Incongruity In The Gospel Parables -- By: David Seccombe
TynBull 62:2 (2011) p. 161
Incongruity In The Gospel Parables
Evidence is given of deliberate use of incongruity and the outright bizarre in some of the gospel sayings and parables. This is sometimes smoothed away by translators and commentators, who appear uncomfortable with it. Yet it has the marks of being one of Jesus’ characteristic teaching devices, the tendency of the transmission being to smooth out discordancies. With this in mind the parable of the leaven is re-examined, and it is argued that it contains three incongruities which strongly suggest its authenticity and could have made it a startling piece of communication for its original listeners. The results gained are employed to clear the way for a correct approach to the parable of the ten minas.
‘The student of the parables of Jesus may be confident that he stands upon a particularly firm historical foundation. The parables are a fragment of the original rock of tradition.’
With those words Joachim Jeremias began his classic exposition of the parables of Jesus.1 Writing at a time when form criticism was the strong influence in New Testament studies Jeremias sought to cleanse the parables of the influences of their use by the early church and recover the dominical original. He was confident that the accretions were superficial, easily identified and removed, and, as he deals with individual parables, it becomes clear that in his view the parables as we
TynBull 62:2 (2011) p. 162
have them are essentially and for the most part the work of the master. ‘We stand right before Jesus when reading his parables’.2
Many would agree with this judgement.3The individual style of the parables displays an original mind unparalleled before, during or after the time of Jesus, and gives us our most obvious access to the personality and teaching style of someone who never wrote anything that was preserved, yet who is as real and accessible to us through his parables as Shakespeare is through his plays (more so!).
With this in mind I wish first to draw attention to an unusual characteristic of some of the parables which is frequently overlooked or misunderstood, and which, because it is not appreciated as part of Jesus’ genius as a teacher, is often a stumbling block to translators and interpreters. I refer to Jesus’ frequent use of incongruity and sometimes the outright bizarre to catch his hearers’ attention and impress his truth upon them.You must have a subscription and be logged in to read the entire article.
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