Jesus's Words



The Purpose of Parables

Jesus spoke in parables on purpose, but our blessings do not come from hearing them, only from understanding them.

Defining Parables

These definition were the conclusion of much study taken from Jesus's explanation of the Parable of the Sower,(Matthew 13:3-9, 18-23; Mark 4:3-20; Luke 8:4-15.) the Parable of the Tares in Field,(Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43.) the Parables of the Lost Sheep and Lost Coin,(Luke 15:4-10.) and the Parable of the Good Shepherd.(John 10:1-18.)

Jesus explained these five parables, and based on how he explained them, we can conclude that all parables have three features in common:

  • - Parables are realistic.
  • - Parables have symbolic replacements in them.
  • - Parables do not feature real characters.


Parables are all realistic. They all contain scenes of realistic proportions. There are no miracles, no talking animals, and the events in them could have taken place directly where Jesus preached.


Parables are symbolic in nature. This is why Jesus quoted Isaiah, saying, That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear and not understand.(Mark 4:13; cf. Isaiah 6:9, 10.) Thus, all the parables contain symbols. When we hear how Jesus interprets some of his own parables, we see that this truth is universal. Where there is no symbolism, there is no parable. It is or a metaphor or a story,

No Real Characters

Jesus's parables contain no real characters. This is probably the most confusing rule. However, parables are stories about hypothetical circumstances that his audience would be familiar with. Jesus does not name or allude to an existing person in any of his parables. This rule also agrees with the symbolism rule; if Jesus did allude to specific persons, then how could there be symbolism? The person named would only be able to represent the person the name represents. Furthermore, it would obscure the meaning and purpose of parables in the gospels. For instance, should the woman who threw two mites into the temple treasury(Mark 12:42-44, Luke 21:2-4.) be considered a parable? There was a lesson from it, after all.


With this particular definition of "parable," we have to be careful not to read into the authors of the gospel's narration text too much. Occasionally, they will call stories or metaphors "parables." Likewise, we should also ignore section headings that various translation groups insert into the Bible, some of which insert their own beliefs that a section is a parable.