Understanding Genre's - Parables

HOW TO STUDY THE BIBLE - Understanding Genre's

I've been giving modern examples of how to study different genre's of Scripture but for parables it becomes difficult. Parables are their own different breed of a genre and the purpose changes based on the audience. Another difficulty in parables is because of the distance between the original audience and us. There is a depth of meaning that is intended by Yeshua in the parable He tells. Many times a parable is only understood through an understanding of the context of the day. Therefore, while there is a deep meaning to the parable, the meaning is understood by the context of the culture. We don’t want to take apart every little thing and try to find a meaning for it. Augustan Augustine was notorious for doing such things. He took the parable of the Good Samaritan and said, “Jericho means the moon, oil means comfort and good hope, wine means exhortation and work with a fervent spirit, the donkey means Christ’s flesh, etc.”. That’s taking it a little too far and we should avoid taking it that far. The question is, how far do we take it?

There are four general guidelines to look for when studying parables.

1. Look for the main point in the parable. The main point of the parable is CRUCIAL. Most Bible Scholars say there is only ONE main point. I’m not sure about that. I’m thinking there can be two; or three at very most. For example, with the story of the prodigal son, there is a point with the youngest son, a point with the father, and a point with the older son.

2. Look for the response purposed by Christ. The main purpose of the parable is to lead hearers to RESPOND in a certain way. The message IS the parable and it’s intended to invoke a certain response.

3. Look at the audience of the parable to help find the main point and response needed. There are three reasons why Christ told parables. Many have heard that parables were meant to help us understand. The problem with that thought is that it contradicts Christ’s words in Matthew 13:13-15. Take a look at the audience to get a clue of the purpose of the parable. If the audience is to the disciples, the parable is likely meant to help in understanding. If the parable was to the pharisees, the parable is likely to cause an emotional response. If the parable is to the crowds the parable is likely to cause confusion. It’s the parables to the crowds that typically will have a deep meaning that is beyond the context of the culture.

4. Look at the context of the parable. Each parable had an event that caused the parable to be told. It may just be the audience. It may be something someone said or someone did. Look for the reason the parable was told. Also, look at the surround parables. Many times we see one parable being told after another. Jesus was not giving independent lessons but rather one story after another to paint a bigger picture.

Read the parable many times and get into the hearer's perspective. Parables are kinda like an "inside joke" between two people who get it but we don't. There is usually something going on that we are missing. The stories are culturally founded and its purpose did not need much explanation to them. Therefore, see what triggers the parable or repetition of parables and who the audience is. Then determine the purpose, meaning, and response to the parable. See how that works in our lives.

Example: Luke 10:25-37 is the story of the Good Samaritan. It's often taught with a focus on doing good for those in need or in trouble. While that teaching is not wrong there's more going on here. When we look at the audience we see it's the "test" of a lawyer in how to obtain eternal life. Jesus points back to the summing of the Law and Prophets (Matt 22:40; Gal 5:14) and the lawyer questions who his neighbor is. Messiah Yahshua enters into the parable of the Good Samaritan and asked the lawyer who was the neighbor. In the lawyer's response, he couldn't even say the Samaritan; he could only say, "The one who showed mercy on him." The point of the parable hinged on this, Jesus was showing the lawyer the animosity he had in his heart for another race.

If Jesus told this story today while using a person of another race would there be animosity in our heart? And that is the response purposed by Christ. Is there a racial issue within us that needs correcting.