The parables of Jesus are some of the most loved passages of the New Testament, as well as, unfortunately, some of the most misunderstood. Many have allegorized the parables to such a degree that no objective meaning remains. However, even with the misunderstandings throughout the history of the church, the parables of Jesus have been among some of the most widely read, quoted, and dearly loved passages of the New Testament.
Why is that? I think it is because of the simple, practical, everyday-sort-of stories that Jesus told in these parables, aiming to teach deep and relevant spiritual truths.
So with the beloved nature of the parables, and the historical misunderstanding and misappropriation of them, how can we as Christians be sure that we are coming to God’s Word and understanding the parables rightly, as Jesus meant for them to be understood?
A New Book
To help us in this endeavor, John MacArthur has written a wonderfully helpful new book titled Parables: The Mysteries of God’s Kingdom Revealed through the Stories Jesus Told. In the book, Pastor John looks at some of the most well-known parables that Jesus told and helps the reader understand the clear and simple spiritual point that each parable was intended by Jesus to teach His followers. In his own words, MacArthur gives us the aim of this book:
“The aim of this book is to unfold the depth of meaning in a representative sampling of Jesus’ parables, and to analyze the ingenious way He illustrated vital truths with everyday stories” (xxiv).
The book begins with a detailed (22 page) introduction that looks at some of the historical misunderstandings in interpreting parables, explains why Jesus taught in parables, and gives some definitions and details about the parables themselves. MacArthur gives a short and simple definition of what a parable is:
“A parable is an ingeniously simple word picture illuminating a profound spiritual lesson” (xxvi).
Interestingly, MacArthur notes that the parables are found only in the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). Not a single parable is recorded in the Gospel of John. And parables are scarce in Mark — He includes only 6, and just one of those is given only in Mark. So that means that all but one of Jesus’ parables are recorded either in the Gospel of Matthew or Luke.
After introducing the book and the parables, chapter 1 gives a detailed look at why Jesus started to teach in parables, all centering around an encounter with some hostile Pharisees. In Matthew, that occurs in Matthew 13, with verse 3 marking the point where Jesus begins teaching in parables as his sole way of teaching in public. Referring to that incident, MacArthur notes:
“By deliberately rejecting the truth, the sworn enemies of Christ had lost the privilege of hearing any more plain truth from His lips … The shift in Jesus’ teaching style was immediate and dramatic. Everything he taught in public from that day forward would be concealed from everyone except those with willing ears to hear” (14-15).
What follows in the rest of the book are 9 chapters — each chapter looking at a specific parable (or set of parables) — with MacArthur giving the story of the parable, some historical background to help understand the story, the main spiritual point that Jesus is addressing in the parable, and some additional points and applications drawn from that parable, fitting within the one main point that the parable addresses.
Let’s be honest: You really can’t go wrong with a book by John MacArthur. He is one of the best Bible teachers of our day, and one that you can consistently trust to faithfully and accurately teach the Word of God (even if you do end up disagreeing with him on some minor points, which I do, and that’s okay!). And this book is no exception — If you want to understand how to faithfully interpret and understand the parables, MacArthur will, in this book, not only give you some general guidelines and strategies for doing so, but will then give you a model to follow as he interprets and teaches you through some of the most important, well-known, and beloved parables that Jesus taught. I would wholeheartedly recommend this book to you.
In accordance with FTC regulations, I would like to thank Thomas Nelson publishers for providing me with a review copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.