Parables of Jesus: A Guide to Parables in the Bible, What They Are and Why Jesus Used Them

Parables: Illustration of Jesus on boat

Parables of Jesus: Table of Contents

  1. Introduction to Parables
  2. What Is a Parable?
  3. How Many Parables Are There?
  4. Why Did Jesus Use Parables?
  5. Common Themes in Parables
  6. Popular Parables
  7. Praying with Parables
  8. Frequently Asked Questions about Parables

In His birth, Jesus changed the world with the incarnation: God became man. His death and Resurrection changed eternity, conquering death and securing a path for salvation for others.

In His short public ministry, Jesus’s words also transformed humanity, challenging conventional wisdom, demonstrating servant leadership and calling on his followers to demonstrate a radical love to build God’s kingdom on earth.

He often did this through parables.

Parables compose a large share of Jesus’s words captured in the Gospels. He delivered some of his most memorable lessons through parables. Terms like “Good Samaritan” and “Prodigal Son” have transcended religion and become terms people of all faiths recognize.

For Catholics and other Christians, parables are not simply a collection of Bible verses or stories we learn in school. They are dynamic lessons that continue to take on new significance and meaning in an ever-changing world.

In July with Jesus, Hallow invites you to meditate on the parables of Jesus, deepen your relationship with God and consider how God calls us to live and act.

Let Hallow guide you through parables so that parables can guide you in your faith.

What Is a Parable?

According to the dictionary, parables are short allegorical stories designed to teach a  truth, religious principle, or moral lesson.

They are often engaging stories that contain few details but are ripe with meaning.

Parables have a place in the tradition of Jewish storytelling. Jesus’s parables used elements of everyday life to illustrate a more profound message. In modern times, parables are almost always associated with Jesus.

The Number of Parables

The precise number of parables in the Bible varies based on different definitions of what a parable is. 

By some counts, Jesus gave us more than 30 parables in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. Others suggest the total number of parables by Jesus totals more than 50. 

The number of distinct parables Jesus offers us is less important than the message they bear.

The Purpose of Parables–Why did Jesus Use Them?

Jesus encountered so many different groups of people during his public ministry.

He spent time with his disciples, with Pharisees, with large crowds of strangers who were listening to him for the first time.

Jesus needed to engage wildly different groups of people, so he told stories that were able to draw in diverse crowds with different points of view.

With parables, Jesus told stories that revealed the truth about God’s kingdom while simultaneously challenging the commonly held world views of many of those to whom He spoke. 

Just as Jesus addressed crowds years ago, he speaks to all of us today, challenging us to open our hearts to his message.

Common Themes in Parables

Jesus made references to the ordinary that would resonate with his followers, using everyday concepts to draw in his audiences.

He taught lessons to followers through images of plants, vines, seeds and sowers. He shared parables about family dynamics, dinner parties and weddings. 

Many of the parables Jesus shared touched on familiar themes, including:

  • Love
  • Forgiveness
  • God’s Kingdom
  • Prayer
  • Redemption
  • End times

The Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke contain the most parables; no parables are found in John’s Gospel.

One other commonality with parables is that they often challenge the way we view the world. 

“By shattering the structures of our accepted world, parables remove our defenses and make us vulnerable to God,” Catholic theologian Barbara E. Reid writes

Parables resonate differently with each of us, and we all may have our favorites. Here are some that stand out as well-known and oft-cited parables of Jesus:

Why We Should Pray with Parables

Jesus does not always explain in-depth the parables He shares. He often omits many details, rarely mentioning people by name.

The lack of explicit explanation and detail prompts us to prayerfully consider the meaning of parables for us in our time and circumstance. 

“Over the ages each community of Christians has had to work out their responses to the challenges of Jesus’ teaching,” according to Barbara E. Reid. “This task is no less incumbent upon believers today.”

Parables are as important now as they were when the followers of Jesus heard them. When we spend time in prayer with the parables, we open our hearts to God’s message and what it means for us in our lives.

Since the parables rarely celebrate the status quo, praying with the parables can help us consider how might better help to build God’s kingdom here on earth.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Parables

How many parables of Jesus are there?

There is no official number of exact parables from Jesus. Sometimes, Jesus explicitly called something a parable; other times, he shares parables without explicitly saying so. In other instances, he shares a single line or two that feels like a parable.

Why did Jesus speak in parables?

Parables allowed Jesus to challenge conventional wisdom and encourage His audience to consider a deeper meaning to His words.

Why did Jesus not interpret all of His parables?

The parables call us to consider how God wants us to live and act. They call people across time periods, cultures and geographies to reflect on their meaning.

How do parables and fables differ?

Parables feature people in everyday situations. Fables often center around animals or other non-humans.

What did Jesus say about parables?

In Matthew 13:13, Jesus says, “This is why I speak to them in parables: ‘Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.'”

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