2014-08-17

What Is a Parable?

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

John Drury
John Drury

‘Parable’ is an English version of the Greek word parabolē. According to Aristotle (Rhetoric, 2.20) parables were used by orators in inductive or indirect proof as a generally recognized means of demonstration and illustration. They are, according to him, of two kinds: true events taken from history, and the more easily invented example such as the fable or the parables used by Socrates in Plato’s dialogues. Characteristically, he had a decided preference for the first of these as against the second with its allegorical form. It was a preference which was to appeal strongly and fatefully to modern critics such as Jülicher and Dodd who had had a classical education.

But the education of the New Testament writers was different. The Bible, not Aristotle, was their teacher and they possessed it in a Greek translation, the Septuagint. It was full of parables, and the Septuagint translation was usually careful to translate the Hebrew mashal by the Greek parabolē in spite of the extraordinary range of mashal. Since that range is so wide and contains a number of things which would not be called parables nowadays, it is worth setting it out with examples both for reference and as an historical corrective. (Drury, Parables in the Gospels, p. 8)

So what are sorts of things does Drury set out as instances of “mashal” or “parables” in the Old Testament? This is something worth knowing if the New Testament gospels do in fact mean any sort of OT-type “mashal” when they use the word “parable”. We see here in the literary world of the authors of the gospels what parables looked like and the purposes to which they were put. Drury identifies six types of parables:

  • Sayings
  • Figurative sayings or metaphors
  • Enigmatic allegories
  • Songs of derision
  • Bywords
  • Prophetic oracles

Continue reading “What Is a Parable?”


2010-11-17

The acts and words (and person?) of Jesus as Parables in the Gospel of Mark

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Title page of Parables
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To the outsiders “everything (ta panta) happens (ginetai) in parables”. -cf Mark 4:11

The Gospel of Mark makes little sense if read as literal history or biography. For example, Jesus is said to have explained to his disciples that he talks in incomprehensible mysteries to the general public in order to deliver divine punishment upon them, not to educate and save them.

Mark 4:10-12

And when he was alone, they that were about him with the twelve asked of him the parables.

And he said unto them, Unto you is given the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all things are done in parables:

that seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest haply they should turn again, and it should be forgiven them.

That last verse is a quotation from Isaiah 6. That Isaiah passage speaks of judgment that involves the destruction of the cities of the land of Israel, and from which only a tiny remnant will escape to become the new people of God. It is, of course, nonsense to imagine that Jesus could have always spoken incomprehensibly in public and still have gathered a following of any kind.

(Anyone who has read Henrik Tronier’s Philonic Allegory in Mark* will read nothing new in this post. This post is a simplified repeat of one section of his Tronier’s article, with a slightly modified twist at the end.) [* link downloads a 264 KB PDF file. Source: http://www.pitts.emory.edu/hmpec/docs/TronierPhilonicAllegoryMark.pdf]
Continue reading “The acts and words (and person?) of Jesus as Parables in the Gospel of Mark”