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Parables Podcast Series

Decoding the Parables

In this episode, Tim and Jon talk about the first of three questions to help us become wise readers of the parables and gain insight from them. What symbols did Jesus weave in the parables—and which did he not? Join Tim and Jon for this fascinating discussion.
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Episode Details

April 13, 2020
71 min

Episode Details

April 13, 2020
71 min

Show Notes


It seems like Jesus is saying, “I’m going to give you this parable, and you are going to be so confused—not just by this parable right now, but by everything that’s about to happen. And what I want you to do is come back to this parable and reflect on what happened and now unpack this and realize now that you are entrusted with my teachings, with my power, and with my example. Now go and use that.


  • There are good ways to read the parables and bad ways to read the parables. A bad way to read the parables is to look for symbolic meaning in every detail, or on the opposite extreme, to define only one layer of meaning in each parable.
  • The first question to ask when reading the parables is how each parable fits in the larger context of the Gospel author’s writing and Jesus’ larger Kingdom of God mission.
  • The parables of the minas shows us that God’s Kingdom comes in a way many did not expect. The context that Luke places around the parable helps us to grasp why Jesus told this parable.

Three Kinds of Parables

In part one (0:00–14:00), Tim and Jon begin by recapping the series so far. The parables are short, fictitious stories Jesus told as a way to explain how he was bringing the Kingdom of God. The parables pick up on a rich tradition found in the Hebrew Scriptures and show how Jesus viewed himself as bringing the culmination of Israel’s story.

The parables are cryptic; they are indirect, meant to both conceal and reveal the Kingdom of God for this listeners. Tim recaps three main kinds of parables.

  • Parables about the surprising nature of God’s Kingdom. Jesus brought the Kingdom in a way that few people expected.
  • Parables about the upside-down value system of the Kingdom of God. The parables show us how the Kingdom of God should reshape our ideas on forgiveness or wealth or social status and the invitation of God’s Kingdom.
  • Parables of crisis. These parables depict characters at key moments of decision, usually under an authority figure.

How to Not Read the Parables

In part two (14:00–31:30), Tim and Jon begin by addressing some of the unhelpful ways that people have read the parables.

Tim explains the allegorical approach to interpreting the parables. In this method, every detail of a parable has a symbolic correspondent, lifting it from original context and placing it in a new context. The most widely known example of this is the interpretation of the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) by Augustine of Hippo (354–430 A.D.). Tim quotes from Augustine:

A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho; Adam himself is meant; Jerusalem is the heavenly city of peace, from whose blessedness Adam fell; Jericho means the moon, and signifies our mortality, because it is born, waxes, wanes, and dies. Thieves are the devil and his angels. Who stripped him, namely; of his immortality; and beat him, by persuading him to sin; and left him half-dead…. The priest and the Levite who saw him and passed by, signify the priesthood and ministry of the Old Testament which could profit nothing for salvation. Samaritan means Guardian, and therefore the Lord Himself is signified by this name. The binding of the wounds is the restraint of sin. Oil is the comfort of good hope; wine, the exhortation to work with fervent spirit. The beast is the flesh in which He deigned to come to us. The being set upon the beast is belief in the incarnation of Christ. The inn is the Church, where travelers returning to their heavenly country are refreshed after pilgrimage.
– Augustine, Quaestiones Evangeliorum, II, 19.

Jon points out that this isn’t a far-fetched way to read the parables; the question becomes, are we honoring Jesus by asking what he meant when he told the story? Instead of reading this parable in the context of the story, Augustine lifts this parable from context and places it in a new context.

On the other end of the spectrum are scholars like Adolf Julicher (1857–1938), a scholar who showed how the parables of Jesus reflected life in first-century Palestine. Julicher believed that every parable had one main point, and every other detail was supplementary. The parable of the talents, for example, meant, “Be faithful with what God has given you”—and nothing more.

Most scholars now fall in the middle of these two approaches. All parables have a surface-level meaning as well as a deeper symbolic meaning. The question becomes: how do I learn which symbols are important, and how do I connect them to what Jesus intended by them?

A Question When Reading the Parables

In part three (31:30–43:30), Tim unpacks the first of three questions we can ask when reading Jesus’ parables: what is the narrative context provided by the Gospel authors and the context of Jesus’ Kingdom of God announcement to Israel? Tim shares an example from Luke 19.

Luke 19:11-28
While they were listening to this, he went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once. He said: “A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return. So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas. ‘Put this money to work,’ he said, ‘until I come back.’ But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, ‘We don’t want this man to be our king.’ He was made king, however, and returned home. Then he sent for the servants to whom he had given the money, in order to find out what they had gained with it. The first one came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has earned ten more.’ ‘Well done, my good servant!’ his master replied. ‘Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.’ The second came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has earned five more.’ His master answered, ‘You take charge of five cities.’ Then another servant came and said, ‘Sir, here is your mina; I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth. I was afraid of you, because you are a hard man. You take out what you did not put in and reap what you did not sow.’ His master replied, ‘I will judge you by your own words, you wicked servant! You knew, did you, that I am a hard man, taking out what I did not put in, and reaping what I did not sow? Why then didn’t you put my money on deposit, so that when I came back, I could have collected it with interest?’ Then he said to those standing by, ‘Take his mina away from him and give it to the one who has ten minas.’ ‘Sir,’ they said, ‘he already has ten!’ He replied, ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what they have will be taken away. But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me.’” And when he had said these things, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.

Jon shares his first impressions—seeing the violence and harshness with money makes this a difficult parable to understand or connect to a larger context. Tim then begins to unpack the context of this parable.

The Parable of the Minas

In part four (43:30–end), Tim and Jon discuss the parables of the minas in more detail.

Tim points out that many modern interpretations tie this parable to eternal vocation based on what we (the servants) do with his (the king’s) money (our talents, gifts, etc.). But does this give Jesus and Luke credit for what they were trying to communicate? Luke tells us that people had an expectation of the Kingdom of God, and Jesus was about to ride into Jerusalem and turn their expectations upside-down.

This parable presents several sets of characters—a coming King who generated varied responses, faithful servants, an apathetic servant, and rebellious subjects.

Tim shares more context from later in Luke 19.

Luke 19:41-44
As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s visitation.”

Jesus, knowing that Israel and its leaders have rejected them, weeps. The people miss the arrival of God’s Kingdom in Jesus. Luke’s parable tells us that the wicked subjects deserve to die, but Jesus is the king who places himself in their place through his crucifixion.

Israel expected God’s Kingdom to come and vindicate them from Rome, but in this parable Jesus accuses Israel themselves of being like Babylon, which will lead to destruction. The arrival of the Kingdom brings different realities for different people. Jesus leaves a choice for his hearers as he goes to bring the Kingdom in an unexpected way.

Additional Resources

Show Music

  • Defender Instrumental by Tents
  • Beneath Your Waves by Sleepy Fish

Show produced by Dan Gummel

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