What is a Parable? Bible Meaning and Examples

A parable is a simple yet powerful story that conveys profound moral and spiritual lessons, often told by Jesus in the Bible. Discover how these timeless tales can enrich your understanding of biblical teachings and transform your spiritual journey.

Updated May 22, 2024
What is a Parable? Bible Meaning and Examples

Parables are a fundamental part of Christian teaching. Jesus often used them to convey profound spiritual truths in a relatable and memorable way. But what exactly is a parable, and why are they so significant in the Bible?

Definition of Parable

A parable is a simple story used to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson, as told by Jesus in the Gospels. The word "parable" comes from the Greek word "parabolē," which means "comparison" or "illustration." Parables typically employ everyday situations and characters, making them accessible to a wide audience.

According to the Smith Bible Dictionary, a parable means "a placing beside; a comparison; equivalent to the Heb. Mashal, a similitude. 

In the Old Testament, this is used to denote (1) a proverb (1 Samuel 10:12; 24:13; 2 Chron. 7:20), (2) a prophetic utterance (Numbers 23:7; Ezekiel 20:49), (3) an enigmatic saying (Psalms 78:2; Proverbs 1:6). 

In the New Testament, (1) a proverb (Mark 7:17; Luke 4:23), (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); (4) ordinarily, in a more restricted sense, a comparison of earthly with heavenly things, "an earthly story with a heavenly meaning," as in the parables of our Lord.

Instruction by parables has been in use from the earliest times. A large portion of our Lord's public teaching consisted of parables. He himself explains his reasons for this in his answer to the inquiry of the disciples, "Why speakest thou to them in parables?" (Matthew 13:13-15; Mark 4:11 Mark 4:12; Luke 8:9 Luke 8:10). He followed in so doing the rule of the divine procedures, as recorded in Matthew 13:13.

Why Did Jesus Use Parables?

Jesus used parables to teach important lessons in a way that was easy to understand. He could explain complex ideas about God's kingdom and how we should live by telling simple stories about everyday life. Parables made these lessons relatable and memorable for everyone, from farmers to fishermen, so they could grasp the deeper meanings without getting confused by complicated language.

Another reason Jesus used parables was to make people think more deeply about his teachings. Parables often had hidden meanings, encouraging listeners to reflect on the stories and find the moral lesson within. This way, those who truly wanted to learn and grow closer to God would take the time to ponder and understand the messages, while others might hear the surface story and miss the deeper truth.

Characteristics of Parables

Parables are characterized by their simplicity and their use of metaphor. They often:

  1. Illustrate Moral Lessons: Parables teach principles such as love, forgiveness, and humility.

  2. Use Everyday Elements: Common elements like seeds, lamps, and sheep make parables relatable.

  3. Invite Reflection: Parables encourage listeners to think deeply and discern the underlying message.

Famous Parables in the Bible

The Gospels are rich with parables that have been studied and revered for centuries. Here are some of the most notable ones:

  1. The Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37): This parable teaches the importance of loving and helping others, regardless of their background.

  2. The Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32): Highlights God's unconditional love and forgiveness, emphasizing repentance and redemption.

  3. The Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:1-23): This parable explains how different people receive and respond to the word of God.

  4. The Parable of the Lost Sheep (Luke 15:3-7): Portrays God's relentless pursuit of sinners and the joy of their repentance.

Related Questions about Parables

What is the main purpose of a parable? The primary purpose of a parable is to convey moral or spiritual lessons in a way that is easily understood and remembered. Parables engage listeners and encourage them to reflect on the deeper meanings behind the stories.

How many parables are in the Bible? Twenty of Jesus' fifty-two recorded narrative parables seem to depict him in imagery that, in the Old Testament, metaphorical use typically referred to God. The frequency with which this occurs indicates that Jesus regularly depicted himself in images that were particularly appropriate for depicting God. Such self-portrayal appears to be unique to Jesus. In the vast corpus of rabbinic parables, there seems to be none where a rabbi has depicted himself. This distinctiveness, like the distinctive artistry of Jesus' parables, is further evidence that the parables recorded in the Gospels are authentic to Jesus.

Why do parables have hidden meanings? Parables often contain hidden meanings to challenge listeners to think more deeply and to seek a greater understanding of God's truths. This method of teaching helps to reveal spiritual insights to those who are genuinely seeking to learn.

The Impact of Parables on Christian Teaching

Parables have had a profound impact on Christian teaching and theology. They are frequently used in sermons, Bible studies, and religious education to illustrate key concepts and make biblical teachings more accessible. Parables' simplicity and relatability allow them to transcend cultural and temporal boundaries, making them timeless tools for instruction.

Applying Parables to Modern Life

The lessons from parables are not confined to the ancient world; they are highly relevant to modern life. Here are a few ways parables can be applied today:

  1. Encouraging Compassion: The Parable of the Good Samaritan teaches us to show kindness and compassion to everyone, regardless of their background or circumstances.

  2. Promoting Forgiveness: The Parable of the Prodigal Son reminds us of the importance of forgiveness and the joy of reconciliation.

  3. Inspiring Faithful Response: The Parable of the Sower encourages us to examine how we receive and respond to spiritual teachings.


Parables are more than just stories; they are powerful tools for teaching and reflection. By using simple, relatable scenarios, Jesus conveyed profound spiritual truths that continue to resonate with people today. Understanding what a parable is and its role in the Bible can enrich our spiritual lives and deepen our comprehension of God's message.

Incorporating the lessons from parables into our daily lives can help us to live more compassionately, forgive more readily, and seek a deeper understanding of our faith. As we reflect on these timeless stories, we can find guidance and inspiration for navigating the complexities of modern life.

By exploring the meaning and examples of parables, we gain insight into the timeless wisdom contained in the Bible and learn how to apply these lessons to our own lives. Whether we are seasoned believers or new to the faith, the parables of Jesus offer valuable guidance and profound spiritual insights.

Christianity.com's editorial staff is a team of writers with a background in the Christian faith and writing experience. We work to create relevant, inspiring content for our audience and update timely articles as necessary.

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