The Bible is full of parables from the Old and New Testaments. Parables function as a striking way of calling for a response on the part of the hearer.1 The Old testament is loaded with parables such as The Poor Man’s Lamb spoken by Nathan to King David in 2 Samuel 12:1-4; and The Boiling Cauldron spoken by Ezekiel to the house of Israel in Ezekiel 24:3-5.2 However, I am going to focus on New Testament parables spoken by Jesus Christ. Most of the parables told by Jesus Christ concerned the Kingdom of God.3This perspective is important to use as a baseline from which to ascertain meaning from each of his parables. The kingdom of God is the realm in which these parables are rooted in. Once you recognize the point of reference and connotation of the fable with the Kingdom of God as the motif, you will be able to extrapolate a theme or hermeneutical message from each story.
Adolf Julicher separates the parables into four types: the parables as similitudes, as story, as example story, and as allegory.4 There are differing opinions as to the multiple ways of interpreting parables but I will be using Julicher’s method for my analysis of two different parables in the New Testament. Similitudes are fables concerning similarities and metaphors that deal with more abstract issues. These primarily, but are not limited to, start with “the kingdom of God is like.” The Growth of a Mustard Seed, and Leaving of Bread parables are examples of these. The story parables are narratives that deal with beginning, middle, and end plots involving mainly human characters. The Friend at Midnight and Lost Sheep are good examples of these. Example story parables deal with looking at a particular person or point of reference and showing casing this behavior as exemplary. As in “this is a good example of…” The Good Samaritan is a wonderful example of this type. Allegorical parables deal with two different storylines, one in narrative and other more philosophical, juxtaposed alongside of each other to deal out dual meanings from one story. In many cases the aim is to hit two different audiences. The Prodigal Son is a great example of this.
I chose the Good Samaritan told by Jesus in Luke 10: 25-37; and Parable of the Sower found in the three synoptic Gospels of Matthew 13: 1-23; Mark 4: 1-20; and Luke 8: 1-15. When reading these parables, I paid close attention to two principles; the points of reference intended by Jesus that would have been picked up by the original hearers and, how the original hearers would have identified with the story.5 If we look at the audience, the surrounding environment, and do some basic research, we can bring the parable to some congruent hermeneutical conclusion both to the original audience and our lives today. This is what makes the Bible so rich in wisdom. The parables spoke to specific audiences thousands of years ago but still hold practical application in the twenty-first century.
The Good Samaritan is an excellent example parable used by Jesus to explain to a crowd that we are all neighbors. This unique parable has some interesting points of reference. Although the message of “love thy neighbor” is inherent in the story and easy to ascertain, the intended audience is more than just the crowd. Jesus was speaking to a large crowd but the story was aimed at the scribe that asked who thy neighbor was. The scribe signifies the priest or Levite in the story. Scribes were lawyers and antiquated themselves as haughty and above reproach. Although the parable tells the story of the unlikely Samaritan that did what the priest or Levite would not do, the underlining message has two-fold; one to the audience and one directly to the scribe.
The hermeneutical message here is simple, we are all God’s children and Jesus Christ charges us to love everyone equally. Our Christianity should not only extend to those that we are attempting to convert. We should never feel that we are too holy to help a friend in need, despite our religious acumen. I find this parable to be just as pervasive today as it ever was. How many Christians would stop and extend kindness to a Muslim or homosexual in need of compassion? With our highly charged religious divisions, which denomination or faith community is extending the olive branch out there? Do we only help the sick and poor but look to the gay community with righteous indignation? Are there not Muslim or atheistic human beings in need of God’s grace as well. What good Samaritan among us is going to build a bridge of mercy to the pornography industry so desperately in need of direction? It is safe to assume that the Scribes of today can be found in the pews and congregational halls within our own churches.
The second parable I chose is a popular one among most preachers and teachers. Although it has a unifying message and even Jesus did a hermeneutical explanation to his apostles, I am going to try and take it to another level. The Parable of the Sower is in three different Gospels. Although exact wording and phraseology may vary depending on the book, the story is congruent with all three. In the book of Mark, the parable does not begin with“the kingdom of God is like” as many similitudes do. However, this parable does signify the kingdom of God, or better yet, the word of God to seed. The Bible uses multiple metaphors of the Kingdom of God and seed in both Testaments. The Historical context is very important because farming was not only universal in the communities but; it also brought about certain stature or aristocratic wealth within the community. Take for example how they eluded to Job or Abraham as wealthy not in money but in livestock and crop. The significance of using seed was very powerful within the constructs of the audience. In the book of Mark, it states that the crowd grew so large that Jesus had to get into a boat in order to Convery this message. This audience is important and I will expound further.
We can ascertain the Jesus was speaking to a large group but I want to bring another aspect into play here that many who interpret this parable fail to recognize. Prior to the parable in Mark 3:31-35 Jesus addresses the issue of family. He is told that his mother and brother are here and Jesus sort of disregards them, asking “Who is my mother, or my brethren?” (Mark 3:33) I want to delve into this aspect of family heritage and assimilate it to our Parable of the Sower. This aspect of family loyalty is a very sensitive topic. Hollywood has portrayed it well and society encourages heritage and loyalty above all. What is Jesus saying here? Right before he conveys a long parable with many metaphors aligning it, it snubs his own family. Can we draw meaning from this? When when analyzing these parables, we need to consider not only what Jesus is conveying in meaning but the spiritual motif the hearer was intended to ascertain? I think the conversation prior to this is very important to interject into my interpretation of this story.
The sower, or farmer, is representative of God and the seed is his message, or word. The seed and also signify us, sanctified by God’s grace. Along the way the seed is dropped on various terrain and therefore it is picked up by birds, grew and died in the Stoney land, snuffed out by thorns, or scorched by the sun. The seed that grew and was fruitful landed in rich soil. This is to signify the various way that worldly ignorance can cripple our walk with God or prevent us from adhering to his word. This is fantastic and well stated within the context of the parable. Now let’s merge that with our families and apply this principle to our lives. Most families are divided however we cling to this concept of family as it is a blood pact made by God. In a way it is, heritage is vastly important in the Old Testament but notice how the genealogies of the Old Testament disappear in the New Testament. Where is our bloodline in the Kingdom of God motif presented in this message? Can we not find that one “hater” relative ready to pick apart our faith as the bird did? Where in our families is the bedrock of new Christians that temporarily had the fire for God’s word but quickly falls back into the fold. I have witnessed in my own family numerous Bible beating thorns that eagerly impugn the religiosity of our choices. The various terrains in this parable can easily signify sticking to our family tree despite their spiritual undertones. We are all children of God and our loyalty should be to one another, not our heritage. Family is a wonderful gift but if the ground is not firm in faith and rich in spirit, we can be like a small seed overcome by the conflicting nimbus of our lives.
I am not suggesting, by any means, that Jesus’s mother or brother were a hindrance to the faith but I do find it startling that right before he preaches this fable, he ignores the importance of putting family before the faith.
Parables stand at the heart of Jesus’ teaching style.6 Interpreting parables can be enriching and fulfilling to the purpose of our testimony. Through careful analyzation of the historical context and situational circumstances within the text, we can draw important hermeneutical value to the parables and application to our lives.
bible-history.com. 2007. “Bible History Online Maps, Articles, Images, and Resources.” Bible History Online. Archer. http://www.bible-history.com/.
FEE, G D, and Stuart. 2017. How to Read the Bible Pack Includes How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth and Five Companion Books. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Geisler, N L. 1999. “Uniqueness of Christ.” Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, 137.
Tate, W. Randolph. 2013. Biblical Interpretation: An Integrated Approach. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic.
1 G.D. Fee, How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014), 157-158.
2 “Parables in The Old Testament,” Bible History Online, 2007, accessed August 11, 2017, http://www.bible-history.com/old-testament/parables.html
3 W.R. Tate, Biblical Interpretation: An Integrated Approach (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013), 149.
4 W.R. Tate, Biblical Interpretation: An Integrated Approach (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013), 149.
5 G.D. Fee, How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014), 157-158
6 N.L. Geisler, “Uniqueness of Christ,” Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (1999): 137