Jesus’ Reference to Folklore and Historical Events

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An inherent consequence of our distance from the world of Jesus is that we primarily understand Jesus’ words as they apply within our twenty-first century eschatological and theological framework. However, Jesus’ teachings reflect his cultural background as a Jewish rabbi in first-century Galilee.

Throughout his life, Jesus was a member of his culture. Though His message was unique, He brought it to the people, Jews and Gentiles, using methods and language consistent with His role as a first-century Jewish rabbi who was also a citizen of a Roman controlled country…. Thus Jesus’ ministry was carried out according to the structures God had set in place with His people Israel. (Ray VanderLaan)[1]


Jesus was a first-century Jewish rabbi, a master communicator, to whom both the religious and non-religious alike flocked. Addressed as “rabbi” by multiple and diverse groups, he taught within the construct of many rabbis of his day—out in the open as well as in the Temple and synagogues, interacting with different audiences in various geographical and social locations. The religious Jews in his audience knew the Scriptures well, but Jesus also used illustrations that were familiar to all, regardless of religious backgrounds. The population of first-century Israel was characterized by many distinct cultures interacting on a daily basis. This cultural interplay is clearly depicted in Jesus’ references to commonly known fables of his day in Matthew 7:15, Luke 4:23, Luke 7:24 (cf. Matt. 11:7) and Luke 7:32 (cf. Matt. 11:17).[2] We also see the mastery of Jesus’ teaching in his allusions to historical events in Luke 14:28 and Luke 19:11. Focusing on these different occurrences will enrich our insight into the selected passages of Jesus’ teaching. Investigating the underlying influences behind Jesus’ words facilitates a better understanding of their meaning in the context of the first century. Consequently, today’s followers will be challenged to communicate the message of the Gospel in a cross-cultural manner. This article will address Jesus’ use of non-religious illustrations, specifically folklore and current events.

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  • [1] Ray VanderLaan, Echoes of His Presence: Stories of the Messiah from the People of His Day (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 1996), vii.
  • [2] Unless otherwise indicated all Bible references in this paper are to the New International Version (NIV) (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 1984).

Comments 1

  1. Yitzhak Buxbaum

    The fables of putting the fox in charge of the chicken coop and the ass wearing lion’s skin also connect w/ Jesus’ wolf in sheepskin.

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  • Danielle Parish

    Danielle Parish

    Danielle Parish is the Pastor and co-founder of Spark Church in Palo Alto.  In professional ministry since 1993, Danielle has served at Bel Air Presbyterian Church, Calvary Lutheran Church and Abundant Life Christian Fellowship, working primarily in youth ministry, children's ministry, pastoral care and executive…
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