The Parables of Jesus – A Kingdom Already or Not Yet?

C. H. Dodd’s The Parables of the Kingdom was a major step forward from the foundation of Jülicher. Dodd attempted to read the parables in their proper historical context (Sitz im Leben Jesu), but he also attempted to deal with the problem of eschatology raised by Schweitzer. Schweitzer argued that Jesus thought of the kingdom as present in his own ministry and that his actions in Jerusalem would bring the kingdom fully into the world.  Dodd, on the other hand, understood the kingdom of God as having fully arrived with the ministry of Jesus.  Jesus is not reforming Judaism or correcting their misunderstanding of the Kingdom, he is creating something new.  The parable of the Patched Garment and Wineskins, for example, indicate that the old has already passed away and the new has already come.  Jesus did not come to reform Judaism, but to bring “something entirely new, which cannot be accomplished by the traditional system” (117).  There is no future eschatological climax to history; history has reached its fulfillment in the person of Jesus. The parables of the kingdom are an attempt by the early church to take the words of Jesus and create a new eschatology as an alternative to that of the Jews of the Second Temple period (35-6).

SowerThis “realized eschatology” controls Dodd’s reading of the parables so that he occasionally detects places where the evangelists have obscured Jesus meaning.  For example, the parable of the talents was originally about the Pharisees and ethical conduct but the early church adapted it to the delay of the parousia.  But the eschatological parables are from Jesus himself, there is no long drawn out period of oral transformation within the life of the church (122-39).  Form criticism is correct that the parable must be taken out of the artificial context of the Gospels, but Dodd does not propose a method of determining the artificial context.

Dodd deals with the eschatological parables in his chapter on “parables of crisis.”  By this point in his book he has repeatedly argued that Jesus was not expecting a future apocalyptic kingdom, so he merely re-affirms his belief that the apocalyptic interpretation of these parables is a secondary addition developed by the early church.  In the parable of the Faithful and Unfaithful Servants in Matthew 24:45-51 and Luke 12:42-36, Jesus’ original parable concerned responsibility of those charged to lead and faithfulness to the task given. He had the chief scribes and teachers of the law in mind, not a future coming kingdom.  This idea was “naturally enough and legitimately enough re-applied” by the early church to a new situation (160).  The parable of the Thief at Night (Matt 24:43-44, Luke 12:39-40) originally referred to the coming persecutions of Jesus and his disciples, and the destruction of Jerusalem.  Both the Faithful Servants and the Thief in the Night parables referred to something that was already happening in the ministry of Jesus, but the early church took them over and re-applied them to the situation present after the resurrection (170-71).

The evidence for this is the re-use of the saying (which Dodd would associate with Q) in 1 Thessalonians 5.  For Dodd, Paul is re-applying something he picked up from the traditional sayings of Jesus and re-applying it for the Thessalonian church (168).   The parable of the Ten Virgins is interpreted in a similar fashion.  Jesus taught preparedness for the “developments which were actually in process in the ministry of Jesus” (178).

Dodd’s chief contribution, so-called “realized eschatology” attempted to deal with the apocalyptic Jesus described by Schweitzer in such a way that did justice to both the texts which describe the kingdom as present and those which describe the kingdom as future.  This theological position will be extremely influential on subsequent parables studies, especially those by Smith and Jeremias.

But is a fully-realized eschatology the best way to read all of the parables?  I am not at all happy with ignoring parables which seem to be “apocalyptic” as later additions and not from the Historical Jesus. The Ten Virgins and the Talents seem to teach a long delay before the return of the Lord.  This may not be a product of the church but a genuine apocalyptic teaching from Jesus.  Dodd contributes much, but by removing the apocalyptic from the Parables he robs them of their Second Temple Period context.

What does Dodd contribute to the reading of Parables?

Bibliography: C. H. Dodd, The Parables of Jesus (New York: Scribners 1935)

9 thoughts on “The Parables of Jesus – A Kingdom Already or Not Yet?

  1. In answer to your first question, I would have to say no: a fully-realized eschatology approach is NOT the best way to read all of the parables. First of all not all parables are apocalyptic, and so if you were to read them with this approach you would be misguided. While at the same time, you cannot remove this aspect all together because several of the parables are concerning the kingdom. Revealing aspects of its coming to those who hear (Matthew 11:15). Parables also conceal aspects, “One of the reasons Jesus taught in parables was to communicate truth in a vivid, powerful, and memorable manner” (Strauss, 448). Each parable Jesus taught was taught with intention. Ultimately, we need to be careful that we do not add or take away from the original meaning of these parables (Revelation 22:18-19).

  2. This is a hard thing to say for sure. I think it is important to know that we do not have the answers for sure, we can search for the answers and do our best, but we will not know for sure until Jesus comes back or we meet him in Heaven. I think we can’t go about reading all of the parables as being about eschatology because they all are not and we can be misguided if we think they are. We must not ignore what Jesus says and all we can do is pray and have our relationship be right with God, because knowing the right perspective on eschatology is not going to happen. We can learn as much as possible and try to put together something that makes sense to us, but who knows.

  3. I think what Dodd contributes is a strong view of the realized eschatology. He is not wrong when he points out the fact that that the kingdom has come when Jesus came to earth. He is not wrong when one of the most pivotal point in eschatological history was the resurrection of Christ. I think it is good to keep in mind that this was the case, but He really is missing out when he believes it is the only pivotal point in eschatological history with no apocalyptic yet to come. His strictness of interpreting the parables in their original form and context is a good rule of thumb, but I think it has clouded his reading of a lot of other parables.

  4. This was a harder blog post for me to read since I don’t have much knowledge about this topic, however, after reading the post, I definitely have some thoughts. To say that eschatology has reached its fulfillment with Jesus is not something I agree with because although Jesus was the fulfillment of the law, He wasn’t the end of eschatology because there are still end times coming! We still have not gone through the times Revelation tells us about and Jesus has not yet returned which is what I believe to be the final climax of eschatology since it will be “the grand finale”. However, since the writing of the Gospels and the coming of Christ, we do understand eschatology in a way that we didn’t before such as that Satan’s reign will come to an end, that there will be a new Jerusalem, and that there will be a new creation (Revelation 20 & 21). As said in Ephesians 1:21, Jesus is “above every ruler and authority, power and dominion, and every title given, not only in this age but in the one to come”. I like how Strauss puts it when he says that “[t]he church lives simultaneously in both ages, when salvation has been accomplished but not yet consummated” (531). This is why I agree with the view of inaugurated eschatology because I believe that “the kingdom has been inaugurated through Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection but” I also believe that it “awaits consummation in the future” and that Jesus was referring to both “present and future dimensions of the kingdom” (Strauss, 531).

  5. Dodd and Schweitzer’s suggestions for when the kingdom started are extremely close together and make it hard to pinpoint which theory is correct. Dodd believed that the kingdom was fully arrived when Jesus came to earth. Schweitzer believed that Jesus’ ministry and Jesus’ actions were key to having the kingdom arrive. While they both have good points to start out, Dodd’s eschatology views make him less credible. Dodd does not “propose methods of finding the artificial context.” A lot of Dodd’s thoughts do not line up with what was thought to, or actually happened. Dodd should’ve checked the context before assuming. “The kingdom lives in both ages, when salvation has been accomplished but not yet consummated,” (Strauss, 531). Considering this it makes sense that many believe Schweitzer’s explanation over Dodd’s. I happen to believe that Schweitzer’s theory makes more sense than that of Dodd’s. It is more plausible that the kingdom came at the arrival of Jesus’ ministry. God and Jesus are one and the same.This is why I think it makes sense that It came at the arrival of Jesus’ ministry, one without the other doesn’t make sense for the saving of sins of all humanity. Therefor, if either Dodd or Schweitzer has to be right, it would be Schweitzer.

  6. The purpose of a parable is to tell a story, resulting in a formed moral or spiritual lesson (Strauss, p. 447). While parables may be interpreted in a variety of ways, they often seem to align with eschatology. At first read, I thought that Dodd and Schweitzer might have similar ideas and beliefs about the interpretation of parables. However, upon further understanding, I found that Schweitzer believed that the kingdom, as described in the parables, was existing partially but would be finalized upon the completion of Jesus’ ministry. I also came to understand that Dodd viewed the kingdom, illustrated amidst the parables, as a long-term result of Jesus’ ministry.

    Part of my job as a camp counselor is to coach children in reading the gospels, including the parables. When teaching them, they are unaware of any “realized eschatology” that I have due to any of my previous study of Revelation. Because they are unaware, we interpret the parables a little differently. While they interpret the parables how they are written, I continue to interpret parables as allegories instead of similitudes (Strauss, p. 447). For this blog, the textbook guided me in how to interpret the parables. According to the text, there are six principles to consider: 1) always interpret the parable in the context of Jesus’ ministry, 2) keep in mind Jesus’ central message of the kingdom of God, 3) be aware of cultural, historical, and literary allusions, 4) seek the primary point of the parable, 5) be cautious concerning allegorical elements, and 6) examine the context of the parable in the gospel it appears in (Strauss, p. 450-451). In other words, I need to adopt the habit of reading and interpreting the parables, and any of the Bible, the way in which my campers interpret it. Understanding these ways to interpret parable allows me to better understand the purpose of the messages during Jesus’ ministry, outside of the previous allegorical connection to eschatology.

  7. There are many problems with Dodd’s argument and overall assumption that Jesus was not looking towards a future apocalyptic kingdom. The problem is that Jesus speaks of the future kingdom often in his ministry, and he also speaks of the present kingdom. To say that all parables speaking on the coming kingdom were added by the church to affirm their view, then we would be taking away from the direct ministry and words of Jesus on his coming kingdom. In more than just the parables, Jesus discusses the kingdom of heaven. In fact, Jesus’ messages are constantly teaching on the Kingdom of God. That is the central message of his parables (Strauss, 450). I do not think that a fully realized eschatology is the way to read the parables. I think that would completely disregard the parable of the mustard seed (Matt. 13:31-32). It is implied that the seed has not fully grown yet. It is not complete and so therefore the kingdom in not fully realized. Eventually the kingdom will fill the whole earth (Strauss, 450). What Dodd does contribute to the reading of the parables is the emphasis on present kingdom and how we can see that today. Although he discredits that Jesus was looking toward an apocalyptic event, we see often that Jesus is speaking of the kingdom of God that is current. We see that very plainly in Luke 17:20-21 as we are told the kingdom of God is within us.

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