Jesus’ Implicit Claim To Deity In His Parables -- By: Philip B. Payne

Journal: Trinity Journal
Volume: TRINJ 02:1 (Spring 1981)
Article: Jesus’ Implicit Claim To Deity In His Parables
Author: Philip B. Payne

Jesus’ Implicit Claim To Deity
In His Parables

Philip B. Payne

Kyoto, Japan

Joachim Jeremias concluded his study of the parables as follows:

In attempting to recover the original significance of the parables, one thing above all becomes evident: it is that all the parables of Jesus compel his hearers to come to a decision about his person and mission… The parables imply a christological self-attestation … God’s acceptable year has come. For he has been manifested whose veiled glory shines through every word and through every parable—the Saviour.1

Although Jesus’ self-understanding is not explicitly defined in the parables, it is implied in many of them, reinforcing and undergirding their central message. A case can be made—as Jeremias does—that certain of them functioned at least in part as a christological claim. Many portray the coming of the kingdom, the hour either of joy or of judgrnent. The cruciality of how one responds to Jesus and the urgency of decision are stressed repeatedly. One’s response will determine one’s destiny.

It has long been noticed that Jesus depicts himself and his ministry through the parables. But two aspects of Jesus’ self-depiction in the parables have generally been overlooked.

1) Such self-portrayal is unique to Jesus. In the vast corpus of rabbinic parables there seems to be none in which a rabbi depicts himself. This is strong evidence that the parables recorded in the gospels are authentic to Jesus.

2) In the majority of these parables, Jesus depicts himself through images which in the OT and later Jewish literature are used to depict God. As with most imagery, these terms could also be used to depict things other than God; but overall their use in connection with God is dominant. Just such a connection with God seems to be implied in many of the parables considered below.

In order to assess whether a parable may have conveyed an implicit claim by Jesus to deity, two key factors need to be considered:

1) Is the image in question a common or significant figure used to depict God in the OT or in later Jewish writings near the time of Jesus?

2) Do the actions or qualities of the figure in the parable reflect the actions or qualities of Jesus?

If the answer to both of these questions is “Yes” in any given parable, the possibility must be considered that Jesus was making an implicit claim to deity. This possibility in the individual case becomes more probable insofar as a pattern emerges of Jesus frequently depicting himself in the parables through

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