The Purpose of Parables
Jesus of Nazareth was the greatest teacher the world has ever known. His talent lay in His wonderful ability to make deep, heavenly truths understandable to all kinds of people. Although Jesus worked with people from all social classes, most of His teaching was aimed at the common people of Israel—the shepherds, the fishermen, and the laborers. Most of those who heard Jesus were poorly educated, so it was necessary for Him to teach them by using simple words and ideas. To solve the problem of passing on deep truths to such people, Jesus used a common teaching tool known as a parable.
Some teachers have defined parables as "earthly stories with heavenly meanings." The English word "parable" comes from the Greek word parabole, which means "to throw alongside." The word also is related to the word "parallel," which usually describes two similar things laid side-by-side. Two things that are "thrown alongside" each other are easier to compare. The goal of a parable is to compare one thing to another—with one of the objects being an important spiritual lesson and the other being an event from everyday life. For instance, Jesus compared His own relationship with His people to the relationship of a shepherd with his sheep (Luke 15:1-7). He compared someone who teaches the gospel to a man planting a seed (Matthew 13:1-9), and He used such words as salt and light to describe the influence of a Christian (Matthew 5:13-16).
The Bible records about thirty or forty parables told by Jesus. Some of His parables were short, one-line comparisons. Others, like the Parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15, were longer stories with exciting plots and interesting people. All of Jesus’ parables remind us of the divine wisdom of God. But they also remind us of easy yet interesting ways to teach someone the great truths found in God’s Word.