Why did Jesus teach in parables?

What did Jesus use parables?  Parables comprise about 35% of the teachings of Jesus (Tyndale Bible Dictionary).  They are not illustrations of his teachings; they are his teachings.  There are about 33 parables, depending on what counts as a parable.  Experts differ.  I’ve posted twice on parables , but more needs to be said, and I’ve changed my mind about why Jesus says that he speaks in parables so that his followers won’t understand him.  For if they understood him, they would be saved (Mark 4:10-12).  It’s an extraordinary statement:  Jesus doesn’t want his followers to understand and be saved.  What could that mean?

No one has ever taught using parables as extensively as Jesus.  No one even comes close.  Almost all experts believe that parables are as near as we can get to what Jesus actually said.  Nevertheless, it’s worth remembering that we know not a single one of Jesus’ parables.  We know Jesus’ parables as they are recounted by Mark, Matthew, and Luke, writing decades after Jesus’ death.  They recount many of the same parables, but each adds his own twist, sometimes significant, generally not.  There are no (or one) parables in the Gospel of John. 

What’s a parable?

A parable isn’t a correspondence between one thing and another.  It’s not an analogy.  I like Snodgrass’ definition best.

At its simplest the parable is a metaphor or simile drawn from nature or common life, arresting the hearer by its vividness or strangeness, and leaving the mind in sufficient doubt about its precise application to tease it into active thought. loc 466

There are a few parables in the Hebrew Testament, almost all in the prophetic books.  This turns out to be important, for it helps explain why Jesus said he didn’t want his followers to understand.  More on this later. 

Continue reading Why did Jesus teach in parables?

Parables of Jesus

Parables of Jesus.  Parables are stories.  Lots of effort has gone into defining parables. Some argue that they are like analogies, in which one thing stands for another.  But that definition would assume that every parable can be taken apart, so that this means that.  Better to see the parable as a short story whose meaning is set by the context.

Parables are the main way Jesus Christ explains the kingdom of God, to show the character of God, and the expectations that God has for humans (Snodgrass, p 1).  Parables make up over 35% of Jesus’ teaching in the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke).*  Most scholars believe that the parables are the bedrock of Christ’s teachings, the closest we can get to what he actually said.  Trouble is, the meaning of many parables is ambiguous.  Another trouble is that we have only the evangelists’ interpretation of the parables, and they had a theological agenda, set by the resurrection.  Generally, this is not a problem, for it is this we want to know.  However, there are other ways of trying to get behind Jesus’ intent, and I will share one of them with you.    

Parables remind me of the questions Socrates posed as he went about his day, such as “what is justice?” or “what is excellence?”  Simple questions with big answers.  But the real similarity resides in the way in which Jesus’ parables and Socrates’ questions call for answers.  Not just to the question posed, but an answer that requires turning one’s life around.  The Hebrew term for riddle, mashal, also means parable.  It is up to us to find the answer.  My favorite definition is that the parable is intended to “deceive the hearer into the truth.”

Continue reading Parables of Jesus

Verified by MonsterInsights