For an earlier post on common mistakes when interpreting parables, click here.
The more I’ve studied New Testament parables, the more I am convinced of one thing: they are all about the same subject.
That’s right: parables in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are all about a singular subject. Every. Single. One.
In fact, I’m so convinced of this that if I find a parable that is not about this subject, then I’m convinced I’m not reading a parable at all.
Sadly, I spent many years preaching and teaching parables from all manner of wire-haired perspectives. I used parables for evangelism, for church growth, for healthy Christian living, for strengthening families, and on and on it goes. But the truth is that I misused parables for teaching these subjects, because not a single parable is about any of these things. Not. Even. One.
The Singular Subject of New Testament Parables
I am convinced that every parable in the New Testament (all of which come from the mouth of Jesus and are found in the four gospels) have for their singular subject the Kingdom of God. And the definition of this Kingdom is from the Bible, not the theology books, and thus the Kingdom of God is the future, fraternal, physical Kingdom promised to David, expressed by the prophets, and asked of by the Apostles whose last words to Jesus are found in Acts 1:6:
“Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?”
I reject any idea of an inner-spiritual kingdom. I reject all church-kingdom theologies. For a more extensive view of my view on the Kingdom, see my video series based on George N.H. Peter’s three-volume work, The Theocratic Kingdom. The book is available here, and my video series here.
With this narrow (and I think Biblical) definition of the Kingdom, the parables are then necessarily narrow in scope: they teach something about the coming Kingdom. Therefore any other subject matter is incidental to the parable and should only be taught incidentally.
How I Am So Convinced of This Singular Subject
The first parables found in the New Testament are in Matthew 13. We are familiar with these parables, including that of the sower and the soils, the mustard seed, the leaven in the bread, and so-forth.
Matthew 13:10-17 is the introduction to these famous parables, and clearly teaches that the subject of all parables is the Kingdom of God. So clearly that, in my mind, it is an incontrovertible truth.
In Matthew 13:10, the disciples ask the same question we are asking in this blog:
Why speakest thou unto them in parables?
Though the question is only definitively related to this particular parable, the question is related to parables (plural) in general. We must therefore take the answer to be conclusive of all Jesus’ parables, unless otherwise stated.
In verse 11 Jesus gives the answer to the question of verse 10. Could it be more clear than that the purpose of parables is to reveal the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven. This being true, those who then take parables as the answer to every mystery known to man (as I used to), or every practical application needed for today (guilty…again), will invariably miss the mysteries that are actually revealed.
By verse 12 the Lord speaks words that are a total mystery to those who do not take it in context.
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.
The words are explained more fully in the parallel passage, Mark 4:24-25, where we are told that it is unto you that hear shall more be given. Those who do not hear the parables will lose their hearing, and thus lose their understanding and knowledge of the mysteries of the Kingdom. Those who do not hear will teach the parables to be about evangelism, marriage, parenting, church growth, missions, and the price of tea in China, and totally miss the real meaning.
In verse 13, Jesus explains that parables are given when there is an enemy in the midst, as there was with Jesus. Parables are not meant to easily display information but to conceal information from those who will not take the time to study (compare John 3:19-20).
By Matthew 13:14-15 – Jesus quotes from Isaiah 6:9-10, the context of which is in a time of Tribulation (compare Isaiah 6:11), and immediately precedes the arrival of the Kingdom. In truth, all of Matthew 13 is about this same time period. It is a time when this peoples heart is waxed gross (i.e.: the Jewish nation’s heart covered in fat) and their ears are dull of hearing (Matt. 13:15).
To solidify that the parables were giving prophecy and mystery concerning the coming Kingdom, verse 17 proclaims –
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.
The prophets and righteous men wanted to see those things which ye see. The matters which they wanted to see and hear were the mysteries of the kingdom, which will only now be revealed in the parables.
A few objections
Objections to this post will be, I suppose, under one of the following categories:
- Matthew 13:10-17 is only making reference to the parables of Matthew 13.
- The Kingdom of God has a more broad definition than you are giving it.
To objection #1, I would encourage closer scrutiny to Matthew 13:10-11. With the assumption that the answer to the disciples question about parables relates to all the parables of Jesus, then study all the parables of Jesus. You will find that every one of them is a parable about the Kingdom. The stories that appear to have another meaning are often presented as parables, but are actually illustrations or true stories, and not parables at all (for example, the story of the Good Samaritan).
To objection #2, I would encourage you to question the assumptions about what you have been taught concerning the Kingdom. The modern concept of Kingdom inherently requires that the apostles be assigned a position ignorance (while the seminary scholars be given the position of pre-eminence). I think this is a dangerous position. I also think that a solid study of the Kingdom will lead everyone to determine that the standard, every-day evangelical, Protestant, and Catholic understanding of the Kingdom is, very simply, wrong.