Month: January 2016

How to Read: Parables


This is part of a series of posts based on the book How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth. To see the previous posts in this series, click below:
Are You Reading the Bible Wrong?
How to Read: New Testament Letters
How to Read: Old Testament Narrative

How to Read: The Gospels

One of the concepts that frustrated me about English class was the way teachers push meaning into irrelevant parts of books. Even if what the teacher says is true, I leave puzzled and with a migraine. For example, often a character in a book is described as wearing a certain color of clothing. I remember having to answer questions such as, “What is the significance of Peter wearing a blue shirt to the grocery store”. My answer: He put on a blue shirt and went to the grocery store. The teacher’s answer: Peter’s blue shirt is the author expressing his sorrow over having to work at a grocery store in his early years in order to financially support his family.

Uh.. What?

1. You do not need secret interpretive keys to understand parables.

Parables seem to be the type of literature that we over-complicate the most. We have a tendency to think we are wise by attaching significant spiritual truth to irrelevant details in Jesus’ parables – much like my frustration with English class. Simply put, Parables are simple stories that illustrate some type of spiritual truth. Jesus was a master of teaching through parables and they were one of the primary ways he spoke about Kingdom realities.

Almost every parable has one main point. Jesus is teaching in such a way that people understand the concepts in the parables. For example, the parable about the Good Samaritan teaches that all people are considered your neighbor, regardless of race or religion. The parable of the Prodigal Son is that the heavenly Father rejoices when lost people return to him. It is bad Bible reading to attach significant spiritual truths to small details in the parables.

Even those we consider spiritual giants have misread parables in this way. Many people rightly look to Saint Augustine as a hero of the Christian faith. Unfortunately, he would have done an excellent job in my English class according to his interpretation of the Good Samaritan.

2. Find the points of references.

In order to understand the parables, you need to identify what the points of references are in the story. As we discussed above, the parables are stories which illustrate a greater spiritual truth. This is done by telling a short story with multiple characters and a plot. Each of these things, when rightly understood, are points of references which illustrate the main point Jesus is trying to express.

Keeping with parable of the Good Samaritan, the points of references would be the following:
The man who was robbed
The priest and the Levite (religious leaders)
The “good” Samaritan (a people group hated by the Jewish people for apostasy and mixed race)

As indicated by Jesus’ question in Luke 10:36, Jesus is illustrating the duty of all mankind to help those who are hurting and in distress – regardless of race, religion, or vocation. We come to this conclusion by studying the points of references and bringing ourselves into Jesus’ question that closes out the parable.

3. Who is the Audience?

As stated above, Jesus often taught through the use of Parables. As an excellent teacher, Jesus would form his parables around the people he is speaking with. Having a proper understanding of the audience of Jesus’ parables, you will begin to see the reason for each parable’s use. For this example, let’s look at the popular parable known as the Prodigal Son. In essence, Jesus tells the story of a son who forsakes his father, spends all of his money, and then returns to his father. His father then throws a celebration and the rebellious son’s older brother is both jealous and angry that the father is celebrating the prodigal son.

This story takes on significant meaning when you understand that Jesus was speaking to an audience made up of two types of people:
1. Tax Collectors and “sinners”
2. Scribes and Pharisees

The first group of people were those that disregarded much of Judaism through their sinful lifestyles. The second group of people were those that tried tediously to follow the commands of the Law. Combining both the audience and the points of references, we can come to the following understanding of the Prodigal Son:

  • The son who forsook his father and squandered his inheritance can be identified with the tax collectors and sinners who each forsook their Heavenly Father for the things of this world.
  • The older brother who is mad at the father for accepting the prodigal son back into the family can be identified with the Scribes and Pharisees whose obedience to dead religion had turned their hearts cold to the rest of mankind.

Both learn a significant truth through the parable: that God forgives and accepts sinners who return to him; regardless of how “religious” people feel about it.

What is your favorite parable? Who is the audience and what are some points of references that would help you understand the main teaching of the story? Let me know by leaving a comment!



How to Read: The Gospels


This is part of a series of posts based on the book How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth. To see the previous posts in this series, click below:
Are You Reading the Bible Wrong?
How to Read: New Testament Letters
How to Read: Old Testament Narrative
How to Read: Acts of the Apostles

It is essential to have a proper understanding on how to read the Gospels for that is where the majority of people begin reading the Bible. The Gospels record the story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Through beautiful literary features and powerful speeches, one is introduced to the God-man. Jesus is by far the most influential person who has ever lived. Not only did he live thousands of years ago – he currently reigns above all other rulers as King of kings and Lord of lords.

Below is a list of the Gospels:

  • Gospel of Matthew
  • Gospel of Mark
  • Gospel of Luke
  • Gospel of John

As you meditate upon the powerful truths illustrated throughout the Gospels, there are a few things you will want to keep in mind in order to properly understand how God is speaking through the authors:

1. The Gospels are not biographies. 

Many critics automatically assume that Christianity is not true because there are four different books about what Jesus said and did. People tend to look at the four Gospels, judge them according to the 21st century’s understanding of biographies, and conclude that the Gospels are mostly false. This approach shows both ignorance and arrogance in the person making the judgment call.

Although the Gospels DO include biographical details about Jesus, that is not the primary goal. We have no description of what Jesus looked like or even what specific year he was born. There is very little reference to his extended family or many of the other details that would be included in a modern biography. Rather than reading the Gospels as a biography about Jesus, they are better understood as memoirs about Him. Although many people, myself included, would like more specific details on Jesus’ life, we need to understand that we have none. God, through the use of human authors, inspired what to include and what not to include in the Gospels.

We need to trust that everything that is there is what we need to know – if it’s not recorded then we do not need to know about it.

The four Gospels all hold equal authority in the life of the believer. One Gospel is not “more inspired” than the others. Each Gospel is living and active; if you take the time to study the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, you will witness His power afresh today.

2. Learn the historical context.

Similar to our discussion on reading the letters of the New Testament, it is vital to understand the historical context of Jesus and 1st century Judaism. As you read through the Gospels you will encounter many different groups of people: Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots, Tax Collectors, and various others. To truly understand the genius of Jesus in relating to such a vast group of people, you need to have a basic understanding of the culture. This is best done through a solid Bible dictionary which will provide vital information on the historical context.

For example, when you begin to understand the corruption of the tax collectors then the calling of Matthew becomes much more profound. You will also have an understanding of why Jesus was so repulsive to the religious elite. Rather than condemning Jewish people who had betrayed their brothers, Jesus welcomes them with open arms.

As you gain a grasp on the 1st century context, you will be given a fresh vantage point on familiar stories throughout the four Gospels.

3. Understand Jesus’ concept of the Kingdom of God.

In your first read through the Gospels, the Kingdom of God will seem like an elusive concept. You will continually hear Jesus and others refer to this Kingdom but in seemingly strange ways. In some cases it will seem as if the Kingdom of God had already arrived (see Mark 1:15); other times it seems as if it is in the distant future (see Acts 1:7). Without understanding this kingdom concept, you will leave your study in the Gospels puzzled by the language. Jesus speaks as if the Kingdom of God is already here and yet sickness and death still seem to reign in our world.

This begs the question: Is the Kingdom of God something that has already arrived or it is something we are looking forward to?

The answer is YES!

This is a concept that is known as “already but not yet.” The Kingdom of God is ALREADY here to a certain extent (eternal life, forgiveness, healing) but it is not yet here in is entirety as we still face death and sickness every day. Evil still runs rampant in our world just as it did in the 1st century. If anything, it seems as if evil is becoming more prevalent as death tolls rise throughout the world. The Kingdom of God arrived at Jesus’ death and resurrection. It will be fully consummated at Jesus’ Second Coming.

See below for a helpful chart from the book:

Already……………………………Not Yet
righteousness…………………..completed righteousness
peace………………………………full peace
health…………………………….no sickness or death
Spirit…………………………… complete fullness

As you study the Gospels and the Spirit of God speaks to you through Jesus’ ministry, remember that the Gospels are not biographies, learn the historical context, and understand Jesus’ concept of the Kingdom of God.