Lecture 25: Allegory in Parables (Part 1) | Free Online Biblical Library

Lecture 25: Allegory in Parables (Part 1)

Course: Biblical Hermeneutics

Lecture: Allegory in Parables (Part 1)

C.S. Lewis – Mere Christianity – On Christian Marriage

What we call 'being in love' is a glorious state, and, in several ways, good for us. It helps to make us generous and courageous, it opens our eyes not only to the beauty of the beloved but to all beauty, and it subordinates (especially at first) our merely animal sexuality; in that sense, love is the great conqueror of lust. No one in his senses would deny that being in love is far better than either common sensuality or cold self-centeredness. But, as I said before, 'the most dangerous thing you can do is to take any one impulse of our own nature and set it up as the thing you ought to follow at all costs'. Being in love is a good thing, but it is not the best thing. There are many things below it, but there are also things above it. You cannot make it the basis of a whole life. It is a noble feeling, but it is still a feeling. Now no feeling can be relied on to last in its full intensity, or even to last at all. Knowledge can last, principles can last, habits can last; but feelings come and go. And in fact, whatever people say, the state called 'being in love' usually does not last. If the old fairy-tale ending 'They lived happily ever after' is taken to mean 'They felt for the next fifty years exactly as they felt the day before they were married,' then it says what probably never was nor ever would be true, and would be highly undesirable if it were. Who could bear to live in that excitement for even five years? What would become of your work, your appetite, your sleep, your friendships? But, of course, ceasing to be 'in love' need not mean ceasing to love. Love in this second sense-love as distinct from 'being in love'-is not merely a feeling. It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by (in Christian marriages) the grace which both parents ask, and receive, from God. They can have this love for each other even at those moments when they do not like each other; as you love yourself even when you do not like yourself. They can retain this love even when each would easily, if they allowed themselves, be 'in love' with someone else. 'Being in love' first moved them to promise fidelity: this quieter love enables them to keep the promise. It is on this love that the engine of marriage is run: being in love was the explosion that started it.”


“Oh. Father we are thankful for the gifts you have given to all creation. We are thankful for the gift of marriage and we especially who are married here pray that you would bless our marriages and help them to be examples of what you have intended from creation.  Grant our Father that we may love our wives and husbands in a new and unique way in each day. Help us to never take their love for granted but to seek to woo and to win our beloved until death us do part. Bless us this our now as we meet in Jesus’ name. Amen.”

Last week we began to look at a particular genre, the genre of Parables and we sought several rules, main rules with regard to interpreting Parables. 

One was to seek the main point of the Parable.  Parables are not the same as allegories. In an allegory you are to interpret them allegorically, because the details are meant to be interpreted. But in a parable there is generally just one main point, and therefore don’t press the parable.  Be satisfied with the one main point and we looked at a number of examples in which these difficult parables if you press the details, you get into all sorts of troubles.  But if you are willing to be satisfied with the main point of the parable, you are alright.

Next seek to understand what the original Parabler – the teller of the parable – Jesus Himself, meant.  And we looked at a couple of examples which take on a whole different meaning when we try to understand the parable in the setting in which it was told by Jesus.  But the evangelists also are interpreters of the Parables and we should try to understand what the evangelists was seeking to teach by the Parables of Jesus.

Then finally we should seek to try to understand what God is teaching us today in the parable. We seek for its implications for us and its significance.  Putting those together, we talk about application.

Then we have some sub-rules for arriving at the main point of the parable and that is: who are the two main characters in the parable?  There are a number of characters, ultimately you zero in on two of them. What occurs at the end?  The Rule of N-Stress [Hard to Hear] Good story telling brings everything to a peak at the end. Pay attention to how a story ends.   

What occurs in direct discourse, when you have quotation marks being used?

It draws attention to what is being said.  And who or what gets the most press? So you have the four main rules at the top. Then you have these four sub-rules for arriving at the main point which is the first main rule.

We want today to look at some other rules and this is now how to detect allegory in a parable.  When do you look for meaning in the details themselves?  Before I give you the rules, let us look at a parable and see how these rules apply.  The parable I want us to look at is in Mark chapter 12, verses 1-12.  This is the parable of the Worker in the Vineyard.  Now as you turn to that in your Bible, I want to read for you a portion from the OT, from Isaiah 5:1-7. Don’t bother turning to that but you may just want to keep your eyes on the opening verses of chapter twelve in Mark as I read Isaiah here.

1 Let me sing for my beloved
my love-song concerning his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard
on a very fertile hill.
2 He dug it and cleared it of stones,
and planted it with choice vines;
he built a watchtower in the midst of it,
and hewed out a wine vat in it;
he expected it to yield grapes,
but it yielded wild grapes.
3 And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem
and people of Judah,
judge between me
and my vineyard.
4 What more was there to do for my vineyard
that I have not done in it?
When I expected it to yield grapes,
why did it yield wild grapes?

5 And now I will tell you
what I will do to my vineyard.
I will remove its hedge,
and it shall be devoured;
I will break down its wall,
and it shall be trampled down.
6 I will make it a waste;
it shall not be pruned or hoed,
and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns;
I will also command the clouds
that they rain no rain upon it.
7 For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts
is the house of Israel,
and the people of Judah
are his pleasant planting;
he expected justice,
but saw bloodshed;
but heard a cry!

Now with that as a background, let me now read for you Mark, chapter twelve, the parable that we are looking at. And what you must think of is the hearers of this parable by Jesus, would they have immediately remembered the parable in Isaiah, chapter 5.

1 Then he [Jesus] began to speak to them in parables. "A man planted a
vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a pit for the wine press, and built
a watchtower; then he leased it to tenants and went to another
country. 2 When the season came, he sent a slave to the tenants to
collect from them his share of the produce of the vineyard. 3 But they
seized him, and beat him, and sent him away empty-handed. 4 And
again he sent another slave to them; this one they beat over the head
and insulted. 5 Then he sent another, and that one they killed. And so
it was with many others; some they beat, and others they killed. 6 He
had still one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying,
'They will respect my son.' 7 But those tenants said to one another,
'This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.'
8 So they seized him, killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard. 9
What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and
destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others. 10 Have you not
read this scripture:
'The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
11 this was the LORD's doing,
and it is amazing in our eyes'?"
12 When they realized that he had told this parable against them, they
wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowd. So they left him and
went away.

Now, I want to suggest to you how to detect the presence of allegory in the Parables.

Two Rules: First, would Jesus with His audience have attributed meaning to these details? We looked at the Parable of the Prodigal Son and we noted a lot of allegorical details like the ring placed on the prodigal’s finger by his father is Christian baptism.  The killing of the fatted calf refers to the Lord’s Supper and things of this nature.

Now we pointed out that it would have been impossible for audience of Jesus to attribute allegorical significance to those details.  But what about this parable?

Wouldn’t the hearers, assuming that they knew the Old Testament pretty well and they did. Would they not have seen something about a vineyard, a watchtower, a hedge, a winepress and things of that nature?

I think they would have. I think immediately they would have said, “He is talking a parable about our nation”.  And so the details here would have been sought after and looked at as being of the bearers of meaning for the audience of Jesus. So that now when we do this, we should also attribute meaning to those details. This vineyard is symbolic of the nation of Israel.  Now you have other details that are not mentioned in Isaiah 5, but if you once have the owner of the Vineyard coming to the Vineyard and sending his servants, some they beat, some they kill, others they treat shamefully. 

What would that have conjured up about the owner of Israel, God, having sent servants to his vineyard? The Prophets, right?  Now. When it comes after the Prophets, we bring with us a Christological understanding of the NT, but let us go back before there is a NT.  See Jesus giving this parable and then He says, the owner after sending servants had a beloved Son and he sent him.  Is there not a clear distinct difference between those that was sent before the servant and the Son in the parable? Does that reveal a Christological understanding of Jesus in this parable? Of His uniqueness?  Now I will tell you, if someone said, if someone said, “You know Dr. Stein, you preach just like Isaiah, Jeremiah,” I wouldn’t feel particularly put down by that.  But Jesus is the Son, not a servant. Totally different relationship with God. His only Son.  So you have a Christological understanding as well.

Now, certainly the second part, would the evangelists’ audience have understood these details as being allegorical? Yes and I think clearly they would have understood that as well.  Now when we get back to the Parable of the Prodigal Son, would the audience of Luke - with Theophilus for example – have understood the ring as being a sign of Christian baptism?  There is no sense at this time that baptism was ever used as a metaphor for a ring.  Or I should reverse that – a ring was ever used as a metaphor for Christian baptism in Luke’s day. So that doesn’t – even for Luke’s audience have any symbolical and allegorical significance here.

Now I want to read to you the parallels in Matthew of this allegorical - in Matthew 21, verse 39, we have different description.  You have the parable of the landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, built a winepress and it built a tower, he leased it out to tenants and so forth.  In verse 34, finally he sent his son to them saying, “They will respect my son.” But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come let us kill him and let us get his inheritance. So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.’

Do you notice anything here?

Student:  [Hard to Hear] They killed him in the Vineyard.
Dr. Stein:  Yeah. In Mark, they kill him and throw him out of the Vineyard.  In Matthew 21:39 and if you looked at the Lukan parallel, in 20, verse 15, the same thing.  They first threw him out of the Vineyard and then they kill him.

Why do Matthew and Luke have that? I believe that they changed Mark – Mark’s account, for a particular reason.  Why? Yes.

Student:  [Hard to Hear]

Dr. Stein: Yes. Where was Jesus crucified? Outside the city of Jerusalem.  Hebrews makes a big thing of that – outside the camp, He is slain. 

Now. This indicates that they see this parallel allegorically. So you have here, Jesus’ audience would have understood these details allegorically.  The Evangelists’ audience would have understood these allegorically.   This parable is an allegory. The details are important.  Other details, pouring on oil and wine, symbolic of loving kindness, nothing specific mentioned here. These are specifically to be understood. This is about Israel. About God sending prophets to them.  Their slaying of the Son of God and the Vineyard being taken away and given to others.  The Kingdom of God being – now I go to the Gentiles Paul says. And the Gentile world becomes the beneficiaries of God’s covenant with Abraham and so forth.

So here we have detecting allegory, the audience – would they have understood that this way? Yeah. They would have and so of course would the Evangelists’ audience as well.  And the result is that here we have clear instance of an allegory, not just a single point, but the details should be pressed, because they are significant and they seek to convey meaning.

Now. Let me just stop there for a minute and see how we are doing?

Student: What if  - do you think  [Hard to Hear]

Dr. Stein: Ok. Now. We are getting in to the areas of Gospel studies.  If you had Gospel’s with me, this will make more sense than if you have not had it with me or any other Professor. I believe that Mark was the first Gospel written.  And therefore in this area, I think he is quoting the Parable as Jesus had said the parable.  But I think Matthew and Luke want to help the readers see even more the allegory here, and so they make it fit the life of Jesus more closely.  Easy to think that than to think that Mark would breakdown the allegory by reversing the order.  Good question. Yeah.

Student: As far as Luke and Theophilus  [Hard to Hear] Is this saying that Theophilus was a Jew and therefore

Dr. Stein: No. Theophilus is not a Jew.  His name is very Greek and Luke in general is written as a Gospel to non-Jews.  I think we are pretty well settled, set with that.  But he would have known the known the OT, maybe not as well as Jesus’ original audience but most of the converts from the Gentile world to Christianity in the first decades were what we called God-fearers. They had been attracted to the Synagogue. They had never been converted. Conversion meant becoming a kosher Jew.  It meant having those kinds of things that were associated with a lifestyle like, didn’t allow you to eat with Gentiles any longer. It meant kind of a drifting away from your own people to a different nation and above all it meant circumcision.  And that was a real stumbling block for Gentiles. So they attended the Synagogue, kept the Law, the Moral Law, but never converted as such.

Now when the Gospel is early preached to these people like Cornelius, a God-fearer, and you have Paul, in Pisidian Antioch where he addresses the members of the people of the Synagogue, “Children of Israel, and you that fear God.” Now he is not talking about the same group. He is talking about two different groups. 

“Children of Israel and you who are Gentiles but fear God. Listen.”

And so this group is attracted to Christianity because everything they saw about Judaism that they liked was in Christianity.  Oneness of God.  Ancient religion.  High morality.  High family lifestyle uh… noble family life uh … manifested to the most part.

The things that they didn’t like: kosher living, circumcision were no longer required. In Christianity that was unnecessary so these tended to flock over and become Christians. And in fact there was a time when the Rabbi’s encouraged this kind of a half-Jewish state of a Gentile becoming a God-fearer but as Christianity comes along and wins most of these God-fearers, they realize that they are essentially just making a seed bed for the Christian church.  And so eventually they say, look, either become a convert or just forget about it. And no longer is there a great group of God-fearers that existed. 

Alright now, let us look at the parable now a little more and notice a couple of other things.  You have the owner coming and destroying the tenants and giving the Vineyard to others. He will come and destroy the tenants.

I can’t imagine that any reader in Mark’s day or in Matthew or Luke’s day would not have thought of A.D. 70.  For Mark it was still future but already the city was surrounded probably in a surrounded by other Roman legions; they will be destroyed.  A.D. 70 refers to that.  So you have here details that you have to take seriously.

But notice, this is the exception of all the parables that we looked at so far. But we are driven to that because His audience would have seen it that way.  And greeters would have seen it that way. So that is the way we assume that Jesus and also the Gospel writers intended it to be understood.

Alright let us look at another parable like that. In Luke 14, verses 15 and following, we have a parable. 

One of the dinner guests, on hearing this, said to him, "Blessed is
anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!" 16 Then Jesus said
to him, "Someone gave a great dinner and invited many. 17 At the time
for the dinner he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited,
'Come; for everything is ready now.' 18 But they all alike began to
make excuses. The first said to him, 'I have bought a piece of land, and
I must go out and see it; please accept my regrets.' 19 Another said, 'I
have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please
accept my regrets.' 20 Another said, 'I have just been married, and
therefore I cannot come.' 21 So the slave returned and reported this to
his master.

Now it was very typical in those days that if you were planning something like this, you would go to your neighbors and say “We are going to have a” … probably you did this to a servant … you say “My master is going to have a great banquet in the near future and we would like you to come.” And he would say, “I would be honored to come.”  And then all of a sudden these things come up.  You say “Well? What does this man expect? You didn’t set a specific date.  You are just not going to have a banquet sometime. Would you like to come?” So things can interfere. Not really things can’t interfere.  None of these people are saying, “By the way, we are planning to go to Hawaii. And we just won’t be around at the time.” Where will people be?

They will be where they are.  They don’t have vacations that they go somewhere. They don’t take long trips. This is home. This is where they are 365 days a year. So you say. “We are going to have a banquet.  We would like you to come.”

“Oh. Sure.”

So the banquet is there and everything is ready and now the second time a servant goes out and he says, “Alright the banquet is today and the master would like you to come.”  And now they all start making excuses.

Then the owner of the house became angry and said to his
slave, 'Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring
in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.' 22 And the slave
said, 'Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room.' 23
Then the master said to the slave, 'Go out into the roads and lanes, and
compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled. 24 For I tell
you, none of those who were invited will taste my dinner.'"

Now here you have a parable in which there are two sending outs of the servants to bring people in.  There is a parallel somewhat like in the Gospel of Matthew that that has only one sending out.  Luke is rather specific.  Two sending outs: one to the immediate area, and the other to those further out to bring them in.

Now, I think this is to be understood allegorically. I think Luke wants Theophilus to understand this parable allegorically.  The Kingdom of God has come – that is what the parable is about.  The Kingdom of God is frequently likened to a great banquet: the Messianic Banquet.

And when it has come, those who had been invited - those you expected to come don’t come. They refuse it.  Instead now the replacement guests are: the poor, the maimed, the lame the blind and they are brought in from the nearby streets. 

Alright now, in the ministry of Jesus, can you see anything going on here that the parable is alluding to?

Jesus comes preaching the Kingdom of God is at hand.  Those who you think were the most invited ones, like this man who said “Won’t it be wonderful when we all eat bread in the Kingdom of God?” and Jesus is saying “The Kingdom of God has come. Repent now.”  And he is thinking of it still future.  And in its place comes the publicans and the sinners.  But there is still room.  So go out further out.  Now Luke’s audience would have thought of something here.  It is not only the outcastes of Israel that are entering the Kingdom, but the outcastes of the Gentile world and this double sending out, I think is intended to be understood allegorically.  I think Luke’s audience would have understood it that way. 

22 And the slave said, 'Sir,  - verse 22 - what you ordered has been done,
and there is still room.' 23Then the master said to the slave, 'Go out into
the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled.
And consequently … I tell you, none of those who were invited will taste my dinner.'"

The Pharisees and the Scribes, the first become last. They are excluded.  The last, the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, the Publicans and the sinners of Israel, the cursed Gentile - the goyim – enter the Kingdom of God, but those whom you would have expected will not have tasted the dinner. 

I think here is another parable that has allegorical significance to it.  There are not a lot more. I think this is the main two. Most parables – not an issue. Parables teach one main point. Therefore don’t press the details.

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