Jesus Didn’t Tell Parables for the Reason You Think

Sometimes these blog posts will only be fledgling thoughts and not thoroughly researched arguments. Like always (but particularly with these kind of posts), I would love to hear people’s thoughts on them so that we can move towards better understanding together. 

I am plagued with a disease. Well, it’s hard to call it a disease because I think it is often a good thing. The disease is this: the more I read and come to understand the Bible, the more I question some of the things that we are regularly taught about the Bible from good Christian teachers. What I mean is that I find that some of the things we are regularly taught don’t come from the Bible itself but a faulty (yet well-intentioned) interpretation of Scripture. Here is an example:

I was sitting in my evangelism class this weekend, and the professor made the point that Jesus was a master evangelist because he used story in his evangelism. We see this clearly in his use of parables. I—like many of you—had heard this before. Story connects with us; it captures our imagination and excitement. I believe that’s true, but that’s not why Jesus spoke in parables. In fact, Jesus himself tells us why he speaks in parables in Matthew 13. (Also, there is a shorter account in Mark 4:10-12).

Then the disciples came up and asked him, “Why are you speaking to [the crowds] in parables? ” He answered, “Because the secrets of the kingdom of heaven have been given for you to know, but it has not been given to them. For whoever has, more will be given to him, and he will have more than enough; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. That is why I speak to them in parables, because looking they do not see, and hearing they do not listen or understand. Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in them, which says:

“You will listen and listen, but never understand; you will look and look, but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown callous; their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; otherwise they might see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn back —and I would heal them.”

Blessed are your eyes because they do see, and your ears because they do hear. (Matt. 13:10-16

It seems that two points can be made here:

(1) Jesus spoke in parables to hide the true meaning of the kingdom from the crowds. Why? This is a hard topic, but I believe its because the judgment of God had come upon the Jewish people for all of their past sins (see Matt. 23:33-36; Luke 11: 47-51). Jesus didn’t use parables for connection with others but for judgment.

(2) The disciples were given grace in the midst of their fallen generation in many ways. Here, particularly, they were given the interpretation of the parables. Jesus said their eyes and ears were blessed because of this. Even with the disciples, though, they did not understand their meaning upon first hearing. Jesus had to explain. Jesus, as a clear signal to his divinity, had given them sight to their eyes and hearing to their ears.

Conclusion: It appears to me as if there are a couple take-home applications here. First of all, this doesn’t discount the use of story as an effective way to share the gospel, but you can’t make the case from Scripture that Jesus spoke in parables because of their effectiveness in communicating truth. (We even struggle with interpreting some today. I think of the Parable of the Dishonest Manager. There are as many interpretations of that parable as scholars who have tried to interpret it.) Secondly, we must understand the sovereignty of God in missions and evangelism. Even if we speak clearly, the truth of Jesus and his kingdom will only be believed and received if God graciously grants people clear eyes and unstopped ears.

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