Question: What is a parable?
Answer: The language of the East abounded with figures of speech. The metaphor, simile, metonymy, proverb, and parable were just a few common figures. Of course, the Bible, being written in Eastern languages, is replete with such figures. D.R. Dungan observes, "The parable is the oldest and most common of all the figures of speech" (Hermeneutics, pg. 227).
The meaning of parable. Parable is from the Greek parabloe. This Greek word is defined as, "...denotes a placing beside...It signifies a placing of one thing beside another with a view to comparison" (W.E. Vine, Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, vol. 3, pg. 158). A parable, Biblically considered, places the physical and spiritual beside one another with the aim being to explain the spiritual (known to unknown).
The design of parables. The parable illustrated the truth being conveyed, but it also often required spiritual effort on the part of the hearer (see the seven parables of Matthew 13). From the mustard seed and the growth thus produced, we can see the small beginning of the kingdom and its growth (Matt 13: 31-32). However, in this same chapter, Jesus explained why his teaching was especially characterized by parables (Please read vss. 10- 16). Hence, parabolic teaching can be a hindrance to some. Some parables were explained (Matt. 13: 18- 23, 36- 43).
In studying parables, one must realize there are essential components and also that which serves somewhat as "filler: (see Matt. 21: 33- 45, cf. vs. 33). Parables did not contain contradictory or imaginary truths. In other words, parables are not fictitious stories which contain impossible truths (see Luke 16: 19- 31). Parables teach what happened, may happen, or shall happen (Luke 19: 12- 28). Let us equip ourselves to ever learn all the precious truths of God's word we can.