In Matthew 13:10, the disciples asked Jesus a question most of us have wondered: “Why do you speak to the people in parables?” About one-third of Jesus’ teachings are in parables, making it his most preferred method of conveying his message. But have you ever read a parable and wondered what exactly is the lesson? If so, you’re not alone. To get the most of these parables, here are a few basic points to remember.

This post on how to read a parable is an excerpt from the NIV Lifehacks Bible.

5 Tips for How to Read a Parable

  1. Parables are About Comparisons
  2. Parables Teach One Basic Lesson
  3. Focus on Endings, Not Beginnings
  4. Communication for Believers, Obfuscation for the Hard-Hearted
  5. Parables are Meant to Be Applied

Parables are About Comparisons

The most fundamental component of Jesus’ parables is the comparison. As C. H. Dodd notes:

“At its simplest the parable is a metaphor or simile drawn from nature or common life, arresting the hearer by its vividness or strangeness, and leaving the mind in sufficient doubt about its precise application to tease it into active thought.”

Parables Teach One Basic Lesson

As a general rule, each of Jesus’ parables contain only one basic meaning. Some parables, like the parable of the sower (see Mt 13:3–23), are complex in composition, though each part only has one meaning. For instance, the seed which grew up and choked the plants (see v. 7) refers to how the “worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word” (v. 22).

Focus on Endings, Not Beginnings

In Jesus’ parables, it’s the end of the story that’s important. The accent falls on the last person mentioned, the last deed or the last saying.

Communication for Believers, Obfuscation for the Hard-Hearted

In verses 11–17 Jesus explains that he teaches in parables to reveal truth to those who believe in him and to hide it from those who have hardened their hearts to his Word. If you do the will of God, you need not fear missing the intended message of Jesus’ teachings. There is no need to look for “hidden message” in what he makes plain to his believers.

Parables are Meant to Be Applied

Our task as interpreters is to find how the relevant meaning of the parable applies in our own context. Many parables simply tell us “this is what the kingdom of God is like.” But others (such as the Good Samaritan; see Lk 10:29–37) provide lessons or models for our own obedience.

Our task as interpreters is to find how the relevant
meaning of the parable applies in our own context.

Practical Takeaway for Reading Parables

Learning the basics of interpreting parables can help us apply them to our own lives.

Learn More About How to Read a Parable and Other Lifehacks

NIV Lifehacks Bible

Did you enjoy this excerpt from the NIV Lifehacks Bible? This study Bible is full of other articles meant to help you grow spiritually. It comes with 365 articles covering 30 life-changing disciplines. Plus, there it also comes with a topical index, maps, and a reading plan.


    • Daniel Veler Reply

      Parables can only be understood through wisdom. An example would be the mustard seed. It is the littlest seed of all seeds reveal to us just how little faith is required to be saved. The disciples could not cast out the devil in an individual so they came to Christ and asked him why they couldn’t. Christ replied to them that if they had faith the size of a mustard seed they would be able to say to a mountain, be cast into the sea and it would be done. They replied to Christ who can be saved. Christ said with God. Just like the marriage supper was to show us why the Jews were rejected and the gentiles would be saved. You have to have wisdom in order to understand.

  1. Thank you so much for the information about how to read a parable, i would like to continue communicating with you and discover more about the word.
    God bless you!

    • Daniel Veler Reply

      No. Some are about judgement. Some about the rejection of Israel. Some about hypocrisy. And yes some about salvation.

  2. caflisch Martin Reply

    I dont agree with the statement that there is only one basic lesson,as TRUTH in its nature,like life,can be applied multifold.
    For example the parable of the sower can be applied for peoples different heart conditions,but also for different areas in a persons life where we tend to worry about or tend to let the world and its rules overtake.We might be able to have “good soil” and receive the WORD fully as a head of the family,but worry and listen to much to others at our workplace.I believe this because GOD unfolded many applications in different areas of my life during my walk with HIM,and i cannot believe that there is only “the”meaning to what HE said.
    Material TRUTHS apply to spiritual realities,sometimes in one aspect,sometimes in more than one also.

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