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The Nature of Parable

from the Greek parabolh/

       placing of things side by side for the sake of comparison

       technical term for a figure of speech in ancient oratory


one thing is compared to another of a different kind

       similarity is expressed by "like" or "as"

Jesus sends out his disciples "as lambs in the midst of wolves" (Lk 10:3)


from the Greek metaferei=n "to carry over"

       qualities of one thing are directly ascribed to another without explicit comparison

       "You are the salt of the earth" "You are the light of the world"


Paable is a developed simile,

       story, whle fictitious, is true to life (contrast to fable)

Gospel  parables are introduced by "The kingdom of heaven is like"

Object of a parable's comparison is not the single word that follows

       but total situation envisioned

       Matt 18:23-35 Kingdom is not like the king who settles accounts

               BUT  process of generous forgiveness

       Matt 13:47 kingdom is not like Net

               BUT the catch of fish and the separation of good from bad


a developed metaphor or set of metaphors

it is less clear and more elusive than parable

       each detail and character is significant (with hidden meaning)

Parabolh/ in the Old Testament

translates the Hebrew  lasfm mashal embracing various literary forms

       proverb (1 Sam 10:12; Prov 1:1)

       riddle (judge 14:10-18)

       taunt-song  Mic 2:4; Hab 2:6)

       oracle (Num 23:7,18)

       metaphor Isa 5:1-7; Ezek 2:24)


       didactic historical recital (Ps 78)


long revelatory discourses "similitudes" in Enoch section II

Parabolh/ in the Synoptic Gospels

Same wide range as lasfm

       proverbs (Lk 4:23)

       examples (Lk 12:16-21)

       similitudes (Luke 5:26-29)

       similes (Mat 23:27)

       allegory (Matt 25:1-13)

       narrative Parable

The Gospel of John

John prefers to use the term paroimi/a rather than parabolh/

Outside the Gospels parabolh/ means "symbol" or "prefigurment"


History of Parable Exegesis


Parables = case study of the problems and possibilities of hermeneutics


Text Criticism

necessity of reconstructing the texts to be interpreted


Historical Criticism

Jesus himself guarantees great interest

parables are a distinctive feature of Jesus message + best source for reconstructing it


Literary Criticism

parables are distinctive from point of view of language and literary form

Metaphor lies at the heart of parables

       challenges hearer to new apprehension of reality

Parable metaphor is extended into a narrative

       THEREFORE metaphor and function of metaphoric language

       and force of realistic narrative


New Testament

Patristic exegesis

       e.g. Augustine exegeting the Good Samaritan Quaestiones Evangeliourm II, 19

       Man who went down is Adam

               Jerusalem is state of Original happiness

               Jericho represents human mortality

       Samaritan is Christ

               inn is the church

               innkeeper is Paul

Medieval exegesis

       parables were generally treated as allegories

From Jülicher to Jeremias

Rise of historical criticism


Adolf Jülicher

allegorical interpretation faded due to influence of A. Jülicher Die Gleichnisreden Jesu (1888).

"History of the Interpretation of the Parables of Jesus"

The parables Jesus told give the impression of being vivid and understandable

       idea the Jesus' parables are esoteric and mysterious needing a key to be understood is foreign to everything we know about Jesus


Parable vs allegory


metaphorical speech

involves a substitution

disguises a thing - mysterious pictures or stories

Allegory has as many points of comparison as it has metaphors - every feature referred tosomething other than itself

must be decoded - need key to identify various elements

       insider possessed the key

       ====> identify elements and express meaning non allegorically

       outsider did not possess the key

       ---> allegory remained a mystery

Allegory is a series of metaphors


understood parabolh/  as found in Greek rhetoric

       THERERFORE parables are simple moralizing stories with no admixture of allegory

has but one point of comparison, a general univertsally applicable religious or moral principle

Every parable is composed of two parts

       a) the matter die Sache to which the image points, the real concern of the parabolist

       b) picture Das Bild  with which the matter is compared

               drawn from the world of the known and familier

The pictorial element in the parable is not intended to be interpreted but to be applied, so that something may be learnt

Parable requires one take the central idea or dominant theme from the known or familiar picture and apply it to the comparable matter that up to that moment was unclear to him..

THEREFORE each parable has only one point of comparison

       that which joins the two parts Tertium comparationis

Point of comparision is one of widest possible moral application

       individual details or characters have no meaning outside the parable

Learn from something that is known or usual

       apply through the point of comparison to the unknown or unusual

       logically compared to learn something new

The Good Samaritan

Extol a Samaritan who acts in love over a priest who does not do so

develops his ideal of neighbor

POINT - "The self-sacrificial act of love is of the highest value in the eyes of God and men; no privilege of position or birth can take its place. The compassionate man, even though he is a Samaritan, is more deserving of blessing than the selfish Jewish Temple official.

Categories of Jesus' Parables according to Jülicher

Similitude (Gleichnis)

compare in religious domain to another domain

typical recurrent event in real life, (usually in the present tense)

       e.g. seed growing by itself, lost sheep, lost coin

// Aristotle's parabolh/  (Quintillians similitudo)   

Parable (Parabel)

compare in religious domain to another domain

tells a fictitious story (usually in the past tense)

       e.g. workers in the vineyard, prodigal son

// Aristotle's lo/goj  or fable (Quintillians fabella or fabula)

Exemplary Story (Beispeilerzahlungen)

the Good Samaritan

The rich fool

The Rich man and Lazarus

Pharisee and tax colleftor

These present an example to be imitated


Simile vs Metaphor


"Achilles rushed on like a lion"

two things being compared are explicitly names

two words are set side by side

no error in interpretation

take literally


OF Achilles "A lion rushed on"

one word is substituted for another

two things being compared only one is name

hearer must know the missing word to grasp the meaning

Every metaphor out of context is a mystery

NOT literal say one thing and mean another

need to be deciphered

Parables proclaim the coming of the Kingdom of God

Jesus' parables instruct, instruct on What? - The Kingdom of God

       Parables teach "wie Christus das Reich Gottes sich gedacht hat

Jülicher's idea of the kingdom of God was late 19th century German liberal

i.e, a fellowship of brothers and sisters under the protection of their Father"

a fellowship in which "spiritual effort and endeavor is demanded of all its members)

Kingdom is moral organization inspired by love

Julicher has read Ritschl it is unlikely he has read Johannes Weiss

Each parable makes one point in relation to kingdom of God

Nature of that point was general moral instruction


Interpretation of Parables

Jesus spoke only in Parables

       purpose was to instruct simple people of the land

Before redactors, Jülicher believed all parables were literal speech

EVANGELISTS mistook them for allegories and so presented them in gospels  Cf. Mark 4:11-12

       Parables are mysterious speech

        theory of predestination  = combined

A parable which is an allegory is not an authentic parable of Jesus

Also allegorical interpretations cannot be authentic Jesus

===> General Metaphorical interpretation

Twentieth Century Research

alternate between

       a) concern for parable as a literary form


b) entrée to the kingdom proclamation

               and later to self-understanding of Jesus.

Shifts in meaning of Kingdom of God

Why Jeremias will differ with Julicher

Johannes Weiss

Kingdom is not a moral organizaiton of humanity through action inspired by love  ala Altbrecht Ritschl

Kingdom of God is an apocalyptic concept "the breaking out of an overpowering divine storm which erupts into history to destroy and to renew, and which a man can neither further nor influence"

This kingdom was imminent

but was a proleptic vision "in general....the actualization of the Kingdom of God has yet to take place"

Jesus' ethical teaching is in expectation of this kingdom

       ethics which remain for a short period of time between Jesus proclamation of the kingdom and the actual coming of the Kingdom

Albert Schweitzer

Sees Jesus ethics as an interim Ethics

NOTE 1927 conference of English and German scholars agree that the kingdom of God was an apocalyptic concept in the message of Jesus

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