1 My people, hear my teaching;
listen to the words of my mouth.
2 I will open my mouth with a parable;
I will utter hidden things, things from of old—
3 things we have heard and known,
things our ancestors have told us.
4 We will not hide them from their descendants;
we will tell the next generation
the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD,
his power, and the wonders he has done.
The word parable comes from the Greek παραβολή (parabolē), which refers to any fictive illustration in the form of a brief succinct narrative in prose or verse that may naturally occur and by which spiritual and moral matters may be conveyed.
A parable is one of the simplest of narratives. It sketches a setting, describes an action, and shows the results. It often involves a character facing a moral dilemma or making a questionable decision before suffering the consequences of that choice. A parable differs from a fable in that fables use animals, plants, inanimate objects, and forces of nature as actors while parables generally are stories featuring human actors or agents. As with a fable, a parable generally relates a single, simple, consistent action, without extraneous detail or distracting circumstances. Many folktales could be viewed as extended parables.
The prototypical parable is a realistic story that seems inherently probable and takes place in a familiar setting of life. Many fairy tales could be viewed as extended parables, except for their magical settings. A parable is like a metaphor that has been extended to form a brief, coherent fiction. Unlike the situation with a simile, a parable’s parallel meaning is unspoken and implicit, though not ordinarily secret.
The defining characteristic of the parable is the presence of a prescriptive subtext suggesting how a person should behave or believe. Aside from providing guidance and suggestions for proper action in life, parables frequently use metaphorical language, which allows listeners or readers to more easily discuss difficult or complex ideas. In Plato’s Republic, parables such as the “Parable of the Cave” (in which one’s understanding of truth is presented as a story about being deceived by shadows on the wall of a cave) teach an abstract argument, using a concrete narrative, which is more easily grasped.
Parables are not generally presented to be hidden or secret but, on the contrary, are typically straightforward and obvious. It is the allegory that typically features hidden (non-literal) meanings (from Greek: αλλος, allos, “other”, and αγορευειν, agoreuein, “to speak in public”). The parable, though, is more condensed than the allegory. Rather than interpreting parables as detailed allegories with symbolic correspondences found for every element in the brief narratives, parables are usually intended to make a single important point. A single principle comes to bear, and a single moral is deduced as it dawns on the reader or listener that the conclusion applies equally well to his own concerns.
1. Why do we tell stories and provide illustrations?
a. Makes ideas clear and easy to follow.
b. Helps to remember the points we are making. Reinforcement aids learning.*
c. Repetition without weariness – creative redundancy
d. Good illustrations sustain the interest of the listener.
e. Lure someone to inquiry – contemplate an important matter.
*People after leaving a conversation immediately forget about half of what was said. 8 hours later only 20%
2. Jesus used parables constantly. Why did the Lord speak in parables? Mark Chapter 3 Verse 5.
The context: When their hardness of heart made Him angry and grieved, Jesus began to use parables.
As H.W. Fowler puts it in Modern English Usage, the object of both parable and allegory “is to enlighten the hearer by submitting to him a case in which he has apparently no direct concern, and upon which therefore a disinterested judgment may be elicited from him.”
Mark 4 (NET)
Again he began to teach by the lake. Such a large crowd gathered around him that he got into a boat on the lake and sat there while the whole crowd was on the shore by the lake. 2 He taught them many things in parables, and in his teaching said to them: 3 “Listen! A sower went out to sow.
10 When he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. 11 He said to them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those outside, everything is in parables,
12 so that although they look they may look but not see,
and although they hear they may hear but not understand,
so they may not repent and be forgiven.”
13 He said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? Then how will you understand any parable?
3. What is your first impression upon reading verses 10-12? In Chapter 4 Jesus is teaching the general public by the seashore and gives the parable of the sower which we will consider in depth in a future lesson. Jesus provides no interpretation of the parable until he is alone with His followers. That Jesus used the parabolic method to prevent the people from understanding and obtaining God’s mercy (contradicts the whole purpose of Christ in the world). We can either say that this truth must be accepted but not understood, or suggest that the statement is not true, or we are misinterpreting the passage. Is it a translation problem?
Mark and Luke are condensed accounts. Matthew 13:13-17 is a much fuller account. Jesus quotes Isaiah 6:9-10 (from the Greek Old Testament – Septuagint), “seeing they see not” not “that they may not see.” Their attitude, their hardness, their persistent unbelief interfered with being drawn to God and being forgiven of their sins. His difference in method was due to a difference in relationship – the disciples were yielded, obedient, submitted to Him, and so the mysteries of the kingdom were really heard and understood. By using parables, those without understanding may not be immediately resistant, and might consider the underlying truth. Jesus used parables so that the non-believers might otherwise see.
Isaiah 6:9-10 from the Hebrew; Septuagint ‘You will be ever hearing, but never understanding; / you will be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’ / 10 This people’s heart has become calloused; / they hardly hear with their ears, / and they have closed their eyes! Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”
Mark 4 (NET)
21 He also said to them, “A lamp isn’t brought to be put under a basket or under a bed, is it? Isn’t it to be placed on a lampstand? 22 For nothing is hidden except to be revealed, and nothing concealed except to be brought to light. 23 If anyone has ears to hear, he had better listen!” 24 And he said to them, “Take care about what you hear. The measure you use will be the measure you receive, and more will be added to you. 25 For whoever has will be given more, but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.”
33 So with many parables like these, he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear. 34 He did not speak to them without a parable. But privately he explained everything to his own disciples.
4. What is the lamp referred to in verse 21-25? The parables constituted a lamp shining – not designed to hide things but that hidden things would be brought to light. The disciples could receive those mysteries but to those on the outside the parables were a lamp. He gave them parabolic pictures so that they might inquire (He will always answer)– the purpose of the story was to lure them to think in order that they might find the deeper significance and their way to the truth. Proverbs 25:2 “It is the glory of God to conceal a thing; but the glory of kings is to search out a matter.” The kingly nature on earth is to take what is manifest about God in Nature and inquire (e.g. through the scientific method) to find the deep secrets. Moses said in Deuteronomy 29:29 “The secret things belong unto the Lord our God; but the things that are revealed belong unto us and to our children forever.” All Creation has been present from the beginning but much has been hidden until researched.
The Lord Himself may be considered a parable although not fictitious. “No man has seen God at any time, but the only begotten Son Which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him”. God has revealed Himself, and supremely, in His Son – the Son therefore becomes the picture, the parable, which being known and investigated, God Himself is found. In summary, God is not hiding but veiling Truth because “The light that were else too bright, For the feebleness of a sinner’s sight.”
Our struggle in studying the Bible is that it was translated by men who themselves struggled against their cursed flesh that interfered with their accurate comprehension.
5. Are you able to think of some defeater beliefs that the Jewish religious leaders had in this regard?
“Defeater Beliefs” are referred to by philosophers when describing assumptions people have that make the accepting the truths of Christianity highly unlikely.
Assumptions by non-believers:
• If God is good and all-powerful why does He allow evil?
• Many religions are sincere and on the same path to seek God, so why does Christianity claim exclusivity?
• Legend has replaced fact about the resurrection of Christ!
• Humans have the right to choose their own lifestyle – there is no absolute standard of what is right or wrong
• The fact of evolution argues against being made in the image of God
Like the parables of our Lord, good illustrations can be effective to lure someone to inquiry and contemplate an important matter. For example, Miracles overturn the laws of nature and therefore are impossible. Actually the laws of nature are the way we describe how the world usually works. Illustration: If someone drops an apple, it falls to the floor. That’s gravity. However, if someone were to drop an apple and I were to reach over and grab it before it hit the ground, I wouldn’t be overturning the law of gravity. I would simply be intervening. In a similar way, God is able to reach in to the world that he created by performing a miracle. He isn’t contravening or overturning the laws of nature that he has put in place; he’s simply intervening.
One more illustration provided by Voltaire to address the belief that there is no Creator. “If a watch proves the existence of a watchmaker, but the universe does not prove the existence of a great architect, then I consent to be called a fool.”
Peter tells us to be ready to give an explanation for the hope that is within us (I Peter 3:15). You will find that when having conversations with your friends that illustrations may help them hear.
Morgan, G. Campbell (1943). The Parables and Metaphors of Our Lord. Fleming H. Revell
Moreland, J.P., Muehlhoff, (2009). The God Conversation: Using Stories and Illustrations to Explain Your Faith. Intervarsity Press
Zaccharius, Ravi (2004). Can Man Live Without God. Thomas Nelson