The Parables of Jesus

by the Rev. Jose Oliveira, M.Div.

parables__titleAlthough the parables were used to teach religious truths before, Jesus was the one who used them with such a mastery and authority that made his Gospel’s parables forever famous. Notwithstanding Jesus’ parables were beautiful comparisons extracted from everyday people’s experiences, they were not easy to understand, and often have been the cause for strange, even weird doctrines, for lacking a sounding interpretation. For that and other reasons, having a good hermeneutics to interpret parables is always necessary before using them in theology. At this time, let us look on three important aspects of the study and interpretation of parables that can help us to better understand them.

The Function of Jesus’ Parables

Firstly, let us be aware, once for all, that Jesus didn’t use parables to just entertain his audience. Jesus used them as a teaching method. On each of them he meant to convey a specific teaching. In Jesus’ parables we find his teaching on the main themes of his Gospel: salvation, prayer, forgiveness and many others. Parables gave Jesus the opportunity to teach profound spiritual truths by a simple manner that anyone with a genuine spiritual interest could understand, but, at same time left clueless those were listening just with the ears of the flesh. The parables Jesus told us are much more than beautiful stories, they contain his wonderful teachings to his disciples of all generations, including us in the 21st century!

The Interpretation of Jesus’ Parables

Parables, as literary gender, fall into the general classification of analogies, but is a mistake to interpret them as fables or allegories, in which the subjective opinion of the interpret plays great deal, attributing a hidden meaning to each little detail in the parables. The best way to interpret a parable is by identifying its one main point and let it to govern the understanding of all its corollary aspects. For example, in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, interpreters can be lost if trying to give a meaning to every little detail, and forgetting that the main purpose of that parable was to answer the question made to Jesus by the scribe, “Who is my neighbor?”– that is, anyone in need.

The Application of Jesus’ Parables

Although any spiritual application of any spiritual teaching is quite personal, sometimes meaning different things to different people, one should not take too much liberty on apply the parables to his or her life. One of the greatest dangers in this respect is to take a parable literally. For example, in the Parable of the Hidden Treasure, one can be so impressed with it, to the point of think that God is revealing that he or she is going to receive a treasure, like an inheritance or win the lottery. This and other types of literal applications only bring disappointment later for they are not the purpose of the parable. In applying parables to personal life, always remember that Jesus told them to convey a spiritual teaching.

Jesus’ parables were told to teach spiritual truths by comparison with everyday facts of life. Jesus used parables, among other things, to assure that anybody willing could benefit from his teaching, not only the educated ones. He also wanted to stimulate people to think by themselves, and by doing so, allowing the Spirit of God in them to speak to each one individually. By using parables Jesus stirred his disciples’ curiosity, imagination and critical thinking, this last one. On interpreting parables, the watchword is “Get that one main point!” and don’t adventure on giving special meaning to every little detail.

In the Hermeneutics class at the Illinois Theological Seminary students learn the principles for interpretation of the various kinds of literary genders in the Scriptures, enabling them to safely interpret them, and using them for personal application or public teaching. If you would like to know more about the I.T.S., please follow the link below:

http://indepthseminary.webs.com

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