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What Makes A Parable A Parable

A parable is a story that features characters, settings, and situations that are fictional but that illustrate a real-life truth.

Parables are often crafted as examples to support or oppose a topic or issue. For example, in the Parable of the Talents, Jesus uses the example of a man going on a journey who entrusts his assets to his servants to manage while he is gone.

He gives different amounts of assets to each servant and then leaves, with the expectation of him returning at some point. To illustrate that we should all use our gifts and abilities to the best of our ability while we have them, Jesus uses the parable of the man who gives his servants different levels of ability to manage assets, and how he will respond when he returns based on their ability to manage them.

This parable illustrates that we should all be prepared for when God returns and judges us for how well we used our gifts and abilities while he was gone.

Narrative context

what makes a parable a parable

A parable is set in a narrative context. A parable does not happen in a vacuum, but instead relates something to reality.

Parables are often set in past times or places, or even futures that do not exist, creating a distance between the parable and the listener. This allows the listener to focus more on the point being made rather than their own experience.

By setting a parable in a different time or place, the preacher (or speaker) can use examples that their audience may not know about, which enhances the point being made.

Using narratives like this also draws your attention to something else: you get invested in the story before you realize what its point is. This helps draw you into the message being presented. It also helps connect the message to real life experiences, making it more meaningful.


what makes a parable a parable

A parable does not describe a situation or scenario using literal events, people, places, or things. Instead, parables use similes and metaphors to link two ideas or concepts.

Parables use these literary devices to describe a spiritual truth through a common everyday event, situation, or concept. For example, the Parable of the Talents uses the terms “talents” and “sheep and goats” to describe humanity and how we are to treat each other.

As with any good story, there is more than just a surface level meaning. By reading into the details of the parable (what the talents and sheep and goats represent) you can uncover even more truths.

The parable also uses literal language when it mentions “the master” and “the door”, but these are not the focus of the story. The main point of the Parable of the Talents is that we are all given gifts and opportunities, which we should invest in wisely.

Key characters

what makes a parable a parable

Parables usually have one or more key characters that represent a group of people or a concept. For example, in the Parable of the Talents, the unnamed master is the character, the servants are the group of people represented, and the land is the concept.

The master represents God, the servants represent humans, and the land represents nature. All three are mentioned as things that can be managed and improved with good use of resources.

By having these characters instead of simply talking about concepts like wealth or nature, it makes it more obvious that this story is about something else.

By using characters that are familiar or resemble familiar characters, it makes it more likely that listeners will recognize what this parable is talking about.

Visual imagery

what makes a parable a parable

A parable almost always uses visual imagery to describe a concept or idea. This can be in the form of a story, anecdote, metaphor, or analogy.

Parables are often stories with a moral attached. The story part can be about anything- people, places, times- but it is almost always fiction. The moral is what links the story to the concept the parable is trying to convey.

The moral of the Parable of the Talents is that we should use our gifts to serve God and others. The Parable of the Sower explains how different people respond to God’s calling and how He responds to them. Both of these parables use very clear images to convey their messages.

Even though both of these parables use imagery, they are not metaphors. A metaphor is a figure of speech that describes one thing as something else.

Emphasizes a point

what makes a parable a parable

A parable is a story that emphasizes a point. The point is sometimes said to be the moral of the story.

Parables are often used to make a point about religion, morality, and faith. For example, parables about God or heaven are used to emphasize the importance of faith.

Parables about people struggling with wealth or hunger are used to show the importance of being wise with your money and resources.

Parables about injustice or persecution are used to show the need for tolerance and understanding.

Parables can be stories from history or fiction, old or new, but if they are meant to emphasize a point, then they are considered parables.

Makes the un-literal apparent

what makes a parable a parable

A parable is a story that makes the un-literal apparent. A parable doesn’t use characters or a plot like a normal story. Instead, a parable uses settings and situations that aren’t real to show a truth.

For example, in Jesus’ Parable of the Talents, he uses the image of talents to talk about how we use our gifts and opportunities given to us. He says that those who have more gifts and opportunities should produce more, while those who have fewer should still produce something.

This is because at the end of the day, it isn’t about how much you have, it’s what you do with it. The same goes for gifts and opportunities: you can have many, but if you don’t use them, then you won’t get far.

The underlying message of this parable is that we should all be productive with what we have been given.

Frequent use of irony

Parables are often characterized by the use of irony. Irony is when something is said or done, but with a different meaning than what is actually meant.

Parables often use irony to show that what appears to be something is not actually what it is. For example, a parable about a farmer who plants seeds and then weeds out the bad ones before harvesting the good ones would appear to be about how we should not waste our time planting bad things and weeding them out before planting the things that will help us, but that this is not the point of the parable.

The point of the parable is to teach us a lesson about something else. In this case, the lesson being taught is that we should invest in ourselves and our abilities in order to reap rewards later on.

Has a narrative frame

what makes a parable a parable

A parable is a story that describes a situation or relationship through analogy. It typically describes a familiar situation, and then proceeds to describe a surprising conclusion.

Parables are often used to educate, inspire, or warn. They can be about life, religion, politics, etc., but most often parables are used in the context of religion.

The best parables use common experiences to highlight something extraordinary about life. For example, the Parable of the Talents uses the commonplace experience of earning money and investing it to show that we must use our gifts and opportunities wisely.

Parables can be found in many religious texts, such as The Bible or The Qur’an. Many religious leaders have told parables to help convey their message in an illustrative way. Religious parables tend to focus on moral or ethical lessons.

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