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Questions and Answers on Parables
WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 22, 2010
Posted by: Church of Christian Liberty | more..
23,800+ views | 3,920+ clicks

Some Questions and Answers on Parables[1]

Q: What is a parable?

A: Various definitions can be given. A parable is an expanded analogy used to convince and persuade.[2] A parable may be a proverb, wisdom saying, or even riddle; it is primarily a way to convey truth concerning deep matters by means of an analogy or comparison drawn usually from commonplace things.[3] Jesus told parables in order to prompt thinking and stimulate response.[4]

Q: How many parables are recorded in the gospels?

A: There are approximately 37-65 parables. The range comes from defining exactly what is a parable and how some parables might be divided or counted as one.[5] The ESV Study Bible lists 25 parables, but I don’t think the listing is meant to be exhaustive.[6]

Q: How can parables be classified?

A: Klyne Snodgrass gives a listing and description which I here summarize.[7]

1. Aphoristic sayings or maxims. An example might be from Matthew 8:22, “Let the dead bury their own dead.” This is a statement that certainly encourages deep thought.

2. Similitudes. An example would be Matthew 13:33, Another parable He spoke to them: “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened.”

3. Interrogative Parables. These are parables that ask questions. Examples would include the parable that begins in Matthew 11:16, “But to what shall I liken this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their companions…” Another example would be The Parable of the Lost Sheep which begins with the question, “What do you think?”

4. Double Indirect Narrative Parables. These are parables that tell a story. Something happens in the story that creates a problem or possibility. The remainder of the story brings resolution. The term double indirect comes from the fact that these parables use other people and other subjects to speak to the listeners. Examples of this type would include the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) and the Parable of the Banquet/Wedding Feast (Luke 14:15-24).

5. Juridical Parables. Juridical means relating to judicial proceedings or administration of the law. These parables are a type of Double Indirect Narrative Parables. They are characterized by the judgment the parable brings to the reader. Nathan’s parable to King David is perhaps the best known parable of this type. Examples that Jesus told include the Parable of the Two Sons (Matthew 21:28-32), the Parable of the Wicked Tenants (Matthew 21:33-35), and the Parable of the Two Debtors (Luke 7:40-47).

6. Single Indirect Parables. These parables are example stories, which the tell the reader do this or don’t do this. The following parables are part of this category: Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37), the Rich Fool (Luke 12:16-21), the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31), the Pharisee and the Tax Collector[8] (Luke 18:9-14). The Parable of the Unjust Steward (Luke 16:1-9) could be a fifth example.

7. “How Much More” Parables. These parables are not determined by form but by function. These parables can also be types of other parables. Most of them contrast human actions with God’s actions. An example would be Matthew 7:7-11 which ends with the question, “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” Another example would be the Parable of the Unjust Judge (Luke 18:1-8).[9]

Q: Are parables allegories?

A: The term allegory has caused tremendous debate. Klyne Snodgrass states that the allegorical features of parables do not give license to allegorize. He concludes stating, “All parables except the single indirect ones are metaphorical/allegorical in that they mirror a reality outside themselves.”[10]

Q: What are some characteristics of Jesus’ parables?

A: Klyne Snodgrass lists a number of helpful characteristics. Some of them are here summarized.[11]

1. Jesus’ parables are to the point. Jesus used no more words than necessary.

2. Parables are marked by simplicity and symmetry. We should pay attention to symmetry but not force it on the parables.

3. Jesus’ parables focus mainly on humans. They are taken from ordinary life though all the actions are not ordinary. Some of the parables are realistic, but not all should be taken that way. Some of them use intentional exaggeration to make a point. Likely no one in first century Israel ever owed another person 10,000 talents.

4. Parables are engaging and have the purpose of drawing in the listener. Finding the implied question a parable addresses is key in interpretation.

5. Parables often contain elements of reversal. This reversal parallels the reversal brought about in Jesus’ ministry. For example it is the tax collector who is seen to be righteous, not the proud Pharisee.

6. The crucial matter of parables is usually at the end. This does not mean the rest of the parable can be ignored, of course.

7. The context of parables must be carefully considered. The stories make a point within a larger point of the text.

8. Parables frequently allude to OT texts.

9. Most parables appear in larger collections of parables. Parables should be considered especially in light of surrounding parables.

Q: How should parables be interpreted?

A: Klyne Snodgrass again has helpful material on this. Some of his points are here summarized.

1. Analyze each parable thoroughly, comparing each Gospel where the parable is found.

2. Listen to the parable without presupposing its form or meaning.

3. If we want to seek the meaning Jesus intended, we must seek to hear it as Jesus’ Palestinian hearers would have heard it. Paying attention to cultural and historical factors is crucial.

4. Notice how the parable fits into the larger story told by each Gospel writer.

5. Determine specifically the function of the story in the teaching of Jesus. Some parables make one point; other parables make several points.

6. Focus and interpret what is given, not what is omitted. Spending time on what is not in the parable is wasted time.

7. Do not impose real time on parable time.

8. Pay particular attention to the rule of end stress.

9. Find other places in Jesus’ teaching similar to what is taught in the parable.

10. Determine the theological intent and significance of the parable.

Q: What might have influenced Jesus’ parables?

A: The primary influence is certainly the OT. The Hebrew word mashal was any saying meant to stimulate thought or provide insight. The Greek word parabole is used in the Septuagint[12] most of the time to translate the Hebrew word mashal and is not used to translate any other word. There are quite a few examples in the OT that can be compared to Jesus’ parables.

1. The Parable of the Ewe Lamb told to David by Nathan (2 Sam. 12:1-14)

2. Parable of the Vineyard (Isaiah 5:1-7)

3. At least six passages in Ezekiel are narrations or allegories of Israel’s history.

4. Parable of the Widow and the Avengers which Joab had a wise woman tell David (2 Sam. 14:1-20)

5. Parable of the Fake Injury told by an unnamed prophet to Ahab (1 Kings 20:35-42)

“Every indication is that Jesus learned the parabolic method from the Hebrew Scriptures, especially the prophets.”[13]



[1] Prepared by P. Calvin Lindstrom as a summary of some of the very helpful information presented by Klyne Snodgrass.

[2] Klyne Snodgrass, Stories with Intent, (Eerdmans: Grand Rapids), 9.

[3] Donald A. Hagner, Matthew 1–13, vol. 33A of Word Biblical Commentary. Accordance/Thomas Nelson electronic ed. (Dallas: Word Books, 1993), 368.

[4] Snodgrass, 9.

[5] Snodgrass, 22.

[6] ESV Study Bible, 1847.

[7] Snodgrass, 11-15.

[8] The KJV calls the man a Publican

[9] Also call the Parable of the Persistent Widow.

[10] Snodgrass, 17.

[11] Snodgrass, 17-22.

[12] The Greek translation of the OT.

[13] Snodgrass, 41.

Category:  New Testament

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