Five Reasons Jesus Taught in Parables
Updated: Jan 8
Even a quick reading through the stories about Jesus and his brief earthly ministry proves that he often taught using stories, or parables, to illustrate his point. Why did he choose this literary structure to make his point instead of just saying, "do this, don’t do that"? Even his own disciples asked him that question! Having studied the Bible for decades, I believe there are 5 main reasons.
1. Jesus Used Parables to Make Principles Easier to Understand
The more abstract an idea is, the harder it is to communicate it’s meaning. Jesus used parables to reduce some very complicated ideas to easily understandable concepts. He told parables to educate and explain God’s Kingdom, not just to entertain his audience.
A parable creates a parallel between the principle being taught and an easily understood illustration. While the story could stand alone as entertainment, the parable it illustrates relates to God and his kingdom. Each of Jesus’ parables was built on characters and circumstances known to his listeners. This allowed him to establish unexpected connections to new ideas or principles, and helped people understand some very complicated religious ideas which were new to them at the time.
2. Jesus Used Parables Because They are Memorable
We all like stories. Children often beg for stories, even at a young age. Stories fascinate us, and we pay attention so we can follow the plot line. Jesus wanted people to listen carefully and remember his teaching, to discuss and puzzle out the meaning of his stories, and then to share what they learned with others.
Parables contain rich symbolism. The parables of Jesus presented clear stories from everyday life that the crowd could recognize and relate to. When a spiritual truth is tied to a familiar illustration, it becomes deeply etched into the minds of hearers. This makes those truths not just heard but also "seen" through the mind's eye, and easily recalled.
While it’s true that many who heard Jesus’ parables didn’t understand the spiritual principles behind them, they still remembered the stories. After the resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit, when it was more obvious who Jesus really was, the disciples were able to explain those parables so people understood them in light of Messiah’s coming.
3. Parables Were A Common Teaching Style During the Time of Jesus
According to theologian Ken Collins, parables were a common form of teaching in Judaism. A great many of the rabbinical writings from Jesus’ time are still available for scholars to read and study. Many of these writings show that parables were a common method of teaching in that day, when people were not highly educated, books didn’t exist, and writing tools and supplies were expensive. People expected rabbis to teach through parables.
4. Parables Allowed Jesus to Teach Controversial Ideas Without Getting Him in Trouble with Religious Leaders of the Day
At a time when the religious rulers also held political positions and could convict people of crimes, Jesus was walking a fine line. He knew the time of his crucifixion loomed, but he had a mission to complete before that day. Getting arrested or plunked in prison for a long time would serve no purpose.
So, while Jesus could use parables to illustrate his points, he could simultaneously not say things which would have landed him before the Sanhedrin. The enemies of Jesus were always watching for something they could use against him. By speaking in parables, Jesus made it difficult for them to accuse him of heresy... he could hardly be arrested for telling great stories!
A great illustration of this can be seen during a period in English history when political commentary was dangerous. Newspapers started printing "nursery rhymes" like Humpty Dumpty and Little Jack Horner, which were in reality political satires, but this could not be proven. The writings of Lewis Carroll are also perfect examples of "dangerous" ideas hidden inside wonderful stories.
5. Jesus Came to Show Us God Not to Teach Us Rules
I think most people (and a lot of churches) miss the entire point of Jesus’ coming to earth! His teachings illustrate that he wanted us to understand the Kingdom of God, and what it meant to sinful people. He wanted folks to know that God loves them and has designed them for better things.
Everywhere Jesus looked he saw ways in which God’s intentions were perverted by the stain of sin. Being God in the flesh, he could see how much people were missing by following their selfish ways instead of following God’s plan.
By telling stories he could illustrate the Kingdom of God in a way anyone listening could understand. He was illustrating how simple God’s way is compared to the complicated way people had made it in their religious practices: God is all about love, not rules.
While many complained that Jesus’ stories were hard to comprehend, Jesus never meant for them to exclude true believers. Everyone who heard them could understand the parts of the stories related to their everyday lives. But the teaching aspect of the stories divided hearers into two groups, based on their responses. The true followers would come to know the truth behind the puzzles.
While his miracles had attracted many curious folks, Jesus really wanted to reach people who had a true desire to understand the Kingdom of God. He knew these people would seek and find the true meaning of the parables, as God always grants understanding to those who genuinely seek him. Those who were present just to be entertained would not grasp the deeper meaning of those teachings.
Therefore, the parables were not only a wonderful way to teach, they were also safe, purposeful and memorable. After all, we still read and study them today!
[ Collins quote: http://www.kencollins.com/jesus/jesus-14.htm ]