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Bible Encyclopedias

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature


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The word parable denotes

an obscure or enigmatical saying, e.g.; .

It denotes a fictitious narrative, invented for the purpose of conveying truth in a less offensive or more engaging form than that of direct assertion. Of this sort is the parable by which Nathan reproved David (). To this class also belong the parables of Christ.

Any discourse expressed in figurative, poetical, or highly ornamented diction is called a parable. Thus it is said. 'Balaam took up his parable' (); and, 'Job continued his parable' ().

In the New Testament the word seems to have a more restricted signification, being generally-employed in the second sense mentioned above, viz., to denote a fictitious narrative, under which is veiled some important truth. Another meaning which the word occasionally bears in the New Testament is that of a type or emblem, as in , where the original word is rendered in our version figure.

The excellence of a parable depends on the propriety and force of the comparison on which it is founded; on the general fitness and harmony of its parts; on the obviousness of its main scope or design; on the beauty and conciseness of the style in which it is expressed; and on its adaptation to the circumstances and capacities of the hearers. If the illustration is drawn from an object obscure or little known, it will throw no light on the point to be illustrated. If the resemblance is forced and unobvious, the mind is perplexed and disappointed in seeking for it. We must be careful, however, not to insist on too minute a correspondence of the objects compared. It is not to be expected that the resemblance will hold good in every particular; but it is sufficient if the agreement exists in those points on which the main scope of the parable depends.

If we test the parables of the Old Testament by the rules above laid down, we shall not find them wanting in any excellence belonging to this species of composition. What can be more forcible, more persuasive, and more beautiful than the parables of Jotham (), of Nathan (), of Isaiah (), and of Ezekiel ()?

But the parables uttered by our Savior claim pre-eminence over all others on account of their number, variety, appositeness, and beauty. Indeed it is impossible to conceive of a mode of instruction better fitted to engage the attention, interest the feelings, and impress the conscience, than that which our Lord adopted. Among its advantages may be mentioned the following—

It secured the attention of multitudes who would not have listened to truth conveyed in the form of abstract propositions.

This mode of teaching was one with which the Jews were familiar and for which they entertained a preference.

Some truths which, if openly stated, would have been opposed by a barrier of prejudice, were in this way insinuated, as it were, into men's minds, and secured their assent unawares.

The parabolic style was well adapted to conceal Christ's meaning from those who, through obstinacy and perverseness, were indisposed to receive it. This is the meaning of Isaiah in the passage quoted in . Not that the truth was ever hidden from those who sincerely sought to know it; but it was wrapped in just enough of obscurity to veil it from those who 'had pleasure in unrighteousness,' and who would 'not come to the light lest their deeds should be reproved.' In accordance with strict justice, such were 'given up to strong delusions, that they might believe a lie.' 'With the upright man thou wilt show thyself upright; with the froward thou wilt show thyself froward.'

The scope or design of Christ's parables is sometimes to be gathered from his own express declaration, as in;; . In other cases it must be sought by considering the context, the circumstances in which it was spoken, and the features of the narrative itself, i.e. the literal sense. For the right understanding of this, an acquaintance with the customs of the people, with the productions of their country, and with the events of their history, is often desirable. Most of our Lord's parables, however, admit of no doubt as to their main scope, and are so simple and perspicuous that 'he who runs may read,' 'if there be first a willing mind.' To those more difficult of comprehension, more thought and study should be given, agreeably to the admonition prefixed to some of them by our Lord himself, 'Whoso heareth, let him understand.'





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Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Parable'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature".

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