Here is #22 of 31 Questions in 31 Days! To learn more about this 31 Day series, just search “31 Questions” in the search bar above or click here!
Q #23: Since Jesus taught a lot with parables, what can you tell me about how to understand them?
A: If you research them on the internet, you’ll find a LOT of ideas about how to discover what the parables of Jesus mean mean. For the most part, I’m listing some guidelines that will help you get to a conventional or orthodox understanding of the parables.
- Avoid over-allegorizing the parables. Unless Jesus has given the interpretation himself and it is clearly an allegorical parable where each element of the story stands for something else, this approach will lead you down the wrong path. Not all of the parables are allegories; The Good Samaritan, for example, is meant to be taken literally. To allegorize the story would be to miss its significance to Jesus’ audience and to us.
- Remember that the parables are simple stories. Parables are not concerned with the breadth of theology found in the Bible. Because a story speaks of the end or judgement does not mean it will also comment on the tribulation or the rapture. Just stick with trying to figure out and apply the point of the story.
- Learn what you can about the culture of Jesus’ day. Often, Jesus tells his stories with a certain shock-value. He’s trying to shock his audience into deeper reflection on significant questions. Often, learning what a tax collector was or what Pharisee did or what a Samaritan was will help you in figuring out what Jesus was doing with the story he told.
- Try to see the “kingdom” point that is being made. The parables are told to make a point about the kingdom. Seeing the central kingdom point that Jesus is making will help you to more quickly make a life application and keep you from missing the point of the story.
- Don’t stretch the story that’s told too far. Sometimes when people read parables, they want to make a point of everything in the story, asking questions about things that are not really helping to get at the point of the story. In the parable of The Two Lost Sons, for example, questions about the logical sequence of events or why the Father didn’t go look for this son is maybe a level of detail that was not meant to be searched out when the story was told.
Check out more posts from the 31 Questions series on subjects as varied as marijuana, infidelity, 666, the eternal destiny of children who die, dealing with discouragement, cremation, co-habitation, baptism, suicide, prayer, the origins of scripture, hell, work, the third heaven, tithing, Old Testament salvation, giving in the Old Testament, reading Proverbs, recovering from failure, taking the Bible literally, and even speaking in tongues!