What Is a Parable?

The Purpose of Parables in the Bible

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Zavada, Jack. "What Is a Parable?" ThoughtCo, Sep. 18, 2017, thoughtco.com/what-is-a-parable-700744. Zavada, Jack. (2017, September 18). What Is a Parable? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-a-parable-700744 Zavada, Jack. "What Is a Parable?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-a-parable-700744 (accessed September 26, 2017).
What Is a Parable?
The Good Samaritan. Public Domain

A parable (pronounced PAIR uh bul) is a comparison of two things, often done through a story that has two meanings. Another name for a parable is allegory.

Jesus Christ did much of his teaching in parables. Telling tales of familiar characters and activities was a popular way for ancient rabbis to hold an audience's attention while illustrating an important moral point.

Parables appear in both the Old and New Testaments but are more easily recognizable in the ministry of Jesus.

After many rejected him as Messiah, Jesus turned to parables, explaining to his disciples in Matthew 13:10-17 that those who sought God would grasp the deeper meaning, while the truth would be hidden from unbelievers. Jesus used earthly stories to teach heavenly truths, but only those who sought the truth were able to understand them.

Characteristics of a Parable

  • Parables are typically brief and symmetrical. Points are presented in twos or threes using an economy of words. Unnecessary details are left out.
  • The settings in the story are taken from ordinary life. Figures of speech are common and used in context for ease of understanding. For example, a discourse about a shepherd and his sheep would make hearers think of God and his people because of Old Testament references to those pictures.
  • Parables often incorporate elements of surprise and exaggeration. 
  • Parables ask listeners to make judgments on the events of the story. As a result, listeners must make similar judgments in their own lives.
  • Parables force the listener to make a decision or come to a moment of truth.
  • Typically parables leave no room for gray areas. The listener is forced to see truth in concrete rather than abstract pictures.
  • Parables are taught in such an interesting and compelling manner that the listener cannot escape the truth in it.

    The Parables of Jesus

    A master at teaching with parables, Jesus spoke about 35 percent of his recorded words in parables. According to Tyndale Bible Dictionary, Christ's parables were more than illustrations for his preaching, they were his preaching to a great extent. Much more than simple stories, scholars have described Jesus' parables as both "works of art" and "weapons of warfare."

    The purpose of parables in Jesus' teaching was to focus the listener on God and his kingdom. These stories revealed the character of God: what he is like, how he works, and what he expects from his followers.

    One of Christ's most famous parables in the Bible is the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:11-32. This story is closely tied to the parables of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin. Each of these accounts demonstrates what it means to be lost and how heaven celebrates with joy when the lost are found. They also draw a keen picture of God the Father's loving heart for lost souls.

    Another well-known parable is the account of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37. In this parable Jesus Christ taught his followers how to love the outcasts of the world and showed that love must overcome prejudice.

    Most scholars agree that these passages in the Gospels are parables:

    • The Purpose of the Parables: Matthew 13:10–17; Mark 4:10–12; Luke 8:9–10.
    • The Sower: Matthew 13:1–9, 18–23; Mark 4:1–9, 13–20; Luke 8:4–8, 11–15
    • The Weeds: Matthew 13:24–30, 36–43; Mark 4:26–29
    • The Mustard Seed: Matthew 13:31–32; Mark 4:30–32; Luke 13:18–19
    • The Leaven: Matthew 13:33; Luke 13:20–21
    • The Two Houses: Matthew 7:24–27; Luke 6:48–49
    • The Children and the Marketplace: Matthew 11:16–19; Luke 7:31–35
    • The Man and Two Debtors: Luke 7:41–42
    • The Persistent Friend: Luke 11:5–7
    • The Man and the Fig Tree: Luke 13:6–9
    • The Hidden Treasure: Matthew 13:44
    • The Pearl of Great Value: Matthew 13:45–46
    • The Net: Matthew 13:47–50
    • The Tower Builder: Luke 14:28–30
    • The Warring King: Luke 14:31–32
    • The Lost Sheep: Matthew 18:10–14; Luke 15:3–7
    • The Management of Slaves: Luke 17:7–9
    • The Unforgiving Servant: Matthew 18:23–35
    • The Laborers in the Vineyard: Matthew 20:1–15
    • The Two Sons: Matthew 21:28–32
    • The Tenants: Matthew 21:33–44; Mark 12:1–11; Luke 20:9–18
    • The Wedding Feast: Matthew 22:1–14; Luke 14:16–24
    • The Ten Virgins: Matthew 25:1–13
    • The Talents: Matthew 25:14–30; Luke 19:11–27
    • The Good Samaritan: Luke 10:29–37
    • The Rich Fool: Luke 12:16–21
    • The Barren Fig Tree: Luke 13:6–9
    • The Wedding Feast: Luke 14:7–11
    • The Lost Coin: Luke 15:8–10
    • The Prodigal Son: Luke 15:11–32
    • The Dishonest Manager: Luke 16:1–9
    • The Rich Man and Lazarus: Luke 16:19–31
    • The Persistent Widow: Luke 18:1–8
    • The Pharisee and the Tax Collector: Luke 18:9–14

    Sources

    • Elwell, W. A., & Comfort, P. W. (2001). In Tyndale Bible dictionary (p. 989). Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.
    • Seal, D. (2016). Parable. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
    Format
    mla apa chicago
    Your Citation
    Zavada, Jack. "What Is a Parable?" ThoughtCo, Sep. 18, 2017, thoughtco.com/what-is-a-parable-700744. Zavada, Jack. (2017, September 18). What Is a Parable? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-a-parable-700744 Zavada, Jack. "What Is a Parable?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-a-parable-700744 (accessed September 26, 2017).