The Parables in History:Parables have suffered misinterpretation second only to Revelation. One of the keys to understanding them, however, lies in discovering who the original audience to whom they were spoke; although many times they did come down to the evangelist without a context. It’s not that Jesus was trying to be obtuse; he fully intended to be understood. It is our task to try and hear what Jesus’ audience heard.

The Nature of Parables: The first thing to notice is that not all parables are the same kind. There is a basic difference between the Good Samaritan (true parable), the Leaven Meal (similitude), the saying “You are the salt of the earth” (metaphor), or “Do people pick grapes from thorn-bushes, or figs from thistles?” (epigram).

Story Parable: This is a story pure and simple. It has a beginning and an end; it also has something of a plot.

Similitude: These are illustrations taken from everyday life that Jesus would use to make a point.

Metaphor or Simile: Seem to function somewhat like a similitude but are spoken for a totally different reason. These can be detected by utilizing a figure of speech, which makes an implied comparison between things that are not literally alike

Epigram: Usually seen as a neat, witty, pointed saying.

How the Parables Function: The best clues as to what the parables are can be found in their function. Parables themselves are the message. They make a call for response. Because the nature of the parables assumes that the original audience understood the intended message we have to interpret them so we can begin to understand what they are trying to say.

The Exegesis of Parables: There are two things that captured the audience that heard Jesus’ parables; knowledge of the points of reference, and noticing the unexpected turn. The points of reference can be discovered by doing good exegesis of the parable. After being able to identify all points of reference, identifying the unexpected turn will be quite easy.

Throughout the parable Jesus uses many elements for reference but only to help the audience get the point. Note well that a parable is not an allegory because of this. A true allegory would mean that every element within the story would have some meaning foreign to the story itself. The point of the parable is not in the points of reference as it would be in a true allegory. The point of the story is to be found in the response.

Here are three suggestions to help with the task of exegesis. (1) Sit and listen to the parable again and again. (2) Identify the points of reference intended by Jesus that would have been picked up by the original hearers. (3) Try to determine how the original hearers would have identified with the story, and therefore, what they would have heard.

The Hermeneutical Question: The problem with the parables is that they were originally spoken in context to the original hearers and because of our cultural distance with that audience our immediate understanding of what Jesus was trying to say is limited. They need interpretation because we lack the immediate understanding that the original hearers had. Following are two suggestions on how to interpret the parables into our own lives after executing good exegesis.

1. The parables are presented in a written context and through exegesis we can discover what the point is with a fairly high degree of accuracy. At this point we will need to translate that same point into our own context. With the story parables one might try retelling the story in such a way that, with new points of reference, one’s own hearers might feel the same emotions that the original audience felt.

2. Jesus’ parables are in some way vehicles for proclaiming the kingdom. You must immerse yourself in the meaning of the kingdom in the ministry of Jesus.

(This post is a summary and partial abridgement of Fee And Stuart’s book “How To Read The Bible For All It’s Worth.” It is based solely on Fee And Stuart’s work and any help that this content gives should be credited to God’s grace through their effort. In other words, give God glory, thank Fee and Stuart and buy the book.)