parable, the term translates the Hebrew word "mashal"—a term denoting a metaphor, or an enigmatic saying or an analogy. In the Greco-Roman rhetorical tradition, however, "parables" were illustrative narrative examples. Jewish teachers of the 1st cent. A.D. made use of comparisons in narrative form to clarify scripture. As used in the Gospels, the "parable" not only denotes metaphors, analogies, and enigmatic statements, but also short illustrative narratives. In Jesus' parables, the speaker compares an observable, natural, or human phenomenon to the Kingdom (i.e. the rule) of God. Some of these challenge and mystify or even attack the hearer. Other parables are allegories. The major themes of the parables of Jesus include the contrast between the old and new age now dawning in the ministry of Jesus; the necessity of radical decisions; the gradual but sure growth of the Kingdom of God on earth; God's way of relating to people; and God's invitation for people to enter his Kingdom.
See W. S. Kissinger, The Parables of Jesus (1979); R. W. Funk, Parables and Presence (1982); J. Marcus, The Mystery of the Kingdom of God (1986).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.