Analogies of Jesus

A parable is a type of analogy. Consequently, most of the recorded words of Christ are teachings by means of analogy. Many of the parables take the form of short stories, such as the story of the Prodigal Son, the Unforgiving Servant, or the Workers in the Vineyard. Some of the analogies used by Jesus, however, are not in story form, but simply use comparison (ordered-pairs and illustrative parallels) to illuminate or emphasize the point. Several of these appear in the Sermon on the Mount, from Matthew 5-7.

Ordered-Pair Analogies

Ordered-pair analogies, which take the form A is to B as C is to D, or simply A : B :: C : D, often appear in standardized tests.  But as we saw in my earlier post, Analogy in Proverbs, they often appear in the Bible as well in slightly more ordinary language. Here are two examples from the Sermon on the Mount.

“He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matt. 5:45)

We can simplify this analogy in standard form: ‘making the sun rise’ is to ‘sending rain’ as ‘evil and good’ is to ‘just and unjust.’ The first pair are similar, the second synonymous.

“But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two.” (Mat. 5:39-41)

These three ordered pairs are applications of the general principle, “Do not resist an evil person. If he forces you to do something painful but otherwise not sinful, do even more.” This is such a familiar analogy that the phrase go the second mile has become a cliché.

Synonymous Pairs

Some ordered-pair analogies use terms that are basically synonyms. Here Jesus uses synonymous repetition to emphasize His point:

“But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matt. 5:44)

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” (Matt. 7:7)

Antithetical Pairs

Other ordered pairs set up an antithesis using antonyms, as in these examples from the Sermon:

“Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 5:19)

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matt. 7:13-14)

Illustrative parallels

Jesus also persuades by means of illustrative parallels, which were explained in detail in my earlier post, Constructing Illustrative Parallels. Here are three examples, one from each chapter of the Sermon on the Mount.

“You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matt. 5:14-16)

The intermediate conclusion is that light is not meant to be hidden, nor to illuminate itself, but to shed light on something else. Thus we should neither hide our good works, nor use them to glorify ourselves, but to glorify our Father.

“So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” (Matt. 6:28-30)

Here the intermediate conclusion is, of course, that God clothes all of His creatures. Thus he will clothe you, His child.

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.” (Matt. 7:15)

The intermediate conclusion here is that some creatures who look harmless on the outside are concealing their true, dangerous nature. So be wary!

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