Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Purpose of Parables

Sowing the Seed
(Photo by Pilgrimsarbour)

I wanted to make some comments from the combox more visible to my readers by making a new post on the continuing topic of the teachings of John 6. I spoke in my previous post about the use of parabolic language in John 6 against the doctrine of ubiquitous corporeality that Luther taught, and a form of which exists within the Roman Catholic understanding of the bodily presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

One commenter, Randy, feels that I have missed the mark entirely on what Jesus taught elsewhere about the nature and purpose of parables. Once we look at what the Scriptures have to say about the purpose of parables, we can, perhaps, look some more at John 6 and the "bread of life." In any case, the combox is open if you would like to view additional context for the discussion or add your own comments. Below are the passages in the synoptic gospels that speak to the question of the purpose of parables:

Matthew 13:10-16

10 Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” 11 And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12 For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. 14 Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says: ‘You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive. 15 For this people's heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.’ 16 But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. 17 For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.

Mark 4:10-12

10 And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. 11 And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, 12 so that “they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.”

Luke 8:9-10

9 And when his disciples asked him what this parable meant, 10 he said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’"

And now on to my commenter's questions.

Randy said...

I think it is just the fact that the plain meaning of this text is so obviously against you.

Since you believe these words mean something different that what I see as their plain meaning, please exegete them for me:

11 And he answered them, "To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given (Matthew 13:11).

Explain what it means that the secrets of the kingdom of heaven have not been given to everyone if it means something other than what it appears to mean on its face.

13 "This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand" (Matthew 13:13).

This could mean that Jesus uses parables to increase the crowd's understanding. However, then I would have to believe that when Jesus does speak plainly to the crowds, they don't understand him. Really? The examples of the crowds and the Jewish leaders taking up stones to kill him in other parts of the Scriptures should remove all doubt as to whether they understood Him or not. No, it's the parables that the crowds don't understand, not the plain teaching. If Jesus wanted to be understood by everyone, then why didn't He just stick to plain teaching? And the text is clear about the reason why: "...but to them it has not been given." Even in this very passage, John 6:41 ff., the Jews understood exactly what Jesus meant--that He was pre-existent with the Father and came down from heaven.

And Luke, as I said, puts it more starkly:

"...To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that 'seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand' (Luke 8:10, emphasis mine).

Why does He say this? Well, because Jesus is quoting from Isaiah 6 (as He clearly states in Matthew 13:13-15) in which Isaiah has a vision of the Lord, at which time the Lord gives him instructions:

8 And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" Then I said, "Here am I! Send me." 9 And he said, "Go, and say to this people: 'Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.' 10 Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed."

God is instructing Isaiah to bring a message of judgement against a stiff-necked people, and the Holy Spirit of Christ is the agent through which this judgement will be carried out. Why? For one reason, the Isaiah text provides us with two words which we translate as Lord: Lord = Adonai, and LORD = YHWH or Jehovah. This is similarly found in the Psalms:

"The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool” (Psalm 110:1).

Both Catholics and Protestants throughout the ages have recognised Christ in the word translated into English as "Lord" (Adonai) of Psalm 110 and Isaiah 6, and the Father translated into English in capital letters as the word "LORD" (YHWH or Jehovah) of Psalm 110 and Isaiah 6.

It is the voice of the Lord (Adonai) that is speaking to Isaiah in chapter 6. We then come to the wonderfully astonishing conclusion that in Matthew 13, Mark 4, and Luke 8 Jesus is actually quoting Himself from Isaiah! So it becomes even more evident that Jesus is using parables "lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed." Why would He quote this if He meant something entirely different than what He meant in Isaiah 6?

Randy said...

To ask a question is illogical because Jesus is not trying to make me understand. He is talking in some sort of code only Calvinists understand. I was a Calvinist for 35 years and I know they don't normally go there.

You can't know that Jesus doesn't want you to understand Him finally. That's not up to us to decide for ourselves. We don't ask God if we're elect or not. If we have questions and a desire to understand the gospel of salvation and become one of His disciples, it's because the Spirit of God is moving in our hearts toward that end. He says: "And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26). These are the things He does for those who are called by the Father, those for whom it is granted by the Father (John 6:37, 65).

From an earlier comment Randy said...

"The diciples were given more details because Jesus was preparing them to lead, teach, and sanctify the church. After pentecost there was no need to keep anything secret. The full gospel was to be preached to everyone."

Well now you are contradicting yourself. By your understanding, why was there a need to keep anything secret at all? Haven't you been arguing against that idea all along? So anyone who died having not understood the "secret" before the full gospel was preached is just as lost as the one for whom "it has not been given." What's the end result difference between what you're saying and what Reformed theology teaches about election and the use of parables?

From an earlier comment Randy said...

"I have several siblings who are calvinist pastors. They would never say that Jesus would confuse people because they were not elect anyway. They take it as a solumn [sic] responsibility never to mislead anyone about the gospel."

Your siblings, no doubt, preach the Word of God. They do not teach their congregations in parables, nor would they deliberately mislead anyone (presumably), but they teach straightforwardly from the Word of God. And the plain and clear explanation for each parable that Jesus taught has been made available to us in the Scriptures and in a way that was not available to the multitudes of Jesus' day. A minister of the gospel does not have any knowledge about who is elect and who is not, so they at all times preach to everyone, everywhere. And where the seed takes purchase, that is to God's glory. And where it doesn't, that is also to God's glory. It's all for God's glory.

Finally, I don't have much in the way of Scripture commentaries, but I discovered this while preparing an answer to your assertion that Reformed theology doesn't teach that the parables were for the purpose of blinding the eyes of those would not believe. They prove nothing other than being a response to your assertion. The following is from the Reformation Study Bible (ESV), ©2005 Ligonier Ministries, p. 1469:

On Luke 8:10:

that. Jesus' teaching in parables has a twofold purpose--to reveal the mysteries of the kingdom to those who have "ears to hear" (v.8) and to conceal the truth of the kingdom from those who do not. See notes Matt. 13:13; Mark 4:11.

And on Luke 8:13:

they believe for a while. One test of a true and living faith is perseverance. Those who finally depart from the way of truth reveal that they were never actually part of God's family (1 John 2:19).

10 comments:

Randy said...

I think you completely misunderstood me. When I said the text was plainly against you I meant John 6. Every time a protestant talks about John 6 they get desperately irrational. You are no different. But the parable question is interesting in it's own right even if it is completely unrelated to John 6 which is not a parable at all.

Was Jesus trying to explain the Kingdom of God or hide it? A little of both. Before Pentecost Jesus did want to hide his aganda from the pharisees and the Romans. He would have been executed much sooner had he not done so. So parables were one way to do that.

But for us, who have the light of the crucifixion and ressurection, the parables make the Kingdom clearer. That is why we still use them and use them effectively to evangelize.

As to the inability of the unelect to understand the gospel. That is due to sin. It is not due to God failing to explain it right. It is not because the gospel is not reasonable. On the contrary, God's way makes logic sense and only choosing to be irrational allows you to remain in sin.

Take abortion as an example. Logic shows us that a fetus is a human being. So does scripture. If we want to accept the sin of abortion we can refuse to go where that logic would take us. The reasons may have to do with indulging your own desires. They only make sense to a darkened intellect.

Catholics actually have a lot of agreement with Calvinists about the fallen nature of man and the need for grace to even choose the gospel in faith. Catholics don't completely crush free will like Calvinists do but that does not apply much here. You have the dynamic of grace overcoming a darkened intellect so that some may be saved. It does not imply that the delivery of the gospel is somehow indirect or unclear. It is just the nature of sin and the nature of grace. It has nothing to do with teaching style.

Martin said...

This book earned high marks from thesacredpage.com (singing in the reign.blogspot.com). The site is a couple of Catholic bible scholars, one day I will have time and money to read all these good books.

Stories with Intent: A Comprehensive Guide to the Parables of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008)

Pilgrimsarbour said...

Part 1

Randy said...

I think you completely misunderstood me.

Oh, I think I understand you all right.

Randy said...

Every time a protestant talks about John 6 they get desperately irrational. You are no different.

Yes, of course. I get it. At least you're consistent in this one thing. I'll give you that.

But the parable question is interesting in it's [sic] own right even if it is completely unrelated to John 6 which is not a parable at all.

I said Jesus is teaching the crowds using parabolic language to describe a spiritual reality, not that John 6 is itself a parable like the prodigal son or the lost sheep or something. Even those who believe in transubstantiation believe that the Eucharist is a spiritual reality as well as a physical one. Don't you?

The reason for the post on the purpose of parables is because of the comments you left me and what Dave said to me in a previous post:

Jesus certainly would have explained what He meant in order to clear up the misunderstanding (and the abandonment), rather than simply reiterate and emphasize the same point more and more strongly: as the passage records (emphasis mine).

Randy said...

As to the inability of the unelect to understand the gospel. That is due to sin.

Of course. We are in agreement.

Randy said...

It is not due to God failing to explain it right.

I know of no Christian, Reformed, Catholic or otherwise who believes that God fails at anything, including "explaining the gospel," so that is a nonsense statement.

Randy said...

It is not because the gospel is not reasonable. On the contrary, God's way makes logic sense and only choosing to be irrational allows you to remain in sin.

Rubbish. How can man, who is by default irrational under the burden of his sins, make a reasoned, rational "choice" for God? He cannot unless he is being drawn to Christ by the Father through the agency of the Holy Spirit. Once again, here is John 6:44:

44 "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day."

Pilgrimsarbour said...

Part 2

The Scripture is against you once again:

"For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God" (1 Corinthians 1:18).

"And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing" (1 Corinthians 4:3).

"9 The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, 10 and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, 12 in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness (2 Thessalonians 2:9-12 emphasis mine).

Randy said...

You have the dynamic of grace overcoming a darkened intellect so that some may be saved.

Correct. Those that are being saved have been enlightened by the Holy Spirit. God is doing a work of grace in their hearts, regenerating them and giving them a heart of flesh where once was a heart of stone.

Randy said...

It does not imply that the delivery of the gospel is somehow indirect or unclear. It is just the nature of sin and the nature of grace.

You are aguing for the perspecuity of the gospel message. I agree that it is a clear message to those who are being saved. It is not clear to those who are perishing (see Scripture quotes above). The fact is, some of the most rational human beings the world has ever known have rejected the gospel as being outright "irrational."

Randy said...

It has nothing to do with teaching style.

Again I ask you to exegete this verse:

"...To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that 'seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand' (Luke 8:10, emphasis mine).

You cannot exegete this properly according to your belief system. It militates against your idea that everyone has an equal chance at being saved but it's just the really smart ones, that is, the "rational" ones that will take God up on His offer.

Martin said...

Rubbish. How can man, who is by default irrational under the burden of his sins, make a reasoned, rational "choice" for God? He cannot unless he is being drawn to Christ by the Father through the agency of the Holy Spirit. Once again, here is John 6:44:

From personal experience I can say that God's will has been crystal clear to me and *I* chose otherwise. My intellect was not darkened. I rejected Him.

(and He brought me back. Praise God)

"No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day."

As a Catholic I would lean on the word, "Draw" that is to pull, allowing me to run away or fight.

Pilgrimsarbour said...

Speaking of the gospel in my last comment above I said...

It is not clear to those who are perishing...

Sometimes it is all too clear and is completely rejected nonetheless. Hence, the greater the condemnation of that individual for the light he had been given and his abuse of the free gift of God's grace.

Pilgrimsarbour said...

My understanding of the word "draw" in John 6:44 means to compel, as when we draw water from a well in a bucket. We don't "woo" the water to come to us--it does as we command.

If we spill the water and it falls to the bottom of the well, that is where the analogy breaks down because "My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand" (John 10:29).

Martin said...

My understanding of the word "draw" in John 6:44 means to compel, as when we draw water from a well in a bucket. We don't "woo" the water to come to us--it does as we command.

Here, analogies fail as you and I are not water. We have a free will which either is or is not involved in our justification/salvation. In some fashion, we are both drawn to (yes compelled) and run to the Father (note the Prodigal son reference)

both/and...not either/or

Pilgrimsarbour said...

Here, analogies fail as you and I are not water. We have a free will which either is or is not involved in our justification/salvation.

In my view, the analogy holds because man's will is not free since the fall, but I know you don't agree. As I've said elsewhere, Reformed see justification as monergistic and sanctification as synergistic.

Also, I don't think Jesus is a real wooden door or "gate" with metal hinges either, although he claimed to be the "door of the sheep" (John 10:7-9). The question remains for us, is Jesus a real piece of bread or is He speaking metaphorically? I know your answer, but I don't understand how you arrive at it since it's inconsistent with Jesus' use of metaphors elsewhere in the Scriptures.

both/and...not either/or

I hope you're not asserting that every metaphor used in the Scriptures is a matter of both/and. Either Jesus is a real wooden door with metal hinges or He is not. He cannot be both/and.

Furthermore, I suspect you will not apply that principle to the question of predestination and man's choices. God's sovereignty versus man's free will is not the issue. The issue is God's sovereignty versus man's autonomy.

I'm letting go of the requested exegesis of the verses I posted. I suspect none is forthcoming.

Martin said...

Furthermore, I suspect you will not apply that principle to the question of predestination and man's choices. God's sovereignty versus man's free will is not the issue. The issue is God's sovereignty versus man's autonomy.

This is more subtle and a good reason why I avoid discussions of justification. I am simply unable to carry my weight.

That is also why I am taking a pass at the scripture quotes. If Adomnan takes up your questions on Baptism you might be able to interest him. He seems quiet knowledgeable of both scripture and theology.