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Bible Dictionaries

Smith's Bible Dictionary


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Parable. (The word parable is, in Greek, parable (parabole), which signifies placing beside or together, a comparison, a parable is therefore, literally, a placing beside, a comparison, a similitude, an illustration of one subject by another. - McClintock and Strong. As used in the New Testament, it had a very wide application, being applied sometimes to the shortest proverbs, 1 Samuel 10:12; 1 Samuel 24:13; 2 Chronicles 7:20, sometimes to dark prophetic utterances, Numbers 23:7; Numbers 23:18; Numbers 24:3; Ezekiel 20:49, sometimes to enigmatic maxims, Psalms 78:2; Proverbs 1:6, or metaphors expanded into a narrative. Ezekiel 12:22.

In the New Testament itself, the word is used with a like latitude in Matthew 24:32; Luke 4:23; Hebrews 9:9. It was often used in a more restricted sense to denote a short narrative, under which some important truth is veiled. Of this sort were the parables of Christ. The parable differs from the fable

(1) in excluding brute and inanimate creatures passing out of the laws of their nature and speaking or acting like men;

(2) in its higher ethical significance.

It differs from the allegory in that the latter, with its direct personification of ideas or attributes, and the names which designate them, involves really no comparison.

The virtues and vices of mankind appear as in a drama, in their own character and costume. The allegory is self-interpreting; the parable demands attention, insight, and sometimes, an actual explanation. It differs from a proverb in that, it must include a similitude of some kind, while the proverb may assert, without a similitude, some wide generalization of experience. - Editor).

For some months, Jesus taught in the synagogues and on the seashore of Galilee, as he had before taught in Jerusalem, and as yet without a parable. But then, there came a change. The direct teaching was met with scorn, unbelief, and hardness, and he seemed, for a time, to abandon it for that which took the form of parables.

The worth of parables, as instruments of teaching, lies in their being, at once, a test of character, and in their presenting, each form of character with that which, as a penalty or blessing, it is adapted to it. They withdraw the light, from those who love darkness. They protect the truth, which they enshrine, from the mockery of the scoffer. They leave something, even with the careless, which may be interpreted and understood afterward. They reveal, on the other hand, to the seekers after truth. These ask the meaning of the parable, and will not rest until the teacher has explained it.

In this way the parable did work, found out the fit hearers and led them on. In most of the parables, it is possible to trace something like an order.

There is a group, which have for their subject, are the laws of the divine kingdom. Under this heading, we have the sower, Matthew 13:1; Mark 4:1; Luke 8:1, and the wheat and the tares. Matthew 13:1; etc.

When the next parables meet us, they are of a different type, and occupy a different position. They are drawn from the life of men rather than from the world of nature. They are such as these - the two debtors, Luke 7:1, the merciless servant, Matthew 18:1, and the good Samaritan, Luke 10:1; etc.

Toward the close of our Lord's ministry, the parables are again theocratic, but the phase of the divine kingdom on which they chiefly dwell, is that of its final consummation. In interpreting parables, note -

(1) The analogies must be real, not arbitrary;

(2) The parables are to be considered as parts of a whole, and the interpretation of one is not to override or encroach upon the lessons taught by others;

(3) The direct teaching of Christ presents the standard to which all our interpretations are to be referred, and by which they are to be measured.

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Bibliography Information
Smith, William, Dr. Entry for 'Parable'. Smith's Bible Dictionary. 1901.

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