Verbum Tip 4ad: Bible Browser: Parables of the Bible

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Facet: Parables

Parables have a special place in Jesus’ teaching and in our interpretation of His teachings.


A parable is a short, true-to-life or realistic story designed to teach a spiritual or moral lesson. However, we cannot interpret them simply as stories because they are also rooted in the wisdom tradition of Israel. In fact the Hebrew word from which the word “parable” is derived is also used for “saying,” “proverb,” “wisdom saying,” or “mocking song.”20 Parables must therefore be interpreted both as stories and as wisdom literature (the topic of the next chapter).

Features that parables share with stories include earthiness, conciseness, major and minor points, repetition, a conclusion, listener-relatedness, and reversal of expectations. Jesus’s parables also focus on a kingdom-centred eschatology, kingdom ethics, God and salvation.21 Identifying these characteristics and understanding what role they play in a particular parable is crucial for correct interpretation.

At least one-third of Jesus’s teaching was presented in the form of parables. Some of these were stories like the parables of the sower (Mark 4:1–9, 13–20; Matt 13:1–9, 18–23; Luke 8:4–8, 11–15), the mustard seed (Mark 4:30–32; Matt 13:31–32; Luke 13:18–19), the wedding feast (Matt 22:1–14; Luke 14:15–24) and the talents (Matt 25:14–30; Luke 19:11–27). However, he also used other types of parables like extended similes (e.g. Matt 13:33), short parables (e.g. Luke 17:7–10) and allegorical parables (e.g. Mark 12:1–12). It is not always easy to draw exact lines between these categories.

Parables serve at least two functions. The first is didactic. Since parables are not based on historical fact, the characters and the story are created to teach a particular spiritual or moral lesson. The second is to demand a response from the hearer. The parables of Jesus are not merely word pictures to illustrate Jesus’s teaching and they are not just vehicles to reveal truth. His parables are intended to elicit a response from the hearers. Hence, they do not only convey the message; they are themselves the message. The content of parables and the way in which they are told is meant to engage listeners at all levels and force them to confront their ideas about life and change them in light of the kingdom of God. The following statement summarizes the nature and function of parables:

It seems clear that Jesus did indeed have a larger purpose in using the parable form. Parables are an “encounter mechanism” and function differently depending on the audience.… The parables encounter, interpret and invite the listener/reader to participate in Jesus’s new world vision of the kingdom. They are a “speech-event” … that never allows us to remain neutral; they grasp our attention and force us to interact with the presence of the kingdom in Jesus, either positively (those “around” Jesus in Mark 4:10–12) or negatively (those “outside”).22

While the Gospel of John does not have any parables, the three Synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, include numerous parables. When we read them, we note that the literary context before and after similar parables is not necessarily the same in each gospel. Consider the parable of the wicked tenants, which is found in all three Synoptic Gospels. Whereas Mark and Luke place this parable in the context of Jesus’s authority, Matthew places it in the context of Israel’s rejection of him.22


Mark 11:27–33

The authority of Jesus questioned


Matthew 21:28–32

The parable of the two sons


Luke 20:1–18

The authority of Jesus questioned


Mark 12:1–12


Matthew 21:33–46


Luke 20:9–19


The parable of the wicked tenants


Mark 12:13–17

Paying taxes to Caesar


Matthew 22:1–14

The parable of the wedding banquet


Luke 20:20–26

Paying taxes to Caesar



The different order may be because Jesus retold some of his parables on different occasions. However, it is also likely that the gospel writers arranged the parables thematically to highlight the particular theological point each wished to make.23

Parables generally make more than one point, and so we should not confine a parable to one point if it is evident that more than one truth is being conveyed. Recent parable studies have come to the conclusion that approximately two-thirds of Jesus’s parables have three main characters, who each reflect different parts of the overall meaning of the parable.24 So, for instance, the parable of the Good Samaritan conveys three truths:

From the example of the priest and Levite comes the principle that religious status or legalistic casuistry does not excuse lovelessness. From the Samaritan one learns that one must show compassion to those in dire need regardless of the religious or ethnic barriers that divide people. From the man in the ditch emerges the lesson that even one’s enemy is one’s neighbor. 25,[1]





  • Aubrey, Michael. 2016. Parables of the Bible: Dataset Documentation. Bellingham, WA: Faithlife.


From the documentation:

Parables have been isolated as Bible reference ranges. Each parable has different points of data, or properties, associated. Supported properties include:

•  Title: A title for the parable

•  Speaker: The person responsible for relating the parable

•  Audience: The audience the parable was related to

•  Type: The type of parable. The following types are supported:

•  Instruction

•  Promise

•  Rebuke

•  Warning[2]

You can easily find alternative classifications for type which you may wish to explore

Bible Browser

For an example, choose speaker:Jeremiah (prophet. There are seven results. Notice that trying to limit it by type would still yield 7 results; adding God as a co-speaker would still yield 7 results; specifying the audience of Kingdom of Judah (Assyrian Exile) would still yield 7 results.


There is no interactive for parables.

Context Menu and Information Panel

The Information Panel is as expected.

Similarly, the Context Menu holds no surprises.


The Bible search in the Context Menu generates a search argument of {Label Parable WHERE Audience ~ <Person Kingdom of Judah (Assyrian Exile)> AND Speaker ~ <Person God> AND Speaker ~ <Person Jeremiah (prophet)> AND Title ~ "The Good and the Bad Figs" AND Type ~ "Warning"} which produces the following results.



What attributes of parables are used by your favorite commentary? How do they map to the attributes chosen by Faithlife? Can you use the Faithlife attributes to find parables based on how you think of them? How will you learn the Faithlife attribute coding so that you can find the parables you want?

25 Blomberg, Interpreting the Parables, 414.

[1] Elizabeth Mburu, African Hermeneutics (Plateau State, Nigeria; Carlisle, Cumbria: HippoBooks; Langham Publishing, 2019), 135–137.

[2] Michael Aubrey, Parables of the Bible: Dataset Documentation (Bellingham, WA: Faithlife, 2016).

Orthodox Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev: "To be a theologian means to have experience of a personal encounter with God through prayer and worship."

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