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The Power of Parables

Recently I was asked to teach a class on parables. Here are some of the things I learned and taught about. Parables are earthly stories that illustrate spiritual truths. The Greek word parabollo means "to place beside."

Some truths about Parables From Matt 4.

  • Mark 4:11. Parables are primarily discipling resources that make us more like Christ rather than as evangelistic tools. Although there are notable exceptions, parables are meant for Christian transformation
  • Parables are unlocked for us when Christ is in us. Mark 4:10 says that those that know the secrets of the kingdom can fully understand the parables. According to the Apostle Paul, in Jesus, "The secret has been revealed – that Christ in us is the hope of glory." Those that know Christ can fully understand the parables.
  • Mark 4:13. This is the parable that defines all parables. The parable teaches about our response to any other parables but outlines four ways to understand them.

Parables are given:
  •      That we can know and live the secrets of the Kingdom of God.
  •      That we cannot just see but perceive.
  •      That we cannot just hear but understand.
  •      That we can repent and live differently.
          (Mark 4:12)

Three Forms of Parables
a) The True Parables
An illustration from within daily life of anyone who hears the parable. These are usually in the present tense.

b) The Story Parables
Refer to a particular event that happened in the past and is usually the experience of one person. The history of these stories is not at stake because not the fact but the truth conveyed is significant.

c) Illustrations
Illustrations exhibit examples to be either imitated or avoided. They focus directly on the character and the conduct of the individual.

Parable and Allegory
The difference between a parable and an allegory is that in an allegory, every fact, feature, and the name is symbolic and must be translated point by point into real life to be correctly understood. A parable often teaches only one essential truth.

When reading Jesus' parables, one wonders why many details have been left out that would have been expected in stories. Often details are left out because they are not relevant or distract from the following vital literary devices.

1) The Triad – Parables often contain three "sets" of either people, characters, or elements. e.g., The Prodigal Son: Father, Old son, Younger son. Ten Virgins: The five wise virgins, the five foolish virgins, the bridegroom

2) The "End Stress" -
It is the end, not the beginning, of the parable that is most important.
Jesus uses parables to explain the great themes of his teaching: The Kingdom of Heaven; the love, grace, and mercy of God; the rule and return of the Son of God; and the being and destiny of mortals.

The parables show that Jesus was thoroughly acquainted with human life in its multiple ways and means. He used them to communicate the message of salvation clearly and straightforwardly.

Principles of the Parables
There are three basic principles we need to understand when interpreting parables.
a) Consider the historical settings of the parable, including an analysis of the religious, social, political, and geographic circumstances revealed in the parable.
b) Consider the literary and grammatical structure. The moods and tenses that an evangelist applies are most significant, for they shed light on the teaching of a story.
c) Consider whether the main point is checked theologically against the teaching of Jesus and the rest of Scripture.
d) The interpreter must translate its meaning into terms relevant to the needs of today.

Often interpretation of the parables took place in the private circle of the disciples. Mark 4:11-12 is the key verse on this where Jesus presents the contrast between those who will receive and reject God's revelation. Those who DO the will of God are the ones who receive the parables, for they belong to the kingdom of God. It could be claimed that living the parables is a litmus test for faith. Parables call a person to action.

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