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.
Reading time:3minutes Joachim Jeremias’ work, Rediscovering the Parables, attempts “to go back to the oldest form of the parables attainable and try to recover what Jesus himself meant by them” (7). Jeremias proceeds toward this goal by paying special attention to the Palestinian setting of the parables (7) and by analyzing the parables in terms of ten different categories of modifications that he thinks might be expected to appear in the course of their transmission (16–88)—namely,
Translation from Aramaic into Greek;
Shifts from Jewish to Greco-Roman portrayals;
Increased influence from the Old Testament and story lines or themes current in the first century;
Shifts in audience between accounts;
Conformation of the parables to the church’s task of exhortation;
Increased influence of the early church;
Increased tendency to employ allegory;
Collection and fusion of multiple parables into fewer, composite accounts; and
Shifts in literary setting.
After outlining his methodology, Jeremias addresses many parables individually, while grouping them into general, topical categories concerning: the day of salvation, God’s mercy for sinners, great assurance, crisis and warning, God’s immediately impending judgment, challenge to action, realized discipleship, the suffering and exaltation of Jesus, and the consummation (89–178). In his treatment of these parables, Jeremias attempts to follow Adolf Jülicher’s lead by interpreting the parables as having a single, major point and by avoiding the allegorizing tendencies of many parable interpreters before Jülicher’s time (71; cf. Blomberg 34, 42). In conclusion, Jeremias briefly draws his readers back to Jesus as the original source of the parables and reminders them that the parables, however mysterious they may be in some of their details, reveal something about the one who initially uttered them. This revelation, Jeremias argues, also necessitates some form of decision about actions and life in relation to Jesus on the part of those who hear or read the parables (181).