In the third book of his work, Against Heresies, Irenaeus takes up a defense of the fourfold Gospel tradition. This defense proceeds as follows:
It is not possible that the Gospels can be either more or fewer in number than they are. For, since there are four zones of the world in which we live, and four principal winds, while the Church is scattered throughout all the world, and the “pillar and ground” [1 Tim. iii. 15] of the Church is the Gospel and the spirit of life; it is fitting that she should have four pillars, breathing out immortality on every side, and vivifying men afresh. . . . As also David says, when entreating His manifestation, “Thou that sittest between the cherubim, shine forth.” [Ps. lxxx. 1] For the cherubim, too, were four-faced, and their faces were images of the dispensation of the Son of God. For, [as the Scripture] says, “The first living creature was like a lion,” [Rev. iv. 7] symbolizing His effectual working, His leadership, and royal power; the second [living creature] was like a calf, signifying [His] sacrificial and sacerdotal order; but “the third had, as it were, the face as of a man,”—an evident description of His advent as a human being; “the fourth was like a flying eagle,” pointing out the gift of the Spirit hovering with His wings over the Church [Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.11.8 (ANF 1:428)].
In the middle of this quotation, Irenaeus draws together the point to which he believes the fourfold Gospel tradition finally moves: “From which fact, it is evident that the Word, the Artificer of all, He that sitteth upon the cherubim, and contains [συνέχων] all things, He who was manifested to men, has given us the Gospel under four aspects, but bound together by one Spirit [ἑνὶ δὲ πνεύματι συνεχόμενον]” [Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.11.8 (ANF 1:428; PG 7:885)]. For Irenaeus, therefore, the Spirit produced a theologically exclusive, fixed corpus that existed before that corpus became a formally recognized, sociological reality in the church.
Simon Kistemaker generally provides balanced, astute commentary on several of Jesus’ parables and parabolic sayings. He attempts to avoid allegorical interpretations, thinking that “in the New Testament we encounter elements of allegory but never a full-fledged allegorical parable” (15). This surface disagreement with Blomberg’s perspective on the parables is mainly an issue of semantics. In actuality, Kistemaker’s point merely reflects the very probable hypothesis that in none of Jesus’ parables do all the details stand for things other than themselves, or stated alternatively, that Jesus’ parables—even the allegorical ones—are qualitatively different from an allegory like The Pilgrim’s Progress. One of the chief benefits of The Parables is how Kistemaker consistently summarizes with simplicity and clarity what he considers to be the main points of each parable. Occasionally, one might well debate some precise points of exegesis. Yet, the work is, overall, engaging and informative, and Kistemaker’s style is coherent and straightforward.
In The Parables, Simon Kistemaker specifically targets “theologically trained pastors. But because technical details have been relegated to endnotes, the text itself is user-friendly to any serious student of the Bible” (8). The introduction describes very broadly some of the basic issues of which one should be aware when studying parables, such as: the meaning of the term “parable,” the composition of parables, Jesus’ purpose for teaching in parables, the basic principles of interpreting parables, and the elusiveness of any firm method of classifying the parables (9–20).
After introducing his topic, Kistemaker examines a selection of Jesus’ parables and parabolic sayings; in doing so, Kistemaker treats together any groups of parables represented in more than one synoptic gospel (21–220). Generally, Kistemaker interpretively retells each parable (group), while adding helpful historical, cultural, and sociological information. Following this retelling, he typically discusses the parable’s theological or interpretive issues and indicates some ways each the parable (group) might apply to the church’s current situation. The conclusion of The Parables handles some issues related to the synoptic problem and attempts to identify the characteristics that the individual synoptic Gospels exhibit in their use of Jesus’ parables. Finally, Kistemaker briefly discusses the parables’ recipients, those recipients’ responses, and the ways in which the parables themselves represent Jesus (221–31).
Reading time:2minutes Crossan’s book, In Parables, immediately demonstrates his keen intellect and wide range of reading. The great variety of literature he cites certainly indicates his substantial, literary aptitude. One of the more beneficial parts of the book, however, relates more directly to his detailed reading of Jesus’ parables themselves rather than so much to his wide reading in other literature. Specifically, Crossan performs a very valuable service in his detailed analyses of multiply attested parables in relation to the synoptic problem. Crossan’s close reading of these parables and his subsequent notes on points of divergence between the parable froms in the synoptics helpfully summarizes the major critical issues involved with these parables. The solutions he proposes to these difficulties are frequently innovative and seem to be motivated by a desire to recapture the exact wording Jesus used when He originally gave the parables (ipsissima verba) (3–4). Nevertheless, many scholars might, in most cases, propose quite different solutions from those Crossan puts forth (cf. vii, 3–4). The book does have some questionable aspects, such as an excessive skepticism about the historical Jesus (e.g., 4; for a critical realist approach to this question, see Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God). Yet, In Parables definitely provides itself to be valuable by providing the reader with much helpful information concerning the divergences present in Jesus’ multiply attested parables.
Crossan’s work, In Parables: The Challenge of the Historical Jesus, is based on several articles that Crossan wrote separately and has now compiled into a single collection (xi). Rather uniquely, through citations from various scholars and littérateurs, the introduction and conclusion attempt to provide some literary commentary related to different ways of reading parables. The first major section, “Parables and the Temporality of the Kingdom” (3–36), addresses several broad issues related to literary theory, describes what constitutes a parable, and identifies a method for parable interpretation. At this section’s conclusion, Crossan groups Jesus’ parables by what he sees as their three major themes—namely, the advent of God’s kingdom, the reversal of the worldview of the parables’ addressees, and the calling and empowering of the recipients to live and act in concert with God’s kingdom (36). In each of the following chapters, Crossan comments generally about one of these themes and examines at least one parable that, in his estimation, fits that category.
Under parables of advent, Crossan discusses the relationship that the kingdom’s advent and the joy of its recipients have with the kingdom’s manner of growth (37–39, 49–51). He also analyzes the parables of the sower and the mustard seed in detail. Concerning parables of reversal, Crossan distinguishes between parables and example stories, and he comments about how reversal parables relate to paradox and eschatology (54–55, 73–76). As examples of reversal parables, Crossan treats the good Samaritan in detail and several other reversal parables in brief (55–73). In the book’s last, major section (parables of action), Crossan discusses connections between parables and ethics, particularly regarding the necessity of a parable’s addressee decisively to respond to the parable (78–84). For illustrations in this section, Crossan particularly concentrates on the parable of the wicked husbandmen while also including a more cursory discussion of the “servant parables” (84–117).
Reading time:2minutes 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.