Parables were the chief means of teaching the gospel of the Kingdom. What is a parable and what makes them so effective? Parables were a teaching and literary form used in both the Older and the Newer Testaments. However, the most famous teacher that used parables was the great Jewish rabbi, Jesus. In them, He explained the Kingdom of God and proclaimed its gospel message. Jesus was an amazing storyteller, who was skilled in communicating His message. Parables were paramount to communicating the message of the Kingdom. Jesus did not teach His disciples without utilizing parables, “But without a parable He did not speak to them” (Mark 4:34).
“The Lion and the Mouse,” “The Tortoise and the Hare,” “The Fox and the Grapes,” and “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” are just a few of the stories attributed to the legendary Greek fabulist, Aesop. Believed to be an Ethiopian slave born in the region of Thrace, Phrygia, otherwise known as Athens, Aesop lived from 620 to 560 BC. His reputation was derived from his skill at telling fables as illustrations of points in an argument, even possibly in court. During his lifetime, he is believed to have written more than 150 fables. Fables, allegories, and short stories have been used throughout the ages to communicate truths and opinions, which would ordinarily be derogatory in nature, in a much more palatable manner.
Such was also the case with Christ and His use of parables to disseminate the message of the Kingdom of God.
A survey of the gospels shows Jesus teaching many things to the disciples using parables. The word “parable” comes from the Greek word parabolé (par-ab-ol-ay’), which means “comparison.” Parabolé is a derived compound word from paraballo: para, meaning “from, of, at, by, besides, or near,” and balló, meaning “to throw or to let go of a thing.” Thus, parabolé means “to put one thing by the side of another for the sake of comparison.” Within the Newer Testament scriptures, Christ used parables to place a truth alongside something that was known and familiar. Thus, parables are not simply metaphors. Rather, they are “alongside teachings,” stories that use something that is familiar, within which is housed the truth of what is being taught, in order to communicate a deeper message.
An examination of the gospels will reveal that one-third of Christ’s teachings were delivered in the form of parables. As such, Christ’s method of teaching did not resemble the method and/or technique of any of His contemporaries. Regarding His teaching style, the scriptures indicate the following:
And so it was, when Jesus had ended these sayings, that the people were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. – Matthew 7:28-29
At the end of the “Sermon on the Mount,” people marveled at His teachings. Thus, not only was Christ’s message of the Kingdom of God new to the people listening, His delivery to the hearing public was also novel. The significance of these two facts is found in the scriptures.
All these things Jesus spoke to the multitude in parables; and without a parable He did not speak to them, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying: “I will open My mouth in parables; I will utter things kept secret from the foundation of the world.” – Matthew 13:34-35
Thus, Christ’s use of parables as His primary means of teaching was a fulfillment of Older Testament prophecy.