Parables - What's the Point?


Purpose: To see that parables are interpreted properly considering the misinterpretation of many years. 

Objectives: To learn the principles of interpretation for parables and to have the opportunity to write a modern parable that is parallel to one of Jesus parables.  

Video Content

How have the parables been misinterpreted?   

Throughout history the parables have been interpreted in an allegorical way, they have hidden meaning so that the story was meant for those outside the church in the hidden meaning was meant for those inside the church. The following is just a sample of the ways in which allegory has been used in the interpretation of the parable of the Good Samaritan.[1]

See "History of Allegory"

If we have trouble at times understanding the parables, it’s not because they are allegories for which we need some special interpretive keys. Rather it is related to some things suggested in the chapter on the Gospels. One of the keys to understanding them lies in discovering the original audience to whom they were spoken.

The most influential scholar on the parables as of late is Adolf Julicher and his one-point theory. He rejected the allegorical approach and said that each parable has one point and any searching for hidden meaning is missing the point. 

Julicher provides us with our first major principle for interpreting the parables:

1.      Seek out the one main point of the parable. Do not seek allegorical significance in the details of a parable unless it is absolutely necessary.

2.      Try to understand what Jesus meant when he shared the parable in its original setting.

3.      Try to understand why the writer in the gospel chose to include the story at this point in the gospel and is it related to the intended audience.[2]

What is a parable and what’s different about them?

If I told you a Joke and you didn’t “get it” or didn’t laugh, what would be the reason for that? Parables function in the same way. They are told to an audience in such a way that they identify with the content of the “story” or example, that is, they have a point of reference. The thing about a parable is that they are told to identify with the hearer and are told in such a way that it has a surprise twist - making a point. Our problem is that we miss the point of reference and sometimes don’t “get it”. Going back to the three parables we looked at what were the points of reference to the hearers? Who was the audience?  

How do we interpret them for us today?

1.      We concern ourselves basically with the parables in their present Biblical contexts. They were written in context, and we must start with what they meant to those they were written to. Once we understand the main point, we need to translate that point into our own context. 

2.      All of Jesus’ parables are in some way proclaiming the Kingdom. So, our interpretation of parables needs to see them in the light of Jesus’ message that the Kingdom is present and soon to come.

[1] Robert Stein. The Method and Message Of Jesus’ Teaching. Westminster John Knox Press, Kentucky. 1994 Pg. 48,49

[2] Ibid page 51-53

Small-Group Content

Begin with the following questions:

1.      What is a parable?

2.      Which parable of Jesus do you think is the most famous?

3.      What is your favourite parable in the Gospels? Why?

4.      What does that tell you about yourself?

Reader’s Theater: Parable of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin & the Lost Son.

Have the group turn in their Bibles to Luke 15 or hand out a copy of these parables from the “Dramatized New Testament” ed. by Michael Perry.[1] Let them know that they will begin by reading these parables as an introduction and apply the same hermeneutical principles to these parables as with the last lesson on the Gospels. Assign the following parts to the group, Narrator, Pharisee, Jesus, Shepherd, Woman, Younger Son, Father, Servant and Older Son. Read the entire chapter together using the different parts for effect. 

Parables of the lost sheep in the lost coin Luke 15:1-10


The tax collectors and “sinners” were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered:


This man welcomes sinners


And eats with them.


Then Jesus told them this parable:


Suppose one of you had 100 sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the 99 in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbours together and says:


Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.


I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous persons who do not need to repent (pause)

Or suppose a woman has 10 silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbours together and says:


Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin


In the same way I tell you there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.

Parable of the lost son. Luke 15:11-32


There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father:

Younger son

Father, give me my share of the estate.


So, he divided his property between them.

Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. When he came to his senses, he said:

Younger son

How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! (Then resolutely) I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.


So, he got up and went to his father.

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. The son said to him:

Younger son

Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son


But the father said to his servants:


Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fatted calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.


So, they began to celebrate (pause)

Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So, he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on.

Servant Jesus

Your brother has come home, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.


The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So, his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father:

Older son

Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. You have never given me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with Prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!


My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.

Once finished ask the following questions:

Think Horizontally:

1.      What was the situation Jesus was in? Who was the audience?

2.      In the parable of the lost coin and the lost sheep, who are the 2 main characters in each parable?

3.      Who are the 3 main characters in the parable of the lost son?

4.      Again, considering the audience, who would identify with the main characters in the parable?

5.      What was the surprise for the audience in the parables Jesus told?

Think Vertically:

1.      Jesus interprets his own parable of the lost coin and the lost sheep. Considering the audience, what do you think he was trying to communicate?

2.      What was the main point of each parable?

3.      Why do you think he told these parables? (Luke 15:1-2)

4.      What was the response that Jesus wanted from the Pharisees?

Making up a modern version of a parable. 

Have the group form into their small groups and using the hermeneutics of this and the last class (think horizontally and think vertically). Have them pick a parable of their choosing and write a modern parallel that Jesus might have told today. Remind them to get to the point of the parable by seeing the setting and the audience before they begin to write out their own parable. 


1.      Choose a parable of Jesus.

2.      Identify the main point of the parable. Remember to think vertically and horizontally.

3.      Identify the audience you want to tell the parable to (your parents, your children, a co-worker, someone you’re worried about, a dear friend, someone who’s lost their way)

4.      Identify the setting in which you’re going to tell the parable.

5.      Update the names or characters in the parable for our current modern setting.

6.      Make sure that they would understand the point.

Give about 10 min and once the have finished, allow the groups to share:

1.      What parable they studied?

2.      What was the setting and audience?

3.      What was the point of the parable?

4.      Then have the group tell their parable.  

[1] Michael Perry, Editor "The Dramatized New Testament". Baker book House, Grand Rapids. 1993. Page 182-183e?

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