« PreviousContinue »
And so the use of parables, in our Lord's teaching, became a test
of character. Parables a test
With those disposed to know and accept the truth the words of a parable served to arouse attention and to excite inquiry. If they did not at first apprehend the meaning, they would come, like the disciples to the Master (Matt. xiii, 36; Mark iv, 10), and inquire of him, assured that all who asked, searched, or knocked (Matt. vii, 7) at the door of Divine Wisdom should certainly obtain their desire. Even those who at first are dull of apprehension may be attracted and captivated by the outer form of the parable, and by honest inquiry come to master the laws of interpretation until they “know all parables” (Mark iv, 13). But the perverse and fleshly mind shows its real character by making no inquiry and evincing no desire to understand the mysteries of the kingdom of God. Such a mind treats those mysteries as a species of folly (1 Cor. i, 18).
The parables of the Bible are remarkable for their beauty, variSuperior beauty ety, conciseness, and fulness of meaning. There is a and appropriate noticeable appropriateness in the parables of Jesus, parables. and their adaptation to the time and place of their first utterance. The parable of the sower was spoken by the seaside (Matt. xii, 1, 2), whence might have been seen, at no great distance off, a sower actually engaged in sowing his seed. The parable of the dragnet in the same chapter (verses 47–50) may have been occasioned by the sight of such a net close by. The parable of the nobleman going into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom (Luke xix, 12) was probably suggested by the case of Archelaus, who made a journey from Judea to Rome to plead his right to the kingdom of Herod his father. As Jesus had just passed through Jericho and was approaching Jerusalem, perhaps the sight of the royal palace which Archelaus had recently rebuilt at Jericho ' suggested the allusion. Even the literal narrative of some of the parables is in the highest degree beautiful and impressive. The parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke x, 30–37) was probably based on fact. The road from Jerusalem to Jericho was notably infested by robbers, and yet, leading as it did from Perea to the holy city, it would be frequented by priests and Levites passing to and fro. The coldness and neglect of the ministers of the law, and the tender compassion of the Samaritan, are full of interest and rich in suggestions. The narrative of the Prodigal Son has been called “the pearl and crown of all the parables of Scripture,” and “a gospel in a gospel.”: We never tire of its literal Josephus, Ant., xvii, 9, 1 ff. 11, 4.
Ibid., xvii, 11, 13.
THREE ELEMENTS OF PARABLE.
statements, for they are as full of naturalness and beauty as they are of lessons of sin and redemption.
The parable is commonly assumed to have three parts, (1) the occasion and scope, (2) the similitude, in the form of a real narrative, and (3) the moral and religious lessons. elements of a These three parts are called by Salmeron, Glassius, and parable. others, the root or basis (radix), the bark or covering (cortex), and the marrow (medulla) or inner substance and core. The last two are often called, respectively, the protasis and the apodosis. The main thing in the construction of a parable is its similitude, or literal narrative, for this always appears, and constitutes the parable as a figure of speech. The occasion and scope, as well as the internal sense, are not always expressed. In most cases, in fact, the apodosis, or inner sense, is left for the hearer to find out for himself, and sometimes the occasion and scope are difficult to determine. But our Lord himself has given us two examples of interpreting parables;' and frequently the scope and application of the parable are formally stated in the context, so that, with but few exceptions, the parables of Scripture are not difficult to explain.'
As every parable essentially involves the three elements named above, the hermeneutical principles which should guide Three princius in understanding all parables are mainly three. pal Rules forin
parFirst, we should determine the historical occasion and ables. aim of the parable; secondly, we should make an accurate analysis
Salmeron, De Parabolis Domini nostri, tr. iii, p. 15. Glassius, Philologia Sacra (Lips. 1725) lib. ii, pars i, tr. ii, sect. 5. Horne (Introduction, ed. Ayre and Treg., vol. ii, p. 346) adopts the same division, and calls the three parts, respectively, the root or scope, the sensible similitude, and the explanation or mystical sense. Davidson (Hermeneutics, p. 311) says: “In the parable as in the allegory three things demand attention: (1) The thing to be illustrated; (2) the example illustrating; (3) the tertium comparationis, or the similitude existing between them.”
? Namely, in the interpretation of the parables of the sower (Matt. xiii, 18—23) and of the tares of the field (Matt. xiii, 36–43). Trench observes, “ that when our Lord himself interpreted the two first which he delivered, it is more than probable that he intended to furnish us with a key for the interpretation of all. These explanations, therefore, are most important, not merely for their own sakes, but as laying down the principles and canons of interpretation to be applied throughout.”—Notes on the Parables, p. 36.
8 Trench (Parables, p. 32) beautifully observes: “The parables, fair in their outward form, are yet fairer within-apples of gold in network of silver: each one of them like a casket, itself of exquisite workmanship, but in which jewels yet richer than itself are laid up; or as fruit, which, however lovely to look upon, is yet more delectable still in its inner sweetness. To find the golden key for this casket, at the touch of which it shall reveal its treasures ; to open this fruit, so that nothing of its hidden kernel shall be missed or lost, has naturally been regarded ever as a matter of high concern."
of the subject matter, and observe the nature and properties of the things employed as imagery in the similitude; and thirdly, we should interpret the several parts with strict reference to the general scope and design of the whole, so as to preserve a harmony of proportions, maintain the unity of all the parts, and make prominent the great central truth.' These principles can become of practical value only by actual use and illustration in the interpretation of a variety of parables.
As our Lord has left us a formal explanation of what were probably the first two parables he uttered, we do well, first of all, to Principles il- note the principles of interpretation as they appear illuslustrated in the trated in his examples. In the parable of the sower we parable of the Sower. find it easy to conceive the position and surroundings of Jesus when he opened his parabolic discourse. He had gone out to the seaside and sat down there, but when the multitudes crowded around him, “he entered into a boat and sat; and all the multitude stood on the beach” (Matt. xiii, 2). How natural and appropriate for him then and there to think of the various dispositions and characters of those before him. How like so many kinds of soil were their hearts. How was his preaching “the word of the kingdom" (verse 19) like a sowing of seed, suggested perhaps by the sight of a sower, or of a sown field, on the neighbouring coast.' Nay, how was his coming into the world like a going forth to sow.
Passing now to notice the similitude itself, we observe that our Lord attached significance to the seed sown, the wayside and the birds, the rocky places, the thorns, and the good ground. Each of these parts has a relevancy to the whole. In that one field where the sower scattered his grain there were all these kinds of soil, and the nature and properties of seed and soil are in perfect keeping with the results of that sowing as stated in the parable. The soil is in every case a human heart. The birds represent the evil one,' who is ever opposed to the work of the sower, and watches to
that which is sown in the heart, “that they may not
1 One may compare the entire parable with a circle, of which the middle point is the spiritual truth or doctrine, and of which the radii are the several circumstances of the narration; so long as one has not placed himself in the centre, neither the circle itself appears in its perfect shape, nor will the beautiful unity with which the radii converge to a single point be perceived, but this all observed so soon as the eye looks forth from the centre. Even so in the parable, if we have recognized its middle point, its main doctrine, in full light, then will the proportion and right signification of all particular circumstances be clear unto us, and we shall lay stress upon them only so far as the main truth is thereby more vividly set forth.—Lisco, Die Parabeln Jesu, p. 22. Fairbairn's Translation (Edinburgh Bib. Cabinet), p. 29.
2 See Stanley, Sinai and Palestine, p. 418. • Mark says Satan; Luke, the devil.
THE SOWER AND THE TARES.
Parable of the
believe and be saved ” (Luke viii, 12). He who hears the Word and understands not-on whom the heavenly truth makes no impression -may well be likened to a trodden patlıway. “He has brought himself to it; he has exposed his heart as a common road to every evil influence of the world till it has become hard as a pavementtill he has laid waste the very soil in which the word of God should have taken root; and he has not submitted it to the ploughshare of the law, which would have broken it; which, if he had suffered it to do the work which God appointed it to do, would have gone before, preparing that soil to receive the seed of the Gospel.”i With equal force and propriety the rocky places, the thorns, and the good ground represent so many varieties of hearers of the Word. The application of the parable, closing with the significant words, “he that has ears let him hear" (verse 8), might be safely left to the minds and consciences of the multitudes who heard it. Among those multitudes were doubtless many representatives of all the classes designated.
The parable of the tares of the field had the same historical occasion as that of the sower, and is an important supplement to it. In the interpretation of the foregoing par- Tares and its able the sower was not made prominent. The seed
interpretation. was declared to be “the word of the kingdom,
»? and its character and worth are variously indicated, but no explanation was given of the sower. In this second parable the sower is prominently set forth as the Son of man, the sower of good seed; and the work of his great enemy, the devil, is presented with equal prominence. But we are not to suppose that this parable takes up and carries with it all the imagery and implications of the one preceding. Other considerations are introduced under other imagery. But in seeking the occasion and connexion of all the parables recorded in Matt. xiii, we should note how one grows out of the other as by a logical sequence. Three of them were spoken privately to the disciples, but the whole seven were appropriate for the seaside; for those of the mustard-seed, the treasure hid in a field, and the dragnet, no less than the sower and the tares of the field, may have been suggested to Jesus by the scenes around him, and those of the leaven and the merchantman seeking pearls were but counterparts, respectively, of the mustard-seed and the hid treasure. Stier's suggestion, also, is worthy of note, that the parable of the tares corresponds with the first kind of soil mentioned in the parable of the sower, and helps to answer the question, Whence and how that
1 Trench, Notes on the Parables, p. 61.
soil bad come to serve so well the purpose of the devil. The parable of the mustard-plant, whose growth was so great, stands in notable contrast with the second kind of soil in which there was no real growth at all. The parable of the leaven suggests the opposite of the heart overgrown with worldliness, namely, a heart permeated and purified by the inner workings of grace, while the fifth and sixth parables—those of the treasure and the pearl of great price-represent the various experiences of the good heart (represented by the good ground) in apprehending and appropriating the precious things of the Word of the kingdom. The seventh parable, that of the dragnet, appropriately concludes all with the doctrine of the separating judgment which shall take place “in the end of the age" (verse 49). Such an inner relation and connexion we do well to trace, and the suggestions thereby afforded may be especially valuable for homiletical purposes. They serve for instruction, but they should not be insisted on as essential to a correct interpretation of the several parables. In the interpretation of the second parable Jesus gives special
inter- significance to the sower, the field, the good seed, the preted and tares, the enemy, the harvest, and the reapers; also the ticed in Jesus final burning of the tares and the garnering of the exposition. wheat. But we should observe that he does not attach a meaning to the men who slept, nor to the sleeping, nor to the springing up of the blades of wheat, and their yielding fruit, nor to the servants of the householder and the questions they asked. These are but incidental parts of the parable, and necessary to a happy filling up of its narrative.
An attempt to show a special meaning in them all would tend to obscure and confuse the main lessons. So, if we would know how to interpret all parables, we should notice what our Lord omitted as well as what he emphasized in those expositions which are given us as models; and we should not be anxious to find a hidden meaning in every word and allusion.
At the same time we need not deny that these two parables conWe may notice tained some other lessons which Jesus did not bring out some things in his interpretation. There was no need for him to had no need to state the occasion of his parables, or what suggested
the imagery to his mind, or the inner logical connexion which they sustained to one another. These things might be safely left to every scribe who should become a disciple to the kingdom of heaven (Matt. xiii, 52). In his explanation of the first parable, Jesus sufficiently indicated that particular words and allusions, like the having no root (Tò un éxelv píšav, Matt. xiii, 6), and choked