30 Days to Understanding the Bible Session 13

Faith Church May 1, 2004

Chapter 21


I.  The Nature of Parables:

Our textbook gives us two definitions of what a parable is:

A saying or story that seeks to drive home a point a speaker wishes to emphasize by illustrating it from a familiar situation of common life.

Parables come in a number of different forms:





Parable Type






A stated likeness using the words like or as.


Jesus said, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”





An implied likeness.


“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.” (Lk. 12:32)





The truth being taught is based on what people generally do rather than on what a certain individual actually did


“The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.” (Mt. 13:33)





Teaches a truth by relating a specific incident and calling attention to what one individual did.


“There was a man who had two sons.” (Lk. 15:11), “In a certain town there was a judge.” (Lk. 18:2)



The story-parable is the most common among Jesus parables

What all parables have in common is that they all teach truth based on transference from reality.


INPUT:  What does that mean-- a “transference from reality”?


The content of a parable was always familiar and possible to the audience because it related a fictional story--although that story was based upon concepts and people that the people could relate to in their own culture.




A parable is a story intended to communicate a spiritual truth, illustrating it with a familiar situation of common life.



II.  The Purpose of Parables:

INPUT:So why did Jesus use parables so much?

Jesus himself explained why he used parables to answer his disciples who had asked him that same question.

Right after Jesus had told his disciples the parable of the seed and the sower they asked him:

Matthew 13:10-14

10 And the disciples came and said to Him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?”  11 He answered and said to them, “Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12 For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. 13 Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. 14 And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says: ‘Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, And seeing you will see and not perceive;

Jesus’ use of parables had two basic purposes:

(1) To reveal the truth to believers.

Parables can communicate truth more vividly and more powerfully than dialogue

For example, Jesus could have simply instructed his hearers to be persistent in prayer.

But they might have forgotten that too easily.

Instead he told his disciples the story of a widow whose continued begging for help finally persuaded an unjust judge to grant her wish, just to get her to stop begging.

Parable of the Woman and the Judge

Luke 18Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart, 2saying:  “There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God nor regard man. 3Now there was a widow in that city; and she came to him, saying, ‘Get justice for me from my adversary.’ 4And he would not for a while; but afterward he said within himself, ‘Though I do not fear God nor regard man, 5yet because this widow troubles me I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.’ ”6Then the Lord said,  “Hear what the unjust judge said. 7And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? 8I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?”

The lesson is: If an unjust and unloving judge will respond to continued pleas, how much more will persistent prayer be answered by a righteous, loving God.

(2) To hide the truth from those who have already hardened their hearts against it.

Christ taught a mixed audience.

Some had already put their faith in him, while others had decided to reject him.

The secrets of the kingdom would be given to the disciples, but would be hidden from the religious leaders who rejected Him (Matt 13:11b, but not to them).

In fact, even what they had previously known would no longer be clear to them (v. 12).

So Jesus’ parables carried with them a judgmental aspect.

By using parables in public, Jesus could preach to as many people as before, but He could then draw the disciples aside and explain to them fully the meaning of His words.

INPUT: What is the consequence of resistance to spiritual truth? (May want to develop Romans 1:28 & ff)  It makes us less and less able to understand and respond in faith.  On the other hand what is opposite of that—If I hunger and thirst after understanding and applying God’s truth, he will give me more understanding.






Jesus taught in parable to reveal truth to the believers and to conceal truth from the unbelievers.


III.  The Interpretation of Parables:

Proper interpretation of the parables requires the correct application of certain principles

The parables were not spoken in a vacuum

Each one of them addressed a specific situation, problem or question.


<Example> Parable of the laborers in the vineyard (Mt. 20:1-16) [only do with much time left] – consider context of rich young ruler (maybe read from textbook, 167-168)


The first step in understanding a parable is to consider its context

The second step is to study the parable itself to determine the point at issue

It is very helpful to know that each parable is designed to communicate one central idea


INPUT:  What if in the parable of the persistent Widow we press that every detail had to be representative of a spiritual truth?  (We would conclude that the jugde would signify God and thus God was a mean and unfair judge!  The focus is not on the character of the judge, but on the pertinence of the widow!  If we concentrate too much on the minor point of the judge’s character, we might come to the false conclusion that God is and unrighteous and uncaring person  And that he only answers our prayers if we tire him with our requests

  • Summary




Parables must be interpreted in light of the context in which they are found.


IV.  The Historical Setting of Parables:

So far, we have learned that we must understand the

Nature of the Parables

The Purpose of the Parables

The Interpretation of the Parables

Finally, we must also consider the Historical setting of the parables

INPUT:  Why is this so important?

For example, it would be very difficult to understand the parable of the sower without understanding the process of sowing seeds

The same is true for the parable of the old and the new wineskins

If we don’t know what a wineskin is or what happens when one puts new wine in old wineskins we cannot understand, what Jesus is trying to teach

We have to learn to understand the details from the perspective of Christ’s audience

INPUT:  Why?  (if parables are a transference of “reality”  we must understand the “reality”—the customs and habits and culture of that time

INPUT:  How do you even begin understanding these things?

A Bible Encyclopedia or a book about biblical customs can help us understand the customs, culture, and daily life of the people in Christ’s time




Parables must be interpreted in light of the historical setting in which they occur.

Faith Church