TWH: Luke 6:39 begins with the following words: "And he also spoke a parable to them." Now I'm going to take a different position on the "parable" in the ending to the Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6:20–49). In this first installment to the present series, we want to just highlight the semantic range of the word παραβολή. From here, we will turn our attention to the whole of the New Testament and work our way down to the ending of the Sermon on the Plain. There's an issue here. The use of the word in Luke 6:39 is singular, not plural. There is something known as a collective use of the singular in Greek. Languages do crazy things like that sometimes, right? I mean, after all, English has the singular use of the plural (i.e., pants, shorts, etc.), right? But what about Luke 6:39? We need to know if this is a collective use of the singular, and if it's not, we need to know what the parable is and why the referent precedes it with material in between.
Since Luke 6:39 begins the final section of the SOP and since so much confusion about the logical cohesion within the unit surrounds the understanding of παραβολή, it is necessary to determine Luke’s intent when he uses it in his narrative commentary. Black writes, “The key to lexical analysis is to remember that a word can have several meanings, only one of which is likely to be its semantic contribution to any particular sentence in which it occurs.”29 The first step in identifying Luke’s intended meaning in Luke 6:39 is to identify the semantic range of the word in the Greek language. The next step is to identify how Luke uses the word throughout the Gospel.
Alfred E. Tuggy, Maurice A. Robinson and Mark A. House, and G. Abbott-Smith each list four meanings for παραβολή. Tuggy lists “parable,” “comparison,” “symbol,” and “figure” (Tuggy, Léxico griego-español, 719). A simple comparison is clearly intended by Socrates in Plato’s Philebus 33b where he refers to his comparison of two different lives (ἐν τῇ παραβολῇ τῶν βίων), one that embraces pleasure and the other wisdom. Maurice A. Robinson and Mark A. House provide “similitude,” “allegory,” “parable,” or “emblematic allusion” (Analytical Lexicon of New Testament Greek, 262). G. Abbott-Smith’s first three are “juxtaposition,” “comparison,” and those understandings most closely resembling the use in the Synoptic Gospels, i.e., “parable,” (“illustration,” “analogy,” “figure”) (A Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament, 338). He mentions a final meaning, parallel to the Heb. לָשָׁמ, a “proverb.” David L. Turner views all of these glosses as equivalents to the Heb. לָשָׁמ. He writes:
"Both words are used to describe a proverb, an enigma, a riddle, a taunt, a simile, or an allegorical story. In all of these nuances, the common denominator is the use of a concrete analogy to illumine or obscure an abstract thought." (Turner, Matthew, 338)Cole recognizes the restricted use of παραβολή in Classical Greek and believes that the NT usage reflects the Hebrew expansion of it to capture the idea of לָשָׁמ. He says it “had a far wider range of meaning than the Greek,” and παραβολή “extended its sphere of meaning to cover the wider range of the Hebrew word that it was translating. In classical Greek, its meaning had been much more restricted” (Mark, 146–47 n.1). Most scholars reserve the glosses “symbol,” “type,” and “figure” exclusively for Paul’s use in Hebrews. Timothy and Barbara Friberg and Neva F. Miller define παραβολή as a “rhetorical figure of speech, setting one thing beside another to form a comparison or illustration” (Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, 294). Bullinger mentions only the idea of comparison adding “whose proper meaning is not that which is expressed by the words, but which must become clear by the intended application” (A Critical Lexicon and Concordance, 569). Stein mentions six different rhetorical uses coupled with a biblical example: proverb (Luke 4:23), metaphor (Mark 7:14–17), similitude (Mark 4:30–32), story parable (Luke 14:16–24), example parable (Luke 12:16–21), and allegory (Mark 12:1–11) (Mark, 182).
Two final definitions shed some light on the meaning of παραβολή. Henry. G. Liddell and Robert Scott define parable as “a fictitious narrative by which some religious or moral lesson is conveyed” (An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon, 594). In addition, John J. Kilgallen writes:
"Ordinarily, a parable is a fictitious story with at least one element that represents the real world (some scholars would say that the ideal parable has only one point to make). However, in the ancient world of Jesus, the word parable can mean other than a story; it can refer to any type of comparison by which one uses the fictitious world to make clearer sense of the real world. For instance, such a simple literary device as metaphor falls under the name of parable; it is no story, but a phrase or word which illuminates the real by virtue of the fictitious." (Twenty Parables of Jesus, 11)The word παραβολή can mean any of the aforementioned glosses. At its most basic level, it is a comparison between two fictitious persons, objects, or ideas. Kilgallen mentions one subdivision of παραβολή not yet discussed, namely the exemplum, in which a fictitious example is provided for hearers to follow (e.g., the Good Samaritan) (Twenty Parables of Jesus, 14). Nevertheless, distinguishing between the use of παραβολή as proverbs and parables (in the sense of how Christian circles have come to understand them) is only possible by analyzing the Synoptics and the words as they appear in their context. For example, Meynet writes the following: “Contrary to what one might think in the first place, it is not easy to determine what may be called a ‘parable’ in the gospel of Luke. The safest thing to do therefore is to start out from text that Luke himself qualifies to be such” (Treatise on Biblical Rhetoric, 299). This uncovers a huge shift in the teaching ministry of Jesus, particularly in Matthew 13 and the point in Jesus’s life that it narrates.
We'll pick up here in the next post.