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Parables Podcast Series

Parables in Context – Parables Q+R

Why didn’t Paul use more parables? Is the parable of the four soils about salvation, or something else? In this episode, Tim and Jon answer these and other excellent audience questions on the parables of Jesus.
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Episode Details

April 23, 2020
51 min

Episode Details

April 23, 2020
51 min

Show Notes


In any form of indirect communication, you risk people not getting what you’re saying. But apparently Jesus thought the cost was worth it, because that’s how he talked much of the time. And you could argue that much of the Bible is a form of indirect communication through its poetic design.


  • The apostle Paul used a communication style that fit the diverse, non-religious audience that he spoke to. Jesus used cryptic communication for an Israelite audience. Both styles can be helpful for us today in different contexts.
  • The original context of a parable should help to inform the significance we take from it. The parable of the four soils, for example, highlights how people respond to the message of the Kingdom.
  • Gospel authors intentionally structure content to make a persuasive point. This is true for both parable and narrative context.

Paul and Parables

Zach from Washington (2:25–6:40)

I wanted to see if you feel like there is a contrast, one in how Paul believes we should communicate to people, and two, is the parabolic way of Jesus communication style still important for us as we communicate the Kingdom now?

The apostle Paul is often direct with people about the Gospel, while Jesus often hides the principles of the Kingdom of God behind parables. Why the difference?

Tim shares that Jesus and Paul occupy different moments in the biblical story. Jesus often used indirect communication through parables to unsettle the complacent, confuse the hostile, and give hope to the lowly. Paul sees himself called to the nations, where cryptic communication would be less effective among a diverse and non-Israelite audience. Either style of communication can be effective in a given context.

A Parable or Not? The Rich Man and Lazarus

Doreen from Florida (6:40–17:05)

In most American translations it's obvious when you're reading a parable because it says so in the subtitle (parable of the lost son, parable of the lost coin, etc.). However, Luke 16:19-31 simply says “The Rich Man and Lazarus.” So is this actually a parable, or is Jesus giving us some insight into what life after death is going to be like?

Tim shares that the opening line of this story is exactly the same as the previous parable of the dishonest manager. This would be the only parable where a character is named (Lazarus), but Tim believes that’s part of the point. Lazarus, meaning “God is help,” shows that God is on the side of the poor. It’s the poor man who is remembered by his name, but the rich man’s name is forgotten. Tim shares that the thrust of this parable is about how the listener responds to Jesus and his message.

The Soils and Salvation

Marco from Oregon (17:05–23:08)

I've heard of many series and sermons on the parable of the sower, in Matthew 13 for example, and that it is speaking to salvation, and some of the soil are saved people while some are not. What are your thoughts on this? Are we just reading that into the passage? Or if it is speaking to salvation, which ones are saved, and which ones are not?

Tim shares that the parable of the four soils, in its original context, is providing commentary on what Jesus is doing at that moment in proclaiming the Kingdom. The parable has to do with how people respond to his message. This is a perspective shift from how many people have heard this parable, but Tim advocates for anchoring the meaning in what Jesus meant to his audience. He references a sermon he gave on this parable, which is linked in the show notes.

Once we anchor the parable in its original context, the significance comes as we apply that meaning to ourselves. In this case, the message of the Kingdom will have varied responses due to factors outside our control, but we can trust that the message of the Kingdom will do its work.

The Enacted Parable of the Child

Isaiah from Georgia (23:08–34:50)

My question is about Matthew 18:12-14. In Matthew, Jesus tells a lot of stories about children. Is this parable about children and God's protection over them?

In the context of the parable of the lost sheep, Jesus connects the sheep to “little children.” Tim shares that this is a thread found throughout the Gospel according to Matthew, and the little children refers to Jesus’ followers.

When the disciples ask who is the greatest in the Kingdom, Jesus enacts a parable by welcoming a child—someone who shows no care for social rank. Jesus says his disciples must intentionally lower themselves, and Matthew 18 follows this flow of thought to show how followers of Jesus are to live in community.

Parables and Structure in Luke

Lauren from Indiana (34:50–43:33)

In Luke 9:57-62, Jesus makes these three short statements to people that he's inviting to follow him. Are these cryptic statements themselves parables? And beyond that I feel as if Luke has purposefully put these three brief conversations together and give it at the feeling of a parable itself. What do you think?

Tim and Jon read this passage from Luke 9.

Luke 9:57-62
As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” And he said to another, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.” But he said to him, “Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the Kingdom of God.” Another also said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home.” But Jesus said to him, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the Kingdom of God.”

Jesus answers three times with mini-parables. These instances were likely put together by Luke to show a portrait of Jesus to present a choice to people. Both the parables and Luke’s Gospel are crafted to make a point. So while this section isn’t a parable, it brings together several short interactions from Jesus to make a larger point about Jesus’ call to discipleship.

Original Context in the Bible

Anthony from Australia (43:33–end)

You discuss knowing the parables or taking the context around the parables before we take the imperative and apply it to our own lives. I was wondering where you think this fits when you look at the Sermon on the Mount. A lot of times I hear people take that teaching and apply it directly to us, and it doesn't feel like it goes through our filter. What’s your say on this?

We should read The Sermon the Mount, like the parables (and all the Bible) in context. When we do this, it doesn’t prevent it from speaking to other contexts; rather, the original context helps to illuminate the significance for people across all contexts.

Additional Resources

Show Music

  • Defender Instrumental by Tents

Show produced by Dan Gummel

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