“And He spake a parable unto them saying…”
Selected Stories & Illustrations
The study of parables is an interesting and profound way to learn many of the doctrines and teachings of Christ. They are more than stories; they are practical tools to reveal deep doctrinal truths. The primary purpose of a truth conveyed in a parable will never contradict other doctrinal scriptures; rather, other scriptures and prophecies more difficult to understand should always be interpreted to agree with the simplicity of the teachings of Christ. It is vital to examine parables with honesty and openness to grasp their true significance more fully. The tips below can help facilitate a sound approach to understanding the wonderful parables of Jesus Christ.
Consider the Literary Context
Study the context of the parable. Examine what is said in the text before and after the parable. Often, Jesus explicitly states the purpose or meaning of the parable told. The parable of the persistent widow and the judge in
Luke 18:2-6 could be badly misinterpreted without considering the context. One might infer by the story itself that God is unjust and uncaring. That is not the point of the parable; rather, Jesus stated the purpose in verse one: “And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint.”
Examine Details Correctly
Some parables have details that do not have great spiritual significance. They are given to enhance the story and to paint a picture illustrating an overriding spiritual truth. The parable of the unjust judge does not illustrate God but rather the details were used to demonstrate the importunity and tenacity of the widow. Be careful about attaching spiritual significance to every detail of a parable.
It is said that “a parable is not designed to walk on all fours.” Every detail is not a unique lesson or analogy. For this reason, parables are not always true allegories, as every detail does not have spiritual meaning. Assigning a meaning to every detail can derail the true meaning of a parable.
Observe Repeated Imagery
Many times images Jesus used are repeated in the Scripture and have similar meaning from parable to parable. Often, a master, judge, or king represents God. Workers and servants illustrate followers of God. Sheep represent children of God, and goats represent the unredeemed. A shepherd, keeper of the vineyard, or the son of a king often represents Christ.
What Prompted the Parable?
When Jesus told parables, He was sometimes answering a question or addressing an attitude of people present. In Luke 15, Jesus told parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son. Jesus told these parables in response to the Pharisees and scribes murmuring and saying, “This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them (v. 2).” Understanding what instigated these parables helps one understand the point of the parables. In this case it was to demonstrate God’s attitude toward sinners.
Look for the One Main Point
Parables are told to make a point. As you read, carefully examine the central truth that Jesus is communicating and do not forget the context or the reason Jesus told the story to begin with. To help keep focused on the point, consider the answers to these questions:
Study the Cultural & Historical Setting
Greater understanding of a parable can be derived when one has a greater understanding of the historical and cultural setting. Some parables allude to an event or practice that the Jews of the time understood. This is exemplified with the parable of the wedding feast in Matthew 22:1-14. The man without a wedding garment was cast into outer darkness. One might feel badly for this poor man who did not have access to proper clothing until one learns that at the time Jesus told this story, it was the practice of the host to provide a proper garment for his guests. In reality, the man had chosen not to wear what was provided. This gives much greater understanding to the doctrinal truth of hell and punishment in this parable.
The interpretation of a parable should be in harmony with the rest of the scripture and the teachings of Christ and the apostles. While truths can be derived from a story, the reader must be careful about building a doctrine from what could be an improper interpretation of a parable. A parable is by definition a contrast between two things. If the parable is about the kingdom of God, the interpretation should be about the kingdom of God, not how the story applies to family, political events, etc. Remember, most parables have a singular meaning.
Throughout history people have assigned fanciful, allegorical meanings to some parables. This often contradicts the stated or implied purpose of the parable. Martin Luther called some allegorical interpretations of the parables “amazing twaddle” and “altogether useless.”
Analyze and Apply
After a parable has been read and analyzed for proper interpretation, it is important to apply the doctrine to oneself. What does this teach me about the kingdom of God and of things to come? How does this truth apply in my life? What would God have me to do?
The study of the parables will bring great blessings, challenges, and encouragement to the reader. Let us seek to know, study to understand, and pursue the knowledge of God that we may be found faithful at the coming of our Lord. ■
The Gospel of John is focused on giving us a clear image of Jesus, His character, and His nature. There are nine metaphors (figures of speech or illustrations) in John used to describe Jesus.
Most of the parables of Christ are found in the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). While the Gospel of John contains a few stories and illustrations, there are no true parables. John 10:6 KJV uses the word “parable”, but it is a different Greek word than other parables and signifies an illustration or figure of speech.
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.
The goal of a merchant is to buy and sell merchandise in order to attain the greatest profit. For centuries, at the expense of their lives, people have sailed the vast oceans and explored new territories in pursuit of treasure and riches. The troubles and dangers encountered were considered worth the risk when valued against the potential gain of earthly possessions.
Jesus spoke this parable illustrating salvation from sin and the eternal reward as a pearl of great price. A merchant, when he has found such a great pearl, sells all his possessions in order to buy something of far greater value. Salvation is of more worth than any literal pearl. The seeker of salvation should with joy and gladness forsake all the things of this world in pursuit of Christ and deliverance of sin. This wonderful pearl can and will only be attained by those who seek after it with all their hearts.
Christians who are lazy and haphazard in their experience with God have either not truly found real salvation or they are in danger of losing that which they possess. To follow Jesus, we must forsake all to attain the power and joy of true salvation. We must seek after that pearl of great price with our whole hearts, holding nothing back.
When we find that pearl of great price, salvation from sin and hope of eternal life, it is accompanied by an inward peace and joy that the world cannot give. As servants of the Lord, may we convey the true worth and value of salvation. May our lives exemplify the riches and joy of full salvation. The enemy would like to cause us to paint a dire picture of the necessity of selling all other possessions rather than focusing on the wonderful treasure found in Jesus Christ.
If you are saved and know Jesus Christ, you have a rare pearl of great price. Go tell someone else about this great salvation that they also may have eternal life.