In Interpreting the Parables, Blomberg appears to have succeeded quite well in accomplishing his stated task of producing an introduction to and theory of parable interpretation that will benefit a wide variety of readers (10). To this end, he keeps unnecessary, technical jargon to a minimum, yet regularly handles the necessary, technical points quite clearly.
One of this book’s chief values is the methodology Blomberg proposes for a responsible, multi-faceted, allegorical approach to parables. Recognizing the contributions of Jülicher and others, Blomberg seeks to push beyond the classic critique of flagrant, parable allegorizing and suggest a method of parable interpretation that makes room for allegorical elements in the parables while also providing some interpretive controls (163). Yet, as Blomberg himself implicitly recognizes, some exceptional cases may not comport perfectly with the main part of his methodology, but they do fall under an extension that he describes. That is, in addition to looking for allegorical interpretations for the main characters, parable interpreters should note that “elements other than the main characters will have metaphorical referents only to the extent that they fit in with the meaning established by the referents of the main characters, and all allegorical interpretation must result in that which would have been intelligible to a first-century Palestinian audience” (163; emphasis added). This extension is somewhat less discreet than Blomberg’s main statement of his method, but the two together do form a viable basis from which modern readers of the parables can consider them and appreciate their allegorical elements.
Interpreting the Parables begins by summarizing significant findings and methodological issues in recent parable research so that a wide audience can benefit from this historical foundation for Blomberg’s work (13). In reviewing this previous scholarship, Blomberg seeks to interact critically with it and, at some points, propose specific alternatives (14). In Blomberg’s opinion, all Jesus parables are allegorical on some level. To articulate a method of treating the parables in this light, Blomberg discusses numerous hermeneutical issues, appreciating the value of the different positions where possible, critiquing them where necessary, and frequently coming to mediating conclusions about these issues’ relevance for parable interpretation. His most important conclusion, and the one that affects the whole the second part of the work, is that “each parable makes one main point per main character—usually two or three [characters] in each [parable]—and these main characters are the most likely elements within the parable to stand for something other than themselves, thus giving the parable its allegorical nature” (163). Having articulated this principle, the bulk of the second part of Interpreting the Parables contains Blomberg’s systematic examination of many of Jesus’ major parables according to this hypothesis (171–288). Blomberg concludes Interpreting the Parables by discussing some of the theological elements that frequently occur in Jesus’ parables and providing a brief summary of the work’s second part (289–327).
Bailey initially published Poet and Peasant and Through Peasant Eyes separately. Yet, they have begun circulating in combined editions like the one shown here, and the works are, in fact, quite amiable partners, since Through Peasant Eyes is, in significant respects, a continuation of Poet and Peasant. Both these works are thought-provoking and fascinating pieces of scholarship, particularly with respect to Bailey’s unique perspectives on Jesus’ parables and the approach he uses to arrive at these understandings. Particularly, Bailey’s practice of interviewing Middle Easterners for their perspectives on the parables highlights some nuances that may easily become muted in purely Western treatments. Because modern, Middle Eastern culture is arguably closer to the culture of first-century, Jewish Palestine than is modern Western culture, Middle Eastern readers begin with a natural advantage over their Western counterparts in interpreting the parables. While some changes in Middle Eastern culture during the last two millennia (most notably, the Muslim conquest) may have introduced significant paradigm shifts into the Middle Eastern worldview, consulting people (whether directly or through Bailey’s work) who live in cultures of seeds and sowers, neighbors and midnight visitors will surely provide valuable grist for the interpretive mills of those who come from other cultural backgrounds.
Bailey’s works, Poet and Peasant and Through Peasant Eyes, explicitly attempt to approach Jesus’ parables from the perspective of an Oriental worldview. Poet and Peasant contains a lengthy section that provides a history of parable research and describes Bailey’s methodology for approaching the parables (13–75). His methodology contains two major parts: “Oriental exegesis” and close attention to parallelism (29–75). For Bailey, “Oriental exegesis” means: (1) examining the interpretations and perspectives present in ancient literature; (2) asking contemporary Middle-Easterners for their insights; and (3) examining Oriental versions of Scripture to see their particular ways of understanding and rendering various portions of the text (27, 30–37). Bailey pays close attention to parallelism because he thinks it can help determine the turning point, or climax, of a given pericope and illumine points of later shaping (50, 74–75). The second part of Poet and Peasant presents the results of Bailey’s methodology as applied to three Lucan sections, including (as Bailey titles them) the parables of the unjust steward, God and mammon, the friend at midnight, the Father’s gifts, the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost sons (77–206). The work concludes by briefly summarizing Bailey’s methodology and findings (207).
Through Peasant Eyes begins with a briefer and less technical history of research and description of methodology and a concise checklist for applying Jesus’ parables to a modern context (ix–xxiii). The work proceeds by presenting Bailey’s views on ten other Lucan parables not covered in Poet and Peasant, including the parables of the: two debtors; fox, funeral, and furrow; good Samaritan; rich fool; tower and fig tree; great banquet; obedient servant; judge and widow; Pharisee and tax collector; and camel and needle (1–170). As in Poet and Peasant, when Bailey comments on these parables, he diligently observes his prescribed regimen of Oriental exegesis and close attention to parallelism. Bailey’s concluding remarks again concisely summarize his methodology and present some of the themes that frequently recur in the parables (171–2).
Rediscovering the Parables has become a modern classic in the field of parables research (see Blomberg 10), and upon even casual perusal, a reader should be able to see clearly some of the reasons for this much-deserved status. In addition, far from being merely a dry, academic treatise, Jeremias sought to recover Jesus’ exact words (ipsissima verba) because “only the Son of man himself and his word can give authority to our preaching” (7; cf. 181). Consequently, for Jeremias, this work represented an attempt to advance both scholarship and piety. Particularly valuable is Jeremias’ extensive knowledge of Palestinian religion, culture, and sociology, which enables him at many points to suggest interpretations for Jesus’ parables, or explanations for their elements, that may genuinely enrich one’s understanding of these parables (cf. 107, 111–12, 142–43, 166).
Even so, a few occasions exist in which more recent scholarship has, perhaps, uncovered better explanations for some facets of some of the parables than Jeremias gives [e.g., 108, 164; see Martinus C. De Boer, “Ten Thousand Talents? Matthew’s Interpretation and Redaction of the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matt 18:23-35),” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 50.2 (1988): 217]. Moreover, Jeremias’s stated purpose of recovering Jesus’ exact words (ipsissima verba) can downplay the historical faithfulness of the text as it exists. Yet, this step is needless on the vast majority of occasions, and its effect is wholly so. The Gospels present us with the ipsissima vox (the very voice) of Jesus. Thus, although the Gospels may summarize or paraphrase Jesus’ words at some points, they do so with fidelity to the actual, historical occurrences that they record (cf. Carson, Moo, and Morris 38–45). Nevertheless, while certain portions of the work might require qualification or revision, Jeremias’ little classic, Rediscovering the Parables, remains a veritable treasure trove of historical, cultural, and sociological information for those seeking to understand the meaning of Jesus’ parables in the historical contexts in which they were originally spoken.
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Martinus C. De Boer, “Ten Thousand Talents? Matthew’s Interpretation and Redaction of the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matt 18:23-35),” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 50.2 (1988): 214–32