About 1/3 of all Jesus’ teachings took the form of a parable of one kind or another. The evangelists wrote,
“And He spoke many things to them in parables, saying…”
“He presented another parable to them, saying…”
“…and He did not speak to them without a parable,”.
Given the quantity and value of Jesus’ parables, and His own frequent challenge,
“Let him who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
This study will be on The Parables of Jesus. May God bless your study, application and teaching of His parables.
I. Parable Defined
1. Literally, the Greek word parabole denotes a placing beside.
2. A comparing, comparison of 1 thing with another, Mk 4:30.
3. A short saying which is combined with a comparison or figure of speech.
II. Types or Examples of Parables
1. Proverb (parable) - a brief, “one-liner”, as the name suggests, like a proverb, Lk 4:23. Major English Bibles translate parable as “proverb” in this passage.
2. Simile (parable) - a figure of speech in which 2 essentially unlike things, i.e. leaven and kingdom, are compared, typically with the phrase like or as, Mt 13:31,33…
3. True Parable - a story with beginning, something of a plot and ending, often with subsidiary details and a more extended development of the word picture than a simile, Mt 13:3-8, 24-30…
4. Illustrative Story (parable) - a parable without the figurative language, Lk 12:16-21, 16:19-31.
III. Parables Should Not Be Confused With:
1. Fables, fictitious stories in which edifying or corrective lessons are taught, frequently using non-human characters, i.e. animals or plants, Jdg 9:6-21.
2. Myths, stories of a traditional nature, combining fiction, half-truths and truth; typically involving ancestors, heroes and supernatural beings.
IV. The Purposes of the Parables
1. To know… the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, Mt 13:11 and others.
2. To reveal… the things hidden since the foundation of the world, Mt 13:35.
We need to remember that not even the prophets or angels fully understood the gospel or the coming King and kingdom. The parables were one of the ways Jesus would reveal certain glorious truths, 1 Pet 1:10-12.
3. To help… ordinary men and women understand divine truths through easily understood, every day word-pictures, Mk 4:30.
Imagine trying to help a blind person understand a blue sky. What would you do? You might use words, touch, feelings, even smell to help them understand what they cannot see. Jesus was using word-pictures to help people understand the spiritual realities of the kingdom of God.
4. To help… all return and be healed/forgiven by God, Mt 13:15; Mk 4:12.
a. The disciples, Mt 13:36.
b. The multitudes, Mk 12:12.
c. The enemies of Jesus, the chief priests and Pharisees, Mt 21:45.
5. To help… men and women know how to live in the kingdom of God, “lifestyle” parables, Lk 10:29f, 14:7f, 15:1f, 16:14,19f…
6. To summarize, the parables of Jesus have been spoken primarily for 2 reasons:
a. To prepare a people for the present/coming King and kingdom of God.
b.To clarify how one lives in that kingdom.
Therefore, as you read and study a parable, you want to ask yourself how it prepares a person for the kingdom of God and/or how one should live in the kingdom of God.
V. Understanding the Parables
Given the typically brief, colorful nature of the parables, it would seem to be an easy task to understand them. Yet, according to Gordon Fee, “… for all their charm and simplicity, the parables have suffered a fate of misinterpretation in the church second only to the Revelation.” Applying the following suggestions should help us understand what Jesus wants us to learn and apply from His parables.
1. Don’t get frustrated when you can’t seem to understand them. Frequently the disciples needed Jesus’ help understanding the parables, Mt 13:36, so ask Christ (prayer) for help in understanding the parable.
2. Remember - the parables were meant to be understood, even Jesus’ enemies understood, Mt 21:45, so have confidence - you can understand!
3. First, see if Jesus explains the parable, Mt 13:18, then see if the author of the gospel explains it, Lk 18:1.
4. Finally, use the usual methods for understanding the text:
a. Read the parable several times, at least once out loud.
b. Identify the audience and setting/context.
c. Identify the question or problem being addressed, i.e. “Who is my neighbor?”
d. Identify the key people or points of reference, i.e. the 4 seeds…
e. Consider how the audience would identify with the story, ask yourself, “What would they hear?”
f. Consider how they would apply it to their lives.
g. Finally, apply the lesson of the parable to your life.
Summary - In John 6:63, Jesus said, “The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.” Our prayer is that your study, application and teaching of the parables of Jesus will bring you and others the spirit and life Jesus referred to. May God bless you and may God be glorified as you go through this study guide - The Parables of Jesus.