Summary: The word parable is translated from the Greek word parabole which means “to place beside”. A parable, then is a story that places one thing beside another for the purpose of teaching. How then should we study parables?
The study of parables
What are parables?
The word parable is translated from the Greek word parabole which means “to place beside”. A parable, then is a story that places one thing beside another for the purpose of teaching. It is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. When Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like....”, He was placing an earthly thing beside a heavenly truth for the purpose of teaching.
Why did Jesus speak in parables?
Matthew 13:1017, 34-35, 51-52 (NIV) 10 The disciples came to him and asked, "Why do you speak to the people in parables?" 11 He replied, "The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. 12 Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables: "Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. 14 In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: "'You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. 15 For this people's heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.' 16 But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. 17 For I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.....34 Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable. 35 So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet: "I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world."......51 "Have you understood all these things?" Jesus asked. "Yes," they replied. 52 He said to them, "Therefore every teacher of the law who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old."
Parables are meant to hide the truths from those who choose not to believe
In response to the disciples’ question on why He used parables, Jesus said that "the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them (ie the unbelievers).” He goes on to say in verse 13 “This is why I speak to them in parables: Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.” Other verses are even clearer on what Jesus meant.
Mark 4:1112 (NIV) He told them, "The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables 12 so that, "'they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!'"
Luke 8:10 (NIV) He said, "The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that, "'though seeing, they may not see; though hearing, they may not understand.'
In other words, Jesus used parables so that some people would not understand. They would think Jesus is talking nonsense.
Is Jesus deliberately hiding the truth from some people so that even though they are interested, they would not understand and believe? I do not think so for the following reasons:
1. Many of the parables grew out of the conflict situations when Jesus answered His religious critics like the Pharisees and sinners. If Jesus wants to hide the truth from the unbelievers, he did not need to answer them at all.
2. His mission to save the world excludes the idea that He would want to deliberately exclude some from salvation.
Luke 19:10 (NIV) For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost."
John 3:16 (NIV) "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Why then did Jesus say He spoke in parables so that the unbelievers would not understand?
God only reveals to those who are interested to know the truth. The Bible says in Deu 4:29 that if “you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul.”
For those who choose not to see the truth even though it is plain to them, God may give up on them and refuse to give them the truth in plain form. God blinds further those who choose to be blinded by falsehood.