Category Archives: Parables

What Are You Studying?

Pastors, teachers, and other students of God’s Word, you might enjoy supplementing your studies with some unique and accessible commentary.  My Bible Journal posts have followed the haphazard course of my own studies recently, largely focused on the New Testament.  Here’s an attempt to organize my offerings for you.  Please pass these links on to others if you think they would be helpful!

Remember, you can follow the Bible Journal on Twitter @GrassRootsTheo, or sign up for email notifications (see the button below).

Bible Journal entries are listed below under the relevant books or sections of the Bible.  Find a match with what you are studying, and read along!


Bible Study Strategies (Audio)

Genre Judgment Calls

Pickup Theology

Redemptive-Historical Reading

Self-Evaluation Tool

A Friendly Intro to Biblical Theology



Christ in the OT

The Messiah in the OT


Christ in the NT

Christ Jesus Our Lord

Invitational Imperatives (various Epistles)

Providing Perspective (various Epistles)


General Gospels

Eyewitnesses to a Transfiguration

Mapping the Parables

On the Unforgivable Sin

Prompted Parables

Prophetic Puzzle Pieces

Samaritan Stories

“Shhh – don’t tell!”


Mark is Longer


Death Meets Life at the Gates of Nain

“Follow, Fast!”

The Cost of Salt


Curious Questions (Woman at the Well)

Naming Names


Paul the Governed (see also Romans)

Prison Diary (Acts 16)

Greek Gods in the NT (Acts 16-19)

Take-Aways from Philippi (Acts 16)

Rome Meets Paul

Before Speaking, Listen (Acts 17)


Mutual Autobiography

What Paul Said About Jesus (Comprehensive Chart)

Paul on Jesus, Part 1 (The Lord of Time)

Paul on Jesus, Part 2 (History, Salvation, Obedience)

Paul on Jesus, Part 3 (Benefits & Realities)


Chronology and Meaning (see also James & Galatians)

Paul the Governed (see also Acts)

The Metaphysical Situation (see also 1-2 Corinthians)

1-2 Corinthians

Fortune Cookies

Pickup Theology

Riff on 1 Cor. 13

The Metaphysical Situation (see also Romans)


Examining Ourselves


A Tale of Two Jerusalems

Chronology and Meaning (see also James & Romans)

In Step with the Spirit


Military Mnemonics


Providing Perspective


The Mouse that Roared



Chronology and Meaning (see also Galatians & Romans)

A Topical Concordance of James (includes link to pdf resource)

1 Peter

Providing Perspective

123 John

Euphemistic Faith


Hang On ‘Cause Jesus Wins

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Filed under 1&2 Corinthians, 123 John, Acts, Biblical Genres, Biblical Literacy, Christ, Ephesians, Epistles, Galatians, Gospel of John, Hebrews, Instructing the Body, James, Luke, Mark, Matthew, Old Testament, Parables, Paul, Peter, Philemon, Philippians, Redemptive History, Romans, Synoptic Gospels, The Revelation

Bible Journal Recap (1)

Here’s what I’ve been writing about, this spring and summer — this is a topical index for those of you who’d like to read something you missed from my earlier posts, or something related to whatever you are studying.  I’ll pause to create lists like this one every few months to remind you what’s here.

If you’re interested in guides for your own personal Bible study, you’ll find some suggestions on the “Short Takes” shelf.

****Bible Journal Posts on the Epistles:

Mutual Autobiography1 Cor., Gal., Phil., Thess. (5.18.2015)

Invitational ImperativesVarious Epistles (5.27.2015)

Pickup Theology1 Cor. (6.3.2015)

Fortune Cookies1 Cor. 10:31 (6.18.2015)

Riff on 1 Cor. 13 (6.8.2015)

Theo-logic1&2 Cor. (6.25.2015)

Christ Jesus our LordSurvey of Epistles (7.4.2015)

The Metaphysical SituationRom. 6 (7.13.2015)


****Bible Journal Posts on the Gospels:

Prophetic Puzzle PiecesSynoptic Gospels (3.30.2015)

Mapping the ParablesSynoptic Gospels (3.16.2015)

Samaritan StoriesMatt., Luke, John (3.23.2015)

“Follow, Fast!”Matt., Luke (2.23.2015)

Eyewitnesses to a TransfigurationMatt., Mark, Luke (2.17.2015)

On the Unforgivable SinMatt., Mark, Luke (2.15.2015)

Mark is LongerMark in comparison (4.29.2015)

“Shhh! Don’t Tell!”Mark (3.1.2015)

Prompted ParablesLuke (3.9.2015)

Death Meets Life at the Gates of NainLuke 7  (2.18.2015)

The Cost of SaltLuke 14 (5.12.2015)

Curious QuestionsJohn 4 (4.7.2015)

Naming NamesJohn 12 (4.22.2015)


****Bible Journal Posts on Acts:

Prison Diary: A Brief Play in Three ActsActs 16 (5.5.2015)


****Bible Journal Posts on Bible Study:

Genre Judgment Calls (4.13.2015)

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Filed under 1&2 Corinthians, Acts, Biblical Genres, Epistles, Gospel of John, Hard Sayings of Jesus, Historical Context, Instructing the Body, Luke, Mark, Matthew, Parables, Paul, Romans, Synoptic Gospels

Samaritan Stories

[Texts:  Matthew 10:5-6; Luke 9:51-56; 10:25-37; 17:11-19; John 4; 8:48]

It’s rather odd that we always refer to her as “the Woman at the Well,” as if, like the Oracle at Delphi, this was where she could regularly be found, just in case an itinerant rabbi cared to drop by for a chat.  Same goes for the fictional “Good Samaritan,” whose traditional handle implies that he is the sole exception to the racist rule that “nothing good can come out of Samaria.”  These are the two most familiar Samaritan figures from the Gospel writers’ stories, but there’s more to the intersection of this people group with Jesus’ path and his imagination than this memorable pair.  Taken collectively, the Samaritan stories hint at the role God’s Messiah would have in reconciling ancient enemies, and fixing what had been broken.

The first-century Samaritans had no doubts about who their neighbors were.  Bordered on the north by the Jewish region of Galilee and on the south by Judea, they occupied what had been the allotments of Manasseh and Ephraim in ancient days.  To the Jews, who alternately avoided and insulted them, the Samaritans were like so much ethnic debris from Assyria’s resettling of the neighborhood.  They had their own mount of worship, Gerizim, although it no longer held a temple; and while their religion was rooted in the Pentateuch, they were considered by the Jews to be an unclean people.  Neighbors, perhaps, but not good ones.

Jesus used this inevitable antipathy to his advantage as a storyteller, riveting his audience’s attention to his point with the unpredictable identity of the hero in his exemplary tale of bad and good neighbors.  It seems that the Pharisees also harnessed this common attitude in order to more deliberately insult the rabbi from Nazareth:  “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” (John 8:48).

All of this may explain why, of the ten lepers, only one returned to give thanks – “and he was a Samaritan” (Lk. 17:16).  Whatever solidarity there had been in sickness, with health it vanished; only the nine healed Jews would have been accepted in the Temple to make sacrifices for their cleansing.  Significant, then, that Jesus faults the nine for not turning back as well.  Had they recognized him, nine Jews and one Samaritan would have been united in worshiping him, in gratitude and health.

It was early days yet for such unity, though.  That the breach between these peoples would eventually be healed through the Christ is an unspoken possibility suggested by his conversation at the well in Sychar – “neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you (pl.) worship,” but rather “in spirit and truth” (John 4:21, 23).  But the time was not yet, as indicated by Jesus’ instructions when sending out the Twelve:  “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Mt. 10:5-6).  Perhaps it was this consciousness of the proper order of events that led him to rebuke the Sons of Thunder for their drastic response to an inhospitable Samaritan town along their road (Lk. 9:51ff.); at the time, they needed to know that it was the Jewish towns who would bear the fires of judgment for their rejection of him (Matt. 10:15).

Meanwhile, no harm in keeping an appointment at a well, and leaving living water behind for everybody in the neighborhood.

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Filed under Gospel of John, Luke, Mark, Matthew, Parables, Redemptive History, Synoptic Gospels

Mapping the Parables

Detail PalestineMaps matter, when reading the Gospels.

After his baptism and temptation in the Judean wilderness, Jesus moved northward again to his home territory and begin a long and rambling ministry in and around the Galilee.  While John’s account suggests that he kept the feasts at Jerusalem during this time along with the other able-bodied Jewish men, most of the teachings and miracles that we learned about as kids in Sunday School happened in those northern towns and villages and the wide spaces in between.  It was only in the final weeks of his life, perhaps motivated by news of a friend’s dire illness, that he set his face one last time for Jerusalem, and things began to get really intense.  So knowing where we are on the map as we read often means knowing where we are in Jesus’ life.

It turns out that maps matter when reading the parables, too.  If you’re like me, you can recall a fair handful from Bible lessons as a child — the Good Samaritan, the Lost Sheep and Son, the Two Houses, something about a farmer scattering seeds.  But could you locate them geographically, identify where they were told? Answering the “where” of the parables frequently helps us understand the “why” of them.

When he was in the hinterlands of the Galilee or cities like Capernaum by the Sea, areas equally home to farmers, fishermen, and zealous would-be Messiahs, his subject matter and tone matched the landscape and labors of his listeners.  Seeds and soil, the foundations of houses, yeast in dough, the kindness of strangers, and fish caught in nets painted verbal pictures of Word and response, Kingdom and treasure.  There’s a riddle-like nature to these narrated images, something to be savored later through seed-time and harvest till somebody got it.

But once he is on the road to Jerusalem with a known end in view, Jesus’ parables become more complex, cautionary — and even confrontational.  The majority of these transitional tales are recorded in Luke, where searching for lost sheep, coins and sons is an obvious foil for the complaining Pharisees who object to Jesus’ table companions, and where Jesus points out that those who didn’t heed Moses’ words in the first place are unlikely to listen to somebody back from the dead (“Yes, I’m talking about you, scribes!”).  Even those parables that seem addressed to his disciples have an edge to them, as he doubts that faithful prayer as persistent as a widow’s legal petitions would be easy to find in the days ahead, and a shrewd manager’s unscrupulousness is held up as a model for the bumbling sons of light.

Then as the showdown approaches in Jerusalem, the city that killed the prophets, Jesus’ parables begin to communicate even weightier things than before.  Themes of differentiation between the faithful and the unfaithful, of judgment and of readiness for the sudden return of the King begin to emerge.  Don’t miss that as he anticipates the final, fatal blow from the tenants of the vineyard, he is narrating the last chapter of the city he is standing in.  Whoever has ears, let him hear.


(See also these visual organizers:  The Geography of Jesus in his life and ministry across all four Gospels…and another showing the distribution of parables across the three phases of his ministry.)

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Filed under Biblical Theology, Gospel of John, Instructing the Body, Luke, Mark, Matthew, Parables, Redemptive History, Synoptic Gospels