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3. Parables (parabolaiv). From para, beside, and ballw, to throw. A parable is a form of teaching in which one thing is thrown beside another. Hence its radical idea is comparison. Sir John Cheke renders biword, and the same idea is conveyed by the German Beispiel, a pattern or example; bei, beside, and the old high German spel, discourse or narration.
1. Of brief sayings, having an oracular or proverbial character. Thus Peter (Matt. xv. 15), referring to the words "If the blind lead the blind," etc., says, "declare unto us this parable." Compare Luke vi. 39. So of the patched garment (Luke v. 36), and the guest who assumes the highest place at the feast (Luke xiv. 7, 11). Compare, also, Matt. xxiv. 32; Mark xiii. 28.
2. Of a proverb. The word for proverb (paroimia) has the same idea at the root as parable. It is para, beside, oimov, a way or road. Either a trite, wayside saying (Trench), or a path by the side of the high road (Godet). See Luke iv. 23; 1 Sam. xxiv. 13.
4. Of a word or discourse which is enigmatical or obscure until the meaning is developed by application or comparison. It occurs along with the words ainigma, enigma, and problhma, a problem, something put forth or proposed (pro, in front, ballw, to throw). See Psalms 49. (Sept. 48) 4; 78 (Sept. 77) 2; Prov. i. 6, where we have parabolhn, parable; skoteinon logon, dark saying; aijnigmata, enigmas. Used also of the saying of Balaam (Num. xxiii. 7, 18; xxiv. 3, 15).
In this sense Christ uses parables symbolically to expound the mysteries of the kingdom of God; as utterances which conceal from one class what they reveal to another (Matt. xiii. 11-17), and in which familiar facts of the earthly life are used figuratively to expound truths of the higher life. The unspiritual do not link these facts of the natural life with those of the supernatural, which are not discerned by them (1 Cor. ii. 14), and therefore they need an interpreter of the relation between the two. Such symbols assume the existence of a law common to the natural and spiritual worlds under which the symbol and the thing symbolized alike work; so that the one does not merely resemble the other superficially, but stands in actual coherence and harmony with it. Christ formulates such a law in connection with the parables of the Talents and the Sower. "To him that hath shall be given. From him that hath not shall be taken away." That is a law of morals and religion, as of business and agriculture. One must have in order to make. Interest requires capital. Fruit requires not only seed but soil. Similarly, the law of growth as set forth in the parable of the Mustard Seed, is a law common to nature and to the kingdom of God. The great forces in both kingdoms are germinal, enwrapped in small seeds which unfold from within by an inherent power of growth.
5. A parable is also an example or type; furnishing a model or a warning; as the Good Samaritan, the Rich Fool, the Pharisee and the Publican. The element of comparison enters here as between the particular incident imagined or recounted, and all cases of a similar kind.
The term parable, however, as employed in ordinary Christian phraseology, is limited to those utterances of Christ which are marked by a complete figurative history or narrative. It is thus defined by Goebel ("Parables of Jesus"). "A narrative moving within the sphere of physical or human life, not professing to describe an event which actually took place, but expressly imagined for the purpose of representing, in pictorial figure, a truth belonging to the sphere of religion, and therefore referring to the relation of man or mankind to God."
In form the New Testament parables resemble the fable. The distinction between them does not turn on the respective use of rational and irrational beings speaking and acting. There are fables where the actors are human. Nor does the fable always deal with the impossible, since there are fables in which an animal, for instance, does nothing contrary to its nature. The distinction lies in the religious character of the New Testament parable as contrasted with the secular character of the fable. While the parable exhibits the relations of man to God, the fable teaches lessons of worldly policy or natural morality and utility. "The parable is predominantly symbolic; the fable, for the most part, typical, and therefore presents its teaching only in the form of example, for which reason it chooses animals by preference, not as symbolic, but as typical figures; never symbolic in the sense in which the parable mostly is, because the higher invisible world, of which the parable sees and exhibits the symbol in the visible world of nature and man, lies far from it. Hence the parable can never work with fantastic figures like speaking animals, trees," etc. (Goebel, condensed).
The parable differs from the allegory in that there is in the latter "an interpenetration of the thing signified and the thing signifying; the qualities and properties of the first being attributed to the last," and the two being this blended instead of being kept distinct and parallel. See, for example, the allegory of the Vine and the Branches (John 15) where Christ at once identifies himself with the figure: "I am the true vine." Thus the allegory, unlike the parable, carries its own interpretation with it.
Parable and proverb are often used interchangeably in the New Testament; the fundamental conception being, as we have seen, the same in both, the same Hebrew word representing both, and both being engimatical. They differ rather in extent than in essence; the parable being a proverb expanded and carried into detail, and being necessarily figurative, which the proverb is not; though the range of the proverb is wider, since the parable expands only one particular case of a proverb. (See Trench, "Notes on the Parables," Introd.)
3. A sower (o speirwn). Rev., the sower. Generic, as representing a class.
To sow (tou speirein). "According to Jewish authorities, there was twofold sowing, as the seed was either cast by the hand or by means of cattle. In the latter case, a sack with holes was filled with corn and laid on the back of the animal, so that, as it moved onward, the seed was thickly scattered" (Edersheim, "Life and Times of Jesus").
4. By the wayside. Dean Stanley, approaching the plain of Gennesareth, says: "A slight recess in the hillside, close upon the plain, disclosed at once, in detail and with a conjunction which I remember nowhere else in Palestine, every feature of the great parable. There was the undulating cornfield descending to the water's edge. There was the trodden pathway running through the midst of it, with no fence or hedge to prevent the seed from falling here and there on either side of it or upon it; itself hard with the constant tramp of horse and mule and human feet. There was the 'good' rich soil which distinguishes the whole of that plain and its neighborhood from the bare hills elsewhere descending into the lake, and which, where there is no interruption, produces one vast mass of corn. There was the rocky ground of the hillside protruding here and there through the cornfields, as elsewhere through the grassy slopes. There were the large bushes of thorn - the nabk, that kind of which tradition says that the crown of thorns was woven - springing up, like the fruit-trees of the more inland parts, in the very midst of the waving wheat" ("Sinai and Palestine").
Trench ("Parables") cites a striking parallel from Ovid, describing the obstacles to the growth of the grain:
"Now the too ardent sun, now furious showers, With baleful stars and bitter winds combine The crop to ravage; while the greedy fowl Snatch the strown seeds; and grass with stubborn roots, And thorn and darnel plague the ripening grain."
Metamorposes, v., 486.
8. A hundred-fold. Mentioned as something extraordinary. Compare Gen. xxvi. 12. Herodotus (i. 93) says of Babylonia, "In grain it is so fruitful as to yield commonly two-hundred-fold; and when the production is the greatest, even three-hundred-fold."
11. Mysteries (musthria). From muw, to close or shut. In classical Greek, applied to certain religious celebrations to which persons were admitted by formal initiation, and the precise character of which is unknown. Some suppose them to have been revelations of religious secrets; others of secret politico-religious doctrines; others, again, scenic representations of mythical legends. In this latter sense the term was used in the Middle Ages of miracle-plays - rude drams representing scenes from scripture and from the apocryphal gospels. Such plays are still enacted among the Basque mountaineers. (See Vincent, "In the Shadow of the Pyrenees.")
A mystery does not denote an unknowable thing, but one which is withdrawn from knowledge or manifestation, and which cannot be known without special manifestation of it. Hence appropriate to the things of the kingdom of heaven, which could be known only by revelation. Paul (Philip. iv. 12) says, "I am instructed (memuhmai) both to be full and to be hungry," etc. But Rev. gives more correctly the force of instructed, by rendering I have learned the secret: the verb being muew (from the same root as musthria) to initiate into the mysteries.
14. Is fulfilled (anaplhroutai). Rather of something in progress: is being fulfilled or in process of fulfilment.
15. Is waxed gross (epacunqh). Lit., was made fat. Wyc., enfatted.
Are dull of hearing (toiv wsin barewv hkousan). Lit., They heard heavily with their ears.
They have closed (ekammusan), kata, down, muw, to close, as in musthria above. Our idiom shuts up the eyes. The Greek shuts them down. The Hebrew, in Isa. vi. 10, is besmear. This insensibility is described as a punishment. Compare Isa. xxix. 10; xliv. 18; in both of which the closing of the eyes is described as a judgment of God. Sealing up the eyes was an oriental punishment. Cheyne ("Isaiah") cites the case of a son of the Great Mogul, who has his eyes sealed up three years by his father as a punishment. Dante pictures the envious, on the second cornice of Purgatory, with their eyes sewed up:
19. When any one heareth. The rendering would be made even more graphic by preserving the continuous force of the present tense, as exhibiting action in progress, and the simultaneousness of Satan's work with that of the gospel instructor. "While any one is hearing, the evil one is coming and snatching away, just as the birds do not wait for the sower to be out of the way, but are at work while he is sowing.
He which received seed (o spareiv). Lit., and much better, Rev., He that was sown; identifying the seed of the figure with the man signified.
21. Dureth for a while (proskairov estin). Rev., endureth. Lit., is temporary: thus bringing out the quality of the hearer. He is a creature of circumstances, changing as they change. Wyc., is temporal, with explanation, lasteth but a little time.
For (de). Rev. better, and, for the following clause does not give a reason for the temporariness, but adds something to the description of the hearer.
Tribulation (qliyewv). qlibw, to press or squeeze. Tribulation is perhaps as accurate a rendering as is possible, being derived from tribulum, the threshing-roller of the Romans. In both the idea of pressure is dominant, though qliyiv does not convey the idea of separation (as of corn from husk) which is implied in tribulatio. Trench cites, in illustration of qliyiv, pressure, the provision of the old English law, by which those who wilfully refused to plead had heavy weights placed on their breasts, and so were pressed and crushed to death ("Synonyms of the New Testament").
23. Understandeth (sonieiv). See on xi. 25, prudent. The three evangelists give three characteristics of the good hearer. Matthew, he understandeth the word; Mark, he receiveth it; Luke, he keepeth it.
24. Put he forth (pareqhken). But this would be rather the translation of proballw, from which problhma, a problem, is derived, while the word here used means rather to set before or offer. Often used of meals, to serve up. Hence, better, Rev., set he before them. See on Luke ix. 16.
25. Sowed (epespeiren). The preposition ejpi, upon, indicates sowing over what was previously sown. Rev., "sowed also."
35. I will utter (ereuxomai). The verb, in which the sound corresponds to the sense (ereuxomai), means originally to belch, to disgorge. Homer uses it of the sea surging against the shore ("Iliad," xvii. 265). Pindar of the eruption of Aetna ("Pyth.," i. 40). There seems to lie in the word a sense of full, impassioned utterance, as of a prophet.
From the foundation (apo katabolhv). "It is assumed by the Psalmist (Ps. lxxviii. 2) that there was a hidden meaning in God's ancient dealings with his people. A typical, archetypical, and prefigurative element ran through the whole. The history of the dealings is one long Old Testament parable. Things long kept secret, and that were hidden indeed in the depths of the divine mind from before the foundation of the world, were involved in these dealings. And hence the evangelist wisely sees, in the parabolic teaching of our Lord, a real culmination of the older parabolic teaching of the Psalmist. The culmination was divinely intended, and hence the expression that it might be fulfilled" (Morison on Matthew).
43. Shine forth (eklamyousin). The compound verb with ejk, forth, is designedly used to express a dissipating of darkness which has hidden: a bursting into light. The righteous shall shine forth as the sun from behind a cloud. The mixture of evil with good in the world obscures the good, and veils the true glory of righteous character. Compare Dan. xii. 3.
47. Net (saghnh). See on Matt. iv. 18. The only occurrence of the word in the New Testament. A long draw-net, the ends of which are carried out and drawn together. Through the transcription of the word into the Latin sagena comes seine. From the fact of its making a great sweep, the Greeks formed a verb from it, saghneuw, to surround and take with a drag-net. Thus Herodotus (iii. 149) says: "The Persians netted Samos." And again (iv. 31), "Whenever they became master of an island, the barbarians, in every single instance, netted the inhabitants. Now, the mode in which they practice this netting if the following: Men join hands, so as to firm a line across from the north coast to the south, and then march through the island from end to end, and hunt out the inhabitants." Compare Isaiah xix. 8: "Those who spread nets on the face of the waters shall languish." Also Hab. i. 15-17, where the Chaldaean conquests are described under this figure.
Gathered of every kind. Compare the graphic passage in Homer ("Odyssey,", xxii. 384-389) of the slain suitors in the halls of Ulysses.
"He saw that all had fallen in blood and dust, Many as fishes on the shelving beach, Drawn from the hoary deep by those who tend The nets with myriad meshes. Poured abroad Upon the sand, while panting to return To the salt sea, they lie till the hot sun Takes their life from them."
48. Sat down. Implying deliberation in the assortment.
52. Which is instructed unto the kingdom of heaven. Instructed maqhteuqeiv. Rev., who hath been made a disciple to the kingdom, etc. The kingdom of heaven is personified. The disciples of Christ are disciples of that kingdom of which he is the representative.
Which (ostiv). The pronoun marks the householder as belonging to a class and exhibiting the characteristic of the class: a householder - one of those who bring forth, etc.
Bringeth forth (ekballei). Lit., flingeth forth. See on xii. 35. Indicating his zeal in communicating instruction and the fulness out of which he speaks.