Let's be reasonable with one another, shall we?

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Why Parables?

I have been thinking for a while about parables. I wonder why Jesus used them so much.

Matthew 13 says:
13This is why I speak to them in parables: "Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. 14In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: " 'You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. 15For this people's heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.'
I am not sure what this means in regards to those readers of the parables today. He has spoken in hidden language to a particular group back then and for a specific reason - because He knew they wouldn't receive His truth anyway. But what of the church? We read these parables and I think they are remain confusing! There are many interpretations that are quite wide-ranging.

One thing is for sure - it is difficult to dogmatically hold doctrine that you conclude from a parable. It often sounds so unproven and unclear.

I do think they are beneficial, perhaps to get us to think? (2 Tim. 3:16)

The next few posts are going to be on parables. I am going to pick a few and delve into my own interpretations of them and discuss some of the other ones I've read - and even some of my own battling interpretations of each. Maybe it will be fun - maybe you will add your two cents.


  • Rose,

    It is interesting that you bring this topic up.

    I have been teaching a hermeneutics class and we spent a good deal of time on principles of interpreting the parables.

    I believe that there is wonderful truth and doctrine that is clearly expressed in the 35 parables of Christ.

    The parables are special stories told to teach particular truths by analogy, comparisons, and correspondences.

    The word parable comes from two Greek words "para" meaning beside or alongside, and "ballein" meaning to throw. The story is thus "thrown alongside" the truth to illustrate it.

    Parables sparked interest in the hearers, encouraged people to think, and concealed the truth from those who were hardened of heart.

    They used common every day elements for the Jewish culture, such as commercial, farming, domestic, social, religious, and civil.

    The parables used many literary features: suspense, contrast, characterization, conflict, surprise, hyperbole, reversal, end stress, direct discourse, and rehtorical questioning.

    Much of which is taught in the parables concerns important truths about the Kingdom of God, both in its present(spiritual) and coming age (physical) senses.

    Some guidelines for interpreting parables:

    1) Note the Story's Natural meaning. The parable is a story that seeks to illustrate a truth by analogy. It brings together a "true-to-life" incident and the spritual truths it is illustrating or illuminating. Therefore we must first understand the true-to-life incident in its cultural and historical setting, which will prepare us to discern the truth of its analogy.

    2) We must then determine the problem, question, or situation that prompted the parable. This will give us insight into the truth being taught. This can provide an indispensible key to understanding the parable.

    3) Ascertain the main truth being illustrated by the Parable. For the most part, each parable has one main teaching or point being made. However, in support of the major point, details in the parable itself are analgous to certain spritual facts.

    Each and every word of Christ is fully inspired. It is recognized that not all elements in the parables are analogous to spiritual elements. Those that are not are included to make the story life-like and to add local color. Nevertheless, we should not assume that the elements are not analogous until we have ruled out the possibility that it is.

    As with the interpretation of figures of speech and symbols, we must ascertain the points of comparison and correspondence between the elements in the parable and the truth that is being illustrated. To each element that has a corresponding significance in the parable, there resides an objective fact that supports the main teaching of the parable.

    Caution. Not all the details in the parable will have analogous significance in support of the main teaching. To force meaning upon them will be to turn them into allegories.

    4) Validate the main truth of the parable with direct teaching of the Scriptures, if at all possible. Often, but not always guaranteed, the parables main teaching will be attested to in other portions of scripture.

    5)Note the actual or intended response of the hearers. This may also give clues as to the main teaching of the text.

    For an example of exposition of the parable of the sower, click:

    Parable of the Sower

    It is very important to examine the details of the parables themselves.

    For instance, in the parable of the sower, the Traditionalist will say the main point is "Most of those who hear the word of God will not be converted".

    I believe that the main point of the parable is "The Word of God will not produce the same result in everyone". This is attested to by the text itself.

    As a side note, I wonder what the Traditionalist says concerning Jesus affirmation :

    Luke 8:15
    But the ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience.

    What kind of Scripture twisting will they employ to get this verse to fit into their TULIP theology?


    I look forward to your series on some of the parables. I hope that I will have the time to greatly participate.

    I will pray the Lord on your behalf to give you wisdom and insight into His word.

    Your unashamed Free Grace brother,


    By Blogger Antonio, at 6/27/2006 9:53 PM  

  • Rose, sorry I don't have time to post at the moment. I have sent you an email. It is from dawnws1@hotmail.com. I don't know if you have hotmail filtered to label as junk mail or not so I thought I would give you a heads up.

    By Blogger Dawn, at 6/27/2006 10:03 PM  

  • I think Jesus spoke in parables partly to hide the truth about His mission and so that the Jews would reject Him. If they had believed HIm, they would not have crucified Him.

    Hence, only those chosen and drawn by the Father could believe while He was on earth.

    Every Blessing in Christ


    By Blogger Dyspraxic Fundamentalist, at 6/28/2006 3:41 AM  

  • Antonio,
    What a comment! Wow - I am thankful that you have contributed this. I think I have a lot to learn and your comment has motivated me to read up on this some more. The reason that I decided to post on this is because John and I have been discussing a few different parables over these past few months and our thoughts often clash with what we hear elsewhere.

    I am looking forward to your interaction!

    Your friend,

    By Blogger Rose~, at 6/28/2006 12:01 PM  

  • Hi Rose
    The parables were evocative not provocative. By couching his teaching in parables, Jesus made certain points much clearer to true-hearted people than even plain language could have made them.

    Jesus was able to take advantage of the occasions when multitudes flocked to hear him speak. Through the parables he could enlighten those whose hearts were sincere and receptive and who were hungering and thirsting for righteousness


    By Blogger forgiven, at 6/28/2006 12:28 PM  

  • Hi Dawn,
    Dawn has a tough question about a Scripture on her blog if anyone is interested in helping her.

    Hi Matthew,
    I think you are right. What do you think about us reading them today?

    Thanks for stopping by!
    Now I have to look up "evocative". :~)
    Your comment is a good way of describing the flip side of the Scripture that I quoted on the post.
    God bless.

    By Blogger Rose~, at 6/28/2006 12:50 PM  

  • I think many imagine that Jesus spoke in parables as a nice illustrative way of teaching the truth - but as your post rightly points out - the purpose of the parables was not to reveal, but to obscure the truth.

    Having the New Testament and the church, we indeed possess more light than the original hearers of these parables did - but even with increased illumination we can still mess up the interpretation of these parables if we are wreckless - even the ones that Christ explained in scripture!

    I believe that whatever truth is contained in any of the parables, is explained plainly elsewhere in the New Testament. I think that gives us a reasonable 'boundary' when it comes to interpretating parables.

    For instance, in Luke 8:15 Jesus, in explaining the parable of the sower, says, But the ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience.

    It is obvious that no one who continues to exalt his own rule over his own life against God's rule in his life can be described as having a "good and noble heart" - so when I read this, I understand it in the "traditional sense" as an affirmation that unless/until one repents, the gospel they hear will remain "fruitless."

    I think James White does a good job of explaining the parable of the vine and the branches here, and in so doing, he demonstrates the right context of the parable of the sower.

    It is worth a read, James is an excellent exegete.

    By Blogger Daniel, at 6/28/2006 4:47 PM  

  • As I read Daniel's thoughts I wonder why he would say that it is the "gospel" that would remain fruitless rather than the individual.

    James tells us

    James 1:17-18
    Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth

    It was the Word of God that caused our new birth, that gave us life.

    It is abundantly clear in the parable of the sower that the word of God produced life in the last three soils, and abundantly clear that the seed remained in the last three soils, whereas the fruit-bearing was contingent on the soil, in other words, the heart of the one in whom the seed of the word produced life!

    It is the Traditionalist who must import his theology into this parable rather than see the clear main teaching along with its supporting analogous elements, such as the fact that the last three "sprang up" and produced life, and the seed remained in the soil.

    Why did Satan have to remove the seed? "Then the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved."

    In the last three soils, the seed, which is analogous to the word, remains in the soil.

    Thus the traditionalist makes the appropriation of eternal life contingent on fruit-bearing, for no fruit = hell, in their theology.


    By Blogger Antonio, at 6/28/2006 6:25 PM  

  • Rose,

    In the movie Citizen Cane...btw, Did you ever see that? Well anyway, at the end of the movie he was saying the word "Rosebud" at his death. You see he had gone through a life with a hard heart attacking political figures and everything under the sun. His heart had indeed grown hard. But at his death bed, he is calling out "Rosebud" remembering the sled he had as a child. It was an emblem of his childhood.

    Time after time Israels heart had heard the Scriptures. This compounds things in fallen man. A dullness of hearing and a familiarity growing a customed to knowing it all. The prophets would try to convince Kings to hear the message, but all too often they would attack the Prophets, kill them or throw them in a well or in jail.

    Nathan faced this horrifying possibility when facing David in his sin. If he shook his bony finger at him, then perhaps David would have thrown him in Jail or killed him...who knows.

    Instead he took him back to his childhood and spoke of a little ewe lamb. This softened Davids heart and in the process David learned who he was and what he had done. How? By a Parable. By a parable a kings heart was crushed and brought to repentance.

    Jesus said, "Except you become as one of these little ones, you will not enter into the Kingdom." Now this can be twofold as the believer has to be reminded of his childhood like David.

    Jesus also said, "I thank you Father, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the prudent and revealed them unto babes."

    Jesus said, "My sheep hear my voice."

    This is how he communicates to his children. The Holy Spirit is the teacher. The one who see this will be made aware of this truth. He guides in the understanding of the Parables when we become as a little child.

    By Blogger Bhedr, at 6/28/2006 8:52 PM  

  • As I read Antonio's thoughts I wonder how he can conclude that the word of God cannot be fruitless. Judas receieved the same instructions from Christ that saved all the other apostles. Are we to conclude that Judas' failure to produce any fruit given the same seed as everyone else indicates that he was saved, but merely impenitent?

    It does seem a little much.

    By Blogger Daniel, at 6/28/2006 10:28 PM  

  • No. I conclude, Daniel, that the word of God produces life. It is the individual who remains fruitless.

    The only time the word of God does not produce life is when it is trampled underfoot and eaten by the birds. Otherwise, it produces regenerate life.

    When Jesus says "Your Son lives" (John 4:50) His word performs its intended result: the child is completely healed.

    When the seed of His word is planted in a soil, and is not removed by Satan, it WILL perform its intended result of regeneration.

    It is obvious that Judas did not believe that Jesus guaranteed for him eternal life by faith alone, for Jesus calls him "the son of perdition" (John 17:12). When Judas heard Jesus' word, Satan stole that word out of his heart.

    These concepts I am relating to you are not very hard to understand so I am wondering why you are being confused. I would guess it is that you, truly, you do not even wish to consider the viewpoints of my position.


    By Blogger Antonio, at 6/29/2006 12:14 AM  

  • Rose~, it is very good to read them today, but the things in them are no longer mysteries.

    By Blogger Dyspraxic Fundamentalist, at 6/29/2006 4:32 AM  

  • Hi Rose!

    I shall watch with interest. Some parables have as many interpretations as there are commentaries, and commentators.

    By Blogger bluecollar, at 6/29/2006 7:37 AM  

  • Hi rose~ again,

    Daniel, Thanks for sharing that link!

    By Blogger bluecollar, at 6/29/2006 8:20 AM  

  • Antonio said, "These concepts I am relating to you are not very hard to understand so I am wondering why you are being confused. I would guess it is that you, truly, you do not even wish to consider the viewpoints of my position."

    That is one possibility.

    Another might be that I held your view previously, with as much vigor or more, but set it aside when the view I currently hold agreed more with my understanding of scripture.

    I would love to believe, as I formerly did, that the other soils wherein the seeds sprouted fruitlessly represent fruitless regeneration - but I am inclined to believe that they represent a vacuous, dead, unregenerate faith instead.

    It isn't that your position is too complex (or overly simple for that matter) it is that your view stands in contrast to my understanding of the remainder of scripture.

    I will gladly embrace your view the very moment that my understanding of scripture motivates me to accept it above what scripture presently says.

    Mark - James likes to tell it like it is, with no bias, or fluff. You gotta like that.

    By Blogger Daniel, at 6/29/2006 10:07 AM  

  • Hi Rose,

    Daniel, it is interesting that James Montgomery Boice(a traditionalist) held to that view that John 15:2 spoke of God "Holding up" those branches while James White (a traditionalist) agrees with MacArthur (a traditionalist) that God the Father is actually cutting away dead wood (false professors) from the vine.

    Rose, it would seem that even traditionalists would come to different conclusions sometimes. The Dispensationalists will have their hermeneutical approach as will the Affective Theology camp as well as the Covenant Theology and the New Covenat Theology folks. This is going to be a post where there should be much humility as we consider the various conlusions.

    By Blogger bluecollar, at 6/29/2006 10:58 AM  

  • Daniel,
    I think you are right - we can definately mess up the interpretation of parables - we can certainly mess up plainly spoken biblical truths, so it stands to reason that it would be easy to miss the point in a parable. I see you have had some discussion with Antonio - I will stay out of that. Thanks for visiting.

    Your comments are excellent!!! I saw that movie and never got the significance of "Rosebud" and that he was saying it as he died becuase the hardness of his heart was on the block. More importantly - I have never thought of the prophet Nathan using a parable - and for the reason that you have pointed out. How very excellent!! Yhank you for your contribution, my brother.

    Hi and thanks for your thoughts - I can see you get my drift. One person says dogmatically that the parable means one thing and another person says dogmatically that it means something entirely different. All the while I wonder "Why did the Lord include these in the Canon?" He must be so wise!

    By Blogger Rose~, at 6/29/2006 11:22 AM  

  • Rose,BTW, many of my friends call me Mark. Please feel free to do so,friend.

    By Blogger bluecollar, at 6/29/2006 11:31 AM  

  • Rose,

    It is interesting to note that the more objective the "hermeneutical approach" is, the more consistent and comparable the interpretations will be.

    The only objective standard for biblical interpretation is the literal method (which, of course, sees figures of speech and symbols as having literal indicative truth which is analogous to the symbols being used), which takes into account historical, grammatical, and rhetorical considerations of the text.

    The more faithful and consistent one employs the literal, historical, grammatical, and rhetorical principles of communicative interpretation, the more likely he is in correctly understanding whatever communication is set before him (a newspaper article, a poem, a legal document), in this case, the text of the Bible.

    To the degree that one fails to employ the principles of literal interpretation he will fall short in discerning the meaning and intent of the communication he is determined to comprehend.

    With all the talk of multiple interpretations and multiple "hermenteutical approaches" one may become disparaged that the objective truth of a passage, in this case, the parables, may ever be ascertained!

    I am convinced that not only there resides but one meaning to each text, but that the truths being conveyed in that text may be successfully mined, to the extent that we give all effort to employ the literal principles of communicative interpretation.

    God didn't give us a theology text book. He gave us an illustrative literary masterpiece, filled with different genres and employing the gamut of literary devices.

    God's word is of inestimable value, and should not be approached as if the truth it contains is cheap. God therefore rewards the diligent efforts of the interpreter who untilizes those principles of communicative interpretation which He Himself innately placed within us by the design of His creative purposes.

    The easy and quick readings of the texts construct a faulty foundation for the interpreter, who then uses this groundwork to underpin and measure subsequent readings, importing his arrived at theology into them.

    Often times the interpreter uses the more obscure passages to interpret the simple ones, rather than performing the reverse. This type of 'interpretation' is wildly rampant in both the Arminian and Experimental Predestinarian (Traditionalist) institutions.

    The parables, as wholes, contain but a single meaning, and a main point or teaching being presented. The parables also have subordinate elements used in support of the main teaching. The wise and successful interpreter takes into account all the supporting details, for Jesus, most assuredly, does not traffic in superfluity of expression. His words are totally inspired, and we neglect the details at our peril.

    The truly profiting interpreter will draw the meaning out of the text rather than use his presuppositions to attach meaning to the elements of a parable.

    Comparisons of interpretations of the parables are highly informative, for usually you will be able to clearly and easily ascertain who has used the full text in his exposition, incorporating all the elements into the main teaching, and giving the simple, and not forced, analogous correspondences between the metaphors, symbols, and figurative language and the objective truths which they represent.

    Rose, you are well on your way, being the dispensationalist that you are, for you have literal interpretion as your 'tradition'. Opposing theologies make good use of allegorical models, which have, in reality, no objective standards.

    It is interesting to note, to the extent that one employs the literal principles of communicative interpretation, he will be a dispensationalist.


    By Blogger Antonio, at 6/29/2006 12:45 PM  

  • Hi Rose,

    Antonio, and the Covenant Theology, and the New Covenant Theology folks will all sing the praises of their own approaches. How long has the Dispensational approach been around?

    By Blogger bluecollar, at 6/29/2006 1:04 PM  

  • Antonio,
    You kind of remind me of President George W. Bush. Let me explain. The liberals are so quick to paint charicatures of him as if he is a clueless, bumbling fool. The media likes to present him as an idiot. I think he is a brilliant man and I think a lot of his strength lies in the fact that he is confident and unabashed about his deeply held convictions. Many in blogdom charicature you in a similar way, not as dumb or bumbling, but they dismiss you as though you are so clueless about the Scripture and not an astute exegete. They are wrong! God bless you, dear brother. It is good to see you back around. I don’t know how long it will last, but I am glad to read every one of your comments on several blogs.

    You said:
    The only objective standard for biblical interpretation is the literal method (which, of course, sees figures of speech and symbols as having literal indicative truth which is analogous to the symbols being used), which takes into account historical, grammatical, and rhetorical considerations of the text.

    I say AMEN!

    Reading your comment I was reminded of a time when John and I were listening to a Covenant Theologian on the radio named Harold Camping (sp). Anyone ever hear of him? He was covering this verse in the Mark 14:

    53They took Jesus to the high priest, and all the chief priests, elders and teachers of the law came together. 54Peter followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. There he sat with the guards and warmed himself at the fire.

    Mr. Camping began to interpret this passage. He said that the fire represented hell and that Peter was getting too close to hell. He also said that warming himself is a worldly thing to do and that maybe this means that Peter was becoming too friendly with the world while he should be standing next to the Lord. He went on and on “interpreting” this passage. My husband switched off the radio and said “Maybe Peter was just cold and was warming his hands over the fire!”

    This is a good example of the absurdity of trying to read into passages instead of taking them literally ... and only considering figures of speach etc.. when it is obvious they are being employed.

    By Blogger Rose~, at 6/29/2006 1:17 PM  

  • Mark,
    You always fall back on that to cut-down dispensationalism. I believe the dispensational concept, although not specifically as it is today, has been around for a very, very long time. Paul used the word "dispensation." ;~)
    You should quit accusing us of being "Johnny-come-latelys" and find a better criticism ... but not today, OK? :~) :~) :~)

    Your friend,

    By Blogger Rose~, at 6/29/2006 1:21 PM  

  • I'm in a hurry Rose, but wanted to say thanks for directing people my way about my question.


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6/29/2006 1:26 PM  

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