(Gr. parabole), a placing beside; a comparison; equivalent to the Heb. mashal, a similitude. In the Old Testament this is used to denote (1) a proverb (1Sa 10:12; 1Sa 24:13; 2Ch 7:20), (2) a prophetic utterance (Num 23:7; Ezek 20:49), (3) an enigmatic saying (Ps 78:2; Prov 1:6). In the New Testament, (1) a proverb (Mark 7:17; Luke 4:23), (2) a typical emblem (Heb 9:9; Heb 11:19), (3) a similitude or allegory (Mat 15:15; Mat 24:32; Mark 3:23; Luke 5:36; Luke 14:7); (4) ordinarily, in a more restricted sense, a comparison of earthly with heavenly things, "an earthly story with a heavenly meaning," as in the parables of our Lord.
Instruction by parables has been in use from the earliest times. A large portion of our Lord's public teaching consisted of parables. He himself explains his reasons for this in his answer to the inquiry of the disciples, "Why speakest thou to them in parables?" (Mat 13:13-15; Mark 4:11, 12; Luke 8:9, 10). He followed in so doing the rule of the divine procedures, as recorded in Mat 13:13.
The parables uttered by our Lord are all recorded in the synoptical (i.e., the first three) Gospels. The fourth Gospel contains no parable properly so called, although the illustration of the good shepherd (John 10:1-16) has all the essential features of a parable. (See CHRIST.)
Parable (The word parable is in Greek parabolé (παραβολη) which signifies placing beside or together, a comparison, a parable is therefore literally a placing beside, a comparison, a similitude, an illustration of one subject by another.—McClintock and Strong. As used in the New Testament it had a very wide application, being applied sometimes to the shortest proverbs, 1 Sam 10:12; 24:13; 2 Chr 7:20 sometimes to dark prophetic utterances, Numb 23:7, 18; 24:3; Ezek 20:49 sometimes to enigmatic maxims, Psal 78:2; Prov 1:6 or metaphors expanded into a narrative. Ezek 12:22 In the New Testament itself the word is used with a like latitude in Matt 24:32; Luke 4:23; Hebr 9:9 It was often used in a more restricted sense to denote a short narrative under which some important truth is veiled. Of this sort were the parables of Christ. The parable differs from the fable
(1) in excluding brute and inanimate creatures passing out of the laws of their nature and speaking or acting like men;
(2) in its higher ethical significance. It differs from the allegory in that the latter, with its direct personification of ideas or attributes, and the names which designate them, involves really no comparison. The virtues and vices of mankind appear as in a drama, in their own character and costume. The allegory is self-interpreting; the parable demands attention, insight, sometimes an actual explanation. It differs from a proverb in that it must include a similitude of some kind, while the proverb may assert, without a similitude, some wide generalization of experience.—ED.) For some months Jesus taught in the synagogues and on the seashore of Galilee as he had before taught in Jerusalem, and as yet without a parable. But then there came a change. The direct teaching was met with scorn unbelief hardness, and he seemed for a time to abandon it for that which took the form of parables. The worth of parables as instruments of teaching lies in their being at once a test of character and in their presenting each form of character with that which, as a penalty or blessing, is adapted to it. They withdraw the light from those who love darkness. They protect the truth which they enshrine from the mockery of the scoffer. They leave something even with the careless which may be interpreted and understood afterward. They reveal on the other hand, the seekers after truth. These ask the meaning of the parable, and will not rest until the teacher has explained it. In this way the parable did work, found out the fit hearers and led them on. In most of the parables it is possible to trace something like an order.
1. There is a group which have for their subject the laws of the divine kingdom. Under this head we have the sower, Matt 13., Mark 4., Luke 8:1 the wheat and the tares Matt 13. etc.
2. When the next parables meet us they are of a different type and occupy a different position. They are drawn from the life of men rather than from the world of nature. They are such as these—the two debtors, Luke 7. the merciless servant, Matt 18. the good Samaritan, Luke 10. etc.
3. Toward the close of our Lord's ministry the parables are again theocratic but the phase of the divine kingdom on which they chiefly dwell is that of its final consummation. In interpreting parables note—
(1) The analogies must be real, not arbitrary;
(2) The parables are to be considered as parts of a whole, and the interpretation of one is not to override or encroach upon the lessons taught by others;
(3) The direct teaching of Christ presents the standard to which all our interpretations are to be referred, and by which they are to be measured.