Studying the Parables

INTERPRETING PARABLES

Parables are extended similes with one story and many dimensions. They are formal comparisons
limited in their range and confined to that which is real. Parables have various figures of speech: simile
(Matthew 13:52), metaphor (5:13-16), and allegory (13:18-23). Primary keys to understanding parables
lie in discovering the original audience to whom they were speaking, the points of reference, and the
context in which they are recorded. Contrary to most nineteenth and twentieth century commentators,
most parables of Christ’s parables have more than one point and contain theology and doctrine. Jesus’
parables usually have an unexpected turn in the story; some are interpreted by Him. The meaning of
some parables is very apparent while others remain very cryptic. The same message can be both
revealed and concealed, depending upon the hearer/reader.

FOUR DIMENSIONS OF PARABLES

Consider the parable within a foursquare dimension; its historical setting, literary features,
hermeneutical exegesis and theological application.

Each of these four dimensions is a stage of interpretation. Each parable reaches the reader as a distinctive
literary form within the Gospels; hence, the parable is a genre within a genre. Parables may have literary
structures, such as introversion, alternations, or combinations of both, and alternating dialogue and
narrative, etc. These literary features must be observed.

The parables were spoken almost two thousand years ago by Jesus in the historical setting of Palestine
and they need to be grasped as past events in that setting. Each parable addressed a problem or situation
Jesus encountered. The purpose for telling the parable comes from its historical setting. Parables are
properly understood through employing the hermeneutical principles in the exegesis stage. Any
application that is not solid theologically is unsound and improper. Accurate applications of the parables
are derived from the previous stages.

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