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Although he certainly made good use of them, Jesus didn't invent the parable. They can be found throughout the Old Testament, and are still in use today, especially in the eastern world, but even in this country we often use similar methods of teaching, although we sometimes think of them as illustrations, analogies, and metaphors.

One of the earliest parables in the Scriptural record is that of Jotham, in which the trees are represented as seeking to anoint a king to rule over them (Judges 9:8). Another Old Testament parable is that of Jehoash, where a thistle is described as seeking an arranged marriage with a cedar (2 Kings 14:9).

When Christ used parables as means of reaching his audience, it would have come as no surprise to them. They were expected, even prophesied.

    I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden from of old - things we have heard and known, things our fathers have told us. -- Psalms 78:2-3

Jesus, and many of those who he was speaking to, were well aware of this. When asked by his disciples why he spoke to the people in parables, he replied:

    The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. This is why I speak in parables:

    Though seeing, they do not see;
    though hearing, they do not hear or understand.

    In them is fulfilled the prophesy of Isaiah ... -- Matthew 13:13-14

    Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable. So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet:

    "I will open my mouth in parables,
    I will utter things hidden since the
    creation of the world." -- Matthew 13:35

Christ's ministry didn't extend much beyond three years, so we can surmise that the central themes and topics of his messages were recorded for us by the authors of the New Testament, albeit in condensed form, and a large percentage of his teaching was in parables.

Establish the truth of the text

  1. In some cases, parables were the basis of other doctrinal addresses, as in the parable of the sower, and others.
  2. In others, the parable provide the application for the message he had delivered, as in the parable of the wise and foolish builders, which concluded the sermon on the mount.
  3. From the New Testament record, Jesus seldom spoke to an audience without making use of a parable.
  4. In some cases, he used a series of parables in succession, even as many as seven.

Reasons for using parables in teaching

Apart from the fact that parables were a traditional method of teaching in that day, Christ's use of parables in speaking was a fulfillment of prophecy, quoted above. There were other advantages, as well.

  1. Parables made it possible to speak of difficult subjects in a manner that was easy to understand.
  2. Parables were easy to listen to. Even today, figurative illustrations and metaphorical analogies are gratifying to most people, while abstract principles are hard to listen to when presented in abstract form.
  3. Parables made it possible to rebuke or to warn, but in a gentle manner.
  4. Parables permitted the Lord to reach an audience which would otherwise not listen.
  5. Parables, at least as used by Christ Jesus, were easily remembered and retained.
  6. Parables often held both simple and complex thoughts simultaneously, meeting the different capabilities of his audience.