Understanding Parables

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The rabbis taught, "Do not underestimate the value of parables, because by means of parables a person can master the words of Torah" (Song of Songs Rabbah 1:8).

The rabbis taught, “Do not underestimate the value of parables, because by means of parables a person can master the words of Torah” (Song of Songs Rabbah 1:8).

The sages of Jesus’ day employed parables to teach scriptural truths such as the dangers of bad associations and the importance of the proper training of children. For instance:

A parable, to what may the matter be compared? To a king who had a young son. He entrusted him to two nursemaids. One occupied herself with harlotry and the other with witchcraft. The king ordered them to give his son milk but not to teach him their ways. Thus the Holy One, blessed be He, warned Israel concerning the Egyptians and the Canaanites, “Do not learn their ways,” and He also said, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” [Prov. 22:6]. (Sifra, Codex Assemani 66, Finkelstein edition, p. 388)

The sages also employed parables to teach about God’s love for people and interpersonal relationships. They used parables to give spiritual advice, to warn and exhort. By means of parables one could even teach about life after death and the Judgment:

To what may this be compared? To a human king who owned a beautiful orchard which contained splendid figs. Now he appointed two watchmen, one lame and the other blind. One day the lame man said to the blind man, “I see beautiful figs in the orchard. Put me on your shoulders so that we can pick and eat them.” So the lame man got on the shoulders of the blind man and they gathered the figs and ate them.

Some time later, the owner of the orchard came and asked them, “Where are those beautiful figs?” The lame man replied, “Do I have feet to walk with?” The blind man replied, “Do I have eyes to see with?” What did the owner do? He placed the lame man upon the blind man and judged them together. So the Holy One, blessed be He, will bring the soul, replace it in the body and judge them together…. (b. Sanhedrin 91a-b)

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This article originally appeared in issue 21 of the Jerusalem Perspective magazine. Click on the image above to view a PDF of the original magazine article.

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  • Brad H. Young

    Brad H. Young

    Brad H. Young is the founder and president of the Gospel Research Foundation, Tulsa, Oklahoma. A founding member of the Jerusalem School of Synoptic Research, he is professor of New Testament Studies in the Graduate School of Theology at Oral Roberts University. Young earned M.A. and Ph.D.…
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