Craig Blomberg – Summary

Interpreting the Parables
Interpreting the Parables
Craig Blomberg, Interpreting the Parables (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1992).

Interpreting the Parables begins by summarizing significant findings and methodological issues in recent parable research so that a wide audience can benefit from this historical foundation for Blomberg’s work (13). In reviewing this previous scholarship, Blomberg seeks to interact critically with it and, at some points, propose specific alternatives (14). In Blomberg’s opinion, all Jesus parables are allegorical on some level. To articulate a method of treating the parables in this light, Blomberg discusses numerous hermeneutical issues, appreciating the value of the different positions where possible, critiquing them where necessary, and frequently coming to mediating conclusions about these issues’ relevance for parable interpretation. His most important conclusion, and the one that affects the whole the second part of the work, is that “each parable makes one main point per main character—usually two or three [characters] in each [parable]—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” (163). Having articulated this principle, the bulk of the second part of Interpreting the Parables contains Blomberg’s systematic examination of many of Jesus’ major parables according to this hypothesis (171–288). Blomberg concludes Interpreting the Parables by discussing some of the theological elements that frequently occur in Jesus’ parables and providing a brief summary of the work’s second part (289–327).

Kenneth Bailey – Interaction

Poet and Peasant and Through Peasant’s Eyes
Poet and Peasant and Through Peasant’s Eyes
Kenneth Bailey, Poet and Peasant and Through Peasant Eyes: A Literary-Cultural Approach to the Parables in Luke, (combined ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983).

Bailey initially published Poet and Peasant and Through Peasant Eyes separately. Yet, they have begun circulating in combined editions like the one shown here, and the works are, in fact, quite amiable partners, since Through Peasant Eyes is, in significant respects, a continuation of Poet and Peasant. Both these works are thought-provoking and fascinating pieces of scholarship, particularly with respect to Bailey’s unique perspectives on Jesus’ parables and the approach he uses to arrive at these understandings. Particularly, Bailey’s practice of interviewing Middle Easterners for their perspectives on the parables highlights some nuances that may easily become muted in purely Western treatments. Because modern, Middle Eastern culture is arguably closer to the culture of first-century, Jewish Palestine than is modern Western culture, Middle Eastern readers begin with a natural advantage over their Western counterparts in interpreting the parables. While some changes in Middle Eastern culture during the last two millennia (most notably, the Muslim conquest) may have introduced significant paradigm shifts into the Middle Eastern worldview, consulting people (whether directly or through Bailey’s work) who live in cultures of seeds and sowers, neighbors and midnight visitors will surely provide valuable grist for the interpretive mills of those who come from other cultural backgrounds.

Kenneth Bailey – Summary

Poet and Peasant and Through Peasant’s Eyes
Poet and Peasant and Through Peasant’s Eyes
Kenneth Bailey, Poet and Peasant and Through Peasant Eyes: A Literary-Cultural Approach to the Parables in Luke, (combined ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983).

Bailey’s works, Poet and Peasant and Through Peasant Eyes, explicitly attempt to approach Jesus’ parables from the perspective of an Oriental worldview. Poet and Peasant contains a lengthy section that provides a history of parable research and describes Bailey’s methodology for approaching the parables (13–75). His methodology contains two major parts: “Oriental exegesis” and close attention to parallelism (29–75). For Bailey, “Oriental exegesis” means: (1) examining the interpretations and perspectives present in ancient literature; (2) asking contemporary Middle-Easterners for their insights; and (3) examining Oriental versions of Scripture to see their particular ways of understanding and rendering various portions of the text (27, 30–37). Bailey pays close attention to parallelism because he thinks it can help determine the turning point, or climax, of a given pericope and illumine points of later shaping (50, 74–75). The second part of Poet and Peasant presents the results of Bailey’s methodology as applied to three Lucan sections, including (as Bailey titles them) the parables of the unjust steward, God and mammon, the friend at midnight, the Father’s gifts, the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost sons (77–206). The work concludes by briefly summarizing Bailey’s methodology and findings (207).

Through Peasant Eyes begins with a briefer and less technical history of research and description of methodology and a concise checklist for applying Jesus’ parables to a modern context (ix–xxiii). The work proceeds by presenting Bailey’s views on ten other Lucan parables not covered in Poet and Peasant, including the parables of the: two debtors; fox, funeral, and furrow; good Samaritan; rich fool; tower and fig tree; great banquet; obedient servant; judge and widow; Pharisee and tax collector; and camel and needle (1–170). As in Poet and Peasant, when Bailey comments on these parables, he diligently observes his prescribed regimen of Oriental exegesis and close attention to parallelism. Bailey’s concluding remarks again concisely summarize his methodology and present some of the themes that frequently recur in the parables (171–2).

Joachim Jeremias – Interaction

Joachim Jeremias
Joachim Jeremias
Rediscovering the Parables has become a modern classic in the field of parables research (see Blomberg 10), and upon even casual perusal, a reader should be able to see clearly some of the reasons for this much-deserved status. In addition, far from being merely a dry, academic treatise, Jeremias sought to recover Jesus’ exact words (ipsissima verba) because “only the Son of man himself and his word can give authority to our preaching” (7; cf. 181). Consequently, for Jeremias, this work represented an attempt to advance both scholarship and piety. Particularly valuable is Jeremias’ extensive knowledge of Palestinian religion, culture, and sociology, which enables him at many points to suggest interpretations for Jesus’ parables, or explanations for their elements, that may genuinely enrich one’s understanding of these parables (cf. 107, 111–12, 142–43, 166).

Even so, a few occasions exist in which more recent scholarship has, perhaps, uncovered better explanations for some facets of some of the parables than Jeremias gives [e.g., 108, 164; see Martinus C. De Boer, “Ten Thousand Talents? Matthew’s Interpretation and Redaction of the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matt 18:23-35),” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 50.2 (1988): 217]. Moreover, Jeremias’s stated purpose of recovering Jesus’ exact words (ipsissima verba) can downplay the historical faithfulness of the text as it exists. Yet, this step is needless on the vast majority of occasions, and its effect is wholly so. The Gospels present us with the ipsissima vox (the very voice) of Jesus. Thus, although the Gospels may summarize or paraphrase Jesus’ words at some points, they do so with fidelity to the actual, historical occurrences that they record (cf. Carson, Moo, and Morris 38–45). Nevertheless, while certain portions of the work might require qualification or revision, Jeremias’ little classic, Rediscovering the Parables, remains a veritable treasure trove of historical, cultural, and sociological information for those seeking to understand the meaning of Jesus’ parables in the historical contexts in which they were originally spoken.


In this post:

Craig Blomberg
Craig Blomberg
D. A. Carson, Douglas Moo, and Leon Morris
D. A. Carson, Douglas Moo, and Leon Morris
Joachim Jeremias
Joachim Jeremias
  • Martinus C. De Boer, “Ten Thousand Talents? Matthew’s Interpretation and Redaction of the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matt 18:23-35),” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 50.2 (1988): 214–32

Joachim Jeremias – Summary

Joachim Jeremias
Joachim Jeremias
Joachim Jeremias’ work, Rediscovering the Parables, attempts “to go back to the oldest form of the parables attainable and try to recover what Jesus himself meant by them” (7). Jeremias proceeds toward this goal by paying special attention to the Palestinian setting of the parables (7) and by analyzing the parables in terms of ten different categories of modifications that he thinks might be expected to appear in the course of their transmission (16–88)—namely,

  • Translation from Aramaic into Greek;
  • Shifts from Jewish to Greco-Roman portrayals;
  • Embellishments;
  • Increased influence from the Old Testament and story lines or themes current in the first century;
  • Shifts in audience between accounts;
  • Conformation of the parables to the church’s task of exhortation;
  • Increased influence of the early church;
  • Increased tendency to employ allegory;
  • Collection and fusion of multiple parables into fewer, composite accounts; and
  • Shifts in literary setting.

After outlining his methodology, Jeremias addresses many parables individually, while grouping them into general, topical categories concerning: the day of salvation, God’s mercy for sinners, great assurance, crisis and warning, God’s immediately impending judgment, challenge to action, realized discipleship, the suffering and exaltation of Jesus, and the consummation (89–178). In his treatment of these parables, Jeremias attempts to follow Adolf Jülicher’s lead by interpreting the parables as having a single, major point and by avoiding the allegorizing tendencies of many parable interpreters before Jülicher’s time (71; cf. Blomberg 34, 42). In conclusion, Jeremias briefly draws his readers back to Jesus as the original source of the parables and reminders them that the parables, however mysterious they may be in some of their details, reveal something about the one who initially uttered them. This revelation, Jeremias argues, also necessitates some form of decision about actions and life in relation to Jesus on the part of those who hear or read the parables (181).


In this post:

Craig Blomberg
Craig Blomberg
Joachim Jeremias
Joachim Jeremias

Hermeneutical Method, Part 2

A corollary problem to the tension between the old and the new was the tension between the absolute and the relative. No one would have dared relativize the words of the Highest, but some heretical sects thought parts of scripture (notably the Old Testament) were products of a lesser god. This position allowed them safely to relativize portions of scripture. Although the rabbis had relativized scripture, to some extent, in halakah, they had limited the operational extent of that halakah by the oral law. In competition with these other positions, the orthodox, Christian position received slightly different articulations based on which factors pressed heaviest on a given author’s context. For example, the Epistle of Barnabas applied whatever method necessary to arrive at a distinctively Christian interpretation of the Old Testament. In contrast to the general, orthodox emphasis on the use of the Old Testament, Ignatius used the New Testament more frequently than he used the Old Testament. Where he did use the Old Testament, however, he took Jesus as the starting point for his interpretation of the Old Testament.

A final constraint prevalent during this period in the area of hermeneutical method was the tension between clarity and obscurity. Because Marcion was certain that the Old Testament did not originate with the God and father of Jesus Christ; thus, he omitted it from his canon and argued for a literal interpretation of (his edited version of) the New Testament. The Valentinians, by contrast, argued for an allegorical approach to the New Testament. The orthodox position attempted to maintain, rather than prematurely resolve, the tension between these two poles by affirming both scripture’s clarity and its obscurity (e.g., clarity: Epistle of Barnabas 1:7, 2:4, 3:6; obscurity: Epistle of Barnabas 5:2–3, 8:7, 10:2).


In this post:

Michael Holmes
Michael Holmes

Hermeneutical Method, Part 1

The second century saw several, very live issues about hermeneutical method, such as the necessity to actualize scripture (i.e., to interpret scripture in a manner consistent with its supreme importance), the necessity to actualize according to rules (e.g., the rule of faith), and the reality that the actualizations are largely determined by community contexts. Therefore, within this context, what shape did the early Christian community’s hermeneutics take? Ireneas fully affirmed scripture’s divinity (as did the rest of the orthodox Christian tradition) and, because of its divinity, its perfection. In the ancient world, however, one assumption and test of divine literature was that it could be allegorized. Hence, when Celsus argued that the Old Testament was not divine because it could not be allegorized, Origen responded by seeking to defend the divinity of the Old Testament by proving that it would yield allegorical meanings [Origen, Against Celsus 1.20 (ANF 4:404)]. Similarly, in polemicizing with pagans, Athenagoras applied the Old Testament directly to his own situation. Moreover, even some heretical, Gnostic groups (e.g., the Valentinians) had a hermeneutic that allowed for the Old Testament’s divine origin, but Marcion and his followers completely rejected idea that the Old Testament originated with the father of Jesus Christ. Interestingly, however, contrary to the willingness of orthodox Christians to allegorize the Old Testament, Marcion generally argued for a literal approach to interpretation.

During this period, orthodox Christians treated some portions of the New Testament as authoritative, and orthodox writers were clearly aware of the New Testament literature. They used it as authoritative, but rarely cited it explicitly as scripture. When the orthodox authors from this period cited the gospels, they cited them as the teachings of Jesus. Paul was cited variously, sometimes by the mention of a book, but most frequently, by an quotation formula like “the apostle [says].” There are a couple references in this period’s literature that cite Paul with “it is written,” but these references involve Paul’s use of the Old Testament.

In contrast with the comparative hesitancy of orthodox Christians to use the New Testament as scripture, heretical groups fully embraced the New Testament very early in order to exploit it for their own purposes and arguments. Heretics were among the first to write commentaries on the New Testament and cite it with “as scripture says.” The heretics also first allegorized the New Testament (and Paul in particular). These developments were possible for some heretical groups because they rejected the Old Testament; therefore, they did not have to wrestle, as did orthodox Christians, with the problem of the old and new aspects of the canon because these heretical groups had only the new. For example, Marcion compiled his own canon in which he omitted the whole Old Testament in addition to Matthew, Mark, and John, instead including edited versions of Luke and Paul.


In this post:

Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Cox
Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Cox

Community Boundary Definition, Part 3: Heretical “Christianity”

Last in the series of challenges for boundary definition of the early Christian community is the work that orthodox Christianity had to perform to define itself in relation to its various, heretical offshoots. Particularly, orthodox Christians faced a significant struggle with heretical groups over the problem of the old and the new, which includes, but is not limited to, the problem of the relationships between the Old and New Testaments. This issue grew especially large in the 2nd and 3rd centuries, and it encompassed problems of sociology (the relationship between Israel and the church), Christology (Jesus’ messiahship), theology (Jesus’ divinity), and eschatology (understanding prophesies of Israel’s scripture in light of Jesus). Moreover, the church had to sort through tensions along canonical-hermeneutical lines by defining how the Old Testament constituted specifically Christian scripture and how Jesus should affect one’s interpretation of it.

The New Testament resolves the problem of the old and the new by placing Christ as the climactic culmination of the old. In Christ, there are both continuity and genuine newness. At first glance, the Old and New Testaments are in some kind of tension, but the early church saw this tension as being resolved in Christ. The New Testament’s gaze is centripetal, looking to Christ in the center of its interpretive framework. For the New Testament writers, Jesus shows that the Old Testament must be understood as part of a story that transcends (even within history) the Old Testament’s own hopes. This position of the church was unstable and hard to defend in the patristic period. In the church’s attempts to stand firm on this unstable ground, many people wrongly tried to resolve the problem of the old and the new. For instance, some people denied the newness of the new in a reactionary mode like Pseudo-Clement, who collapsed the new back into the old by saying that: (1) Jesus is essentially the messiah only of the Jews, according to Jewish expectation, and (2) Christians should live under the law, excepting a few specific commandments. Alternatively, other people emphasized the newness of the new so that it lost its continuity with the old and effectively became foundationless (e.g., Marcion).

Baur said heresy often preceded orthodoxy so as to make the definition for orthodoxy very vague. Yet, as one examines this picture of early Christianity, a definition for orthodoxy or an orthodox reading of the Old Testament is possible as that segment of Christian thought and practice in the patristic period, which continued wrestling with the problem between the old and new. Orthodoxy refused to take a simple solution to the problem of the old and the new by denying or overly emphasizing the newness of the new.

Community Boundary Definition, Part 2: Paganism

The early church also had to struggle to define itself in relation to Paganism. The church had to decide what degree of cultural syncretism was acceptable and how much its members had to form their own subculture. One example of this dimension of definition is the staunch, orthodox Christian refusal to participate in the Caesar cult, for which reason Polycarp was burned (Mart. Poly. 9:2). Moreover, Christian monotheism (albeit in Trinitarian form), in a pantheistic society, opened Christians to the charge of atheism (e.g., Pliny of Flavia Domitilla and her husband Flavius Clemens; see Wilken, Christians as the Romans Saw Them, 25‒30). Thus, the central defining point for the church vis-à-vis Paganism, as in relation to Judaism, was Jesus, but Jesus in his identity as the κύριος (lord) who ruled over all, including Caesar (cf. Priene inscription).


In this post:

Michael Holmes
Michael Holmes
Robert Wilken
Robert Wilken

Community Boundary Definition, Part 1: Judaism

Somewhat similar to the question of canonical development is the question of the boundaries of the Christian community. The orthodox early church had to work to define these boundaries over against Judaism, paganism, and heretical, “Christian” sects. Scholars have sometimes seen the struggle of Christianity to define itself in relation to Judaism as beginning in the mid-second century, but this effort had really already begun within the first century (cf. Acts 15; Galatians). It was crucial for the church to define itself correctly in relation to Judaism because, at the beginning, Christians did not want to say that they were a new religion. Instead, they preferred to view themselves and to be viewed by others (not least the Romans, who afforded the Jews special religious privileges) as the continuation of Judaism, which Israel’s God had planned. Moreover, Christians wanted to claim Jewish scripture as their own and borrow some of Judaism’s interpretive methods. Even the Christological method of interpretation, which the church developed, might be regarded as merely a Jesus-oriented application of other methods, which the Jews had already applied to their scriptures. Orthodox Christianity did not adopt all Jewish interpretive methods, but more than which methods the early church did or did not adopt, the central defining point for the church in relation to Judaism was really the church’s commitment Jesus’ messianic status. Therefore, Christian interpretations of scripture differed with Jewish ones at certain key points because of how the church’s a priori acceptance of Jesus as messiah impacted its hermeneutic.