Structural Analysis of Jesus’ Narrative Parables: A Conservative Approach -- By: Christian R. Davis
GTJ 9:2 (Fall 88) p. 191
Structural Analysis of Jesus’ Narrative Parables:
A Conservative Approach
Recent structuralistic criticism of Jesus’ parables usually uses naturalistic assumptions, but structuralism can also use conservative assumptions about the text. If the Bible is inerrant, then Jesus’ parables can be analyzed as they stand as units within the gospels. Underlying structures of the parables can reveal their “deep meanings.”
Twenty-seven parables are reduced in five steps to “actantial schemata,” then classified into four categories based on the completions or negations of schemata and the relationships between schemata within each parable. Each category teaches a different underlying message. Further structuralistic study might supplement traditional biblical hermeneutics.
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Ever since the disciples asked Jesus, “Why do You speak to them in parables?” (Matt 13:10b), interpreters have struggled with Jesus’ parables. Early exegetes, including Tertullian, Origen, and Jerome, generally allegorized them, as did nearly all writers who dealt with them before the nineteenth century. Even in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, critics such as Trench, Dods, and A. B. Bruce continued to treat them as primarily allegorical. In the late nineteenth century, the German theologian Adolf Jülicher proposed that Jesus’ parables had to be treated as classical parables, teaching a single, central lesson—a principle that has become widely though not universally accepted. Since then, form critics, such as Bultmann and Dibelius, and redaction critics, such as Cadoux, Dodd, and Jeremias, have tended to treat the parables as human rather than sacred texts, useful, perhaps, in the search for Jesus’ original words but not trustworthy as accounts of God’s special revelation.1
GTJ 9:2 (Fall 88) p. 192
Most recently, experimental hermeneutical approaches have flourished. In a 1983 survey of recent literature, David L. Barr claims that recent studies “form a veritable spectrum of hermeneutical options: from a positivist reading of the text which takes meaning as obvious and referential to a semiotic reading which takes meaning to be polyvalent and autonomous—with several shades in between.”2 One of these recent approaches is structuralism. Defined in simple terms, structuralism is a critical methodology that seeks to understand phenomena (such as myths, folk customs, or literary texts) in terms of their structures: the systems or patterns that relate individual phenomena to each other...
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