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A parable is a short story . It serves to illustrate a situation not through a concept , but through pictorial speech. In addition to the illustration, the parable is also assigned a changing function. The listener / reader should be able to discover himself in the story and thus be invited to change his situation.

Literary genre

Parables are mostly shorter texts that depict a complex, often theoretical issue in the form of a pictorial and concrete representation with a didactic claim. There are two levels of text: the level of what is said and the level of what is meant. These relate to each other and finally touch each other at the point of comparison (i.e. “the third of the comparison”, also the point of comparison). In contrast to the parable , in the parable, which represents an explicit comparison (“like”), the factual level does not have to be opened up by the reader, it is mentioned directly in the text parallel to the image level.

Examples of this are the Homeric parables and the parables in the Bible and the Koran . From a literary point of view, it is sometimes a question of parables, such as the " Parables of the Iliad ".

Lessing differentiates between a factual part and an image part: a fact, an abstraction, a thought (= factual part) is implemented in another area of ​​life, in a concrete image (= image part); this implementation could take place with or without independent action, with or without interpretation in parable; the purpose is revelation in order to promote understanding. Herder counters this by saying that the parable serves more to cover up a teaching than to reveal it: "Parable is a parable, a narrative from common life, more to dress and cover up a teaching than to reveal it".

Differentiation from other types of text

In the historical analysis of biblical texts, attempts were made to divide parables into different categories (parable, parable, figurative, comparison ...). Joachim Jeremias considers this distinction to be “a fruitless endeavor”.

The difference between parable and parable is often emphasized: the parable is short, without independent action, with interpretation; the parable is long, with an independent plot, without interpretation. The meaningfulness of this distinction is disputed. It could not be carried out consistently and should be given up, since the transitions are fluid and the term parable is often used synonymously in literature for parable, image, image, example narration and even for fable and metaphor . The differentiation forces the text finding on an "irrelevant logic". Ruben Zimmermann therefore advocates using only “parabola” as a generic term.

Parables in the New Testament

Parables of Jesus can be found in the writings of the evangelists Mark , Matthew and Luke . The Gospel of John - in spite of its richly pictorial language - does not know parables in the form in which they occur with the other three evangelists; even according to the classification criteria none can be found. Some scholars such as Albert Schweitzer see a kind of parable in the “I am words” or translate the παροιμια (cf. e.g. Joh 10.6  EU ) with parable. Ruben Zimmermann , who also sees parables given in John's Gospel, takes a more recent, independent approach .

Outside of the New Testament, parables can also be found in other early Christian writings such as the Nag Hammadi writings , especially in the Gospel of Thomas .

A brief outline of the history of research

An important work in the history of Christian interpretation of parables was presented by the Protestant New Testament scholar and church historian Adolf Jülicher . Based on the rhetoric of Aristotle (II, 20) and the Hebrew term מָשָׁל ( maschal - "short parable "), he differentiates between the parables of Jesus: parable in the narrower sense (parable in the sense of the word ), parable narration / parable , narrative example (in total only present four times in the New Testament, in the Gospel of Luke ) and allegory . He rejects the allegory for Jesus because of his image of Jesus that he was a simple man from the country. The allegorical interpretation must therefore be rejected, although it appears in the Gospels, cf. for example Mk 4.1–20 EU and the parallel texts  in Matthew and Luke. According to Jülicher, the evangelists were already wrong.

According to Jülicher, when interpreting parables, a distinction must be made between “image” and “thing”, which converge in the punch line of the comparison (also called tertium comparationis ); this view is no longer held by any theologian (see below).

The historical classification of the parables of Jesus was important to Charles Harold Dodd (keyword: realized eschatology ) and Joachim Jeremias (keyword: ipsissima vox , i.e. the original words of Jesus). In search of the original form of the parables, Jeremias formulated ten laws of transformation.

In the mid-1960s, theology took up other (specialist) areas; this expanded the design considerably.

Through literary studies the metaphor (“parables as extended metaphors”) and by Hans-Josef Klauck the allegory were upgraded. Important representatives are Eberhard Jüngel , Hans Weder , Wolfgang Harnisch and Paul Ricœur . Eta Linnemann and Dan Otto Via viewed the parables as a “language event”, whereby, in particular with Linnemann, the reason for the speech and the speech situation must be taken into account: Who was listening? Who and what did Jesus want to achieve? Via also referred to the parables as "aesthetically autonomous works of art". This resulted in the fact that any narrowing of the parable interpretation, especially to the old tertium comparationis, became obsolete and the image and subject halves became interesting again in their entirety for the parable interpretation (further results see below).

Already here it is shown, which has also been worked out in the more recent exegesis , that the theory of parallels that prevailed until about 30 years ago of the Jülich School with its overly schematic insistence on only one tertium comparationis (literally: the third of the comparison) is unsuitable, the far more complex form of speech explain the parables of Jesus. Jüngel spoke of the Primum Comparationis (literally: the first of the comparison) and saw in the parable not only a thought expressed, but a whole group of “individual features” that were aimed at a “punch line”. Via finally freed interpretation from all shackles by describing the parables as a kind of open works of art (see above) that not only potentially but actually change the existence of people across all time and place borders. It has been assumed since the early days that the parables of Jesus in the New Testament not only depict the kingdom of God , but convey it.

Based on the fable , Wolfgang Harnisch formulated the parables as a “stage play”. Accordingly, a parable has three scenes and the focus is on the last. Francois Vouga draws on the fables of Aesop in his interpretation of parables. Georg Eichholz goes in a similar direction, comparing the parables with a game. Dieter Massa offers a reception aesthetic approach .

Erhardt Güttgemanns and his pupil Reinhard Breymayer , Ingo Baldermann and Peter Müller stand for didactic approaches . The communication process aims to change the behavior of the listener.

Paul Fiebig , Christian A. Bugge , Peter Dschulnigg , Hans Josef Klauck , David Flusser and Klaus Berger examine the New Testament parables from a religious-historical perspective . This shows that 1. Jesus stands in the tradition of Rabbinic Judaism and 2. the genre parable also existed outside Palestine, for example in Hellenism. There are also rabbis who examine comparisons / differences between the rabbinical and New Testament parables.

The classification criteria

In the German exegesis was mostly between parable in the strict sense, parabolic distinguished and as narrative. More recent approaches (see Ruben Zimmermann) have denied this, because in the New Testament only the same term, namely ancient Greek: παραβολή, is used for different texts. The transitions between the individual criteria are often fluid (see above) and even theologians disagree with one another when determining the parables according to the criteria. Ruben Zimmermann has proposed a definition of the genus “parabola” according to six criteria, taking into account more recent genre theories. A parable is therefore narrative, fictional, realistic, metaphorical, appellative and contextual. Petr Pokorný and Ulrich Heckel summarize today's view in their introduction to the NT:

“It's good to know these criteria because they determine a large part of the discussion in research. In current literary analysis, however, such distinctions are considered to be less important because the transitions are fluid and the language gain is always achieved through a pictorial mode of expression. "

Furthermore, the allegory is added, which has a hermeneutic function (see  Mk 4,13–20  EU ). Smaller forms are also the comparison , the picture word and the metaphor .

Parable in the strict sense

The shape called "parabola" by Jülich has nothing to do with the parabola, which is described below. The parable ie S. arises from a comparison and is developed in a scenic manner in the story. An everyday process takes place in the narration and the images mentioned also come from the experience of the listener / reader. The present tense is used as the tense. A typical introduction to this type of parable is: "The kingdom of God is like ..." or "It is like ...". An example text for this type: Mk 4,26–29  EU ( parable of the growing of the seed ).


The parable is a narrative that describes a unique, unusual incident that takes an unexpected turn. The difference to the parable in the narrower sense is that a parable never describes an everyday occurrence. Most synoptic parables are parables. An example text for this type: Lk 15.11–32  EU ( parable of the two sons ).

Sample narration

The narrative example is partly counted under the parables. Using an example, she criticizes a certain behavior and accordingly calls on the listener and reader to change their behavior. Most of the time, an example story is an openly formulated answer to a specific question and should therefore be understood as an example. This type can only be found in Luke : Lk 10.30–37  EU ( Good Samaritan ), 12.16–21 EU ( Reicher Kornbauer ), 16.19–31 EU ( rich man and poor Lazarus ) and 18.9–14 EU ( Pharisees and tax collectors ).


An allegory is an artistically designed narrative that actually expresses something else with what it says. To understand it, one needs a key story known only to the initiated. There are few allegories among the parables of Jesus. An example text is Mk 4,1-20  EU ( parable of the sower ).

Further classifications

Baudler uses another form of classification. He divides the parables and types of parables into process and action parables. Ricoeur, Arens and Meurer divide similarly into nature and action similes.

See also

Parables in the Koran

Parables are also used in the Koran . They appear as a new homiletic element for the first time in the Middle Meccan period and are then thematized in the late Meccan period under the name mathal in the Koran itself. They remain an integral part of Qur'anic speech even in the Medieval times.

Thus, in Sura 2 : 264f, two types of almsgiver are compared in the form of a simile, in that the different effects of a downpour on different soil forms are chosen as an image: while the stony ground with soil above becomes bare and hard due to the downpour, the garden is preserved its fertility through the downpour. The one who gives alms in order to be seen by the people should be like the rocky ground, while the one who gives in seeking God's pleasure should look like the garden. Sura 29 : 'The spider' is named after the parable in verse 41, in which the weakness and vulnerability of the spider web is pointed out.

As can be seen in Sura 17 : 89, the parables met with rejection from the unbelievers. Sura 2:26 shows that the opponents of Muhammad were also disturbed by the inferiority of the objects discussed in the parables.


To biblical parables
  • Edmund Arens : Communicative Actions. The paradigmatic meaning of the parables of Jesus for a theory of action, Patmos, Düsseldorf 1982 ISBN 3-491-71056-1
  • Charles H. Dodd: The Parables of the Kingdom. Glasgow 1978.
  • Georg Eichholz : Parables of the Gospels. 2nd Edition. Neukirchener, Neukirchen-Vluyn, 1975, ISBN 3-7887-0280-X .
  • Kurt Erlemann : Interpretation of parables: a text and work book . (University paperbacks; 2093). Tübingen / Basel 1999, ISBN 3-8252-2093-1
  • Lothar Gassmann: parables of Jesus. The way to the kingdom of heaven . Bible current series, Samenkorn-Verlag, Steinhagen 2011, ISBN 978-3-86203-030-9
  • Wolfgang Harnisch: The parable stories of Jesus: a hermeneutical introduction . (University paperbacks; 1343). 4th edition Göttingen 2001, ISBN 3-8252-1343-9
  • Joachim Jeremias : The parables of Jesus . Göttingen 11th edition 1998, ISBN 3-525-53514-7 (standard work, first edition Zurich 1947, online edition of the 9th edition in the Digi20 project ).
  • Adolf Jülicher: The parable speeches of Jesus . 2 vols. 2nd edition Tübingen 1910
  • Christoph Kähler : Jesus' parables as poetry and therapy. Attempt of an integrative approach to the communicative aspect of parables of Jesus . Tübingen 1995, ISBN 3-16-146233-5
  • Hans-Joachim Klauck: Allegory and Allegory in Synoptic Parable Texts , Münster 1986 (2nd edition).
  • Eta Linnemann, The parables of Jesus. Introduction and interpretation , 6th edition, Göttingen 1975. ISBN 3-525-61169-2
  • Ulrich Mell (ed.): The parable speeches of Jesus 1899–1999: Contributions to the dialogue with Adolf Jülicher . Berlin 1999. (Supplements to the Journal for New Testament Science), ISBN 3-11-016753-0
  • Christian Münch: The parables of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew. A study of their form and function , Neukirchener 2004.
  • Luise Schottroff: The parables of Jesus . Gütersloh 2005, ISBN 3-579-05200-4
  • Helmut Thielicke : God's picture book. Talking about the parables of Jesus . 7th edition. Gütersloher Verlagshaus, Gütersloh 2008, ISBN 3-579-03464-2
  • Dan Otto Via: The parables of Jesus. Your literary and existential dimension. (= Contributions to Protestant theology. Volume 57.) Chr. Kaiser Verlag, Munich 1970.
  • Hans Weder : The parables of Jesus as metaphors. Traditional and editorial history analyzes and interpretations (= research on religion and literature of the Old and New Testaments . Issue 120). Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, Göttingen 1978, ISBN 3-525-53280-6 (dissertation University of Zurich. Faculty of Theology, 1977/1978, 312 pages); 4th revised edition 1990, ISBN 3-525-53286-5 ; 1st edition for the GDR: Evangelische Verlags-Anstalt, Berlin (East) 1990, ISBN 3-374-00963-8 .
  • Ruben Zimmermann (ed.): Hermeneutics of the parables of Jesus. Methodical new approaches to understanding early Christian parabolic texts . WUNT, Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck 2008.
  • Ruben Zimmermann (ed.): Compendium of the parables of Jesus . Gütersloh: Gütersloher Verlagshaus 2007, 2nd edition 2015. ISBN 3-579-08020-2 (with a comprehensive list of literature on the parables in the Bible and non-biblical writings)
  • Ruben Zimmermann, Puzzling the Parables of Jesus . Methods and Interpretation, Minneapolis: Fortress, 2015.
To the genre parable in the Bible
  • Rudolf Bultmann, The History of the Synoptic Tradition , 10th edition, Göttingen 1995 (with an afterword by Gerd Theißen), 181–220.
  • Klaus Berger, Forms and Generations in the New Testament , Tübingen 2005 ISBN 3-8252-2532-1 .
  • ders., History of Forms of the New Testament , Heidelberg 1984.
  • ders., Introduction to the History of Form , Tübingen 1987.
  • ders., Hellenistic genres in the New Testament , in: ANRW 25/3, Berlin / New York 1984, 1110–1124.
  • Gerd Theißen , Annette Merz: The historical Jesus. 4th edition, Göttingen 2011, pp. 286-310.
  • Ruben Zimmermann, parables - nothing else! Genre definition beyond the classification in 'Bildwort', 'Parable', 'Parable' and 'Exemplary narration', in: Ruben Zimmermann (Ed.), Hermeneutik der parabels Jesu. Scientific studies on the New Testament 231, Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2011, 383–419.
Parables in other religions
  • Theodor Lohmann: The parables in the Koran. In: Mitteilungen des Institut für Orientforschung (1966), pp. 75–118 u. 241-287.
  • Clemens Thoma, Simon Lauer, Hanspeter Ernst: The parables of the rabbis. Vol. 1–4, Lang, Bern 1986 ff.
  • Peter Dschulnigg : Rabbinical parables and the New Testament. The parables of the PesK compared with the parables of Jesus and the New Testament. Bern u. a. 1988.
  • Gautama Buddha: The pillars of insight. Speeches and parables. Anaconda 2006.
  • Klaus Berger: Parables of Life. Frankfurt am Main 2002 (parables from all world religions).
Materials for practice
  • Peter Müller u. a .: The parables of Jesus: a study and work book for teaching. Stuttgart 2002.
  • Melanie Göpner: Children understand parables. An action-oriented approach. Ruhr 2004.
  • Gottfried Adam u. a .: KU-Praxis Volume 43: Jesus. Parables and miracles, passion and resurrection. Gütersloh 2002.
Parables in literary studies
  • Reinhard Dithmar (ed.): Fables, parables and similes. Fundamentally revised new edition. Schöningh, Paderborn [a. a.] 1995, ISBN 3-506-99469-7 .
  • Kurt Erlemann, Anika Loose and Irmgard Nickel-Bacon: Parables, fables and parables: exegetical, literary-theoretical and religious-educational approaches . A. Francke, Tübingen 2014, ISBN 3-8252-4134-3
Parables in philosophy
  • Bernhard HF Taureck : Metaphors and parables in philosophy. Attempt at a critical iconology of the history of philosophy . Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt / Main 2004.

Web links

Wiktionary: Parable  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Anton Steiner, Volker Weymann (Ed.): Parables of Jesus. Bible study in the church. Topics and materials. F. Reinhardt, Basel / Benziger, Zurich-Cologne, 1979, pp. 15-27.
  2. Johann Gottfried Herder: About image, poetry and fable. P. 43.
  3. Joachim Jeremias: The parables of Jesus. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1970, p. 16.
  4. Ruben Zimmermann: The new "Compendium of the parables of Jesus". In: Bible and Church. Katholisches Bibelwerk Stuttgart, 2/2008, p. 95.
  5. Ruben Zimmermann: Are there Parables in John? It is time to revise the question. In: Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus. 9, 2011, pp. 243-276.
  6. See Reinhard Breymayer: On the pragmatics of the image. Semiotic observations on the argument Mk 12, 13-17 ( Der Zinsgroschen ) taking into account game theory . In: Linguistica Biblica. Interdisciplinary journal for theology and linguistics , ed. by Erhardt Güttgemanns, Issue 13/14 (1972), pp. 19-51.
  7. An example of this: Frank Stern: A rabbi looks at Jesus' parables . Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2006, ISBN 0-7425-4270-X .
  8. ↑ In order to provide a better overview, it is advisable to include the English-language literature when interpreting parables. Most of the time, only “parable” is used here.
  9. Cf. Ruben Zimmermann, The Parables of Jesus. Instructions for reading the compendium, in: Ders. u. a. (Ed.), Compendium of the parables of Jesus, Gütersloh: Gütersloher Verlag, 2nd edition 2015, 3–46, here: 25; as well as detailed Ruben Zimmermann, parables - nothing else! Genre definition beyond the classification in 'Bildwort', 'Parable', 'Parable' and 'Exemplary narration', in: Ruben Zimmermann (Ed.), Hermeneutik der parabels Jesu. Scientific studies on the New Testament 231, Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2011, 383–419.
  10. Petr Pokorný, Ulrich Heckel: Introduction to the NT. An overview of his literature and theology . Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen, 2007, p. 398.
  11. So with Harnisch
  12. ^ Parables in religious education, based on E. Stibel - (PDF).
  13. Cf. Angelika Neuwirth : The Koran as a text of late antiquity. A European approach. Frankfurt / M. 2010. pp. 498-501.