A word study on Parables and Midrash – How Jesus taught using Parables

I didn’t know until I started this study that a Mashal (hebrew) is a short parable with a moral lesson or religious allegory. Again we are reminded of how important it is to understand the history of biblical translation – Hebrew/Aramaic to Greek, Latin and then English and all that we lose along the way.  A Mashal is used also to designate other forms in rhetoric, such as the fable. A large number of parables/mashals are found in post-Biblical literature, in the Talmud and Midrash. In fact, The Midrash is largely composed of parables – wikipedia: The Hebrew term Midrash- plural midrashim, means to investigate; or study, also Interpretation; Exposition; is a homiletic method of biblical exegesis. The term also refers to the whole compilation of homiletic teachings on the Bible; a collection of stories that illustrate the deeper meaning of a biblical teaching. The Talmudic writers believed in the importance of the parable, and regarded it as a valuable means of determining the true sense of the Law and of attaining a correct understanding. In the Talmud and Midrash almost every religious idea, moral maxim, or ethical requirement is accompanied by a parable which illustrates it. For instance, parables dealing with kings, for instance, were frequently chosen to illustrate God’s relationship to the world in general and to Israel in particular, as in Numbers 2: 24 the Lord is also poetically likened to a King (Psa. 10:16; Zeph. 3:16-17; Zech. 14:16-17; Malachi 1:14). Israel is the first-born of the Lord (Exo. 4:22; Deut. 14:1).

The parables of Jesus, a Hebrew Israelite, were taught in Hebrew or Aramaic depending on his audience. The first 5 books of the NT, however, were written in Greek yet we should never neglect the critical nature of Jesus’ Jewish heritage and how he was influenced by first-century Judaism. For instance, Jesus was learned in Torah and the Oral Tradition (Talmud, Mishnah, Midrash). Given that a parable is a type of mashal or midrash, we now learn why Jesus came to use parables in his teachings based on his heritage. Many Christians are led to believe that Jesus invented parables rather than understand that Jesus taught in the manner that he had been raised – using a mashal to illustrate a teaching.

The Greek term for parable is parabole – used typically to translate the more general Hebrew term mashal (plural: meshalim)- a placing beside; a comparison; equivalent to the Hebrew word, mashal, a similitude. In the Old Testament this is used to denote (1) a proverb as in 1 Samuel 10:12; 24:13; 2 Chronicles 7:20., (2) a prophetic utterance as in;Numbers 23:7; Ezek. 20:49, (3) an enigmatic saying as in Psalm 78:2; Proverbs 1:6. Likewise, In the New Testament, (1) a proverb (b), (2) a typical emblem (Hebrews 9:9; 11:19), (3) a similitude or allegory (Matthew 15:15; 24:32; Mark 3:23; Luke 5:36; 14:7).

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