New Testament Survey: Gospels - Lesson 14

History and Rules of Interpretation

It's important to know how to interpret parables to accurately understand what Jesus was trying to teach. At different times in history, people have used different paradigms to interpret parables. Each parable has one main point. To interpret the parable, seek to understand what Jesus meant, what the evangelist meant and what God wants to teach you today.

Robert Stein
New Testament Survey: Gospels
Lesson 14
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History and Rules of Interpretation

Lesson Fourteen: The Teachings of Jesus

Part 3

II. The Genre of Parables (part 1)

A. History of Interpretation

1. Early Church – 500

2. Middle Ages – 1500

3. Reformation – 1888

4. Modern Period

B. Rules for Interpretation

1. Seek the main point of the parable.

2. Seek to understand what Jesus meant.

3. Seek to understand what the evangelist meant.

4. Seek to understand what God is teaching us today in the parable.

  • The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke record some of the same stories and even use the same wording in sections. They also each have material that is unique, and the chronology is different in some places. Both the purpose of each gospel and the role of oral and written tradition play a role in understanding the similarities and differences.

  • The Gospel of Mark is shorter than the other Gospels and some of the grammar and theology is unique. There are also significant portions of Mark that are contained in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.

  • Discussion of the extensive similarities between the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. It's possible that Mark was already written and they used that as a source. It's aslo likely that they had in common other oral and written sources of what Jesus did and taught. 

  • Some time passed between the ascension of Jesus and the writing of the Gospels because there was no need for a written account while the eyewitnesses were still alive. In that culture, oral tradition was the primary method of preserving history. Form critics also note that it is likely that it is likely that many of the narratives and sayings of Jesus circulated independently.

  • Form criticism is the method of classifying literature by literary pattern to determine its original form and historical context in order to interpret its meaning accurately. The Gospels were not written to be objective biographies. They omit large portions of the life of Jesus, they include accounts of miraculous events and they have a purpose to demonstrate that Jesus is both God and human.

  • Redaction criticism focuses on evaluating how a writer has seemingly shaped and molded a narrative to express his theological goals. Examining how Matthew and Luke used passages from Mark can give you insight into their theology and their purpose for writing their Gospel.  

  • Studying the background and theological emphases of the Gospel of Mark helps us to understand the central message of his Gospel. The central point of the Gospel of Mark is the death of Jesus when he was crucified. This event happened because it was a divine necessity in God's plan to redeem humanity. It's likely that the Gospel of Mark is a written record of the apostle Peter's account. 

  • The Gospel of Matthew emphasizes how Jesus' life, death and resurrection fulfilled prophecies that were made in the Old Testament. Matthew also shows concern for the church and has a strong eschatological emphasis. 

  • Luke emphasizes the great loving concern of God for the oppressed, such as tax collectors, physically impaired, women and Samaritans. He warns of the dangers of riches and emphasizes the ministry of the Holy Spirit. 

  • John's Gospel focuses on Christology and emphasizes dualism and eschatology.  John has long pericopes, clear statements about the identity of Jesus and a number of stories not found in the synoptic Gospels. 

  • By studying the background and comparing the text of the synoptic gospels, we can be confident of their authenticity. Many of the accounts in the Gospels appear in multiple Gospels and are confirmed by separate witnesses. Details in the narratives and parables are consistent with the culture and common practices of the time in that region.  

  • In order to understand Jesus' teaching, it is important to understand how he uses exaggeration and determine when he is using exaggeration to make a point. An exaggeration is something that is literally impossible and sometimes conflicts with teachings of the Old Testament or other teachings of Jesus. They often use idiomatic language that had a specific meaning to the original hearers. 

  • The Gospels record how Jesus used different literary forms to communicate his teachings. He communicated effectively with everyone including children, common people, religious leaders and foreigners. He used a variety of literary devices to communicate in a way that was effective and memorable. (This class was taught by a teaching assistant of Dr. Stein's but his name was not provided.) 

  • It's important to know how to interpret parables to accurately understand what Jesus was trying to teach. At different times in history, people have used different paradigms to interpret parables. Each parable has one main point. To interpret the parable, seek to understand what Jesus meant, what the evangelist meant and what God wants to teach you today.

  • Dr. Stein uses the parable of the Good Samaritan as an example of how to apply the four rules of interpreting parables. He also applies the four rules to interpret the parables of the hidden treasure and the pearl, the ten virgins, the unjust steward and the laborers in the vineyard. 

  • Jesus used different literary forms to communicate with people. It's important to know how to interpret these literary forms, including parables, to accurately understand what Jesus was trying to teach. The rule of end stress is one factor in determining the main teaching of a parable. Dr. Stein describes two parts of a parable as the, "picture part" and the "reality part." 

  • The kingdom of God is God's kingdom invading the earthly kingdom. In the Gospels, there are both "realized" passages and "future" passages. There is a tension between the "now" and "not yet" and it is important to emphasize each aspect equally.

  • Jesus' teaching about the fatherhood of God reveals for us a tension between reverence and intimacy. Jesus shows his reverence for God by not using the name of God even when referring to God. When he refers to God as Father, it is an indication of a personal relationship. 

  • Jesus does not provide an organized ethical system, but his ethical teachings are scattered throughout the Gospels. Sometimes they seem to be contradictory, until you look at them more closely. He emphasized the need for a new heart and the importance of loving God and our "neighbor." Jesus upheld the validity of the Law but was opposed to the oral traditions. 

  • Implicit Christology is what Jesus reveals of himself and his understanding of himself by his actions words and deeds. Jesus demonstrates his authority over the three sacred aspects of Israel which are the temple, the Law and the Sabbath. 

  • Explicit Christology deals with what he reveals concerning his understanding of himself by the use of various titles. Christ is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word, Messiah. The titles, Son of God and Son of Man refer both to his human nature and divine nature. 

  • The Chronology of Jesus' life in the Gospels begins with his birth and ends with his resurrection. How you explain the miracles of Jesus depends on your presuppositions. He performed miracles to heal sicknesses and also miracles showing his authority over nature. 

  • The birth of Christ is an historical event. The virgin birth of Jesus is a fundamental aspect of his nature and ministry. The details of the birth narrative in Luke are consistent with historical events. 

  • Except for the accounts of a couple of events in Jesus' childhood, the Gospels are mostly silent about the years before Jesus began his public ministry. Luke records the story of 12 year old Jesus in the temple to show that already, you can see something different about Jesus. Jesus' public ministry began when John the Baptist baptized Jesus publicly in the Jordan River.

  • The three temptations that Satan put to Jesus were significant to him and instructive to us. Jesus had a specific purpose in mind in the way he called his disciples and the fact that he chose 12.

  • After Simon Peter confesses Jesus as the Christ, Jesus begins teaching about his death and focuses his efforts on teaching the twelve. The Transfiguration was a significant event because the pre-existent glory of Jesus broke through and it was also a preview of future glory.

  • The events surrounding Jesus' "triumphal entry" into Jerusalem were the beginning of the week leading up to his crucifixion and resurrection. When Jesus cleansed the temple in Jerusalem, he was rejecting the sacrificial system, reforming temple worship and performing an act of judgment.

  • At the Last Supper, Jesus celebrated with his disciples by eating the Passover meal. He reinterpreted it to show how it pointed to him as being the perfect Lamb of God, the atoning sacrifice for the sins of all people. When we celebrate the Lord's supper, there is a focus of looking back at the significance of what Jesus did and how the Passover pointed toward him and of looking forward to the future. 

  • The night before his crucifixion, Jesus went to Gethsemane with his disciples to pray. Judas betrays Jesus there and Jesus allows himself to be arrested.

  • The trial of Jesus involved a hearing in the Jewish court conducted by the high priest and the Sanhedrin, and a hearing in the Roman court conducted by Pilate. The Jewish leaders brought in false witnesses against Jesus and violated numerous rules from the Mishnah in the way they conducted the trial. 

  • Jesus died by crucifixion. The Romans used it as a deterrent because it was public and a horrible way to die. The account of the crucifixion is brief, likely because the readers knew what was involved and it was painful to retell. Jesus was buried by friends.

  • The historical evidence for the bodily resurrection of Jesus is compelling. Jesus appeared physically to people, many of whom were still alive when the books in the New Testament were written. Rising from the dead confirmed that Jesus has power over death and gives hope of eternal life to people who put their trust in him. 

  • The Gospels are eyewitness accounts that clearly show that Jesus claimed to be fully human and fully God, and what he did to back up this claim. Some people try to reinterpret the Gospels to make Jesus out to be a moral teacher with good intentions, but not God in the flesh.

This is the first part of an introductory course to the New Testament, covering the books Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The synopsis Dr. Stein refers to is the Synopsis of the Four Gospels, English Edition, published by the American Bible Society. You can click here to order it from American Bible Society or click here to order it from Amazon

The lecture notes you can download (to the right) are for both NT Survey I and II. In some of the lectures, Dr. Stein does not cover all the points in his outline, but we include the additional outline points for your benefit. 

Thank you to Charles Campbell and Fellowship Bible Church for writing out the lecture notes for both sections of Stein's NT Survey class (to the right). Note that they do not cover every lecture.

Recommended Books

New Testament Survey: The Gospels - Student Guide

New Testament Survey: The Gospels - Student Guide

This participant’s guide is intended to be used with the BiblicalTraining.org class, New Testament Survey - The Gospels with Dr. Robert Stein. This is the first part of an...

New Testament Survey: The Gospels - Student Guide

Dr. Robert Stein

New Testament Survey: Gospels


History and Rules of Interpretation

Lesson Transcript


We want to begin having dealt with miscellaneous kinds of forms of Jesus' teachings, such as poetry exaggerated language, puns and metaphors and things of that nature to proceed to the most famous of all the literary forms that was used by Jesus, and that is the form of a parable.


Over the years I've learned that one of the most effective ways of approaching the parables, and obtaining basic rules for interpreting the parables, is to look at a famous parable and see how it was interpreted through the history of the Church. And through that, we can learn from mistakes made in the past and also from some of the insights gained over time.

Now, as we look at some of the ways these parables were interpreted, there may be an attitude of looking down our nose at some of them. They look kind of weird and strange and wondering how people could have been so ignorant or something like that, but please reserve your judgment in one sense because these were giants. I mean we're talking about the Augustines. The greatest theologian in the history of the Church between Paul and the Reformers. We're talking about Origen, who could dictate seven different books to seven different secretaries at the same time.

We're talking about the real giants, but we're...we have to realize that we tend to be products of our times and the blindness of the age in which we live usually carries over to our own blindness. And ah, I can't imagine that if the Lord should tarry 200 years from now, people will look back at some of the things we have done and wondered how could they have been so blind. And for some of us who have written, that's kind of scary. So let's try to treat these people with sympathy. Hopefully they'll, in future generations, again if the Lord shall tarry will treat us this way. But we want to learn from the mistakes, establish certain basic principles and then having established those principles, we'll apply it to the parable we're looking at.

Now, the parable is one of the most famous, one of the two most famous, The Parable of the Good Samaritan - don't turn to it, let me just read it to you and listen as I read:

“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho when he fell among robbers who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now, by chance, a priest was going down that road and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So, likewise, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was and when he saw him he had compassion. And he went to him and bound up his wounds pouring on oil and wine, and then he set him on his own beast and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day, he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper saying: 'Take care of him and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back'”.

A. History of Interpretation

Now, we're going to divide the history of parable interpretation. It's a pretty good way of dividing hermeneutics in general to the early Church, to 500 say. Up to 500. The Middle Ages, 500 to 1500. Then we'll talk about the ah, period, of the Reformation up to the modern period, 1500 to 1888 and then we'll talk about the modern period.

But let's go back to the earliest period and look at how the Parable of the Good Samaritan was interpreted. The earliest reference we have to this comes from a man by the name of Marcian. Marcian was a...the son of a bishop in the northern area of the Black Sea. He then went to Rome, joined himself to the Church and gave a large sum of money to the Church. After a while, it was clear that this man was a heretic. He was a Gnostic who, because of his extreme dualism, denied the incarnation, that the Word became flesh because if that would have happened, he would have corrupted himself by taking on a body. So this was called, by the way, a docetic Christology that denies the true humanity of Jesus. The Greek word, “doceto” from which we at docetic means to seem, to appear, and what they argued was it only seemed or appeared that he had a real body, he really didn't because that would have corrupted him.

When the Church in Rome discovered that he was heretic, they excommunicated him and did something very strange. They gave him back all his money. Now, I would have said there is nothing wrong with your money, we'll keep that, you go. Ah, but they gave him back his money. And his particular comment about this parable is the earliest comment we have. And what he said was this, that Jesus Christ, the Son of God - or let me put it this way...The Son of God appeared first in history as the Good Samaritan on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. Remember, there's no incarnation for a docetic Gnostic. So, the Son of God first comes on the scene as the Good Samaritan on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho.

Now, that fits nicely at the docetic Christology but notice already that this parable, the first reference we have to it, is allegorized. The Good Samaritan represents Jesus Christ. You know, as time goes on, at the end of the second century, we have Clement of Alexandria and here's how he interprets the parable of the Good Samaritan. You will not have time to copy all of these things down, we just can't wait that long for it. If you want all of this, it all appears in Stein's Introduction to the “Interpretation of the Parables”. So you can get all these details, if you want, there. If you want.

The Good Samaritan, according to Clement, represents the neighbor, or Jesus Christ. The thieves are the rulers of darkness. The wounds that the man experiences are the fears, lust, passions, pains and deceits that we, as creatures, experience. The wine represents the blood of David's vine. The blood of David's offspring. Jesus is the son of David. The oil is the compassion of the Father, the binding of the wounds represents love, faith and hope.

Now the successor of Clement of Alexandria, around 200 now, is a man that is very famous in the early church. A man by the name of Origen. Origen became the father of this method of interpretation called allegorization. Origen had as his key verse for hermeneutics in the Bible, first, Thessalonians 5:23 where Paul says: “May the Lord sanctify you wholly in body, in soul and spirit.”

Just as humans consist of a tripart type nature, a body part, a soul part and a spirit part. I don't think that's what Paul's saying, but that's irrelevant. So, the Word of God has a tripart type nature. There is the literal meaning of a text, there is the moral meaning of the text and there is the spiritual meaning of the text. And the text has all three of those within it, and you could look for any one of those meanings. You could look for the literal meaning, the moral meaning or the spiritual meaning. Of course, it's much more advantageous to look for that deeper, spiritual meaning of a text, and that one does by allegorizing.

So here is how he interprets the parable and allegorizes the details. The man going down to Jericho was Adam. Jerusalem from which he was going was paradise. Remember, the parable begins, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho.” Jericho represents this world, the robbers that beat the man up are the hostile influences and enemies such as mentioned in John 10:3 where Jesus says, “All who came before me were thieves and robbers.”

The wounds that he experiences are his disobedience or sins. The priest which does not help him is the law, because the law can't save us, can't help us. The Levite represents the prophets. The Good Samaritan is Jesus Christ. The beast upon which the person is brought is the body of Christ, which bears the sins the of the world. The Inn to which he's brought for good keeping is the Church. The two denarii taken to take care of him are the knowledge of the Father, God the Father and of the Son. The angels who represent the innkeeper. The angels in charge of the Church to which he is brought for good keeping. And then, the return of the Good Samaritan refers to the second coming of Christ. Now, that's allegorizing. Each detail is sought for its own specific meaning.

Now, there are some people who objected to this way of interpreting the parables. They're primarily known as the Antiochian Church father, which means those church leaders that were located around the city of Syrian, Antakia [phonetic 09:45]. Theodore and the like. Ah, but their protests were essentially voices crying in the wilderness. This method becomes the dominating method. [Inaudible] boy Origen really, really saw every detail as being, having a particular kind of meaning.

Well, Augustine goes better. Augustine's parable, the man going down to Jericho, is Adam. Jerusalem, from which he was going, is the City of Heavenly Peace. Jericho represents the moon, which signifies our mortality, and you begin to say, now what in the world is coming off here? Well, in Hebrew, the word for moon and Jericho both look and sound alike. And just as the moon waxes and wanes, so we wax and wane. We are mortal. The robbers are the devil and his angels, stripping him meant they took away his immortality. Beating him meant that they persuaded him to sin. Leaving him half dead meant that due to sin, he was dead spiritually, but he was only half dead because he still had a knowledge of God. The priest represents the law. The Levite, the prophets, they can't save us. But, the Good Samaritan is the Savior and that's Jesus Christ. The binding of the wounds is the restraint God places upon our sin. The oil represents the comfort of a good hope in Christ. The wine is exhortation to spirited work. The beast, once again the body of Christ. The Inn, the Church. The two denarii, the two commandments to love God with all our heart, strength and mind and our neighbors and ourself. The Innkeeper is the Apostle, Paul. Oh, Augustine was partial to Paul, and return of the Good Samaritan is the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Now this is allegorical interpretation. Each detail is sought for meaning. Now, why is it that the Early Church proceeded in this way of interpreting the parables? I think there are two main reasons. One reason was that this was a prominent way to interpret Greek literature and it was especially a prominent way to interpret those kinds of portions that people had held in reverence that were difficult.

For instance, how do you make any sense of the Greek goddesses on Mount...gods and goddesses on Mount Olympus? I mean they're more immoral than we are. How do you make any sense out of that? Well, you shouldn't take these things literally. The Gods are not lusting after beautiful women. What they are lusting after are virtues, and you should see these women as allegorized into virtues. So that's [inaudible] well, we still do that today, and Judaism did that.

For instance, how did the Jewish community at the time of Christ make sense out of the Song of Solomon? Is this some erotic love piece about people and the blessings of that aspect of marriage. No, no. This is an allegory of Yahweh's love for the Church, or Yahweh's love for Israel, of course, in the Old Testament of the Church.

Now, what do Christians today...most Christians interpret it as an allegory, right? So the allegory of Jesus' love for the Church. So, difficult passages were allegorized to make sense and be useable.

A second reason that this was such a dominant method is that Jesus seemed to say this is the way you interpret the parables. You have one parable, the Parable of the Soils, which have an interpretation associated with it.  Now there are some who will say the interpretation doesn't go back to Jesus, it was added later on [inaudible]. That's irrelevant for this issue, because the people who read them thought they were Jesus' interpretation and the way he interpreted each of the Soils was allegorically. Those who fall among the weeds are those who received the Word, but the cares of life choke out the Word. Those that fell on the good soil are those who hear the Word with a good heart and receive it and bear fruit and so forth. 

So you have an allegorical method of interpret...an allegorical interpretation of the Parable of the Soils. Therefore, they assumed many. This was the key to interpreting all of the parables. You should do this with every parable. Try to look for those deeper allegorical meanings.

Now, in the Middle Ages, remember we talked about the early Church up to 500. Now from 500...if you want to be exact, 540 would be a better way of...of breaking that the way historians do it, but 500's good. After that, the Church proceeded with this method during the Middle Ages - 500 to 1500. And, in fact, they added a fourth level of meaning. A man by the name of Cassian came across and gave the fourth level of meaning.

So now, whenever you read the Bible you could read it at one of four levels. The literal meaning. Its moral meaning. Its spiritual meaning, or its Heavenly meaning. The Heavenly meaning of the text. And the way you arrive at these latter spiritual Heavenly meanings would, of course, be by allegorization, and a very famous example of this is the appearance of the word Jerusalem in the Bible. When you read the word Jerusalem anywhere in the Bible, you can understand what it says here on four different levels, and the text means all four.

You could understand it on the simple literal level that it refers to the city whose longitude is x, latitude y, surrounded by the Hinnom and Kidron Valleys. Or you could go to the next level, the moral level. and you can understand that this is talking about the human soul and interpret the passage in light of the human soul. The sentence and the passage. Or, you can go to the next level and here Jerusalem refers to the Church, the Christian community, and you interpret that passage now in the light of this, or you go to its Heavenly meaning. And now, Jerusalem represents the Heavenly Jerusalem, all four levels are there. Isn't it wonderful how rich the Bible is, and you have all of these levels and so forth.

Now an example of this would be the venerable beads - 730 thereabouts, you guys. In this parable of the Good Samaritan, he interprets the parable this way, it says: The Good Samaritan, the man going down to Jericho or Adam. Jerusalem from which he's going, the City of Heavenly Peace. Jericho, the moon which signifies variation and change. Whose he following here? Augustine, right? Or, Augustine, of course, is the greatest of the father's, so it would be natural to do that. Stripping him meant they stripped Adam of his glorious vestment of immortality and innocence. Wounds are his sins. The priest and the Levite. The priesthood and the ministry of the Old Testament. The Samaritan is Christ. The oil is repentance. The beast is the flesh in which the Lord came. In other words, his incarnation and so forth, and then follows this same method of interpretation.

Probably the greatest theologian during the Middle Ages was Thomas Aquinas, and he defends this various method of...the fourfold method of interpretation - and I wish I could find the place... I remember once reading in Aquinas, and he refers to the fact that there has to be four levels of interpretation in the Bible and the reason for that is that there are four directions. North, south, east and west, and you start saying, that's weird, what kind of an argument is that? 

Well, I think what it shows is that everyone is so convinced of four levels of meaning that you can use those kinds of arguments. I mean if no one believed it, you have to get better stuff than that to try to prove your point. But the point's already proven, so you're almost kind of illustrating, not arguing anymore and he argues for this four levels of meaning.

Now, um, let me stop here for a minute. How would people in your church respond to say Augustine's interpretation of the parable? Would they tend to approach it negatively, or...or what?

Dr. Robert Stein: Yeah. I think some people would be rather complimentary and say boy, he really gets a lot out of the Bible. I'm sure my mother would say to me, “Bobby, that man gets a lot out of the Bible”.

Dr. Robert Stein: [inaudible] then to my elderly mother, if she was alive, I'd probably say a, “Yeah, mom, he does get a lot out of the Bible”, and leave it to that. I mean, at 95 how much hermeneutics do you start teaching ah...ah... in that regard, okay. So, it ah...I, I think there's still people who are attracted to allegorizing and there are some parables that should be allegorized because that is the genre. They are allegories, but the genre of parables should not be allegorized because it has a definite set of rules governing it.

Now, we get to the time of the Reformation and the reformers were very much opposed to allegory. And you have to realize that the reformers needed to have a good hermeneutical theory. So well, why did they? Well, up to the time of the reformers, where did the Church find its authority? You [inaudible] threefold source. It had the Bible. It had the living voice of the Church, the papacy and the archbishops and bishops, and they had the traditions of the fathers. So you had these three sources from which you derived absolute truth.

The reformers come along and says no, sola Scriptura, only the Bible. Well, if you have only one source, you have to know how to interpret it real well and so the reformers are very much concerned about this. And many times when the reformers would argue in their debates, people would allegorize the scriptures, and have you have you ever tried to argue with somebody who allegorizes the Bible? It's like trying to fight a cloud. It's just...you can't...you can't do anything out there. And so, when Luther, whose talking about allegorizers, he would say they are clerical jugglers who perform monkey tricks. And the word money tricks in...in German is kind of cute, affen-spiel. It's Chimpanzee games, that's what their doing. And then these...ah, as to Origen's exegesis, it's worth less than dirt. And that was not particularly expensive in Germany at the time. 

Now, Luther did not allow the allegorizing of the Letters of Paul or the historical narratives and so forth, and he was very good about that. But, when it came to the parables, those he continued to allegorize. Now, Luther's interpretation of the Parable of the Good Samaritan comes not from one particular source but from several of his letters and sermons, and I've put this together. But here is the way Luther interpreted this parable:

The man going down to Jericho is Adam and all mankind. The robbers are the devil who robbed and wounded us. The priest represents the fathers before Moses. The Levite, the priesthood of the Old Testament. The Good Samaritan, the Lord Jesus Christ. Pretty much following. Now you start getting a...a Lutheran emphasis coming through. The oil and wine. Poured on the wine on the wounds of the whole Gospel from beginning to end, the Good News. The oil [inaudible] he refers to as the grace of God which saves us. The wine is the cross the Christians call the bear. The beast, Christ the Lord. The Inn is Christianity in the world or the Church and the Innkeeper is the preacher of the Word of God, which we are brought for good keeping.

Now, of all the reformers, Calvin was the best and most consistent exegete. He too argued very strongly against allegorizing. He referred to allegorical interpretation as idle fooleries. Now, through [inaudible] 1500's, John Calvin is the first person who argued that the Parable of the Good Samaritan was not talking about Jesus Christ. The first person who stands up after 1500 years of this, says nope, that's not what it means. [inaudible] Nah, there was one person. A guy named Herman, a plumber in Antioch who said that it didn't referred to Jesus, but never wrote anything so no one knows about him. 

John Calvin, I mean, it takes a lot of courage to stand up and do this. And here...with regard to the Parable of the Good Samaritan, let me read to you what he says: “An allegorical interpretation devised by proponents of free will is really too futile to deserve an answer. According to them, under the figure of a wounded man, is described the condition of Adam after the fall. Whence they infer that the power of [inaudible] was not quite extinct for he is only said to be half dead. I give as little respect for that other allegory which is one such [inaudible] regard that nearly everyone comes down in its favor like an oracle. In this, they make out the Samaritan to be Christ because he is our protector. They say that wine mixed with oil was poured into the wound because Christ heals us with repentance and the promise of grace. And a third coming story has been made up that Christ does not immediately restore health, but sends us to the Church that is the innkeeper to be cured gradually. None of this strikes me as plausible.” And then he has this great comment, “We should have more reference for scripture than to allow ourselves to transfigure its sense so freely. Anyone can see that these speculations have been cooked up by meddlers quite divorced from the mind of Christ.”

We should have more reference for scripture than to allow ourselves to transfigure its sense so freely. One of the saddest things as a biblical scholar is to note that many times those people who have the highest doctrine of inspiration treat the Bible most shabbily. I know of people who are not Evangelical Christians by any stretch of the imagination, but they treat the Bible with great care and respect and reverence  and they would not tolerate anybody saying the Bible says something which it can't possibly say. Among Evangelicals, we allow that. My question is do we really believe the Bible is the Word of God, or is this just lip service, because if it is, then we need to be very careful on how we treat the Word of God.

And for you who are going to preach, when you stand up in the pulpit and say hear the Word of God, this is what God is saying, if it's not what God's saying, that blasphemous. That's why James may say don't be so eager to be a teacher, it's scary, and we have to give an account before God as to how we treated his Word.

Calvin was a good exegete and with the parables there are only a few times where, I think, you could say he allegorized a parable that really was not intended by Jesus where the Biblical author reinterpreted it that way. But with his death, parables continued to be allegorized. Now, what the reformers did with respect to the allegorization of the Bible was lasting. The chains of allegorical interpretation binding the Bible were broken and shattered. You'd never go back to that again. That's over. But after Calvin, the parables continued to be allegorized.

The most famous interpreter of the parables in the English speaking world was Archbishop R. C. Trench. In 1841 he published the book, “The Notes on the Parables of Our Lord”. That was still being published a few decades ago. Whether it still is being published today, I don't know. But after giving a little interpretation of the Parable, he goes on to the more spiritual interpretation.

1841. The man going down to Jericho is Adam. Jerusalem is the Heavenly city. Jericho a profane city, a city under a curse. The robbers are the devil and his angels stripping him, as they stripped him of his original robe of righteousness, leaving him half dead. Let me read all of this. Leaving him half dead means, “Covered with almost mortal strokes. Every sinful passion and desire a gash from which the lifeblood of his soul is streaming, yet still maintaining a divine spark which might be fanned into flame.”

That divine spark being fanned into flame was very much of the mood of the 19th century and very prominent liberalism. He was not a theological liberal that way though. The priest and Levite, the inability of the law to save. The Good Samaritan is Christ. The binding of the wounds are sacraments which heal the soul, anointing him with the oil. It means the anointing of the Holy Spirit. The wine, the blood of Christ's passion. The Inn is the Church. And placing among the beasts, which I don't have here, means “this reminds us of him who though he was rich, yet for our sakes, became poor.” The two denarii, by the way, are all gifts and graces. sacraments, powers or healing remission of sins, whatever more you spend, the reward for righteous service. That's Archbishop Trench.

The last and leading English speaking interpreter of the Parables, up to the Modern Period. You know, the Modern Period begins in 1888. 1888. Begins with a man by the name of Adolf Eulicher. He wrote a book in 1888 it actually became...it was two volumes the [inaudible], “The Parable Talks of Jesus”, and what he argued was parables are not allegories. In an allegory you intend a person to interpret all the details. The details are meaningful and you should look at the details.

A good example of an allegory, the most famous one in the English speaking world at least is John Bunyan's, “Pilgrim's Progress”. Now, if you read Bunyan's “Pilgrim's Progress”, you have a man by the name of Christian. A man whose been converted and he proceeds to the Holy City and on his way he meets various people. Now, it's very important to pay attention to details, because they're meaningful. He comes across a man, he's lost his ways and he says, can you tell me the way...that narrow way that leads up to the Holy City, Heavenly Jerusalem and he says there's a better way than that. Hey, there's a nice broad wide path, nice inclines, easy to follow, that's the way you should take.

Now it's very important to know his name. If you don't pay attention to his name, you're lost. His name is Mr. Worldly Wise. And he gets progressively more lost and he finds somebody and he says, can you help me? I'm trying to get to the Heavenly City, and he says you're not going to get there this way. It's through that narrow road and that narrow gate up there. His name is Mr. Evangelist. He comes across people who give him advice and if their name is despair you have to interpret it differently than if their name is Hope or Faith. In an allegory, you press the details.

This, “Pilgrim's Progress”, you look at the details and you press them for meaning. But Eulicher said parables are not like that. Parables have a single basic comparison. A single basic comparison is being made, and you should not press the details. For example, if somebody were to say to me, Bob what is God like?, I might say something like, well God is like the Heavenly Father who loves his children. And if somebody said, oh, well then, whose his wife? And I say, wait, wait.  I'm giving you an analogy and...and you...generally in an analogy you have a sin...you only have a single point you're trying to make. If you press any analogy, it falls apart. If you say, God is like...and you compare anything, sooner or later it breaks down.

The only way you have a perfect analogy is to say, “God is like God”, and then it's true in every way. It doesn't explain anything. But if you say, “God is like...” and you put anything there, sooner or later it breaks, and usually when you give an analogy you have a basic point that you're trying to make and Eulicher was saying that in a parable we're trying to make a basic point, don't press the details.

Now, Eulicher was an old fashion liberal. It doesn't mean you can't learn from old fashion liberals. It doesn't mean you can't learn from people who are not Evangelicals, they...many have...times much to contribute. Ah, the problem, of course, was that when he began to look for the main point, the main point was always a good German 19th Century liberal truth. The point of all of Jesus' parables eventually comes to be a German liberal truth of the 20th Century. I mean, after all, didn't Jesus study at the University of Berlin before he began his ministry?

Now, you say, well, um, alright what about this? Well, I think our first basic rule, and it's in your text, you don't have to worry about writing it down. Parables generally teach one point, don't press the details. Don't look for allegorical significance in the parables simply because you're able to, but look for the main point of the parable. And if you look for the main point of the parable, the parable teaches about who's a neighbor. What does it mean to be a neighbor? That's the point of the parable. And here's a good example of it.

Now, when I was a young Christian, one of the things that I had a tendency to do was to allegorize. I read Psalm 139: “Thou O'Lord knowest my downsitting and my uprising, now knowest my thoughts afar off.” I asked my pastor one time, does that mean that God knows my downsitting...he...he knows every time I sin and my uprising, that he knows every time I do something good? And he looked at me and he said, nah, it means he knows when you sit down and when you get up and the wings of a budding allegorist were kind of clipped right here.

Well, that's a great thought to know that God's so near that you're sitting down he's aware of that. He's...he's present. But there's a tendency that I had to allegorize and I wonder if, for instance, sometimes we have practices like the verse of the day. You pick up a verse from the table, there's no context to it. No background to it and you just read the verse and what else is there to do but to allegorize, or something like that, and look for all sorts of possibilities, so that we need to be aware of that.

There are some times that parables are intended to be interpreted allegorically. They are really allegories. I'll give you some rules on how to discover that later on, but right know parables teach one basic point. [inaudible] well, then why does it say in the parable the man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho? Why does he say he's going down? Well, if you're going from Jerusalem to Jericho that's the way you go, it's downhill. Jerusalem's on a mountain, Jericho's in the valley. If you go to it, you go down. But supposing you reverse the parable. The man was going up from Jericho to Jerusalem and he fell among thieves. It wouldn't change anything. It's a detail. It's just part of the coloring of the story to make it interesting.

You say well, yeah...yeah, but then, um, why does he talk about pouring on oil and wine? Well, how do you do basic first aid. The guy didn't have Bacitracin. How were you going to wash the man's wounds. Well, he had this diluted wine and water beverage that he cleaned the wounds of and then what did you do? You poured it on, oil to soothe and cover the wounds. As a little kid I remember getting a scrape and nothing was wrong, my mother would put butter on it. You say butter? Yeah. She didn't have Bacitracin. It covered the wound, it feels good. What...what that indicates is the man is showing he's a loving neighbor. He's taking care of him in the way you would in the First Century.

Yeah, but why does that say specifically that he gave the man two denarii to take care of him? Well, if he had said three, it would make this into the Trinity. Hmm. I mean it just said...it's a detail. It's not meant to be pressed. He's showing his care. Parables teach one basic point, don't press the details unless necessary. Great insight. Great insight.

The next man who came along to further the study of the parables was a man by the name of C. H. Dodd in the middle of the...ah...well the early part of the 20th Century. He wrote a book, “The Parables of the Kingdom”, and he said something which looks like it's self-evident, but everybody had forgotten about it. And what he said was this, I'm rewording it: “Jesus did not teach his parables to 20th Century Christians, but the First Century Jews.” Therefore, when investigating the parables, one should seek to understand the situation in life which the parable envisions. In other words, how would a Jew in the time of Jesus have understood this.” Alright. “Go back to the time of Jesus and let's figure out how that would have been understood there.” 

In the 1950's, the emphasis on redaction criticism came into being. And this now emphasizes the fact that the Gospel writers, the evangelists, also interpreted the parables and that is lots of times very useful to try to understand what the evangelist is doing with the parable. In other words, using some of our hermeneutics understanding. If Jesus uttered a willed pattern of meaning, if he meant something, is it possible that sometimes an evangelist knows an implication of that pattern of meaning that is particularly important for his audience, and so he applies that and emphasizes an aspect or implication of that? And we then have not only the specific meaning Jesus willed, but also the implication of that and it helps us with our understanding the implication of that.

And then, finally, what good does it profit us if we gain all the understanding of [inaudible] and never apply it to our own souls. So what we need to do is also say well, now that I know what Jesus was saying and the meaning and so forth, how now do I apply this to my own life and my own situation? Okay, so those are our basic four principles.

B. Rules for Interpretation

Parables teach one main point. Don't press the details. Look for the main point. What did Jesus mean when he uttered it in a situation? What did the evangelist mean when he wrote it? It may be identical? It may be nuances of it? And then, how do you apply this to your own situation in life?

Alright, well let's now begin to apply this to our own situation. We have these rules, let's apply them. What is the main point of the parable? Well, let me first say that Augustine and Origen and all of those who interpreted the parable, allegorically were wrong. That's not the point of the parable. Augustine's wrong, Clement of Alexandria's wrong, Origen's wrong, [inaudible] is wrong, Thomas Aquinas is wrong. But they're all smarter than you are Stein.

Yes, yeah, they're right, that's right, but they're wrong. How can you be so dogmatic? Well, I read to you the parable, but I cheated. I didn't read the verse before and the verse after. Let me read the verse before: “And he, desiring to justify himself said to Jesus, 'And who is my neighbor?' Jesus replied...”

Now, let's go back and let's look for a minute at Augustine. Okay? Who is my neighbor in this? Who's my neighbor? If Augustine's right, you have to envision this situation. And the man said to Jesus well then, who is my neighbor? And Jesus said, I'm not going to tell you about who's a neighbor. I'm going to tell you about for the sins of the world. And then he tells the parable. But notice, I didn't give you the ending of the parable. The parable ends, “Which of these three do you think prove neighbor to the man who fell among robbers?” 

So before the parable begins we read, “Who is my neighbor?” After the parable, “Which of these three do you think prove neighbor to the man...?” Is it a genius that has to say I think that what follows in between those two questions deals with who's a neighbor.

Allegory doesn't deal with it. Allegory wasn't concerned about that. The text and question before and after involves who's a neighbor. All of these interpretations don't say anything about a neighbor. So, I think that's not the point Jesus is trying to make. It can't be. That's not the main point of the parable. The parable's point is, “Who is my neighbor?”

Now, you might say well, Dr. Stein, why...why are you so upset about Augustine and Origen's interpretation? Don't you believe it? Yeah, I believe Jesus is coming again. I believe Jesus died for my sins and I believe that we're fallen. I believe we need God's grace, but that's not the question. The question is not do I believe the interpretation read into the text, but whether I believe this is what the text is teaching. Let me say that again, the question is not whether these interpretative details are true, but whether the parable truly teaches those things. Do you see the difference in that?

You know, you...you could have somebody interpret, ah, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” And I could give you an interpretation and say, this too proves that God's is a trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, eternally God, one in essence and being, but three persons. I believe that. But that's not what the verse is saying. So, you can read into the Bible truths and one of the nice things, of course, is if you decide to read something into the Biblical text, read orthodoxy and not heresy. All right? 

Now, there was that rule, by the way, the Early Church follows Origen and others say you can find in an allegorical interpretation anything that's explicitly found in the Bible, or that conflicts with the Church. That...that's nice. So you don't read heresy into the Bible. Maybe the best thing is not to read anything into the Bible. Let...read out of it what it says. So, this parable...I believe the theology that's behind these early interpretations, but that's not what the point is. The point involves who is my neighbor and what it means to be a neighbor.

Now, the second point. Jesus did not teach the parables for people...people in our day, but in his own day. Years ago when my daughter was about 11 or 12, I played a game with her and I said, Julie, I want you to tell me what comes into your mind without thinking, just tell me what you associate with these things. And she said, alright, I'll do that. And I said, “Are you ready Julie? You can do the same, first reaction, don't think. You have to respond. Don't reflect over this and I said, “Alright, Julie?, Samaritan”.

What do you think came into her mind? The word Samaritan Hospital, good, loving, kind, Jesus. That's the normal reflex. Now, if you were telling this parable in 8029 on a hill and Abraham and Sarah were here and I said, Abraham, Sarah, tell me what comes into your mind - Samaritan. Good. No way. That's like talking about square circles. There's no such thing. Samaritan would be outcast, hated, rebel and so forth and so on. I said, alright, Julie, another one - priest. Now, negative things came in. In Baptist Sunday schools priests don't come out good. There...there's just not a tendency for us. She had negative vibes, but Abraham and Sarah, priests, God's servant. Positive.

Now, think. We read this parable in the 20th Century, the hero is, of course, our hero. Samaritans are good people. The villains: Priest, Levite - negative things. In Jesus' day, it was just the opposite. The villain in his day, the cursed Samaritan. You have to remember, when you want to curse Jesus or say something negative to him, you say: “Are you not a Samaritan and have a demon in you?” And it may be that the second was not as negative as the first. [inaudible] They were hated.

For...you know, Arab-Israeli problems today, trivial. I mean that's only been developing for less than, what? Sixty-seventy years? At most. Samaritan-Jewish hatreds had a thousand years to fester and all the way back to when after Solomon's death. His son became King and the Samaritans revolted and formed a new nation, sometimes called Israel in the Old Testament, but named Samaria, after its capital city for the most part. So, how do you understand the parable? If you don't go back to how these words...what these words meant in Jesus' day, you have a complete misunderstanding. You have this lovely sweet picture of loving kindness. That's not how people responded in Jesus' day. But people...you know how Jesus responded when people...when people heard this parable? Some of them said we're going to have to crucify him. It's a totally different parable.

And in my own life and experience, it is only when I began to interpret the parables in the light of the situation of Jesus that they took on an excitement and a dynamic now. They were not just bland sweet “ooh” and “ahh” kinds of illustrations. But they were one that were a damning indictment. As one writer says, “The parable is not a pleasant tale about the traveler who did his good deed, it's a damning indictment of social, racial and religious superiority”.