AUSTRALIAN BIBLICAL REVIEW
BOOK REVIEW Published in Volume 50, 2002
A. J. Hultgren, The Parables of Jesus. A Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000).
Pp. Xxix + 522.
The aim of this book is the service of the church and it is concerned with the meaning of the parables of Jesus for Christian faith and living. Naturally, therefore, this overarching aim controls both the context and methodology of this study. A brief initial chapter introduces the reader to modern parable scholarship. In raising the question, “What is our goal in interpretation?”, the situation in the life of (and the meaning intended by) Jesus or the text that we currently have, Arland J. Hultgren opts for the latter without denigrating the importance of the former. The reason for the choice is clear: “a text remains to be interpreted, and the texts at hand are texts produced by Christian writers written for Christian communities” (p. 19).
Hultgren divides the 38 synoptic parables (he admits debate exists on the exact numbers of parables in the synoptic gospels) into seven convenient groupings: parables of the revelation of God, of exemplary behaviour, of wisdom, of life before God, of final judgment, of the Kingdom, and allegorical parables. He admits the grouping is arbitrary and claims no finality for it. A consistent pattern is followed for the treatment of each parable: translation(s), textual critical notes, exegetical commentary, exposition and a detailed bibliography. Hultgren’s treatment is always thorough, detailed, and readable and is generally persuasive. The exegetical comments on Mt 25:31–46 (which he admits is not really a parable) cover 16 pages. His discussion includes: who are pante ta ethne (all the nations, including the Jews); who are ‘the least of my brethren’ (any in need, and not Christians generally or Christian missionaries). Only a brief comment is made on the question of the pericope’s derivation from Jesus, which he is inclined to uphold (it having the same theme as the rich man and Lazarus parable [Luke 16:19–31]).
In the parable of the great banquet (Lk 14:16–24; G.Thom. 64), Hultgren offers a useful table of comparison with the three similar parables (including Mt 22:1–14). He argues well
for the independence of the Lukan and Matthean banquets ? hence their separate treatment, as well as for the independence of the Thomas parable. I was disappointed that no commentary of the text in Thomas was provided, but given his intentions, was not surprised. Consideration of the Gospel of Thomas, however, is not lacking. As well as providing brief comments along the way where Thomas and the canonical texts come together, a final chapter provides a useful discussion of Thomas in general (second century dating, gnostic in origin) and on the parables that are unique to that gospel.
Hultgren writes in an easy reader-friendly style, and yet the extent of his reading and the depth of his scholarship are obvious. Hultgren demonstrates an essentially conservative approach to the text and to critical questions, as indicated by the following: (i) the evangelists not only used the parables for their ends, but were themselves shaped by the traditions they received (p. 529); (ii) while he does not always admit the dominical status of the text before him he will frequently give it the benefit of the doubt; (iii) Thomas is predominantly, though not exclusively, dependent on the synoptic gospels and is not an earlier witness to the traditions.
Without doubt Christian pastors and teachers will find this study to be a valuable and readable resource for an understanding of the canonical text of the parables. Those who wish to wrestle with the
critical issues of historicity and of the parables' possible place in the ministry of Jesus, and those who wish to study the parables through the lens of rhetorical critical analysis, will need to look elsewhere.
Dr. John W. Pryor