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For a comparison of parable with other kinds of stories, see traditional story.

A parable is a succinct, didactic story, in prose or verse, which illustrates one or more instructive lessons or principles. It differs from a fable in that fables employ animals, plants, inanimate objects, or forces of nature as characters, whereas parables have human characters. A parable is a type of analogy.[1]

Some scholars of the canonical gospels and the New Testament apply the term "parable" only to the parables of Jesus,[2][3] though that is not a common restriction of the term. Parables such as "The Prodigal Son" are central to Jesus' teaching method in both the canonical narratives and the apocrypha.


The word parable comes from the Greek παραβολή (parabolē), meaning "comparison, illustration, analogy."[4] It was the name given by Greek rhetoricians to an illustration in the form of a brief fictional narrative.


Parables are often used to explore ethical concepts in spiritual texts. The Bible contains numerous parables in the gospels section of the New Testament (Jesus' parables). These are believed by some scholars (such as John P. Meier) to have been inspired by mashalim, a form of Hebrew comparison.[3] Examples of Jesus' parables include the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son. Mashalim from the Old Testament include the parable of the ewe-lamb (told by Nathan in 2 Samuel 12:1–9) and the parable of the woman of Tekoah (in 2 Samuel 14:1–13).

Parables also appear in Islam. In Sufi tradition, parables are used for imparting lessons and values. Recent authors such as Idries Shah and Anthony de Mello have helped popularize these stories beyond Sufi circles.

Modern parables also exist. A mid-19th-century example, the Parable of the Broken Window, exposes a fallacy in economic thinking.


A parable is a short tale that illustrates a universal truth; it is a simple narrative. It sketches a setting, describes an action, and shows the results. It may sometimes be distinguished from similar narrative types, such as the allegory and the apologue.[5] "Apologue" is another word for fable.[6]

A parable often involves a character who faces a moral dilemma or one who makes a bad decision and then suffers the unintended consequences. Although the meaning of a parable is often not explicitly stated, it is not intended to be hidden or secret but, on the contrary, quite straightforward and obvious.[7]

The defining characteristic of the parable is the presence of a subtext suggesting how a person should behave or what he should believe. Aside from providing guidance and suggestions for proper conduct in one's life, parables frequently use metaphorical language which allows people to more easily discuss difficult or complex ideas. Parables express an abstract argument by means of using a concrete narrative which is easily understood.

The allegory is a more general narrative type; it also employs metaphor. Like the parable, the allegory makes a single, unambiguous point. An allegory may have multiple noncontradictory interpretations and may also have implications that are ambiguous or hard to interpret. As H.W. Fowler put it, the object of both parable and allegory "is to enlighten the hearer by submitting to him a case in which he has apparently no direct concern, and upon which therefore a disinterested judgment may be elicited from him, ..."[5] The parable is more condensed than the allegory: it rests upon a single principle and a single moral, and it is intended that the reader or listener shall conclude that the moral applies equally well to his own concerns.

Jesus' parables[edit]

Medieval interpreters of the Bible often treated Jesus' parables as allegories, with symbolic correspondences found for every element in his parables. But modern scholars, beginning with Adolf Jülicher, regard their interpretations as incorrect.[2] Jülicher held that Jesus' parables are intended to make a single important point, and most recent scholarship agrees.[3]

Gnostics suggested that Jesus kept some of his teachings secret within the circle of his disciples and that he deliberately obscured their meaning by using parables. For example, in Mark 4:11–12:

And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables; in order that ‘they may indeed look, but not perceive, and may indeed listen, but not understand; so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.’” (NRSV)

Other figures of speech[edit]

The parable is related to figures of speech such as the metaphor and the simile, but it should not be identified with them.

A parable is like a metaphor in that it uses concrete, perceptible phenomena to illustrate abstract ideas. It may be said that a parable is a metaphor that has been extended to form a brief, coherent narrative.

A parable also resembles a simile, i.e., a metaphorical construction in which something is said to be "like" something else (e.g., "The just man is like a tree planted by streams of water"). However, unlike the meaning of a simile, a parable's meaning is implicit (although not secret).


Examples of parables include:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ David B. Gowler (2000). "What are they saying about the parables". What are they saying about the parables. pp. 99,137,63,132,133,. 
  2. ^ a b Adolf Jülicher, Die Gleichnisreden Jesu (2 vols; Tübingen: Mohr [Siebeck], 1888, 1899).
  3. ^ a b c John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew, volume II, Doubleday, 1994.
  4. ^ παραβολή, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
  5. ^ a b Fowler, H.W. (1965). A Dictionary of Modern English Usage. London: Oxford University Press. p. 558.  See entry at simile and metaphor.
  6. ^ Fowler, H.W. (1965). A Dictionary of Modern English Usage. London: Oxford University Press. p. 559.  See entry at simile and metaphor.
  7. ^ George Fyler Townsend, in his translator's preface to Aesop's Fables (Belford, Clarke & Co., 1887), defined the parable as being "purposely intended to convey a hidden and secret meaning other than that contained in the words themselves, and which may or may not bear a special reference to the hearer or reader." However, Townsend may have been influenced by the 19th century expression, "to speak in parables", connoting obscurity.
  8. ^ "A Tale of a Fairy Tale". shonmehta. Retrieved 2014-02-19. 

External links[edit]

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parable — Please support Wikipedia.
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2719 news items

Mon, 28 Jul 2014 08:33:45 -0700

WASHINGTON, July 28, 2014 — This is a parable inspired by and written in response to an editorial from Charles Krauthammer. It was a Sunday, so a parable seemed appropriate. “There was a fellow who had taken on the role of the head of community ...
Journal Gazette and Times-Courier
Fri, 25 Jul 2014 14:43:47 -0700

The point of this parable is of deep interest for American Christians today. We have a brand of Christianity that draws large crowds to happy-clappy church services. The emphasis is on celebratory worship and getting people saved spiritually. Souls are ...

Catholic World Report

Sun, 27 Jul 2014 09:07:30 -0700

Jesus proposed a parable to the crowds. “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a person took and sowed in a field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants. It becomes a large bush, and the 'birds ...
New Haven Register
Sun, 20 Jul 2014 17:14:50 -0700

A commentary was published last month on the blog site of the prestigious British Medical Journal telling us, in essence, that lifestyle medicine is ineffective. The commentary was in response to a paper published in the BMJ that reached essentially ...
Catholic Online
Sun, 13 Jul 2014 09:13:13 -0700

Then Matthew the Evangelist gives us his account of Jesus teaching the crowd the parable of the Sower and the seed - and then explaining it more fully for the disciples (Matt. 13:1-23) I will focus on the explanation which He gave to the disciples ...
Thu, 24 Jul 2014 14:33:45 -0700

'A Most Wanted Man': A Parable Grounded In The Real World. Share · Tweet. E-mail. Comments · Print. By Mark Jenkins. Originally published on Thu July 24, 2014 5:46 pm. View Slideshow. Philip Seymour Hoffman stars in A Most Wanted Man, director Anton ...
Log Cabin Democrat
Tue, 22 Jul 2014 14:31:03 -0700

At some point before dawn Sunday a motorist managed to crash through two residential fences and into a house hard enough to cause damage to the inside wall. The motorist was able to get the car away, but amid the destruction was a cell phone with just ...

New York Observer

New York Observer
Mon, 14 Jul 2014 06:31:02 -0700

Because, okay, we start off with Reverend Matt cleaning his church and then telling his sparsely attended flock some parable about a boy who wants all the attention and then is stricken with cancer, and a girl named Emily who is in a coma. At least, I ...

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