Teaching in Parables


The things we don't understand when we first read the Bible aren't invisible or intended for a select few; rather, incomplete knowledge often is what prevents us from seeing its full implications.

“All these things Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed, he said nothing to them without a parable” (v. 34). - Matthew 13:34–35

Matthew pauses his record of Jesus’ kingdom parables in today’s passage to summarize His teaching method. Emphasizing His use of parables, the first evangelist reveals that the Savior’s teaching fulfills prophecy (13:34–35).

Before we exegete (examine the original meaning of) verse 35, we need to look at what it means that Jesus “said nothing to them without a parable” (v. 34). Some scholars read this verse absolutely, as if Jesus only told stories and never used discourses such as are found in the gospel of John. Consequently, they say, John’s gospel contains original doctrine not in line with Jesus’ teaching. This view is untenable. If Matthew thought Jesus taught only in parables, why did he record a discourse like the Sermon on the Mount (chap. 5–7)? Matthew 13:34 simply means that parables were essential to Jesus’ teaching. He never usually spoke on a topic without, at some point, telling a parable about that topic.

Matthew 13:35 says that Psalm 78:2 is fulfilled in Christ’s teaching ministry. The psalm’s author, Asaph, retells the history of Israel from exodus to exile in Psalm 78, drawing out lessons that might not be crystal clear even to those who know the history. For example, because Ephraim successfully established its own kingdom (1 Kings 11:26–12:20), the tribe might falsely believe that this act was acceptable to the Lord. Asaph’s psalm corrects the Ephraimites, reminding them of what they should already know — that God chose Judah, not Ephraim, to be the ruling tribe (Ps. 78:67–68; seeGen. 49:8–12).

Similarly, Jesus’ parables drew out lessons that should have been plain to His hearers even though they usually missed them. Based on Israel’s past transgressions, the people should have known that not every Jew would embrace the Messiah (Ex. 32; Matt. 13:1–23). That the Messiah would be David’s greatest son and the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 should have been clear to Israel because the line of David had to suffer for the sins into which they led the nation (2 Sam. 7:4–17; Isa. 53;Matt. 21:33–46). Jesus’ parables reveal truths that might have otherwise been hidden, fulfilling the intent of Psalm 78, albeit on a grander scale. For the truth Christ reveals is the inbreaking of God’s kingdom.

Coram Deo

The Bible does not say that there are secret truths only certain believers can find in Scripture. Those things that we do not see upon our first reading of a text are not invisible; rather, incomplete knowledge is often what prevents us from seeing the full implications of a passage. That is why we need the teaching ministry of the church to help us. Do you support your church’s teachers with encouraging words or faithful Bible study attendance?

Passages for Further Study
  • Psalm 119:65–72
  • Ephesians 3:1–6


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