What are the names of Jesus’ parables?
Surprisingly, only two of Jesus Christ’s parables are given names in the text or manuscripts of the New Testament: the “parable of the Sower” (Matthew 13:18) and the “parable of the tares of the field” (Matthew 13:36). The other parables bear names that are the result of being described in commentaries, chapter headings in printed Bibles, and secondary discussions. Originally, these other parables had no standardized names. The importance of this information is that the interpretation of the parables has been inextricably linked with their names. The title “the Prodigal Son,” for example, focuses on the wayward son who squanders his father’s inheritance. In reality, however, the parable of the Prodigal Son is about a loving father who has two wayward sons, one who departs and repents and one who becomes hardhearted through jealousy. Perhaps the original intent was to show the love of a father, but unfortunately this intent is obscured through the parable’s usual (and incomplete) name.
Consider the following names and their impact on understanding the meaning of the parable: “the parable of the wheat and the tares” and “the marriage of the king’s son.” In the first example, the modern name suggests that the wheat and tares receive equal focus, but when Jesus’ disciples asked him to interpret it, they called it “the parable of the tares of the field” (Matthew 13:36). Their understanding had been directed toward an immediate concern-the recognition of tares within the kingdom and their duty to discern them-whereas our modern name identifies both wheat and tares as equal elements.
The parable of the marriage of the king’s son initially seems to focus on one part of a rich story-namely the actual marriage ceremony, which is mentioned once but never recounted (Matthew 22:2). However, the theme of the parable then shifts to the main issue of invited and uninvited guests, with those who were expected to attend the wedding being cast out and those who had been disregarded ultimately being welcomed to the ceremony. The modern name misses the powerful conclusion that an invitation does not guarantee entrance to the wedding. In reading the biblical text, we should distinguish between the actual text and more recent commentary, such as chapter headings, footnotes, and other interpretive helps.
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