Parables of Jesus

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Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they don't see, and hearing, they don't hear, neither do they understand. Matthew 13:13

The Parables of Jesus

Jesus often taught using illustrations and stories - parables. His parables often tell of the kingdom of God and the nature of God. Sometimes the meaning is clear, at other times it can seem hidden.

The word "parable" is derived from the Greek word Παραβολη (parabole). It can be used to refer to stories that make a point (like the Good Samaritan), stories that are allegories (like the parable of the Sower) or simple statements.

Each of the four Gospels contains parables of Jesus unique to that Gospel, with two of the best known, the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan, both being among those that occur only in the Gospel of Luke. Only two parables occur in the Gospel of John, and both are unique to that Gospel. A few parables appear in more than one of the synoptic Gospels. But no parable is common to the Mark and either Matthew or Luke but not both; that is, if a parable occurs in Mark and also somewhere else, then it appears in all three. This observation is one of those used to try to identify and analyse the sources used by the gospel writers, see Q document.

Parables also exist in the Old Testament and in many other writings, the best known being the story that the prophet Nathan tells King David.

Nature / types of parables

The Greek word "Παραβολη" has a wide meanings. It can be used for riddles, stories, or comparisons.

There are differences of opinion as to what actually constitutes a parable. What one person considers a parable, another may not. Some theologians class Jesus' parables into 1 of 4 general types

  • Similitude
    • Example: Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed (Matthew 13)
  • Story
  • Extended metaphor
  • Allegory
    • Example: Wicked tenants

Purpose of parables

The reason that Jesus' taught in parables is not immediately obvious. It seems that Jesus taught in parables for many reasons.

Purpose: To conceal meaning

Some parables, rather than enlighten everyone, seemed to be spoken to conceal the meaning. For example, in the parable of the sower, we are told that Jesus spoke in parables so that people would be "Forever seeing, and not understanding" (Luke 8).

Purpose: To make one or two spiritual points

Parables usually had one overall point. Occasionally they have two or three main points. For example, in the difficult parable of the Shrewd Manager in Luke 16, Jesus seems to be making a single point - think and be shrewd in your actions. Likewise, the parable of the great banquet (Luke 14) seems to be making one main point - come when you are invited.

Purpose: To make points by comparison

Many parables made their point by comparison. For example, in the Prodigal Son (Luke 15), Jesus makes a point by comparing the responses of the two brothers and the father.

Purpose: To make people who were interested to think and judge

Parables, by their very nature of not being completely straight forward, draw interested people to think and judge. An person who is interested is almost always compelled to think and wonder at hearing a parable. For example, Jesus' disciples came to Jesus wanting an explanation after the parable of the sower.

Purpose: To help people remember

Parables can be easy to remember because a story needs to be remembered.

Purpose: To reveal people's hearts / to confront people

In the Gospels, we find that the parables often confronted people and revealed their hearts. For example, in the parable of the wicked tenants, the Pharisees were confronted by Jesus, and instead of repenting, they became more angry - their true hearts were revealed by the parable.

Some of the most famous of Jesus' parables

The Prodigal Son

The Parable of the Prodigal Son is one of Jesus' most well known parables. The story is found in Luke 15:11–32, being preceded by The Lost Sheep and The Lost Coin. It is the story of a son who dishonours his father and squanders his fortues and returns home in disgrace to his father but is welcomed with arms open wide and forgiveness. A central theme of the story is that God is like the Prodigal son's father - full of mercy and love and forgiveness.

The Good Samaritan

The Good Samaritan is another famous parable. It appears only in the Gospel of Luke (10:25-37). In the parable, Jesus illustrates that compassion should be for all people, and that fulfilling the spirit of the Law is just as important as fulfilling the letter of the Law. In the story, Jesus describes how a Samaritan, who at the time was a despised foreigner in the eyes of the Jews, shows himself to be the neighbour by helping out a Jew who was in great need.


Matthew 13:13

Jesus said, "This is why I speak to them in parables: Though seeing, they do not see. Though hearing, they do not hear or understand."



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