"Parables" in the Bible by Felix Just, S.J., Ph.D.
The Greek noun παραβολή (parabolē) is used a total of 50 times in the New Testament (13 times in Mark, 17 in Matthew, 18 in Luke, twice in Hebrews, but never in John). Etymologically, it stems from the preposition para (“alongside of”) and the verb ballein (“to cast, place, throw”), and thus refers to something that is compared to or juxtaposed with something else. It always refers to some type of “figure of speech” or “literary comparison”; it is usually translated “parable” in English, but sometimes also “lesson” (Mark 13:28; Matt 24:32), “proverb” (Luke 4:23), “symbol” (Heb 9:9), or “figuratively speaking” (Heb 11:19, all in NRSV translations).
Greek parabolē is used in the following NT verses:
Mic 2:4; Hab 2:6; Jer 24:9; Ezek 12:22-23; 16:44; 17:2; 18:2-3; 19:14; 21:5; 24:3; Dan 12:8
In the HB/LXX, mashal & parabolē refer to "figures of speech," which can be of many different types (proverbs, maxims, riddles, symbols, fables, parables, allegories).
Similarly in the New Testament, parabolē can refer to figures of speech of various types:
short proverbs (1 Sam 10:12; Prov 1:1; Luke 4:23)
wisdom sayings (Luke 5:36-39) and maxims (Luke 14:7-11)
figurative speech (Mark 4:33) and examples (Luke 12:15-21)
riddles (Judg 14:10-18; Mark 7:15-17)
taunt songs (Micah 2:4; Hab 2:6)
similes (Matt 13:33; 23:27) and metaphors (cf. Matt 5:13-14)
more extended story-parables (many examples below)
even some allegories (Isa 5:1-7; Mark 12:1-11; Matt 22:1-14)
Moreover, not all the stories or figures of speech identified by biblical scholars as parables are explicitly called “parables” in the Bible itself, including some very famous ones (the Good Samaritan, Luke 10:29-37; the Prodigal Son, Luke 15:11-32; the Unjust Steward, Luke 16:1-8; etc.). All of these stories use "comparisons" of various types to make their points.
A related Greek word, παροιμία (paroimia), which also refers to some type of “figure of speech” or “proverb,” is used only seven times in the LXX (Prov 1:1; 26:7; Sir 6:35; 8:8; 18:29; 39:3; 47:17) and five times in the NT (John 10:6; 16:25a, 25b, 29; and 2 Peter 2:22).
Parable-Like Stories in the Old Testament / Hebrew Bible:
Ezek 19:2-9, 10-14 – Lioness & cubs; vine & branches
Ezek 24:3-5, 6-14 – Boiling pot (with application)
PAROIMIA (7 times in LXX; 5 times in Greek NT):
Prov 1:1 – The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel:
Prov 26:7 – The legs of a disabled person hang limp; so does a proverb in the mouth of a fool.
Sir 6:35 – Be ready to listen to every godly discourse, and let no wise proverbs escape you.
Sir 8:8 – Do not slight the discourse of the sages, but busy yourself with their maxims; because from them you will learn discipline and how to serve princes.
Sir 18:29 – Those who are skilled in words become wise themselves, and pour forth apt proverbs.
Sir 39:3 – he seeks out the hidden meanings of proverbs and is at home with the obscurities of parables.
Sir 47:17 – Your songs, proverbs, and parables, and the answers you gave astounded the nations.
John 10:6 – Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
John 16:25 – “I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures, but will tell you plainly (parrēsia) of the Father.”
John 16:29 – His disciples said, “Yes, now you are speaking plainly (parrēsia), not in any figure of speech!”
2 Peter 2:22 – It has happened to them according to the true proverb, “The dog turns back to its own vomit,” and, “The sow is washed only to wallow in the mud.”
PARABOLĒin the LXX, the Greek OLD TESTAMENT (44 times – NRSV texts here for Hebrew books; RSV texts for Deutero-canonical books):
Num 23:7 – Then Balaam uttered his oracle, saying: “Balak has brought me from Aram, the king of Moab from the eastern mountains: ‘Come, curse Jacob for me; Come, denounce Israel!’ ”
Num 23:18 – Then Balaam uttered his oracle, saying: “Rise, Balak, and hear; listen to me, O son of Zippor:”
Num 24:3 – and he uttered his oracle, saying: “The oracle of Balaam son of Beor, the oracle of the man whose eye is clear,”
Num 24:15 – So he uttered his oracle, saying: “The oracle of Balaam son of Beor, the oracle of the man whose eye is clear,”
Num 24:20-21 – Then he looked on Amalek, and uttered his oracle, saying: “First among the nations was Amalek, but its end is to perish forever.” / Then he looked on the Kenite, and uttered his oracle, saying: “Enduring is your dwelling place, and your nest is set in the rock;”
Num 24:23 – Again he uttered his oracle, saying: “Alas, who shall live when God does this?”
Deut 28:37 – You shall become an object of horror, a proverb, and a byword among all the peoples where the LORD will lead you.
1Sam 10:12 – A man of the place answered, “And who is their father?” Therefore it became a proverb, “Is Saul also among the prophets?”
1Sam 24:13 – As the ancient proverb says: Against whom has the king of Israel come out? Whom do you pursue? A dead dog? A single flea?
2Sam 23:3 – The God of Israel has spoken, the Rock of Israel has said to me: [he spoke a parable:] One who rules over people justly, ruling in the fear of God,
1Kings 4:32 – He composed three thousand proverbs, and his songs numbered a thousand and five.
2Chron 7:20 – then I will pluck you up from the land that I have given you; and this house, which I have consecrated for my name, I will cast out of my sight, and will make it a proverb and a byword among all peoples.
Ps 44:14 – Thou hast made us a byword among the nations, a laughingstock among the peoples.
Ps 49:4 – I will incline my ear to a proverb; I will solve my riddle to the music of the lyre.
Ps 69:11 – When I made sackcloth my clothing, I became a byword to them.
Ps 78:2 – I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old,
Prov 1:6 – to understand a proverb and a figure, the words of the wise and their riddles.
Eccl 12:9 – Besides being wise, the Teacher also taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs.
Jer 24:9 – I will make them a horror, an evil thing, to all the kingdoms of the earth--a disgrace, a byword, a taunt, and a curse in all the places where I shall drive them.
Ezek 12:22-23 – Mortal, what is this proverb of yours about the land of Israel, which says, “The days are prolonged, and every vision comes to nothing”? / Tell them therefore, “Thus says the Lord GOD: I will put an end to this proverb, and they shall use it no more as a proverb in Israel.” But say to them, The days are near, and the fulfillment of every vision.
Ezek 16:44 – See, everyone who uses proverbs will use this proverb about you, “Like mother, like daughter.”
Ezek 17:2 – O mortal, propound a riddle, and speak an allegory to the house of Israel.
Ezek 18:2-3 – What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, “The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge”? / As I live, says the Lord GOD, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel.
Ezek 19:14 – And fire has gone out from its stem, has consumed its branches and fruit, so that there remains in it no strong stem, no scepter for ruling. This is a lamentation, and it is used as a lamentation.
Ezek 20:49 – Then I said, “Ah Lord GOD! they are saying of me, ‘Is he not a maker of allegories?’“
Ezek 24:3 – And utter an allegory to the rebellious house and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: Set on the pot, set it on, pour in water also;
Mic 2:4 – On that day they shall take up a taunt song against you, and wail with bitter lamentation, and say, “We are utterly ruined; the LORD alters the inheritance of my people; how he removes it from me! Among our captors he parcels out our fields.”
Hab 2:6 – Shall not everyone taunt such people and, with mocking riddles, say about them, “Alas for you who heap up what is not your own!” How long will you load yourselves with goods taken in pledge?
Tob 3:4 – For they disobeyed thy commandments, and thou gavest us over to plunder, captivity, and death; thou madest us a byword of reproach in all the nations among which we have been dispersed. [RSV]
Sir 13:26 – The mark of a happy heart is a cheerful face, but to devise proverbs requires painful thinking.
Sir 20:20 – A proverb from a fool’s lips will be rejected, for he does not tell it at its proper time.
Sir 38:33b – They do not sit in the judge’s seat, nor do they understand the sentence of judgment; they cannot expound discipline or judgment, and they are not found using proverbs.
Sir 39:2-3 – he will preserve the discourse of notable men and penetrate the subtleties of parables; /
he will seek out the hidden meanings of proverbs and be at home with the obscurities of parables.
Sir 47:15, 17 – Your soul covered the earth, and you filled it with parables and riddles. / /
For your songs and proverbs and parables, and for your interpretations, the countries marveled at you.
Wis 5:4 – “This is the man whom we once held in derision and made a byword of reproach -- we fools! We thought that his life was madness and that his end was without honor.
PARABOLĒ in the NEW TESTAMENT (50x in Greek; NRSV translations here):
Mark 3:23 – And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan?”
Mark 4:2 – He began to teach them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them:
Mark 4:10-11 – When he was alone, those who were around him along with the twelve asked him about the parables. / And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables;”
Mark 4:13 – And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? Then how will you understand all the parables?”
Mark 4:30 – He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it?”
Mark 4:33-34 – With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; / he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.
Mark 7:17 – When he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about the parable.
Mark 12:1 – Then he began to speak to them in parables. “A man planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a pit for the wine press, and built a watchtower; then he leased it to tenants and went to another country.”
Mark 12:12 – When they realized that he had told this parable against them, they wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowd. So they left him and went away.
Mark 13:28 – “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near.”
Matt 13:3 – And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow.”
Matt 13:10 – Then the disciples came and asked him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?”
Matt 13:13 – The reason I speak to them in parables is that ‘seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.’
Matt 13:18 – “Hear then the parable of the sower.”
Matt 13:24 – He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field;”
Matt 13:31 – He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field;”
Matt 13:33-36 – He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.” / Jesus told the crowds all these things in parables; without a parable he told them nothing. / This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet: “I will open my mouth to speak in parables; I will proclaim what has been hidden from the foundation of the world.” / Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.”
Matt 13:53 – When Jesus had finished these parables, he left that place.
Matt 15:15 – But Peter said to him, “Explain this parable to us.”
Matt 21:33 – “Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country.”
Matt 21:45 – When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them.
Matt 22:1 – Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: [royal wedding banquet]
Matt 24:32 – “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near.”
Luke 4:23 – He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’”
Luke 5:36 – He also told them a parable: “No one tears a piece from a new garment and sews it on an old garment; otherwise the new will be torn, and the piece from the new will not match the old.”
Luke 6:39 – He also told them a parable: “Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit?”
Luke 8:4 – When a great crowd gathered and people from town after town came to him, he said in a parable:
Luke 8:9-11 – Then his disciples asked him what this parable meant. / He said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God; but to others I speak in parables, so that ‘looking they may not perceive, and listening they may not understand.’ / “Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God.”
Luke 12:16 – Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly.”
Luke 12:41 – Peter said, “Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for everyone?”
Luke 13:6 – Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none.”
Luke 14:7 – When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable.
Luke 15:3 – So he told them this parable:
Luke 18:1 – Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.
Luke 18:9 – He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt:
Luke 19:11 – As they were listening to this, he went on to tell a parable, because he was near Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately.
Luke 20:9 – He began to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard, and leased it to tenants, and went to another country for a long time.”
Luke 20:19 – When the scribes and chief priests realized that he had told this parable against them, they wanted to lay hands on him at that very hour, but they feared the people.
Luke 21:29 – Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees;”
Heb 9:9 – This is a symbol of the present time, during which gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper,
Heb 11:19 – He considered the fact that God is able even to raise someone from the dead--and figurativelyspeaking, he did receive him back.