The Apple Of God's Eye

November 1, 2009

A Background To The Parabolic Teachings Of Jesus Christ

bloggingthebible.comAmong the greatest and most profound of all biblical teachings are the parables of Jesus Christ. During His 3½-year ministry, Jesus expounded from 30 to 50 parables (depending on whose estimate you wish to accept). There are some important reasons why Jesus used the parabolic method of teaching. For today’s Christian there is much vital meaning contained within these rustic examples taken from everyday life in ancient Judea and its environs.

Should it be surprising that Jesus used parables? Not if you understand something of the Jewish world in Christ’s day. Says Alfred Edersheim: “Perhaps no other mode of teaching was so common among the Jews as that by parables” (The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1972).

The Jewish people were quite familiar with the parabolic method of teaching. In a footnote on the same page, Dr. Edersheim informs us: ” ‘… Every ancient Rabbinic work is literally full of parables.”

The Old Testament itself contains many parables. The prophet Ezekiel used at least four. A good example is found in Ezekiel 17:2: “Son of man, put forth a riddle, and speak a parable unto the house of Israel.” The prophet then unfolds a strange story of a great eagle and a giant cedar tree. In the same chapter, he explains the meaning of this unusual story.

In II Samuel 12 the prophet Nathan tactfully used a parable to convey a message from God to David.

Isaiah 5:1-6 also contains a parable that was used as a song— again conveying an important message to the people by the parabolic method. Verse 7 explains the meaning.

In most cases a parable is a story drawn from everyday life. It is usually symbolic or metaphoric in nature and often conveys a profound spiritual lesson. Most parables use imagery to which the average person can readily relate. As the hearer comes into contact with the image or symbol — a field, a fig tree — he is easily reminded of the parable in which the associated imagery is used.

In order to gain the maximum value from Jesus’ parables, we must, therefore, acquire at least a rudimentary. understanding of the elements used in those stories. And we must gain an elementary understanding of the geography involved.

Why Jesus used parables

There are several good reasons why Christ chose to use the parabolic method of teaching.

The main, obvious reason is that it was commonly accepted among the Jewish people of that day. When a teacher launched into a parable, most listeners knew how to receive such teaching. But there is yet another reason, which has escaped many commentators. Jesus clearly explained it in Matthew 13:10-13:

“And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables? He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.”

Jesus knew that the general populace was not yet ready to receive the deeper truths of His way of life. Had He explained certain parables plainly, they would have been accountable for what they had learned. As James later said:

“Therefore to him that knoweth to do good and doeth it not, to him it is sin” (James 4:17).

The truth of God is too precious to be thrown about indiscriminately! In Matthew 7:6 Jesus taught us an important principle: “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.”

He was not calling people “dogs” or “swine”; He was merely illustrating by analogy the reaction of some people to the truth of God.

A Christian should, therefore, use discretion in determining to whom he will explain the undiluted stronger truths of God.

Jesus sent His disciples on a preliminary evangelistic tour with this instruction: “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16).

And this is exactly what Jesus was doing in speaking to the people in unexplained parables.

Jesus always privately explained the intended spiritual meaning of each parable to His disciples. But there are other instances in which the people to whom the parable was addressed also knew the intended spiritual meaning! It depended upon who was addressed and under what circumstances.

Not all parables were given to the masses of people who followed Jesus. Some were given exclusively to the disciples.

Others were addressed to the religious leaders of the day, the scribes and Pharisees. And they knew exactly what Jesus meant.

The grouping of the parables

What many have not realized is that the parables were given in three distinct sets or groupings. Each set or group of parables had a theme or overall message. And each set became progressively stronger in its meaning and impact.

Each group of parables was presented against a different geographical background and at three distinct points in Christ’s ministry. Each set was provoked or stimulated by a different set of circumstances.

To gain the most out of a study of the parables, one must examine them in their proper chronological sequence and historical context.

The Galilean parables

Having grown up in Nazareth, Jesus later moved to the town of Capernaum near the Sea (or lake) of Galilee, where He may have owned a home. It was in the province of Galilee that He worked as a carpenter.

This provides the setting for the first group of parables, which may be called the Galilean parables. This set of parables was given early in Jesus’ ministry.

“The same day went Jesus out of the house, and sat by the sea side [Sea of Galilee]. And great multitudes were gathered together unto him, so that he went into a ship, and sat; and the whole multitude stood on the shore. And he spake many things unto them in parables .” (Matthew 13:1-3).

Jesus was sitting in a small boat (probably a fishing vessel) near the shore of the lake of Galilee. A large crowd was standing on the gently sloping hillside, which blended into the calm and beautiful lake.

This setting provided a natural amphitheater. The boat functioned as a speaker’s platform or stage; and His voice was carried across and reflected by the water to the shore, where the people were standing. The sloped sides of the lakeshore provided a natural acoustical backdrop for the audience. In short, the speaking conditions as found in nature were as nearly ideal as possible in the days before electronic amplification.

Six parables to the people

This first set consisted of 10 parables. The first six of these are addressed to the people. The remaining four were exclusively for the disciples. Remember, the account of Jesus’ ministry is given in four different biographical books, called gospels.

To gain a truly comprehensive picture of all of Jesus’ parables, each of these accounts must be carefully compared. The first three gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) are called synoptics. That is, they are all thought to have basically originated from a common source, perhaps the gospel of Mark.

Each writer wrote from a somewhat different point of view. The apostle John apparently wrote much later and did not see the need to include much of the material written in the first three books.

For an accurate picture of this first grouping of parables, it is best to compare Matthew 13, Mark 4 and Luke 8. In so doing, you will notice that Mark includes two parables in this first set that are not found in Matthew 13.

The list of parables in the first set is as follows:

1. The Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:3-9),

2. The Wheat and the Tares (Matthew 13:24-30),

3. The Lamp Under the Bushel (Mark 4:21-25),

4. The Grain of Mustard Seed (Matthew 13:31-32),

5. The Kingdom Like Leaven (Matthew 13:33) and

6. The Seed Cast Into the Ground (Mark 4:26-29).

This represents the set of six parables given to the people.

“All these things spake Jesus unto the multitude in parables; and without a parable spake he not unto them: That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 13:34-35).

The prophet spoken of is Asaph, a Levite and the leader of the singers in ancient Israel. He had written many centuries earlier: “I will open my mouth in a parable: I will utter dark sayings of old” (Psalm 78:2). So Jesus was actually fulfilling prophecy when He spoke these parables.

The first group of six parables was not explained to the people at that time. But Jesus, in private, did personally explain each one to the disciples at a later time.

“Then Jesus sent the multitude away, and went into the house: and his disciples came unto him, saying, Declare unto us the parable of the tares of the field” (Matthew 13:36). (He had explained the parable of the sower to them in verse 18.)

The remaining four parables

Jesus gave the disciples four additional parables. In each case the explanation was self-evident. These last four parables in this first set were not given to the people in general. They may be listed as follows:

7. The Hidden Treasure (Matthew 13:44),

8. The Merchant Seeking Pearls (Matthew 13:45-46),

9. The Net Cast Into the Sea (Matthew 13:47-50) and

10. The Householder and His Treasure (Matthew 13:52).

These parables were given as lessons to the disciples in particular. Jesus did not obscure the meaning in any way. Rather, He illustrated some important moral and spiritual lessons aimed directly at the disciples.

A common theme runs throughout these 10 parables, whether they be addressed to the general public or to the disciples. They all refer to the Kingdom of God. Each parable is designed to motivate those who understand to really want and desire the Kingdom.

They show how the Kingdom will grow and ultimately dominate the entire world. They demonstrate the need to seek God’s coming Kingdom with every fiber of our beings.

Source: The Good News, March 1979

Male Teachers: An Increasingly Rare Breed!

1Something is seriously wrong in the field of education. Although it has a long list of perceived shortfalls with people, one thing largely overlooked is an unsettling trend: About 80 percent of America’s teachers are female. Similar trends exist in Britain, Australia and Canada.

To many, it would seem unlikely that a teacher’s gender would affect students academically. A recent study performed by Thomas S. Dee, an economist at Swarthmore College, indicates otherwise.

Dee discussed his findings in the fall issue of Education Next. “Learning from a teacher of the opposite gender has a detrimental effect on students’ academic progress,” he wrote. “My best estimate is that it lowers test scores for both boys and girls by approximately 4 percent of a standard deviation and has even larger effects on various measures of student engagement” (2006, No. 4).

Dee then highlighted the impact on America’s boys. “Adverse gender effects have an impact on both boys and girls, but that effect falls more heavily on the male half of the population in middle school, simply because most middle-school teachers are female” (ibid.).

Further on, Dee stated, “Similarly, these results suggest that part of boys’ relative propensity to be seen as disruptive in these grades is due to the gender interactions resulting from the preponderance of female teachers.” (

A study carried out for the Training and Development Agency in Britain, which is responsible for training teachers, said that boys performed better in education if they have a male teacher in their primary school. The study of more than 1,000 men revealed that almost half (48 per cent) cited male primary teachers as having the most impact on them during their school life. In addition, 35 per cent said male primary school teachers had challenged them to work harder at school (The Independent).

The firm presence of mature men as examples and role models of manhood and masculinity has a critical impact on the rounded development and maturity of all students, especially boys. Think back to the days of the brawny, athletically competent and physically strong gym teacher. He was instrumental in forming character, determination and stick-to-itiveness, as well as inspiring many teenage boys to emulate him in physical prowess and masculine traits.

“Male principals also seem to be heading the way of the dodo bird. In times past, this deep voiced man commanded the respect of even the most boisterous troublemaker. He also forged long friendships and his experience allowed him to be strong in authority, have the courage to confront adversity, and posses the ability to act decisively and forcefully when conditions warranted.

Now none of this means that male teachers are more important than female teachers to the education of children and teens. But it most assuredly points to the fact that it is wrong to dismiss men as being less important than female teachers. Rather than looking for fault, we have to understand the differences between the sexes. Male teachers provide leadership and education in areas that female teachers are generally weaker in, while female teachers excel in the areas that men are generally weaker in. A balanced education supplies young students with a healthy balance of both men and women.” (

Even as early as 1870, in the United States at least, teaching was largely a female-dominated profession. But the strong  father figure was a central tenet in the family home. Today however, the current 4:1 ratio of female to male teachers and the increasing numbers of children growing up in single parent families virtually assures that most children are missing out on strong male role models. Countless boys are now growing up with a narrow, media-designed, shallow definition of what they are to become, how they are to act, and what their role in society is. Misguided, feminized boys often mature into misguided, feminized men. Never before have we had such a drastic void of stable, masculine role models. (Indiana University Bloomington)

Sadly, it’s an inappropriate example of living in a democracy where we try to promote equality and fairness, egalitarian values in our schools. We’ve got these schools as an institution that are supposed to reproduce our culture and our values, but are extremely stratified based on gender. (

And many parents are too busy to get to know the realities of the educational environments in which their children grow up, and are always looking for scapegoats in the figure of male teachers. “Abuse” allegation has now reached levels of downright hysteria, with some seeing a potential abuser in the person of every male teacher. This, in turn, makes even the most dedicated teacher bow out from the pressure, running from accusations that, even when unfounded, can ruin reputations and turn lives upside down. This is too bad as male teachers teachers help boys to provide a glimpse of potential for their own futures: a reason to work hard, to play fair, to demand respect from the world around them. It matters, too, for girls. If the first proper contact a girl has with men is as a teenager, when her hormones are raging, the consequences of her lack of experience of them are already too obvious. (Softpedia)

Never in history has there been such a drastic void of stable, masculine role models. It is a strong indication of Isaiah 3:12, which tells us that women will be leading men in our modern society, causing them to err. We need to ensure there are enough strong men in our schools to impact our children through their leadership examples.

Blog at