The Interpretation of Parables

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

As I delved further into Pentecost's The Parables of Jesus, there are many things I never knew. I found these principles or reading and interpreting parables important.

(1) The parables concerned "the kingdom of heaven"
It is important to note that a great body of Christ's teaching through parables concerns itself with the kingdom of heaven. Many of the Lord's parables begin with these words: the kingdom of heaven is like ... indicating further that the theocratic kingdom programme is primarily in view in the parables. More often than not, we erroneously applied the parables directly to the church (as though they were primarily applicable to the church). We must remember that the parables were spoken to reveal truth concerning the broader theocratic kingdom programme.

(2) Observe the immediate context
This is one good lesson for me as I almost always read the parables in isolation and apply them in the current context. Parables were never spoken in a vacuum. In each instance that Christ spoke a parable, He was explaining some question or problem that His hearers were facing. Each parable thus was designed to solve a problem or to answer a question. Examples:
- the parable of the persistent friend in respond to "Lord, teach us to pray" (Luke 11:1, 5-7)
- the parable of the rich man and Lazarus was spoken because the Pharisees "loved money ... and were sneering at Jesus." (Luke 11:14)
We must therefore search the immediate context to discover the problem or question. If the answer does not suit the question or problem, we have either misunderstood the question or misinterpreted the parable.

(3) Determine the point at issue
We must sift out what is germane from the mass of details in the parable. For example, in the parable of the persistent widow (Luke 18:1-8), the emphasis is not on the character of the judge but rather on the persistence of the widow. If undue attention is given to the character of the judge, then the parable will be misinterpreted.

(4) Study the item or matter
Since a parable transfers truth from the known to the unknown realm, the interpreter must study the item or the matter in the parable to which the allusion is made and from which truth is to be transfered. For example:
- what is the process of sowing seeds in the parable of the sower
- what is the process of wine making in the Lord's time in the parable of the new wine
- what is the function of a gate to understand what Christ meant when he said, "I am the gate" (John 10:7)

Picture by Craig Jewell

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