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Religious Tolerance logo

An essay by Dawn Wessel

The Synonymy of the Parables: Connecting
the Dots to Reveal the Bible’s Cryptic Voice

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Definitions supplied by Google:

  • "Synonymy:" A word or phrase having the same -- or nearly the same -- meaning as another word or phrase in the same language.

  • "Parables:" A simple story used to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson. An example is the parable of the prodigal son by Jesus.

  • "Cryptic:" Having a meaning that is mysterious our obscure; confusing, puzzling, ambiguous ...

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The objective of this paper is to demonstrate the cryptic writing style of the Bible. Here I cite Parables as examples of the unique writing of which I am convinced can only be premeditated. I connect the dots (dots being verses, phrases or single words) by linking ‘related’ data. In so doing a singular and distinctive voice appears through the synonymy of word patterns (KJV translation):

“All these things spoke Jesus unto the multitude in parables; and without a parable spoke he not unto them.” (Matthew 13:34, Mark 4:34)

“And he taught them many things by parables…” (Mark 4:2)

It seems odd that Jesus would choose the seemingly ineffective method of communicating his ideas through ambiguous messages that could not hope to benefit its listeners:

“And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables: That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them.” (Mark 4:11-12)

In this verse Jesus is speaking to the disciples, telling them they had been chosen to learn secrets that other people were not privy, which sounds elitist. Jesus’ very mandate was to lead people to salvation (Luke 3:6) but how is that possible if only a few can understand his seemingly obscure messages?

Interpretive-wise it’s commonly thought the messages of the parables are in its imagery, which was not entirely lost on the teachers of the law:

“And when the chief priests and Pharisees had heard his parables, they perceived that he spoke of them.” Matt. 21:45).

Yet the disciples had to ask Jesus to explain the apparently not so obvious:

“and when he was alone, they that were about him with the twelve asked of him the parable” Mark 4:10

“…and his disciples came unto him, saying, “Declare unto us the parable of the tares of the field.” Matt. 13:36).

In another instance they asked him to speak plainly so they could understand him (John 16:29).

Jesus’ answer did not appear to be any more helpful. He directed them to the prophet Isaiah 6:9 (Matthew 13:14, see also Acts 28:26):

“And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which says, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive”

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It would appear as though Jesus was being deliberately evasive yet in actual fact I believe he was speaking clearly. He was drawing attention to the parables, pointing out that the answer was right before them (“that seeing they may see”) but at the same time that it was also hidden (“and not perceive”). What is seen but not perceived so that looking right at it we would miss it unless we knew what to look for? This can only be referring to something that is encrypted, and Jesus also revealed the method for decoding it.

“…‘I will open My mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world.” (Matt.13:35(3,10,13,34)/Psalm 78:2, Mark 4:2,34, 12:1)

The phrases “open My mouth in parables” and “utter things which have been kept secret…” are synonymous, meaning the “parables are that which is kept secret”. However, the answer being hidden requires its readers to look beyond the obvious as there was more to it than meets the eye:

“I will incline my ear to a parable: I will open my dark saying upon the harp.” (Psalm 49:4)

In this verse ‘a parable’ is associated with ‘dark saying’. It seems to suggest that to “incline my ear” (listen) to ‘a parable’ then opens the way to “play my dark saying upon the harp”. However, ‘a parable’ and ‘dark saying’ have the exact same meaning. 1

This is another example of the synonymy prevalent in these writings as to “incline my ear to a parable” is to “open my dark saying…” for the purpose of reiterating an idea.

The saying is dark not because it’s sinister but because it is not illuminated, as again it refers to something that is hidden (kept secret).

“I will open my mouth in a parable: I will utter dark sayings of old.” (KJV Psalm 78:2)

The dark saying(s) are ‘of old’ because they have been around for a very long time (“from the foundation of the world”). The prophet Ezekiel also used the same mode of communication and his hearers (as with Jesus) were no wiser, as to the untrained mind the parables sounded nonsensical:

“Then said I, Ah Lord God. They say of me, Does he not speak parables?” (Ezekiel 20:49, 17:2)

Daniel was also gifted with exceptional interpretive ability:

“Forasmuch as an excellent spirit, and knowledge, and understanding, interpreting of dreams, and showing of hard sentences, and dissolving of doubts, were found in the same Daniel…” (KJV Dan. 5:12, and verse 16).

“Hard sentences” is the same as “dark saying(s)” and parables. The word dissolve means to “free, separate, unravel”. 2 ‘Doubts’ is from an old Chaldean word meaning ‘a knot, something tied up’ but it also means ‘a riddle’. Both the Psalmist, Daniel and others could unravel and/or dissolve the knots/riddles/parables/dark(Dan.8:23)-hard sayings (sentences) of old. But what are the dark sayings and hard sentences?

To understand a proverb, and the interpretation; the words of the wise and their dark sayings.” (Proverbs 1:6)

I do not currently have a name for this kind of synonymy where one thing is presented (“to understand a proverb and the interpretation”) and directly afterwards is rephrased (“the words of the wise and their dark sayings”), which occurs frequently in these writings. A proverb is also “the words of the wise” and “their dark sayings” also meaning a ‘parable’. 3 Therefore, to “understand a proverb and the interpretation” is to “be wise”. Wisdom (words of the wise) is the collective term for understanding the ancient dark sayings.

“He sent a man before them, even Joseph…To bind his princes at his pleasure; and teach his senators wisdom.” (See Psalm 105:17-22b).

In Matthew Chapter 25, Jesus told a parable about ten virgins and how five of them “were wise (had wisdom/understood dark sayings/hard sentences)” and so were ready when the bridegroom arrived because they were able to decipher the texts. The five foolish virgins however, not having wisdom, were unprepared for the Bridegroom. They could not open the dark sayings because they did not know the methodology for doing so. So they ask their wise companions to “give of your oil” (vs 8) of which the wise reply “but go rather to those that sell and buy for yourselves” (vs 9), as we all must do.

Buy the truth, and sell it not; also wisdom, and instruction, and understanding. (Proverbs 23:23)

Obviously this buying and selling is associated with our thinking as it means to buy (comprehend and appreciate) knowledge.

The Book of Daniel speaks of an individual who will be “wiser than Daniel” and so also able to unravel the hidden things (Wise Men, Angels and the Time of Trouble 4):

“And in the latter time of their kingdom, when the transgressors are come to the full, a king of fierce countenance, and understanding dark sentences, shall stand up.” (Dan. 8:23)

Obviously this individual will have the same ability as Daniel.

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In this paper I have covered only a portion of the subject as it further leads to wisdom and as you can see from the verse just prior, other things. In this way the information connects with other verses and so continuously builds upon itself. As often as I have applied this same interpretive strategy, have achieved similar results that affirm the unique voice of these writings (also applicable to Pseudepigrapha books: Adam and Eve/Eden, Book of Enoch, Odes of Solomon 5,6 and possibly others).

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Blue Letter Bible, at: http://www.blueletterbible.org/

  2. book cover James Strong, *Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible," Royal Publishers Inc. 1890, (Chal. #8271) Pg. 121. A 2010 version of Strong's Concordance is listed at Amazon.com's online book store [Ms. Wessel referred to the paper version of Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible for her research.]
  3. "Lexicon: Strong's H2420, chiydah" Blue Letter Bible, at: http://www.blueletterbible.org/

  4. book cover D. Wessel, Wise Men, Angels and the Time of Trouble, Chapters 2 and 3. Lulu, (2015) Paperback, at: http://www.lulu.com/
  5. "Pseudepigrapha," Wikipedia, as on 2015-JUN-05, at: https://en.wikipedia.org/
  6. John Bruno Hare, "The Apocrypha," Internet Sacred Text Archive, at: http://www.sacred-texts.com/

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Original posting: 2015-AUG-22
Latest update: 2015-AUG-22
Author: Dawn Wessel. Email: dmwessel@msn.com
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