What Is a Parable? Definition & 10+ Examples

A parable is a short, simple story that is used to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson.

Parables often use symbolic characters, events, or objects to convey a deeper meaning, and they are typically found in religious and philosophical texts. By presenting complex ideas in the form of a relatable story, parables make it easier for people to understand and remember the lesson being taught.

Examples of parables can be found in various literary works and religious texts, such as the parables of Jesus in the Bible, Aesop’s Fables, and Zen Buddhist koans.

Studying these diverse examples can offer unique insights into parables’ timeless and enduring power in shaping human understanding and values.

Historical Context

Parables have a rich history that spans across various cultures, religions, and literary traditions. They can be traced back to ancient civilizations such as Egypt, Mesopotamia, and India, where they served as both moral and educational tools.

In ancient Greece, parables were often employed by philosophers like Plato and Socrates to illustrate complex philosophical concepts through simple, relatable stories. These stories exemplified a Socratic dialogue method which enabled the engagement of the audience in the learning process.

Within the Judeo-Christian tradition, parables play a significant role in both the Old and New Testaments.

For example, the Hebrew Bible contains several parables, such as the story of Nathan the prophet confronting King David in the Book of Samuel. In the New Testament, Jesus frequently utilized parables to convey his teachings, such as the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son.

Parables were also prominent in other religious traditions, including Buddhism and Islam. The Jataka Tales, part of Buddhist literature, contains numerous stories that depict the previous lives of the Buddha. At the same time, the Islamic tradition employs parables in the form of hadiths, sayings of the Prophet Muhammad.

In more recent times, authors such as Aesop, Hans Christian Andersen, and George Orwell have used parables to provide social commentary and critique.

Characteristics of Parables

Parables, by their very nature, possess certain traits that set them apart from other forms of storytelling. These characteristics contribute to their unique ability to convey moral teachings and life lessons in an engaging manner.

One of the most prominent features of parables is their simplicity. They typically involve commonplace scenarios and characters, such as farmers, shepherds, or merchants. This familiarity enables readers and listeners to easily relate and understand the message being conveyed.

Use of Figurative Language

Parables often employ symbolic elements and figures of speech to add depth to their narratives. Metaphors, similes, and allegories are commonly used techniques in parables, which help illustrate the moral lesson within the story.


Parables possess a timeless quality, remaining relevant and meaningful across different cultures and generations. Their universal themes, such as kindness, greed, or forgiveness, resonate with human experiences and emotions, making them relatable to a wide audience.

  • Concision: Parables are generally short and succinct, often consisting of a single scene or incident. This brevity enables them to convey their moral messages efficiently, without losing the attention of their audience.
  • Ambiguity: Parables tend to be open-ended, leaving room for interpretation and discussion. This encourages readers to reflect upon the story and its implications, leading to a deeper understanding of the moral lesson at hand.

These characteristics contribute to the unique nature of parables, making them an effective and memorable means of imparting moral lessons and wise teachings to their audience.

Literary Devices in Parables

Parables, like other forms of literature, employ various literary devices to convey their messages effectively. Some of these devices include:

  • Allegory: Parables often use allegorical elements where characters or events symbolize abstract ideas or deeper meanings. This helps readers to connect the parable’s story to broader concepts and moral lessons.
  • Symbolism: Objects, characters, or events in a parable may also represent something beyond their literal meaning. Symbolism helps to add depth to the narrative and aids in the interpretation of the parable’s message.
  • Irony: Parables may utilize irony to create surprising twists, highlighting discrepancies between appearance and reality or between what is expected and what actually happens. This can challenge the reader to reassess their beliefs and perceptions.
  • Simile and metaphor: Parables often make comparisons by using similes and metaphors, which help readers visualize abstract ideas or make connections between seemingly unrelated concepts.
  • Characterization: In some parables, characters are developed to represent different traits, attitudes, or social groups. These well-developed characters make the story more engaging and facilitate the reader’s understanding of the parable’s message.

These literary devices contribute to the richness and complexity of parables, making them memorable and effective vehicles for conveying moral or philosophical lessons.

Functions of Parables

Parables serve a number of functions in literature, teaching, and communication:

  • To convey moral lessons: Parables are often used to teach important ethical or moral lessons, making complex ideas easily relatable and understandable.
  • To engage the audience: The storytelling aspect of parables captures the audience’s attention, encouraging deeper thinking and engagement with the subject matter.
  • To illustrate abstract concepts: Parables help clarify abstract or complex concepts through the use of relatable situations or characters, enabling the audience to visualize and comprehend the ideas more easily.
  • To make timeless messages: Parables often present themes and messages that are applicable across various cultures and time periods, making them timeless and relevant for a wide range of people.
  • To provoke thought and introspection: The indirect nature of parables stimulates the audience to ponder on the underlying message, promoting critical thinking and self-reflection.

Parables appear in various forms throughout the world’s literature:

Biblical parablesThe Prodigal Son, The Good Samaritan, The Mustard Seed
Sufi parableThe Blind Men and the Elephant
Eastern parableThe One-Eyed Turtle and the Floating Log, The Empty Boat

Examples of Parables

Parables can be found in various religious texts as well as in literature and folklore.

Biblical Parables

Biblical parables are stories found in the Bible that convey moral and spiritual lessons. The majority of parables in the Bible come from the New Testament, particularly in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke; however, some parables can also be found in the Old Testament. Here are a few well-known Biblical parables:

  • The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37): This parable teaches the importance of showing mercy and kindness to others, regardless of their race or background.
  • The Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32): This story emphasizes the power of forgiveness and the value of humility, while also demonstrating the unconditional love of a father.
  • The Sower (Matthew 13:1-23): This parable illustrates how different individuals receive and respond to the teachings of Jesus, based on the condition of their hearts.

Non-Biblical Parables

Non-Biblical parables are stories that convey moral lessons or principles, but are not taken from religious texts. These parables can be found in various cultures and might be part of literature or folklore. Some examples of non-Biblical parables include:

  • The Boy Who Cried Wolf (Aesop’s Fables): This parable teaches the importance of honesty and the consequences of lying.
  • The Blind Men and the Elephant (Ancient Indian parable): This story emphasizes the importance of considering different perspectives and recognizing that our understanding of the truth may be limited or incomplete.
  • The Scorpion and the Frog (Ancient Persian fable): This parable highlights the idea that sometimes, people or creatures may act according to their inherent nature, despite any potential consequences or harm.

Modern Usage and Adaptations

In recent years, parables have branched out from religious texts and have found their way into various forms of media, including literature, film, and television. This shift has expanded the reach and impact of parables, allowing them to address contemporary issues and resonate with a diverse audience.

Some modern adaptations of parables include:

  • The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho – A novel that explores the journey of self-discovery through the story of Santiago, a shepherd boy seeking his personal legend.
  • The Matrix – A science fiction film that incorporates parable-like elements to explore concepts of reality, self-discovery, and the meaning of freedom.
  • Black Mirror – A television series that uses technological parables to critique the potential negative consequences of modern society and its reliance on technology.

These adaptations prove that parables can evolve and maintain their relevance by adapting to new cultural contexts and addressing contemporary issues. Furthermore, parables continue to be a useful tool for instilling moral lessons and facilitating critical thinking in readers and viewers.

Despite the modern adaptations, the essence of a parable remains the same: a simple, fictional narrative that conveys a moral or spiritual lesson through metaphor and symbolism.

Interpreting Parables: What to Do

Interpreting parables can be an enriching experience, offering insights and lessons that can be applied to various aspects of life. Effective interpretation demands close reading and an understanding of the historical and cultural context of the parable.

Here are some practical steps to help you delve deeper into the meaning of parables:

  1. Read the parable slowly and carefully, making note of any key phrases or symbols.
  2. Consider the historical and cultural context in which the parable was written. This can help uncover the intended meaning of certain symbols or expressions.
  3. Pay attention to the characters and their actions, as they often represent certain groups or individuals within society.
  4. Look for any unexpected twists or turns in the story that might suggest an alternative meaning or perspective.
  5. Attempt to identify the underlying message or lesson of the parable. Reflect on how it might relate to your own life or experiences.

How to Identify Underlying Themes

When seeking to decode the underlying themes in a parable, keep the following points in mind:

  • Identify any recurring motifs, symbols or phrases in the story. They often hold the key to understanding the hidden meaning.
  • Consider the purpose of the parable. Was it to communicate a moral lesson, critique societal norms, or provoke thought? This can guide you in determining the main theme.
  • Reflect on how the characters, setting, and events of the parable can be understood allegorically. These elements often serve as metaphors for broader issues or concepts.

Parable Misuse and How to Avoid It

Parables can be misused when people interpret them to support personal beliefs or to justify their actions. It is crucial to understand the original context and intention of the parable to avoid distorting its message.

Some common misuses of parables include:

  • Cherry-picking: Selectively quoting parts of a parable to support a specific argument or belief, disregarding the broader context and message.
  • Misinterpretation: Ignorance or a lack of understanding of the cultural context, genre or the parable’s purpose can lead to incorrect interpretation of the message.
  • Overemphasis on individual elements: Focusing on particular details or aspects of a parable and assigning undue significance to them, which can obscure the overall message or moral lesson.

To avoid misusing parables, it is essential to study them in their original context and consider accepted interpretations from respected sources. Additionally, engaging in open dialogues and discussions with others can help ensure we are obtaining a well-rounded understanding of these thought-provoking stories.

How to Write an Original Parable

When creating an original parable, it’s essential to keep a few key tips and strategies in mind. These will help you develop a compelling story that effectively conveys your intended moral or lesson.

1. Identify the core message: Begin by pinpointing the main theme or moral you want to depict in your parable. This will serve as the foundation for your story.

2. Choose relatable characters and settings: Build your parable using simple, recognizable characters and settings. This makes it easier for your audience to connect with the story.

Examples of Relatable Characters and Settings
Animals with human-like qualities
Familiar locations (e.g., forests, cities)
Everyday scenarios (e.g., a lost traveler)

3. Keep it concise: Aim to communicate your message clearly and concisely. Avoid over-complicating the story with unnecessary details or plot twists.

4. Create a clear turning point or climax: Incorporate a key event that highlights the moral or lesson. This will help drive home your message.

5. Employ symbolism: Make use of symbols, allegory, and metaphors to subtly convey your intended message. This will allow your audience to reflect and interpret the meaning of your parable.

Example: The tortoise and the hare represent consistency and overconfidence, respectively.

Keep these tips in mind as you craft your original parable to create an engaging and meaningful story that delivers a powerful message.

Frequently Asked Questions

What makes a parable effective?

An effective parable captures the attention of the reader or listener, uses relatable imagery, and clearly communicates the intended moral or spiritual truth.

The simplicity of the story and the familiarity of the situations presented in a parable contribute to its effectiveness in conveying deeper messages.

What are some common symbols found in parables?

Some common symbols in parables include:

• Light and darkness, representing good and evil.
• Seeds and plants, symbolizing growth and transformation.
• Journey or path, representing personal growth or spiritual quest.

Can a parable be based on real events?

Yes, a parable can be inspired by real-life events, but it often takes liberties in the storytelling process, using metaphor and symbolism to emphasize the moral lesson rather than adhering strictly to historical facts.


In summary, parables are an effective storytelling tool used to convey moral lessons through simple and relatable narratives. They have stood the test of time and remain popular in various cultures and religious traditions.

Using parables as a teaching method can be a great way to engage audiences from different age groups and backgrounds. By incorporating the appeal of storytelling and relatable life experiences, parables create memorable and impactful lessons that are more likely to resonate with the audience.

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Jessa Claire is a registered healthcare provider. Music lover. Daydreamer. Thalassophile. Foodie. A hardworking Capricorn. Most days, an incurable empath. An old soul. Down-to-earth. Vibrant. When she's not writing, she can be seen relaxing with headphones on or engrossed in her favorite fan fiction book.