Biblical Hermeneutics - Lesson 26

Allegory in Parables (Part 2)

When you are determining how you should apply the parable of the final judgment in Matthew 25: 31-46, who Jesus is referring to when he says, "...just as you did it to one of the least of these, my brethren, you did it to me." In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, Jesus makes a point about what causes people to believe in him or to not believe in him. 

Robert Stein
Biblical Hermeneutics
Lesson 26
Watching Now
Allegory in Parables (Part 2)


I. Final Interpretive Discussions on Parables

A. The Final Judgment (Matthew 25:31-46)

B. The Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31)

Class Resources
  • Understanding the roots of the English language and knowing the history of the English translations of the Bible gives you a context that can help you understand the meaning of the passage you are reading. 

  • After William Tyndale published the first Bible in English in 1539 that was translated from the Hebrew and Greek texts, King James of England assembled a team of top scholars to create an English translation that was published in 1611. More recent translations are still being made to reflect new manuscript discoveries and changes in the English language. 

  • There is no such thing as an exact word equivalent when going from one language to another. Different languages as well as different cultures pose a challenge for translators. It's important to use the best manuscripts for your translation.

  • A few of the challenges that translators face are for the translation to be accurate but understandable, contemporary but universal, and to avoid a theological bias. Contemporary languages are always changing, and each translator holds theological beliefs based on years of training and experience. 

  • Inerrancy of the Bible is an important foundation for the process of translation. Some translations focus more on "word-for-word" equivalents and some focus more on "thought-for-thought" equivalents. Some translations include footnotes to explain a verse that is ambiguous or controversial. 

  • The three components that determine meaning in written communication are the author, the text and the reader. In determining the meaning of Biblical passages, it's important to know as much as possible about all three components. 

  • The author of a passage made an intentional effort to communicate a message. It is the job of the reader to determine the meaning and implications of the message by studying the text itself, then evaluating the literary form and other contextual factors. 

  • The first step in interpretation is to focus on the pattern of meaning the author consciously willed to convey by the words they used. Then, the implications of the text may also include meanings in the text of which the author was unaware but fall within the author's pattern of meaning.

  • It's important to define your terms when you are determining the interpretation and application of Biblical passages. Your goal is to begin by hearing the message of a passage as the author intended it and the first readers would have understood it. 

  • The written word correctly interpreted is the objective basis of authority. The inward illuminating and persuading work of the Holy Spirit is the subjective dimension. When 1 Cor. 2:14 says that an unspiritual man cannot understand Scritpure, it is referring to his lack of acceptance rather than his mental grasp of the words. 

  • You will gain a comprehensive understanding of the role of the Holy Spirit in relation to believers, the church, and the world. The lesson covers the Holy Spirit's work in the regeneration and sanctification of believers, empowering and guiding them, unifying the church, bestowing spiritual gifts, the conviction of sin, righteousness, and judgment, and drawing people to God. The conclusion summarizes the Holy Spirit's impact on all aspects of life.

  • Your presuppositions about whether or not the miracles in the Bible took place as they are recorded will affect the way you look at the Bible and at specific events. Three approaches to this question are the supernatural approach, rationalist approach and the mythical approach. 

  • Kinds of meaning and types of meaning are two of the main ideas in the book, "The Language and Imagery of the Bible," by G. B. Caird. Proverbs are short, pithy sayings that express a general truth. Exceptions are allowed. A good example of an exception to a proverb is the book of Job.

  • Judgment prophecy assumes that, even if not stated, if the people repent, judgment will not come. Prophets also tend to speak in figurative language, using cosmic terminology. 

  • The prophets use figurative and metaphorical language to describe future events and spiritual reality. They also use cosmic language to describe God acting in history. 

  • Dr. Stein discusses the possibility of a sensus plenior in some passages. In Mark 13, Jesus talks about coming events that are also prophesied in the Old Testament. 

  • Judges chapters 4 and 5 describe the same events. Chapter 4 uses prose, chapter 5 uses poetry. The book of Psalms is a collection of songs, prayers and reflections about human emotions, and God, his character and his work in the world. 

  • Jesus uses parallelism in the Gospels to illustrate and emphasize who God is and what the kingdom of God is like. In order to understand an idiom, you first need to identify it as an idiom and then determine what the meaning is in the culture.  

  • Exaggeration is overstatement. Hyperbole is literally impossible. When using exaggeration, both parties must agree that the expression is an exaggeration. Jesus uses exaggeration to emphasize and illustrate important teachings. 

  • Jesus uses exaggeration to make his point clear, especially on matters of morality, but doesn't take the time to discuss possible exceptions. Jesus also uses all-inclusive and universal language, as well as idiomatic language that no longer bears its original meaning. 

  • Some of the early church writers and the reformers interpreted parables, like the parable of the Good Samaritan, as allegories. 

  • Adolf Jülicher taught that parables tend to have one basic point of comparison, and the details are just there to make the story interesting. So you should try to understand what’s the main point of the parable. To begin with, seek to understand the parable as the first century audience would have. Consider what the Gospel writers were trying to teach. Ask how it applies to you in your current situation. 

  • In the parable of the hidden treasure and the parable of the pearl of great price, the message of the value of the kingdom of God is more important than the character of the man. In the parable of the ten virgins and the parable of the dishonest manager, it's important to focus on the main point of the parable and not to get distracted by the details. The parable of the lost sheep teaches us to pursue the lost. 

  • When interpreting the parable of the workers, determine the main characters, consider the rule of end stress and pay attention to what gets the most press. 

  • Some parables are best interpreted as an allegory. It's important to ask if Jesus with his audience would have attributed meaning to these details and if the audience of the Gospel writers would have understood the details as being allegorical. 

  • When you are determining how you should apply the parable of the final judgment in Matthew 25: 31-46, who Jesus is referring to when he says, "...just as you did it to one of the least of these, my brethren, you did it to me." In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, Jesus makes a point about what causes people to believe in him or to not believe in him. 

  • You read and interpret a passage that is historical narrative differently than a passage that is prophecy, poetry or a parable. Much of the historical information in the Bible is confirmed by archaeological discoveries including literature from other contemporary cultures. In the 1700's there was a group of scholars that began questioning whether the miraculous events in the Bible were supernatural. They tried to find meaning in the stories without saying that a miracle happened assumed that the real meaning is not the same as the author's literal intention. They did this by finding the meaning of the words, then conducting a historical assessment of what really happened. 

  • Supernaturalists believe that the miracles the Gospel writers recorded were supernatural events. The rationalists believe that either the Gospel writers knew that miracles did not take place, but they were accommodating their readers who did believe in miracles, or that they really believed them but they were just myths. This would require the Gospel writers to be liars or not very smart, neither of which seem consistent with the care and precision with which the Gospels were written. When you are preaching a narrative passage, it's important to include the whole context when you are interpreting the meaning of the events.

  • When interpreting the epistles, it's important to identify which words are used frequently, what the meaning of the words are and how the author uses them. It can be helpful to study the etymology of words and the meaning of words in their historical context. The process of moving from norms of language to norms of utterance is important. 

  • We can get information about the meaning of words from studying ancient Greek literature, the writings of early church fathers and the translators of the Hebrew Old Testament. We can also compare letters written by the same author, and also how the word is used within the same letter or passage. It can be helpful to look at the way different authors use the same word. 

  • Once you determine the meaning of the words, it's important to recognize how they are used in the sentence and how the clauses in the sentence are related. Understanding the different ways clauses can be used will help you determine the meaning of each sentence. The distinction between "means" and "cause" is significant. 

  • Romans 13:1-7 is a good example of the development of a logical argument. Most of the epistles follow the form of an ancient letter, which is greeting or salutation, thanksgiving or prayer, body of the letter and conclusion. 

  • Two types of covenants are the parity covenant and suzerain covenant. Covenant language is used in both the Old Testament and New Testament. The parts of a covenant, illustrated in the Mosaic covenant in Exodus 20, are the preamble, prologue, stipulations, provision for continual reading and witnesses.

  • God renews his covenant with Israel in Joshua 24. The three types of laws in the Old Testament are civil laws, cultic laws and moral laws. 

  • The book of Psalms is divided into five sections. The Psalms were written by different people at different times for different purposes. Some were for public worship and some were the result of personal reflection in times of joy, distress or repentance. 

  • In Jesus's day, the Scripture was the books of the Old Testament. Many of the books of the New Testament were written before 70 a.d. The Gospel writers produced a written record of the life of Jesus. Paul and other apostles wrote to churches to encourage and teach them. Eusebius, a church historian in 325a.d., recorded a list of the books that are currently in the New Testament.

  • Factors in recognizing the books that make up the New Testament were apostolic authorship, use in the church over time, unity and agreement and the superintendence of the Holy Spirit. The writing of the books of the Bible was inspired by God and it is inerrant. 

Dr. Robert Stein covers the history of the English Bible and then moves into the rules for interpreting the biblical text, including the role of the Holy Spirit in the hermeneutical process. He then spends considerable time moving through the different genres of literature (e.g., proverbs, poetry, parables, narrative). Dr. Stein did not provide us the notes he refers to in the class, but we did place links for the books he used as a basis for the class on the class page under the Recommended Reading heading.

Recommended Books

Biblical Hermeneutics - Student Guide

Biblical Hermeneutics - Student Guide

How do you even start to study your Bible? What are the guiding principles? Are the rules for interpreting narrative any different from parables and apocalyptic literature?...

Biblical Hermeneutics - Student Guide

Another parable I would like to share with you.  That is Matthew 25:31-46. The parable of the sheep and the goats.

31 "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with
him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations will
be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another
as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put
the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34 Then the king
will say to those at his right hand, 'Come, you that are blessed by my
Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of
the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and
you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed
me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took
care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.'

Probably this is synonymous parallelism. Same thought essentially being repeated in rhythm.  There are six lines here.

“37 Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when was it that we
saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something
to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you,
or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick
or in prison and visited you?' 40 And the king will answer them, 'Truly I tell
you, just as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.'
41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, 'You that are accursed,
depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels;
42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you
gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me,
naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did
not visit me.' 44 Then they also will answer, 'Lord, when was it that we
saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and
did not take care of you?' 45 Then he will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just
as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.'
46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into
eternal life."

Now note here the almost monotonous 4-fold repetition of doing acts of love. They can’t read this without saying, “It must be pretty important to give food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty. Welcome strangers. Give clothing to the naked. Visit the sick and take care of them. Visit those who are in prison. Repeated four times in this parable. Must be very very important. 

Most times that you hear this parable, it is a parable that is interpreted as something like “Food relief Sunday.”  You are to feed the hungry of the world and take care of them in their needs like, because we have an abundance and so forth. Now, I am not minimizing that. I think that, that is an important witness that we have to have. 

Several – no must be – no it might be several decades ago now – my wife and I determined that we were going to give every year to food relief. We picked out maybe the most famous food relief and then I found out that the overhead of that was almost 40%.  Which meant that sixty cents of a dollar went for food relief. And then I found another group, Food for the Hungry in which I found out that only 7 % is for overhead, so 93% went out.  Which meant that the same dollar made me give … I got 33% more for the buck so to speak.

Then, as I became a Southern Baptist, I realized that whatever you give for food relief in the Southern Baptist Convention, it all goes. No overhead. That is taken care of by the normal missionary responsibilities, so we give there. Very important. 

But is that what the meaning of this parable is?

Well.  The key question to answer what the meaning of the parable is this: Who are the brethren that are referred to in verse 40? Because everything depends on it.

'Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the
least of these, my brethren, you did it to me.'

So this then has to do with doing it to the least of these your brethren.  Now, alright, how do you go about trying to understand what Matthew means by the “least of these my brethren” in his Gospel?

Concordance and you look up the word “brethren”.

Do you have access to a Greek New Testament – adelphois. You look up adelphos in a Greek lexicon and see where all the references are found, in Matthew, where this is found.  Well. Lots of times, brothers refers to physical brothers. But the parable doesn’t mean that.  So you have to go where is the term brothers used in the Gospel of Matthew, metaphorically? And I just happened to know where they are. 

Brethren in Matthew in chapter 23, when it is not referred to particularly physical brothers and sisters.  23. Verse 8.  We have an example of that.  Verse 8. “But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers.” Alright, now this is addressed to primarily His disciples, because who else would ever thought of being called rabbi in the group.  So you have these are the disciples of Jesus.  28:10 - 10 Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid but go tell my brethren to go to Galilee; there you will see me."  And this is addressed to the disciples, because they go on and tell the disciples about this and they go to Galilee.

So you have in these two references, brethren, same term used in the passage and it is always used for the disciples. Now there is another passage which is very much like this but which … 12:46 – 50. Let us do that one before I go to the other passage.

46 While he was still speaking to the crowds, his mother and his
brothers were standing outside, wanting to speak to him. 47 Someone
said to him, "Look, your mother and your brothers – brethren in other words –
are standing outside, wanting to speak to you." 48 But to the one
who had told him this, Jesus replied, "Who is my mother, and who
are my brothers?" 49 And pointing to his disciples, he said, "Here are
my mother and my brothers! 50 For whoever does the will of my
Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother."

So you have here, brothers / brethren being used in the sense of a disciple. 

Now there is another parallel here which that term is not used but the correspondence will become pretty clear, when we look at it.  In 10:40, whoever welcomes you welcomes me. Alright see the parallel?

“I was hungry and you fed me.  I was naked and you gave me clothing. I was in prison and you visited me.”  Here you have,

“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, whoever welcomes me,
welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in
the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward. And whoever
welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will
receive the reward of the righteous.  Whoever gives even a cup of cold
water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple - truly I tell
you, none of these will lose their reward."

So you have this parallel “receives you, receives me” and in the … our parable that we looked at, you have this “receives who receives me” and you have a cup of cold being given and a cup of water being given in the parable as well.

So what we have here then from Matthew’s use of the analogy, if you do this to one, you do it to me, but what is that one person? It is a believer, a disciple. Then you do it to me.  Then you also have the parallel of brethren elsewhere in Matthew.  If it is not used for physical brothers, it is used metaphorically for a follower of Jesus, a disciple. 

So I think then, it is rather clear. What you have here is “for as much as you did this to one of the least of these who are my disciples, you do it to me.”  And in particular, I think this is probably best understood as to those who treat the disciples of Jesus in a way that shows respect and loving kindness.  Not just anyone, but particularly, the disciple, because it is much more focused.  The way you treat the messenger of Jesus is the way your treat Jesus.  That is not true of every human being.

Those who bear the name of Christ and go out in his name and proclaim the Gospel – if you treat them poorly, you are treating Jesus poorly.  If you treat them well, you are treating Jesus well, because they are part of His body, His church.  Let me stop here and see, if you followed me or if it all seemed wild.

“What? It is all right. Ok.” 

Now let me give a good example.  It is not from Matthew, but it is from the book of Acts. There is a rather interesting story in Acts, in which, Paul is treated very differently, before that person became a Christian and then after that person became a Christian.  

Can you think of which story that is? 

It is the story of the Philippian jailer.  In Acts 16:23,

“After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into
prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely.”

All right, so he is beaten up and thrown in jail.  That is the way he is treated by the jailer.  After he is converted we read: 

33 At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds;
then he and his entire family were baptized without delay. 34 He brought
them into his house and set food before them; and he and his
entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God.

The attitude of the Philippian jailer radically changes after he is a believer. So that the attitude that he has toward this disciple of Jesus Christ reveals his heart and where he stands.  And in the parable, the attitude that you have towards those who are followers of Jesus Christ, reveals where you stand with regard to the Christ they represent. Therefore, those who fed them, visited them, clothed them, clearly they are God’s people. 

That shows why they are part of the family of God.  They did it to Jesus and are well received.  But those who abused the followers of Jesus are clearly not His followers.  And that is why this can clearly be a heaven and hell issue so clearly.  Because when you do that to God’s messengers, that reveals where you stand.

So the “least of these my brethren” means, this is the way you treat God’s messengers.  Now I don’t want to have the press do a modern analogy, like we have say in America or something like that – where you preach Sunday and say “I want you to know ‘I am the least of these my brethren, so watch out, how you treat me brothers and sisters.’”

What you have in Jesus’ day are itinerant missionaries out there as they come to the village, the way you treat them reveals your attitude towards the faith.  You treat them well, it is because you love the Lord, they proclaim.  If you ignore them, it reveals the lack of love for the Lord they are proclaiming.  It becomes much more a tight single issue there with regards to their faith relationship.

Finally let me just go to one parable real quickly.  Luke 16:19-31, because sometimes people have a question about this.  Is this a parable or is it a story?

19 "There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and
who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate lay a poor man
named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who longed to satisfy his hunger
with what fell from the rich man's table; even the dogs would come
and lick his sores.

Don’t think of this as “Isn’t that nice to have these loving lassie’s and Rin Tin Tin coming and trying to help the man by licking his wounds. These are curs. These are street dogs. These are adding insult to injury to the man – not a help.

22 The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be
with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried.

Notice the difference between the poor man … he is not even buried – thrown out somewhere. He doesn’t even have the nice funeral that the rich man has. No funeral.

23 In Hades, where he - the richman - was being tormented, he looked up
and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24 He called out,
'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his
finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.'
25 But Abraham said, 'Child, remember that during your lifetime you
received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but
now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 26 Besides all this,
between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who
might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can
cross from there to us.' 27 He said, 'Then, father, I beg you to send him
to my father's house — 28 for I have five brothers — that he may warn
them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.' 29
Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the prophets; they should
listen to them.' 30 He said, 'No, father Abraham; but if someone goes
to them from the dead, they will repent.' 31 He said to him, 'If they do
not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced
even if someone rises from the dead.'"

Now. There are a number of people who have suggested various times that this is not a parable but a real story. And the reason for that is, do you know of any parable in which a man’s name is given?  There isn’t any.  In no parable is a man given a name and so here we have Lazarus, a name specifically given and some have argued, this therefore is not a parable.  This is a real story.

Well. For Luke it’s a parable and we know that because of the way Luke introduces parables. Turn with me to Luke 10:30. 

"A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho”

14:16 - "A certain man gave a great dinner and invited many…”

The other one should also have been “A certain man was going down…”

15:11 - "A certain man had two sons….”  The parable of the prodigal son.

16:1 - "There was a certain rich man who had a manager…” The unjust steward parable.

19:12 - “A certain nobleman went to a distant country to get royal power for himself and then return.”  And you have the parable of the Kingdom of God there.

Now in all of these they are introduced by the Greek word tis – a certain man, a certain poor man, a certain judge or something like that, but it is always tis.  There was a certain man who.  There was a certain judge man. There was a certain father who had two sons. There was a certain … and all of these introduce parables. 

Here you have also in our particular parable, the same kind of introduction.  There was a certain rich man who was dressed in purple.  That indicates that Luke wants Theophilus to know this is a parable.  So this is a parable, not a real story.  It is also a parable, because it takes liberties that you never could do with a real story. You can’t have for instance in a real story, people in Hell looking at Heaven and talking to Abraham in between.  You can do that in a parable, but you can’t do it in a real story. 

So this is a parable and it should be treated as a parable and not a real story.  Any questions or comments that you want to raise with regard to parable interpretation?  I assume you are all experts at it at this point.  We have almost spent a week and a half on it. Yeah?

Student:  [Hard to Hear]

Dr. Stein:  Don’t know for sure who it originated with, but it is fairly common since it the only parable in which a person is specifically named.  The question then came up - if it were a parable then you wouldn’t have that name and must be therefore a real person. But the way it is introduced, it is clearly intended by Luke to be understood as a parable.

Student: Some of the I guess details of the story [Hard to Hear]

Dr. Stein:  You have to see here a lot of symbolism.  The rich man goes to Hell and he sees to Hades, the place of the dead, and he looks up and he sees Lazarus and he talks to Abraham.  I mean that – that’s all story telling kind of things.  And the idea of … there is a lot of fascinating questions that arise on the parable, that people have speculated all sorts of things about. And the problem is that there is no answer to all of the speculations.  It is very interesting, but there is somebody who does die and come back.  Alright. The story of Lazarus in John.  He returns and they don’t listen to him.

In fact, in John 11, Lazarus rises from the dead and in John 12, they decide they better kill him again – put him into death. Kill him because people are believing in him. So you have some similarity here and some have said, “Well. The story of Lazarus in John 11 came out of this parable.”  And I would say, “No. The parable came out of the story and all this is speculation.” You have no way of knowing anything. It is fascinating.  But uh – it seems rather clear, that this is a parable story and not a real historical incident.

And you have them saying, “Well. You know if someone really rises from the dead then they will believe.  And the answer of course is even more important than Lazarus is when Jesus rises from the dead, it doesn’t force people to believe either.  So you have a clear indication of how the church would have understood – “Yeah. Jesus rose from the dead.  They didn’t believe Him either.” If they don’t believe Moses and the Prophets, then they won’t believe Jesus.  Or this instance, Lazarus rising from the dead.

And, I have always been interested in that… people who say for instance “If God would work a miracle that I could really see I would really believe.” The answer is “No. You wouldn’t.”

If you are willing to believe, you have the Old and New Testament and that will lead you to faith.  And if you won’t believe them, you wouldn’t believe even if someone … a miracle worked in your life.  Because after all you can always attribute a miracle to a demonic thing. 

If a person’s heart is right, there is enough evidence in the Scriptures to lead the faith, but if their heart is not right, they won’t listen to the Scriptures and they won’t be convinced if someone rises from the dead either in that respect.