Parable a word derived from the Greek verb παραβάλλω, which signifies to set side by side, and thus comes easily to have attached to it the idea of doing so for the purpose of comparison. A parable therefore is literally a placing beside, a comparison, a similitude, an illustration of one subject by another. Parables or fables are found in the literature of most nations. They were called by the Greeks αι῏νοι, and by the Romans fabuloe. In the following discussion we treat the whole subject from a Scriptural as well as rhetorical point of view, as developed by modern criticism. SEE FIGURE.
I. Signification of the Terms in the Original. — "Parable" is the rendering in the A.V. of the following Hebrew and Greek words.
1. In the Old Testament it answers to מָשָׁל, mashal, usually rendered "proverb," which denotes
(a) an obscure or enigmatical saying, e.g. Ps 49:4:
"I will incline mine ear to a parable; I will open my dark saying upon the harp;"
"I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings of old."
(b) It signifies a fictitious narrative invented for the purpose of conveying truth in a less offensive or more engaging form than that of direct assertion. Of this sort is the parable by which Nathan reproved David (2Sa 12:2-3); that in which Jotham exposed the folly of the Shechemites (Jg 9:7-15); and that addressed by Jehoash to Amaziah (2Ki 14:9-10). To this class also belong the parables of Christ.
(c) A discourse expressed in figurative, poetical, of highly ornamented diction is called: a parable. Thus it is said, "Balaam took up his parable" (Nu 23:7); and, "Job continued his parable" (Job 27:1). Under this general and wider signification the two former classes may not improperly be included. SEE PROVERB.
2. In the New Testament it is employed by our translators as the rendering of παραβολή (derived as above), a word which seems to have a more restricted signification than the above Hebrew term, being generally employed in the second sense mentioned above, viz to denote a fictitious narrative, under which is veiled some important truth. It has been supposed, indeed, that some of the parables uttered by our Savior narrate real and not fictitious events; but whether this was the case or not is a point of little consequence. The fact that in one instance only (the parable of Lazarus and "Dives") an actual name is given — though probably but a conventional one commonly indicative of a class — is evidence that our Lord had no particular individual in view. Each of his parables, however, was essentially true; it was true to human nature, and nothing more was necessary. Another meaning which the word occasionally bears in the New Testament is that of a type or emblem, as in Heb 9:9, where: παραβολή is rendered in our version figure. According to Macknight, the word in Heb 11:19 has the same meaning, but this is probably incorrect. SEE EMBLEM.
The word παραβολή therefore does not of itself imply a narrative. The juxtaposition of two things, differing in most points, but agreeing in some, is sufficient to bring the comparison thus produced within the etymology of the word. The παραβολή of Greek rhetoric need not be more than the simplest argument from analogy. You would not choose pilots or athletes by lot; why then should you choose statesmen?" (Aristot. Rhet. 2:20). In Hellenistic. Greek, however, it acquired a wider meaning, coextensive with that of the above-mentioned Hebrew mashal, for which the Sept. writers, with hardly an exception, make it the equivalent. That word (=similitude), as was natural in the language of a people who had never reduced rhetoric to an art, had a large range of application, and was applied (as seen above) sometimes to the shortest proverbs (1Sa 10:12; 1Sa 24:13; 2Ch 7:20), sometimes to dark prophetic utterances (Nu 23:7,18; Nu 24:3; Eze 20:49), sometimes to enigmatic maxims (Ps 78:2; Pr 1:6), or metaphors expanded into a narrative (Eze 12:22). In Ecclesiasticus the word occurs with a striking frequency, and, as will be seen hereafter, its use by the Son of Sirach throws light on the position occupied by parables in our Lord's teaching. In the N.T. itself the word is used with a like latitude. While attached most frequently to the illustrations which have given it a special meaning, it is also applied to a short saying like "Physician, heal thyself" (Lu 4:23), to a mere comparison without a narrative (Mt 24:32), to the figurative character of the Levitical ordinances (Heb 9:9), or of single facts in patriarchal history (Heb 11:19). The later history of the word is not without interest. Naturalized in Latin, chiefly through the Vulgate or earlier versions, it loses gradually the original idea of figurative speech, and is used for speech of any kind. Mediaeval Latin gives us the strange form of parabolare, and the descendants of the technical Greek word in the Romance languages are parler, parole, parola, palabras (Diez, Roman. Worterb. s.v. Parola). SEE SIMILE.
II. Definition and Distinctions. — From the above examinations we are prepared to find the word frequently used both by the evangelists and by the disciples of Jesus, with reference to instructions of Christ which we should call simply figurative, or metaphorical, or proverbial. In Lu 6:39 we read. "And he spake a parable unto them, Can the blind lead the blind? Shall they not both fall into the ditch?"(comp. Mt 15:14-15, where Peter speaks of the saying as "this parable"). In Mr 7:17, after Jesus had taught that not the things entering into, but those coming out of a man defile him, we are told that, "when he was entered into the house from the people, his disciples asked him concerning the parable;" and, in Lu 14:7, the warning against taking the chief seats at table is introduced as "a parable put forth to those which were bidden." In all these sayings of our Lord, however, it is obvious that the germ of a parable is contained. We have only to work upon the hint given us, and we have the perfect story. Two blind men, for example, are seen leading each other along the road, and, after struggling for a time with the difficulties, of doing so, both fall into the ditch by the wayside. A pure and noble-spirited man takes his food with unwashed hands, while a hypocrite and oppressor of the poor is careful to cleanse them before he eats; both rise up from table and return, the one to his career of benevolence, the other to his wrongs land his injustice: which is the one deserving condemnation? The banquet is spread, a vain guest enters, and takes the highest seat, a meritorious but humble one follows and takes the lowest, the master of the house notes the impropriety, and requests the former to go down, the latter to come up, the attention of the whole company is directed to them, the one is shamed, the other is honored. Thus in each case we have the substance, although not the form, of the parable; in each an incident of common life is employed for the illustration of higher truth. But while comparison is thus the general meaning of the word before us, it has acquired a special sense in distinction from those other words, similitude, metaphor, allegory, fable, etc., which also imply comparison. Let us endeavor to distinguish it from these.
1. The parable is not a mere similitude, in which the mind rests simply upon the points of agreement between two things that are compared, and experiences that pleasure which is always afforded by the discovery of resemblances between things that differ. In such a case both terms of the similitude must be enunciated, and the pleasure springing from their agreement is all that the speaker or writer looks to as what will lend force to his instructions. SEE SIMILITUDE.
2. Nor is the parable a mere metaphor, in which a word familiar to us in the region of sensible experience, and denoting some object possessed of particular properties, is transferred to another object belonging to a more elevated region, in order that the former may impart to us a fuller and. livelier idea of the properties which the latter ought to possess. Were we to speak of the Word of God as a seed we might be said to use a metaphor, but in that case we transfer the properties of the seed to the Word; the seed itself, having suggested the particular property upon which we wish to dwell, vanishes from our thoughts. But when as a part of instruction by parable we use the same expression, the idea of the seed abides with us, and, the keeping before our minds of its actual history, that we may ascend from it into another sphere, is a necessary part of the mental process through which we pass. SEE METAPHOR.
3. It is more difficult to draw the distinction between parable and allegory. It can hardly be (as in Trench, On the Parables, p. 8) that in the latter there is a transference of the qualities and properties of the thing signifying to the thing, signified, so that the mind blends the two together, while in the former it keeps them separate. This distinction proceeds upon the idea that an allegory is only an extended metaphor, an idea which cannot be regarded as correct, for the allegory seems to differ from the metaphor especially in this, that no transference of qualities, and properties takes. place. In the allegory the circumstances employed for, the purpose of comparison remain in their real or supposed existence; the mind does not, as in metaphor, rest at once in the final object of thought, and only travel backwards to the figure employed for giving liveliness to the representation, in order that it may fill out its idea of the higher by recalling the attributes of the lower. It starts from the facts, whether real or imaginary, which form the basis of the similitude it employs; it leaves them as they are; and only hastens to the conclusion that a corresponding order of things is to be found in the other sphere to which it ascends. The allegory thus corresponds, strictly to what is involved in the derivation of the word. It is the teaching of one thing by another thing, of a second by a first a similarity of properties is supposed to exist, a like course of events to be traceable in both; but the first does not pass off in the second; the two remain distinct. Viewed in this light, allegory, in its widest sense, may be regarded as a genus, of which the fable, the parable, and what we commonly call allegory are species. It only remains for us, therefore, to note the differences of these.
4. Between fable and parable the difference appears to be determined by the object which they severally propose. It is the business of the fable to enforce only some prudential maxim, some common-sense principle, some wise saw founded on the experience of the world, and to do this in such a way as shall awaken surprise and pleasure. Hence it deals. mainly with plants or the lower animals, and, by clothing them with all the powers of reflection which lie within the compass of its aim, it gives not only interest but force to its lesson. If even animals or plants, we reason, can display such prudence or be the victims of such folly, how much more ought we, with our higher powers, to exhibit the one or to avoid the other? The parable has a nobler end. It would teach either religious or high moral truth. It deals with the loftiest aspect of man's being, with the nobler side of his character, with his relation not to mere earthly experience, but to a spiritual, an ideal world. Hence it cannot admit into its story those actors in which the fable mainly delights. The lesson which it would enforce is too solemn for that. It would jar upon our sense of propriety and would be unnatural. That such actors should appear in the fable produces no feeling of incongruity, because we know that there is a side of our nature which is possessed in common with us by the beasts of the field. But it is not so with that side of it which the parable would instruct, and to introduce therefore the lower animals as our instructors there would be to destroy our sense of what chiefly distinguishes us from them, and would only produce disgust. The correctness of what has been said may still further appear if we consider that we would take no offense at a parable in which angels were actors, because, whatever points of difference there may exist between the human and angelic nature, they agree in this, that they are fitted for moving amid the same spiritual realities, and cherishing the same spiritual emotions. These considerations will also show us that, while a fable may proceed upon facts palpably fictitious, the parable can only proceed upon those which are or may be true. It deals so much with the severe majesty of truth that it cannot accept the aid of anything plainly false. It is the truthfulness, in short, of the lower side of the representation that makes it the fitting vehicle for the conveyance of the higher. Thus also we remark, in conclusion upon this point, that the parable might take the place of the fable, but not the fable of the parable. As to the distinction again between the parable and the allegory commonly so-called, it is probably to be sought in this, that the latter is the offspring simply of a poetical imagination, while the former is conversant with the actual realities of life. SEE FABLE.
Thus, distinguished both from similitude and metaphor, and regarded as a species of allegory, the parable may be said to be a story which, either true or possessing all the appearance of truth, exhibits in the sphere of natural human life a process parallel to one which exists in the ideal and spiritual world. It differs from the "story" of the modern romantic tale chiefly in the fact that its incidents are. drawn from ordinary life, while the latter deals with unusual and marvelous conjunctures, such as rarely if ever occur in reality. The moral effect therefore is very different. SEE ALLEGORY.
III. Use of Parables by our Lord. — It will help us, however, still further to understand the meaning of the parable, and its high significance as a method of tuition, if we consider the grounds upon which its power to instruct us rests. For that power is not simply dependent upon the pleasure which an aptly chosen similitude always affords. It is rather dependent upon the truth, of which we become gradually more sensible as our views of religion rise, that the whole of nature and providence, the whole constitution of human life, and the laws which regulate the progress both of the individual and of society, spring. from one God, and are maintained by him. All outward things thus become transfigured to us — are not merely what they are to the bodily eyes, but are pregnant with a fuller meaning, colored with a richer light to the eye of faith. Beneath the outward we see the inward; beneath the material, the spiritual; beneath the visible, the invisible; beneath the temporal, the eternal. Everywhere the same perfections of God's being, the same rules of his government appear. We feel ourselves placed in the midst of a grand harmonious system, all the lines of which spring from the same center, and return to it again. Whatever lesson, therefore, is associated with any one part of the Almighty's works or ways, comes to us with the weight, not of that one part only, but of all. If God reveal himself in this way here, he will reveal himself, we reason, in this way elsewhere. We call in the universe to bear witness to the truth which we may be considering; and we rest in the assurance that, could we explore it all, we should find analogous principles at work in it.
It may be said indeed that this view of parables is Christian, and that our Lord's parables were addressed to Jews. The statement is true. The feeling which we have expressed belongs, in its most developed form, to Christianity alone. In its thoroughness and completeness it was first revealed in Christ. He alone has taught us to behold in everything the tokens of our heavenly Father's presence, and yet to avoid the pantheistic error of merging the Father in his works. But although fully developed only in Christianity, this lesson was one also of Judaism. The Jew believed in a personal God, and looked upon the world as his handiwork. What he lacked was that well-grounded belief in the love of God which could alone guide him through the many perplexities and reconcile the many apparent contradictions by which he was surrounded. Still he knew enough to make him in a great degree alive to this power of the parable. Further, we must bear in mind that our Lord, as the great Teacher of man, could not, while he sought to be understood by the Jew, be limited in his teaching by the capacity of the Jew to understand. He had to speak for all ages, and all stages of advancement; for the spiritual as well as for the carnal, for full- grown men as well as babes. More than all, we must remember that in his teaching the Savior had to present himself — that his lessons were not like those of an ordinary teacher, who may be more or less taught by others to speak what he himself is not. Christ was to embody in himself the highest conception of Christianity. He was to exhibit our faith in living reality, by showing how he himself felt and lived — how he himself looked on heaven and earth, on God and man. Therefore, even although the Jew might have been less favorably situated than he was for owning this particular element of the parable's power, such a method of instruction would still have possessed a divine and beautiful appropriateness in the lips of Jesus.
To understand the relation of the parables of the Gospels to our Lord's teachings, we must go back to the use made of them by previous or contemporary teachers. We have sufficient evidence that they were frequently employed by them (see Horwitz, Hebrew Tales, Lond. 1826; N. Y. 1847; Levi, Parabole dai libri Talmudici, Florence, 1861). They appear frequently in the Gemara and Midrash (comp. Lightfoot, Hor. Heb. in Mt 13:3; Jost, Judenthum, 2:216), and are ascribed to Hillel, Shammai, and other great rabbins of the two preceding centuries. The panegyric passed upon the great rabbi Meir, that after his death men ceased to speak parables, implies that upon that time there had been a succession of teachers more or less distinguished for them (Sota, fol. 49, in Jost, Judenthum, 2:87; Lightfoot, l.c.). Later Jewish writers have seen in this employment of parables a condescension to the ignorance of the great mass of mankind, who cannot be taught otherwise. For them, as for women or children, parables are the natural and fit method of instruction (Maimonides, Porta Mosis. p. 84, in Wetstein, On Matthew 13), and the same view is taken by Jerome as accounting for the common use of parables in Syria and Palestine (Hieron. In Mt 18:23). It may be questioned, however, whether this represents the use made of them by the rabbins of our Lord's time. The language of the Son of Sirach confines them to the scribe who devotes himself to study. They are at once his glory and his reward (Ecclesiasticus 39:2, 3). Of all who eat bread by the sweat of their brow, of the great mass of men in cities and country, it is written that "they shall not be found where parables are spoken" (38:33). For these, therefore, it is probable that the Scribes and teachers of the law had simply rules and precepts, often perhaps burdensome and oppressive (Mt 23:8,4), formulae of prayer (Lu 11:1), appointed times of fasting and hours of devotion (Mr 2:18). They, who would not even eat with common people (comp. Wetstein and Lampe, On Joh 7:49), cared little to give even as much as this to the "people of the earth," whom they scorned as "knowing not the law," a brute herd for whom they could have no sympathy. For their own scholars they had, according to their individual character and power of thought, the casuistry with which the Mishna is for the most part filled, or the parables which here and there give tokens of some deeper insight. The parable was made the instrument for teaching the young disciple to discern the treasures of wisdom of which the "accursed" multitude were ignorant. The teaching of our Lord at the commencement of his ministry was in every way the opposite of this. The Sermon on the Mount may be taken as the type of the "words of grace" which he spake, "not as the Scribes." Beatitudes, laws, promises, were uttered distinctly, not indeed without similitudes, but with similitudes that explained themselves. So for some months he taught in the synagogues and on the seashore of Galilee, as he had before taught in Jerusalem, and as yet without a parable. But then there comes a change. The direct teaching was met with scorn, unbelief, hardness, and he seems for a time to abandon it for that which took the form of parables. The question of the disciples (Mt 13:10) implies that they were astonished. Their Master was no longer proclaiming the Gospel of the kingdom as before. He was falling back into one at least of the forms of rabbinic teaching (comp. Schottgen's Hor. Heb. vol 2 "Christus Rabbinorum Summus"). He was speaking to the multitude in the parables and dark sayings which the rabbins reserved for their chosen disciples. Here, for them, were two grounds for wonder. Here, for us, is the key to the explanation which he gave, that he had chosen this form of teaching because the people were spiritually blind and deaf (Mt 13:13), and in order they might remain so (Mr 4:12). Two interpretations have been given of these words.
(a.) Spiritual truths, it has been said, are in themselves hard and uninviting. Men needed to be won to them by that which was more attractive. The parable was an instrument of education for those who were children in age or character. For this reason it was chosen by the Divine Teacher, as fables and stories, "ad minicula imbecillitatis" (Seneca, Epist. 59), have been chosen by human teachers (Chrysostom, Hom. in Johann. 34).
(b) Others, again, have seen in this use of parables something of a penal character. Men have set themselves against the truth, and therefore it is hid from their eyes, presented to them in forms in which it is not easy for them to recognize it. To the inner circle of the. chosen it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God. To those who are without, all these things are done in parables. Neither view is wholly satisfactory. Each contains a partial truth. All experience shows, first, that parables do attract, and, when once understood, are sure to be remembered; secondly, that men may listen to them and see that they have a meaning, and yet never care to ask what that meaning is. Their worth, as instruments of teaching, lies in their being at once a test of character, and in their presenting each form of character with that which, as a penalty or blessing, is adapted to it. They withdraw the light from those who love darkness. They protect the truth which they enshrine from the mockery of the scoffer. They leave something even with the careless which may be interpreted and understood afterwards. They reveal, on the other hand, the seekers after truth. These ask the meaning of the parable, will not rest till the teacher has explained it are led step by step to the laws of interpretation, so that they can "understand all parables," and then pass on into the higher region in which parables are no longer necessary, but all things are spoken plainly. In this way the parable did its work, found out the fit hearers and led them on. It is also to be remembered that even after this self-imposed law of reserve and reticence, the teaching of Christ presented a marvelous contrast to the narrow exclusiveness of the Scribes. The mode of education was changed, but the work of teaching or educating was not for a moment given up, and the aptest scholars were found in those whom the received system would have altogether shut out.
If we test the parables of the Old Testament by the rules above laid down, we shall not find them wanting in any excellence belonging to this species of composition. What can be more forcible, more persuasive, and more beautiful than the parables of Jotham (Jg 9:7-15), of Nathan (2Sa 12:1-14), of Isa 5:1-5, and of Eze 19:1-9? There are other illustrations, like that of the city delivered by one wise inhabitant (Ec 9:14-15), which are substantially parables, although not in express form. But the parables uttered by our Savior claim pre-eminence over all others on account of their number, variety, oppositeness, and beauty. Indeed, it is impossible to conceive of a mode of instruction better fitted to engage the attention, interest the feelings, and impress the conscience than that which our Lord adopted. Among its advantages may be recapitulated the following:
(1.) It secured the attention of multitudes who would not have listened to truth conveyed in the form of abstract propositions. It did so in virtue of two principles of human nature, viz. that outward and sensible objects make a more vivid impression than inward notions or ideas; and that the particular and the concrete affect the mind more than the general and the abstract. Thus a virtue or vice may be held up for abhorrence or admiration far more successfully by exhibiting its effects on the character of an individual than by eulogizing or declaiming against it in the abstract.
(2.) This mode of teaching was, as we have seen, one with which the Jews were familiar, and for which they entertained a preference. They had been accustomed to it in the writings of their prophets, and, like other Eastern nations, listened with pleasure to truths thus wrapped in the veil of allegory.
(3.) Some truths which, if openly stated, would have been opposed by a barrier of prejudice, were in this way insinuated, as it were, into men's minds, and secured their assent unawares.
(4.) The parabolic style was well adapted to conceal Christ's meaning from those who, through obstinacy and perverseness, were indisposed to receive it. This seems to be the meaning of Isaiah in the passage quoted in Mt 13:13. Not that the truth was ever hidden from those who sincerely sought to know it; but it was wrapped in just enough of obscurity to veil it from those who "had pleasure in unrighteousness," and who would not "come to the light lest their deeds should be reproved." In accordance with strict justice, such were ' given up to strong delusions, that they might believe a lie." SEE BLINDNESS, JUDICIAL.
Accordingly, from the time indicated in the passage just cited, parables enter largely into our Lord's recorded teaching. Each parable of those which we read in the Gospels may have been repeated more than once with greater or less variation (as, e.g., those of the pounds and the talents, Mt 25:14; Lu 19:12; of the supper, in Mt 22:2, and Lu 14:16). Everything leads us to believe that there were many others of which we have no record (Mt 13:34; Mr 4:33). In those which remain various writers have thought it possible to trace something like an order; but as these classifications must be in any case somewhat subjective and arbitrary, we refrain from presenting them, and give simply a complete list in tabular form (p. 647).
Lastly, it is to be noticed, partly as a witness to the truth of the four Gospels, partly as a line of demarcation between them and all counterfeits, that the apocryphal Gospels contain no parables. Human invention could imagine miracles (though these too in the spurious Gospels are stripped of all that gives them majesty and significance), but the parables of the Gospels were inimitable and unapproachable by any writers of that or the succeeding age. They possess a life and power which stamp them as with the "image and superscription" of the Son of Man. Even the total absence of any allusion to them in the written or spoken teaching of the apostles shows how little their minds set afterwards in that direction, how little likely they were to do more than testify what they had actually heard.
IV. Rules of Interpretation. — It has been usual to consider the parable as composed of two parts: viz. the protasis, conveying merely the literal sense; and the apodosis, containing the mystical or figurative sense. It is not necessary, however, that this second part should always be expressed. It is frequently omitted in the parables of our Lord, when the truth illustrated was such as his disciples were unable at the time fully to comprehend, or when it was his design to reveal to them something which was to be hidden from the unbelieving Jews (comp. Mt 13:11-13). The excellence of a parable depends on the propriety and force of the comparison on which it is founded; on the general fitness and harmony of its parts; on the obviousness of its main scope or design; on the beauty and conciseness of the style in which it is expressed; and on its adaptation to the circumstances and capacities of the hearers. The scope or design of Christ's parables is sometimes to be gathered from his own express declaration, as in Lu 12:16-20; Lu 14:11; Lu 16:9. In other cases it must be sought by considering the context, the circumstances in which it was spoken, and the features of the narrative itself, i.e. the literal sense. For the right understanding of this, an acquaintance with the customs of the people, with the productions of their country, and with .the events of their history, is often desirable. Most of our Lord's parables, however, admit of no doubt as to their main scope, and are so simple and perspicuous that "he who runs may read."
It has been urged by some writers, by none with greater force or clearness than by Chrysostom (Rom. in Matthew 64), that there is a scope or purpose for each parable, and that our aim must be to discern this, not to find a special significance in each circumstance or incident. The rest, it is said, may be dealt with as the drapery which the parable needs for its grace and completeness, but which is not essential. It may be questioned, however, whether this canon of interpretation is likely to lead us to the full meaning of this portion of our Lord's teaching. True ,as it doubtless is that there was in each parable a leading thought to be learned, partly from the parable itself, partly from the occasion of its utterance, and that all else gathers round that thought as a center, it must be remembered that in the great patterns of interpretation which he himself has given us there is more than this. Not only the sower and the seed and the several soils have their counterparts in the spiritual life, but the birds of the air, the thorns, the scorching heat, have each of them a significance. The explanation of the wheat and the tares, given with less fullness — an outline as it were, which the advancing scholars would be able to fill up — is equally specific. It may be inferred from these two instances that we are, at least, justified in looking for a meaning even in the seeming accessories of a parable. If the opposite mode of interpreting should seem likely to lead us, as it has led many, to strange and forced analogies and an arbitrary dogmatism, the safeguard may be found in our recollecting that in assigning such meanings we are but as scholars guessing at the mind of a teacher whose words are higher than our thoughts, recognizing the analogies which may have been, but which were not necessarily those which he recognized. No such interpretation can claim anything like authority. The very form of the teaching makes it probable that there may be in any case more than one legitimate explanation. The outward fact in nature or in social life may correspond to spiritual facts at once in God's government of the world, and in the history of the individual soul. A parable may be at once ethical, and in the highest sense of the term prophetic. There is thus a wide field open to the discernment of the interpreter. There are also restraints upon the mere fertility of his imagination. (1.) The analogies must be real, not arbitrary. (2.) The parables are to be considered as parts of a whole, and the interpretation of one is not to override or encroach upon the lessons taught by others. (3.) The direct teaching of Christ presents the standard to which all our interpretations are to be referred, and by which they are to be measured. He interpreted two parables, that of the sower (Mt 13:3-8,18-23; Mr 4:3-8,14-20; Lu 8:5-8,11-15) and that of the tares. and the wheat (Mt 13:24-30,36-43). These interpretations must suggest the further rules of which we are in search.
1. Each parable has one leading idea to which all its parts are subordinate. For example, in the parable of the sower, this idea is the manner in which we ought to hear the Word of God. In that of the tares and the wheat, it is the struggle of the good with the evil, till the day when both shall be finally and forever parted. In subordination to these two ideas all the different incidents of the two parables are explained. It is always the same; and when we succeed in forming to ourselves such a conception of the leading idea of the narrative that all its parts easily and naturally arrange themselves around it, we have good reason to believe that our conception is correct. This idea, it may be further remarked, is to be sought in the relation of the human heart to God, and not in any local or temporary circumstances. It was so in the cases before us. Doubtless it would have been possible for the Savior to have specified many causes which specially hindered, in those who then heard him, the true reception of his word. But he does not so. Those which he mentions were not peculiar to that age and country; they belong to every land and to all time. The devil, tribulation, and persecution, the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches; how general are they! they embrace the widest and most universal relations between the human heart and outward circumstances. So with the other. The field is not Judaea, but "the world;" "the good seed are the children of the kingdom, but the tares are the children of the wicked one." Again, how general! we, as well as Christ's immediate hearers, are included there. The lesson is important. What more common than for preachers to find the meaning of a parable, first in the circumstances of the time-for example, in the calling of the Jews and the rejection of the Gentiles — and then to proceed to a more general view of the truth contained in it, thus leaving upon the minds of their hearers the impression that the first is the correct interpretation, the second the wise and happy application of it? The very opposite is the case. The general is the true meaning; the. particular is only one of its applications suitable at the time, just as other applications might be suitable to any age if drawn from the circumstances by which the age is marked. How completely is the beautiful parable of the prodigal son ruined when we are told that the elder son is the Jew, the younger the Gentile. The instinct of a congregation which repels such a method of interpreting is more true to the nature of the parable than the would be archaeological explorations of the pulpit.
It is possible, no doubt, that the individual parts of a parable may be full of instruction. In that of the sower, what a field of thought is opened by the expression, "The seed is the Word of God" (Lu 8:11). In that of the prodigal son, the description of the younger son's wandering from his father's house, of the famine that came upon him in the strange land, of his want and misery, and of the degrading service to which he was subjected, form a striking representation of the nature and consequences of sin, which it is impossible to pass over. But in both cases, as in all others, the particular point to be observed is this, that such lessons must be kept subordinate to the main drift of the parable, and must be so treated as to bring more powerfully home to us its one leading idea. That in themselves they may teach more is possible. Who shall measure the infinite extent of the wisdom of Christ, or the inexhaustible meaning which may lie in the simplest utterance of him "in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge," who is "the same yesterday, to-day, and forever?" But, considered as parts of the parable in which they occur, such separate clauses or incidents are to be looked at in the light of the general lesson which it teaches, and may only be so treated as to lend that lesson force. This is the one great principle by which we are to be guided; and, when we hold it fast, we may at once admit that the fuller the meaning which can be naturally imparted to each individual portion of the parable the more justice do we do to it. The danger of forgetting this has been frequently illustrated. It has led to an undue and unscriptural pressing both of specific traits of parables and the want of them. Thus, in that of the laborers in the market-
place, we might be easily led, by the last part of it (Mt 20:8-14), to the supposition that in the heavenly state the rewards of all Christ's servants will be equal — a supposition at variance with many other passages of Scripture. How often has it been argued that the doctrine of the atonement was not taught by the Redeemer, because in the parable of the prodigal son there is no mention made of expiation or intercession before the wanderer is welcomed to his father's house, and embraced in the arms of his father's love. It is of the utmost importance, therefore, to fix clearly in the mind the general lesson of a parable, and to keep everything subservient to it.
2. While there is thus one leading idea in each parable, the explanations already referred to as given by our Lord further show that there are even few of its smallest particulars which have not a meaning. The difficulty, indeed, of determining what then meaning in each case is, and the extravagant and fanciful lengths to which some interpreters have gone, has generally led to an opposite conclusion. It has been urged, and not wholly without reason, that every story must have some things in it which serve only to give liveliness and force to the delineation, which are mere transition points from one part of the narrative to another; and that to assign a meaning to these is to substitute simply human fancies for the teaching of God. To this the only reply is that there is danger in either extreme; but that our tendency ought to be to seek a meaning in such traits, rather than the reverse, seems clear. For, in the first place, the aim of the parable is not poetical, but ethical. The story is not told for its own sake, but for the sake of the lesson; and it is reasonable, therefore, to infer that it will be constructed in such a manner as to answer this end as far as possible in all its traits. In the second place, the course followed by our Lord is conclusive upon the point. In the parable of the sower, the field, the birds of the air, the heat of the sun, the thorns and brambles of the bad ground, the thirty, sixty, and hundred fold of the good ground, have all a meaning. Nor is it otherwise in that of the tares and the wheat. How readily might we suppose that the reapers were only subordinate to the harvest. There cannot be a harvest without reapers. Yet "the reapers are the angels;" while the field itself, the man who sowed good seed, the enemy who sowed tares, and the harvest, are each explained. There is hardly a trait in either parable that is destitute of force. The conclusion is irresistible.However difficult it may be to make the application of each, the attempt is to be made, and our main object must be to discover the limits beyond which we may not go.
Here, again, we cannot offer rules which promise to be of much use, but attention to the following principles may help us.
(a) Traits which cannot be applied to the relation between God and man belong only to the coloring. In the parable of the laborers in the vineyard, we read that the Master said to one-class of the workers, "Take that thine is, and go thy way" (Mt 20:14). Words like these cannot be literally applied to the relation between God and man. We have nothing of our own, no' claim of our own to reward. After we have done all, we are unprofitable servants. "The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." This trait, therefore, is simply a part of the filling out of the narrative.
(b) Traits which, if interpreted, would lead to conclusions contrary to the analogy of faith belong only to the coloring. In the parable of the unmerciful servant we read, "But, forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife and children, and all that he had and payment to be made." (Mt 18:25). Shall we infer that wives are to suffer for their husbands', children for their fathers' sins? The analogy of faith answers, No. Such a lesson, then, cannot be associated with the particulars referred to. They spring only from the fact that, after the manner of Eastern nations, the wife and children were considered to be the husband's and father's property. Again we have simply a part of the filling out of the narrative (comp. Scholten, quoted in Lisco, On the Parables [Clark's translation], p. 105).
(c) Traits which, if interpreted, would teach doctrines not elsewhere taught in Scripture belong only to the coloring. In the parable of the ten virgins, we are informed that "five of them were wise, and five were foolish" (Mt 25:2). Give a meaning to this, and we must infer that the number of the saved and of the lost will be the same. Such a doctrine is nowhere taught us in the Bible, and again we conclude that the circumstance mentioned only fills out the narrative.
(d) Traits to which an interpretation cannot be given without indulging in fancies and conceits belong only to the coloring. In the parable of the prodigal son, ' the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand and shoes on his feet" (Lu 15:22). To see in this the general tokens of restoration to all the privileges of a son in his father's house is evidently required. But, to understand by the "best robe" the robe of the Savior's righteousness, by the "ring" the gift of the Spirit whereby we are sealed unto the day of redemption, and by the "shoes" those works of our calling whereby "the penitent shall be equipped for holy obedience" (Trench, On the Parables, p. 412), seems to be pushing interpretation to a fanciful extent. The same thing may be said of Trench's interpretation of Mt 13:33, "The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal," where he makes the three measures of meal represent the three parts of the then known world, or the three sons of Noah, or the three elements, spirit, soul, and body, which together make up the man (On the Parables, p. 114, 115).
Bearing these cautions in mind, the more minute our interpretation of a parable is, the more do we conform to the example of Him whose parables we interpret. Our great guide, however, must be a spiritual tact and discernment cultivated by close communion with Christ himself, an intelligent perception of Christian principles, a rich experience of the practical power of the divine life as it works in ourselves, and a knowledge of the world and its working there. We must constantly bear in mind that the parables of Christ teach. directly neither history nor doctrine nor morals nor prophecy. They express directly only certain great principles of the Savior's divine kingdom, of the kingdom of heaven or of God, when that kingdom comes into contact with the human heart. History, doctrine, morals, prophecy, may be deduced from them, because the truth of God and the human heart are essentially the same in all ages. But it is with principles alone that the parables deal; with principles which imply doctrines, which result in morals, which appear in the history of the past, and will reappear in the future. To set forth these principles in a sphere which is wider than that of either individuals or churches, in the sphere of divine truth in contact with the heart of man, is the object of the New Testament parables. See INTERPRETATION.
V. Literature. — The following are strictly exegetical works on all the parables of our Lord exclusively; we designate a few of the most important by prefixing an asterisk: Roger, Parables (Lond. 1690, 4to; in Germ. Hafn. 1648, 4to); Keach, Exposition (Lond. 1701, fol.; 1856, 8vo);: Bragge, Discourses (ibid. 1711, 2 vols. 8vo); Lyncken, Parabelen (Utrecht, 1712, 8vo); Vitringa, Parabelen (Amst. 1715, 4to; in Germ. Leips. 1717, 4to); Dodd, Discourses (Lond. 1751, 2 vols. 8vo); Bulkley, Discourses (ibid. 1771, 4 vols. 8vo); Gray, Delineation (ibid. 1777, 1818; in Germ. Hanov.
1781, 8vo); Bauer, Parabeln (Leips. 1781, 8vo); Eylert, Homilien (Halle, 1806, 1818, 8vo); Farrer, Sermons (Lond. 1809, 8vo); Collyer, Lectures (ibid. 1815, 8vo); Grinfield, Sermons (ibid. 1819, 8vo); Kromm, Parabeln (Fulda, 1823, 8vo); Upjohn, Discourses (Wells, 1824, 3 vols. 8vo); Mount, Lectures (Lond. 1824, 12mo); Lonsdale, Exposition (ibid. 1825,12mo); Baily, Exposition (ibid. 1828, 8vo); Knight, Discourses (ibid. 1830, 8vo); *Lisco, Parabeln (Berlin, 1832, and often later, 8vo; in Engl. [Clark's Bibl. Cab.] Edinb. 1840,12mo); Mackenzie (Mary), Lectures (Lond. 1833, 2 vols. 8vo); *Greswell, Exposition (Oxf. 1834, 5 vols. 8vo); Cubitt, Conversations (Lond. 1840,18mo); Zimmermann, Gleichnisse (Darmst. 1840-42,2 vols. 8vo); *Trench, Notes (Lond. 1841, and often later; N. Y. 1861, 8vo); Mrs. Best, Tracts (Lond. 1841, 12mo); De Valenti, Parabeln (Basle, 1841, 2 vols. 8vo); Close, Discourses (London, 12mo); * Arndt, Gleichnissreden (Magdeb. 1842-47,1846-60, 6 vols. 8vo); Horlock, Ersition (vol. i, Lond. 1844, 12mo); Burns, Sermons (ibid. 1847, 12mo); Krummacher, Parables (from the Germ. ibid. 1849, 12mo; 1853, 4to); Lord Stanley (Earl of Derby), Conversations (ibid. 1849,18mo); Cumming, Lectures (ibid. 1852, 12mo); Newland, Postils (ibid. 1854, 12mo); Stevens, Parables (Phila. 1855, 8vo); Kirk, Lectures (N. Y. 1856, 12mo); Oxenden, Parables (Lond. 1865,1866, 8vo); Machlachlan, Notes (ibid. 1870, 8vo); De Teissier, Parables (ibid. 1870, 12mo). For treatises and discussions on the nature and other relations of the miracles, and for practical expositions of particular miracles, see the references in Volbeding, Index Programmatum, p. 34; Hase, Leben Jesu, p. 33; Danz, Worterbuch, s.v.; Darling, Cyclop. (see index); Malcolm, Theological Index, s.v.