Stories with Intent. A Comprehensive Guide to the Parables of Jesus

By Klyne Snodgrass
Grand Rapids : Eerdmans (2008). 845 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. James Rosscup
19.1 (Spring 2008) : 136-138

The writer supplies a “resource book” to help people, in many settings, be “fully informed” (xi). He orients preachers and teachers (3). A vast steeping in literature fuses help for parables from many ancient sources (37-59). Copious examples enrich comments as he averages about fifteen pages each on thirty-two parables (61-564). He devotes more space to some, such as thirty-three pages on the sower; on others he is brief, as in five and a half pages on the pearl.

Snodgrass is on the faculty of North Park Theological Seminary, and invested several years to think through and craft this prolific project.

Six pages of abbreviations at the outset show immersion in a wide variety of sources—commentaries, journals, church histories, early church writings, the Babylonian Talmud, archaeology, lexicons, translations, Dead Sea discoveries, the apocrypha and pseudepigrapha, Josephus, Jewish history, Bible versions, theologies, and theological dictionaries.

Here is much for meticulous interaction. The work ranks with and often has longer discussions than standout evangelical contributions by such as Arland J. Hultgren (still the most direct, useful all-around commentary in this reviewer’s opinion, called The Parables of Jesus, a Commentary [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000]), Stanley Ellisen’s masterful and articulate premillennial work, Parables in the Eye of the Storm (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2001), and Simon Kistemaker’s Reformed effort, The Parables of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1980). Until now the top general guide to the parables is Craig Blomberg’s An Introduction to the Parables of Jesus. These works leap to vital substance while Snodgrass does it by and by, and Hultgren is verse by verse. Yet the Snodgrass book does steep readers in more views on details, and has more critiques to sift opinions.

Snodgrass exalts Jesus as “the master creator of story” (1). The work is against manipulations that foist in esoteric, allegorical whims (2). Snodgrass’ zeal is to let users hear what Jesus really meant. This reviewer feels that in many cases he succeeds. Granted, one needs to wade through bogs of discussion, and not have issues pin-pointed as quickly as in other works mentioned earlier.

Snodgrass is usually clear, but some statements need reworking to remove obscurity. He sounds different notes on the time the nobleman’s return (Luke 19) represents for Jesus. He denies that in this case the kingdom is to come at the parousia (539; cf. 533), yet does an about-face to have it at the parousia (542). To his credit, he is firm against views that the kingdom came when Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, or in A. D. 70. In Matthew 13 he has wheat and tares focus on the presence of the kingdom; these actually appear to teach a present-age mingling of saved and unsaved but look on to a separation at the future coming of the kingdom. He sees the dragnet as dealing with future, end-time exclusion from the kingdom. It is a strain to see consistency amid the ponderous reasoning. Though he has the kingdom present in Jesus’ ministry (cf. 246, treasure and pearl), he often expects its fullness at the end of this age (514).

Wording in frequent places leaves one groping to decide the meaning (cf. 529, top two lines). The work at times bogs one in discussions that contribute light only now and then. But he is often helpful on customs and examples from relevant ancient literature that support the reasonableness of Jesus’ statements. He defends against claims that details in the parables are not sensible, and rejects views forced upon details. He is often clear that while the NT teaches salvation by grace and never works, it gives a serious and valid place to godly works as leading on to future blessing.

Eleven points on “Characteristics of Jesus’ Parables” (17-22) are provocative. So are his eleven guides for sensible interpretations and avoiding the foisting in of foreign notions (24-31).

Endnotes document a vast back-up of detail from incredibly ambitious research (579-770). The bibliography covers 771-815. One can lose much time seeking to turn from interpretive sections to later endnote sections to read a specific note. Hultgren, by contrast, efficiently has notes immediately on the same pages.

Occasionally one feels the writer himself gets things askew. He feels that the sower and soils deals with “sowing the true Israel in her own land” (156). The point really is about sowing the word of the kingdom (cf. Matt 13:19) in the soils of individual hearts that genuinely receive it (e.g., vv. 19, 23), in contrast to hearts that do not seriously receive it (19-22) and God’s success in His kingdom program.

Snodgrass is precise in sorting out views of the workers in the vineyard (Matt 20:1-16). He sees God’s goodness and the idea that the reward God gives people, by His judgment, is not based on strict human calculation and human standards of justice. The latter arises from envy as complainers fancy by their own speculations that they are justified to receive more reward. One can find this in Matt 20:10 where the first hired thought they would have more (376-77). On the unjust steward, the writer lists sixteen views. His own idea is that the steward cheats his master to set himself up with clients; he should be seen as unrighteous by his boss, the Gospel writer, and hearers. He does not think that the view that the steward shrewdly yet honestly cut away his own profit or interest to ease the clients’ payments will stand up to scrutiny. But some will not condone his dismissing o f this view; they will feel that his logic is arbitrary and reasonably answered. Granted, the matter is most difficult to interpret, and variant views persist. Snodgrass, as in many cases, insightfully handles most details of the parable.

For in-depth seminary and Bible college teaching, the work offers astute stimulation and perspective. For seriously diligent pastors as well, this is true, but one can debate if having the longer work is utilitarian or feasible for the budget. As stated earlier, such works as those by Hultgren, Ellisen, and Kistemaker press quite capably to main issues and make most things more readily available.