believe that in the first chapter of Luke, we have this recreation of this prophetic equal, as we hear about prophets like Zechariah, then Elizabeth was blessed by the Holy Spirit at the prophecy, and then St John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit and began to preach: "behold". And also a reference to the Holy Spirit is given to us by the city of the just, the Holy Spirit was on him not in him when he prophesied. He is instructed by the Holy Spirit, the Gospel says. And now we have completely new phenomenon in the history of mankind, since the fall of Adam. Luke chapter 1 verse 35, the angel answers and says to Mary "the Holy Spirit will come on you and the power of the highest will overshadow you". Additionally, "the holy one that is born of you will be called son of God". So we have the restoration of divine Sonship of Christ man is born by the Holy Spirit.

Where else to be find in the new Testament immense capacity to bear the Holy Spirit? St Paul says:" that the first man Adam became a living soul, the last Adam was a living spirit." That is why Luke is eager to emphasise that he was a new category of human being ontologically united with Holy Spirit. And that is why Luke is eager to write every detail of Christ, every detail about the Holy Spirit. "The Holy Spirit will come on you through the power of the highest". And later on throughout the narrative, Luke never loses sight of the spirit bearing capacity is in Christ. The Holy Spirit dwells in him. It just doesn't come upon him it was on him. 

There are differences for instance in how sent Luke understands the function of the Holy Spirit, with how Mark in his gospel does. In Mark we find a rather old Testament perspective of the Holy Spirit. For Mark, the Holy Spirit somewhat forces someone to do something, a common understanding as it were in the old Testament. E.g. consider how the old Testament prophets were forced at a prophecy almost under coercion of the Holy Spirit. In Mark was in interesting reference, where Christ was virtually driven out by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness "ekvalis" in Greek, which means thrown out into the desert by the Holy Spirit. But in Luke, the words "full of the Holy Spirit, and was led in the spirit into the wilderness", we have a sense of union between the human and the divine spirit, there is a sense of synergy. This is a great word to express this new anthropology which we find in Saint Luke.

And the very first words of Christ: "the spirit of the Lord is on me", and we learn that the whole of his ministry proceeds from his power of the Holy Spirit. And given this, the position of the Holy Spirit, he has anointed me, to deliver the Gospel of the Holy Spirit. It is not only Christ himself the possesses the Holy Spirit, but everyone who is born of the Holy Spirit. It is the whole new Christian way. See in Luke chapter 11, we are given instruction what we should pray for, and Christ's words recorded there: "how much more should your heavenly Father give you the Holy Spirit of those who ask him".

It is a great joy for us as Orthodox Christians, to hear the same words from the Saints. Remember what St Seraphim said to Motovilov: "what is the aim of the Christian life?" The aim of Christian life censor of them said is to acquire the Holy Spirit. This is the main focus of our life, to be a god bearing person, spirit bearing person. And is something about Luke's concern of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

There is another interesting theme in the Gospel that was highlighted by the German scholar Hands Conzleman (?). He says that Luke has his own way of relating to the old Testament. In Matthew Christ is the fulfilment of the law. In Luke we find a slightly different approach yet similar in essence. In Luke we find, yes, now that the time of the profits is finished, with the coming of Christ to have a new period in the history of mankind, and then with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit we have yet a third period in history of mankind. We see that Luke is very eager to separate the Epoch of the prophets, from the Ministry of Christ. That is why he gives all the stories of St John the Baptist, his imprisonment and his preaching, before Christ begins his ministry. When St John the Baptist disappears from the scene, this is when Christ begins his ministry. And Conzleman's book is called the middle of time. It means that the Gospel is about this middle time, the time of Christ.

Sent Luke tries to reduce this apocalyptic agiotage, about the coming end. You will see in St Luke's Gospel there are moments where he speaks about the delay of the second coming of Christ. Because now it is about the time not of the second coming of Christ but the time of the church. When the Holy Spirit acts to bring the whole of mankind to the faith of Christ. And one of the interesting pictures of Luke's Gospel if we really divide into these periods, we see that Luke is at pains, to show that there is a time of Christ to act, and then a time for his disciples to act after Christ's resurrection. That is why in the first chapters Luke is at pains to focus attention on Jesus alone, not on his disciples but on Jesus who is in the middle, in the focus he is the main hero. By chapter 5, when Christ called his first disciples, Christ has already accomplished quite a bit of his ministry, so much so that he was almost killed after his first sermon in the synagogue see chapter 4. By the time Christ meets his disciples, his popularity, seem to have reached quite a substantial level. Crowds pressed to hear him, chapter 5.

For Luke it is important to emphasise that the Epoch of the old Testament is finished and Christ has come on now what we have is continuation of the Christ event in the life of the church. Luke is very eager to emphasise that there is a direct connection between our life in the church and the events that happened 2000 years ago of Christ's death and resurrection. Because it is to continue the work of the apostolic ministry, in the life of the church.

Luke tries to diminish somewhat this apocalyptic agiotage, this apocalyptic excitement among Christians. He speaks about delay. And he tries to focus his attention on our daily life. He tries to convey details which are important enough on a daily Christian life, which somehow for instance in the Gospel of Mark is absent. Because in Mark's Gospel we have action, and buildup of this apocalyptic discourse in Christ's death and resurrection in Jerusalem. Luke somehow tries to calm things down, and he focuses our attention, onto the details of Christ daily life.

For example Christ is said to be praying, get a sense that Christ was praying all the time, and more importantly he was praying at the most important moments of his ministry are key points of his ministry. E.g. chapter 3 Christ's baptism: "Jesus also been baptised, and praying", Jesus was praying to the evangelists before the Holy Spirit descended; another moment was in the appointment of the 12, he was praying all night before he chose his disciples; and at the moment of transfiguration, once again Christ is praying to God the Father; we get a sense that everything that happens to Christ doesn't happen automatically. But comes as a result of Christ's continuous dialogue with the father.

And the same legacy of Luke, he speaks of our need for prayer. In Luke there is great attention the Christ taught his disciples how to pray. If in Matthew's Gospel, the Lord's Gospel is given just as an example of prayer, in Luke we get a sense that Christ was trying to teach his disciples how to pray. In Chapter 11 we read, "it happened as he was praying in a certain place" and, and when he stopped one of his disciples said to him: "Lord teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples". And in other places we see how Christ speaks about perseverance in prayer, what we should ask of in prayer, it is the gift of the Holy Spirit. A good example is of the parable of the unjust judge, chapter 18. It is really all about the acquisition of the Holy Spirit.

When we are speaking about the Gospels, and in fact the whole of the new Testament, we should keep in mind that we are dealing here with divinely inspired text. Sometimes perhaps even in our daily practice, God can inspire even ordinary people to say certain things.

Story of Fr Porphyri who was visited by a US citizen. US citizen was adamant he spoke in English but Fr doesn't know any English.

Peter confesses Christ is the son of the living God. And Christ actually prayed for the apostles, that God gives them understanding to reveal who he is- the son of God. This prayer again took place in Gesthemane and at the Resurrection: "Father forgive them for they do not know what they do". And again it seems Christ prayed for his disciples continuously, "Simon Simon... To sift you as wheat, but I have prayed for you." It is only in Luke that we see this kind of dialogue. 


it was indeed a major concern for sent Luke to prove and to show that Christ is the saviour of the whole world, not just of the Jewish nation. The consensus from the very beginning. Remember in Matthew we have genealogies, it goes back to Abraham. But in Luke the same genealogy goes to Adam himself, is Father of the whole human nation because it was important to emphasise this universalistic ring of the gospel. From the very beginning there is a universal message to the Gospel of Luke. Remember what the angel said: "give to you a tidying of great joy, it shall be to all people to all mankind." And again, "my eyes have seen the salvation, which now has prepared in the face of all the peoples". In Matthew and Mark, we see a very short quotation from Isaiah. But Luke goes further. And why does he want to give a full quotation? "And all flesh see the salvation of God." So he we have the universalistic vision of St Luke.

And for us as Orthodox Christians, it is very important to have this universalistic dimension to the message of Christ. The whole of our history of salvation of mankind is about universalism. Let us go back to the old Testament, and the human race. After the fall of Adam, which was the first covenant? He was it was with Noah. It was with a family: "you and your seed to have my blessing". After the fall of Adam everything disintegrated, there was no connection with universalism. It was rather individualism. Humankind became atomised. An atom is something which cannot be divided. So the human race disintegrated into the small atoms that were not connected. Remember the first thing that Adam said to God after his fall: "it is this wife, which you gave me, she gave me to eat". He immediately separated himself from Eve. So the first chance God created covenant with the family of Noah, so that there would be harmony love and peace within themselves and each other.

So the next covenant in history, was with Abraham. It was to create a nation. Once this level of unity was credit in the family, then God took on the nation. So God creates a nation. In fact it is a very Jewish concept, because before Israel there were no nations. Even until now if you go to the Middle East people live in clans, in families, in groups. So as a Christian nation, we inherited this concept from Israel. And today it is about achieving a larger unity, in a nation.

But what is the next level after a nation? It is the whole of mankind, and it is when Christ comes. It is the unity of the whole of mankind. Remember what we sing in Pentecost at the celebration of the Holy Spirit: "calling all man to unity". This is absolutely essential to Christian thinking. To think in these universal ways. Of course for sent Paul, but is to send Luke especially. For him it was important to emphasise this universalistic dimension of Christianity.

The history of the old Testament, the last book, which came into circulation, it was the book of Jonah. In the book of Jonah, God began to move slowly from this notion of a nation to the whole world. Prophet Jonah was sent to Nineveh to preach repentance, and Nineveh was the capital of Babylon. And that is where the Israelites were held captive. God sent his prophets, to preach even to the worst enemies of Israel.

The Outcasts in Luke's Gospel

there are the anonymous masses of people who suffered, they are the suffering masses, their names are lost to history. Now in Christ, there is no more of these little ones who are forgotten. From the time on of Christianity, there are no more outcasts for Christ. Those who are excluded from the covenants, outcasts, sinners, Gentiles, women, the ill and unclean people. Now they are all incorporated to this mighty nation of the children of God.

Remember how Christ begins his first preaching in the Gospel of Luke: "the spirit of the Lord is on me because he has anointed me to proclaim the gospel to the poor, he has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim to the captives to give sight to the blind.. Those who have been crushed." 

Many scholars have picked up on this, and said that we are dealing in the Gospel of Luke with a political message. And in South America in particular you'll find that many theologians like to speculate about liberation Christology. A Brazilian author wrote, Christos Libertargo (?). So some scholars have taken the Christian message in the Gospel of Luke is a political message. Christ is for the poor, the underprivileged. "Christ loves everyone, he is against the rich because he loves the poor"... note this is from a liberation christology point of view. But we should be very careful not to politicise Christ's message. We should remember what Christ said:" my kingdom is not of this world".

We get a sense, in Luke's Gospel, the Christ seemed to promote poverty. If in St Matthew's Gospel we have the notion: "Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven ", in Luke we have a straightforward "Blessed are the poor for theirs is the kingdom of heaven". Consider also the parable of the rich man in chapter 12. Christ speaks against those who have laid up treasures for themselves in this world. And in chapter 15 he calls the poor, the lame..." 

So is Christ against riches, what do you think? We must remember that poverty in itself is not a virtue. This is the same as riches in themselves they are not a sin. It is what you do with these riches that matters. Because if we notice, every gift in our church of the Holy Spirit is a service toward other people. There is nothing that it is oriented towards ourselves. Riches, if you take them as something that is given to you, and that you use for yourself, this is turning into yourself. But if you consider it as a gift of God which is gift to you which is used to minister to others, then it becomes a gift of salvation.

We can consider this, when we recollect St John of Kronstadt, who received so many gifts from people that he didn't have enough time even to distribute them at times. There is a famous story where he was once given a bundle of money in an envelope by a rich man, and as soon as he received the money, he gave it to a poor person who needed it. The response of the rich man was a tell St John of constant but do you know there was money enough in this envelope to buy all of St Petersburg, St John replied to the rich man yes I know there was a lot of money in the envelope, but this man needed it desperately. He was ready to receive this gift.


This term soteriology, is related to our salvation. Looking at material recorded by Saint Luke, we can build a very clear picture of what this is. 

There was an account of Rowan Williams, the revered Archbishop in the UK in the BBC. He was visiting Cardiff, and many reporters came there to ask, is the church sexist, what is the definition of sin? And he was also asked what is hell like and who is going there? And the Archbishop replied in a wonderful way hell is being by yourself forever. Who is going there, God knows. This is a wonderful definition. When you turn your existential orientation towards yourself, then you don't see other people, then you are not human. For example let's take the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man would dress up look luxurious, and eat luxurious foods and this poor man Lazarus was lying at his gates without any help. What was wrong with this man? He simply didn't notice the other human being. He didn't notice another person who was in need of help. Certainly if he would have noticed he would have given him something, food and clothes. Notice something important, that the rich man doesn't even have a name. It is because he is not human, and Lazarus is human. In suffering, Lazarus perhaps was educated in compassion and love. But this rich man was unable to see another person.

So what is the outward dimension of our whole Christian message? What is the eschato of the gospel? What is the last theme that we shall experience in our temporal being, in the dimension of time? 

In Matthew's Gospel, we have a parable about the last judgement. But there will be one simple criteria whether we pass on what do not pass. We notice these little ones, people who suffer, they give them food, they clothe them, they visit them in prisons. Then you are human, and then you are saved. Then your fits for the kingdom of heaven if you haven't there is no space for you, in the kingdom of heaven. And this is a very powerful message because Christ equates with himself little ones: "it was me who you clothed, and fed  and in prison". It is the ultimate dimension of the gospel, the result of the whole history of mankind. It comes to these very simple facts of our life. If we see another person next to us there is a need many to help them.

If we look at Luke on the parable of the Pharisee and tax collector, he was praying in the temple. And the Pharisee was proud of himself and he was saying to himself to the Lord thank you that I'm not like other people. While the poor tax collector was beating his breasts, and shouting "Lord have mercy". What was wrong with the Pharisee? He didn't do anything for instance, that was against the law, he was simply praying and thanking God. What was wrong with this? In the Greek text we read that the Pharisee was standing unto himself praying. But when we have this orientation towards ourselves, our ego, we do not develop as human beings. The principle of whole creation, the logos, is toward God, facing God "pros ton Theon". Towards the other, not towards oneself.

The same went for the rich man. He said to his soul, eat and drink and be merry. I have enough goods for you for many years. And the problem with this approach, he never mentioned another human being. He always thought about himself he did not think about other people. He did not serve the others he built up his own ego. 

In St Macarius of Egypt we have quite an interesting description of hell. He walk through the desert and found a human skull. His thoughts, I wonder who this man is, and where he is now? And he started to pray for this person. And this goal spoke to him and said, I used to be a pagan priest. Saint Macarius asked him: "where is your soul now"? In the sky replied, "I am burning in hell, and the joy for me, is once in a while, I can see a face of another person". This is really hell, to echo the words of the Archbishop Rowan. Hell is being by yourself forever.

And this is something we can create through our riches for ourselves, we can be shut out. A survey should communion and compassion. In Matthew we have: "be perfect just like a father in heaven is perfect", but in Saint Luke we have: "be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful". This is the key message of Saint Luke, concern for the suffering ones.


there is of course a feminist reading of Saint Luke's Gospel. Is an interesting that the church starts its commemoration of Easter with women the myrrh bearing women. It has become a landmark of Christianity. This is how Christ opened his ministry. To heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim deliverance, to set at liberty. And the first people he would have been speaking about was women. If we look old Testament, women were not even counted as human beings, were not part of the Covenant because of circumcision which was a very male thing, and women were not even a part of the covenant, they were part of possessions that man had. Men had cattle that had women and other possessions. 

To Christ brought to us much. He brought the notion of marriage. There was no marriage before Christianity. Something that year from Judaism or Islam now was borrowed from Christianity, in the idea of marriage. Because it was so wonderful, splendid in its idea, no one could contest its. Even marriage has been brought to us through Christianity. It is because Christ change the perception of women. Now a woman is a person a human being, on the image of God, on par with men. Thank you to Saint Luke, this wonderful picture with from within the text, of the daughters of Jerusalem, emerged. From the very first opening chapters in Luke we see the discussion on women, the stories are numerous. We hear about Elizabeth, we hear about Mary, Anna the widow of nine, Mary Magdalene who showed great love for Christ, Joanna Susanna, and the list of women mentioned goes on and on, Martha and Mary, women in the parables, et cetera. There is the widow demanding justice, the women lamenting Christ, etc. women are allowed a prominent place. And many types of womanhood are placed before us.

If you look at the presence of women around Christ in this gospel, it is really remarkable, they are almost always there, they are among the disciples. In chapter 8: 1-3. "And also certain women..." We have this constant, silent, presence of women around Christ. And the women were the ones who were faithful to Christ to the very end. In chapter 23, it was women who were at the cross not the disciples, they were the ones who stayed until the end. It is because of women that we know where cross was buried. Luke notices that the commitment of women to Christ was much deeper at times than it was from men. In chapter 23, we hear "a great multitude of people followed him, and women also work bewailing and lamenting him. And Christ said to them, "daughters of Jerusalem do not weep for me but weep for yourselves and your children." This is the last teaching of Christ addressed to women, as men were unable to listen or to hear. The question then is, women had authority whether in fact Christ would ever have been crucified, because women were lamenting together, for the male world who condemned him. This is just a glimpse of a feminist reading.

The very first sight of Christ after his resurrection, is when Mary comes to the sepulchre. And she asked: "where is my teacher buried?" Then Christ said to the woman away you crying? And she replied I do not know when my master is, and where they buried him. And then Christ said Mary, and she immediately recognised him. Why did she recognise him when he called her by name? And of course what we have to remember is at that time nobody called women by their first names. No one even noticed them. For instance, the Pharisee is addressed Mary, who came to the house as: "that sinful woman". She wasn't even a person in the eyes of those people. But it was Christ who treated her as a person. Therefore she immediately recognised that it was him. But his appearance was different. But she recognised him from his attitude. This is a very powerful story.

Now with respect to women in Orthodox tradition. Yes there are some times hiccups concerning women in our tradition, especially in monasticism. Those who write about chastity, for example may write about women in negative ways. But God massively and kindly corrects those stories. Remember the story of St John Cassian, who was a monk who was trying to achieve the highest level of purity, and he talked himself to hate women. He was known even to have a fit for example, when he saw a woman. And it was providence of God, that the monks who served him, were nuns in disguise. So he changed his attitude ever so quickly. For instance, remember what John (H)? Used to say before he met his spiritual friend Olympiada, who became his closest friend.

So at times, the orthodox position on women has been harsh, but God corrects this. The reason why monks can be so negative about women sometimes is because I haven't learnt to see a woman as a person above all, not an object, not a perceived human being. And this is what monks learn to do, they go and hide until they can learn to treat women equally, as persons.

In the Soviet Union, churches were filled with women, all these babushkas, old women who save the church, who preserved the Orthodox faith in Russia. It was like an army of women who supported the bearded men. Their deserve the highest respect for the dedication and faith.

Q&A. We can say, for example, today we have the same pattern of attendance, is mainly women again who attend the services.

Saint Luke is very sensitive to this issue. It is very important to us as Christians. The authenticity of any religion, is likely measured by its acceptance of women. 

We should consider, that the closer we get to God when we study women in the church, the greater those women were elevated. In the Orthodox church, as well is in the Catholic, we have highest image of the mother of God. She was a human being, a woman who was elevated above the cherubims and the seraphims, above any other being created in this world. She is next to God, even in our iconography. This is a very powerful message. But if you look at Islam, do you know of any woman who is mentioned in the Quran? It is Mary again. Only Mary.

So you will see in our Orthodox Church, in our Orthodox faith, women are given tremendous roles. It is often said that without women the church would not exist. It is not only their parental duties which make them so significant, but also their presence, their prayers, and their ministry. They are not servants of the church but ministers of the church.

Luke: An Introduction and Commentary by (Morris, 1974)

o. The parable of the sower (8: 4 – 15)

p. 150

"It is usually agreed that the parable with which the section begins and which is given prominence in all three synoptists mark something of a turning point. The crowds were thronging about Jesus. He was becoming a popular preacher. But he looks for more than a superficial adherence, so he intensified his use of parables, stories which yielded their meaning only to those who are prepared to search for them. The parable is dim and thought and spiritual earnestness. They separate the sincere seeker from the casual hearer."

"In earlier days the interpretation of the parables was heavily overlaid with allegory. In modern times it is generally agreed that this is the wrong approach. But perhaps the repudiation is taken too far as when the interpretation given to this parable in or three synopstists is rejected. After all it is known that the old Testament, contemporary Judaism and the early church all used allegory. There seems no reason at all why Jesus should not have made some use of it too. Recent scholarship is right in turning from the allegorical excesses sometimes engaged in by popular piety. But when it goes on to claim that most or all of the interpretations of the parables given in the Gospels originate with the early church and not with Jesus it is a different matter. As Tasker reminds us, 'such attempts to disentangle primary and secondary elements must always be more subjective than scientific'."


"Parables both reveal and conceal truth: they reveal it to the genuine seeker who will take the trouble to dig beneath the surface and discover the meaning, but they can sell it from him who is content simply to listen to the story. This is plainly the result of the parables, Jesus says is also their purpose (so that…). Parables are a mine of information to those who are in earnest, but they are a judgement on the casual and careless."

p. 238

"The parable of the lost sheep (Luke 15:3 – 7). A great Jewish scholar, C.G. Montefiore, saw here a distinctive and revolutionary notes: God actively seeks out sinners and brings them home. The rabbis agreed that God would welcome the penitent sinner. But it is a new idea that God is seeking God, a God who takes the initiative."

p. 239

"the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11 – 32). Many regard this superb story as the finest of all the is certainly among the best loved of them all. The human heart response to the message of God's forgiving love for sinners so plainly set forth. Jesus is not dealing here with the whole gospel message but with the one great fact of the fathers pardoning love. The story is not a complete compendium of theology (T.W. Manson). Some hold that, since he has no atoning sacrifice, no atonement is necessary. But this is a precarious conclusion. To cite Manson again, if the carrying out of the purpose of God leads, as in fact it did, to the cross, that it becomes the business of Christians to include the cross and the purpose of God and to think out, as best they can, at the death of Gross is involved in God's purpose of saving sinners. This is not to diminish the importance of the parable, but to see it as powerfully setting forth the love of God for sinners, the mainspring of the gospel."

p. 301f

"Luke rounds of this part of a story by telling us of Jesus is custom at that time. He taught in the Temple by day and lodged on the mounts called Olivet by night." Luke 21: 37, 38

Unger's Bible Dictionary: "Parables" (Unger, 1980)

p. 823


"Parable, a word derived from the Greek verb but a bundle, delayed by the side of, compare; and so a likeness, similitude."

"1. Hebrew my shall, similitude (numbers 23:7, 18; 24:3, 20, 21, 23). In this instance parable is thought by some to mean "a discourse expressed in figurative, political, or highly ornamented diction"; is also in the case of Job (27:1)."

"2. Greek parabolic, a place in one thing beside another, an example by which a doctrine or precept is illustrated (Luke 14:7); a pithy and instructive saying, involving some likeness of comparison, and have preceptive or admonitory force; an aphorism, a maximum (Luke 5:36; 6:39; Matthew 15:15); a proverb, and so rendered in Luke 4:23."

"3. Greek paroimia, are saying out of the usual course; any dark scene which shatters for some didactic truth, a symbolical figurative saying… An allegory identity extended an elaborate metaphor."

p. 824

Definition and Distinctions

"in the new Testament the term parable is not confined to those lengthened narratives to which alone we know usually apply it... While the word is frequently used, either by the evangelists or by the disciples of Jesus, with reference to instructions of Christ, which we would call simply figurative, or metaphorical, or proverbial. In Luke 6:39 we read, "and he spake a parable unto them, can the blind lead the blind? Shall they not both fall into the ditch?"... In all these sayings of our Lord, however, it is obvious that the germ of a parable is contained. We have only to work on the hints given us, and we have the perfect story."

Trench in notes in the parables on page 9 writes "the parable is constructed to set forth the truth spiritual and heavenly… In the parable there is a perfect consciousness in all minds of the distinctness between form and essence, shell and kernel, the precious vessel and yet more precious wine which it contains... The parable is also clearly distinguishable from the proverb, though it is true that in a certain degree the words are used interchangeably the new Testament, and is equivalent the one to the other. "Thus "physician, heal thyself" (Luke 4:23) is termed a parable, being more strictly a proverb. It is not difficult to explain how this interchange of the two words should have come to pass partly from the fact of there being but one word in the Hebrew to signify both parable and proverb; which circumstance must have had considerable influence upon writers accustomed to thinking that language, and is self arose from the parable and proverb being like any grammatical and somewhat obscure forms of speech, 'dark sayings', speaking a part of their meaning and leaving the rest to be inferred". He continues, "the parable differs from the allegory quote in form rather than in essence: there being in the allegory and interpretation of the thing signifying and the thing signified, the qualities and properties of the first being attributed to the last, and the two thus blended together, instead of being kept quite distinct and placed side-by-side, as is the case in the parable. The allegory needs knots, as the parable, and interpretation to be brought to it from without since a contented interpretation within itself, and, as the allegory proceeds, the interpretation proceeds hand-in-hand with that, or, at least never falls far behind." "I am the true vine, " (John 15:1 – 8) is an allegory, while John 10:1 – 16 contains two allegories."

The parables as a means of teaching

"Two characteristics of the parable render it eminently useful in teaching. It is illustrative, assisting to make truth intelligible, or, if intelligible before, to present a more vividly to the mind. It is an argument, and may be summoned as a witness, the world of nature being throughout a witness for the world of spirit (Romans 1:20). The parable quote is not indeed contain direct proof of the doctrine which is it unfolds, but it associates with all the force of that proof which is given by the exhibition of the universal prevalence of any principle. Growth, for example, we know to be a law of nature. Let us set out, therefore, with the conviction that the kingdom of grace corresponds with the kingdom of nature – the conviction, is to be borne in mind, which constitutes the foundation of the parable; and, in a story calling our attention to that growth, we have not only an illustration, but a proof, that the same growth which appears in the natural must also pin the spiritual world. The analogy convinces us that he must be so, and is therefore so far a proof." [[Wm. Milligan, D.D., in Imp. Dict., s. v.]]

Again," the mind takes a natural delight in this manner of teaching, appealing as it does not to the understanding only, but to the feelings, to the imagination, is short to the whole man, calling as it does the whole man, with all its powers and faculties, into pleasurable activities; and all things thus learned with delight those longest remembered." The scriptures are full also acted parable, for every type is a real parable."

"Whedon... Thus happily sums up the advantages of the parable as a means of teaching: "the sacred parable was a wonderful vehicle of truth to serve three distinct purposes, VI Z.: to reveal, to conceal, and perpetuate. It revealed the sacred truth by the power of analogy and illustration. It conceal the truth from him who had knots, by proper sympathy or previous instruction, the true key to its hidden meaning. To such a one it was a riddle or a tale. And so our Lord could give to his disciples in this method the deepest secrets of his kingdom for ages, while the caviler , who would have abused the truth, heard without understanding (V.11). But the truth thus embodied in the narrative was, as it were materialised and made fitful perpetuation. He had a form and body to it by which it could be preserved in tangible shape for future ages."

Interpretation of Parables

"It has been urged by some writers, by none with greater force of cleanness than by Chrysostom, that there is a scope or purpose for each parable, and that our aim must be to discern this, not to find a special significance in each circumstance or incident. You may be questioned, however, with this canon of interpretation is likely to lead us to the full meaning of this portion of our Lord is teaching. It must be remembered that in the great patterns of interpretation which he himself has given us there is more than this. Not only the sewer and the seed in the several soils have their counterparts in the spiritual life. But the birds of the air, the thorns, the scorching heat have each of them a significance you may be inferred from these two instances that we are, at least, justified in looking for a meaning even in the seeming accessories of a parable. The very form of the teaching makes it probable that there may be, in any case, more than one legitimate explanation. A parable may be at once ethical, and in the highest sense of the term prophetic. There is us a wide field open to the discernment of the interpreter. There are also restraints upon the me fertility of his imagination: one in allergies must be real, not arbitrary. To the parables are to be considered as parts of a whole, and interpretation of one is not to override or encroach upon the lessons taught by others. Three the direct teaching of Christ presents the standard to which all our interpretations are to be referred, and by which they are to be measured. For and, finally the parable may not be made the first source of doctrine. Doctrine is otherwise an already grounded may be illustrated, or indeed further confirmed by them, but it is not allowable to constitute doctrine first by their aid."

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.]]

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 International Critical Commentary on St Luke (Driver et al, 1981)

p. 217

"We have already had several instances of teaching by means of parables… But they are brief and incidental. Parables seem now to become more common in Christ's teaching, and also more elaborate. This is intelligible, when we remember the characteristics of parables. They have the double property of revealing and concealing. They open the truth, and impress it upon the minds of those who are ready to receive that: but they do not instruct, though they may impress, the careless…"

"As Bacon says of the parable, "it tends to vail, and it tends to illustrate a truth." As the hostility to his teaching increased, Jesus would be likely to make more use of parables, which would benefit disciples without giving opportunity to his enemies."

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."


"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?"

"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

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
(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:

"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? 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.