The Parables of Jesus
Jul 26, 2017 · Courtney Jacob
“What exactly is a parable?”
That’s the question I found myself pondering as we prepared this Groundwork series. I realized “parable” is a word I toss around as easily as “story,” except I couldn’t actually think of a circumstance outside of church or Bible study where I’d ever heard it used. So I got to wondering: what is the definition of a parable? Are parables strictly religious? Would “parable” fall into the category of Christianese/Christian lingo?
So I did what most people these days do...I googled it.
What is a Parable?
There were a few non-religious uses of “parable” sprinkled in the search results, but it became clear that use of the word “parable” predominantly arises from religious contexts.
While browsing the first page of search results, I quickly became intrigued by the definition of “parable” offered by the online dictionaries and Wikipedia. I found two consistencies in the results from these rather generic sources: 1) they agreed that parables are short stories and 2) they agreed that these stories teach lessons of the moral or spiritual variety.
More than Nice, Moral Stories
As a Christian, that definition feels incomplete. Sure, it’s enough to give someone a basic idea of the format and purpose of a parable, but are “The Parables of Jesus” more than just simple stories that teach moral or spiritual lessons?
Most biblical scholars would say yes. The parables Jesus tells do so much more than just teach us lessons, they contain major truths that carry with them major implications for our lives. The word “parable” comes from the Greek parabole, which means “to place alongside.” In Jesus’ parables, he regularly and intentionally weaves profound truths about God, his kingdom, and his people alongside the everyday, practical truth obviously present in the story.
I really liked how the introduction to the Bible study Parables: Reliving the Stories of Jesus (published by Serendipity House) describes the effect of Jesus’ parables in the hearts and minds of those who hear them.
“...one mark of many of Jesus’ parables is that they have a twist that would have been totally unexpected to his hearers, and disturbed their assumptions about the way things are...It is precisely these strange twists that make the parables like thought-bombs which are tossed into the lives of those who hear them. Some parables may have a short fuse and others may have a long one, but sooner or later the parable explodes, rocking the hearer with new awareness about the implications of Jesus and his kingdom” (p.7).
I experienced one of these “thought-bombs” myself as we recorded our episode on Jesus’ Parable of the Sower. Most often, I hear the meaning of the parable discussed in regards to the types of soil and how they depict the condition of the hearts of those who hear God’s word. Hosts Scott Hoezee and Dave Bast acknowledge that meaning but spend more time focusing on what the parable teaches us instead about God and his word. This truth was inherent in the parable all along. But the perspective was new to me.
Listen and Study The Parables of Jesus
I invite you to discover for yourself the truths and new perspectives Jesus’ parables hold. Start your journey with our Groundwork series “The Parables of Jesus”:
- The Sower - Matthew 13:1-23
- The Kingdom Parables - Matthew 13:31-35, 44-46
- The Laborers in the Vineyard - Matthew 20:1-16
- The Prodigal Son- Luke 15:11-32
- The Wedding Banquet - Matthew 22:1-14
- The Ten Virgins - Matthew 25:1-13
- The Good Samaritan - Luke 10:25-37
...and together we’ll discover the truths behind Jesus’ teachings and discuss their implications for our lives.