Jesus frequently used parables. Paul records none. Parables are a familiar teaching tool of Rabbis, yet in the Bible, there are few recorded parables apart from those used by Jesus.
A parable is a practical story or word picture from nature or daily life that illustrates a spiritual truth. Usually a parable involves a comparison that guides the listener to understanding and action.
- What was the purpose of the parables?
- Why did Jesus use parables so frequently?
- What kinds of persons were present to hear the stories?
- If only the disciples who received private explanations, how would other listeners able to understand the parables?
- Do you ever use stories or word pictures to communicate meaning to others?
- Is there anyone currently in your life who communicates with stories and similes? If so, how do these impact you?
Grant R. Osborne says, “The parables encounter, interpret and invite the listener/reader to participate in Jesus’ new world-vision of the kingdom. They are ‘speech-event’ that never allows us to remain neutral; they grasp our attention and force us to interact with the presence of the kingdom in Jesus, either positively. . . or negatively”.
The steps and principles we will be using for interpreting the parables are:
- What might be the problem, question or attitude that promoted Jesus to tell the story?
- What is the historical Palestinian context for the parable?
- Follow the storyline from the initial problem to the resolution.
- Find the central point, viewing all other details in relation to this. What title might you give this parable?
- In retelling the story, what modern-day cultural substitutes might be used for the main characters?
- Pay attention to the action that is required by you, the hearer.
- Avoid allegorizing.
- Any interpretation must fit the whole of Jesus’ person, teaching and the Kingdom.
- The parables exist so that we will apply them in our actions and relationships. To not apply what is heard, is to not understand and to learn nothing. The desire to understand a parable is expressed in caring enough to hang around for an explanation – which may come later as you ponder the story.
Grant R. Osborne offers a PowerPoint online from a workshop he presented, Preaching from the Parables. He offers a succinct overview of the history of the multiple forms used to interpret the parables. Osborne concludes in quoting from his book,
“The evocative power of the parables is as great today as it was in the first century. The parables reach down to the deepest levels of the human psyche and will. Moreover, the themes speak as clearly today as they did in Jesus’ day. Forgiveness and compassion, and jealousy and self-centeredness are certainly as meaningful in our day as in ancient times. The message of divine mercy and the radical demands of the presence of the kingdom should ring with a clarion call in the church today.”
Other resources consulted for this introduction:
Grant R. Osborne, The Hermeneutic Spiral Downers Grove, Inter-Varsity Press, 2006.
Craig L. Blomberg, Interpreting the Parables Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1990.
Our prayer is that we and you in your community will continue to allow the biblical texts both to bring us hope of righteousness and justice, to challenge us, and to provide resources to energize us to confront the contemporary world we inhabit.