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Helpful analysis of parables; also includes history of interpretation
on June 26, 2006
Craig Blomberg is a professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary and has authored other books on the Gospels including "The Historical Reliability of the Gospels" and "Preaching the Parables." This book, "Interpreting the Parables" is an attempt to a) first trace the history of parable interpretation through the centuries and b) then provide an analysis of several New Testament parables. The book closes with a chapter examining the theology of the parables. Like a sandwich, the meat of this book is in the middle; the best part (by far) is the parable analysis while the less appetizing parts are the interpretive history and the chapter on the parables' theology.
The first half of "Interpreting the Parables" examines how others have interpreted the parables; it examines the various competing hermeneutical approaches to these highly debated sections of Scripture. Beginning with the Church Fathers' allegorization attempts (where every little detail has some theological significance), Blomberg examines Form Criticism (which looks for oral sources behind the text as we have it), Redaction Criticism (which assumes that an editor wove together various independent works and seeks to determine how he did it), and other lesser, still-emerging hermeneutical methods. For each, Blomberg gives a brief history of the interpretive method and points out some of its strengths and weaknesses. This reader didn't find this first part of the book very helpful. While it does point out contribution each interpretive method has made to New Testament scholarship as well as fallacies associated with each method, these discussion did not increase my overall understanding of the parables. Nor did this section help my overall understanding of hermeneutics as Blomberg's treatment of each hermeneutical method focuses not on the method itself, but rather on the writings proponents of this method have produced and their take on the concept of allegory in parables. During this course of this part of the book, Blomberg comes to three conclusions: 1) each school of thought has made positive contributions toward the study of parables, but no school of thought is flawless, 2) a balance must be struck between allegorizing parables and refusing to see allegory where it clearly exists, and 3) parables often make multiple, inter-related points.
The second half of "Interpreting the Parables"--the actual analysis of the Gospels' various parables--makes this book worth purchasing and keeping on your bookshelf. Blomberg examines several parables (divided into clusters based on their structure) pointing out helpful aspects of Palestinian/Roman culture, discussing the narrative context in which the parable is told, and analyzing the various characters in each parable. During this analysis, he interacts with other scholars' take on the particular parable and defends the authenticity of each. The result is a thorough, helpful summary of the parables and their main teachings. While I did find myself in disagreement with Blomberg about some of the main points Jesus was trying to convey, I walk away from this point with a great deal of respect for his positions. He has greatly increased my understanding of the parables, challenged my assumptions, and has provided a great resource for preaching and teaching these beloved stories.
The book ends with a chapter on the theology of the parables. In this chapter, Blomberg tries to synthesize the parables and draw out Jesus' main teachings. Through this, Blomberg argues that Jesus believed in a pre-millenialist eschatology (although he wasn't a dispensationalist); that Jesus' inaugurated God's Kingdom on earth which is to be characterized by obedience in the areas of stewardship and social justice; and that Jesus believed he had a special relationship with God, but never spoke of the nature of that relationship. In this chapter, Blomberg's methodology is questionable as one must examine the whole of Scripture to come to doctrinal conclusions (Blomberg himself disagrees with this methodology in his treatment of the Rich Man and Lazarus), his conclusions themselves border the heterodox (e.g. his sharp distinction between the Father and the Son), and the nature of this chapter (the theology of the parables) and its conclusions should be presented in a much more complete and better developed manner than in a short chapter that sums up a book.
In sum, this book will remain on my bookshelf because of its excellent material in the middle. Its writing style is fluid, main points are italiziced (which is really nice) and each chapter is divided in a very reader-friendly manner. Recommended for its middle section.