Parable Definition


Having a good, working parable definition will help us to understand the many parable of Jesus that was taught throughout His life.  These parables are important to understand because they help us know the kind of life Jesus wants us to live. parables of Jesus and better be able to learn from His teachings.  A good parable definition begins with the word itself.


Parable Definition:  Defining the Word

If I take this word “parable” and use my interlinear to find out the original language, I learn that the original word that is translated as “parable” is the Greek word “parabole.” 

Like so many Greek words, this is a compound word.  That means that “parabole” consists of two different Greek words put together to make a whole new word.

  1. The first word that makes up “parabole” is the word “para.”  This is the Greek word that means,”by the side.”
  2. The second word that makes up “parabole” comes from the root word “ballo.”  This is the Greek word that means, “to throw.”  It carries a variety of applications.  Sometimes it is used in reference to throwing a ball.  Sometimes it is used to describe someone throwing a punch. 

When you put the two words “para” and “ballo” together, you have “parabole.”  It is a word that literally means, “to throw down by the side.”  It carries the idea of taking one thing and throwing it down so that it lands next to, or by the side of, something else.  The purpose of doing so is to draw a comparison. 

A parable is a story that is placed next to a real life situation for the purpose of comparison. The Bible actually has a much more broad definition that would include metaphors, analogies, symbols, and even adages.  However, generally speaking, we can define a parable as a story that has a moral or spiritual lesson.

Notice how the various dictionaries define “parable.” 

  • “It signifies ‘a placing of one thing beside another’ with a view to comparison [Vine's Expository Dictionary]
  • “A characteristic speech form used by Jesus that in a metaphorical way expresses the fundamental principles of his proclamation.”  [Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament]
  • “Metaphorically, a comparing, comparison of one thing with another, likeness, similitude [Thayer's Greek Lexicon]


Parable Definition:  How the Word is Used

The best way to have a working parable definition is to see how the word is used in the Bible.   When I read about the parables of Jesus, what I am reading about are the stories that Jesus told for the purpose of comparing their moral lessons to real life situations.

You might be interested to know that the parables of Jesus make up more than a third of all the Lord’s teachings.  However, parables are not unique to Jesus.  They are not even unique to the New Testament. 

While they are not common in the Old Testament, occasionally you will read about a parable. For example, I can turn to a time when King David was in a low point in his life.  He had stolen the wife of one of his loyal soldiers, had that soldier killed, and then took this woman to be his own wife.  Soon after, Nathan the prophet comes to David to confront him.  How does he do so?  He tells David a parable.  (2 Sam. 12.1-7). 

In the New Testament, the book of Hebrews compared the temple and worship of the Jews to our relationship with God through Jesus.  As the comparison is made, the writer says...

Hebrews 9.9:  "It was symbolic for the present time in which both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make him who performed the service perfect in regard to the conscience"

The Old Testament system of sacrifices, temple worship, and the like symbolically represented the “present time.”  That is, the sacrifice of Christ, and the worship of the New Testament church.  The word that is translated as “symbolic” in Hebrews 9.9, is the word ‘parabole,” the same word translated as “parable.”

Jesus employed the use of parables using the world around Him.  He used stories involving those things which the people of His day and in His geographical location were familiar.  Sometimes His parables involved nature such as the parable of the mustard seed.  Some of His parables involved individuals such as the parable of the prodigal son or the parable of the Good Samaritan

Every one of the parables of Jesus taught a single lesson that provided spiritual insight into the will of God and the life He wants us to live.


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