What Is A Parable?

Before a parable was a literary form, such as the parables attributed to Jesus, the parable was actually an underlying literary structure used for composing texts in general. In ancient and classical times, a parable was any text that held “hidden” comparisons. Scribes created these comparisons for wisdom purposes, great or small. Unfortunately, only people who knew the structure gained from it. This is why some of the New Testament scribes show Jesus mocking the system, allude to hidden things being revealed, include outright parables and cleverly point to how to understand parables.

Ancient and classical wisdom was all about comparisons. Even things such as a simile and metaphor, which are all about comparisons, and are often used in works of Homer, are for wisdom purposes, as they give the reader more insight. These similes and metaphors play other roles in the hidden parables themselves, just as the parables of Jesus do in the New testament.

The literary structure called the parable blueprint, a type of ring composition, is found in ancient letters, law codes, literature and many other types of texts. The structure dates back to the 21st century BCE and was used as the standard way of writing for most ancient and classical texts and even royal correspondences and inscriptions for over 2000 years. Examples include non-biblical flood stories and creation myths, the Code of Hammurabi, Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Virgil’s Aeneid, Plato’s Laws and Apology, the Achaemenid Royal Inscriptions, the Amarna tablets, the Black Obelisk, the Annals of Sennacherib, the Teaching of King Amenemhat I, Works and Days, Julius Caesar’s War Commentaries and many others.

Deciphering a parable by putting the text into its literary structure, allows readers to come to a place of greater awareness and understanding about the writers and their texts. As you will find out through this discovery, a parable does not have to be allegorical.

In the Bible (and other ancient and classical texts), newly discovered comparisons within the texts are where deeper explanations and insights can be seen! Until this discovery, these comparative relationships have been completely overlooked, leading to confusion and misunderstandings that surround the Bible, including the intentions of its authors and how the Bible was written and put together. This discovery ultimately answers many questions, brings clarity and sheds new light about the Bible and other ancient texts.

Creating parables may have been a very secretive process among scribes. It might be that one reason for using parables was to withhold some information from casual view or from the listeners ear. Seekers of deeper meaning of the parable could then learn more when studying the texts in light of its literary structure.

Parables attributed to Jesus are a window into how the Scriptures have been built. They are succinct masterpieces that definitely look, feel and sound like parables. However, in the New Testament, they have been incorporated into hidden parables with purpose. The parables attributed to Jesus are figurative, whereas the hidden parables are less figurative or even “plain spoken”, another reason why they have not been identified for so long. When a reader understands the five-part literary structure, which can be proven, many insights within the texts are revealed that simply cannot be seen otherwise. The books of the Parable Project book series show the formula, explains how it works, and illustrates the Scriptures as parables.

Ruth from The Book of Ruth
Image from How the Bible was Written The Parable Blueprint & The Books of Ruth and Job.

Below are some quotes from the Bible about parables:

From Matthew 13

And the disciples came and said to Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?” Jesus answered them, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted. For whoever has, to him more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him. Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. In their case the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled, which says, ‘YOU WILL KEEP ON HEARING, BUT WILL NOT UNDERSTAND; YOU WILL KEEP ON SEEING, BUT WILL NOT PERCEIVE; FOR THE HEART OF THIS PEOPLE HAS BECOME DULL, WITH THEIR EARS THEY SCARCELY HEAR, AND THEY HAVE CLOSED THEIR EYES, OTHERWISE THEY WOULD SEE WITH THEIR EYES, HEAR WITH THEIR EARS, AND UNDERSTAND WITH THEIR HEART AND RETURN, AND I WOULD HEAL THEM.’ But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear. For truly I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it. “Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart.This is the one on whom seed was sown beside the road.

All these things Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables, and He did not speak to them without a parable. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: “I WILL OPEN MY MOUTH IN PARABLES; I WILL UTTER THINGS HIDDEN SINCE THE FOUNDATION OF THE WORLD.”

From Mark 4

And He was teaching them many things in parables, and was saying to them in His teaching, "Listen to this!

As soon as He was alone, His followers, along with the twelve, began asking Him about the parables. And He was saying to them, "To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God, but those who are outside get everything in parables, so that WHILE SEEING, THEY MAY SEE AND NOT PERCEIVE, AND WHILE HEARING, THEY MAY HEAR AND NOT UNDERSTAND, OTHERWISE THEY MIGHT RETURN AND BE FORGIVEN." And He said to them, "Do you not understand this parable? How will you understand all the parables? "The sower sows the word. "These are the ones who are beside the road where the word is sown; and when they hear, immediately Satan comes and takes away the word which has been sown in them. "In a similar way these are the ones on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy; and they have no firm root in themselves, but are only temporary; then, when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately they fall away. "And others are the ones on whom seed was sown among the thorns; these are the ones who have heard the word, but the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. "And those are the ones on whom seed was sown on the good soil; and they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold." And He was saying to them, "A lamp is not brought to be put under a basket, is it, or under a bed? Is it not brought to be put on the lampstand? "For nothing is hidden, except to be revealed; nor has anything been secret, but that it would come to light.

With many such parables He was speaking the word to them, so far as they were able to hear it; and He did not speak to them without a parable; but He was explaining everything privately to His own disciples.

Scripture used with permission. Lockman Foundation.