Interpreting parables takes study and preparation. Many people think it is an easy thing to do, by their own intellect, but get confused and add elements to the parable that the Bible doesn’t have, or the symbols and actions are translated incorrectly. Then they assert that the Bible says something that it doesn’t say.
Misinterpretation is the reason that there are so many different interpretations of the same parable. Many who try to interpret a parable don’t really understand how to interpret a parable before they apply their interpretation.
Here are the two main reasons for misinterpretation:
1. The Symbols and Actions are translated incorrectly.
2. Elements are added to the parable that the Bible doesn’t contain.
The Solution is:
“Let the Bible Interpret itself”. This is the Golden Rule for Parables as well as for Symbols. – “Spiritual things are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:13–14), therefore you will need help from the Holy Spirit, to guide you into truth. Don’t rely on your intellect, allow the Bible to interpret itself. Proverbs 3:5–8 … lean not unto thine own understanding …
I will use the Parable of the Sower for interpreting parables since Christ used this parable to explain to His disciples the meaning of parables. Matthew 13:3-9
Overview, What it is about.
The Parable of the Sower is about sowing the seeds of the Gospel, and how people receive the truth. It is about how we receive the truth, and if we allow the “cares of this world” to interfere with how we accept the truth of God’s word. If we truly have faith in the Word and we receive the Word to our hearts and minds then ‘the cares of this world’ will not ‘choke’ out the message to our hearts. We cannot forsake the Gospel because of how others treat us or, what they do to us. It is about where we place ourselves in the world and the environment we place ourselves to allow the word of God to “spring up” or to germinate and grow in our lives.
How to Interpret Parables:
- Read the parable carefully.
- Get an overview of the parable before trying to interpret it.
- List all the things that the parable says point by point.
- Be careful not to add or subtract details.
- Find the symbols used in the parable.
Interpreting Parables – Before trying to interpret its meaning, remember that it is not just a story, but the Word of God, and it is meant to transmit doctrine to the “hearer”. Do not add to or subtract from it. Read it as it is. Find words that are symbols, they are keys to a full understanding of the parable. Christ said, “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself. John 7:17-18.”
Look for Elements of the parable:
Find the elements of the story in the Parables. The elements are the Symbols and Actions. Look for the Symbols and list them, then look for the Actions in the Parable, which is what happened in the parable.
In the Parable of the Sower found in Matthew 13:3–9 you will see these elements (Symbols and Actions).
- Soil (ground, earth)
- Water (not mentioned but implied, because it takes water to make seeds grow.)
- Birds (Fowls)
- Rocks (Stones)
- All receivers did receive the word of God. (the Seed)
- Each one of the seed was planted except for the ones the Birds ate.
- All Germinated (Sprang up).
- The only difference in the Seeds was where they were planted.
- The Seeds were all the same. Not different kinds. All from the same source, all from the sower.
- Some fell near the hardened Path, where the soil was not prepared, and the Birds ate the seeds.
- Some fell on “Rocky Ground”, where there was enough soil to germinate them and cause them to grow, but they did not take deep root and the sun scorched them and they withered.
- Some fell among the Thorns where they were choked out, they had to compete with the thorns for the soil and the sun and the water, and they did not grow well eventually they were choked out, starved, and died.
- Some fell on Good Ground, where the soil was prepared, and the seed grew and took root and produced fruit, at various rates.
The only difference in the seed is where it was planted. Each seed was the same and had the same origin, which was from the sower, each seed sprouted and allowed the gospel to take root in their lives except for the ones that the fouls devoured, who rejected the gospel. Each seed had the same opportunity. Each seed had the same amount of sun, water, and air. The Soil is the world (Matthew 13:38) and the Water is the Holy Spirit (John 7:37–39) for germinating the seed. The choice is ours, we are able to choose which type of ground the Seed will be planted in by ‘preparing the soil’, our character, or our lives in the world in which we live in. If we make the word of God important to us it will take deep roots and produce fruit.
Jesus’ Explanation of the Parable
In the Parable of the Tares Jesus explains the meaning of the Parable in Matthew 13:18-23. What He is doing in these verses is explaining the Symbols and the Actions taken.
3 And he spake many things unto them in parables, saying, Behold, a sower went forth to sow; 4 And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up: 5 Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth: 6 And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. 7 And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them: 8 But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold. 9 Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.
|Seed||• Word of God (Gospel)|
|Sower||• Christ, The originator of the Gospel. Matthew 13:37|
|Soil||• The World. Matthew 13:38|
|Water||• The Holy Spirit John 7:37–39|
|Good Ground||• Understands the Word and bears fruit.|
|Fouls (Birds)||• Satan and his angels (the wicked one) Matthew 13:19|
|Sun||• Tribulation and Persecution Matthew 13:21|
|Rocks, Stony Ground||• Things that preventing Spiritual growth. Matthew 13:20–21|
|Thorns||• Cares of the World, the deceitfulness of riches. Matthew 13:22|
|Fruit||• Sharing the Gospel with others. Bringing others to Christ.|
|• Hearing the Word||• The Gospel and who it is preached to|
|• Sowing||• Sower in this parable is Christ. Spreading the Gospel.|
|• Seed||• is the Gospel of Christ.|
|• Where the Seed Went||• The Gospel received (germinated) the seed in the following ways:|
|• Wayside||– Next to the path or road – Unprepared or hardened soil. The Word of God does not have time to take root, Satan is allowed to steal it away.|
|• Stony Places||– Hears the word and accepts it but it has no deep root.|
|• Thorns||– Cares of the World. Hears the word but the things of this world are more important than the word.|
|• Good Ground||Hears the Word and Understands it. It takes root in the heart and bears fruit.|
18 Hear ye therefore the parable of the sower. 19 When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, (Seed – Gospel) and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one (fouls), and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side. 20 But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it; 21 Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended. 22 He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful. 23 But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.
You may have to go over it again and again before you understand. If you can’t get it at once, pray for the Holy Spirit and wait. Put it away and come back to it later with a fresh mind.
Don’t force the elements and symbols to fit your ideas. It is a parable. When symbols and types are employed it is not to be understood as we think but as interpreted by the Bible.
As an example of what I mean about forcing the elements; in the real world, the seeds have no choice to where they are planted. In the parable, it is our choice as to what type of environment we choose to be in and how we allow the word to take ‘root’ in our lives. In the parable, we can choose what kind of ground we are planted in. The example that Jesus gave is to show us what will happen to those who chose the wrong environment in which to live. We are to choose what kind of environment we will live in and how we receive the word, and if that environment is the kind of place that the word of God will take root and grow in our hearts. The parable encourages us to change our bad choices, but in the real world, the seeds could not move on their own or by choice.
Next: How to Use Parables