Parables an Introduction

The use of Parables can be found in the Old Testament as well as in the New Testament. In the Old Testament we see that several speakers in the Old Testament used Parables to bring out the truths on a certain point. Nathan used a parable in the book of 2 Samuel 12:1-4 to expose the sin of David. The Prophet Isaiah used a Parable to describe the house of Israel as God’s Vineyard in Isaiah 5:1-7. Also the Prophet Ezekiel used three Parables in his book Ezekiel. In the New Testament Jesus used Parables forty-six times as a teaching tool during His ministry.

It can be said that Parables are a style of storytelling that the Jews used in their culture to bring a certain truth to life. Jesus employed the same method in His teaching. The style of a Parable is to take an ordinary situation from life and use them to make a spiritual application to one’s life. Most Parables will have an element of mystery to them and one will have to give thought to its meaning in order to receive the point that is being made. Parables may not be in themselves complete and the listener will have to fill in the missing pieces in order to fully understand. The Parable itself is only a comparison to the actual truth that is being brought forth in the story. One purpose of the use of a Parable is to take a common instance and use it to bring a deeper understanding of how God works.

Before we study the Parables that Jesus told we must first gain a foundational understanding of four points. We must first define what a Parable is, understand why Jesus taught using Parables, discern what the Parables are about, and how we should interpret them.

The English word Parable comes from the Greek word parabole. This word is a compound word that or Para and Ballo. The word para we are familiar with as in para medic or para legal. The word para means to come along or to compare. A paramedic would be one who comes along side of a medic and assists him. Or a paralegal would be to assist a lawyer. So a para story would come along side of a principle that is being made by its telling. Ballo means to throw or see. One would use the para story in order that the listener would see the underlying truth that the story represents.

Jesus used Parables to present a contrast between good and bad, or holy and evil. From a Parable the listener can draw a comparison between the stories as a mirror image that would bring out the single concept of a truth. We can gain a better understanding of the use of Parables by remembering the Aesop’s Fables from our days of youth. Where the fables addressed higher moral issues the Parables of Jesus addressed the higher spiritual truths of His teaching.

Jesus often used phrases to draw His listener’s attention to the point that He was making. Such as, “He who has ears, let him hear,” “Most assuredly I say to you,” and “How much more.” These phrases would jar the attention of the listener so he would pay attention and hear what Jesus was teaching him. A good definition of a Parable is “an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.”

The question comes to mind is why Jesus didn’t teach in a straight forward manner. A lot of the teaching of that Jesus taught was done in a plain and straight forward way. But to understand why so much of His teaching was taught through the use of Parables we have to consider a few things that were happening in that time and are still happening today.

I have always thought in my own mind that the teaching of Jesus was primarily for His disciples. Of course for the twelve but there were many more who followed Jesus during His ministry. There were also the scribes and Pharisees, and critics from other forms of religion and He was constantly under the eye of the Sanhedrin. These people were not coming to learn from Him but to capture Him is miss statements that they could use against Him. From early on in His ministry the Pharisees were plotting as to how they could be rid of Him. Jesus was turning many away from their self-centered teaching, He was upsetting the balance of their rule over the people. They could not find fault in Him but they never ceased to try and were always around when He spoke.  Their hearts were hardened to the truth of God’s Word. “In whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:4)

Some of the Parables were hard to understand as they used experiences from life to express the meaning of what Jesus was teaching. True the religious leaders had a great knowledge of the Scriptures but their interpretation was in a physical sense and Jesus was teaching in a spiritual sense. An example is that the Pharisees believed in an afterlife where the Seduces did not believe in life after death. If there is no life after death, then there is no eternal spirit. With this lack of belief they could not understand the spiritual implications of Jesus’ teaching.

Most everything that Jesus did in His ministry was to fulfill Prophecy. During the Sermon on the Mount Jesus clearly stated that He had not come to abolish the law or the teaching of the prophets but to fulfill what had been taught. “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.” (Matthew 5:17) Jesus using Parables in His teaching was another fulfillment of prophecy. “I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings of old.” (Psalm 78:2) Matthew in his gospel testified to this truth that Jesus was the Messiah and therefore was fulfilling all that the prophets had spoken about Him. “This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: “I will open My mouth in parables; I will utter things hidden since the foundation of the world.” (Matthew 13:35)

Still, even for the disciples all was not understood in His teaching through Parables. They could grasp it but they couldn’t extract His full meaning. They were like most, they did not want to have to meditate or think deep into what was being said. They wanted all the cards laid out on the table. The failure to ponder the truths leaves us with a shallow foundation and the purpose of Jesus was for people to have to pay attention and to think about what He was saying. Still, the disciples asked for an explanation many a time for the full meaning and Jesus would answer. But they had it within them because they believed and they had faith in their Master. “And the disciples came and said to Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?” Jesus answered them, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted.” (Matthew 13:10-11)

The Parables were not understood by all the people who had gathered to hear Jesus’ teachings. Some, as the non-believers, the scribes and Pharisees whose minds may have been blinded, and others who were there just for the show and did not come to search for understanding of the truth. There are many like that today who come for the show, they come to be entertained, to be fed with physical food, and care not for the abundance of spiritual food. They hear but they do not listen, they sing but they do not praise, and they bow their heads but they do not pray. They have become dull in the mind, blind in their sight, and deaf in their hearing. They are unwilling to repent and be healed by the Great Physician. “For the heart of this people has become dull, With their ears they scarcely hear, And they have closed their eyes, Otherwise they would see with their eyes, Hear with their ears, And understand with their heart and return, And I would heal them.” (Mathew 13:15)

Only those who believe and have faith in the Lord can see and hear the truth that Jesus is teaching. We follow Him in faith and without faith it is impossible to please Him. “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.” (Hebrews 11:6) I have myself fallen into a trap that my father spoke of often. We go to listen to the preacher preach but if it is a text we have heard before we close our minds to hear it again. The truth of this trap is that we came without faith that God had a word just for us. We missed it because we thought we already knew it. I believe that it is not so much what the Pastor is saying but what the Spirit is saying through Him. If we don’t have the faith to receive it, then we will miss it and walk away no different than when we walked in. “For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard.” (Hebrews 4:2)

Jesus spoke in Parables to hide the meaning to those who had already rejected His message. Jesus spoke in Parables to give those who had ears to hear a deeper and fuller understanding of the spiritual truths that He was giving them, His disciples.

For those who have faith in Jesus, those who believe in who He is, and those who believe in the Father who sent Him, the purpose of the Parables is that we can learn the mysteries of the Heavenly Kingdom. “But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear. “For truly 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.” (Matthew 13:16-17)

Many in the multitudes did not grasp the meaning of the Parables and they had not even a clue because they were not asking, seeking, and knocking that the truths would be opened unto them. They were not people of prayer. “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. “For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8)

Heaven is foreign to us, as none of us has been there. Jesus came from Heaven and He would soon return to His home there. He knew the mysteries He was trying to bring understanding to for the disciples. Yet, it was at time to distant for them to fully understand and when He was done teaching He would take His followers aside and explain to them the deeper meanings. “As soon as He was alone, His followers, along with the twelve, began asking Him about the parables. And He was saying to them, “To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God, but those who are outside get everything in parables, so that while seeing, they may see and not perceive, and while hearing, they may hear and not understand, otherwise they might return and be forgiven.” (Mark 4:1-12)

The encompassing theme of the Parables of Jesus was the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven. We see this again in Matthew 13:11. “Jesus answered them, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted.”

As we learn together from the Parables there are two things that we must realize. We will not find a spiritual truth in every detail of each Parable. We must not let our imagination run wild and read more into them than what Jesus has taught. We must remember that it is a spiritual lesson and rely on the Holy Spirit to guide us through. This is an advantage that we have as a following of Jesus our Lord and Savior. And we must not find always only one spiritual truth in a Parable and be satisfied. Let us not limit God in His infinite possibility.

Guidelines for understanding is to first look at the explanation that Jesus gave for the Parable. When Jesus told the Parable of the Sower He offered this tip in His explanation, “And He said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How will you understand all the parables?” (Mark 4:13)

If we understand the basic truth of the Parable then what ever other truths we find must be in harmony with the basic truth. Absolute truth can have no conflict in its meaning. An error in reading Scripture is that sometimes we take it out of context to make it fit to our own purpose. When reading a Parable we must pay attention to the introduction of the Parable. What was going on when Jesus chose to tell this Parable? When there is an application of the truth of the Parable we will find greater insight.

Neither are we to form a new doctrine from the Parable. We must not forget that Parables were used to conceal spiritual truths so they are not always cut and dry and clear in their meaning. Therefore, we must never try to form a new doctrine using only the Parable as its base. All scripture testifies unto itself and therefore all must fit together without conflict.

But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear. “For truly 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.” (Matthew 13:16-17)

Thomas N Kirkpatrick

First Baptist Church of Durant, September 1, 2016

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