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Jesus’s parables are seemingly simple and memorable stories, often with imagery, and all convey messages. Scholars have commented that although these parables seem simple, the messages they convey are deep, and central to the teachings of Jesus.
In doing so, Jesus followed Psalm 78:2: “I will open my mouth with a parable; I will utter hidden things…” (See also Matthew 13:35: “So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet: ‘I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things hidden since the foundation of the world.'”)
So here’s the point: If you stay a boot-camp Christian – if you never go “beyond the Fundamentals” – your life and your faith will look like the stick-figure drawing at the top of the page. But, if you read the Bible with an open mind – if you follow Luke 24:45 – your life and your faith will more closely resemble the much more in-depth oil painting at the bottom of the page. Full of depth, full of life, and much more pleasing. So much more pleasing in fact that other people around you may want to imitate what you’ve done, and follow your path.
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Now about that idea that you need to read the Bible with an open mind: The Pulpit Commentary for Psalm 78:2 said the “facts of Israelitish history are the ‘parable,’ the inner meaning of which it is for the intelligent to grasp.” (Emphasis added.) See also Matthew Henry’s Commentary on Psalm 78:1-8: “These are called dark and deep sayings, because they are carefully to be looked into.” (Emphasis added.)
Anyway, there are problems interpreting “the law of the Bible.” And that’s especially when that “law” comes in the form of a parable. See On three suitors (a parable):
Jesus taught primarily through parables. When Jesus spoke in such parables, they were “very much an oral method of teaching.” That method of teaching left it up to the listener to decipher the meaning of the parable, to him. Or as Jesus said on several occasions, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” [See Matthew 11:15 and Mark 4:9.]
The commentaries on Matthew 11:15 add that interpreting such a parable requires “more than ordinary powers of thought to comprehend.” And that God asks “no more from us than the right use of the faculties he has given us. People are ignorant, because they will not learn.”
The commentaries to Mark 4:9 indicate that – in reading the Bible with an open and discerning mind – the words of God to Ezekiel (33:32) are fulfilled, “And, lo, thou art unto them as a very lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice.” Or for that matter, “A very lovely work of art.”
The problem came when these oral-tradition parables were finally written down. (At least 20 years after the fact, as in Mark, “the first gospel.”) In translating the parable from oral to written form, an interpretation had to be added to it. In Hebrew the word for such interpretation is mashal, or allegory. In the alternative the word is nimshal, in the plural, nimshalim:
The essence of the parabolic method of teaching is that life and the words that tell of life can mean more than one thing. Each hearer is different and therefore to each hearer a particular secret of the kingdom [of God] can be revealed. We are supposed to create nimshalim for ourselves.
Which raises a good question: How do you “literally interpret” a parable?
One answer is that you can. (“Literally interpret.”) But if you do that, your “faith” will more closely resemble the primitive, undeveloped stick-figure drawing at the top of the page…
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This represents the faith of those who read the Bible with an open mind…
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The upper image is courtesy of How to Draw a Stick Figure: 7 Steps (with Pictures) – wikiHow.
Re: Oil painting being like reading the Bible. See Copying a masterpiece … Fine Art Painting:
Studying a master’s work by copying it can have beneficial effects on our own work. It can help us through a tough time, like when we’re not sure where our art is going. It can inspire us to get to that next level! It can help understand about the painting process he or she used, the palette and color mixes. Learning by copying was done throughout the history of art.
In this case, the “master’s work” we copy is the Bible, with its stories written by men and women in the long-ago past who managed to forge a relationship with the Living God. “Copying” their work “can have beneficial effects on our own work.” I.e., our own work learning to sing a NEW song to God…
Re: Problems interpreting the Bible. See also in On three suitors (a parable):
[Then] there’s the Hebrew style of writing; in Hebrew there are no vowels, and the letters of a sentence are strung together. An example: a sentence in English, “The man called for the waiter.” Written in Hebrew, the sentence would be “THMNCLLDFRTHWTR.” But among other possible translations, the sentence could read, in English, “The man called for the water.”
The full title of the last-noted blog-link is Develop your talents with Bible study. That post discussed Matthew 25:14-30, with the Parable of the talents. There, the “slothful” servant didn’t “develop his talents.” He just buried the money in a hole. So metaphorically, he – that slothful servant – “fit his talents into a pre-formed, pre-shaped cubby-hole.”
The lower image is courtesy of 6 Ways to Create Depth in Your Landscape Painting. The painting is by Edgar Alwin Payne (1883-1947), “an American Western landscape painter and muralist.” See Wikipedia: “Payne is most remembered for his work of American Indians of the Four Corners area, and, of course, the paintings of his beloved Sierras. In the Sierras, high up in Humphrey’s Basin, you will find the lake named for him, Payne Lake.”