Lecture 23: Hermeneutics for Parables (Part 3) | Free Online Biblical Library

Lecture 23: Hermeneutics for Parables (Part 3)

Course: Biblical Hermeneutics

Lecture: Hermeneutics for Parables (Part 3)

Talk about the 4 main rules for interpreting the parables. 

1. Parables are not allegories; they teach one main point.  Don’t press details on them unless absolutely necessary.

2. Try to understand what Jesus meant by the parable.

3. Try to understand what the Evangelist meant by the parable. 

4. Try to see the implications for yourself; what God is teaching you with respect to that.  In other words implications and significance for point 4.

I tried to explain the parable and the setting and … pointing out that really if you understand the parable from the setting of Jesus, it is a very disturbing parable for His audience, because it changes things around rather drastically.

Alright. Are there any comments, questions on that parable and the rules we have talked about? Otherwise we are going to look at some other parables and apply these rules. 

Alright well let us look at some other parables. Turn with me to Matthew 13, verse 44.

Student: Dr. Stein, could you give us a definition of parable? [hard to hear]

Dr. Stein: No. I didn’t give a definition of a parable. A parable is basically a brief or extended comparison.  Leave it at that. If you want to look at something more ideal with that at great length … I did an article for a symposium on the parables, which deals with the defining of what a parable is and I can get that information to you if you want … where to find it.

Alright in this verse we have a comparison, which is a parable.

"The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which
someone found and covered up; then in his joy he goes and sells
all that he has and buys that field."

That is the parable.  Very brief.  Not an earthly story with a heavenly meaning or anything extended like.  But it is a brief, what we would call a similitude.  Not worried about those kinds of subdivisions.

Now in this similitude, the first thing I want to call your attention is, the character of a man. In context, something like this frequently might happen.  You have a man and his wife and they have some precious coins.  Maybe some jewelry.  There is a war on and the Babylonians are coming down to Judea. Well. What are you going to do? Well you hide them. And how do you hide them? Well, you wrap them up in something and you go to a place outside the house far enough away and there is that big oak tree there and you say, “Lets walk off 10 paces to the north.”  You can always find the north.  You just look at the North Star. Walk 10 paces from that tree in that direction.  And there it is, five feet down. Well. Mom and Dad are brought into exile in Babylon and they die in exile and they pass this information on to their children who are getting old and they can’t return from Babylon so they pass it on to the grandchildren and they come and they go to where Grandma and Grandpa used to live. They look for that big Oak tree.

There aint been an Oak tree in that property for 4 years. They cut them all down.  What do you do? You might try digging around a little bit.  Israel is not that big but it is too big for one person to dig it all up.  So it is lost. Man comes and he discovers it – quite by accident – how? It doesn’t  matter. And he covers it up and he wants to buy the land from the owner, and the owner says, “I don’t want to sell it.” And he says, “Well. I will give you a good price for it,” and the man says, “I still don’t want to sell it.” Finally he offers him a price that has to accept, buys the field and then when the field is his, he digs up the treasure and is a rich man.

Sometimes a story like this: a woman who loses a coin, 10 coins and looks for it, till she sweeps the floor until she finds them. Some have suggested - maybe that was his own mother once, who lost the coin.  We don’t know where they came from, but these are down to earth stories that happen in real life.

Now the question that I have is: What do you think of the man?

Are you going to buy a used car from him? No. No.

Is this your example of the Golden Rule?

I want to show you an example of the Golden Rule:  “Do unto others before they can do it unto you.” No. I mean…I

Now, some people are really disturbed by this, but don’t press the details.  What is the point? What is the point of the parable? And the point of this parable is the same as the next parable and then the next parable you don’t really condemn the man for anything.  This man who was a merchant in search of fine pearls, he found the pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.

Both parables are placed next to each other because they are … they have the same point.  The Kingdom of God is the greatest treasure you can have.  Make sure you have it whatever the cost. Whatever it involves make sure above all that you have the pearl of great price, that you have the great treasure.  That is the only that really counts in real life.

If you are willing to settle for that, you don’t really worry about the person’s character.  The point is made. The Kingdom of God is the greatest treasure in the world – make sure you have it.  That is all.  If you are willing to be content with that, the man’s character is quite irrelevant. 

You go to another one that has a problem that way. Matthew 25. And there you have the parable of the 10 maidens, the 10 virgins.  Matthew 25:1,

"Then the kingdom of heaven shall be compared to ten maidens who took
their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were
foolish, and five were wise. 3 But when the foolish took their lamps, they
took no oil with them; 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their
lamps. 5 As the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept.
6 But at midnight there was a cry, 'Behold the bridegroom! Come out to
meet him.' 7 Then all those bridesmaids arose and trimmed their lamps.
8 The foolish said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil, for our lamps
are going out.' 9 But the wise replied, 'Perhaps there will not be enough
for. Go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.' 10 And while
they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went
in with him into the marriage feast and the door was shut. 11 After words
the other maidens came also, saying, 'Lord, lord, open to us.' 12 But he
replied, 'Truly I say to you, I do not know you.' 13 Watch therefore, for
you know neither the day nor the hour.

What is interesting about the parable is that you have 5 maidens with enough oil and they share the feast, but they don’t share the oil with anybody.  The point of the parable is simple: Christians, don’t share God’s blessings with others. There may not be enough to go around.  Hold on to them. {laughter}

I heard this parable preached when I was just married for a short time with my wife and …that is a good person to be married with – your wife {laughter}… but anyhow, we went to her church and the executive secretary of the 4 state area was preaching that Sunday – so big crowd – and wouldn’t you know it, we came a little late and the only rows open were the 2nd row and the 1st row, so we went to the 2nd row and sat down and he preached his sermon.  And his conclusion was: Christians – don’t be like those maidens who had all this oil and would not share it -share the blessings that God has given to you with others.

And my wife saw me getting agitated.  I wanted to jump up on the pew and say “That is crazy. Those were the wise ones. Those were the ones that are wise in the parable.” And my wife saw my state of agitation and she put her hand on mine and said, “Bob. This is my home church.” {laughter} “Don’t embarrass me.” I didn’t do anything.  I just ground some molars in the back of my mouth to a powder and did nothing.

What was the problem? The problem is simple.  He was so concentrating on the details, he missed the point of the whole parable.  The point of the parable is to be ready. You don’t know the day or the hour. Five of them were ready.  Five were not. That is all you are supposed to get out of the parable.  How are they ready? It is not by hoarding their oil.  Somehow, [hard to hear] the man, he had this funny funny idea that no one would read chapter 21, before they would read chapters 1 through 19.  And if you want to know what it is to be ready to meet the Lord, after the 19th chapter he is pretty confident that you know and that is what you apply to the parable.

So we don’t just read it in isolation.  We know what happened in the first chapter. The first 24 chapters I should say.  And you are well prepared to know what it means to be prepared for the Lord’s return.  Now – here is an example – a man that was so concerned about the meaning of the details, he lost sight of what is the main point.  The main point is to be ready.  Five were wise. Five were not.  And five were ready as a result and five were not.  Now it may well be that there is some allegory here that we should press and that is that, when the Lord returns, 50% of the world will be ready.  5 out of 10 and 50% will not be ready.  Or if you really want to be more biblical, you could say 50% of the virgins are ready and 50% of the virgins are not ready, right?

What is the main point of the parable? If you are willing to settle on the main point of this parable, the character of the wise is not an issue. That is part of the story. That is all you do. Don’t press the details.  Let the parable stand as it is.  Now if you go to Luke 16, you have another parable that is even more difficult if you begin to press the details.

Luke 16:1,

1 He also said to the disciples, "There was a rich man who had a steward, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his goods. 2 And he called him and said to him, `What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your stewardship, for you no longer can be steward.' 3 And the steward said to himself, `What shall I do, since my master is taking the stewardship away from me? I am not strong enough to dig,

… he can’t do manual labor …

and I am ashamed to beg. 4 I have decided what to do, so that people will receive me into their houses when I am put out of the stewardship.' 5 So, summoning his master's debtors one by one, he said to the first, `How much do you owe my master?' 6 He said, `A hundred measures of oil.' And he said to him, `Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.' 7 Then he said to another, `And how much do you owe?' He said, `A hundred measures of wheat.' He said to him, `Take your bill, and write eighty.' 8 The master commended the dishonest steward for his shrewdness; for the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.

Quite a turn … which is the art – Jesus was a good story teller. Now if you read any commentaries on Luke – any books on parables, when you come to this parable – I’ll tell you, there are all sorts of strange, interesting, ridiculous kinds of interpretations to try to make sense out of it.  And the problem is really clear.  How can you commend a guy for being a cheat?

So somehow, you have to have… well, maybe he wasn’t cheating. Maybe he was doing something.  And you find the commentators saying things like this,

“The steward recognized that his master had charged an illegal amount of interest to these people and therefore he could get in serious trouble, so he did one last kind gesture to him and that was that he lowered the bill so that his master would not get into trouble with the law and also he would become more popular in the eyes of his debtors and therefore the master thanked him for that – commended him.

How would Theophilus know that kind of an interpretation? Luke somehow thinks that Theophilus is going to be able to hear this … read this parable – have it read to him and it will make sense to him.  Everything that you need to know is there. And if you are willing to say “What is the main point of the parable?” Not press details. The main point is clear.  Here is a man facing judgment. He is going to be fired. He is going to be out of work.  He is in a desperate state. What does he do? He prepares Himself for it.  And the master commends him, not for his integrity, but for his shrewdness in preparing himself for the judgment that comes.  That is all that he is [hard to hear]. He is not being commended for anything Christian, but just for being shrewd. “You scoundrel. You knew how to take care of yourself. Made sure that you would come out alright in this after all didn’t you? Now get out of here.”  Something of that nature is to be understood. 

The point of the parable is “Are you,” Jesus is telling His audience, “who have heard me announce that the Kingdom of God is at hand – that already the axe – as John said, is laid to the root – that judgment is imminent.  Are you wise enough to take the advice of this scoundrel? Who prepared himself accordingly.”

He is not saying, “If you are going to be a thief, be a good one for Jesus’ sake. This guy prepared himself.  Make sure you are ready for that as well.” If I were preaching the parable, I would say, look, “How many of you in this congregation know the verse, ‘It is called upon us, once to die, and then thereafter the judgment.’?  Everybody right?  How many of you are really getting ready for it?  Let me tell you a story about a thief, who is smart enough to get ready for his judgment.” You tell a parable.  You learned a lesson from this thief, brothers and sisters in the Lord.

Don’t press the details.  Parable has a good point.  Be ready.  Make sure you are ready for that day and get prepared accordingly.  All right. Let me stop there.

Student: [hard to hear] I am just wondering how Jesus’ statement there right after [hard to hear] use worldly wealth[hard to hear] How that ties in?

Dr. Stein: Yeah. Luke is very strong in his understanding of stewardship and what he is saying is “the way you Theophilus need to get ready for your encounter with the Lord is by being good stewards, because one day all of this stuff is going to be gone.” When this filthy lucre that we earn and have saved up, all dissipates, will they receive you into the eternal habitations? If you are a good steward, and you followed Christ and lived the life you wanted to, yes they will. If not, it is too late. 

The classic story about John D. Rockefeller, who in the last half of the last, of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, is probably the richest man in the world.  He gave away a lot of his money into charities, so when he died on his own, he was worth about a half a billion at the time.  So his lawyer who was handling the estate was asked by a reporter, he said, “How much did he leave?”

The lawyer looked at him and he said, “Everything.”

So when all of this falls away, will they receive you into the eternal habitations because you have been a follower of Jesus or a good steward on his behalf? So something like that.

Dr. Stein: Yeah.

Student: Do we kind of look at and say [hard to hear] ethics or whatever – would they say the same thing about it?

Dr. Stein: I think they were much more able to not get distracted by details than the scientific generation like we are. I think they were familiar with storytelling and they knew it and “storyteller – what’s the main point of the parable?” Don’t let the details detract you from it. Yeah. I think so.

If you get a poll, they would all say Stein is right on that.  Let us look at another parable which is an example of a parable that the evangelist, Matthew interprets somewhat differently. Turn to Luke 15, verses 3-7 and you are going to have to keep your Bible open at this point, at least a finger there.  Here you have – verse 3 – so He Jesus told them this parable,

So He - Jesus - told them this parable: "Which man of you, having a hundred sheep and if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? 5 When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost.' 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

Now turn with me – keep your finger there – to Matthew, chapter 18, verses 12 through 14. Here is the same parable, but Matthew has interpreted it in a way, which shows his particular interest and emphasis. Matthew 18:12,

12 What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? 13 And if he finds it, truly I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. 14 So it is not the will of my Father who in heaven that one of these little ones should be perish.

Now, notice some of the differences.  Almost certainly the parable in Luke is more like what Jesus said in His setting.  How are the sheep described in Luke 15?

Student: [hard to hear] lost

Dr. Stein: He is lost. How are the sheep described in Matthew 18?

Student: [hard to hear]

Dr. Stein: Astray. Actually the Greek word, planeo from which we get the word planet – a straying star – is the verb here. He is straying away. The implication here is  …

Dr. Stein: What is the difference between lost and straying?

Student: [hard to hear] stray is … of your own choosing.

Dr. Stein: Faith-wise. The one that is lost is what, a non-Christian and this one is a straying Christian. Notice the rejoicing in Luke is over one sinner who repents.  In Matthew it is – he rejoices over more than the ninety-nine who never went astray, so it is not the will of my Father who is in Heaven, that one of these little ones should perish.  The little ones or if you look at the earlier part of the chapter – he talks about the little children – if you don’t become like little ones, like little children, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven, verse 3. Verse 6, whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin. Verse 10, see that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I tell you in Heaven there are angels always … little ones in the early part of the chapter refers to Christians.

So my understanding of this would be as follows: that Matthew has taken the parable of Jesus, which in the first setting in life, when Jesus uttered, point 2, what did Jesus mean, defends why He is eating with publicans and sinners. He is looking for the lost sheep to bring them salvation and Matthew is writing to the church and saying, “I want to tell you an implication of what Jesus said in this parable…There are people in our church that are, they used to be very active, the Smiths and the Browns – they used to be in all the meetings, where are they? They are no longer attending. Don’t despise them. Go out and help them.”

He taught about the restoration of believers who are beginning to drift off and that seems to be His implication of a parable that is especially relevant for the situation that He is writing to. 

Student: So Christ only spoke that parable one time.

Dr. Stein: That is my assumption – yeah.

Student: [hard to hear] On the literal understanding of it

Dr. Stein: One is an interpretation or … I would say one is showing the implication of the parable, Jesus uttered.  Now, I furthermore believe that He is inspired in doing so. So we have authentic word of God and the interpretation that Matthew gives from a parable of Jesus.  Furthermore I would say, that they are not contradictory at all, nor are they even separate. They flow from the same pattern of [hard to hear] Just as God is not willing that one sinner should perish, how much more is He not willing that one of the little ones who had believed in Him should be perishing.

Student: I understand  that. I guess I am just thinking of it in terms of – If President Bush gave a speech. The speech …[hard to hear]

Dr. Stein:  Alright we will do it a different way. Let say you are President Bush’s ambassador. And you are working out a treaty. And he told you, A, B, C, D, E, F, G. Now, in your working out this treaty, you would be saying, the President says the following. Would you be free as his representative to give the intent and be able to word it the way you want? And even deal with issues that he himself had not even told you about.  But you know that is part of the general pattern that he deals with. Are you his ambassador in that sense? That is the way I … in Matthew, he is the ambassador of Jesus in that regard.

Student: Why should we …[hard to hear]

Dr. Stein: Sure. One of the common ways of dealing with little differences like this is – Couldn’t Jesus have said it twice with a variation? Couldn’t Jesus have performed a similar miracle that is almost like this and following?

It was very popular once to – what we call - harmonize the accounts by explaining them with variations of the same saying Jesus gave.  What you have to start saying is, in Jesus’ setting, were there the kind of problem where followers were beginning to wander off from Jesus’ group or does that look more like a church situation after the church is established?

If you look at chapter 18 in Matthew, all the sayings here have to do with church relationships.  I don’t know if Jesus said them all in that particular way.  [hard to hear] But you have to be careful because I think I shared with you … maybe I haven’t … maybe [hard to hear] my other class.  Did I share with you the harmonization of a man by the name of Osiander in the 1500s? The Lutheran. It had to do with the resurrection of Jairus’ daughter from the dead.  Osiander noticed that in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus crossed the Sea of Galilee from the east to the west, came to Capernaum on the way immediately to Jairus’ home, He met this woman – healed her, and then He raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead.  In Matthew, Jesus crosses from the other side of the Sea of Galilee. He then does a number of healing miracles and then raises Jairus’ daughter from the dead.

It is different.  And the way he solved that was – he said, “Well. Mark is right.” Jesus crossed the Sea of Galilee, came immediately to Jairus’ home, raised his daughter from the dead, but Matthew is also right because, after He had done that, He then some others, and He had to go back a second time to raise her from the dead.  That is the one Matthew is talking about.

Well. That kind of harmonizing is not very convincing.  And that’s why sometimes you talk about, Peter denied the Lord, six times, or nine times, because it is not in the same order.  But the Gospels are not really that concerned about the order. Mark has Peter following Jesus’ after He is arrested and then he switches the scene to what is going on inside and then he switches back to Peter and Peter denies the Lord.

Luke says, “That’s not the way that I am going to tell the story. It would be too confusing.” So he has Peter following the Lord and as Jesus goes inside, Peter then denies the Lord, three times. And then he tells the rest of the story about what happened inside.  Now, you have different ways of telling the story. One is to switch back and forth, like Mark does and one is to say, “Well. Let us talk about what happened that night with Peter and then we will talk about what happened inside.” Which is right?  

They are both right. Just two different ways of telling the story. Now, I think in this regard probable that Jesus used two versions of the parable and that Matthew for some reason chose the one over the other.  Or is it, like I suggested. You have to wrestle with that and come to your own conclusions.

Student: Would the readers of Matthew have known that?

Dr. Stein: No.

Student: They would have read this parable and just thought, that’s the way …

Dr. Stein: Sure. Yeah. That’s what Christ means for you.

Student: That same person picks up Luke, how would they know was actually … [hard to hear]

Dr. Stein:  Uh. If they still had Matthew around, they would say, Matthew … yeah… really – that’s the only way, that you could handle it. Or if Luke is around.  And we don’t either … have access to either of those two.

Student:  That is very problematic though for us in a day where inerrancy takes on so much …[hard to hear]

Dr. Stein:  Yeah. Well. Inerrancy is not self-explanatory. When you say Scriptures are inerrant, what do you mean by that? Well. I think I have it that what the Biblical writers intend to say by these words. What they mean is without error.  Inerrancy is what the Biblical writers, led by the Spirit are trying to convey by this – that’s without error.

Student: You said of the words of Christ [hard to hear] there is a difference between those two

Dr. Stein: We don’t have the words of Christ. We have Luke’s interpretation of it and Matthew’s.

Student: But we presented it to [hard to hear]

Dr. Stein:  Well, because they come to us through divinely inspired interpreters who have the mind of Christ. 

Student: I guess what I am saying is, when a minister gets in a pulpit, he said, this is what Jesus said.  He doesn’t.[hard to hear]

Dr. Stein: No. No – you don’t say that. But everybody in the congregation knows that Jesus didn’t speak English {laughter}.  And so they…

Student: Most people think Jesus said, “thou.”

Dr. Stein:  You better stay with the King James then in your church. … So they are interpreting. But you have to realize that what is true and without error? Is it the text – what the authors mean by the text – is what the readers mean by the text? You have to have some sort of a hermeneutic to go with that. 

Dr. Stein: Alright – yes?

Student:  To me personally, since all the things recorded here after a period of three years...

Dr. Stein: What I am showing you today is not, what I would show my congregation on Sunday morning.  I am trying … have you wrestled with issues that is way above them and you don’t have to share your great wisdom all the time with them.  And last of all, you need to share the personal problems you have with the Biblical text.  If I were preaching this, I would preach what Matthew is telling us through the parable. In this parable of our Lord, Matthew is telling us, we need to be worried as a church about, the Smiths and the Browns that are no longer coming to church that are having struggles out there. And what are we going to do about it? Are we going to visit them?  Are we going to try to befriend them? Are we going to win them back or not?  Jesus is not willing that any of His little ones should go astray. 

That is what I would preach.  I would not say “By the way, Luke has a different wording.  I haven’t slept nights over this, so I don’t want you to sleep nights over this.”

Student: Dr. Stein. Are you saying that we don’t have the very words of Christ [hard to hear] I am confused.

Dr. Stein: Alright. In your Gospels, New Testament Introduction 1 – This is the kind of material that is discussed there. It is not discussed in Hermeneutics, but we will jump there. What language did Jesus speak?

Students: Aramaic.

Dr. Stein: The New Testament is written in?

Students: Greek.

Dr. Stein: Jesus didn’t speak these words. They are translations of His words.  Furthermore, we have a translation of a translation.  That doesn’t mean that I have to share that and say that “That means we really know what Jesus says.” No.  I preach this is what Jesus said and meant, but if somebody says to me right away, “Well. What did Jesus actually say?” I would say “Well. Look. You raised the question, you have to wrestle with that and do we have a word for word or a thought for thought translation? We explain sometime differences that way. When Matthew says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” and Luke says “Blessed are you poor,” I assume it is the same Beatitude, just translated differently.  And you say, “Well. What did Jesus actually say?” And He said neither. 

You have His inspired evangelist sharing the Gospel with us as to what Jesus said and they are infallible in I say that.  They will never lead you astray.  Matthew wants to help us to understand that poor is a term that talks about [hard to hear] in a sense of humble, not arrogant.  Luke just uses the word poor, which is probably closer to what Jesus said, but they are both right. Just two different ways of saying it.

Now I would not be preaching that way on a Sunday morning.  I am explaining something in a Sunday School class here.  If I was preaching from Matthew, I would say, “Blessed are the poor in Spirit.” Now when Luke translates that, the word here that Jesus uses is the word poor, which means poor in spirit and Matthew is giving us a thought for thought translation like in our NIV.  I think … most people wouldn’t have a major problem with that.

Student: They are not translating something.

Dr. Stein: Again what I would say is that he is bringing out an implication of what Jesus meant here. Matthew is taking the words of Jesus for us and showing what that means… I am talking like Matthew – I am showing you the words – I am showing you what Jesus’ words mean for us here in A.D. 75.

The Smiths and the Browns. Abraham and Sarah out there – they are starting to stray away. Are we going to look down our nose at them or are we going to win them back.

You know… when I hear what preachers do with texts, I think I am pretty conservative with Jesus’ words in some ways. Again, I think, I would always talk about Matthew led by the Spirit is trying to show his audience what that meant and that might be helpful for us.  And we are doubly blessed in that regard.

Ok. Now that I have explained that all or have buried myself, let us go on.

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