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Parable

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Parable

Do you like stories that provide you with some wisdom? The ultimate story that teaches a moral lesson is called a parable. Parables are interesting stories and they are easy to remember because of this.

Parable: meaning

A parable is a story that tells a moral or religious lesson. A parable makes a comparison between a seemingly unrelated story and a deeper lesson.

‘Parable’ has its roots in the Greek word ‘parabolḗ’, which means ‘comparison’.

Parable story

A parable is usually a story. However, a parable is not a true story. It uses fictional characters and a fictional plot to tell a story that can be applied to everyday life. This story can teach a religious or moral lesson. For example, a parable could teach the Christian value of forgiveness.

Parables in Christianity make a comparison between religious teaching and the world.

Types of parables

These are the 3 main types of parables: similitude, parable and exemplary story.

Similitude

Similitudes use similies to make a comparison between two things. A similitude teaches its lesson by using a situation that people can relate to. It focuses on using a situation that happened in real life.

Simile: The use of ‘like’ or ‘as’ to compare something to something else. This enriches the description being made as it is more vivid.

The parable of the lost coin is an example of a similitude. Everyone can relate to feeling elated when finding a lost coin. In the Bible, Jesus tells the story of a woman who lost one of her coins. This biblical parable describes a woman who has ten silver coins and loses one of her coins. She searches thoroughly for the coin and when she finally finds it, she asks her friends to share in her joy. The woman states that ‘there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents’¹ (Luke 15: 10).

The religious lesson is that God is joyful when even one person asks for forgiveness for their sins. One may need to search to find themselves back on the ‘right’ path- the path to God.

Parable

Yes, this type of parable is actually called a parable! A parable is a more complex similitude. It uses fictional events to teach a lesson. The difference between a similitude, a parable and an exemplary story is that a parable is longer than a similitude but does not have the same narrative structure and style as an exemplary story.

'The Boy Who Cried Wolf' (1484) in Aesop's Fables (1484) is a parable that tells the tale of a young shepherd boy who cries out for help from the villagers. He calls out that there is a wolf attacking the flock, but he tricks them each time - it is a false alarm. One day, when a wolf arrives and attacks the flock, the shepherd boy calls out to the villagers, asking for help. As they have been tricked by the boy so many times, the villagers no longer believe him, and the wolf eats all the sheep.

The lesson of this is that the day that a liar decides to tell the truth, they will not be believed. The liar will have lost their credibility because of their reputation for lying.

Exemplary story

An exemplary story is also known as a narrative parable. It uses the narration of a long story to show changes in characters and plot. These changes reflect the religious lessons that the storyteller has chosen to discuss.

'The Good Samaritan' is a story told in the Bible that details a Jewish man who is robbed, beaten and left on the road. A Jewish priest and then a Levite pass the man and both refuse to help him. A Samaritan is last to pass and he helps the man.

The social and religious hierarchy of the three men follows the order in which they pass the injured man - from most to least respected. The lesson taught in the narrative parable 'The Good Samaritan' is about religious and social superiority. Loving one’s neighbour, as Christianity teaches, is a central theme. This parable shows how one should not let ideas about religious and social superiority get in the way of people being able to show kindness to one another. Although the injured man was Jewish, his true neighbour was found in the unlikeliest of people.

Levite: A member of the Jewish congregation who helped in the running of worship services. Levites were helpers to Jewish priests.

Samaritan: A person from Samaria, Jerusalem. They were part of an ethnoreligious group that people looked down upon.

Most famous parable

The most famous parable is 'The Good Samaritan'. It is found in the Bible in Luke 10:25-27. Part of why it is the most famous parable is because it is used as a way to describe a person and their actions in the present day. Calling someone a ‘Samaritan’ or a ‘good Samaritan’ means that they are a selfless and generous person who helps those in need regardless of social, religious or other differences.

Another reason why this parable is famous is due to the Good Samaritan laws in nations like the United States and Australia. The law protects those who help someone in need, whether they are injured, sick or in danger. It protects these people who help in the event that their help results in an accidental injury or death.

Parable: examples

Let's look at a secular and a religious example of parable!

Secular is a term which refers to things that are not related to religion.

The Blind Men and the Elephant (1963) by John Godfrey Saxe

This parable is secular. A group of blind men argue about what they imagine an elephant looks like. They each touch one part of the elephant and begin to describe the elephant’s appearance. As expected, they all have different ideas of what the elephant looks like, but they all believe that their description is the only right and true description. This parable teaches that you cannot believe you have the correct idea of something when you have a limited and subjective understanding of it. In such a case, it is important to consider the contributions of others.

The Parable of the Mustard Seed

This is a Buddhist parable. A woman named Kisa Gotami loses her only child. She goes to Buddha and begs him to bring her son back from the death. Buddha tells Kisa to collect mustard seeds from all the households in her village that have never encountered death. This proves to be impossible - Kisa realises that all other families have suffered the loss of a loved one. The lesson that Buddha teaches Kisa is that death is inevitable and a natural part of life. Kisa has to learn to let go of grief so that she can know inner peace.

Why are parables important today?

Parables are important today because they help people understand moral or religious lessons that have existed for centuries.

Parables are also used to teach young children moral lessons about life. Incorporating these moral lessons in a story makes it easier for children to engage with them and remember them.

How is a parable different from an allegory?

The difference between a parable and an allegory is that a parable focuses on one particular situation to share moral or religious teaching. This teaching is made obvious in a parable. An allegory is a broader story with a religious or moral message that is often hidden. This abstract portrayal of a lesson through characters makes an allegory more complex than a parable. It could be difficult to decipher the lesson in an allegory and apply that to your everyday life. It would be easy, in comparison, to understand the lesson in a parable and apply it to your life.

Allegory: An allegory is a fictional story or work of art that has a hidden meaning. It is complex and its religious, moral or political themes can be obscure.

Parable - Key takeaways

  • A parable means a story that tells a moral or religious lesson. A parable makes a comparison between a seemingly unrelated story and a deeper lesson.
  • The 3 types of parables are a similitude, a parable and an exemplary story.
  • A parable is usually a fictional story. It uses fictional characters and a fictional plot to tell a story that can be applied to everyday life.
  • The most famous parable is 'The Good Samaritan'. This parable shows how one should not let ideas about religious and social superiority get in the way of people being able to show kindness to one another.
  • Parables are important today because they help people understand moral or religious lessons that have existed for centuries.

¹The Bible, New International Version (NIV).

Frequently Asked Questions about Parable

A parable is a story that tells a moral or religious lesson. A parable makes a comparison between a seemingly unrelated story and a deeper lesson. 

The 3 types of parables are:

  • Similitude
  • Parable
  • Exemplary story/narrative parable

An example of a parable is 'The Boy Who Cried Wolf' (1484) in Aesop's Fables (1484). The lesson of this is that the day that a liar decides to tell the truth, they will not be believed. The liar will have lost their credibility because of their reputation for lying. 

The most famous parable is 'The Good Samaritan'. It is found in the Bible in Luke 10:25-27. This parable shows how one should not let ideas about religious and social superiority get in the way of people being able to show kindness to one another. 

Parables are important today because they help people understand moral or religious lessons that have existed for centuries.

Final Parable Quiz

Question

What is a parable? 

Show answer

Answer

A parable is a story that tells a moral or religious lesson. A parable makes a comparison between a seemingly unrelated story and a deeper lesson. 

Show question

Question

What are the 3 types of parables?

Show answer

Answer

The 3 types of parables are:

  • Similitude

  • Parable

  • Exemplary story/narrative parable

Show question

Question

What is an example of a parable?


Show answer

Answer

An example of a parable is The Boy Who Cried Wolf  (1484) in Aesop's Fables (1484). The lesson of this is that the day that a liar decides to tell the truth, they will not be believed. The liar will have lost their credibility because of their reputation for lying. 

Show question

Question

What is the most famous parable?


Show answer

Answer

The most famous parable is The Good Samaritan. It is found in the Bible in Luke 10:25-27. This parable shows how one should not let ideas about religious and social superiority get in the way of people being able to show kindness to one another. 

Show question

Question

Why are parables important today?


Show answer

Answer

Parables are important today because they help people understand moral or religious lessons that have existed for centuries.

Show question

Question

How is a parable different from an allegory?


Show answer

Answer

The difference between a parable and an allegory is that a parable focuses on one particular situation to share moral or religious teaching. This teaching is made obvious in a parable. An allegory is a broader story with a religious or moral message that is often hidden.  

Show question

Question

What is an allegory?

Show answer

Answer

An allegory is a fictional story that has a religious theme. It is complex and the religious theme can be obscure.  

Show question

Question

What is an example of a secular parable and what is its teaching?

Show answer

Answer

An example of a secular parable is The Blind Men and the Elephant (1963) by John Godfrey Saxe. This parable teaches that you cannot believe you have the correct idea of something when you have a limited and subjective understanding of it. In such a case, it is important to consider others’ contributions.  

Show question

Question

What is an example of a similitude?

Show answer

Answer

The parable of the lost coin in the Bible is an example of a similitude. Everyone can relate to feeling elated when finding a lost coin.  The religious lesson is that God is joyful when even one person asks for forgiveness for their sins. One may need to search to find themselves back on the ‘right’ path- the path to God.  

Show question

Question

Where does the word 'parable' come from?

Show answer

Answer

‘Parable’ has its roots in the Greek word ‘parabolḗ’, which means ‘comparison’.  

Show question

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