Interpreting the Parables: A Hermeneutical Guide to Their Meaning

By Kelhoffer, James A.; Parks, J. Robert | Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, June 1998 | Go to article overview

Interpreting the Parables: A Hermeneutical Guide to Their Meaning


Kelhoffer, James A., Parks, J. Robert, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society


Interpreting the Parables: A Hermeneutical Guide to Their Meaning. By John W. Sider. Studies in Contemporary Interpretation. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995, 283 pp., $14.99 paper.

Sider, professor of English at Westmont College, divides his book into three parts. The first examines the concept of "analogy (the two things parables compare)" (p. 10); the second explores literary features within parables (diction, rhetorical structures, irony, plot, character, speeches, setting, point of view and tone); and the third addresses the cultural milieu and literary genre of the parables. Parts 2 and 3 aim at determining "the limits of allegorical symbolism" (contra Julicher's denial of the same; cf. pp. 247-250) via an examination of internal and external features respectively (p. 89).

Sider addresses two very different audiences in his endeavor to approach Biblical studies and literary analysis from an interdisciplinary perspective. He takes an important initial step toward understanding the parables as literature and shows that there is more to be done in this area. Noting how limited Biblical scholars can be at evaluating critical literary theories, he calls attention to the need for interdisciplinary studies like his (p. 16). A citation of C. S. Lewis (apparently reacting to Bultmann) takes the British scholar out of context to strain this point (p. 211). The author is content not to address many historical-critical issues and focuses instead on "a sufficiently thorough literary analysis" of the parables (p. 25).

With Interpreting the Parables, Sider purposes to offer "a hermeneutical guide to the parables for college and seminary students" and also to challenge "conventional wisdom about the parables" by employing "methods more familiar in English literature classes than in courses on biblical hermeneutics" (p. 10). Without this statement one would think that Sider writes for more introductory students: He assumes little or no knowledge of literary theory in part 2 and does not really challenge or advance "conventional wisdom about the parables." He at least begins with his purpose: The introduction, with the dropping of names like Frye and Derrida (pp. 15-16), seems to be aimed at professors rather than the students who might profit from the remainder of the book. …

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