Lecture 16: Parables: Two Parts and Allegory
Course: New Testament Survey - Gospels
Lecture: Parables: Two Parts and Allegory
We’re talking about rules for interpreting the parables and we talked about the four main rules that parables are not allegories, they tend to have one point. One should not press the details unless absolutely necessary.
We’ll look at an example where it is necessary today, and we’ll talk about when we should look into parables for, maybe, significance in the details.
Then we should try to understand what Jesus was seeking to teach by the parable and the investigation of what is called the first Zitzen Laben, the first situation in life. Seek to understand what the evangelist is trying to do with the parable. Then seek to understand what God is teaching us, or, what the application of the parable, is to ourselves.
We looked at the parable of the workers in the vineyard, and I postulated four rules. Four, which are really sub-points of how to arrive at the main point. How do you arrive at the main point? Well, one thing is to take note of the two most important characters, and in that parable, we narrow down pretty easily, to three. The workers that were the first hour and the eleventh hour people, the third, six, ninth, to not read and referred to it in the end, when the payoff comes, so, they are have a minor role, and the owner.
But then as we seek to narrow down to the two most important, there are some other rules. What occurs at the end? Or, the rule of end stress. Usually when you tell a story, the important part comes at the end. If you know someone who cannot tell a joke, it is because they give the punch line away too soon. It’s supposed to build up to the end. They’ve blown that by giving it away too early.
The rule of end stress, and we noted that what comes at the end, is, the owner and the first hour workers were grumbling. What occurs in direct discourse also focuses our attention, at that point, as to what is being said. There’s no conversation between the owner and the eleventh hour workers.
There is an extensive conversation between the owner and the first hour workers. Then finally, who, what get the most press, usually, in telling a parable, you focus on what is most important at the end. You may use direct discourse, but certainly you emphasize it by spending a lot of time on that subject and that issue. So, these are basic rules for interpreting parables. I think you’ll find them helpful.
We then looked at this parable of the workers in the vineyard. We noted how it had been allegorically interpreted by origin in Irenaeus, and uh, pointed out that the fact that the third, sixth, and ninth hour workers, are not referred to at the end of the parable at the payoff time, indicates that they’re not important in the story. Here they are all of equal importance. That’s not the way Jesus told the story.
The parable can’t be interpreted therefore in that allegorical manner.
When we look at the various characters, we found that there were essentially seven of them. First, third, sixth, ninth, the steward, steward just there because that’s part of a culture. The steward’d be paying off the people and the house holder. To whom is the most space given? You look at the verses devoted to the eleventh hour worker; the end is just one, I think its verse 11. But all the other verses from then on, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, are devoted to the ninth, to the dab, ninth... terrible... first hour worker.
Uh, I’m having trouble with my computer; it just brings up wrong numbers wh, when you hit a key. I willed a one, it’s just that I hit the 9 apparently, and it didn’t come out.
Alright, in the rule of End Stress we looked at... Now, in this light, then the parable is not so much a parable who’s main emphasis is teach the doctrine of justification by faith. The main purpose of the parable is to deal with the issue of why certain people... In Jesus’ day, the Pharisees and the scribes were objecting to God’s grace [noises] and mercy, being shown to the outcasts. Why does he eat with publicans and sinners, comes up frequently in the ministry of Jesus.
Now, in maybe the most, if not most, the second most famous parable of all, we have the parable of the prodigal son, as it’s called. I’m going to read that to you, if you have bi uh, your synopsis turn to page 195, and let’s look at the parable. I haven’t put in a, put a name there because the very name you give it, indicates what you think is the most important point, and uh, what the uh, main teaching of the parable is. So I’ve left the Parable of Blank, in this regard.
And he said, bottom of 195, “there was a man who had two sons and the younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of property that falls to Me.” and he divided his living between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took his journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in loose living. And when he had spent everything, a great famine arose in that country and he began to be in want. So he went and joined himself to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would gladly, had fed on the pods that the swine ate. And no one gave him anything.
But when he came to himself he said, “How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, but I perish you with hunger.” I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I’ve sinned against heaven and before you, I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”
And he arose and came to his father. But while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him, and kissed him. And his son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”
But the father said, to his servants, “Bring quickly the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his hand and shoes on his feet, and bring the fatted calf, and kill it, and let us eat and make merry. For this, my son was dead, and is alive again! He was lost and is found!” And they began to make merry.
Now, his older son was in the field, and he came and drew near to the house, and he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what this meant. And he said to him, “Your brother is come and your father is killed the fatted calf, because he is received him safe and sound.”
But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, “Low these many years I’ve served you and I’ve never disobeyed your command. Yet you never gave me a kid lil goat that I might make merry with my friends, but when this son of yours came, who is devoured your living with harlots, you kill you for him the fatted calf?”
And he said to him, “Son, you are always with me and all that is mine is yours, it was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this your brother was dead and is alive. He was lost and is found.””
There have been attempts to say that this is really two separate parables that the first parable ends at verse 25. An, ya, call it [inaudible] older son, was the, excuse me, verse 24. For this my son was dead and is alive again, was lost and is found, and they began to make merry. And that 25, in following, is a separate parable that has been brought here by an evangelist or someone else, in the oral period.
Now there is a sense in which if you ended at verse 24, uh, most people wouldn’t think anything was missing. In fact there are an awful lot people who preach and read this parable and end at 24.
But the fact is 25 and thir, to 32; the second part builds on the first part. It can’t exist by its self. Might be that the first part could stand by its self, but the second part, you can’t talk about an older brother without somehow bring, “My, what about this younger brother? W...wh...why does he call him an older brother or something like that?” And uh, the whole conversation is about what is happened in the previous paragraph. So, it’s a single parable, perhaps in two parts, but it’s a single parable.
Now the allegorization of this goes back as you imagine to your early church, and going to Tertullian, Tertullian around 200.
The older son represents the Jew who is jealous of salvation being offered to the gentiles. The younger son is the, represents the Christian, the father represents God, the inheritance that he squandered, was his human ability to know God. The citizen to which he sold himself from the far country, is the Devil, the swine he is feeding are the demons. The robe that he is put, that he receives is the original righteousness that Adam lost through sin. The ring on his finger represents Christian Baptism, and the fatted calf represents the Lord, the uh, Lord Jesus at the Lord’s Supper.
Now the problem with any of this is, of course, would anybody who heard this parable being spoken by Jesus, have said, “Oh, the ring signifies Christian Baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Or, would he have said, “The fatted calf represents the Lord, and the Lord’s Supper, which he hasn’t taught yet, but someday he will.
What you have to say is, when Jesus told a parable, if he intended it to be understood... This kind of allegory, especially the last two just don’t fit. It, it’s, just not possible. And one of the rules for interpreting parables is, in regard to whether they are allegorical in any way is, would the audience of Jesus have understood it allegorically?
Now, I’ll give you a parable shortly in which they would have. This one they wouldn’t of. They would not have seen this representing Christian Baptism. Uh, the fatted calf, as the Lord oh, Savior at the Lord’s Supper. These other allegorical de it, d, details and so forth and so on. They would not have seen those in that respect. And that alone I think says it can’t be an allegory in that regard.
Eta Linnemann in her book on parables, which she has repudiated after she became a Christian had some good material in it, none the less, and in it she describes the two parts of a parable.
A parable has picture part, the description of the story and then it has the reality part, what it’s trying to teach. Now if we look at the picture part, we will notice that it is a, heh, but that Jesus is a remarkable story teller.
I mean uh, it it’s so poignant even though it’s set in a rural 2000 years ago. It still speaks today. Umm, how do you describe a young Jewish boy, young man I should say, on skid row... in a foreign country? He squandered all his money. He now has to sell himself into a kind of bondage, to a gentile. But that’s not the end to the story. The work he does is to feed, not sheep, camels, goats, but swine, the forbidden animal. And it goes worse than that. He’s so hungry he wants to sit down and eat with them, the swine that is. I mean that’s a very poignant picture Jesus draws of this young man.
Now, some other things to notice, when the young man comes to confess before his father, notice how he confesses. “Father, I have sinned against Heaven”... the stars, the planets? Come on we’re not mus, new age kind of world, but to sin against Heaven is to sin against he who lives in Heaven, God. It’s a way of avoiding Gods’ name. We’ll look at that in the next few days.
Kingdom of God, Kingdom of Heaven, synonyms, so he says, “I’ve sinned against Heaven, and against you.” When Jesus summarizes the commandments, he says, “You shall love the Lord, your God with all your hearts strength and your neighbor as yourself.” I’ve sinned against Heaven, God, and my father, my human father, my neighbor. This understanding of Jesus comes up in a parable, just naturally, just as the way he thinks.
There was a certain Judge, who feared neither God nor man. That’s Jesus, understands reality that way, and notice when he places first, in our present society, we’d say he sinned against his father and he also sinned against God. Sins against God first, he has a theological world view understanding.
Notice the reverence for the name of God; however, he avoids it by substituting the word Heaven for that. The father’s acceptance of the son, beautifully described. Father runs to him, sees him at a distance, runs to him.
Kenneth Bailey in his book ah, Poet on the, and the Peasant, writes about a story write about an ensign, he was a missionary in the Middle East. And what he did was he read parables, to the villages, the most primitive villages, because he thought their mindset, and the way they think, is more attuned to Jesus in his world, than we are. I’d like to see how they respond to parables like this.
And uh, he and the head of the mission society, sent a, a young man and his wife to a rural village [audience cough] as a pastor, he wanted a candidate to be pastor there, and uh to their surprise, the church turned the pastor and his wife down, and he couldn’t believe it.
So they went out and talk to the leaders and the elders of the church, and they said, “Now what, what happened here? I mean uh, didn’t you like the way he preached?” and he said, “oh, he’s a really, a very good preacher.” He said, “oh... well did he say something that was theologically wrong?” He says, “no, he, he’s very has good theology.” And he said, “Well, was he impolite at all?” “He’s ver, very respectful.” “And did you not like his wife?” “No, yeah, she looks like she’s a wonderful woman.” And finally, said, “Well, what in the world caused you to turn him down?” And they looked at him and he said, “Well, he walks too fast and in a culture to walk to fast is to not have dignity.”
Now, this father doesn’t walk fast to his son, he runs to him. The great love of the father casts aside all sorts of provincial kinds of behavior models. Just runs to his son and accepts him immediately. Puts a ring on his finger, it showed the, the crowd that this is my son. You, an you, when you treat him, you treat him like you treat me and so forth.
And then you have the attitude of the older brother, and if you look at verse 30, the older brother says, “When this son of yours came, who has devoured your living with harlots, you killed for him the fatted calf.” Now we’re not supposed to read into this something like, “Well, they were probably step-brothers.” Nah, he just doesn’t. “He says he’s your son, he’s not my brother, he’s your son, no, I don’t want anything to do with him.” So the picture is wonderfully described here. But, well, you might ask several questions here for instance. “Uh, how did the father, see him?” Well, yeah, commentary saying, “Well, every night he’d go out, and chose that he, he searched for his son’s coming home.”
“And, uh why was the older brother in the field?” Well he was in the field because he was a loyal son and he was taking care of the sheep, and so forth, and so on. There’s an easier answer than that. The father saw him from the distance and the brother’s out in the field, because Jesus wants them to see him from the distance and he wants the brother out in the field, and that’s his parable.
You can’t ask historical questions of fictional accounts. You ask historical questions of historical accounts. But this is a story, it’s fictional, it’s made up. And so, when you ask why he, is he out in the field, it’s because, Jesus in the story wanted him out in the field, it served his purpose, and why does the father see him from the distance, because Jesus wants it. Have him see him from a distance, it’s all.
No. I... if you said, “Now if you said why does Jesus want to have the father see him from the distance?” That’s probably to show that he didn’t, sees his son coming right away and he loves his son and he immediately goes out to meet him. But that’s the question, of asking Jesus in the story why he does something, it’s not asking historical question.
I wrote that by the way in my commentary on Luke and one of the reviewers said said some nice things about the commentary and he’s going, “One of the things about Stein is that he doesn’t take history seriously.” And he pointed out what he did with the parable, and he didn’t get it! Ya, eh, ya don’t take parables as history, you take history as history. This is a story. So that’s why they’re out there. There are about seven parables, all of which are introduced, there was a man who... There was a certain Judge who... and then you have a parable.
And all of them introduce parables. And the one parable, some people often argue might be historical, is the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. Because that’s an unusual parable in that it mentions a man’s name. No parable ever mentions another person’s name, but here you have Lazarus, this must be a real person.
However, for Luke it’s a parable, because he introduces it the same way. There was a rich man and so forth, so it’s a, it’s the way the genre is introduced by Luke. He understands this as a genre of a parable.
Now, the reality part, the two main characters, we looked at various ways of de, deciding that, in our previous parable. If you look at it, who are the main characters, well there’s a younger son, an older son, and a father. We’re down to three again. Now, of these then you have to start asking, “OK which of these is the most important?” Well the father is a central character, because he’s in both halves of the parable, you have to have him. Well now, does the emphasis fall on the younger so... prodigal son or the older brother, where does the emphasis lie? Now, if you apply our rules, ah, it’s not quite as neat as we had in the previous parable. Uh, we said for instance to whom is the most space devoted? Well actually the part that deals with the prodigal son is a little more descriptive. More space is devoted to that.
But when you get to the other two rules, what comes at the end? It’s the older brother, and what comes in direct discourse? Uh, well, ya, the son says something to the father, “I’ve sinned against Heaven and before you.” but the father never answers him. Tel, for, tells the servant, do this, do this, do this, but there is a conversation at the end between the older brother and the father, which focuses our attention.
So, I would suggest then that, that parable, has as its main characters the father and the older brother. And if that’s true, then we have to re-name it.
First of all, can’t be true, because the parable is known as the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Well, yeah, but that’s not a biblical designation, it’s the way people have designated it. If you wanted to emphasize the other point, you might say, “Well is the emphasis on the goodness of the father, the Parable of the gracious father? Or is it on the uh meanness and the unwillingness of the older brother to accept his brother?”
Or... you could say, the parable of the disobedient older brother or something like that, but the parable is addressed and here Luke provides us with the audience its-self.
If you turn to page 194, the opening verses that begin this chapter, in which we have a trilogy of parables... Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him and the Pharisees and the scribes murmured saying, “This man receives sinners and eat... So we told them, this parable.” Now the pronoun them, has as its antecedent, the people in verse 2, not the people in verse 1.
He told the parable to the Pharisees and scribes who were murmuring, saying this man receives sinners and eats with them. And so, the kind of person the parable is talking about are these older brother types, not the younger brother types. And the parable here, then it would be addressed like the parable in the previous account, to pu, not publics and sinners as much, but the Pharisees and scribes, and now he is defending his ministry to publicans and sinners.
I would suggest that this parable is, is at a stage in Jesus’ ministry where the Pharisees and the scribes are still being rude in a sense, where they’re still, he’s still trying to bring them into the kingdom because, it’s not a scribes and Pharisees at the end, but an open question wondering if they will respond accordingly.
And you’ll find commentators talk about what was the response of the older brother? How did he respond to this? Well the answer is, he dies at that point. The story ends and he doesn’t exist anymore. That’s it, its left open and you hope of course that maybe he would respond. But we do know that the Pharisees and scribes didn’t tend to respond positively, but they went out and plotted and sought his death.
Now if ya wanted to say, “What’s the meaning of this parable?” The parable eh, has this aspect to it. Why are you Pharisees not able to enter into the joy of sinners entering the kingdom of god? The kingdom of god is come, the lost are being found. How come you cannot enter into the joy of the occasion? That’s what I would, if I were ready to describe briefly, what the meaning of the parable is, that story I wouldn’t do it.
Now, when you preach the parable, what you have to do is to say, now what, what aspect of that parable is most important for my congregation to hear? And you might preach a different aspect of it to a different audience. For instance, if you were preaching this parable in a refugee camp in Thailand, where people have been there for decades, and now you have a second generation, and they can’t go anywhere. They can’t return back home where they’re not welcome and no one else in the world wants to have them, as far as their con... the world is concerned, they wish they would just disappear from the face of the earth.
Well I think I would preach Gods love for the outcast, that’s part of the parable isn’t it? It’s there, talk about god’s great love. He says, “There are people out there that may not like his older brother, might not care about you, but I want you to know that God loves you.”
But what happens if you’re pastor of the Jolly Happy Baptist Church, and you’re now having a, a, a major church meeting to discuss the issue of; who has the right to park in the front two rows of the church parking lot?
I mean, it’s one thing to have nice Mercedes, lots of new cars, bright and glistening, but we’re getting some people in our church that are uh, being converted and they’re driving rusty v, VW-Bugs and then we’re not talking about the new one’s either. These are the old ones, and they’re been using that parking space. That’s a, it’s disgrace to the church. Maybe we ought to discuss who can park there. Well if that’s the attitude that’s coming up in the church, then maybe you need to emphasize the parables last point.
About the older brother, “How come you people can’t rejoice in the fact that people who own rusting out Volkswagens, are being saved? They are entering the kingdom of god. It’s time to rejoice. How can you not rejoice with that?”
And it may be that sometimes in our churches they’re enough of these older brother types that we need to preach that, maybe more often than we think.
So you exegete your congregation, you say what, what’s the greatest need we have? And you emphasize that point in the parable. That aspect of it that’s most needed at, at that situation.
Now, I’d like to share with you, how to detect the presence of allegory. Not anything profound here, if your... –you know by now that you don’t come to class to get anything profound from me, you just hopefully [turns page] learn a few simple things, that will be helpful–
Question, would Jesus’ audience have attributed meaning to these details, would they have seen in them significance? And the second question, would the evangelist audience have attributed meaning to these details?
I think that’s very helpful, because I don’t think Jesus told parables as prophecies. I think it’s a different genre. Parables are not prophetic as such, they are descriptive, and so, the audience would have... that Jesus aimed at, would have all had all they needed to know to understand this. He didn’t say it, these parables, so them to say, “No, you won’t be able to understand that, but in 2000 they will.
No, it, it was effective right then and there for the audience. And so, if they would have seen the details as being significant, then that’s probably a suggestion that we should also look that way.
Now, in Mark chapter 12, in the Parable of the Evil Tenants, I would suggest that you have to interpret some of these details allegorically. I’m going to read for you a... turn with me, by the way, to page 242, where we have the parable, and I’m going to read to you a passage in the Old Testament. And Jesus audience, pretty much knew the Old Testament well, and there were certain books they really knew well; books of Genesis, Deuteronomy, the Psalms, and the Prophet Isaiah. Those are the most well known of the books, those uh, the books which come up most frequently at Comeron, for instance.
Though manuscripts we have of various books, these are the ones that occur uh, most often. And these are the ones most often quoted in the New Testament.
In Isaiah, chapter 5, we have the prophet saying this, “God is speaking, let me sing for my beloved, my love song concerning his vineyard. My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill; he dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines.
He built a watch tower in the midst of it, and hued out a wine bath in it. He expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes. And now inhabitants of Jerusalem and people of Judah judge between me and my vineyard. What more was there to do for my vineyard, what had, that I had not done in it? When I expected it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?
Now I will tell you what I will do with my vineyard, I will remove its hedge and it shall be devoured. I will break down its wall and it shall be trampled down. I will make it waste, and shall not be pruned or hoed and it shall be overgrown with briars and thorns. I will also command the clouds and they, that they rain no rain upon it.
For the vineyard of the lord of hosts is the house of Israel. And the people of Judah are his pleasant planting.” Now, in light of that would Jesus’ hearers, have seen anything in the details of this parable that they would have understood allegorically? So, it’s not just a main point, but the detail is important.
He began to speak to them in parables; a man planted a vineyard, and set a hedge around it, and dug a pit for the wine press, and built a tower. My goodness... all of those, a part of that?
Passage in Isaiah, which talks about Israel being like a vineyard. You have mentioned the vineyard, the hedge, the wine press, the tower. You led out the tenants and went into another country, when time came, he sent a servant to the tenants, to get from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. And they took him and beat him and sent him, and away empty handed. Again he sent to them another servant, and they wounded him in the head, and treated him shamefully. And he sent another, and them they killed, an, they, him they killed. And so with many of us, some they beat and some they killed. Now, the hearers understand that this is an allegory of the wine press, which is Israel, dug, set by the God of Israel.
Now let’s go further. This owner sends his servants, and they mistreat the servants. They beat some, they kill some. Now who would that refer to?
Audience Member: The prophets.
The prophets, right uh, I mean that’s not a big jump, they, they know this is true in the prophetic books. Then he goes on, “He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them saying, “They will respect my son.” But those tenants said to one another, “This is the heir, come, let us kill him and then the inheritance will be ours.” And they took him and killed him and cast him out of the vineyard.” What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others.
Have you not read the scripture, “The very stone that the builder’s rejected has become the head of the corner. This was the lords doing and it is marvelous in our eyes.” Then we read in verse 12, “And they tried to arrest him or seize him, but feared the multitude, for they perceived that he had told the parable against them, so they left him and went away.”
Now, I think the parable is an allegory, the details of the vineyard refers to Israel, the owner is, is God, the, the prophets are referred to as the sons. The other nation that is going to be given it, will be the gentile world, and the only son, certainly no problem with Mark’s readers understanding who that is, Jesus himself.
So, now, please note, the parable is very pregnant with meanings of strong Christology. We’ll refer to that later on when we talk it, the Christology of Jesus. There are prophets who at, some they kill, some they beat, but he has an only son.
Now I’ll admit, if you referred to me as, a as another servant like the Isaiah’s and the Jeremiah’s and the Ezekiel of the Old Testament. I would not think that’s too insulting. But Jesus places him as a son. Different, so, you have this Christological understanding there. The replacement of guests, well I think you’d have to see here the gentiles and if we had time, which we don’t, we’d look at the parable in Luke 14, 15, 25, 24, too. Of the great banquet where a great banquet is there, people are invited to it, those you expected who would come, don’t come, and the outcasts of the village and the immediate area are brought in, and still there is room.
So, Luke says, “He sent them out even [noises] further, away from the village, to bring people in.” Well I think Luke’s readers would understand that the outcasts of Israel are the first group brought in in the immediate area. And those further out, like outcasts, come in, and those as the gentiles as well. So you have, I think, a very strong allegorical dimension here. If you look at the way Mathew and Luke deal with the parable, is a detail here that makes it even more allegorical.
Uh, turn with me to line 28 and 29. In 28, Mathew to, Mark, ha has, “And they took him and killed him and cast him out of the vineyard. What would the owner of the vineyard do?”
Mathew has, “And they took him and cast him out of the vineyard and killed him.”
And Luke has, “And they cast him out of the vineyard and killed him.”
Now, do you understand what Luke’s doing here? Shows that he understands this allegorically. What’s the difference, what do Mathew and Luke do that changes Mark?
Yeah, and Mathew, Luke have him, have him cast out first and then killed. Why? Do you know why Mathew and Luke do that? Yeah, Jesus is killed outside the city of Jerusalem, and I think they’re seeing this and trying to make it even more precise. And, and the understanding of the parable that, in that regard, and then you add it to the leaders that we talked about already.
OK, so hear... This parable, I think is one in which we have to acknowledge. There’s something in this parable, which reveals that it is an allegory. His audience would have understood it this way, because it follows too closely.
Isaiah 5, you have four or five details that pick-up on Isaiah, which immediately tells his readers that this is an allegory. And then you have servants, of the, of the owner of the vineyard coming, who are being mistreated. Everybody knows that’s true of the prophets, and then you have the only son, which indicates his uniqueness. Probably much clearer for Mark’s audience, than Jesus’ audience at that time, and then the, the fact that this is going to be giving over to another nation, another people given over to others that becomes clear as well.