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The MOST Theological Collection: Outline of Christology

"XVI. More on Parables"


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The Hebrew word for parable was mashal (Aramaic matlah It covered many things: proverbs, riddles, taunt-songs, oracles, metaphors, allegories, didactic historical recitals in addition to stories.

Two volumes by A. Jülicher, Die Gleichnisreden Jesu (1888, 1889) long had a great influence. He started with the concept of parable in Greek rhetoric - a mistake - this is a Semitic world - and insisted there was only one point to a parable, else it would be an allegory.

But a study of rabbinic parables led to abandoning this idea even though the rabbinic parables are quite different from those of Jesus. A good collection of actual rabbinic parables is found in Harvey K. McArthur & Robert M. Johnston, Tbey Also Taught in Parables, (Zondervan, 1990) It includes 115 actual rabbinic parables, plus related items, and studies of the similarities and differences in comparison to those of Jesus.

J. Jeremias, The Parables of Jesus, (2nd English ed. , Chas. Scribner's Sons, NY. 1972) was very influential in shedding light on the details of everyday life used in the parables of Jesus.

Probably a majority of scholars today hold the unfortunate view that the explanations of parables given in the Gospels are not by Jesus, but are invented by the later Church. This would be dishonesty, to place on the lips of Jesus things He had not said at all. (For example, cf. NJBC. 81:57 - 88, esp. 88).

What of the fact that we can admit that some enigmatic sayings or proverbs can take different meanings in different settings given by different evangelists? This seems to have happened e.g., in the case of Mt. 10. 27 compared to Lk 12. 2-3. On this cf. Wm. Most, Catholic Apologetics Today, pp. 184-86 and the pages on retrojection ibid. pp. 186-91. But the critical difference is this: in changing merely the setting of a proverb, the Evangelist is not attributing to Jesus something Jesus never said. He is just making a different application of a proverb or other saying which Jesus actually had used, but which by nature was flexible. But to put on the lips of Jesus an explanation of a parable which Jesus never gave would be falsification.

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