The Interpretation of Parables -- By: Vernon D. Doerksen

Journal: Grace Journal
Volume: GJ 11:2 (Spring 1970)
Article: The Interpretation of Parables
Author: Vernon D. Doerksen

The Interpretation of Parables

Vernon D. Doerksen

Assistant Professor of Theology and New Testament
Arizona Bible College

The striking importance of the parabolic method of teaching in Jewish thinking can be seen from this passage in the Apocrypha:

But he that giveth his mind to the law of the most High, and is occupied in the meditation thereof, will seek out the wisdom of all the ancient, and be occupied in prophecies. He will keep the sayings of the renowned men: and where subtil parables are, he will be there also. He will seek out the secrets of grave sentences, and be conversant in dark parables (Eccles 39:1–3).

Our Lord made ready use of the parabolic method of teaching to the extent that Mark comments, “But without a parable spake he not unto them” (4:34). The parables are not mere human tales; they are teachings of the Son of God, the One to whom the crowd listened gladly (Mark 12:37). Of Him it is declared, “…the people were astonished at his doctrine: for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes” (Matt 7:28, 29). Of the parables, Armstrong writes:

Indeed, they are sparks from that fire which our Lord brought to the earth (Luke xii.49)—the message of One who was ‘a prophet…and more than a prophet’ (Matt xi.9; Luke vii.16).1

Christ’s parables are not of mere man. Their higher quality is evidenced by deep earnestness and the lack, yea, total absence of jesting or folly.

By a consideration of the great number of parables, one can note the importance of them in Christ’s ministry. Ramm has written, “The importance of the study of the parables is to be found in their sheer number representing a large part of the text of the Gospels.”2 And he further makes an important observation, “Any doctrine of the kingdom or eschatology which ignores a careful study of the parables cannot be adequate.”3

The individual parables have been interpreted in many diverse ways, from the extreme allegorical method of Augustine to the topical method of Chrysostom. Hubbard vividly states, “They have been made the stalking-horse for all kinds of false doctrine and ...

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