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Book Reviews / Horizons in Biblical Theology 32 (2010) 99-127


Stories with Intent: A Comprehensive Guide to the Parables of Jesus. By Klyne Snodgrass. Pp. xviii + 846. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008. $50.00. Klyne Snodgrass’s Stories with Intent: A Comprehensive Guide to the Parables of Jesus is just what the sub-title claims: a guide for pastors, teachers, and other interested readers needing some initiation into Jesus’ parables; and a comprehensive guide at that (a point which bears stating in case the 800-plus-page length is not indication enough). The discipline of gospels studies is of course a sub-specialty unto itself, a methodologically eclectic region within the larger realm of New Testament studies. And within gospels studies, to draw the lines even more tightly, is the distinctive quarter of parable scholarship, with its own questions and concerns. For those navigating the winding and variegated streets of this quarter for this first time (or the first time since seminary), Stories of Intent presents itself as a kind of tour guide, presenting the range of options but also, at the end of the day, willing to propose an interpretive place for the weary teacher to lay his or her head. Snodgrass begins by way of introducing a parable, is “in its broadest sense . . . an expanded analogy,” which is “used to explain or convince” (p. 2, emphases here and throughout are original). Against interpretations of Jesus’ parables which have forced them “to serve various purposes—for ancient theological purposes to modern ideological ones and pastoral ones,” our author hopes to get after “the intent of the teller—Jesus himself— with all the power and creativity of his teaching” (pp. 2-3). What matters above all is what the good teacher meant by his parables; more precisely, how “did Jesus seek to change attitudes and behaviors with this [or that] parable” (p. 3). Thus, interpretive pride of place goes to the Sitz im Leben Jesu, less so to the Sitz im Leben Evangelium, and within the postNew Hermeneutic and post-post-structuralist discussion, the author’s sympathies align with an author-centered hermeneutic. Jesus’ parables are not simply propositions tailored ex eventu to the church’s situation, but historically retrievable speech acts, whose historical specificity is no bar to present-day application. The Introduction proceeds by taking up a brief history of parable interpretation (pp. 4-7), further definitional questions (pp. 7-9), strategies for classification (pp. 9-13), reflections on allegorization (pp. 15-17), a cataloguing of parable characteristics (pp. 17-22), and some analysis of the distribution of the parables within the gospels (pp. 22-24). Right up front certain important markers are set down. The author invokes Kierkegaard’s observation on the indirect quality of parables and writes: “most of Jesus’ parables are double indirect communication” in that “they do not speak of the hearer/reader or the subject at hand” (p. 11). This insight in turn serves as a partial basis for Snodgrass’s classification system. Distinguishing himself somewhat from those reiterating the old form-critical taxonomies, the author suggests five broad categories: aphoristic sayings, similitudes, interrogative parables, narrative parables, and “How much more parables”. Precisely because the parables are considered as speech acts, the basis for this characterization is primarily one of function rather than form. Next comes some discussion regarding how parables should be interpreted (pp. 24-31). This largely consists of eleven principles, all of which are consistent with the argument thus far. Particularly helpful in this section is the following point: “The key is knowing when to stop interpreting. As with metaphor, parable interpretation is about understanding the
© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2010 DOI: 10.1163/187122010X496522

Space is then devoted to “Textual Features Worthy of Attention” and “Cultural Background. Then follows “Helpful Primary Source Material. too. “Explanation of the . In the next chapter.124 Book Reviews / Horizons in Biblical Theology 32 (2010) 99-127 limits—and the significance—of the analogy” (p. Parables of Lostness. the author is relatively sanguine about the possibility of recovering the parables as Jesus’ parables. Parables concerning God and Prayer. minimal weight is placed on redactional seams (introductions. the Parable of the Sower. 31).” The core of each chapter comes under the heading. Along these lines it is no surprise that the gospels are not seen as having been primarily written for a particular community. parables are indeed “the surest bedrock we have of Jesus’ teaching. 33). early Jewish writings (intertestamental period). 51). the early church. That is. 54). First. Likewise. conclusions. even if it is uncertain that “rabbinic examples may reach back into the first century” (p. Greco-Roman writings. 33). 28). The author’s judgment is balanced and appropriately reserved. which are presumed to echo Jesus’ voice and show only minor overlay either from oral (form-critical) or editorial (redactional) reworking. 59).” where anywhere between four and a dozen important exegetical or homiletical questions are flagged up. we are bound to either over-interpretation or under-interpretation. “the similarity of the rabbinic parables to sayings of Jesus precludes any idea of ignoring this material” (p. While I personally have no scruple with the content of this prolegomena. Parables of the Present Kingdom. Snodgrass dedicates the next five hundred pages to an analysis of the parables themselves. including the Old Testament. Moreover. The act of interpretation is prudential and “will have to be determined from the whole of the parable and the whole of Jesus’ teaching” (p. in their metaphorical capacity.” and for this reason “regularly have interpretations” (p. if we lose sight of the fact that parables are extended metaphors. Parables about Discipleship. Having carefully laid the initial groundwork. Parables of Future Eschatology. He identifies 32 parables and divides them along the following thematic categories: Parables of Grace and Responsibility. entitled “Parables in the Ancient World. and finally. here. Parables Specifically about Israel. He writes.” including more relevant background materials. they were written “to convey material about the teaching and life of Jesus in order to create followers of Jesus” (p.” they “fit Jesus’ prophetic stance” (p. The structure of each chapter is roughly the same. there is caution in the application of form and redaction-critical methodologies (pp. Here one finds no radical paring down of the parables so characteristic of form-critical studies. Meanwhile. parables can neither be reduced to simple propositions nor be subject to a facile formula for attaining their meaning. and later Jewish writings (rabbinica). there is identification of parable type (see the discussion in the introductory matter). compared to the broad stream of historical Jesus scholarship. Parables about Money. The point of these comparisons is to show that parables are “contextspecific. Interpretation is demanded by the historical context.” the reader is treated to possible backgrounds to Jesus’ parables. In other words. Next one finds “Issues Requiring Attention. perhaps one of its more controversial aspects—and it is hard not to be controversial on these questions—will have to do with the author’s assuming the relative transparency of the historical Jesus traditions. he is willing to grant that these teachings “would not have seemed strange to Gentiles” (p. and interpretive elements) (p. 59). 31-33). 31). Not wishing to link Jesus’ parables directly with the philosophical schools.

In the section entitled “Textual Features Worth Noting. “make up this Gospel’s basic narrative christology and summarize Mark’s primary message” (p. 154). More than that. He follows Tolbert (among others) in suggesting that the parable has a unique interpretive status among parables. the parable’s themes are mirrored in the gospels (p. Greco-Romans writings. 155). 152-54). The next several pages contain bullet points of parallel canonical material. In all three gospels. After identifying the “parable type” (p. 146). 150-51). though to varying degrees. for better or worse. 156). a short one. and a bibliography for further reading. Obviously. Thus this parable and the Parable of the Wicked Tenants. The discussion . at least in the second gospel. the reader is left to decide. the prose conveys—especially in his section “Adapting the Parable”—a sense of vitality and dynamism. In other words. he writes with a quality that makes the parables live. Following “Cultural Information. Acknowledging the different editorial tendencies of each of the evangelists. How the meaning of Mark’s Parable of the Sower lines up with the meaning of Jesus’ parable in the original setting remains less clear. 147-49). the author goes on to entertain interpretive options. Then. are all useful. While the section entitled “Helpful Primary Source Material” is interesting in its own way and perhaps even necessary for the sake of comprehensiveness. These various components.” which canvases the major interpretive options and then begins to settle up on some of the exegetical questions raised earlier in the section. they flag up the most pressing issues confronting any interpretation of the text. though of course not comprehensive. There are eight. early Christian writings. relevant early Jewish writings. and later Jewish writings (pp. Whereas so much writing on parables can be inaccessible and sterile. the relevance of these parallels is not entirely clear. most of which potentially overlap (p. shared by the discussion of each parable. reflects a mind that has grappled with the text on a deep level. some parallels are more helpful than others. I find Snodgrass’s discussion to be consistently judicious. and is usually not made any clearer by the ensuing discussion. 151). Here we find such diverse exegetical questions as: “What is the significance of the structure of the parable?” or “How are the difficult words of Mark 4:10-12 to be understood?” or “Why would anyone sow see this way?” The choice of questions. the author goes on to delineate seven points requiring attention. and illuminating.” which takes up the discussion of the realistic versus non-realistic fruitfulness of the harvest (p. Since in a book this size it would be impossible to treat the author’s discussion of all the parables.” Mark 4:10-12 rightly takes center stage. thorough. 154). most readers will be at a loss as to how the isolated parallels are to be related to Jesus’ parables. present-day implications (“Adapting the Parable”). Each section closes with at least a few paragraphs dealing with the practical. including the Gospel of Thomas (pp. the author pays close attention to verbal differences within the triple tradition (pp. Here it is reported that on the basis of these differences and similarities scholars like Luz and Nolland have offered their own judgment on the relevance of the Parable of the Sower to synoptic relationships (both scholars suppose that the later gospels had access to a version of Mark beside Mark): “Such theories ought to make us much more cautious about explaining Synoptic tradition” (p. I turn by way of example to his discussion of what is often considered the quintessential parable: the Parable of the Sower.Book Reviews / Horizons in Biblical Theology 32 (2010) 99-127 125 Parable. Snodgrass takes up the issue of differences between the gospel accounts. in the following section. This minor criticism aside.

Snodgrass’s chapter ends on a salutary note: The parable is about hearing that leads to productive living. they too often settle for being bramble bushes (p. was “a meditation about the various hearers of Jesus’ proclamation” (p. Snodgrass’s book does more than convey the exegetical harvest of a scholar’s minds. If I have any lingering questions in regards to the book as a whole. . and lay-persons alike will profit having it handy in their . perhaps the author could have done a little more by way tipping his hat in this direction. this parable. their purpose is to enlighten. As is clear enough from this quotation. these pertain to issues of method.126 Book Reviews / Horizons in Biblical Theology 32 (2010) 99-127 tails back to the questions raised earlier and the handling of the issues is commendable. People think they can look like giant oaks without putting down deep roots. as it is for all parables. Citing Luz approvingly. but even when enigmatic. All the same. The sub-text of Isaiah 6 is crucial. So. 163-64). the question then remains whether it is possible to do the parable full justice apart from its context within that narrative. Jesus’ focus in presenting it (whose original sense and structure is roughly similar to that which we find in the gospels) is on its revelatory status as well as the dynamics of hearing (p. it brings in the homiletical fruits of a pastor’s heart. again like others. . it is a difficult thing for an author and publisher to add the same “more” to a book already exceeding eight hundred pages. While the author’s central interest in the parables as spoken by Jesus can hardly be criticized and is indeed a breath of fresh air in a long-running conversation which has effectively skirted the Leben Jesu altogether. The very uncertainty of their reference is part of their appeal and often the means of their effectiveness. pastors. I realize this a lot to ask: it is an easy thing for a reviewer to ask for “more”. Snodgrass agrees that this parable. Put otherwise. the discussion is thorough without being overly technical. but they are not meant to obfuscate. 164). one wonders whether more could be done towards appreciating the parables from a narrative critical point of view. While I am certain that Snodgrass himself would be the first to admit that there is much more that could be said about the parables’ meaning as narratologically embedded texts. like many others. Stories with Intent will serve for years to come as a staple reference work on the parables. and adapting the parable will mean enabling people to move past merely hearing words—even with joy—to teaching that captures the whole person. for that passage too is meant to goad God’s people into obedience. 176). Suitably engaging important scholarly interlocutors. When they realize how much effort it takes to put down deep roots. Scholars. Jesus’ parables reveal the kingdom of God and give handles for grasping it (pp. 176). is in listening. . I raise the point not so much as a criticism but as a reminder. The key here. 176). Particularly relevant in this section (a propos Mark 4:10-12) is a statement on the author’s part as to how parables functioned: Parables are not always obvious and self-explanatory. “emphasizes both receptivity and bearing fruit” (p. If we agree—I for one do—with Snodgrass and Tolbert that the Parable of the Sower provides a kind of interpretive key for Mark’s narrative.

Nicholas Perrin Wheaton College . (There is certainly no up-to-date work that is more comprehensive. I am pressed to think of anything better on the market.) Indeed. In fact.Book Reviews / Horizons in Biblical Theology 32 (2010) 99-127 127 libraries. I might even go so far to say that Snodgrass’s opus is more than a tour guide of parables and parable scholarship—it is a tour de force. for as a guided tour to the parables. it serves admirably.

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