(Gr. parabole), a placing beside; a comparison; equivalent to the Hebrews mashal, a similitude. In the Old Testament this is used to denote (1) a proverb (1 Samuel 10:12; 24:13; 2 Chronicles 7:20), (2) a prophetic utterance (Numbers 23:7; Ezek. 20:49), (3) an enigmatic saying (Psalm 78:2; Proverbs 1:6). In the New Testament, (1) a proverb (Mark 7:17; Luke 4:23), (2) a typical emblem (Hebrews 9:9; 11:19), (3) a similitude or allegory (Matthew 15:15; 24:32; Mark 3:23; Luke 5:36; 14:7); (4) ordinarily, in a more restricted sense, a comparison of earthly with heavenly things, "an earthly story with a heavenly meaning," as in the parables of our Lord.
Instruction by parables has been in use from the earliest times. A large portion of our Lord's public teaching consisted of parables. He himself explains his reasons for this in his answer to the inquiry of the disciples, "Why speakest thou to them in parables?" (Matthew 13:13-15; Mark 4:11, 12; Luke 8:9, 10). He followed in so doing the rule of the divine procedures, as recorded in Matthew 13:13.
The parables uttered by our Lord are all recorded in the synoptical (i.e., the first three) Gospels. The fourth Gospel contains no parable properly so called, although the illustration of the good shepherd (John 10:1-16) has all the essential features of a parable. (See List of Parables in Appendix.)