Characteristics of Jesus’ Parables

Stories with Intent As I’ve said here before, Klyne Snodgrass’ Stories With Intent is an outstanding resource on Jesus’ parables.  One section I appreciate is the introduction – specifically where Snodgrass talks about the general characteristics of Jesus’ parables.  I’ll give the headings below; to get the helpful commentary of these headings, you’ll have to get the book!

1) Jesus’ parables are first of all brief, even terse.

2) Parables are marked by simplicity and symmetry.

3) Jesus’ parables focus mostly on humans (they mirror the commonness of first-century Palestinian human life).

4) The parables are fictional descriptions taken from everyday life, but they do not necessarily portray everyday events.

5) Parables are engaging; they were told to create interest, and various schemes are used to draw hearers in and compel dealing with the issues at hand.

6) Since they frequently seek to reorient thought and behavior, in keeping with Jesus’ teaching elsewhere parables often contain elements of reversal.

7) With their intent to bring about response and elements like reversal, the crucial matter of parables is usually at the end.

8) Parables are told into a context.  Unlike Aesop’s fables, Jesus’ parables are not general stories with universal truths.

9) Jesus’ parables are theocentric (and have everything to do with God’s Kingdom).

10) Parables frequently allude to OT texts.

11) Most parables appear in larger collections of parables.

These points – and Snodgrass’ discussion of them – can be found on pages 17-22 of Stories With Intent.

rev shane lems

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4 comments on “Characteristics of Jesus’ Parables

  1. Lon says:

    This is a very helpful reference. Thanks. Though, I was surprised that this one was missing: Jesus’s parables were often told to confuse the audience, not clarify something. In these cases, the parables were pronouncements of God’s judgement against the audience, in fulfillment of Isaiah 6:8-10: “be ever seeing, but never perceiving. Be ever hearing, but never understanding…” In Matthew 13:10-16 the disciples asked Jesus why he spoke in parables. The unspoken subtext is, “Parables (aka riddles) aren’t the best way to make things clear, are they Jesus?” Jesus response is to quote Isaiah 6.

    • Thanks, Lon, and good point. To be fair, Snodgrass does mention the very thing you rightly pointed out. It is a fascinating thing about parables – they are not always easy to interpret and they do confuse and even irritate the hearers from time to time.

      shane

      • Lon says:

        amazing that we were ever told “Jesus was the master storyteller. Look how clear and relevant he makes things by telling parables.”

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