Why Did Jesus Speak in Parables?

Here is a question I get quite a bit; and just recently have been asked it more than usual:

Why did Jesus talk in parables?

I also wrote about this question here, but because I’ve been asked it so many times recently I thought I would say something again. I believe he did so for reasons that are two-fold. First, Jesus spoke in parables to get others in his era, for the first time, to think for themselves in knowing what it means to implement Kingdom Principles in their own real-time situations. Until the point that Jesus came along, all ‘believers’ were force-fed rules and regulations by religious gatekeepers who did all of the thinking and disseminating for everyone – ‘everyone’ who was then just expected to fall in line.

God could have had the Bible written, specifically in the Gospels, as another laundry list of yes/no situations that Jesus could have very easily communicated to everyone. What is considered the New Testament today could have been nothing more than an updated version of Leviticus. But, secondly then, Jesus knew that such a simplistic yes/no medium for living and thinking within the new covenant would not work for every situation in every circumstance throughout all of the generations to follow until he came back.

That is why today, hermeneutically speaking, it is so vital for us to start clinging to the ever-applicable Principles within Scripture that we might start to instill a Jesus-inspired baseline biblical framework to work off of. I am not trying to relegate Paul or the Old Testament as second or third class citizens because the same means of principled-interpretation can be used for them as well. I speak more about this in my book (specifically in Chapters 6, 7 and 10), but,

I’d love to hear your thoughts on why you believe Jesus spoke in parables when he clearly could have answered everything, with much ease, in more easily accessible fashion? And what does this mean for us today?

Much love.


Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • I think Jesus wanted us to grasp the bigger picture. Maybe develop intellectually as thinkers and ponderers, not just cogs in the machine of legalism. That can be a problem with literal thinkers. They don’t grasp the idea of concepts in story form, and suddenly the story, rather than the lesson becomes the focal point.
    People do this with both Old Testament, particularly in regards to human origins. A literal view of Adam and Eve leaves little room for the vast picture being painted…of a God who WANTED humans and loved them, despitie their imperfections. The literalist sees snakes and apples and nudity. Not love, acceptance, and an imperfect people.

  • Another thought:
    Jesus makes his thoughts very clear through parable form. He also leaves room for us the mentally ponder his teachings, and discuss them with others. We learn so much about God through each other’s lives. Maybe he was attempting to encourage that.

    • I couldn’t agree more with your thoughts Marsha! I do, very strongly, believe that the Lord wants us to be thinkers; in ways that inform our ‘doing’ – not just regurgitators and receivers like the religious gatekeepers and believers of Jesus’ day. If you notice as well that the Bible (Old and New) is filled with people of bold, active faith that implement and participate with God’s moving ways.

  • Jason

    Last night I was reading to my 7 y.o. daughter from the “Jesus Storybook Bible,” which, as a whole, seems to be great — language, message, illustrations = beautiful. We read the parable of the Hidden Treasure, at the end of which the author insinuates that Jesus spoke in parables to help the audience better understand his message. In the moment I wasn’t sure how to go there with my daughter, so I passed over my question, but internally I was like, “really . . . to provide clarity?” Clarity isn’t exactly the first thing that comes to mind regarding the parables of Jesus.
    I’m wondering if Jesus spoke in parables because of the place story held in the culture of the day. Like life experiences, people can carry stories with them — they can share them. Stories can also be summarized, while retaining their meaning. I may not remember every detail, but a story’s meaning can stick. This may address the practical reasons for speaking in parables, as for the spiritual implications of speaking in parables, I’m not as certain.

    • Jason – Story was so important then, as it is now as well! Somewhere between Jesus’ time and now our cultural thinking (specifically Christian) has dramatically shifted to unemotional intellectual rigor to prove correctness. I might be naive, but I’m one of those folks that take the Bible, Jesus’ words, etc very much as they are. I don’t think the Bible was meant to be a trick to any of us, but I do believe, especially in the Gospels, that the Bible is meant to make us think and engage in unique ways today. Unique ways that are similar to the unique ways Jesus modeled for us in his thinking and communicating as well.

  • Radish

    Mat 13:10 Then the disciples came to him and said, “Why do you speak to them in parables?”
    Mat 13:11 He replied, “You have been given the opportunity to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but they have not.
    Mat 13:12 For whoever has will be given more, and will have an abundance. But whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.
    Mat 13:13 For this reason I speak to them in parables: Although they see they do not see, and although they hear they do not hear nor do they understand.
    Mat 13:14 And concerning them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:
    ‘You will listen carefully yet will never understand,
    you will look closely yet will never comprehend.
    Mat 13:15 For the heart of this people has become dull;
    they are hard of hearing,
    and they have shut their eyes,
    so that they would not see with their eyes
    and hear with their ears
    and understand with their hearts
    and turn, and I would heal them.’

  • Geoff G.

    Your description makes the use of parable sound almost like a kind of variant on the Socratic method. Parable invites the listener to derive the general principle using his or her own reason, just as the Socratic method uses interrogation to do the same (although admittedly Socrates probably ended up sowing more confusion than anything else).

    If I had to hazard a guess, I’d also say that parable is a far more accessible means of teaching. Logically systematized legalistic systems (read Aquinas!) may appeal to pedants and intellectuals, but they’re not terribly good at reaching the vast bulk of humanity. Stories are much better for that.

  • natalia

    I’m in Mark 4 (the parable of the sower). As I’m STUDYING God’s Word, praying about it, meditating upon it, asking the Holy Spirit to help me, I noticed something. V.3 “Listen to this! Behold,” & v.9 “He who has ears to hear, let him hear”. It seems to me Jesus is asking the listeners to HEAR, PAY ATTENTION, yet, v.10 the “very large crowd” of v.1, CHOSE to leave.
    They have heard the parable (LOGOS) & then CHOSE TO LEAVE. To me, v.10 is the KEY!!! “As soon as He was ALONE, His followers, along with the twelve, began ASKING Him about the parables”. There are the “followers & the 12” who are not satisfied with the LOGOS, but, ASKING for the RHEMA!!! I believe there is a HUGE diff. between LOGOS & RHEMA!!! Logos goes to ALL. Rhema goes to the select few. Those who really WANT to hear more, have more, are not satisfied with only surface things. They wanna go DEEPER with God. They seek Him in “alonness”–in the “secret place”. In the “prayer closet”. Faith comes by hearing & hearing by the RHEMA of God. If faith came by LOGOS, everyone who EVER heard the LOGOS would become a believer. BUT, they do not. Samuel only heard God’s RHEMA when he ASKED for it. 1 Sam.3:10 “Speak, for Your servant is listening.” So, Mk.4:10 also shows that Jesus DOES NOT discriminate. The 12 were NOT the only ones who ASKED & received God’s RHEMA, the explanation to the parable. The “followers” also did. How many followers were there? We do NOT know. That leaves the door OPEN to ALL who were hungry & thirsty enough to hear MORE. Like Mary who sat at Jesus’s feet & ATE every word He spoke. Mt.7:6 “Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine”. So, God will NOT give His RHEMA to those who are satisfied with LOGOS!!! What have I learned? The answer is the PRAYER Closet. The Secret Place. V.10 “as soon as He was ALONE”.
    God gives us His Rhema, the interpretation to the Scriptures when we get ALONE with Him & seek Him for more…..& one of my all-time favorite Scripture, Isa.45:3 “I will give you the treasures of darkness And hidden wealth of secret places, So that you may know that it is I, The LORD, the God of Israel, who calls you by your name.” Darkness, Secret…it all refers to the “alonness, the Prayer closet”. Isaiah who said ‘Keep on listening, but do not perceive; Keep on looking, but do not understand’ (6:9) also promised the “treasures, wealth” (45:3). Jeremiah also helps us understand (29:13) “You will seek Me and find Me WHEN you search for Me with all your heart.” Looks to me like the “very large crowd” of Mk.4:1 did NOT search “with all their heart.” BUT, “His followers, along with the twelve” DID!!! & they got His RHEMA. But, keep on reading!
    Mk.4:21-22 ” And He was saying to them, ‘A lamp is not brought to be put under a basket, is it, or under a bed? Is it not brought to be put on the lampstand? For nothing is hidden, except to be revealed; nor has anything been secret, but that it would come to light’.” Jesus is saying What I tell you in “secret” (the prayer closet), share with others. Mt.10:27 agrees “What I tell you in the darkness, speak in the light; and what you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim upon the housetops”. So, Mk. goes all the way to v.25 saying the same thing–if we ask for RHEMA, more will be given to us.
    But to those who listen casually, just so they can say they “read the chapter for the day” OR that they “attended church today”….v.25 “whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him”. For a while there, I, too, thought Why does Jesus discriminate? Why does He give the interpretation only to His disciples? But then God showed me that He gave His RHEMA, the interpretation to ALL who WANTED more. Who spent time with Him “alone”. We need to take TIME to be in the Word AND PRAYER. His presence is NOT “drive through”. Tarry with Him. I LOVE the song that says “I come to the garden alone”. I sing it often when I come to meet with Him. Acts 8:31, the Ethiopian said “how could I (understand what I’m reading), unless someone guides me?” We soooo
    need the Holy Spirit to guide us. Prayer. The Word. Thank YOU majestic Father for Your WORD!!! Mt.11:25 (Jesus in His prayer says) “I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because You have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children”. Little children are those who can admit that ALONE we can do nothing. We NEED His guidance in order to understand His Word. Otherwise it will ALL be only like a PARABLE to us–without meaning. P.S.–what God showed me in the Parable of the Sower–there are 3 that make the seed useless: the devil, the flesh (self, nature), & the world!!! Also, the stoney, rocky ground (self, flesh, nature) is the legalistic heart. I was born & raised in the church. Religion. Rules & regulations, NO RELATIONSHIP. That heart is “stony”–law was written on tablets of stone. I was a Pharisee (& did NOT know it) for 46 yrs. & then, (after changing churches for the first time in my life) I heard a sermon. Not to “sinners”, BUT to Pharisees. I HAD BEEN praying for more. Knew something was missing. & God who knew my heart, knew I wanted more, showed me I was just a Pharisee. I did not even know the Pharisees still existed. I put my trust in Him to save me that day, almost 4 yrs. ago. Since then, I’ve been growing TREMENDOUSLY.
    The Word is taking on a new meaning. No longer just LOGOS. Rhema. It’s the only thing satisfying me. Ps.81:10 “Open your mouth wide and I will fill it.”
    If you hunger for Rhema….the prayer, secret closet. Otherwise He will say “I never KNEW you.” If you feel no hunger, ask Him for it. BEG Him for it. He gives to all who ask. Who seek HIM with ALL their hearts.