Matthew 13 And The Function Of The Parables In The First Gospel -- By: Jonathan T. Pennington

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 13:3 (Fall 2009)
Article: Matthew 13 And The Function Of The Parables In The First Gospel
Author: Jonathan T. Pennington

Matthew 13 And The Function Of The Parables In The First Gospel

Jonathan T. Pennington

Jonathan T. Pennington is Assistant Professor of New Testament Interpretation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He received is Ph.D. from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. In addition to authoring numerous articles and works on both Hebrew and Greek vocabulary, Dr. Pennington has edited (along with Sean M. McDonough) Cosmology and New Testament Theology (Continuum, 2008) and is the author of Heaven and Earth in the Gospel of Matthew (Baker, 2009).


From the days of their original delivery down to our own time, the parables of Jesus have served to stimulate, intrigue, invite, repel, inspire, and invigorate those who have encountered them. Countless books, articles, and sermons have wrestled with what the parables are, how they are to be interpreted, and what they mean. The current edition of this journal is yet another paving stone in this long and winding road.

To review or rehearse even the contours of this road requires lengthy discussion, and thankfully, many good overviews do exist. One such recent work is Klyne Snodgrass’s Stories with Intent.1 Snodgrass provides a thoughtful and well-researched discussion of the many matters relevant to our understanding of the parables. These include the nature of parables in terms of metaphor and allegory, the classification of different types of parables, the history of the interpretation of the parables, and the methodology for interpreting them.

For this essay my focus will be much narrower. Apart from one macro-level issue, discussed below, I will explore only the specific question of the coherence and function of the collection of parables in Matthew 13.

Laying The Foundation—The Parables In Jesus’ Ministry And Israel’s Story

Before turning particularly to Matthew 13, it will be beneficial to consider how Jesus’ parables fit into his ministry and teaching overall. It is well known that Jesus gave much of his teaching in the form of parables, but less often discussed is how the content of these parables relates to the larger story and theology of the Scriptures, particularly the Old Testament and the story of Israel. One scholar who has reflected carefully on this question is N. T. Wright. In his book, Jesus and the Victory of God,2 Wright is seeking to answer the simple but vast question of who Jesus was. His answer at least in part is: Jesus is the true King, Messiah, and Prophet of God who ta...

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