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Why did Jesus speak in parables? January 7, 2005

Posted by roopster in Bible, Christianity, Jesus, Religion, Theology.

In public speaking, one may share a short story using life experiences to drive home a point. In most cases, this may be necessary to make the point easier to understand. Many popular preachers today are great story tellers. They have the ability to take Bible passages and make them more relatable to those in their intended audience.

However, in the Gospels, Jesus spoke in parables, not to help the hearer to understand what he was saying – but to intentionally confuse them.

Matthew 13:10-15And the disciples came and said to Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?” He answered and said to them, “Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says:

‘Hearing you will hear and shall not understand,
And seeing you will see and not perceive;
For the hearts of this people have grown dull.
Their ears are hard of hearing,
And their eyes they have closed,
Lest they should see with their eyes
and hear with their ears,
Lest they should understand with their hearts
and turn,
So that I should heal them.’

Preceding the above passage, Jesus told the parable of the sower. When asked why he spoke in parables, his response leads you to conclude that he does not want certain hearers to understand what he was saying. In other words, his response is that those with dull hearts, whose ears are hard of hearing, and whose eyes have been closed, are intentionally confused. Otherwise, they may see, hear, understand, have a change of heart and be healed. Does he not want their hearts to change? Did he not come to save the world?

Jesus’ response does not make sense since he should want his preaching to yield the result of a changed heart. Jesus also said “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Why would he now contradict himself by stating that those who are healthy should understand, but the sick should not lest they be healed? Why would he now more or less say that those who are healthy will become more healthy, but those who are sick will become more sick?

What am I missing from this passage?



1. Anonymous - February 7, 2007

If people were not taking that much notice of what Christ said i.e. simply paying lip service, and he didn’t want them to understand ‘mysteries’, then why speak in parables at all?

Why not just leave them to get on with it?


2. doc - February 7, 2007

I’m not so sure we can conclude that Jesus does not want certain hearers to understand what he’s saying, only that some will hear and some will not, and that through the use of parables those who do not understand will gain an understanding, while those that already have an understanding will gain an even greater understanding.

This is revealed by the part that says “For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him”

I’m inclined to think that those who already have the knowledge of God within them will further understand what they already know, while those who thought they knew what God is all about will gain an insight from those parables which will dramatically alter what they previously held to be true, and thus they will ‘lose’ or ‘drop’ what they held as true in favor of the newer and greater understanding.

IOW, Jesus did come to heal the sick, and so those who are healthy will gain even more health, while those who are sick will lose the ‘disease’ they had been holding onto for so long, as they both come to understand the message behind the parables.

3. Little Green Jedi - February 7, 2007

Jesus had an exoteric teaching and an esoteric teaching. The inner circle were given the keys to the esoteric teachings while the great masses were given understanding of the exoteric only. Christianity was a gnostic mystery religion before Constantine and the “orthodox” got a hold of it.

This is what I think I am coming to an understanding of… at least.

– John

4. intheory - February 7, 2007

One of the problems that I see with this particular “scene” is that Jesus seems to be giving a sort of “hostile” message.

It sort of paints him like an aloof, fickle teacher.

That’s my perspective right now, anyway.

5. doc - February 7, 2007

In what way is it “hostile”, it(ap)m?

The way I see it, Jesus merely responded to the question as to why He spoke in parables, saying:
“I speak in parables so even the deaf and blind will hear and see.”


6. intheory - February 7, 2007

Doc, it’s just that the answer seems very smug-“you can’t know because it’s not for YOU to know, but the special people will…”

That’s all-I understand the historical context, and had no problem with this when I believed in inerrancy, but I can see now that it just seems very elitist-in my opinion…

7. doc - February 7, 2007

I see your point, it.

I suppose we could discuss why some were not given the knowledge to the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, or how it is that some do not understand the plain language of God’s inner Kingdom while others do.

I wonder if pride, doubt, and skepticism versus blind faith has anything to do with it?

I suppose, though, that there has to be a balance of sorts in all things, with knowledge of God’s Kingdom being part of that balance, meaning in order to maintain a dichotomous balance, then some were created to have that knowledge while others were not.

And in my (still) inerrant view of the Bible, I can see how and why it is that such a balance must exist, and yet in the end I also understand that everyone will come to understand those mysteries.

But just don’t ask me to explain what it is I see, cuz it’s hard for me to do so, and it can become very confusing.


8. Joe - February 9, 2007

Hey man, good to see you back. Thanks for the link 🙂

9. Roopster - February 9, 2007

Thanks Z… er I mean Joe 🙂 Yes, I’ve decided to resurrect the Seekism blog and at least make a couple entries a week. It’ll be interesting to see where it goes. Look forward to catching up on your blog and the others…

10. Joe - February 9, 2007

Hehe, trees do offer a good view but little in the way of comfort or mobility.

11. roaddifficulttotravel - March 3, 2007

Jesus spoke in ways for the people who were really listening to get and grasp a more in-depth meaning, and the fullest understanding for the essence of the “Words” that he shared so eloquently, words, that also, profoundly impacted an enormity of lives.

His approach in my opinion, was very clever, in order, not to leave any or no doubt in the minds of those who were listening, little room for error or a possibly misunderstanding. Therefore, to use methods of ‘show and tell’, and demonstrations, and illustrations, were simply the ulttimate wisdom and knowledge then, and still is appropriate today-in these modern times.

Steve Braxton, Author: “The Road That Is Difficult To Travel”

12. skywhale - March 4, 2007

From Pathwork Lecture 76:

The reasons why Jesus spoke in parables are manifold . . . For instance, humankind at that time was less developed. The state of mind of humankind in general was more like that of a child. When you explain things to a child, you do it also more in a picture language, in simplified terms. When the child grows up, it becomes more
intellectualized and more open for abstract ideas. An adult is capable of understanding an idea or a concept in abstract terms. If you want to convey an idea to a child, if you want to tell a story to a child, you do it through a picture book. The same holds true for humanity as a whole. It has, however, grown a little bit since the time of Jesus and is therefore more receptive to abstract ideas. Incidentally, Jesus did not speak that way to some of His disciples or to close friends. To them He spoke very abstractly and not at all in these parables. Parables were easier for the masses to understand then — they are often less prone to misinterpretation, either willfully or ignorantly. The picture language used for children or used in parables has nothing to do with the picture language of the Spirit World. The latter is infinitely more subtle and has a much wider horizon than the human language. On the other hand, human picture language is more limited than ordinary human language. You must distinguish between the two kinds of picture languages. The one you experience in dreams only appears more limited to you but actually is not.

13. skywhale - March 4, 2007

Actually, here’s an even more complete answer. For context, go to : http://www.pathwork.org/lectures/P078.PDF

QUESTION: May I ask something that I think has been asked before, but I still don’t quite know the answer. Why is it that all these things were not explained with enough clarity so that they could not have been misunderstood?

ANSWER: My dearest friends, as long as one’s inner growth is not sufficiently developed, there is absolutely no way of understanding a spiritual meaning, whether clearly and directly, expressed, so that misunderstanding can be ruled out, or conveyed allegorically and indirectly. In fact, the more direct the explanation, the more dangerous it is for those whose understanding has not reached a higher level through development.

Even today, when humankind is in many ways more developed, if my teachings were presented to people who are far away from such thinking, such concepts, such ideas, my words could not possibly be understood. The little that might make some sense to them would have a worse effect than what they do not understand at all. They would be bound to misunderstand — which is not at all the same as not understanding — and therefore abuse would be inevitable.

QUESTION: I didn’t mean my question in such psychological terms, but in simple terms, like some sayings in the Bible which are clear even today. For instance, “Do not do unto others what you do not want to be done unto you.” This is similar in meaning, but is much clearer.

ANSWER: I can only repeat that great truth cannot be revealed to one who is not yet capable of understanding. That person is just as apt to misunderstand the “simple” explanation as the concealed one. But for those who can understand, the concealed one, hidden in symbols, has an additional meaning and revelation that cannot be found in simple statements.

Today, when the masses understand much more than they did thousands of years ago, truth can be given more directly, less veiled. But still, misunderstanding cannot be avoided, and therefore the dosage or proportion, as to how much chance can be taken, how much can be revealed, has

to be well weighed. Sometimes more truth can have a worse effect and lead to greater harm than less truth. For misunderstood truth leads to half-truth which is the most dangerous of all. Much of this has happened and is bound to happen in the future. It cannot be avoided, because the benefit for those few who derive real understanding from revealed truth will balance it out. This is why there must be a constant weighing between the benefit and the harm that truth can bring. Hiding the inner sense behind symbols is one way in which both considerations can be achieved. The symbolism protects the truth from those who would misunderstand and abuse it. And it reveals it to those who are ready for it.

But since no one is developed and fully open in all areas of their being, those who passed on the truth, who translated it, have misquoted, misunderstood and distorted the original meaning. Everyone who ever did so did it in a different respect. But this did not happen because the truth was presented in symbols and parables, but because the person’s understanding was not sufficient. It would have been worse if the truth had been presented directly. Truth can be a very dangerous weapon, my friends. Even the truth that I present to you can have such a result. If people are unwilling to apply it personally, in the deepest possible sense, they will assume judgment over others that may be all the more dangerous in that it would be partly true. Without recognizing their own negative tendencies people would gain an acute perception of other people’s negative tendencies, on which they then can focus out of all proportion, ignoring other factors that change the overall view. With this outlook, they become arrogant. They judge wrongly, although what they see may be correct. And such teaching of truth may just enhance the negative outlook toward others, if they themselves do not sincerely search within themselves for what is most painful, and from what they cringe most! Truth has to be handled with care and responsibility. If people are inwardly ignorant, it is better not to feed them truth, but leave them rather in outer ignorance.

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