Prophets, Parables, and Theologians -- By: Klyne R. Snodgrass

Journal: Bulletin for Biblical Research
Volume: BBR 18:1 (NA 2008)
Article: Prophets, Parables, and Theologians
Author: Klyne R. Snodgrass


Prophets, Parables, and Theologians

Klyne R. Snodgrass

North Park Theological Seminary

This article addresses three questions concerning parables: Why did Jesus teach in parables? What classification of parables should be used? And how should theology be done from the parables? Parables were used effectively by the OT prophets, and Jesus used parables because he came as a prophet with a prophet’s agenda. Søren Kierkegaard’s discussion of indirect communication provides a basis for a more effective classification system than Adolf Jülicher’s fourfold system. The prophetic use of parables and the classification system provide a basis for thinking about how theology is done from the parables.

Key Words: parables, OT parables, extra-biblical parables, prophets, classification of parables, theological interpretation of parables

The parables of Jesus may well be the most discussed literature ever, and surely they are among the most abused. Parables, which were intended to make things understandable, have often become the source of confusion and distortion. Despite the numerous treatments of parables, certain issues still deserve our consideration and can be the gateway to greater clarity. I would like to focus on three: Why did Jesus teach in parables? What classification of parables should be used? And how should theology be done from the parables? These three questions are not as unrelated as they might appear on the surface.

Why Did Jesus Teach in Parables?

Lurking behind this question are several others, not the least of which are: From where did Jesus derive the parabolic method? Are there precursors to Jesus’ parables? Was Jesus’ use of parables unique? My concern in asking why Jesus taught in parables is not with the Synoptic discussion of the purpose of the parables (Matt 13:10-17/Mark 4:10-12/Luke 8:9-10), although that discussion is not irrelevant; rather, I will emphasize that Jesus intentionally taught in parables because parables were a form of prophetic discourse, and the implications of this fact deserve more attention than they usually receive.1

To argue that parables are prophetic instruments involves several assumptions that require consideration, especially because some people find little help in the OT for understanding parables. Joachim Jeremias argued Jesus’ parables are entirely new,2 but, while Jesus is unparalleled in the skill and frequen...

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