Matthew 13:10 And the disciples came and said to Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?”
In today's post we aim to introduce the reader to the parables of Jesus and some practical tips to studying and applying them. Not only do Jesus' parables connect readers and listeners to important spiritual truths, but at times, Jesus' parables can shed light on harder-to-understand portions of the Bible. We will begin this post by first defining a parable, and then walk our way through various examples on how to interpret and apply the parables of Jesus by using one of His more well-known parables: "the parable of the soils"
The most fundamental meaning of the term "parable" as to do with taking a known idea, principle, experience or story and placing it alongside a spiritual truth in order to shed light on that spiritual concept. The simple diagram below illustrates what is literally meant by the term "parable":
Pentecost then compares this ancient method of farming to today:
"The soil was not plowed as is done today, but rather the seed was broadcast by the sower on the surface of the soil. The seed was then scratched into the soil with a primitive wooden plow. The sowing was done before the early rains that caused the seed to germinate. The sower waited through the growing period for the coming of the latter rains that brought the grain to full fruition and thus provided a bountiful harvest."2
Such background information will ensure the reader that they are getting to the intended meaning meant by Jesus and a better understanding of what He is communicating.
Bible scholar Simon J. Kistemaker reminds us: Althought it is generally true that a parable teaches only one basic lesson, this rule should not be pressed too far. Some of Jesus' parables are complex in composition. Later he writes: Moreover, in Jesus' parables it is not the beginning of the story but the end that is important."3
Over time the parables can provide a window in which to see the broader unity of the Word of God. In seeing the bigger picture of God's truth, we can then come back to the parable itself and have an even better understanding.
Take for instance Paul's discussion in Romans 10:16-21 of how the majority of people hearing the Gospel end up not heeding it. There are certainly excuses typically raised by people for not believing the Gospel, which Paul dismisses due to all men being without excuse (see Romans 1:18-21; 10:18:21). Why is it that people so often either reject the gospel or seem to believe but then later on fall away? Jesus parable of the soils can aid in shedding further light on the interpretation of Romans 10:16-21.
The first three soils in Jesus' parable refer mainly to hypocrites or "make-believers" that seem genuine but do not possess true saving faith. Only the fourth soil in Jesus' parable speaks of one who have "heard the word in an honest and good heart" (Luke 8:15). The first three types of people in Jesus' parable and those in Paul's exposition are like those described in Hebrews 4:2 "For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard."
2. J. Dwight Pentecost. The Parables of Jesus. 1982. Kregel. Page 46.