AskDefine | Define parable

Dictionary Definition



1 a short moral story (often with animal characters) [syn: fable, allegory, apologue]
2 (New Testament) any of the stories told by Jesus to convey his religious message; "the parable of the prodigal son"

User Contributed Dictionary



From Old French parabole < parabola < (parabolē)


  1. A short story illustrating a lesson; compare with fable, allegory.
  2. (New Testament) any of the stories told by Jesus to convey his religious message (Example: "The parable of the prodigal son").


short story illustrating a lesson
any of the stories told by Jesus to convey his religious message

Extensive Definition

A parable is a brief, succinct story, in prose or verse, that illustrates a moral or religious lesson. It differs from a fable in that fables use animals, plants, inanimate objects, and forces of nature as actors while parables generally are stories featuring human actors or agents.
Some scholars of the New Testament use the term "parable" only to refer to the parables of Jesus, although that is not a common restriction of the term. Parables such as "The Prodigal Son" are central to Jesus's teaching method, both in the canonical narratives and the apocrypha.


The word "parable" comes from the Greek "παραβολή" (parabolē), the name given by Greek rhetoricians to any fictive illustration in the form of a brief narrative. Later it came to mean a fictitious narrative, generally referring to something that might naturally occur, by which spiritual and moral matters might be conveyed.
A parable is one of the simplest of narratives. It sketches a setting, describes an action, and shows the results. It often involves a character facing a moral dilemma, or making a questionable decision and then suffering the consequences of that choice. As with a fable, a parable generally relates a single, simple, consistent action, without extraneous detail or distracting circumstances.
Many folktales could be viewed as extended parables, and many fairy tales, except for their magical settings. The prototypical parable differs from the apologue in that it is a realistic story that seems inherently probable and takes place in a familiar setting of life.
A parable is like a metaphor that has been extended to form a brief, coherent fiction. Christian parables have recently been studied as extended metaphors, for example by a writer who finds that "parables are stories about ordinary men and women who find in the midst of their everyday lives surprising things happening. Thay are not about 'giants of the faith' who have religious visions." Needless to say, "extended metaphor" alone is not in itself a sufficient description of parable; the characteristics of an "extended metaphor" are shared by the fable and are the essential core of allegory.
Unlike the situation with a simile, a parable's parallel meaning is unspoken and implicit, though not ordinarily secret.
The defining characteristic of the parable is the presence of a prescriptive subtext suggesting how a person should behave or believe. Aside from providing guidance and suggestions for proper action in life, parables frequently use metaphorical language which allows people to more easily discuss difficult or complex ideas. In Plato's Republic, parables like the "Parable of the Cave" (in which one's understanding of truth is presented as a story about being deceived by shadows on the wall of a cave) teach an abstract argument, using a concrete narrative which is more easily grasped.
Townsend may have been influenced by the contemporary expression, "to speak in parables", connoting obscurity. In common modern uses of "parable," though their significance is never explicitly stated, parables are not generally held to be hidden or secret but on the contrary are typically straightforward and obvious. It is the allegory that typically features hidden meanings. As H.W. Fowler puts it in Modern English Usage, the object of both parable and allegory "is to enlighten the hearer by submitting to him a case in which he has apparently no direct concern, and upon which therefore a disinterested judgment may be elicited from him." The parable, though, is more condensed than the allegory: a single principle comes to bear, and a single moral is deduced as it dawns on the reader or listener that the conclusion applies equally well to his own concerns. Jülicher held that these parables usually are intended to make a single important point, and most recent scholarship agrees.
Recently there has been interest in contemporary parable, exploring how modern stories can be used as parables. A mid-19th-century contemporary parable is the "Parable of the Broken Window," which exposes a fallacy in economic thinking.


parable in Bulgarian: Парабола (литература)
parable in Catalan: Paràbola (Al·legoria)
parable in Czech: Podobenství
parable in Danish: Parabel (lignelse)
parable in German: Parabel (Sprache)
parable in Modern Greek (1453-): Παραβολή (θεολογία)
parable in Spanish: Parábola (literatura)
parable in Esperanto: Parabolo (retoriko)
parable in French: Parabole (rhétorique)
parable in Italian: Parabola (letteratura)
parable in Hungarian: Példabeszéd
parable in Dutch: Parabel
parable in Norwegian: Parabel (lignelse)
parable in Polish: Przypowieść
parable in Portuguese: Parábola (figura de estilo)
parable in Russian: Притча
parable in Slovak: Podobenstvo
parable in Swedish: Parabel (liknelse)
parable in Tagalog: Parabula
parable in Thai: ตำนานแฝงคำสอน
parable in Chinese: 比喻

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Marchen, Western, Western story, Westerner, adventure story, allegory, apologue, bedtime story, comparison, detective story, fable, fabliau, fairy tale, fantasy, fiction, folk story, folktale, gest, ghost story, horse opera, legend, lesson, love story, mystery, mystery story, myth, mythology, mythos, nursery tale, romance, science fiction, shocker, similitude, space fiction, space opera, suspense story, thriller, whodunit, work of fiction
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