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The Parables of Jesus: Message for Today

Johan Smulders has a . B.A, B.ED and M.A in Education, Theology and Counselling. Works as an evangelist and counsellor.


The Parables of Jesus: Understanding and Applying the Parables.

Understanding and applying the parables of Jesus is as vital today as it was in the time they were taught. In a way they are at the heart of the Bible. It is important to know how to become a Christian and how to worship in an acceptable way, but what is perhaps even more important is how to live as Christians. The principles that Jesus taught his followers were obviously applicable to the people in his time but are still as applicable today.

Are they easy to apply and even understand? No, definitely not, on both fronts! Even the followers who heard him speak them asked for an explanation at times (Matthew 13:36 “Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field?”). This is but one of the requests from them for an explanation. So we need then to try to understand these life teachings to the best of our ability and then to apply them in our lives. Both remain a challenge. Even when we understand them it is another challenge altogether to apply them.

As a beginning we need to approach the parables from a starting point of how they need to be understood. Perhaps the best way to interpret the parables is to realize that they are stories that bring a main point to the hearers. Over the years interpreters have often tried to allegorize the parables. Here every part of the parable has to have a meaning. A good example would be the attempt by Augustine of his interpretation of the Good Samaritan. He saw the injured man as Adam, Jerusalem as the heavenly city, Jericho as a symbol of mortality, the robbers as the devil, injuring the man as temptation to sin, the Priest and the Levite as the Old Testament, the Samaritan as Christ, binding the wounds as the restraint of sin, the oil as the comfort of hope, the animal as incarnation, the Inn as the Church, and the Inn keeper as the Apostle Paul.

It would be better to take a look at who Jesus was teaching the parable to and what the main point of the parable was then and still is today. Then it would be possible to understand the parable in a more meaningful way. At the same time it needs to be realized that when Jesus explained the parable of the sower to his disciples, he said that the various parts of the parable represents different things (Matthew 13:18-23).

In approaching this study of the parables, some important principles need to be kept in mind.

1. Firstly it must be understood that these are stories, often taken from everyday life, that teach an important principle.

2. Secondly the parables usually follow the principle of “end stress”. In other words, how does it end and what is the obvious challenge it leaves? At the end of the parable what does the teller challenge the hearer to do?

3.Thirdly it is important to realize that the parables are not setting down doctrinal principles. The parable of the dishonest steward does not teach that dishonesty is good.

4. In the fourth instance it is important to look at the context in which the parable was taught.

A good starting point in the understanding of the parables of Jesus would be to go back to a well known Old Testament example. After King David sinned with Bathsheba and then had her husband Uriah killed, the Prophet Nathan went to David with a parable. The King was outraged at the story that Nathan told him. David then fell into the trap when he condemned the wicked sheep stealer: “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this shall surely die”. Then Nathan brought the message home when he said to David “you are the man!” (2 Samuel 12:1-7; NKJV used with permission).

Only seven of the parables of Jesus are recorded in all three Synoptic Gospels. Another five are recorded in Matthew and Luke. Matthew adds a further 13 more, Mark two and Luke nineteen. How each Gospel writer chose the parables he did makes an interesting study in itself. John does not refer to parables at all but does present what he refers to as “signs” on many occasions.

There is however no doubt that understanding the parables and applying them is as vitally important today as it was in the time of Jesus.

References: The parables of Jesus by Neil R Lightfoot in the Living Word series.

The Baker Illustrated Bible Dictionary

NKJV of Bible.-used with permission .NKJV Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


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