A friend of mine once described why he loved the parables of Jesus so much. He said when you read Jesus parables its like looking through a camera lens back at the culture of Jesus world. I really liked his depiction of the nature of Jesus parables.
Here’s a few resources I’ve found helpful as I look back through the lens of Jesus onto his world . . . and onto my own today!
Stories With Intent by Klyne Snodgrass. Snodgrass is the reference to have if you can only have one introduction to Jesus parables. The reason I say this is because this book is a veritable encyclopedia of research data on every parable. Snodgrass picks up each stone and turns it over and has extensive bibliographies as well as extra-canonical suggestions to read. You can’t go wrong with picking up this volume but be prepared its not for devotional or even conversational use, its a research book through and through.
The Parables of Jesus by Joachim Jeremias. Jeremias’s book on the parables is a classic, though its dated now, its still filled with stimulating interpretive suggestions, and is very aware of reading Jesus parables in light of his Jewish setting. This is a good book to have for serious students of the parables, like Snodgrass’s above, but this is not the best book for a small group discussion.
Interpreting the Parables by Craig Blomberg. We used Blomberg in my seminary course at Westminster and I’ve been partial to him ever sense. This is a good intro to the parables, very readable for college and or above level (no greek required). There are sections of this book that could function great for small group discussions but like Snodgrass’s it can feel a bit encyclopedic at times. The first half of Blomberg’s book is dedicated to discussing how to interpret parables, and the second half as you might have guessed is filled with examples of his method in action on individual parables.
Poet & Peasant and Through Peasants Eyes by Kenneth E. Bailey. Bailey’s book is similar to Blomberg’s because it also is broken down into two main sections, the first dedicated to discussing how to interpret parables and the second with examples of his method in action. The noticeable difference is that Bailey focuses squarely on the parables in Luke’s gospel. This is a really strong resource as well to have. I personally would love to explore what it would look like to translate another one of Bailey’s works on Jesus parables (this one a more popular level work) called “Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes,” into something for a small group setting. Definitely something to consider if you’re planning on leading a small group discussion on Jesus parables.
Tell it Slant by Eugene Peterson. I’m a Peterson groupie. I think the guy is one of the most gifted pastor/scholars in the church today and his “Spiritual Theology” series as well as his “Pastoral Theology” series have ministered to me greatly. My wife and I are moving slowly through his “Jesus Way” in this series. Tell it Slant is a great intro to not just the parables but Jesus whole speaking style. This is another book I’d love to consider spinning off into a new form for small group discussion. In fact someone has already done that with Peterson but I haven’t had the opportunity to see what they created. You can purchase that here.
(Photographic art by Grant Tarrant, piece entitled “Life through the lense“)