This is part of a New Testament lecture on the teaching of Jesus
6.6 Interpreting the Parables
6.6.1 What is a parable?
A parable (Greek parabole, Hebrew mashal) is any literary device with two levels of meaning which reveals a deeper truth. It can be e.g. a proverb (Luke 4:23) a riddle (Mark 3:23) a comparison (Matthew 13:13) a contrast (Luke 18:1-8) and a story which could be simple (Luke 13:6-9) or complex (Matthew 22:1-14). Some distinguish between forms such as “similitudes” (a comparison using “like” or “as”), “example stories”, “parables” which are extended metaphors, and “allegories”, but categories are blurred.
6.6.2 Why did Jesus teach in parables?
• To capture attention, stimulate interest and seal in the memory;
• To make people think for themselves;
• To stimulate a response, often by graphic or humorous dramatization;
• Narrative examples to clarify applications of teaching;
• To emphasise unusual or controversial elements of teaching;
• To undermine the defences of opponents.
6.6.3 How parables work – The Sower and the seeds Matthew 13:1-9, 18-24;
Concealing and revealing – see Matthew 13:10-17.
“To further reveal the truth to those who accepted the mysterious”, at the same time to “conceal the truth from those who rejected the obvious” Hendricksen on Matthew 13:12.
Only those who accept Jesus as Messiah will receive the truth the parables reveal (Tasker).
6.6.4 History of the interpretation of parables
From the Early Church Fathers onwards and through the Medieval period – allegorising e.g. Augustine.
A. Jülicher (1888, 1899). Each parable has only one single “point of correspondence.”
Jeremias and Dodds: seeing the parables in the context of the Kingdom of God: parables of growth and parables of crisis. Both argued for realised eschatology – parables revealing the kingdom as it has arrived.
E. Fuchs and E. Jüngel: parables as language events which bring into being the reality they describe.
Recent approaches :literary criticism and reader-response hermeneutics – detaching from its original context so any parable can mean whatever the reader wants it to mean. Not a helpful approach.
6.6.5 The contribution of Kenneth Bailey Poet and Peasant, Through Peasant Eyes
A. Recognising the rhetorical forms within parables: identifying the literary structures. He suggests four:
Prose sections structured using the inversion (chiasmus) principle A B C D D’ C’ B’ A’ e.g. Luke 18:18-30
Poetic sections using a variety of parallelistic devices – Bailey has found seven types. They include step parallelism, Luke 6:20-26 (A B C A’ B’ C’ ); inverted parallelism Matthew 13:13-18 ABCDEFGG’F’E’D’C’B’A’;
Sections with a tight parallelism in the centre encased with one or more sets of matching prose sections
The parables in Luke usually follow a distinct “parabolic ballad” form. In these there is often an inverted structure e.g. A B C D E D’ C’ B’ A and the turning point or hinge of the story brings attention to the most important point. So in the parable of the prodigal son Luke 15:11-24 the turning point in the literary structure is at v.17 “he came to his senses”.
B. Locating the parables in their cultural settings, particularly in the customs of peasant communities in the Middle East in the First Century AD. See the examples of exegesis in UNITS 9.5.3, 11.8 and ESSAY E.
6.7 Hermeneutics of parables
a. What was the meaning in the original Sitz im Leben (life setting – the cultural context)? Dodd & Jeremias, recently especially Bailey,
b. What was the meaning which the Gospel Writer was wanting to convey (the literary context)? Conzelmann and Redaction Criticism.
c. What is the meaning for us today? First find the “point(s) of correspondence.”
d. Often “the rule of end stress” – what is the punchline? P.G. Wodehouse defined a parable something like this. “A parable is a rattling good yarn which drags you in and keeps you hooked but keeps something up its sleeve which sneaks out and bops you one in the end.”
6.7.1 Survey of the parables
Almost all the parables teach about one or more aspects of the Kingdom of God, addressing one or more of three questions:
• How does God act in His Kingly Rule?
• What can we learn about the character of God and/or Jesus as King?
• How should (or do) people respond to God as King?
I also talked about the parable of the prodigal son and some of what I said can be found here http://pbthomas.com/blog/?p=10