Saturday, March 15, 2014

Keys to interpreting Jesus' parables

Matthew 13:1-3a "That day Jesus went out of the house and was sitting by the sea. 2 And large crowds gathered to Him, so He got into a boat and sat down, and the whole crowd was standing on the beach. 3 And He spoke many things to them in parables....".

Introduction and Review
In yesterday's post we introduced the reader to the concept of parables in the Bible and concluded with focusing upon Jesus' parables in particular. We noted that in Jesus' parables, spiritual truths are "parabled" or "thrown alongside of" common everyday situations, people or scenarios.  In preaching situations for example, preachers will often employ illustrations for their listeners to grasp and picture whatever is being communicated.  Up to 1/3 of Jesus' teaching ministry involved the use of parables.  In today's post we intend to understand some ways in which we can properly understand the parables of the Lord Jesus Christ. 

1. To begin, late Bible scholar Bernard Ramm gave a set of principles for interpreting Jesus' parables that I think can prove helpful, as summed up below: 1

a. The perspective principle informs us that to adequately interpret the parables we need to understand them in relationship to the Person and work of Christ and the kingdom of God.

b. The cultural principle  tells us that when reading the parables, we need to see them in the context of the culture in which they were told.  

c. The exegetical principle (exegesis means = leading out the meaning for people's understanding) refers to identifying that one central truth, seeing how Jesus Himself interpreted the parable, looking for intepretive clues within the parable itself and comparing the parable to other similar ones.

d. The doctrinal principle simply refers to how parables can be used to illustrate doctrine, illumine Christian experience and teach doctrinal lessons.

2. Bible Scholar Roy B. Zuck gives a set of guidelines that readers can use when reading anyone of Jesus' parables:2

a. Note the story's natural meaning. That is to say, noting what the passage is saying in its normal, grammatical sense without reading things into the passage.

b. Determine the Problem, Question or Situation that prompted the parable. This has to do with why Jesus told the parables he told.  What situation or people led to the particular story, parable or narrative given by Jesus?

c. Ascertain the Main Truth being illustrated by the parable. Zuck notes that parables function oftentimes like sermons in revolving around one key idea or point.  There may very well be subpoints or details brought out for color and emphasis, but overall there is one anchoring thought. 

d. Validate the Main Truth of the Parable with Direct Teaching of Scripture. This takes into account the oft used adage that "scripture interprets scripture". Whatever topic or truth that is being empahsized by the parable, bringing in other passages of scripture that speak on that subject can yield richer and mor emeaningful intepretation and application. 

e. Note the Actual or Intended Response of the Hearers. How Jesus' hearers responded ought to give the reader or the preacher a hint as to whether or not they are on the right track.

It is hoped that these last couple of posts have aided the reader in wanting to read and study more upon Jesus' parables.  In the future this blogger intends upon engaging in a study of Jesus' parables.  May these blogposts serve the wider Christian world to the promotion of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

1. Bernard Ramm. Protestant Biblical Intepretation. Pages 276-287. 

2. Roy B. Zuck. Nasic Bible Interpretation. Pages 211-218

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