Tuesday, August 11, 2009
The Purpose of Parables
(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:
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.
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.”
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.
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?
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).