The words and teachings of Jesus are profound sources of wisdom. Throughout his ministry on earth, Jesus shared a vision of life lived as God intended, of embracing the Kingdom of God now. One of the primary ways Jesus taught was in the form of parables. A parable is a story about a simple subject, used to illustrate a deeper message. Parables make up approximately one-third of all of Jesus’ recorded teachings.
All the parables of Jesus teach us to explore the miracle of the Gospel in an approachable way. We’ll take a look at a list of parables in the Bible, paying special attention to the most well-known and studied of the teachings Jesus offered.
Jesus's Parables and Where to Find Them
Common scholarly consensus says that the parables of Jesus are found in the Synoptic Gospels—Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Some have argued that the Gospel of John also contains parables, but typically, the wisdom teachings in John have been classified as allegories, not parables.
Several of Jesus’ parables occur in multiple of the Gospels; some are recorded only once. The total number of parables is not consistently agreed upon, though most lists put the total number somewhere between 35 and 40.
Parable of the Good Samaritan
Perhaps the most famous of Jesus Christ’s parables, the parable of the Good Samaritan is found only in Luke’s gospel. Precipitated by the question “Who is my neighbor?”, Jesus tells the story of a rich man beaten and left for dead and the unlikely caregiver—the good Samaritan—who stops to help him. The revealed spiritual truth is that we are called to love our neighbors, and that anyone we encounter is our neighbor.
- Luke 10:25-37
Parable of the Wise and Foolish Builders
In this parable, Jesus speaks about two different builders—one who builds his house on the sand, and another who builds his house upon the rock. The firm foundation of the rock ensures that the house can withstand the test of proper time. While the unsteadiness of sand leads that house to wash away at the first sign of storm. Likewise, to root our lives on the rock that is God and His word enables us to remain steadfast and strong through everyday life’s challenges.
- Matthew 7:24-27
- Luke 6:46-49
Parable of the Prodigal Son
Another of Jesus’ most well known parables, the story of the Prodigal Son is about a son who demands his inheritance early and goes off to live a life of pleasure and excess. When the money runs out and circumstances look grim, the son returns to his father’s house sheepishly only to welcomed back joyously with open arms by his father. The parable of the Prodigal Son mirrors our relationship with God and the grace and mercy offered to us by our loving Heavenly Father.
- Luke 15:11-32
Parable of the Sower
This parable—one of the few recorded in Matthew, Mark, and Luke—recounts the story of a farmer sowing seeds over various types of terrain. Some on the seeds land in good soil, some among the weeds, some along the road, etc. Only seeds planted in good soil are able to properly take root and grow. This is intended to reflect the conditions in which the Gospel is shared and how well it is nurtured within one's life.
- Matthew 13:3-9
- Mark 4:3-9
- Luke 8:5-8
Parable of the Lost Sheep
In this parable, a shepherd leaves behind his 99 sheep in order to find and save the one lost sheep who wandered away. Jesus told this story to express God's relentless and loving pursuit of us. God values and loves all of us as individuals and He desires us to be with Him. This story is very closely related to the Parable of the Lost Coin.
- Matthew 18:10-14
- Luke 15:4-6
Parable of the Unmerciful Servant
This parable tells the story of a fellow servant whose master forgives a large debt. The servant then goes on to demand immediate repayment from another of a much smaller debt. The parable of the Unmerciful Servant reminds us of the grace and forgiveness that God has shown to us and urges us to show forgiveness to others in return.
- Matthew 18:23-35
Parable of the Sheep and the Goats
One of the most eschatological of all the parables of Jesus, the parable of the Sheep and the Goats tells of end of days when the King will separate the sheep from the goats. In this story, the sheep represent the faithful—those who will be welcomed into the God's Kingdom, while the goats are those who rejected the Gospel and did not love and care for their fellow human beings.
- Matthew 25:31-46
Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector
The parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector contrasts two men in prayer. The Pharisee, outwardly a holy and godly man prays a prayer of vanity, taking pride in his own righteousness rather than to glorify God. The tax collector, in contrast a social pariah, humbly asks God for mercy.
- Luke 18:9-14
While not exhaustive, we hope this list offers us a brief introduction to the wisdom of Jesus' parables. There is so much to learn and reflect upon in the teachings of Jesus. Parables invite us to consider the impact of the Gospel within our daily lives; they elevate the mundanity of our world to a place of spiritual significance. Jesus' teaching is all about encouraging us live in the Kingdom of God here and now, and parables can show us how.
To learn more about the parables of Jesus and his ministry, take a look at the Gospels set from Alabaster.