Original Research

Guidelines towards plausible interpretation of gospel parables

Aniedi M. Akpan, Francois P. Viljoen
In die Skriflig/In Luce Verbi | Vol 55, No 1 | a2701 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ids.v55i1.2701 | © 2021 Aniedi M. Akpan, Francois P. Viljoen | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 23 November 2020 | Published: 27 May 2021

About the author(s)

Aniedi M. Akpan, Unit for Reformed Theology and the Development of the South African Society, Faculty of Theology, North-West University, Potchefstroom, South Africa
Francois P. Viljoen, Unit for Reformed Theology and the Development of the South African Society, Faculty of Theology, North-West University, Potchefstroom, South Africa


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Abstract

This study is undertaken against the backdrop of the polyvalence of parables and the resultant arbitrary conclusions reached by many interpreters of gospel parables. It is aimed to set guidelines towards plausible interpretations of these parables. It identified some factors that influence the understanding of the parables and thereby formulated principles for guiding the exegete to plausible conclusions. The genre parable was defined and understood to function metaphorically, implying that the true meaning of parables lies outside of their narrated domain (i.e. in a second, distinct domain). Eight principles were formulated to enhance credible parable exegesis and were explained with illustrations from New Testament parables. They included the need to acknowledge the openness of parables, as well as the need to interpret parables within specific gospel contexts. The attention of interpreters was also drawn to five pitfalls when seeking a plausible interpretation of gospel parables. It became clear that only in a holistic combination could these principles enhance the plausible interpretation of the gospel parables, while isolative considerations would most likely mislead the interpreter. In this article it is concluded that, although parables are polyvalent, this does not justify arbitrary interpretations; hence the need for gospel parable interpreters to take seriously the methods and principles that limit multiplicity and enhance plausibility of the parables’ meanings.

Contribution: The contribution of this investigation lies in a canonical approach to gospel parables, and to set guidelines for plausible interpretation from such a stance. While it is recognised that earlier forms of parables, albeit in oral or written form, are of interest in historical critical investigations, the current study works with the forms of parables as embedded in specific gospel narratives.


Keywords

interpretation of gospel parables; hermeneutics; metaphor; narrative; canonical approach; how to understand parables of Jesus; biblical interpretation.

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