Mark 4:11-12, Luke 8:10 & Matt. 13:11-15 says that Christ spoke in parables so that the multitude in 'seeing they would not see' and 'hearing they would not hear', etc.

ESV (Mark 4:11-12) 11And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, 12 so that “they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.”

(Luke 8:10) he said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’

(Matt. 13:11-15) 11And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12 For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 13This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. 14Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says: “‘“You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive.” 15For this people's heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.’

What does this mean? Why do people say Christ used parables to help the people understand clearly, when these passages seem to say he did not want them to understand clearly? Are the parables meant to be concealing yet revealing the truth completely at the same time?

  • 1
    In its current form, I disagree with the close votes for this question as "too broad" - which is that there are too many possible answers or answers inevitably too long for this format. The question is pretty straightforward - based on the verses we have available, to what extent are parables about hiding and to what extent are they about revealing? Will clean up the grammar to help those struggling to understand.
    – Steve can help
    Commented Nov 7, 2016 at 8:22

5 Answers 5


1. Question Restatement:

NASB, Matt. 13:10 - And the disciples came and said to Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?”

2. Quick Answer

Jesus directly answers this question in the same exact context :

NASB, Matt. 13:11 - Jesus answered them, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted. ... because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. 14 In their case the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled, which says ... [quote from Isaiah 6:8-10].

The context of this is as a judgment rendered against Israel :

Isaiah 6:10 - Otherwise they might see with their eyes, Hear with their ears, Understand with their hearts, And return and be healed.

3. Parables Were Crafted To Be Understood - by those Who Trust in the Mercy and Kindness of God :

Scripture indicates that God had clearly revealed the truth - before, and did want the truth to be known:

NASB, Psalm 78:2 - I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings of old, (3) Which we have heard and known, And our fathers have told us.

NASB, Psalm 78:7 - That they should put their confidence in God And not forget the works of God, But keep His commandments, 8 And not be like their fathers...

But - the truth was hidden from those who would not trust in the love of God:

NASB, Psalm 78:22 Because they did not believe in God And did not trust in His salvation.

In Ezekiel - a similar judgment is given - that their laws would be distorted:

NASB, Eze. 20:22 - But I withdrew My hand and acted for the sake of My name, [so] that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations in whose sight I had brought them out. 23 Also I swore to them in the wilderness that I would scatter them among the nations and disperse them among the lands,

24 because they had not observed My ordinances, but had rejected My statutes and had profaned My sabbaths, and their eyes were on the idols of their fathers.

25 I also gave them statutes that were not good and ordinances by which they could not live;

  • Your whole thesis is very far from hermeneutics; and cross-referencing interpretation and exposition is very unproductive. You need to exegete and be close to the original passage.
    – Michael16
    Commented Nov 7, 2016 at 8:32
  • @Michael16 - A.) Thanks for the helpful comment. B.) My argument is simply, "the very same passage answers that question - explicitly." C.) But - I moved that verse to the top, and removed a lot of my notes from the bottom. Commented Nov 8, 2016 at 23:55

"Why people say Christ used parables to help people understand clearly, when those passages seem to say He did not want them to understand clearly?"

In fact, people say wrongly, without grasping meaning of the text and that's why.

Jesus specially shrouds the truth of His salvational message in curtains of metaphors and parables for the people so that they may not immediately understand and get pained by the brilliance of the message, without being prepared for it. But if you have to remove gradually those curtains in order to approach the truth, by this act of removing you are gaining muscles of contemplation and spiritual vision, so that eventually, when you will see the truth, it will not pain or blind you, but you will sweetly embrace it, with your prepared spiritual musculature. The disciples, being already prepared, did not need it, so to them Jesus could speak directly, but He spared simple people giving them riddles as prepaedeutics for grasping truth, for He is not an oppressor and does want, unlike the pharisees, to overburden His followers (Matt 23:4), but to give them "sweet yoke and light burden" (Matt 11:30).

To give an example (inspired by Robert Burns): if you want to teach, say, Indian cast-system adherent that cast-system is idiocy, you do not say to him/her plainly: "cast-system is idiocy and cruel injustice in the eye of God!" - for you will be killed on the spot and not only not help your listeners, but even harm them. But if you tell them a parable: "There were two golden coins, one stamped with an image of a brahmin, another with an image of a representative of a lower cast, those two coins were of different value in India, but when taken elsewhere in the world, their price was equal for their weigh was the same, only the stamp was different, but gold as gold was the only thing really regarded by every merchant of the world". This parable is also quite risky, but still it does not immediately strike, but provides a room for thinking, for uncovering a riddle, and this room is important for coming to truth by the logical process which this parable rises in one's soul. This logical process will lead some guys to make a salutary conclusion a la Burns that "The rank is but the guinea's stamp, The Man's the gowd for a' that".

This has everything to do with the 2 Cor. 3:8 distinction between the "ministry of letter" and "ministry of Spirit": in the "ministry of letter", you can just obey the outward reality of a precept without understanding its essence: "You shall not kill", you do not kill anybody, and this is regarded as a fulfillment of commandment. But Jesus brings deeper truths through the same precepts, for "you shall not kill" means already that if you hate somebody, you are already a violator of this precept (Matt 5:21-22); thus you have to grasp through Spirit, and this is always with the Spirit stirring one's full intellectual-psychic-dialectical capacities to crack the inner sense of any precept. The parables are thus inviting Holy Spirit's action in hearts of the listeners, and Holy Spirit nurtures gradually their perceptive and understanding capacities to see the essence of any precept.


Most people completely miss the purpose of Jesus' mission in 30AD. He did not come to begin the "Church" but rather to be call the Jewish people to prepare for the kingdom, gather the lost sheep of Israel, ratify the new covenant in his death, taste suffering, and be rejected by the Jewish leadership. That was his purpose. He did not come to be understood. It was predicted in prophecy and he said so much repeatedly during his ministry:

Mat 13:13  Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.  Mat 13:14  And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive:  Mat 13:15  For this people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.

However, this was only half the of the mystery. The other half was revealed through Paul:

Rom 11:25  For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.

However, God was also acting redemptively toward the Jews as well because after the fullness of the gentiles has been gathered in Israel's blindness will be lifted:

Luk_1:16  And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God.

2Co_3:16  Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord, the vail shall be taken away.

Rom 11:23  And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be graffed in: for God is able to graff them in again.  Rom 11:24  For if thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert graffed contrary to nature into a good olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be graffed into their own olive tree?  Rom 11:25  For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.  Rom 11:26  And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob:  Rom 11:27  For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins.  Rom 11:28  As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers' sakes.  Rom 11:29  For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.  Rom 11:30  For as ye in times past have not believed God, yet have now obtained mercy through their unbelief:  Rom 11:31  Even so have these also now not believed, that through your mercy they also may obtain mercy.  Rom 11:32  For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all.  Rom 11:33  O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!  Rom 11:34  For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor?  Rom 11:35  Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again?  Rom 11:36  For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.

Paul exclaims "how unsearchable are his judgments" in 11:33. This tells us that even when God brings judgment he may bring about grace:

Hab 3:2  O LORD, I have heard thy speech, and was afraid: O LORD, revive thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known; in wrath remember mercy.  Hab 3:3  God came from Teman, and the Holy One from mount Paran. Selah. His glory covered the heavens, and the earth was full of his praise.  Hab 3:4  And his brightness was as the light; he had horns coming out of his hand: and there was the hiding of his power.  Hab 3:5  Before him went the pestilence, and burning coals went forth at his feet.  Hab 3:6  He stood, and measured the earth: he beheld, and drove asunder the nations; and the everlasting mountains were scattered, the perpetual hills did bow: his ways are everlasting.  Hab 3:7  I saw the tents of Cushan in affliction: and the curtains of the land of Midian did tremble.  Hab 3:8  Was the LORD displeased against the rivers? was thine anger against the rivers? was thy wrath against the sea, that thou didst ride upon thine horses and thy chariots of salvation?  Hab 3:9  Thy bow was made quite naked, according to the oaths of the tribes, even thy word. Selah. Thou didst cleave the earth with rivers.  Hab 3:10  The mountains saw thee, and they trembled: the overflowing of the water passed by: the deep uttered his voice, and lifted up his hands on high.  Hab 3:11  The sun and moon stood still in their habitation: at the light of thine arrows they went, and at the shining of thy glittering spear.  Hab 3:12  Thou didst march through the land in indignation, thou didst thresh the heathen in anger.  Hab 3:13  Thou wentest forth for the salvation of thy people, even for salvation with thine anointed; thou woundedst the head out of the house of the wicked, by discovering the foundation unto the neck. Selah.  Hab 3:14  Thou didst strike through with his staves the head of his villages: they came out as a whirlwind to scatter me: their rejoicing was as to devour the poor secretly.  Hab 3:15  Thou didst walk through the sea with thine horses, through the heap of great waters.  Hab 3:16  When I heard, my belly trembled; my lips quivered at the voice: rottenness entered into my bones, and I trembled in myself, that I might rest in the day of trouble: when he cometh up unto the people, he will invade them with his troops.  Hab 3:17  Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls:  Hab 3:18  Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation.  Hab 3:19  The LORD God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds' feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places. To the chief singer on my stringed instruments.

KJV unless otherwise noted


Jesus did not speak in parables when he delivered his sermon on the Mount. He spoke plainly when he expounded on the beatitudes. After that, he started to speak in parables until six days before his crucifixion. He realised that many among his listeners did not have spiritual eyes to see and spiritual ears to hear, nor did they have a heart to perceive the Kingdom of Heaven. They were not born-again of the spirit.

By speaking in parables Jesus can make the difference between the righteous and the wicked. The righteous understands the hidden mysteries, the wicked is blind to the secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven.

In Hebrew, the word parable is marshal and it means to rule or to have dominion. It is very dangerous to plainly give the keys of the kingdom of heaven to wicked people. They can destroy themselves and others when they distort or twist those keys. It means that Christians who understand the parabolic language of God will rule and reign with Christ. This is the main reason Jesus had to speak in parables.

Strong's Concordance mashal: to rule, have dominion, reign Original Word: מָשַׁל Transliteration: mashal Short Definition: rule

NAS Exhaustive Concordance Definition to rule, have dominion, reign NASB Translation dominion (1), gain control (1), govern (1), had charge (1), have authority (1), master (1), obtain dominion (1), really going to rule (1), rule (27), ruled (5), ruler (18), ruler's (2), rulers (6), rules (9), ruling (3), wielded (1).   Brown-Driver-Briggs III. מָשַׁל verb rule, have dominion, reign

Blue Letter Bible - MYSTERY: Strong's G3466 - mystērion - μυστήριον

Outline of Biblical Usage 1. hidden thing, secret, mystery 1. generally mysteries, religious secrets, confided only to the initiated and not to ordinary mortals
 2. a hidden or secret thing, not obvious to the understanding
 3. a hidden purpose or counsel 1. secret will 1. of men
 2. of God: the secret counsels which govern God in dealing with the righteous, which are hidden from ungodly and wicked men but plain to the godly
 2. in rabbinic writings, it denotes the mystic or hidden sense 1. of an OT saying
 2. of an image or form seen in a vision
 3. of a dream


Just listened to a talk "The Purpose for Parables" by John MacArthur ("Grace To You" ministry), and was reminded of this thread. The talk was interesting in that it pointed out things I'd never considered before.

Transcript of the talk: https://www.gty.org/library/sermons-library/90-464/the-purpose-for-parables


Listen, when you hear somebody say, “We need to speak in parables to make things clear to unbelievers,” that is the opposite that Jesus intended when He gave the parables. They were designed to hide the truth.

Now, Isaiah knows that judgment is coming. He has a vision of God. He feels inadequate. He says, “I’m a man of unclean lips. I dwell amidst people of unclean lips.” An angel takes a tong in his vision and cleanses his tongue and he’s purified. The Lord says, “Who will go? Whom shall I send?” He says, “Here am I. Send me.” The Lord says, “Okay, you’re the man. You go and you preach judgment. Go preach judgment. Go preach judgment.” Then God says this to him; it’s quoted here. “Tell the people this, ‘You will keep on hearing, but you will not understand; keep on seeing, but you will not perceive; the heart of this people has become dull. Their ears will scarcely hear. Their eyes, they’ve closed. Otherwise, they would see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their heart, and return and I would heal them.’” Go tell the people this. Go tell the people judgment is coming, judgment is coming. Listen, they will not understand. They will not understand. So Isaiah says, “Lord, how long do I do that?” I mean what kind of a calling is that? I’m going to talk to people who won’t understand and won’t respond? How long do I do that?” Until there’s nobody left to do it. Keep doing it. “Why Lord? Why Lord?” Final verse of Isaiah 6, “There’s a seed. There’s a holy seed. There’s a remnant. There’s a stump. There’s a tenth.”

So this is exact application of this in the first century. Jesus is saying, “I am now speaking in terms that they cannot understand.” By the way, He extended that on the Day of Pentecost. First, He spoke in stories they couldn’t understand, and then He spoke in a language they couldn’t understand. This is a judgment. This is a judgment.

Oh. He explained it. He explained it. Apart from such an explanation, they wouldn’t have had any idea what it meant either. Parables do illustrate spiritual truth when they are explained by the giver of the parable. But in a sense, they have a primary role of judgment, a primary role of judgment. So for unbelievers, they are not clear. They are not clear. They hide truth in riddles. This is a judgment on final unbelief. This is why Jesus taught in parables. Judgment on those who rejected His clear teaching.

Now, let me add a note. Parables were also mercy. There’s a mercy element in this judgment because if He keeps speaking to the crowds in clear, unmistakable terms and keeps explaining Scripture and proclaiming objective doctrinal truth, their culpability increases. He addressed that. He addressed that. You will remember these words.

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