Interpreting the parables

The point of parables?

By Craig L. Blomberg
IVP. 463 pages. 19.99
ISBN 978 1 844 745 760

How many points do parables make? Anyone who has preached Jesus’s parables will have wrestled with this question.

Historically, the answer to that question was ‘many’. In reaction to that, in the 19th century, Adolf J?licher argued that parables only made one point. J?licher’s approach, popularised by Robert Stein, Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart, seems to hold sway among modern preachers as we’re encouraged to identify and then preach the one main point of the parable.

Middle ground

Blomberg makes an excellent case for steering a middle ground between wild allegorisation, popular for most of church history, and the mere reductionism of 20th-century approaches. Taking his cue from Jesus, who interprets the parable of the sower and the parable of the wheat and the tares as clearly having more than one main point, Blomberg argues persuasively that most parables make three points. This shouldn’t surprise us, given that two-thirds of the parables are ‘triadic’ in structure, in that they have three main characters. Consequently, ‘each parable makes one main point per main character — usually two or three in each case — and these main characters are the most likely elements within the parable to stand for something other than themselves, thus giving the parable its allegorical nature’ (p.190).

This revised and expanded second edition of Blomberg’s book will make a valuable addition to a preacher’s library. While not all will want to dig deep into the more academic side of studying the parables (Blomberg’s treatment of historical and literary criticism, and redaction criticism is very thorough), the second half of the book, where Blomberg looks at the meaning and significance of every individual parable, is extremely useful. Personally, I would have appreciated a slightly more developed discussion on why Jesus spoke in parables. Nor was I convinced that the way Blomberg encourages us to read the parables necessarily leads to his conclusion that ‘reflection on the relationship between the kingdom and the church suggest that Jesus’s parables support premillennialism’ (p.430).

Robin Weekes,
tutor, PT Cornhill Training Course