Week 3 Parables – Introduction to Parables (March 4)
What is a parable? The parables in the Bible are short stories that illustrate truths which teach us about the Kingdom of God. From them we can learn various things like how and whom we should love, about being ready for the return of Jesus, social justice, who God is and how we should respond. The parables of Jesus surprised His listeners and sometimes offended them.
How do we interpret parables? Parables are among the most incorrectly interpreted passages in the Bible. Throughout history, people have tried to apply their own meaning to these stories, determining that one thing represents another, often making the parables’ meaning too complicated and misguided.
Jesus told stories that He intended His followers to understand. They are often much simpler than they look at face value (simple, yet often profound). Following are some general guidelines you can use to interpret parables properly. Not all these points work with every parable, but here is one good general rule: There is usually only one main point in a parable.
How do we find out what that main point is?
- Avoid making the details too important and avoid making them symbolize something else (allegory) unless you are told to do this directly.
- Find the main characters (usually 2) and concentrate on them.
- Concentrate on the end of the parable (What happens? What is the conclusion?).
- Concentrate on what people say.
- What ideas are given the most emphasis and the most time in the parable?
- What is the context of the parable (What is being spoken about before and after the parable)?
Let’s summarize what we will look for when trying to get at the main point of the parable:
- Main characters
- What people say, and ideas that are emphasized
- Avoid “playing with” the details.
Let’s try looking at a parable: Read Matthew 18:23-35
- Main characters: King, debtor, fellow servant
- What people say, and ideas that are emphasized: Debt, begging for mercy, forgiveness (or a lack thereof)
- Context: Read verses 21 & 22. These verses talk about how forgiveness should be unlimited
- Avoid “playing with” the details: The specific amount owed is not significant, only the fact that it was a lot! The specific fact that the debtor’s wife and children were sold is not significant, only that he was going to lose everything! The amount owed by the fellow servant is not significant, only that it was a lot less!
So what is the main point? Forgive, no matter how much or how often, because God has forgiven you a lot more! Simple, yet very challenging!