Don Garlington - Introduction to the Parables


Full sermon notes - Introduction to the Parables

Introduction to the Parables

  1. Basic definitions
  2. Parable and Allegory
  3. Life-like quality of the parable
  4. Purpose of the parables
  5. Guidelines for understanding parables

A. Definitions of a parable

  • Sunday school definition: “an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.”
  • More formal: “a comparison drawn from nature or daily life and designed to illuminate some spiritual truth, on the assumption that what is valid in one sphere is valid also in the other”

B. Meaning

  • The word parabolē is Greek, meaning “comparison” or “analogy.”
  • But the concept comes from Jewish thinking (Hebrew mashal)
  • In the NT parabolē can mean:
    • comparison (Luke 5:36)
    • symbol (Heb 9:9; 11:19)
    • proverb (Luke 4:23) or commonplace (Luke 6:39)
    • riddle (Mark 7:17)
    • rule (Luke 14:7)

C. A parable is an expansion of a simile

  • Expansion of a simile like “All we like sheep have gone astray”
  • two basic types:
  1. Expanded into a more complex picture, e.g. then the similitude of the Lost Sheep (Luke 15:3-7)
  2. Expanded further into a story-parable, e.g. the Lost Son (Luke 15:11-32).

II. Parable and Allegory

  1. Allegory has many points of correspondence between the story and the intended meaning.
  2. The parable hinges on certain crucial points, with enough detail to make the story realistic.
  3. The parable is life-like.

III. Life-like quality of the Parable

  1. Jesus drew his materials from the real world around him.
  2. Many of them originated in conflict situations, in which Jesus vindicates his actions or teaching.
  • They correct, reprove and attack
  • The parables are weapons of warfare
  • “a parable is one of those stories in the Bible which sounds at first like a pleasant yarn, but keeps something up its sleeve which pops up and leaves you flat.” (P. G. Wodehouse)

IV. Purpose of the parables.

  1. Positive: Every parable was meant to evoke a response and strike for a verdict. Its design was to make people think.
  2. Negative: to obscure truth.
  • Matt 13:13–17 and especially Mark 4:10–12 make this clear:
    “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables…”
  • The key to this purpose lies in the phrase “this generation” (Deut 32:5; Mark 8:12, 38; 9:19; Luke 7:31; 9:41; 11:29), a generation like that of Isaiah (chap. 6).

V. Guidelines for understanding parables

  1. The gospel parables have to do with the kingdom of God
  2. A form of story-telling
  3. Need to know history, culture and agriculture of NT times
  4. Pay attention to the context of a parable
  5. Focus on the main points
  6. Learn from Jesus’ own interpretation

A. The gospel parables have to do with the kingdom of God

  • Two main points:
  1. The kingdom has come: Matt 21:31; Luke 17:20–21:
    1. Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them,
      “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed,
    2. nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’
      for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”
  2. The kingdom is yet to come: Matt 13:47-50; Matt 25:
    1. “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom…”

A. cont’d The gospel parables are:

  • Not primarily “moral lessons” although they do contain an ethic.
  • Rather, announcements of the arrival of the kingdom
  1. Revelations of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, Matt 13:11, 34-35
    And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.” (Matt 13:11)
  2. Within the framework of “already” and “not yet”

Literature and Culture

  1. It pays to observe the techniques of story-telling, e.g.
    • repetition in the build-up of a story
    • the rule of contrast
    • the rule of stress
  2. Need to know as much as possible about the history, culture and agriculture of NT times

D. Pay attention to the context

  • Pay attention to the context in which the individual gospel writers set a parable.
  • The parables of Luke 15 are called forth by the statement of vv. 1-2
    1. Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him.
    2. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”
  • the parables of Luke 16 are to be understood in light of Luke’s remark of 16:14 that the Pharisees were lovers of money.

E. Focus on the main points

  • Focus on the main points, while paying enough attention to the details to make the story come alive.
  • E.g. Lost Son (Luke 15) main point is the love of God for the lost
  • But elder brother not an incidental detail but ... the hatred of the Pharisees
  • According to Jesus own interpretation (Matt 13:18-23), there are four or five points of significance.

F. Jesus interpreted his own parables

  • There are several instances in which Jesus interpreted his own parables
  • Examine these interpretations for principles, e.g.
  1. the intervention of God into human affairs
  2. the corresponding activity of Satan
  3. the necessity of the appropriate human response

Updated on 2013-09-02 by Don Garlington