From the Category, “The Eastern Eye”
[The Bible is an “Eastern” book. It was written many years ago in the “East” which today we refer to as “The Middle East.” As such, there are many customs and idioms that are not familiar to the “Western” mind.
In understanding the Scriptures it is important for us to understand the culture, but it doesn’t mean that we should necessarily follow that culture. Rather, it is in the understanding of the Eastern culture that we gain light and understanding about many things in the Bible.]
I thought it might be helpful to offer a brief explanation of parables, since many times parables are used in discussions here in the Eastern Eye category. Just like it is important to understand customs, idioms and manners of Bible times, it is also important to understand parables.
A number of years ago someone got rather upset with me because I told him a certain parable Jesus taught recorded in the Scriptures was a story told for illustration. The gentleman was pretty persistent in telling me that if Jesus spoke it, then it was a true story. I tried to explain to him that it was a parable, but he was convinced it was a true story.
A parable is a figure of speech. According to The New Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon, a parable is is used to refer to “a comparing, comparison of one thing with another.” Similarly, Bullinger’s A Critical Lexicon and Concordance to the English and Greek New Testament states that the Greek word translated as parable, is “a placing beside, or side by side for the purpose of comparison.”
A parable is a fictitious or made up story designed to teach a lesson through comparison. It conveys the message through comparison or contrast. One benefit of a parable is that it tells a story that is easy to remember. Many times people and things in a parable represent things that are much more important that they seem to be on the surface, and the story imparts an important lesson.
It is sometimes shocking to people when they discover that Jesus taught in parables to actually conceal the meaning. In chapter 13 of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus himself explained why he taught the multitudes in parables when the disciples questioned him about it. He told them people’s hearts were waxed gross and their ears were dull of hearing. In other words, they didn’t really have a hunger to know. In contrast, the disciples wanted to learn, and they asked Jesus to explain the parables.
For those who were just curious, hearing a parable was simply a nice story. For those who were seeking truth, they could ask Jesus to explain the truth behind the parables he spoke. For those who truly wanted to know the truth, when Jesus explained a parable, the meaning was no longer concealed; it was revealed.
Two more important points to remember about parables. A parable portrays that one situation is like another; it is not a representation. And thus, the illustration usually refers to a single aspect of the parable; it usually magnifies a single aspect of the message.
And finally, the story must be possible. It must be about someone or some things that could possibly occur. If the story is about an impossibility, then it would be a fable.
He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.
For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.
Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.
And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive:
For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.
But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear.
For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them
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There are a number of books that you can read to get insight on customs, manners, idioms and meanings from the Eastern culture in which the Bible was written. The best I know of were written by Bishop K. C. Pillai. I have had the pleasure of listening to many recorded teaching by him.
He wrote three books, and they are hard to find, and are usually over priced. But, if you want to you can check this link to see what Amazon has to offer. Light Through an Eastern Window
Another great resource that I have used for years is a book called, “Manners and Customs of the Bible,” by James Freeman. Mine was printed in 1972 and I know they have newer additions. For the newest edition, just click the link and it will take you to Amazon. The New Manners and Customs of the Bible (Pure Gold Classics)