Books

Stories with Intent: A Comprehensive Guide to the Parables of Jesus by Klyne Snodgrass (Book Review)

Since I'm now preaching a short series on The Parables of Jesus, I recently purchased and started reading Klyne Snodgrass's Stories with Intent: A Comprehensive Guide to the Parables of Jesus. Comprehensive it is. This book is 846 pages long (though over 300 pages of this are bibliography and notes)! But though it is comprehensive, it is written with preachers in mind. As Snodgrass admits in his preface, "This is unapologetically and quite consciously a selfishly motivated book. This is what I want when preparing to teach or preach on the parables" (p. xi). It's what I want, too, and I'm glad Snodgrass gave in to his selfish ambition!

Snodgrass begins, of course, with an "Introduction to the Parables of Jesus," in which he covers (these are the subheadings): Necessary History; What is a Parable?; How Should Parables Be Classified?; What about Allegory?; Characteristics of Jesus' Parables; Distribution of the Parables; How Should Parables Be Interpreted?; and NT Criticism - Assumptions and Hesitations, Method and Procedure.

He lists eleven characteristics of Jesus' parables:
  1. Jesus' parables are first of all brief, even terse.
  2. Parables are marked by simplicity and symmetry.
  3. Jesus' parables focus mostly on humans.
  4. The parables are fictional descriptions taken from everyday life.
  5. Parables are engaging.
  6. Since they frequently seek to reorient thought and behavior . . . parables often contain elements of reversal.
  7. With their intent to bring about response and elements like reversal, the crucial matter of parables is usually at the end, which functions something like the punch line of a joke.
  8. Parables are told into a context. This distinguishes the parables from Aesop's fables, which are stand alone morality tales. Jesus' parables, in contrast, are "not general storeis with universal truths" but "are addressed to quite specific contexts in the ministry of Jesus."
  9. Jesus' parables are theocentric.
  10. Parables frequently allude to OT texts.
  11. Most parables appear in larger collections of parables.
And, in discussing how to interpret the parables, Snodgrass offers the following principles:
  1. Analyze each parable thoroughly.
  2. Listen to the parable without presupposition as to its form or meaning.
  3. Remember that Jesus' parables were oral instruments in a largely oral culture.
  4. If we are after the intent of Jesus, we must seek to hear a parable as Jesus' Palestinian hearers would have heard it.
  5. Note how each parable and its redactional shaping fit with the purpose and plan of each Evangelist.
  6. Determine specifically the function of the story in the teaching of Jesus.
  7. Interpret what is given, not what is omitted. Any attempt to interpret a parable based on what is not there is almost certainly wrong.
  8. Do not impose real time on parable time.
  9. Pay particular attention to the rule of end stress.
  10. Note where the teaching of the parables intersects with the teaching of Jesus elsewhere.
  11. Determine the theological intent and significance of each parable.
Some of these principles, admittedly, need a bit more explanation and fleshing out than I am choosing to do in this review, but many of the principles are self-evident. This list at least gives you an idea of how Snodgrass approaches the task of interpretation.

The next section covers Parables in the Ancient World, looking specifically at parables in the Old Testament, Early Jewish Writings, Greco-Roman Writings, The Early Church, and Later Jewish Writings. After that, Snodgrass jumps in to the actual parables themselves, dividing thirty-two parables into nine sections. These sections are entitled:
  • Grace and Responsibility
  • Parables of Lostness
  • The Parable of the Sower and the Purpose of Parables
  • Parables of the Present Kingdom in Matthew 13, Mark 4, and Luke 13
  • Parables Specifically about Israel
  • Parables about Discipleship
  • Parables about Money
  • Parables concerning God and Prayer, and
  • Parables of Future Eschatology
As Snodgrass takes up each parable, he discusses the parable type, raises issues requiring attention, looks at helpful primary source material, does a comparison of the different accounts of the parable in the gospels, discusses textual issues worth noting, highlights helpful cultural information, then gives an explanation of the parable, talks about adapting the parable for our own context, and suggests further reading (as if he were not comprehensive enough for most people!). This really is a well organized book, designed to function more like a manual for ongoing reference, than to read straight through (which I'm not doing).

Finally, the book ends with an epilogue, six appendices, over one hundred pages of notes and almost fifty pages of bibliography, and then two indices. I expect to use this book not only in my current sermon series, but for many years to come and heartily recommend it to others.

(If you found this review helpful, you give me a helpful vote here.)

4 comments:

mwh said...

This book has been on my wishlist for a while. Glad to hear that your review agrees with the other positive things I've heard about it.

Aaron said...

Hey Brian -
I know this is an old post, but I'm just now reading Snodgrass. I've read most of the intro material & then jumped to the chapter on the parable of the sower & purpose of the parables. I'm over half-way through this chapter. Unless I'm missing something or just need to keep reading, it seems like he differs from many others as to the purpose of parables being to conceal truth from some rather than reveal to all. He continues to say that Mark's use of Isaiah 6 isn't to prove that Jesus is hardening hearts & hiding truth. All the other guys I've read seem to disagree.
What am I missing?

Aaron said...

Hey Brian -
I know this is an old post, but I'm just now reading Snodgrass. I've read most of the intro material & then jumped to the chapter on the parable of the sower & purpose of the parables. I'm over half-way through this chapter. Unless I'm missing something or just need to keep reading, it seems like he differs from many others as to the purpose of parables being to conceal truth from some rather than reveal to all. He continues to say that Mark's use of Isaiah 6 isn't to prove that Jesus is hardening hearts & hiding truth. All the other guys I've read seem to disagree.
What am I missing?

Brian Hedges said...

Hi Aaron, It's been a while since I've been in this book, so can't remember just all Snodgrass said. But I'd agree with the majority interpretation on Jesus' use of Isa 6.