SBJT examines Christ’s parables in Matthew

Communications Staff — November 3, 2009

How should the parables of Jesus be interpreted? Are they allegories in which each of the details represent a deeper spiritual reality? Are they folksy tales that Jesus used to communicate truth in a simple fashion? Or should they be interpreted literally as a story in which our Lord communicates one main point?

Several evangelical scholars, including three from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, answer questions such as these about the parables of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew in the Fall 2009 edition of the Southern Baptist Journal of Theology.

Journal editor Stephen J. Wellum argues in his editorial that the parables of Christ serve dual functions: they enlighten some to the truths about Christ, but harden others to them.

Wellum serves as professor of Christian theology at Southern Seminary.

The new edition of the journal serves as a companion to the winter Bible study published by LifeWay Christian Resources.

“Parables are used to accomplish what God’s Word does every time it is preached and taught: to give light and life to those who receive Christ and to harden and judge those who reject him,” Wellum writes.

“In this way, the parables spoken to the crowds do not simply convey information, nor mask it, but they challenge the hearers (and us!) with the claims of Christ himself as he comes as Lord, inaugurating his Kingdom, and calling all people to follow him in repentance, faith, and obedience.”

Robert L. Plummer examines the history of interpretation of the parables and provides guidelines as to how they should be interpreted. Plummer, who serves as associate professor of New Testament interpretation at Southern, argues that the proper starting point with the parables is to determine the main point or points. It is equally important not to press the details, he writes.

“There is some debate among evangelical scholars as to whether each parable teaches only one main point (e.g., Robert Stein) or whether a parable may have several main points (e.g. Craig Blomberg),” Plummer writes. “In reality, these two perspectives are not as varied as they may appear … It is important to realize also that not all details in a parable have significance.”

Jonathan Pennington, assistant professor of New Testament interpretation at Southern, examines Matthew 13 – the Parable of the Sower – in close detail. The parable includes three parts and is not given merely to show Jesus as a gifted and compelling teacher, he concludes. The parable is inspired, like the rest of Scripture, to change fallen human hearts, Pennington argues.

“I think the message to us comes off the page quite straightforwardly,” he writes. “First, regarding the Sower and the sowing: This word of the kingdom, the ‘gospel of the kingdom’ as Jesus calls it, is still going forth through us today as Jesus’ disciples. To be a disciple of Jesus means to do the same things he did, to live a life of self-sacrifice, serving others, to minister grace to broken lives, to turn the other cheek when wrongly accused, to be poor in spirit, to forgive others, and crucially, to proclaim the gospel of the Kingdom.”

The journal also includes essays by Dan Doriani, A.B. Caneday and a sermon on the Parable of the Sower by Kirk Wellum. Doriani serves as pastor of Central Presbyterian Church in St. Louis, Mo, Caneday is professor of New Testament studies and biblical theology at Northwestern College in St. Paul, Minn. Wellum serves as principal and professor of biblical studies, pastoral and systematic theology at Toronto Baptist Seminary.

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