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Parable, Metaphor, Allegory


Parables, metaphors, and allegories were tools Jesus used to teach spiritual truths. Still, each of the three exhibit different traits. Parables use storytelling to convey a message, metaphors make direct comparisons, and allegories use narratives to symbolize complex ideas.

A parable is a brief story that conveys a moral or spiritual message in a straightforward manner. By telling the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Lk 15:11-32), a single spiritual idea is conveyed: the Father’s infinite and unconditional forgiveness for those who repent.

In the Bible, a metaphor is a figure of speech that compares two unrelated things to highlight their similarities. It is frequently employed to emphasize a spiritual aspect. It compares one thing to another without relying on “like” or “as”. When Jesus says, “I am the bread of life” (Jn 6:35), he is using a metaphor to explain spiritual truth, not claiming to be actual bread. Metaphors are commonly concise, usually limited to a single phrase or paragraph, and are not extended throughout the entire writing.

However, an allegory is a full story that seems to be about one thing but is actually about something else. Characters, events, or settings are employed to symbolize abstract ideas or principles. Allegories are frequently referred to as “extended metaphors” and serve to impart a lesson or establish a point. They are generally longer and persist throughout an entire story or piece of writing.

Some parables are metaphorical or allegorical. The use of metaphors in Jesus’s teachings typically centers around a word, phrase, or sentence. For example,

1. Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (Jn 6:35). Jesus is symbolized as the provider of spiritual sustenance for believers.

2. In John 10:11, Jesus describes himself as the good shepherd, demonstrating his role in caring for and protecting his flock.

3. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (Jn 8:12). According to this metaphor, Jesus symbolizes the ultimate origin of truth and enlightenment.

4. In John 10:9 Jesus says, “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.” This metaphor symbolizes Jesus as the entrance to salvation.

Some parables contain metaphors. For example:

1. The Parable of the Mustard Seed (Mt 13:31-32, Mk 4:30-32, Lk 13:18-19) illustrates the growth of the kingdom of God using the metaphor of a small seed becoming a large tree.

2. In the Parable of the New Cloth on an Old Garment (Mt 9:16-17, Mk 2:21, Lk 5:36), Jesus uses the new cloth to symbolize his teachings (the New Covenant) and the old garment to represent the old laws (the Old Covenant). The metaphor shows that the old and the new cannot be blended.

3. The Parable of the New Wine in Old Wineskins (Mt 9:17, Mk 2:22, Lk 5:37–38) uses the new wine as a metaphor for Jesus’s teachings and the old wineskins as a representation of Mosaic law. The metaphor shows that new teachings cannot fit into the old laws.

4. The Parable of the Lamp on a Stand (Mt 5:14-15, Mk 4:21–22, Lk 8:16, 11:33) uses a lamp as a metaphor for the teachings of Jesus and the stand symbolizes his followers. The metaphor shows that followers of Jesus should not conceal their faith, but instead let it radiate for everyone to witness.

Jesus is metaphorically portrayed as a traveler in certain parables. He left his Church in the care of his disciples as he embarked on his journey to heaven. Examples are:

1. In the Parable of the Talents (Mt 25:14-30), “when a man who was going on a journey called in his servants and entrusted his possessions to them. To one he gave five talents; to another, two; to a third, one – to each according to his ability” (Mt 25:15-15). In this context, the man refers to Jesus, the servants refer to the disciples, and the possessions refer to his church.

2. In the Parable of the Tenants, the landowner entrusted his vineyard to tenants, and he set out on a journey. He sent his servants, one after another, and finally his son, to get his produce (Mt 21:33-41). God is the landowner, the religious leaders are the tenants, the prophets are the servants, and Jesus is the son.

3. The Parable of the Ten Gold Coins is another one, where a noble person went off to become a king. He gave ten gold coins to his ten servants to trade with until he returned (Lk 19:12-27). In this parable, Jesus is the one who travels to the Father in heaven to get his sovereignty and return to assess and govern the world. The servants are the Christians who have to conduct his mission until he returns.

4. Jesus, when discussing the importance of being prepared for his return, used the example of a man going away on a journey. He delegated his servants to take charge of the house and a security guard to protect the gate (Mk 13:34-37).


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