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The parables of Jesus, found in the three synoptic gospels, are a key part of the teachings of Jesus, forming approximately one third of his recorded teachings. Christians place high emphasis on these parables, since being the words of Jesus they are believed as what the Father has taught, indicated by John 8:28 and 14:10.[1][2]

Jesus' parables are seemingly simple and memorable stories, often with imagery, and each conveys a message. Scholars have commented that although these parables seem simple, the messages they convey are deep, and central to the teachings of Jesus. Christian authors view them not as mere similitudes which serve the purpose of illustration, but as internal analogies where nature becomes a witness for the spiritual world.[3][4]

Jesus, for example, likened the Kingdom of God to a mustard seed which although small can grow to be a tree large enough for birds to nest in it. And he also likened it to leaven implying that as men get mixed with it, corruption can arise.

In Western civilization, these parables formed the prototype for the term parable and in the modern age, even among those who know little of the Bible, the parables of Jesus remain some of the best known stories in the world.[5]

Roots and sources

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As a translation of the Hebrew word mashal the word parable can also refer to a riddle. In all times in their history the Jews were familiar with teaching by means of parables and a number of parables also exist in the Old Testament. The use of parables by Jesus was hence a natural teaching method that fit into the tradition of his time.[6][7] The parables of Jesus have been quoted, taught and discussed since the very beginnings of Christianity.

Four gospels

Of the four canonical gospels the parables are almost all in the three synoptic gospels. The Gospel of John contains only the stories of the Vine and Good Shepherd, which some consider to be a parable,[8][9] else it includes allegories but no parables. Several authors such as Barbara Reid, Arland Hultgren or Donald Griggs comment that "parables are noticeably absent from the Gospel of John".[10][11][12][13]

The Catholic Encyclopedia states: "There are no parables in St. John's Gospel. In the Synoptics ... we reckon thirty-three in all; but some have raised the number even to sixty, by including proverbial expressions."[14] The Gospel of Luke contains both the largest total number of parables (24) and eighteen unique parables; the Gospel of Matthew contains 23 parables of which eleven are unique; and the Gospel of Mark contains eight parables of which two are unique.

In Harmony of the Gospels, Cox and Easley provide a Gospel harmony for the parables based on the following counts: Only in Matthew: 11, only in Mark: 2, only in Luke: 18, Matthew and Luke: 4, Matthew, Mark and Luke: 6. They list no parables for the Gospel of John.[15]

Other documents

Parables attributed to Jesus are also found in other documents apart from the Bible. Some of these overlap those in the Bible and some are not part of the Bible. The noncanonical Gospel of Thomas contains up to fifteen parables, eleven of which have parallels in the four canonical Gospels. The unknown author of the Gospel of Thomas did not have a special word for "parable," making it difficult to know what he considered a parable.[16] Those unique to Thomas include the Parable of the Assassin and the Parable of the Empty Jar. The noncanonical Apocryphon of James also contains three unique parables of Jesus.[17] They are known as "The Parable of the Ear of Grain", "The Parable of the Grain of Wheat", and "The Parable of the Date-Palm Shoot".[18] The parables are thought to have been transmitted orally for years before being written down. The hypothetical Q document is seen as a source for some of the parables in Matthew, Luke, and Thomas.[19]

Purpose and motive

In the Gospel of Matthew (13:10-17) Jesus provides an answer when asked about his use of parables:[20]

The disciples came to him and asked, "Why do you speak to the people in parables?" He replied,

"The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. This is why I speak to them in parables:
Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand."

While Mark 4:33-34 and Matthew 13:34-35 may suggest that Jesus would only speak to the "crowds" in parables, while in private explaining everything to his disciples, modern scholar do not support the private explanations argument and surmise that Jesus used parables as a teaching method.[21] Dwight Pentecost suggests that given that Jesus often preached to a mixed audience of believers and non-believers, he used parables to reveal the truth to some, but hide it from others.[22]

Christian author Ashton Axenden suggests that Jesus constructed his parables based on his divine knowledge of how man can be taught:[23]

This was a mode of teaching, which our blessed Lord seemed to take special delight in employing. And we may be quite sure, that as "He knew what was in man" better than we know, He would not have taught by Parables, if He had not felt that this was the kind of teaching best suited to our wants.

In the 19th century, Lisco and Fairbairn stated that in the parables of Jesus, "the image borrowed from the visible world is accompanied by a truth from the invisible (spiritual) world" and that the parables of Jesus are not "mere similitudes which serve the purpose of illustration, but are internal analogies where nature becomes a witness for the spiritual world".[24]

Similarly, in the 20th century, calling a parable "an earthly story with a heavenly meaning", William Barclay states that the parables of Jesus use familiar examples to lead men's minds towards heavenly concepts. He suggests that Jesus did not form his parables merely as analogies but based on an "inward affinity between the natural and spiritual orders".[25]

Example harmony

The table below provides an example of a Gospel harmony applied to the parables. Usually, no parables are associated with the Gospel of John, just allegories.[26]

Number Parable Matthew Mark Luke Other parallels[27][28][29]
1 Parable of the Wise and the Foolish Builders Matthew 07:24-27 Luke 06:47-49
2 Parable of the Two Debtors Luke 07:36-50
3 Parable of the Sower Matthew 13:1-23 Mark 04:1-25 Luke 08:04-18 Thomas 9
1 Clement 24:5
4 Parable of the Tares Matthew 13:24–53 Thomas 57
5 Parable of the Growing Seed Mark 04:26-34 Thomas 57
6 Parable of the Hidden Treasure Matthew 13:44 Thomas 109
7 Parable of the Pearl Matthew 13:45 Thomas 76
8 Parable of Drawing in the Net Matthew 13:47–53 Thomas 8:1
9 Parable of the Good Samaritan Luke 10:25-37
10 The Rich Fool Luke 12:16-21 Thomas 63
11 Parable of the Faithful Servant Matthew 24:42-51 Mark 13:33-37 Luke 12:35-48 Thomas 103
Didache 16:1a
12 Parable of the Friend at Night Luke 11:05-10
13 Parable of the Mustard Seed Matthew 13:31-32 Mark 4:30-32 Luke 13:18-19 Thomas 20:2
14 Parable of the Leaven Matthew 13:33 Luke 13:20-21 Thomas 96
15 Parable of the Lost Sheep Matthew 18:12-14 Luke 15:01-7 Thomas 107
Gospel of Truth 31-32
16 Parable of the Lost Coin Luke 15:08-10
17 Parable of the Prodigal Son Luke 15:11-32
18 Parable of the Unjust Steward Luke 16:1-15
19 Lazarus and Dives Luke 16:19-31
20 Parable of the Unmerciful Servant Matthew 18:21-35 Luke 17:03-4
21 The Master and Servant Luke 17:07-10
22 Parable of the Unjust Judge Luke 18:01-8
23 Pharisee and the Publican Luke 18:09-14
24 Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard Matthew 20:1-16
25 Parable of the Two Sons Matthew 21:28-32 Mark 11:27-33 Luke 20:09-19
26 Parable of the Wicked Husbandmen Matthew 21:33-46 Mark 12:1-12 Luke 20:9-19 Thomas 65
27 Parable of the Wedding Feast Matthew 22:1–14
28 Parable of the Ten Virgins Matthew 24:32-25:46
29 Parable of the Talents Matthew 25:14-30 Luke 19:13-24 Nazoraeans 18
30 The Sheep and the Goats Matthew 25:31–46


Of the thirty or so parables in the canonical Gospels, four were shown in medieval art almost to the exclusion of the others, but not mixed in with the narrative scenes of the Life of Christ. These were: the Ten Virgins, Lazarus and Dives, the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan.[30] The Workers in the Vineyard also appears in Early Medieval works. From the Renaissance the numbers shown widened slightly, and the various scenes of the Prodigal Son became the clear favorite, with the Good Samaritan also popular. Albrecht Dürer made a famous engraving of the Prodigal Son amongst the pigs (1496), a popular subject in the Northern Renaissance, and Rembrandt depicted the story several times, although at least one of his works, The Prodigal Son in the Tavern, a portrait of himself as the Son, revelling with his wife, is like many artists' depictions, a way of dignifying a genre tavern scene. His late Return of the Prodigal Son (Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg) is one of his most popular works.

See also


  • Barclay, William, 1999. The Parables of Jesus ISBN 066425828X
  • Lisco, Friedrich Gustav and Fairbairn, Patrick, 1850. The Parables of Jesus Daniels and Smith Publishers, Philadelphia
  • Pentecost, J. Dwight, 1998. The parables of Jesus: lessons in life from the Master Teacher ISBN 0825434580
  • Oxenden, Ashton, 1864. The parables of our Lord‎ William Macintosh Publishers, London.
  • Schottroff, Luise, 2006. The parables of Jesus ISBN 0800636996
  • Snodgrass, Klyne, 2008. Stories with Intent: A Comprehensive Guide to the Parables of Jesus William B Eerdmans Publishing Co
  • Sumner, John Bird, 1850. The parables of our lord and saviour Jesus Christ C. Cox Publishers, London.
  • Theissen, Gerd and Merz, Annette, 1996. The Historical Jesus: A Comprehensive Guide Fortress Press, Minneapolis ISBN 0800631226
  • Trinder, William Martin, 1816. Sermons on the parables of Jesus Christ" Baldwin, Cradock and Joy Publishers, London.


  1. J. Dwight Pentecost, 1998 The parables of Jesus: lessons in life from the Master Teacher ISBN 0825434580 page 10
  2. Eric Francis Osborn, 1993 The emergence of Christian theology ISBN 052143078X page 98
  3. Friedrich Gustav Lisco 1850 The Parables of Jesus Daniels and Smith Publishers, Philadelphia pages 9-11
  4. Ashton Oxenden, 1864 The parables of our Lord‎ William Macintosh Publishers, London, page 6
  5. William Barclay, 1999 The Parables of Jesus ISBN 066425828X page 9
  6. Pheme Perkins, 2007 Introduction to the synoptic gospels ISBN 080281770X page 105
  7. William Barclay, 1999 The Parables of Jesus ISBN 066425828X page 9
  8. i.e. The Vine and the Branches by David Tryon, as others have throughout history including John Calvin in John Calvin's Commentary on John Volume 2
  9. John 10:1-5 is potentially a stand-alone parable of Jesus, which UBS calls "Parable of the Sheepfold", John 10:6
  10. Barbara Reid, 2001 Parables for Preachers ISBN 0814625509 page 3
  11. Arland J. Hultgren, 2002 The Parables of Jesus ISBN 080286077X page 2
  12. Donald L. Griggs, 2003 The Bible from scratch ISBN 0664225772 page 52
  13. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia article on Parables: "There are no parables in St. John's Gospel" and the Encyclopædia Britannica article on Gospel of St. John: "Here Jesus' teaching contains no parables and but three allegories, the Synoptists present it as parabolic through and through."
  14. "Catholic Encyclopedia: Parables". Retrieved 2008-02-16. 
  15. Steven L. Cox, Kendell H Easley, 2007 Harmony of the Gospels ISBN 0805494448 page 348
  16. Scott, Bernard Brandon (1989). Hear Then the Parable: A Commentary on the Parables of Jesus. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 33-34. The actual number of parables in Thomas is fluid. John Dominic Crossan counts 15, Ron Cameron 14, and Bernard Brandon Scott 13. See also Crossan, John Dominic (1992). In Parables: The Challenge of the Historical Jesus. Sonoma, CA: Polebridge Press and Cameron, Ron (1986). Parable and Interpretation in the Gospel of Thomas. Forum 2/2.
  17. Koester, Helmut (1990). Ancient Christian Gospels: Their History And Development. Philadelphia, USA: Trinity Press International. pp. 196–200. 
  18. Cameron, Ron (2004). Sayings Traditions in the Apocryphon Of James. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Divinity School, 8-30.
  19. Theissen and Merz 1996, p.339
  20. Matthew 13:10-17. See also Mark 4:10-12 and Luke 8:9-10
  21. Harris, Stephen L., Understanding the Bible. Palo Alto: Mayfield. 1985.
  22. J. Dwight Pentecost, 1998 The parables of Jesus: lessons in life from the Master Teacher ISBN 0825434580 page 10
  23. Ashton Oxenden, 1864 The parables of our Lord‎ William Macintosh Publishers, London page 1
  24. Friedrich Gustav Lisco 1850 The Parables of Jesus Daniels and Smith Publishers, Philadelphia pages 9-11
  25. William Barclay, 1999 The Parables of Jesus ISBN 066425828X pages 8-11
  26. Steven L. Cox, Kendell H Easley, 2007 Harmony of the Gospels ISBN 0805494448 page 348
  27. Butts, James R.; Funk, Robert Walter; Scott, Bernard Brandon (1988). The parables of Jesus: red letter edition: a report of the Jesus Seminar. Sonoma, Calif: Polebridge Press. pp. 74-75. ISBN 0-944344-07-0. 
  28. Throckmorton, Burton Hamilton (1992). Gospel parallels: a comparison of the synoptic gospels: with alternative readings from the manuscripts and noncanonical parallels. Nashville: T. Nelson. pp. xxx-xxxi. ISBN 0-8407-7484-2. 
  29. Hultgren, Arland J. (2000). The parables of Jesus: a commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans. ISBN 0-8028-6077-X. 
  30. Emile Mâle, The Gothic Image , Religious Art in France of the Thirteen Century, p 195, English trans of 3rd edn, 1913, Collins, London (and many other editions)

External links

Some or all of this article is forked from Wikipedia. The original article was at Parables of Jesus. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

Parables of Jesus
Preceded by
Jesus' True Relatives
New Testament
Succeeded by
Legion of Demons Expelled