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The parable, called by D. R. Dungan “the oldest and most common of all the figures of speech” and comprising about one-third of the Lord’s recorded teaching, has stood the test of time as one of His most effective and memorable methods of instruction. This lesson will explore the parable as one of the major techniques of Jesus’ teaching.
WHAT IS A PARABLE?
- The English word “parable” derives from a compound Greek word that means “to throw beside.”
- Basically, a parable was a hypothetical story taken from common circumstances that was told for the purpose of illustrating a moral or spiritual truth.
WHY TEACH IN PARABLES?
- Jesus gave His own answer to this question in Matthew 13:10-15.
- The key is verse 15, where Jesus applies the prophecy of Isaiah 6:10 to His contemporary enemies.
- The reason Jesus spoke in parables was that He was contending with some hard-hearted people who had no desire to learn His message, change their lives, and be saved (cf. John 5:40).
- Parabolic teaching afforded Him the means by which He could expose the obstinate and separate them from the receptive.
- Matthew 13:11-12 tell us that the disciples were among the ones who would be blessed to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven.
- But this blessing was not by arbitrary decree, but because the disciples possessed open and receptive hearts that would engage in the mental activity necessary to discover the true meanings of the parables.
- The enemies of Jesus were not blessed with knowing these same mysteries, again, not by arbitrary decree, but because they had hardened their hearts to truth. This prevented them from gaining additional knowledge because they would not look deep enough for the meanings of the parables when such diligence was called for.
- The obscurity of verse 12 is cleared up when we realize its elliptical nature. Words must be supplied to elucidate the meaning.
- “To the one who has [a receptive heart], more [instruction] will be given, and he will have an abundance” [he will search for meaning in the parables and be blessed with greater knowledge].
- “From the one who has not [a receptive heart], even what he has [opportunities to learn] will be taken away [because he will not search for the meaning in the parables, thereby forfeiting a great blessing].”
- This doesn’t mean that the meaning was always easily and quickly understood by the disciples and always hidden from the enemies.
- When Jesus told the parable of the wicked husbandmen, the chief priests and the scribes knew He was talking about them (Matt. 21:45; Mark 12:12; Luke 20:19).
- The disciples often did not immediately understand what the parables meant, so were forced to ask for clarification (cf. Matt. 13:36; 15:15-16; Mark 4:10, 34; 7:17; Luke 12:41).
- The open-hearted disciple would seek clarification when the meaning did not become apparent through their own reasoning. The hard-hearted would reject the truth if it was easily discerned (cf. Matt. 21:45-56) or refuse to search for it if it was not.
- Jesus sometimes drew attention to His parables by saying, “He that has ears to hear, let him hear” (Mark 4:9, 23; Luke 8:8; 14:35), which is tantamount to saying, “Pay close attention. Look for the lesson imbedded in the story.”
- A final characteristic to remember is the surprise factor. Some parables had the characteristic of drawing the listener into the story and forcing him to accept the central lesson even before he realized that the lesson was directed at him (e.g., 2 Samuel 12:1-15; Matt. 21:41-45).
The parables of Christ still stand as tributes to his teaching expertise. With the skill of a master craftsman, He formed these “earthly stories” around those eternal truths that all men need to know and heed.