The Power of Parable

Submitted by Peter on

cover picture

Crossan explores this manner of teaching in his provocatively-titled The Power of Parable: How Fiction By Jesus Became Fiction About Jesus. To better understand Jesus’s parabolic teaching style, Crossan describes a three-fold typology of parable: “riddle parables,” like the puzzles Samson tried to use to trick his new in-laws (Judges 14), “example parables,” like the story the prophet Nathan tells to David about the rich man and poor man’s lambs (2 Sam. 12:1-4), and finally, “challenge parables,” like Jesus’s Good Samaritan story, which presented a despised person as the protagonist—a strange reversal of social expectations (Luke 10). Crossan notes that the Good Samaritan has also been interpreted as an example parable (helping people out is good), but he believes the specific inclusion of the Samaritan as the rescuer signals Jesus’s deeper intent. Down the centuries a good deal of interpretation and assumptions have encrusted over Jesus’s parables, so Crossan spends a little time exploring the cultural context in which they were orally shared. It was a context in which a listening audience would recognize Jesus’s familiar parable form, but be startled by Jesus’s actual content. Challenge parables were a “participatory pedagogy” Crossan argues (95). Audiences would be forced to grapple themselves with the message, to question, to doubt. Jesus was intent on overturning long-entrenched views without use of violence and with the participation of disciples, thus making parables the ideal medium.

From a review on


1 – In addition to “the sun rises”, what statement has changed from reality to metaphor as society has progressed?
2 – What new thought(s) did you have about our well worn Good Samaritan parable as a result of this book?
3 – Now that we have moved from an oral society to a written society, how has the whole parable operation changed? What are the results of this change?
4 – Even the Hebrew Bible says “an eye for an eye...” so what is it about humanity that escalates from challenge → violence or violence to more violence?
5 – How do you reconcile what Adam Hamilton / Burke Owens says about the New Testament with Crossan's “factual characters in fictional stories”?
6 – If Jesus was both accepted and negated, what causes a normal person to choose one or the other?
7 – Why is it so hard to “take up your cross and follow me”? How has the church helped or hindered?

Chapter 9
1 – Have you ever seen a scroll (or a good picture of one) ? Do you understand the mechanics of making one?
2 – What do you think about dating Acts at 115 CE?
3 – Does the anti Jewish rhetoric in Luke-Acts read better if they are written later?
4 – If Jesus is anti-empire, how can Luke be pro-empire?
5 – What do you think happened at Pentecost (or was it just a made up story)?
Chapter 10
6 – To what would you attribute the escalation Crossan sites in each “Gospel according to...”?
7 – What are the ramifications of “and the Word was God”?
8 – Why do you think John is all about who Jesus is rather than (in the Synoptics) about what Jesus does?
9 – In the Synoptics, Jesus talks about the Kingdom of God, but in John Jesus talks about my kingdom. What happened?
10 – Are followers of Jesus always crucified?

Chapter 7
1 – What difference does it make to you to see Four Gospels or four of the Gospel according to …?
2 – How do you see the difference between “on the way” and “on the Way”?
3 – What are the characteristics of servant-style leadership?
4 – How are the leaders at Napa FUMC doing with servant leadership?
5 – How is it that questions challenge but statements attack?
Chapter 8
6 – When and how did new get to be better than old?
7 – What do you think is implied by “shake the dust off your feet”?
8 – Why do you think Matthew is more violent than Mark?
9 – What is one result of having Matthew as the first gospel in the canon?

Chapter 6
1 – What is your favorite and most interesting paradigm shift?
2 – What is the significance of changing from “wild beasts” to “one like a son of man” in Daniel 7?
3 – What does “the Great Divine Cleanup of the World” include for you?
4 – Comment on one (or more) of the comparisons – present : imminent, collaborative : interventionist, nonviolent : violent.
5 – Was Jesus Daniel's Son of Man?
6 – What have you concluded about Jesus and weapons?
7 – What paradigm shift(s) do you see happening between generations now?
8 – That Matt. 10:35-36 is between generations is extremely important, and most don't recognize it. (not a question)
9 – Do you ever hear anything like a challenge parable from the pulpit?
10 – How close are we to the end of combined republic – empire – democracy? Yes, in years.

Chapter 4
1 – How do you understand the difference between “biblical words” and “biblical word”?
2 – What (do you think) makes a successful challenge to a biblical decree?
3 – How much of prophecy do you see as prediction and how much as history written as if from an earlier time?
4 – What (and when) happened to: Obey the lord and prosper, disobey and suffer?
5 – Why doesn't God tell Job the truth?
Chapter 5
6 – Comment on reversal of fortune.
7 – (pg 98) “The intention & purpose of the .. parable...” How does Crossan differ from Luke in explaining a parable (if he does)?
8 – Who do you think (now and earlier) is the hero in the Master's Money parable?
9 – Describe the last incident that raised your consciousness. Was it parable material?
10 – Before reading the next chapter, would you like to try your hand at the final few questions Crossan asks?

Chapter 2
1 – In most other books, the example parables would be from Jesus. Why not here?
2 – Did you find the parable of the Trees “very easy to understand”? How about David/Uriah/Bathsheba? Why?
3 – What is the (parabolic) point of books like Tobit, Judith, & Esther in which “they all lived happily ever after”?
4 – Explain the difference in Luke vs. Matthew of the parable of the Lost Sheep. How about the Thomas version?
Chapter 3
5 – Give an example of “If tradition is changed, it may be destroyed. If tradition is not changed, it will be destroyed”.
6 – Allegorize another (shorter, simpler) parable. Which category does your allegory fall into?
7 – Do you really appreciate Crossan's detailed analysis, or does it just make your head hurt?
8 – What idea most impressed you in these two chapters?

1 – What do you know (if anything) about parables about Jesus? Have you ever heard of any such thing?
2 – Compare our church communion with book study cookies.
Chapter 1:
3 – When do you find yourself “look(ing) but not perceiv(ing)”?
4 - “Parables intend to reject those who have already rejected Jesus.” Comment.
5 – What do you think was the (main) purpose of Jesus' parables?