Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, December 6th, 2023
the First Week of Advent
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Bible Dictionaries

Morrish Bible Dictionary

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In the O.T. the word is mashal, 'a similitude,' and is also translated 'proverb.' In the N.T. it is παραβολή. A parable is a mode of relation under which something is figured which is not expressed in the terms. Hence a parable usually necessitates an expositor. The Lord said on one occasion that He spoke in parables, so that the multitude should not understand His teaching: they had virtually rejected their Messiah, and were not morally in a condition to be taught. The Lord acted as expositor and explained the meaning privately to His disciples, for it was given unto them to know 'the mysteries of the kingdom.' Matthew 13:11 . Some, however, of the Lord's parables were so pointed that they were understood even by His enemies, which doubtless was His intention; they were laid bare as in His presence. Some of those in the O.T. also were plain, but in the parable of the ewe lamb, David did not see the application till he had himself judged the culprit. So also with Ahab and the 'escaped captive.' These allegories were calculated to strike home the intended lesson, by portraying in an objective way the evil.

The word 'parable' is used many times in the O.T. for figurative language where no distinct parable is related, as when Balaam 'took up his parable,' Numbers 23:7,18 , etc.; and Job 'continued his parable.' Job 27:1; Job 29:1 . The word παραβολή is twice translated 'FIGURE.' Hebrews 9:9; Hebrews 11:19 .

From the fact of the Lord connecting 'the mysteries of the kingdom' with the parables He uttered, we may be sure that there is much instruction to be gathered from them if rightly interpreted: they need the teaching of the Spirit of God as much as any other part of scripture.

It will be seen by the annexed list that some of the parables are recorded only by Matthew; two 'similes' are found in Mark only; several parables are given only by Luke; and none are recorded by the evangelist John. There must be divine reasons for this, and wisdom is needed to discern and profit by it. All is doubtless in harmony with the character of each of the Gospels. The word 'parable' occurs in John 10:6 in the A.V., but it is not the same word, and signifies 'allegory.' The teaching is not in the form of a parable: the Lord is speaking of Himself as the good Shepherd.

Some of the parables are grouped together. Thus in Matthew 13 there are seven parables, four of which were delivered in the hearing of the multitude, and three in private. The first was introductory, namely, the SOWER. The Lord came seeking fruit, but finding none He revealed that He had really been sowing 'the word of the kingdom,' and explained why much of the seed did not produce fruit. The next three parables give the outward aspect of the kingdom during Christ's absence, that which man has made of it. The second is the WHEAT AND THE TARES. The Lord sowed the good seed, but Satan at once sowed his seed, and both grew up together until the harvest at the end of the age. The third is the MUSTARD SEED. This grows up into a tree large enough for the birds (which caught away the good seed in the parable of the sower) to lodge in its branches. The fourth is the LEAVEN. A woman hid leaven (always a type of what is human, arid hence of evil, because sin is in the flesh) which diffused itself unseen amid the three measures of meal until all was leavened.

Then Jesus sent the multitude away, and in private explained first to His disciples the parable of the Wheat and the Tares, and then added parables that show the divine object and intent in the kingdom. The first is the HID TREASURE, for the sake of obtaining which a man buys the field in which it is hid. The second is the PEARL OF GREAT PRICE. The merchant-man seeks goodly pearls, and having found one pearl of great price, sells all that he has to be possessed of it. Christ renounced all that belonged to Him as man after the flesh and as Messiah on earth, in order that He might possess the church. The third is the parable of the NET, which gathers out of the sea of nations good and bad, as the gospel has done in Christendom. When the net is drawn to shore the servants make a selection of the good from the bad, but at the end of the age (it is added in the exposition) the angels will separate the wicked from the just, and cast them into the furnace of fire.

Another group of parables is in Luke 15 , or in one sense a parable in three sections (Luke 15:3 ). It answers the charge brought against the Lord, "This man receiveth sinners."

1. THE LOST SHEEP was followed by the shepherd until it was found.

2. THE LOST PIECE OF MONEY. The piece of money was lost in the house, even as many persons in God's sight were lost in the outward profession of being Abraham's children (as many indeed are lost now in Christendom). The lost piece was sought by the light of the candle till it was found. It was precious, a piece of silver.

3. THE PRODIGAL SON was joyfully received by the father, a feast was prepared, and the recovery of the lost one was celebrated by music and dancing. This is the climax — the celebration of grace. In all three the joy is that of the finder. It is the joy of heaven over the recovery of lost sinners.

It is doubtless best to study each parable or each group, with its context, as the Holy Spirit has given them. Attempts have, however, been made to classify them according to the truth conveyed by them thus:

1. The setting aside of Israel. THE TWO SONS, of which the Lord gives the interpretation. THE WICKED HUSBANDMEN: the rulers of Israel were among the Lord's hearers, and He explained the parable thus: "The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof." The BARREN FIG TREE: the Lord came seeking fruit in Israel as representing man under culture, but found none. He gave time for repentance, but the fig tree yielded no fruit and was to be cut clown: the destruction of Jerusalem was its actual removal.

2. The introduction of the kingdom and Satan's opposition to it. The SOWER. The WHEAT AND TARES. The GROWTH OF SEED: notwithstanding the opposition of Satan, God in His own secret way makes His seed fructify and bring forth fruit. The LEAVEN; the HIDDEN TREASURE; the PEARL OF GREAT PRICE; and the NET.

3. God's way of bringing into blessing. The LOST SHEEP; the LOST PIECE OF MONEY; and the PRODIGAL SON. The MARRIAGE FOR THE KING'S SON: God will do honour to His Son. The Jews were invited to the feast, but would not come. Others, the Gentile outcasts, were invited. One without the wedding robe (Christ) was cast out. He had no sense of natural unfitness. The GREAT SUPPER: the feast of heavenly grace in contrast to the earthly things of the kingdom of God. All who were invited made excuses, not as prevented by evil but by earthly things; they were indifferent to the gracious invitation. Some, the poor and afflicted of the city, were brought in, and others were to be compelled to come in. God will have His house filled. The PHARISEE AND PUBLICAN: the Pharisee thanked God that he was not as other men; the publican cried for mercy, and went down to his house justified rather than the other. The TWODEBTORS: the poor woman was forgiven much, and she loved much; not forgiven because she loved much. The UNJUST JUDGE: the Lord's point was that men "ought always to pray and not to faint." God will answer in His own time, and the earthly elect will be saved. The LABOURERS IN THE VINEYARD: God in His sovereignty asks, "Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own?" Man claims this liberty for himself, yet murmurs against the sovereignty of God. "Many are called, but few chosen." Notice also in this parable the Lord's reply to Peter's question in Matthew 19:27; Matthew 20 continues the subject and shows us sovereign grace in contrast with the mercenary spirit of man's heart.

4. The various responsibilities of men. The GOOD SAMARITAN: this was given in answer to "Who is my neighbour?" The Lord was really the good Samaritan, and after describing the course He took He said, "Go thou and do likewise." The FOOLISH RICH MAN: the moral is, "So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God." The UNJUST STEWARD: he sacrificed the present for the future, forwhich his master commended him, not for his injustice but his wisdom. The Lord applies the parable thus: "Make to yourselves friends with the mammon of unrighteousness [worldly possessions] that when it fails ye may be received into eternal tabernacles." Giving to the poor is lending to the Lord, and laying up treasure in heaven. The Lord exhorted His hearers to be (unlike the unjust steward) faithful in their stewardship of the unrighteous mammon (which does not belong to the Christian), that the true riches might be entrusted to them.

The RICH MAN AND LAZARUS. Nothing is said of the moral character of either of these men. It had been taught in the O.T. that outward prosperity should mark the upright man. Psalm 112:2,3 . In the kingdom in its new phase, consequent upon Christ's rejection, the possession of riches is no sign of divine favour. This was a needful lesson for the Jew. It was very difficult for a rich man to be saved, but the poor had the gospel preached unto them. The poor man was carried into Abraham's bosom, and the rich man fell into perdition. Another world reverses the conditions of the present one. The teaching in the parable of the Unjust Steward is continued here: the rich man was not sacrificing the present for the future. It also gives a vivid picture of the unalterable condition of the lost.

The UNMERCIFUL SERVANT. This illustrates the government of God, which is not set aside by His grace. It is revealed that God will recompense to His people according as they act towards others. Matthew 7:2 . Doubtless this parable has another application, bearing upon the Jews as to their jealousy of grace being shown to the Gentiles. The debt of the Gentiles to them is expressed in the hundred pence [perhaps a few months wages]; whereas the indebtedness of the Jews to God is seen in the ten thousand talents [millions of pounds or dollars]. Pardon was offered to them by Peter in Acts 3:19-26; but it was rejected, and their persecution of Paul and those who carried the gospel to the Gentiles showed that they could not forgive the Gentiles the hundred pence. They must now pay the uttermost farthing. Compare Isaiah 40:2; Matthew 5:25,26; 1 Thessalonians 2:15,16 .

The TEN VIRGINS. The explanation of this is simple. The normal attitude of Christians is that they have gone forth to meet the Bridegroom. This was the hope and expectation of the apostles. After their days all in this respect fell asleep. There may have been times of awakening, but when the last call goes forth it reveals the solemn fact that some have a profession only, without Christ — lamps without oil — who will be for ever shut out. "Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour." The virgins signify Christians, and not the faithful Jewish remnant, for these will not sleep (persecution will prevent that), nor be a mixed company, nor have to wait a long time for their Deliverer.

The TALENTS. This parable is similar in character to that of the POUNDS. The talents were distributed according to the ability of each servant, so that one had five, another two, and another one. This parable follows that of the Ten Virgins, showing that while the Christian waits for his Lord, he should be faithfully using the gifts entrusted to him. The POUNDS show the Lord Jesus leaving the earth to receive a kingdom, and giving to each of His servants a pound to trade with during His absence. All gifts are for the glory of the Lord, and the servant is responsible to Him for the faithful use of them.

Another arrangement of the principal parables has been suggested, namely, in three groups corresponding to different periods of the Lord's ministry.

1. In His early ministry, embracing the new teaching connected with the kingdom, and the mysterious form which it takes during His absence. This extends to Matthew 13 and Mark 4 . These parables will be easily distinguished in the following table.

2. After an interval of some months. The parables are now of a differenttype, and are drawn from the life of men rather than from the world of nature. They are principally in answer to questions, not in discourses to the multitude. Most of them occur in Luke only, in which gospel the Son of man is for man. They fall chiefly between the mission of the seventy and the Lord's last approach to Jerusalem.

3. This group falls towards the close of the Lord's ministry. They concern the kingdom in its consummation, and are prophetic of the rejection of Israel and the coming of the Lord.

In Matthew 13 the Lord asked His disciples if they understood what He had been saying to them. They said, "Yea, Lord." He added, "Every scribe which is instructed unto the kingdom of heaven, is like unto a man that is a householder which bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old."


Bibliography Information
Morrish, George. Entry for 'Parable'. Morrish Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​mbd/​p/parable.html. 1897.
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