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Spiritual Definition of a Parable

Posted by adventbiblestudy on September 30, 2009


What is a parable?  A common definition of a parable states, a parable is, “a short allegorical story designed to illustrate or teach some truth, religious principle, or moral lesson.”  By definition the word parable creates a problem.  To know a parable is to know truth, religious principle and a moral lesson.  Who wouldn’t want to be remembered for knowing truth, religious principles and moral lessons?  We term this as human pride.  This may be why some people live to give the impression they have the answer to every parable.  Very often these people will supply an answer with whatever enters their mind, with little thought or planning.  They are so confident in their own wisdom, they see no reason to consult the word of God to verify their thoughts.  This is not the way God intended His word to be studied.

This study is intended to show parables have a spiritual interpretation which can only be revealed by the word of God.  Even the spiritual definition of a parable is much deeper than the definition given by men.  To understand the spiritual definition of a parable we must first learn why Jesus used parables to communicate with His followers and those who opposed Him.  This information is easy to find because the disciples asked Jesus to explain a number of parables.  We will let the Bible explain exactly why Jesus used parables.

KJV Matthew 13:10.  And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables? 11.  He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. 12.  For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath. 13.  Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.

Jesus makes it clear, the ability to understand parables has been given to His followers, but this skill is not given to others.  Why are only certain people able to understand parables?  To answer this question we must find out where this understanding comes from.  Before studying the subject of understanding a parable, we will look at the entire answer Jesus gave to His disciples in Matthew 13.  Jesus also tells us, whoever has (this understanding) an abundance will be given.  Whoever does not have (understanding), it will be taken away.  This statement consists of two explanations, one with a surface meaning easily understood, followed by a statement which can only be explained spiritually by comparing parallel texts.

On the surface we are given a statement which at first appears easy to understand.  This is true of all parables.  One part of a parable may be easily explained, while other statements go beyond human explanation.  In this case, it is easy to understand the first statement.  If you possess understanding it is only natural to build upon it.  This is the easy portion to understand, as it follows common sense or as some may refer to as physical laws of nature.  The second part of the statement presents a problem, “but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.”  Jesus did not explain this in terms we would expect, or in terms we are able to understand on our own.  We cannot arbitrarily assume Jesus meant to say something else like, “whoever has not, shall not receive more.”  That could be easily explained.  If a person does not understand a subject, it will become more difficult to learn the subject when additional information is given.  If a student does not master multiplication, they will have a very difficult time learning division.  But this is not what Jesus is referring to.  In the second part of His explanation Jesus did not refer to a person lacking the ability to understand a parable, Jesus specifically taught, the ability to understand is taken away.  This may explain why some people do not understand a parable, they modify the words of a parable to fit their ability to understand.

This principle is common in parables.  This is why some people believe they can interpret a parable when in reality, their explanation may not address the concept of the parable at all.  Keep in mind, these words were spoken by Jesus, written by one of His disciples, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  Because these words have been influenced by the Holy Spirit, they must be interpreted by the Spirit.  If we rely upon our own intelligence to reveal the meaning, we are bound to fall short.  The human mind cannot explain how or why understanding will be taken from those who do not have understanding in the first place.  No human can supply the correct answer because, the answer teaches a spiritual principle.  Go back and review the definition of a parable.

KJV 1 Corinthians 2:12.  Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. 13.  Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. 14.  But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

To obtain the spiritual meaning to any text, scripture must be compared to scripture.  By comparing  texts we find Matthew was not the only disciple to record this message.

KJV Mark 4:22.  For there is nothing hid, which shall not be manifested; neither was any thing kept secret, but that it should come abroad. 23.  If any man have ears to hear, let him hear. 24.  And he said unto them, Take heed what ye hear: with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you: and unto you that hear shall more be given. 25.  For he that hath, to him shall be given: and he that hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he hath.

KJV Luke 8:17.  For nothing is secret, that shall not be made manifest; neither any thing hid, that shall not be known and come abroad. 18.  Take heed therefore how ye hear: for whosoever hath, to him shall be given; and whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he seemeth to have.

Comparing scripture we find Mark and Luke also recorded the parable of the sower including Jesus’ explanation given to the disciples.  All three gospels record the fact, whoever does not have an understanding of parables will also loose something.  To understand what will be taken away we must continue to compare scripture until a clear understanding is obtained.  To find the answer we need to locate parallel texts which will explain what is being taken away.

KJV Matthew 25:29.  For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.

KJV Luke 19:26.  For I say unto you, That unto every one which hath shall be given; and from him that hath not, even that he hath shall be taken away from him.

Parallel texts are found in Matthew 25 and Luke 19.  The common details between these texts is astonishing.  God uses this text in a number of gospels to call attention to the lesson He is attempting to teach.   A more surprising and important detail is, which parable Matthew 25:29 and Luke 19:26 are referring to.

Matthew 25 is referring to what many call, the parable of talents.

KJV Matthew 25:14.  For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods. 15.  And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey.

Luke 19 refers to a similar parable with Luke using the word pound instead of talent.

KJV Luke 19:12.  He said therefore, A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return. 13.  And he called his ten servants, and delivered them ten pounds, and said unto them, Occupy till I come.

Common sense would indicate, the money referred to in Matthew 25 and Luke 19 refers to the ability given to understand parables.  Scripture supporting this concept can be found within the book of Proverbs.

KJV Proverbs 2:3.  Yea, if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding; 4.  If thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures; 5.  Then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God.

KJV Proverbs 3:13.  Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding. 14.  For the merchandise of it is better than the merchandise of silver, and the gain thereof than fine gold. 15.  She is more precious than rubies: and all the things thou canst desire are not to be compared unto her. 16.  Length of days is in her right hand; and in her left hand riches and honour.

KJV Proverbs 4:7.  Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding. 8.  Exalt her, and she shall promote thee: she shall bring thee to honour, when thou dost embrace her. 9.  She shall give to thine head an ornament of grace: a crown of glory shall she deliver to thee.

The Bible establishes the precedent, money can spiritually represent understanding.  Since the parables in Matthew 25 and Luke 19 refer to money, the talents and pounds spiritually represent understanding and wisdom.  The servants wisely using the understanding they were given, freely received more.  The parables make it clear, the faithful servants not only retained what was given and what they had gained, when the Lord returned, He blessed them with much more.  The servants who offered excuses for not using the wisdom given to them, lost what they were given and much more.  Notice, God did not waste this knowledge, but gave it to the other trustworthy servants.

The Bible records the parable of the sower three times, giving us ample reason to study this message.  God not only repeated this message, He also provided multiple explanations to ensure this message would not be overlooked.  As we read more of the explanation given by Jesus, He explains, this is also a fulfillment of prophecy.

KJV Matthew 13:14.  And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: 15.  For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them. 16.  But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear. 17.  For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them. 18.  Hear ye therefore the parable of the sower. 19.  When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side.

To understand this prophecy we first need to locate the original text in the old testament.

KJV Isaiah 6:8.  Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me. 9.  And he said, Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not. 10.  Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed. 11.  Then said I, Lord, how long? and he answered, Until the cities be wasted without inhabitant, and the houses without man, and the land be utterly desolate, 12.  And the Lord have removed men far away, and there be a great forsaking in the midst of the land. 13.  But yet in it shall be a tenth, and it shall return, and shall be eaten: as a teil tree, and as an oak, whose substance is in them, when they cast their leaves: so the holy seed shall be the substance thereof.

As expected, the original text not only supports the text we are studying, but provides additional information. When we compare the texts we are given a deeper understanding.  People do not understand because they have closed their heart, eyes and ears to the word of God.  Jesus offered to open the understanding of the parables to everyone who heard them, but Satan has been working hard to steal this information from them.  This is information people have been seeking for generations.  The prophecy points out, this information will be rejected until the cities are laid waste.  This may be a reference to the last days.  But there will be a small number of faithful followers who will seek understanding.  Notice the reference to the leaves.  Could this be a reference to the parable of the fig tree?

Jesus also mentions a second prophecy concerning this parable.  This second prophecy supplies important information showing exactly how parables are to be interpreted.

KJV Matthew 13:34-35
34.  All these things spake Jesus unto the multitude in parables; and without a parable spake he not unto them: 35.  That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world.

KJV Psalms 78:1-6
1.  Give ear, O my people, to my law: incline your ears to the words of my mouth. 2.  I will open my mouth in a parable: I will utter dark sayings of old: 3.  Which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us. 4.  We will not hide them from their children, shewing to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, and his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done. 5.  For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children: 6.  That the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children:

Two very important points are explained in Psalms 78.  The words, “Which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us” and the phrase “For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers”, indicate parables originated in the Old Testament.  The text goes on the explain, these parables are to be shown, “to the generation to come”, so “That the generation to come might know them.”

The main object of this prophecy is to provide an explanation of a parable.  This prophecy can be divided into two main categories.  The first deals with the past, things that have already happened.  We see this in verse 3.  “Which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us.”  What have they been told is explained in verse 5.  “For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers.”  The law and the testimony in Jacob represent the Old Testament.

Since the first category deals with the past, the second must deal with either the present or the future which is explained in verse 4.  “We will not hide them from their children, shewing to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, and his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done.”  Children and of course, generations to come represent the future.  Additional details are added in verse 6.  “That the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children:”   What are these wonderful works of God that will be known in the generations to come after David’s time?  They are the parables, as described in verse 2.

Psalms 78 is a prophecy showing parables will be made clear or explained by the Old Testament.  This prophecy, written thousands of years before Christ spoke His first parable, explained how they were to be interpreted.  This parable also explains, parables will be declared to their children.  This method used to understand parables will not only be easy to understand, but will be taught over many generations.

In closing, Ellen White has written some very interesting comments concerning the parable of the sower.  These comments agree, the parable of the sower is designed to teach Jesus’ followers how to understand the word of God in such a manner, it will become a powerful tool in winning and teaching souls.  We are to go beyond sharing the gospel in our own limited understanding.  We are to reveal the word of God in scripture, giving the Spirit an opportunity to work in areas we have scattered the seed.  Not our own seed, carelessly spread among stones and thorns, but the seeds of the Lord carefully planted among the good ground.

The education to be secured by searching the Scriptures is an experimental knowledge of the plan of salvation.  Such an education will restore the image of God in the soul. It will strengthen and fortify the mind against temptation, and fit the learner to become a co-worker with Christ in His mission of mercy to the world. It will make him a member of the heavenly family; and prepare him to share the inheritance of the saints in light.  {COL 42.2}
But the teacher of sacred truth can impart only that which he himself knows by experience. “The sower sowed his seed.” Christ taught the truth because He was the truth. His own thought, His character, His life-experience, were embodied in His teaching. So with His servants: those who would teach the word are to make it their own by a personal experience. They must know what it is to have Christ made unto them wisdom and righteousness and sanctification and redemption. In presenting the word of God to others, they are not to make it a suppose-so or a may-be. They should declare with the apostle Peter, “We have not followed cunningly devised fables when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eye-witnesses of His majesty.” 2 Peter 1:16. Every minister of Christ and every teacher should be able to say with the beloved John, “The life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you that eternal life which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us.” 1 John 1:2.  {COL 43.1}

The spiritual definition of a parable would include the following details.  A parable is understood by the followers of Jesus.  It is not understood by others.  A parable is often written using multiple levels, some are easily explained while other statements within the same parable can only be interpreted though the Holy Spirit, who speaks through God’s written word.  Parables are often recorded in more than one book of the Bible.  Combining all the texts will provide a clearer understanding and reveal a course of study.  Spiritual meanings cannot be supplied by human understanding but only through scripture as taught by the Holy Spirit.

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