The Characteristics of Jesus’ Parables (Snodgrass)

Stories with Intent Snodgrass, Klyne R. cover image

(This is a repost from April 2013)

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. If you want more info, 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.

Shane Lems