Lecture 22: Hermeneutics for Parables (Part 2) | Free Online Biblical Library

Lecture 22: Hermeneutics for Parables (Part 2)

Course: Biblical Hermeneutics

Lecture: Hermeneutics for Parables (Part 2)


The new period comes in 1888, and a man by the name of Adolf Jülicher – cant even pronounce it hardly.  J-ü-l-i-c-h-e-r.  It is in the text.  There is an umlaut – two dots over the u – which makes it hard for anybody who is not Germanic to speak it.  Now he wrote a book in 1888 called Die Gleichnisreden Jesu – the Parable Talks of Jesus. 

And what he sought to do in the book, and I think he did very well was to point out that there is a difference between a parable and an allegory.  In an allegory, the author of the allegory gives meaning to details and wants you to find those details and the meaning in those details. In other words there is not simply one comparison being given but many of them.  Many.  Have you read John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress? How many of you have? That’s the most famous allegory in the English speaking world.  Maybe in the whole world for that matter.

And in it is the story of a young man named Christian, who is on his pilgrimage to the heavenly city.  And as he proceeds there, he gets lost and he gets help and so forth. And it is very important to pay attention to details.  He gets lost and the first man sitting on a fence is sitting there and Christian comes and says, “I am lost. Can you help me find the Heavenly city? Can you show me that narrow road that leads to that narrow gate that leads to that Heavenly city?” The man said, “We got better road than that. We got a nice broad road and its all downhill.” And it is a lot easier getting there that way, than the way you are suggesting.  Now there is a little detail that you better pay attention to.  His name is Mr. Worldly-wise. Now if you don’t pay attention to that detail, you are not able to understand the meaning that is attributed to what he is saying. Christian gets more and more lost and he finds another man and says, “You know I am trying to find a way that leads to that Heavenly city, and I was told about this broad way and…” He says, “You are not going to get that way. There is only one way to the Heavenly city and that’s through that narrow road through that narrow fence and gate.”

His name – Mr. Evangelist. And he meets other characters. One time he meets somebody and its faith that talks to him.  But another time it is somebody named despair. Another time somebody called hope. Now, John Bunyan expected his readers to interpret all these details allegorically. There is nothing wrong in interpreting an allegory, allegorically.  That’s the way it should be interpreted. There is a lot wrong with interpreting a non-allegory, allegorically.

Now, what Adolf Jülicher was saying was – parables are not allegories. They tend to have one basic point of comparison. One point 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.

So the first principle: Parables generally teach one main point. When investing it in the parables, be content with one main point. Don’t look for allegorical significance in the details unless you absolutely have to.  And even if you take this rule, in general, you will see more significance in the details than you ought to.

Parables teach a basic point. A parable is essentially a comparison. Something is likened to something else.  You have a picture that is being compared to some reality. The picture part, the story of the Good Samaritan to a reality.  The picture part, the story of the Prodigal Son to a reality. 

We need to know what is the point, this reality, that the parable is trying to teach.  Now any comparison ultimately breaks down.  Anyone.

If you say what is God like? And you say God is like a loving Father who cares for His children.  Now I think that is a perfectly good comparison – analogy.  But if you press that analogy, it completely falls apart. Well, God is like a loving Father. Well then, who is His wife? I am not … I am just giving you one comparison. Eventually all comparisons breakdown.  The only perfect comparison or metaphor is to say, “God is like God.”

Who is going to argue with that?  But if you change the last God to something else, sooner or later, the comparison breaks down.

Now is there anything wrong in saying God is like something ______ and put in a word other than God? No.

You just have to realize that you are trying to make one basic comparison.  Don’t press the details in this regard.  And so what Jülicher was saying was, don’t press the details.  There is specifically a basic point to be made and its not an allegory.

You say, “Wait a minute. Why then in the parable does it talk about a man going down from Jerusalem to Jericho?”  Well.  It is hard to go from Jerusalem to Jericho except downhill. Jerusalem is on a mountain.  Jericho is in a valley.  A difference of elevation, 3-4,000 feet. You are not going to go up from 3,000 feet to below sea level. You have to go down.

But think. Supposing the parable began this way.  A man was going up from Jericho to Jerusalem and he fell among thieves. Could it change anything? No.  You say “Yeah. But then what about the putting on the wine and water on the wounds?” Does there? Have meaning in that?  Well, how do you describe the love of the Samaritan, kindness to this man?”

The guy has been beaten up.  He is half dead. He is lying in the road. His wounds are covered with dirt. How do you treat a man like that?

Well. You wash the wounds.

Well. He had just run out of Listerine antiseptic in the previous inn that he was at. So the only thing that he has left is the wine, water beverage that he has with him and he cleans the wounds with it.

You say, “Well. What about the oil?”

Well. If he had Bacitracin, he would have used that. But he didn’t have Bacitracin. But he did have something that would make scrapes feel better.  I am showing my age… but I remember something when I was a kid and I had a scraped knee, my mother would say, “Put some butter on it.”  Hey – It felt a lot better after words, because it was an oil that covered the wounds so the air wouldn’t get at it.  Now if she had Bacitracin – but we didn’t have Bacitracin in those days. So first aid. Ok.

“Now, yeah but why does he mention two denarii?”

Well. If you had him give him three denarii, well then you would have asked, “Is this represent the Trinity?”

I mean that is part of the story. You don’t press the details. You just say, the man is talking care of him and he gives money to take care of him.

So many times you add details to a story because that’s the art of good story telling. You do it to make it exciting and interesting, but they have no meaning in it.  Parables are not allegories. They teach one basic truth. 

Now Adolf Jülicher was a German liberal of the 19th century and it is not surprising to note that the one main point he always found was a good German liberal truth.  Because Jesus was trained at a University of Berlin before He began His ministry, right?  So they read in there, their old liberal theology.  Always a danger, but he being a liberal, that was his tendency.

Now the second contribution to modern parable interpretation comes from a man named C.H. Dodd. He wrote a book on Parables of the Kingdom, 1935 he wrote it.  Now what he argued is this. This is so simple you’ll say why didn’t you emphasize this?

Sometime the most simple things we are blind to and we are not aware of. Here was his point. Jesus did not teach His parables to 20th century Christians, but to 1st century Jews. Therefore when you investigate the parables, you should try to understand the situation in life in which the parable was uttered.

Another way of wording that – you should seek to understand how a Jew in the 1st century would have understood the parable.  It makes sense, right? He was telling this to Abraham and Sarah on the mountainsides of Galilee. How would they have understood it? That might be a help for us. You say well, but that makes – that’s common sense.

What happened so often was that people who read the parable are so interested in applying it and seeing significance for themselves and the implications for themselves that they lose sight of the fact that first he must understand the point being made by the author, in this instance, Jesus.  In other words, what did Jesus intend to teach by this parable?

Alright?

Third Point: 1950s, when Redaction Criticism comes on the scene, people began to realize that the Gospel writers, the evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were not just writing down parables and stories of Jesus. 

Say “I don’t know what they mean. I am just writing it down. I get paid by the word.” Or something like that.  But they were interpreters and they wanted to put a point across. And they are inspired interpreters and therefore we want to know what are they trying to emphasize by the Parables? What are those that are led by the Spirit seeking to teach by this parable? And you have the third principle.

Second, if you want to abbreviate the second one, “What did Jesus mean by the parable?” What did the evangelists – principle three - mean by the parable?”

Student: If we as ministers of God are filled with the Holy Spirit of God, are we therefore allowed to interpret as they did?

Dr. Stein:  I think we are allowed to show the implications of what the biblical authors meant to a congregation.  And that is good preaching.  But I don’t think we have a right to give it a meaning in the sense that the Evangelist is.  We try to understand what the Evangelist is teaching.  And if we are filled by the Spirit, that same Spirit will not show us a meaning that’s contrary what the Evangelist, who is filled by the Spirit is trying to convey.

Finally, the application. How does this apply to us? What good is it, if we have all this academic stuff and don’t see what God is trying to teach us in the parable itself? So those are the four major rules for interpreting the Parables.

First is parables are not allegories. They teach one basic point. There are exceptions. We will talk about these in a little while.

Second principle – what did Jesus mean by the parable?  What was He teaching?

The third – what the Evangelist mean? What is he teaching?

Fourthly, the application – what does God want me to do in regard to this parable?

Pretty straight forward.  Ok. Now questions or comments, so far?

Dr. Stein:  Alright let us look at the parable now and apply these four principles.  Parables are not allegories. Now, somebody will say “Dr. Stein, why are you so upset with Origen’s interpretation or Augustine’s interpretation? Augustine said that ‘The Law and the Prophets can’t save.’ Are you saying they can?”

“No. They can’t save. Only Jesus can save.”

“Well. That is exactly what Origen said. Don’t you believe that Jesus rose from the dead? It is what Augustine said.”

“Yeah.  I believe that too.”

“And Origen said, ‘Jesus is coming again.’ That is what the return of the Good Samaritan means. Don’t you believe that?”

“Yeah. I believe that Jesus is coming again.”

“Then what is your problem with all of this?”

The problem is this.  It is not a question of whether the allegorical interpretation is true Christian theology. It is a question of whether the parable truly teaches that theology. Everybody get that?

It is not a question of whether an allegorical interpretation read into the parable is true Christian theology. It is a question of whether the parable truly teaches that theology.

Student: I was wondering what you thought of Craig Blomberg’s argument that  [Hard to hear]

Dr. Stein: There is a long history to Craig Blomberg’s book on parables.  When it was being reviewed, as to whether it should be published, I was one of the reviewers. And so I wrote a number of things he disagreed with him, but I said by all means publish it. It is an excellent book. And then he and I have interacted. And what he will do, will be to say – a parable has as many points as it has key characters.

So we will look later on at the Parable of the Good Samaritan.  There are three main characters, the Father and the two brothers. So there must be three separate points in the parable.  He criticizes me and he says, “Stein combines them all into a single point.” Yeah that’s the whole thing.

I don’t want to divide the main point of the parable into sub-parts.  So we are really not that far apart, except that whereas I would say, “The meaning is … such and such,” he would divide that up into sub-parts and say the parable teaches A, B and C.

When we look at that parable remind me again in case I don’t think of it. But I think after the parable we will have to ask, “Do you think Blomberg’s interpretation of the meaning is more like what Jesus has in mind?” or Stein’s one point, “Is that better?”

Remind me when we get to the Parable of the Prodigal Son to deal specifically with that.  Alright now, what is the main point of the parable?  Let me just tell you, the main point of the parable is not that Jesus is the Good Samaritan.  That is not the main point of the parable.  The main point of the parable is not that Jesus is the Saviour of the World – that He bore our sins on the Cross and is coming again, that the law and the Prophets cannot save us. That is not the main point of the parable.

And you say, “Well… Boy. You are dogmatic today.”  

Yeah. I am. I am. I admit that. 

Let me tell you that I cheated today, when I read the parable to you. Because when I read the parable to you, I didn’t read the verse that introduced it, and I didn’t read the verse that concluded it.  

Let me read for you, the verse that introduces it.

"But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, 'And who is my neighbour?'"

The verse that concludes it, Jesus says, "Which of these three do you think prove neighbor to the man who fell among robbers?"

Now let us look at Augustine here. Tell me where you find a neighbor in any of this? If Augustine is right, you have to envision this situation:

Jesus is talking to a lawyer and they are talking about, you shall love your neighbor as yourself, and Jesus says, “You are right. If you do this, you will live.” And the young man says, “Well. If that is true, who out there qualifies as a neighbor that I should love him?”

Alright? Who out there qualifies as a neighbor? Now that was a debate among the Jews. Generally one Jew would say, “All Jews are my neighbors, but not Gentiles.” But there were certain groups of Jews where it was much more limited than that, for instance, the Qumran community, the Dead Sea Scroll community, they called themselves, “the Sons of Light,” and you were to love your fellow Sons of Light.  But you were to hate the Sons of Darkness, which is the rest of the world, and Jews as well. 

So here you have this question about who is my neighbor and after Jesus finishes the parable, He says, who proved to be a neighbor?

So the question before the parable and after the parable deal with who is a neighbor. Is it brilliance on my part to think that somehow that what comes in between that must deal with who is a neighbor?

Yeah. If not you have to envision this – and who is my neighbor? And Jesus said, “I’m not going to tell you about who is a neighbor, I am going to tell you about what I am going to do about the sins of the world and how I am going to be the Savior of the world.” And when He tells all of this, He then concludes, “And by the way, who is a neighbor anyhow?”

Somehow it makes sense to say this has to be about a neighbor.  If there is anything to context – the verse before and the verse after say this is about a neighbor.  So the point of the parable involves what it means to be a neighbor.

And you say “Well you are saying Augustine is wrong.”

“Yeah, I am saying Augustine is wrong. Jesus is saying Augustine is wrong. And Luke is saying Augustine is wrong by the way they word the parable.”

Main point: Who is a neighbor?

Now what is the point in Jesus’ setting and it is at this level that the parables became very exciting for me. How would the audience of Jesus have understood the parable?  I did an experiment with my daughter who was about 11, 12 at the time.

And I said “Julie. You tell me whatever comes into your mind without thinking.” Word association. You can’t think. You just tell me what comes into your mind immediately when you hear these words. And you can do the same.

And she said “Alright, Dad.” And I said, “You ready Julie?” Ok.

“Samaritan.”

What came into her mind?

Student:  [Hard to hear]

Dr. Stein: Good.

Dr. Stein:  “Jesus.”

“Hospital.”   Lot of Good Samaritan hospitals.

Alright now, lets skip.

It is A.D. 29 and Sarah and Abraham – you tell me what comes into your mind when I say this word to you:

“Samaritan”

Good Samaritan is like talking about square circles.  There isn’t such a thing.  There is no such thing as Good Samaritan.  And what you have to realize is – whats going on in Israel today is built on maybe 70 years or so of animosity between Jews and Palestinian Arabs.

In Jesus’ day Samaritan and Jew hatred had gone on for a 1,000 years.  It went all the way back to the descendents of Solomon. Solomon died, his son Jeroboam – Reheboam – Reheboam was it? He was a jerk. 

{laughter}

Representatives of the tribes of the north came down to Reheboam and said, “Are you going to tax us like your father did? You know he worked us pretty hard and Jerusalem looked real great.” But you know we are working one month a year and not getting paid for it and our cities aren’t looking that great.  Are you going to continue that kind of heavy taxation program?

Reheboam went to his father’s older counselors and they said, “They are right. I think it is time to realize that we can’t do that anymore. We need to acquiesce and lower the burden.”

Then he went to some of his young friends and his younger friends said “You give these guys an inch right now and they are going to walk all over you. You will take a mile. You better show whose boss right away?”

So Reheboam said to Jereboam, the leader from the north, “My father chastised you with whips. I am going to do this with scorpions.”

To which Jereboam said, “Like _______blank_______ you will.”

{laughter}

And the 10 tribes to the north revolted and became an independent nation.  Now that nation became known sometimes as Ephraim, after the largest tribe or Israel or later it became known after its capital city, Samaria.

So the Samaritans were those who were the rebels that divided the glory of the nation - rebelled against God-anointed king and followed false kings. It keeps on going.

722 – Samaria falls.  And this northern kingdom is dispersed by the Assyrians. They practiced taking people that they had conquered and scattering them throughout the kingdom so that they couldn’t unite.  Met with other people whose language you didn’t know.  You wouldn’t be able to talk about revolt and so forth.

We talk about the 10 lost tribes of people of Israel as a result of that. Those Samaritans that remained began to intermarry with the Gentiles that came into the area. So that now they are not only rebels, they are half-breeds.  And it goes on and on and on.

In Jesus’ day when they wanted to insult them they said, are you not a Samaritan and have a demon in you? And it may not be the second parts that’s the most insulting. So in the midst of all of this, the Samaritan woman says to Jesus, what are you doing talking to me – I am a Samaritan, you are a Jew. Jews have no dealing with Samaritans.

Alright now, I said to my daughter, tell me what comes into your mind. Don’t think.

Dr. Stein: “Priest”

11 year old girl raised in a Baptist Sunday school.  And Baptist Sunday schools, priests don’t come out well.

“Negative.” 

“Negative. Alright.”

So how is she going to understand the parable in which for her the hero, the Samaritan, the good guy, does good things and the bad guy, the priest does bad things, when it is just the reverse. It is the hero who is the villain.

And it is the bad guy that’s the hero. Do you really think that when Jesus told this parable, the people who heard it said, “Oh. I just love Jesus’ parables. They warm the cockles of my heart. I just … I just really enjoy them.”

One commentator said, the parable is not a pleasant tale about a traveler who did a good deed, but it is a damning indictment of social, racial and religious superiority.  And it is not mentioned after this parable but after other parables like it. Religious leaders go out to plot to kill him.  Now it maybe that sometime when you are preaching, if your elders plot to kill you, you know you have struck home on something. Ok… Alright.

Here you have a complete reversal. This is not Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Hop Along Cassidy who is the hero.  It is Black Bart.  You see the other three, you know. White pad, white horse, clean shaven – guns just shining – goes to the bar and he says, “I will have milk.” And when he really feels like a little rebel, he says, “Make mine sarsaparilla.”  Black Bart, half drunk, unshaven, rusty gun, mistreated horse – he is the hero.  This – this is strange… strange.

So it is a very different parable. When you try to interpret the parables in the setting of Jesus, they will come alive and they will become very exciting, and you realize that one writer said that they were essentially for Jesus, weapons of war, in His debates

Alright now – Principle 3. 

If were trying to understand what Luke is trying to emphasize, we would note in the context of the Gospel and the book of Acts, that of all the evangelists, Luke is the one who is most concerned for the outcast, most concerned about women, most concerned about publicans and sinners. Most concerned about Samaritans. The only Gospel in which Jesus meets and performs a healing of a Samaritan, other than John. And later on in the book of Acts, it will tell about how the Gospel spread and comes to Samaria and the like. So we can see some of his interests here as well. 

Now if we then went alright “Let us see what is God trying to teach us through this parable.” Well, we would start looking at various things and note a number of things. By the way, before I do that though, who is the neighbor in the parable anyhow? Who is the neighbor? The Samaritan?  The beaten up guy? There is something you have to realize.  The question that precedes an answer that follows are two different questions. 

The question that the lawyer asks is “Who is the one who should be a recipient of my love?” Who is the neighbor – who is my neighbor?

Then you have the beat-up guy.  But Jesus ends with “Who proves to be a neighbor?” Now you have the Samaritan – there is a twist.  And if you get to some critical scholars, you say “And this shows that in the period where the passage, the story was being passed, and it got all fouled up and twisted around.”

I think if you realize that Jesus is a really good story teller. What he did was twist the parable around because the question that the lawyer asks is a legitimate one. When you are commanded to love your neighbor as yourself, you don’t say, “Alright who qualifies?” But you ask, “What does it mean to be a loving neighbor?”

And that is what Jesus does in that parable.   [Hard to hear] Let me read to you a – from The Cotton Patch Version of the New Testament written by Clarence Jordan.  It came out in the 1960s.  He was a leader in the civil rights movement in the South. He lived in Georgia. Here is how he translates in his The Cotton Patch Version of the New Testament, the parable.

“A man was going from Atlanta to Albany and some gangsters held him up. When they had robbed him of his wallet and brand-new suit, they beat him up and drove off in his car, leaving him unconscious on the shoulder of the highway.”

“Now it just so happened that a white preacher was going down that same highway.  When he saw the fellow, he stepped on the gas and went scooting by.”

“Shortly afterwards a white Gospel song leader came down the road, and when he saw what had happened, he too stepped on the gas.”

“Then a black man traveling that way came upon the fellow, and what he saw moved him to tears. He stopped and bound up his wounds as best he could, drew some water from his water-jug to wipe away the blood and then laid him on the back seat. He drove on into Albany and took him to the hospital and said to the nurse, ‘You all take good care of this white man I found on the highway.  Here’s the only two dollars I got, but you all keep account of what he owes and if he can’t pay it, I’ll settle up with you when I make a pay-day.’”

Now I would suggest that if you read the parable that way, a week after it had been a civil rights demonstration in your particular community and you are the pastor of the First Baptist Church there.  I hope the people at the door would say “Brother Bob, I loved your sermon. Makes me think.” But there might also be a meeting of the deacons and that’s your last Sunday of that church.  It is not just a bland sweet picture. It’s a powerful one. 

My mother and father immigrated from Germany in the 1920s.  I would have been too young at the time but I have often thought – when in Nazi Germany, the Nazis began to put pressure on the church and so forth. How would I have held up? What would I have done?  Would I have told the parable this way?

“A man was going from Berlin to Frankfurt to attend a political rally.  In Cologne, he was beaten up by some thieves and left dying in the street.  A member of the police saw him and as he passed by he thought “In our prisons, we know how to take care of people like this.” Later the pastor of a Lutheran church, nearby saw him. 

– It has to be Lutheran – It's Germany right?  If it was taking place in Texas, he would be Baptist or a cow or something. That’s all you have down there – Baptists and cows.

{laughter}

Later the Pastor of the Lutheran church nearby saw him and as he passed by he thought, “It never ceases to amaze me how depraved and fallen some men really are.”

But there also came by a Jew, and when he saw him had compassion and took him to his ghetto. There he told his friends, “I cannot stay here to care for this man, because my family has been sent to Auschwitz and I want to go and be with them.  Here is a100 marks. Take this money and care for them. If there is any additional expense, I promise that somehow I shall get it to you. ”

That may be the last sermon you will preach. So the parables of Jesus are powerful. And I trust you have a sense of that.