Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers 3 He spake many things unto them in parables. There had been illustrations and similitudes before, as in that of the houses built on the sand and on the rock in Matthew 7:
The word parable Hebrew mashal; Syrian mathla, Greek parabole signifies in general a comparison, or a parallel, by which one thing is used to illustrate another. It is a likeness taken from the sphere of real, or sensible, or earthly incidents, in order to convey an ideal, or spiritual, or heavenly meaning.
As uttering one thing and signifying something else, it is in the nature of a riddle Hebrew khidah, Gr. Its Greek designation from paraballein to throw beside or against indicates a deliberate "making up" of a story in which some lesson is at once given and concealed.
As taking simple or common objects to cast light on ethics and religion, it has been well said of the parable that "truth embodied in a tale shall enter in at lowly doors. The derivation of the Hebrew is unknown.
If connected with Assyrian mashalu, Arabic matala, etc. But it will be a likeness which contains a judgment, and so includes the "maxim" or general proposition bearing on conduct Greek "gnomic wisdom"of which the Book of Proverbs Meshalim is the chief inspired example.
In classic Latin, the Greek word is translated collatio Cicero, "De invent. Observe that parabole does not occur in St. John's Gospel nor paroimia proverb in the Synoptics.
Likeness and abstraction enter into the idea of language, but may be contrasted as body and spirit, standing as they do in a relation at once of help and opposition. Wisdom for the practice of life has among all nations taken a figurative shape, passing from myth or fable into the contracted sayings we term proverbs and arriving in the Greek schools of philosophy as ethical systems.
But system, or technical metaphysicsdoes not appeal to the Semite ; and our Sacred Books were never written with a view to it. If, however, system be not made the vehicle of teaching, what shall a prophet employ as its equivalent?
The image or comparison remains. It is primitive, interesting, and easily remembered; and its various applications give it a continual freshness.
The story came into use long before the system, and will survive when systems are forgotten. Its affinity, as a form of Divine speech with the "Sacrament" mysterion as a form of Divine action, may profitably be kept in mind.
Neither can we overlook the points of resemblance which exist between parables and miraclesboth exhibiting through outward shows the presence of a supernatural doctrine and agency.
Hence we may speak of the irony which must always be possible in devices adapted to human weakness of understanding, where heavenly secrets are concerned. Bacon has said excellently well, "parables are serviceable as a mask and veil, and also for elucidation and illustration" De sap.
Of Scripture parables we conclude that they illustrate and edify by revealing some Divine principle, with immediate reference to the hearers addressed, but with more remote and recondite applications in the whole Christian economy to which they belong.
Both are connected and may be traced to the same root in Revelation: We cannot lose either out of sight. The parables of the New Testament refuse to be handled like Aesop's fables; they were intended from the first to shadow forth the "mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven", and their double purpose may be read in Matthew CHRISTIANITY EXISTED.
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