Interpreting Parables: One Point or Many? -- By: Zoltan L. Erdey

Journal: Conspectus
Volume: CONSPECTUS 10:1 (Sep 2010)
Article: Interpreting Parables: One Point or Many?
Author: Zoltan L. Erdey

Interpreting Parables: One Point or Many?

Zoltan L. Erdey1


Two modes of parable interpretation have dominated much of church history. The first and most dominant was allegorization, in which each element in the parable narrative was contrasted with a real life referent, thought to communicate an enigmatic or spiritual truth. In contrast to the allegorical exegetical method is the single-lesson interpretive model, which advocates that parables teach a single lesson. None of these interpretive models are adequate, for they either oversimplifying or unnecessarily allegorising the parables of Jesus. The model recommended by Blomberg, which views the parables as teaching one, two, or three lessons, contingent on the number of main characters in the parables, avoids the pitfalls on the two extremes, and ought to be adopted as the standard evangelical model.

1. Introduction

Henry Bosch, author of Our Daily Bread, once wrote that although Socrates taught forty years, Plato fifty, and Aristotle forty, Jesus’s public ministry lasted less than three years, yet the influence of his life far outweighs the combined 130 years of the three greatest philosophers

of all antiquity. The same is true of his parables. Although wise-men before and after him taught in parables, those spoken by Christ remain the best known and most studied stories in the world. Such popular attractiveness in both academic and lay contexts, however, has not prevented their frequent misinterpretation. Snodgrass (2000:177) is more severe in his expression, writing that ‘throughout much of the church’s history the parables of Jesus have been mistreated, rearranged, abused, and butchered’. The proper interpretation of the parables, therefore, is not only academically pertinent, but also spiritually imperative.

Thus, the methodological question that all parable interpreters must face is this: what hermeneutical rule governs their proper interpretation? Space does not permit an in-depth analysis of the various interpretive methods. Rather, this article is rooted in the deduction that Blomberg’s interpretive hypothesis is distinguished, receiving less attention than it truly deserves. Thus, this short representation is an endorsement of Blomberg’s model of parable interpretation.

Because no hermeneutical model exists in a historical or academic vacuum, this article shall commence with is a brief historical survey of parable interpretation. With the contextual placement of Blomberg’s model defined, the focus will shift to a brief exposition, evaluation, and endorsement of his proposed hypothesis.

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