Jesus was the greatest teacher to walk the earth. He taught through many means, but one of His favorites was storytelling. These were not tales meant simply to entertain, but extended analogies (παραβολή “parable”) meant to persuade and provoke change.1 He spoke in parables to reveal the kingdom to those who would have Him and conceal the kingdom from those who would not (Matthew 13). There are many resources that help the student of Scripture better grasp and study Jesus’ parables. In Fall 2016 my wife and I took a “Parables of Christ” class at DTS and we each used several books for our studies. Here is a list of a few I found to be very helpful.
The best book on Christ’s parables also happens to be the most comprehensive (600 pages). Snodgrass’ Stories with Intent is a must buy for anyone studying the parables. The introduction to parables is relatively short compared to other works (only 50 pages), but that only means the bulk of the book is dedicated to the study of the actual parables. Each parable is studied meticulously in the following format: a brief intro the parable, parable type (similitude, interrogative, narrative, etc.), issues requiring attention (a list of questions that must be answered to understand the parable), helpful primary source material (Biblical text, early Jewish writings, Greco-Roman writings, etc.), textual features worthy of attention, cultural information, explanation of the parable, decisions on the issues, and adapting the parable. He also includes a “for further reading” section at the end of each parable. If you are looking for one book on Jesus’ parables, buy this one.
This is another must buy for those interested in studying the parables. Bloomberg’s book is not as comprehensive as Snodgrass’ on the actual parables themselves, but he is much more comprehensive in introducing the study of parables. Bloomberg spends nearly 200 pages (!) introducing parables and the different hermeneutical issues that one runs into when interpreting the parables. The book is 450 pages, so Blomberg still spends approx. 250 pages discussing the individual parables, giving superb insight. Blomberg excels at explaining the interpretive framework he uses when studying Jesus’ parables. He teaches that for the most part, “each parable makes one main point per main character–usually two or three in each case–and these main characters are the most likely elements within the parable to stand for something other than themselves, thus giving the parable its allegorical nature.”2 Between Snodgrass and Blomberg, Christ’s parables are covered in detail.
This is a must buy (Do you see a pattern here?)! This isn’t a must buy solely for the study of Jesus’ parables, but because of the comprehensive study of Jesus Himself. This book isn’t a book on the parables, but a book on Jesus. For the purpose of this page I’ll focus on the “parable” section of the book (but know that there’s much more). Bailey has long been known as a skilled interpreter of parables because of his other books on them, specifically on the Prodigal Son. However, in this book, Bailey discusses 13 different parables (the Prodigal Son not being one of them) in great detail. Bailey’s focus is geared more toward understanding the ancient cultural context of the parable and the actions of characters in the story within the cultural context the story is set. He says this eloquently, “Simply stated, our task is to stand at the back of the audience around Jesus and listen to what he is saying to them. Only through that discipline can we discover what he is saying to any age, including our own. Authentic simplicity can be found the other side of complexity. The theological and ethical House of the Parables of Jesus awaits. May all enter with great expectations!”3 Buy this book and enjoy it.
This book, by a longtime professor at DTS, is short and very useful. Pentecost gives a brief 10 page introduction to parables and their interpretation and then moves on to discussing each parable. Every parable is discussed in a tripartite way (a) The Setting (b) The Problem (c) The Solution. This format is great for showing the broad sense of each parable. I would recommend this book for the laymen or student of the Scriptures who is not wanting a detailed study of the parables, but an overview interpretation of each parable Christ told.
This book is not on the “parables” but on a “parable”: the Prodigal Son. Keller would be quick to correct me and say that the parable should rather be called “The Two Lost Sons” (the title of Chapter Two). This book was one of the first I’ve read by Keller, and it’s outstanding (like pretty much everything Keller writes). The whole book is an exposition of Luke 15:11-32 and it is such an engaging, easy read that you might finish in one sitting (it’s only 133 pages, and small pages at that). Keller shows that Jesus’ most famous parable stars the elder brother just as much as the younger brother and he brings out the implications of this throughout the book. I recommend this book to any and every Christian. Buy it, read it, and delight in Christ.
- Revised from Klyne Snodgrass, Stories with Intent: a Comprehensive Guide to the Parables of Jesus (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2008), 9.
- Craig L. Blomberg, Interpreting the Parables, 2nd ed. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2012), 190.
- Kenneth E. Bailey, Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2008), 283.