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What Is a Biblical Parable?

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  • Written By: Daniel Liden
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 02 September 2016
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A Biblical parable is a story that is told in the Bible for the purpose of teaching some kind of moral lesson. Most parables appear in the New Testament and are told by Jesus, either to his apostles or to other followers. A Biblical parable is not intended to recount a factual event — it is instead meant to communicate a moral lesson through a fictional narrative. Parables are similar to allegories in that the literal progression of events is usually less important than the deeper message or meaning. The meaning of a Biblical parable, however, tends not to be hidden behind layers of figurative language and symbolism but is instead apparent from the consequences of the characters' actions.

While some parables are used to communicate lessons about money, honesty, and romance, a Biblical parable is most likely to be focused on the connection between behavior on Earth and reward in heaven. In general, short stories about everyday occurrences are used to communicate these ideas. Many of them show that financial success on Earth does not win one any particular favor with God and is, therefore, not very important. Others seek to demonstrate that true holiness and morality comes not from striving to appear pious but from actually caring for others and treating them well.

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Though parables exist in the Old Testament as well as the New Testament and are told by individuals other than Jesus, the term "Biblical parable" is almost always used to refer to one of the parables told by Jesus. Most of the Biblical parables of Jesus come from the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Though some similar stories do appear in the gospel of John, most rely more heavily on symbolism and figurative language and are, therefore, considered to be allegories rather than parables. A Biblical allegory, though usually containing a significant and important message, tends to be short and memorable and does not require one to work through dense symbolism or metaphor.

It also is not uncommon for a Biblical parable to appear in a non-religious setting. The parables of Jesus have inspired many different works of art and poetry, and are often told in modified forms as instructive stories without an explicit message. The story of the Good Samaritan, for instance, is a Biblical parable that is widely used to encourage people to act in a generally compassionate manner. This Biblical parable is so prevalent that the term "good Samaritan" is widely understood by many religious and non-religious people to refer to someone who helps another person when not obligated to do so and with no hope for personal gain.

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