part of the what is truth? series

A parable as defined by Dictionary.com is “a short allegorical story designed to illustrate or teach some truth, religious principle, or moral lesson” or a statement or comment that conveys a meaning indirectly by the use of comparison, analogy, or the like.”

If we were to just take this definition into account, we might logically conclude – as many do – that Jesus used parables in His teaching to make His lessons memorable and easily understood. After all, parables are illustrations, and illustrations are typically used to help in understanding. A short story like the “Pearl of Great Price” or “The Prodigal Son” is easy to remember. But we must remember, Jesus didn’t come to earth to be a storyteller…

how Scripture answers "Why did Jesus teach in parables?"

Jesus was asked this exact question by His disciples1 and we have a rare instance in which Jesus gives a direct answer to a direct question. His reason was not that it was an “effective teaching method” or because it would make it “memorable” or “easy to understand.” In fact, it was just the opposite1,4. The disciples needed to ask what they meant2 and later, Jesus would actually contrast the practice with speaking “plainly about the Father”3.

The message of the kingdom is hidden1,5 for those that are not truly listening2 for it (or, as other Scripture puts it, seeking it). Teaching in parables (or figures of speech3) was Jesus’ practice in order to distinguish those that were truly seeking truth4.

the answer above is based on and footnoted with the following Scripture Blocks
1

Then the disciples came and said to him, Why do you speak to them in parables? And he answered them, To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.

His disciples ask Jesus this exact question and He answers…with a parable. His point appears to be that the message of the Kingdom is hidden (a “secret”) and He uses parables to keep it reserved only for those that truly hear the message.

Jesus (in a boat) is teaching a crowd (on the beach) in parables.

How does it inform?

Jesus gives a single, explicit reason for His use of parables. It is to reserve His message (or secret) of the kingdom for those that are inclined to hear and understand it.

Does it apply? Yes

2

And when his disciples asked him what this parable meant, he said, To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.

The disciples asked Jesus what the parable meant, and Jesus shared a truth that they were learning about the “secrets” of the kingdom of God while to others they were just hearing parables.  

The same instance as in Matthew 13:10-13 with added details from Luke. Jesus is moving around various cities teaching of the kingdom. The twelve plus some other disciples are traveling with him. He has just shared the parable of the sower and the disciples ask him what it means.

How does it inform?

The lesson from the parable wasn’t obvious as the disciples had to ask Jesus (privately) for an explanation. This is another account of the same exchange between Jesus and His disciples1. Two types of individuals are contrasted. One isn’t interested in the spiritual, and it’s for them that the parables are told – so “they may not understand.” The other wants to know more and for them, “the secrets” are revelaed —- not by the parable, but in its spiritual application.

Does it apply? Yes

3

I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech but will tell you plainly about the Father.

Jesus acknowledges He speaks in “figures of speech” (i.e. parables) but won’t do that forever.  A time will come that he speaks plainly about God [spiritual matters].

The upper room on the eve of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion. He is with his disciples.

How does it inform?

Jesus acknowledges His spiritual instruction has been in figures of speech (aka riddles, parables), contrasting it with speaking “plainly.”

Does it apply? Yes

4

So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly. Jesus answered them, I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.

The Jews are frustrated by the fact that Jesus won’t directly say, “I am the Christ.” He still doesn’t, but says that he has through his works that bear witness to the fact that he is the son of God. He also says that his true followers understand this fact.

Jesus teaching the multitudes, including those that were seeking to harm him.

How does it inform?

Jesus’ pattern of teaching (in parables) was not “plain” or obvious. Even when some protest and want it said plainly, Jesus refuses.

Does it apply? Yes

5
In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
In the case of unbelievers, the god of the world has blinded their hearts/minds to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel – the glory of Christ who is the image of God.

Paul is extolling the great virtues of God’s word and its superiority over (and replacement of) the old Law.

How does it inform?

Paul states that the gospel can in fact be hidden or “veiled” to unblievers.

Does it apply? Yes

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