What Is A Parable? A Bible Definition

What Is A Parable? A Bible Definition May 22, 2014

Jesus gives us many parables in the Bible.  What is a parable?  Why does He use parables…to hide or clarify the meaning?


The word parable is from the root word “paraballo” or in the Greek “parabole.” This compound word comes from “para” which means “to come along side or compare” and “ballo” which literally means “to throw” or “see” with.  The parables are used in giving one or more instructional lessons or principles and can be an allegory and may include inanimate objects (like trees, plants, or things) or people in various societal positions.  There is often a tension between good and evil or sinful and holy meaning that they can proclaim what is good versus what is bad and what is evil in contrast to what is holy or God-like.   A parable is often a significant comparison between two objects that may be used as a mirror image of a comparable object to teach a single concept or teaching.   Some of the key words that Jesus usually concludes the parables with are phrases that alert the listener to pay close attention to what was just said and may include such words as “He who has ears, let him hear, Most assuredly I say to you,” and “How much more.”  Jesus wants the listeners to focus on what was just stated in the parable so that they will comprehend what Jesus is trying to teach them.

Hidden from Some

Jesus clearly gives parables to hide the meaning from those whose hearts are hardened.  Some of the parables are hard to understand but they frequently serve as object lessons that use experiences from life to clearly communicate a meaning for Jesus’ teachings.  Jesus quotes Isaiah the Prophet by saying “I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world” (Matt 13:35). The disciples asked Jesus “Why do you speak to them in parables?” 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” (Matt 13:10-11) otherwise “they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them” (Matt 13:15b) because “the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened” (Heb 4:2).  So we can say that parables were given to hide the meaning from those who choose to reject Jesus and the message of God and to clarify or give a fuller meaning and understanding to those who believed on the Lord.

What is a Parable

The Spirit and the Word

Those who hear the gospel message without the Holy Spirit have no chance to understand it.  First of all, faith comes by hearing the Word of God (Rom 10:17).  For those who have been born again

“these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.  For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.  Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.  And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual” (1 Cor 2:10-13)

but “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor 2:14). The conclusion is that no one can understand the Word of God, including the meaning of the parables, without the Holy Spirit and those who are not saved see this as “folly” or foolishness as some translations state.  It takes the Spirit of God, mixed with the Word of God, proclaimed by a son/daughter of God to make the children of God.  With even one of these three missing, the gospel will seem like foolishness to them for they are blinded to the gospel message and “it is veiled to those who are perishing.  In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor 4:3-4).


If you haven’t repented, then you cannot completely understand why you need saving.  A person without the Holy Spirit cannot know Christ as Savior nor can they see their need for saving.  For a person that has repented, confessed their sins, and seen their need to trust in their Savior, Jesus Christ, they have the Spirit of God and for this reason “God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor 4:6). If that is you, then you ought to give thanks to God for your salvation is fully a work of God and not something that you or I could ever do (Eph 2:8-9) and that’s why it’s called the “good news.”

Another Reading on Patheos to Check Out: What Did Jesus Really Look Like: A Look at the Bible Facts

Article by Jack Wellman

Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book  Blind Chance or Intelligent Design available on Amazon

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