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A Different Look at Parables




What is the purpose of a Parable?  Is it to illustrate a teaching so as to bring understanding to the recipient or is it to hide its true meaning?  Debate on this subject has covered decades of speculation.  Foregoing personal definitions and scholarly responses, and going directly to the Bible would seem to bring a coherent understanding of the purpose of Parables.  One would think that reading Jesus’ teaching on the subject would put to rest any uncertainty as to the objective of Parables.  Yet, when Jesus explains the use of a Parable, one cannot help but display an uncertainty of understanding.  Reading Matthew’s account of the exchange between Jesus and His Apostles on this subject will cause one to go in search of understanding through commentaries, books, and recordings.  Jesus stated directly that He speaks to the Jewish people in parables because “seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.” (Matthew 13:13)  If Jesus would have stopped with that explanation there would have been no uncertainty as to the purpose of Parables.  Instead, Jesus proceeded to quote Isaiah 6: 9, 10 and to state that Isaiah’s prophesy was fulfilled through His ministry!  To put things into perspective one needs to understand what Isaiah chapter six is all about.


The Jewish people were in rebellion against God.  It got so bad that God used heathen nations to ravish Jerusalem.  The Truth that God had brought to His people from generation to generation was to be withheld from them until their judgment was fulfilled.  God told Isaiah to hide the Truth from them, to make “their ears heavy, and shut their eyes,” and keep their hearts from understanding.  If the Truth would be brought with understanding they might return to God and be healed. (Isaiah 6:10)  God would grant understanding, but not until their chastisement for disobedience was completed.


Jesus came to fulfill the law, not to destroy it (Matthew 5:17) Jesus came to the lost sheep of Israel to restore them to the Father. (Matthew 15:24)  For generations the Jewish people failed to hear and see the Truth.  Their heart was void of true understanding, but when Jesus came, He came as a liberator, setting people free as their hearts grasped the real Truth.  To bring them to understanding He used Parables to help them to grasp the “new wine.” He was fulfilling Psalm 78:2 which stated, “I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things kept secret from the foundation of the world.” (Matthew 13:35)


Jesus told the Apostles that they did not need Parables because their ears and eyes were open to the Truth.  He told them that the prophets and righteous men desired to see what they were seeing, but failed to achieve its reality. (Matthew 13:16, 17)  Sadly there were times the Apostles failed to understand simple illustrations and were questioned by Jesus for their inconsistencies. (Mark 4:13).  In fact, Jesus would use Parables as teaching tools for the Apostles because they would not appropriate the Revelations that were available to them.  It was not until the last week of Jesus’ earthly ministry that the Apostles finely began to fully understand Jesus’ teachings.  They told Jesus they did not need to have Him speak in Parables any more, for they were hearing His teachings “plainly.” (John 16:29)  They told Jesus, “Now, we are sure that you know all things….we believe that you came forth from God.” (John 16:30)


Maybe what we need in the Church today is more Parables, for it seems that the average Believer is not grasping the Revelations that the Holy Spirit is giving to those that have “ears to hear.”  Much of the teachings today are keyed to those on the “stony places” who have no “root in themselves.” (Matthew 13: 20, 21)  Parable teaching is the only approach to “selective” hearers, for until they are willing to open their hearts to the Holy Spirit, they will not be able to comprehend the intended purpose of God’s Word.  May God grant us understanding as to the intent of His Word!


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You wrote: Maybe what we need in the Church today is more Parables, for it seems that the average Believer is not grasping the Revelations that the Holy Spirit is giving to those that have “ears to hear.”


I do not know how much those who speak from the pulpit (i.e., pastors, evangelists, and teachers) use the parable method to convey their message. But there are several Christian writers, past and present, who write stories whose themes and messages are moral and spiritual to make their stories modern-day parable and allegory. One good example among modern Christian writers and reputed for this style is Flannery O'Connor. 

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The last paragraph of this article was more of a "tongue in cheek" offering.  Parable teaching is shallow and is geared to those who have little or no understanding of the Word.  Sadly, many churches are nothing more than "day care centers" geared to entertaining their clientele.  Maybe illustrated truths could lead to revelated Truth!

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I think our preachers have replaced the parable story-telling with anecdotes. This short-short stories about persons in various situations are used by preachers to enliven their sermons and to make their points. Some preachers are extremely effective in using this technique to reach outsiders and teach the flock.

Otherwise, the parable/ allegory (which is creative story-telling) lives among Christian writers, such as C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, Flannery O'Connor, etc..   

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