1.0 The Statement
Our English word “parable” is a transliteration of the Greek “parabole” which simply means: “To place besides, to cast alongside:”
- Parable is an illustration that places one thing beside another for the purpose of teaching.
- Parable puts the known next to the unknown so that we may learn.
- Parable is an earthly illustration with a heavenly message. This links the natural with the spiritual.
Matthew 13:45-46 (KJV) “Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls. Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went, and sold all that he had, and bought it.”
- Some parables are long and detailed, such as the “Parable of the Sower” (Matthew 13:3-23), while other are quite brief, such as the “Parable of the Household” (Matthew 13:52).
- The term “Parable” is used 48 times in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. The word translated “Parable” in the Authorised Version of John 10:6 is not “parabole” (Greek), but “paroimia” (Greek), which is better translated “figure of speech” or “proverb” – John 10:6 “This parable (figure of speech) spake Jesus unto them: but they understood not what things they were which He spake unto them.”
1.1 Why Parables?
The Jewish Rabbi used “Parables” in their teaching however, Jesus is the Greatest Exponent of “Parabolic teaching.” The reasons for teaching in Parables:
First Reason – “Truth Hidden” – When Jesus’ Disciples asked Him the reason for His teaching in Parables (Matthew 13:10), Jesus replied by quoting a prophecy found in Isaiah 6:9-10 which was recorded in Matthew 13:13-15“Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah, which saith, by hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them” (KJV).
1. Jesus teaches that He had hidden spiritual truth in the Parables – Proverbs 25:2 (KJV) “It is the Glory of God to conceal a thing, but the honour of Kings is to search out a matter.”
- The Individual who has the desire to “unearth” this truth will benefit from it.
- The careless and indifferent, those with no spiritual hunger for truth, will not understand and benefit from it.
2. When an Individual hears God’s Word, he is not participating in a static event, but in a dynamic experience. He either become better or worse for having heard God’s Word, for there is accountability.
Second Reason – “Mysteries Revealed” – The use of Parables is given in Matthew 13:34-35 “All these things spoke Jesus unto the multitude in Parables; and without a Parable spoke He not unto them. That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Prophet, saying, I will open my mouth in Parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world.” It was in fulfilment of the Prophecy of Psalm 78:2 “I will open my mouth in a parable. I will utter dark sayings of old.” In His (Jesus’) Parables, Jesus opens to us the “mysteries” (Hidden secrets understood only by Divine Revelation).
1.2 Why Study the Parables?
There are various reasons and benefits for studying Parables:
1 The most obvious reason for studying the Parables is that they are part of God’s Word and we have been commanded to live on “every word” (Matthew 4:4).
2 At least one-third of Christ’s recorded teaching is found in Parables. To ignore them is to rob ourselves of much of what Jesus wants us to learn.
3 Jesus took His Parables from primarily two major sources: (a) The Realm of Creation; (b) The Realm of Human Relationships. These Parables are “born out of life,” and therefore have a way of touching us in those areas where life is the most meaningful and significant.
4 Many Parables were given because of some opposition or problem for, example
- The Pharisees criticised Jesus for eating with Sinners (Luke 15:1-2), so He (Jesus) talked about a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son (Luke 15:3-32).
- Jesus’ Disciples thought they were very successful because of the big Crowds (Matthew 13:1-2), so Jesus told the Parable of “the Sower” who saw three-fourth of his seed produce nothing (Matthew 13:3-23).
- Jesus was accused by the Pharisees of being in league with the Devil because He had cast out “the blind and dumb spirit” (Matthew 12:22-24), so He (Jesus) told the Parable of the strong man guarding his castle (Matthew 12:25-29).
5 The Parables are both “mirrors” and “windows.” As mirrors, the Parables help us to see ourselves. The Parables reveal our lives as they really are. As “windows,” the Parables help us see life and God.
1.3 How to use the Parables?
Jesus asked His Disciples whether they have understood “all” that He had taught them, and they responded “yes” – Matthew 13:51(KJV) “Jesus saith unto them, have ye understood all these things? They say unto Him, yea, Lord.” Understanding always brings responsibility. The Disciples were privileged to understand the explanation of the Parables (“Mysteries of the Kingdom”), and therefore they had a great responsibility to put these understandings into practice – “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required” (Luke 12:48). Immediately, Jesus spoke on the “Parable of the Householder” explains how to best use the Parables – Matthew 13:52 (NASB) “Therefore every Scribe who has become a Disciple of Heaven is like a head of a household, who brings forth out of his treasure things new and old.” In this Parable, Jesus points out three responsibilities that we have toward revealed truth:
1 Learning the Truth – Matthew 13:52a “Therefore every Scribe.” A Scribe’s work was to examine the Law and discover its teachings. It is important to remember that the Scribes began as a very noble Group. They devoted themselves to the Protection and Preservation of the Law. But at the time of Christ, the Scribes work degenerated into protecting dead traditions rather than teaching and living the truth of God’s Word. Jesus accused them of putting the people under spiritual bondage, not liberty (Luke 11:42-52):
- They are so caught up with their traditions that they ignored Jesus’ teaching (Matthew 23:1-7).
- Instead of opening doors for Sinners to be saved, they closed them (Matthew 23:3).
- They became blind Leaders of the Blind (Matthew 23:16-24).
2. Living the Truth – Matthew 13:52b “who has become a disciple of heaven.” Every Scribe who becomes Jesus’ Disciple is a Person who follows Jesus and puts Jesus’ teaching into practice – Matthew 28:20a “Teaching them (disciples) to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.”
- A Disciple learns the truth to live the truth.
- The truth becomes alive to the Disciple when he lives it, and in the process, he learns more truth.
- There is a desperate need for a balance between theory and practice. Learning and living, the classroom and the marketplace.
- Jesus teaches His Disciples by precept and by practice – Acts 1:1b “Of all that Jesus began both to do and teach.”
- A Disciple must be taught objective truth and subjective experience.
It is not enough to be Hearers of God’s Word – We must be Doers if we are going to grow in the Lord Jesus – James 1:22-24 “But be ye Doers of the Word, and not Hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a Hearer of the Word, and not a Doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was.”
3. Sharing the Truth – Matthew 13:52c “Is like a head of a household, who brings forth out of his treasure things new and old.” Every Disciple has “a treasury” within that contains the spiritual truth accumulated from his learning and living. He, as “the head of the household” has to bring forth this treasure of spiritual truth to share. He must share “the old and the new.” The “old” is what he has learned as a “Scribe,” and the “new” is what he learned as a Disciple, practicing the truth.
It in the obedient to God’s Word that a Disciple benefited the most and he has the most to impart. We cannot do without “the old” for out of “the old” comes “the new” – Isaiah 28:9-10 “Whom shall he teach knowledge? And whom shall he make to understand doctrine? Those who are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts, for precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; her a little, and there a little.” There is always new application for existing (“old”) truths, new insights into existing (“old”) principles, and new understanding of existing (“old”) relationships.
Ezra, the first Scribe, exemplified this kind of balanced life of the Disciple of Jesus Christ. It was said of this man of God: Ezra 7:10“For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the Law of the LORD (Scribe – Learning), and to do it (Disciple – Living), and to teach in Israel statutes and judgement (Householder – Sharing).”
1.5 Doing Precedes Teaching
The Principle laid down by Jesus is “doing” precedes “teaching” – Acts 1:1b (KJV) “Of all that Jesus began to both to do and teach.” This Principle (“Do & Teach”) is also followed by the Apostles and Prophets, and Kingdom’s Manifesto (Matthew chapters 5 to 7):
- Apostles – Mark 6:30 “And the Apostles gather themselves together unto Jesus, and told Him all things, both what they had done, and what they had taught.”
- Prophets – Ezra 7:10“For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the Law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgement.”
- Kingdom of Heaven – Matthew 5:19 (NKJV) “Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these Commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called Least in the Kingdom of Heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called Great in the Kingdom of Heaven.”
1.6 How to study the Parables
Because the Bible consists of different types of Writings; it is important to us to know how to approach with each type. We do not approach the Poetry of the Psalms in the same way that we approach the Narratives of Bible History or the Doctrinal discussions of the Epistles. It is a basic rule of Bible Study that we examine each passage of Scripture in the light of its literary classification. Consider these Principles for Interpreting the Parables:
1. Contextual – Study each Parable in its Context – This is true of any Portion of Scripture; but it is especially true of the Parables. Ignore the Context and we can make a Parable teach almost anything. For example, the Parable of the “Good Samaritan” (Luke 10:25-37) has suffered at the hand of “Spiritualisers” who have forgotten the Context – The Context is the Scribe (Lawyer’s) evasive question: “And who is my neighbor” (Luke 10:29b). While there is certainly a Salvation Message in the Parable, the fundamental lesson is that of being a Neighbor to the Person in need – Luke 10:36-37 “Which now of these three thinkest thou (Lawyer), was neighbor unto him that fell among the thieves? And he (Lawyer) said, he that showed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him (Lawyer), go, and do thou likewise.”
2. Main Truth – Look for the main truth the Parable teaches – This does not mean there are no secondary lessons, but even these must be related to the main truth of the Parable. The main truth of the Parable of the Prodigal son is that God receives, forgives, and restores us. We can discover in this rich Parable many spiritual truths, but all of them relate in some way to that primary lesson of God’s Love, for God is Love (1John 4:7-8).
3. Not to Spiritualize – Do not try to attach “meaning” to every detail – Some of the Parables are quite detailed, such as “the Sower” (Matthew 13:3-23) and “the Wheat and the Tares” (Matthew 13:24-30); while other Parables have very little detail. It is not necessary to make everything mean something unless the context warrants it. Jesus explained “the Parable of the Sower” in detail, and likewise “the Parable of the Wheat and Tares.” In connection with this Principle, the symbols used in different Parables do not always represent the same thing. In the “Parable of the Sower,” “the Seed” represents God’s Word (Matthew 13:19a – “the Word of the Kingdom.”) and “Soil” (Matthew 13:19b “that which was sown in his heart”) represents the human heart. But in the “Parable of the Wheat and Tares,” the “Seed” represents the children of the Kingdom (Matthew 13:24), the “Tares,” the children of this World (Matthew 13:25); while the field is the World (Matthew 13:30).
4. Not Doctrinal – The Parables are given to illustrate Doctrine, not to declare Doctrine – In other words, try not to build a case for some Doctrine on the basis of a Parable. The Parables are the “Windows” in the house and not the foundation stones. It is dangerous to build a Doctrine (teaching) of Salvation by Good Works on the “Parable of the sheep and goats” (Matthew 25:31-46). To do so would be to ignore the Prophetic Context of the Parable, and the resulting “Doctrine” would contradict the Clear Teaching of other portions of the Scriptures.
5. Spiritual Perception – Ask God for Spiritual Perception (1John 2:20, 27) – This is necessary for all Bible Study; but it is especially important in dealing with the Parables. The Disciples came to Jesus and asked Him for understanding, and we must do likewise (Matthew 13:10). God Promises us Wisdom if we ask Him (James 1:5).