Rules for Interpreting Parables
There are four basic principles applicable in interpreting the parables of the New Testament.
a. The Perspective Principle
1. There is a Christological nature in the parables, as Christ is teaching about his kingdom; in some measure he is reflectively teaching truth about himself.
2. There is a kingdom principle. Christ came preaching a gospel of the kingdom and announcing that
a kingdom was at hand.
The Kingdom in some sense was a present reality. The kingdom as reflected in the parables was described in terms of fortunes through the centuries. The kingdom was also eschatological in character. “In summary, the interpreter must keep in mind that the kingdom in some sense has come, it is continuing, and it will come.” B. Ramm
b. The Cultural Principle
We must see the parable in light of its cultural background. It is necessary to recover as much as
possible the local colour of Biblical times.
c. The Exegetical Principle
Determine how much of the parable is interpreted by the Lord himself. Determine whether there are any clues in the context which make the meaning of the parable plain. The context may include what follows as well as what precedes. Compare the parable with any recited in one or more of the other Gospels. One must note concurrences, divergences, parallels and synonyms.
d. The Doctrinal Principle
Any use of a parable for doctrinal purposes must observe the historical sense. What did the immediate listeners understand from the parable?
Parables do not teach doctrine, but they are used to illustrate doctrine.
- Look for the primary intent of the parable.
- Interpret any subordinate detail of the parable in light of its main intent.
- The context of a parable is its best interpreter.
- What occasion brought on the parable?
- To whom was the parable addressed?
- How did Jesus interpret the parable if he did?
- The cultural background of the parable must be recognized.
- Parables sometimes illustrate doctrines, but they do not establish doctrines.
- All parables must be Christocentric.
- The introduction and application of the parable must be carefully considered. These help in discovering the interpretation of the parable.
- The interpretation must be easy to discover without forcing an interpretation. When it is discovered it leaves none of the main circumstances unexplained.