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.

3 Comments

  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!

Write A Comment

Pin It