The Parable Of The Generous Vineyard Owner (Matthew 20:1-16) -- By: Ardel B. Caneday

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 13:3 (Fall 2009)
Article: The Parable Of The Generous Vineyard Owner (Matthew 20:1-16)
Author: Ardel B. Caneday

The Parable Of The Generous Vineyard Owner (Matthew 20:1-16)

A. B. Caneday

A. B. Caneday is Professor of New Testament Studies & Biblical Theology at Northwestern College in Saint Paul, Minnesota. He has written many scholarly articles, including contributions to two recent edited volumes: The Faith of Jesus Christ: Exegetical, Biblical, and Theological Studies (Paternoster, 2009) and A Cloud of Witnesses: The Theology of Hebrews in its Ancient Context (T. & T. Clark, 2008). Dr. Caneday is co-author (with Thomas R. Schreiner) of The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance and Assurance (InterVarsity, 2001).

Precautions Concerning Parables

Interpreting Jesus’ parables is fraught with dangers as witnessed throughout the history of interpretation.1 In a sense, explaining a parable is like explaining a riddle or perhaps a joke. As explanation “spoils” a riddle for the quick-witted and indulges the dull, so explanation tends to diminish the genius of Jesus’ parables and shortcuts delight for those who hear with understanding. Nevertheless, occasionally Jesus concedes to his torpid Twelve and provides for them his own explanation of his parables (e.g., see Mark 4:13-20; 7:17-23), setting an example for Christian teachers and ministers to follow.

As with several of the accepted titles for Jesus’ parables “The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard” seems misdirected, for the parable’s evident focal point of similarity between the “kingdom of heaven” and the earthly analog is not the human workers but the human owner (anthrōpō oikodespotē) of the vineyard who stands in contrast to them—thus the title, “The Parable of the Generous Vineyard Owner.”2 This modified title features a catchword that evidently links the parable’s “good” vineyard owner (Matt 20:15) to the earlier narrative concerning Jesus’ exchange with the Rich Young Man who inquired, “Teacher, what good thing must I do in order that I might have eternal life?” Jesus responded, “Why do you inquire concerning the good thing? Only one is the Good One” (19:16, 17).

As accepted titles tend to mislead understanding, so do other common popular assumptions and uses of the parables. Contrary to popular notion, Jesus does not teach the crowds with parables to reveal his message so that even the most spiritually dull hearers will understand. Nor does he desig...

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