The Parables after Jesus

Their Imaginative Receptions across Two Millennia

Cover Art Request Exam Copy

Where to Purchase

More Options


Jesus's enigmatic and compelling parables have fascinated their hearers since he first uttered them, and during the intervening centuries these parables have produced a multitude of interpretations. This accessibly written book explores the varying interpretations of Jesus's parables across two millennia to demonstrate how powerfully they continue to challenge people's hearts, minds, and imaginations.

The Parables after Jesus covers more than fifty imaginative receptions from different eras, perspectives, and media, including visual art, music, literature, science fiction novels, plays, poetry, sermons, politics, theologians, biblical scholars, and other modes of interpretation, including perspectives from other religious traditions. The book shows how the use of Jesus's parables affects society and culture and offers a richer appreciation for Jesus's most striking teachings. Readers will begin to understand how contemporary interpretations of the parables stand on the shoulders of centuries of conversations and that our interpretations are never independent of the readings and responses that have preceded us. The Parables after Jesus will serve as an excellent supplemental text for a variety of courses.


1. The Afterlives of Jesus's Parables in Antiquity (to ca. 550 CE)
The Gospel of Philip
Clement of Alexandria
John Chrysostom
Macrina the Younger
Ephrem the Syrian
The Good Shepherd in Early Christian Art
Oil Lamp
Roman Catacombs
Dura-Europos House Church
Illuminations from the Rossano Gospels
Byzantine Mosaics, Christ Separating Sheep from Goats, Sant'Apollinare Nuovo (Ravenna, Italy)
Romanos the Melodist
2. The Afterlives of Jesus's Parables in the Middle Ages (ca. 550-1500 CE)
Gregory the Great
Sahih al-Bukhari
Wazo of Liège
The Golden Gospels of Echternach
The Laborers in the Vineyard
The Wicked Tenants
The Great Dinner
The Rich Man and Lazarus
Hildegard of Bingen
Chartres Cathedral
Thomas Aquinas
John Gower
Antonia Pulci
Albrecht Dürer
3. The Afterlives of Jesus's Parables in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries
Martin Luther
Anna Jansz of Rotterdam
John Calvin
John Maldonatus
William Shakespeare
Domenico Fetti
George Herbert
Roger Williams
Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn
John Bunyan
4. The Afterlives of Jesus's Parables in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries
William Blake
Søren Kierkegaard
Frederick Douglass
Fanny Crosby
Leo Tolstoy
John Everett Millais
Emily Dickinson
Charles Haddon Spurgeon
Adolf Jülicher
5. The Afterlives of Jesus's Parables in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries
Thomas Hart Benton
Parables and the Blues: Rev. Robert Wilkins
Flannery O'Connor
Martin Luther King Jr.
Latin American Receptions
The Peasants of Solentiname
Elsa Tamez
David Flusser
Octavia Butler
Thich Nhat Hanh
Conclusion: What Do Parables Want?
Appendix: Descriptions of the Parables Cited in the Interpretations


"David Gowler is a master of the reception history of the Bible, and he demonstrates his wisdom and experience in this wonderful book about the reading of the parables of Jesus down the centuries. It shows the richness of the resources that await us and the benefits for biblical interpretation which come from this approach, particularly when they are so sensitively and lucidly applied. I am grateful to him for sharing his discoveries with us, his fortunate readers, on this stage of his intellectual journey."

Christopher Rowland, Dean Ireland Professor of the Exegesis of Holy Scripture Emeritus, University of Oxford

"This wonderfully engaging volume offers a rich array of insights, as the author introduces us to a chorus of diverse voices from a wide variety of media. David Gowler's immense learning is expressed with superb clarity, making interpretations of the parables across two millennia accessible to all. Highly recommended."

Christine Joynes, director, Centre for Reception History of the Bible, University of Oxford

"For most of its history, parable research has, perhaps rightly and often as part of the larger quest of the historical Jesus, focused on the composition history of Jesus's parables from the oral period in which they were spoken to their placement in the Christian Gospels. David Gowler has studied, taught, and written about the parables for many years, and in this fascinating study he has trained his eagle eye on the latter part of the parables' 'career'--the impact of their afterlife on the literature, music, and art that stand as heirs to this remarkable corpus of stories. Arranged chronologically, Gowler's study spans two thousand years of reception and ranges from Clement of Alexandria to Martin Luther King Jr., from the Roman catacombs to Thomas Hart Benton, and from Romanos the Melodist to Godspell. This treasure trove belongs in the library of anyone interested in the ways Jesus's parables have challenged our hearts, minds, and imaginations, and it confirms that the world the parables has produced is no less interesting and complex than the world that produced the parables."

Mikeal C. Parsons, professor and Macon Chair in Religion, Baylor University

"This delightful book romps rapidly through the history of interpretation of the parables. David Gowler introduces us not merely to the familiar greats and how they interpreted the parables--and even their own variations--but also to lesser-known interpreters: women, artists, and musicians all feature in this text. We meet a woman amongst the church fathers, we read excerpts from the Qur'an alongside Gregory the Great, we find interpretations that cycle in and out of fashion over the centuries, we discover poets who shock us into hearing again the familiar words of Jesus. Blues musicians and catacomb paintings rarely feature in the same book, nor abolitionists alongside the politically powerful, but here they are all given their chance to speak. This is not a commentary. Rather, Gowler reveals a history made up of contextualized people interpreting Jesus's quintessential teachings for their times. For those who read Scripture knowing that we read it in community with those who have studied it before us, and for those who love the parables for their unexpected inversions and slantwise telling of the truth, this book is a gift."

Mariam Kovalishyn, assistant professor of New Testament, Regent College

"A volume bursting with potential! I have come to appreciate any publication by David B. Gowler--and this is his best book so far. A fascinating survey that sheds new light on the meaning of well-worn texts. Any teacher, student, or reader of the parables will find pearls and treasures in these pages--talents to be invested, seeds sure to bear fruit."

Mark Allan Powell, professor of New Testament, Trinity Lutheran Seminary; author of Introducing the New Testament

"David Gowler invites us to participate in a two-thousand-year-old dialogue with those seeking to understand and implement the simple, yet often perplexing, parables of Jesus. Gowler has assembled fifty conversation partners from literature, poetry, hymns, the visual arts, and theater that span the Christian era. These voices hail from a broad and diverse range of historically, theologically, and culturally significant contexts. By entering into this dialogue, Gowler hopes that rather than find what we expect to find in the parables, we can take off our own interpretive blinders and come to a fuller understanding of the meanings and applications of the parables to our lives. He succeeds! The conversation in which he engages us here is truly an eye-opening and enriching experience."

Duane F. Watson, professor of New Testament studies, Malone University

"If the parables stimulate your mind, feed your soul, upset your values, and occasionally confuse you, you're in good company. Exegetes, poets, hymn writers, allegorists, social reformers, novelists, and painters feature in this brisk tour through two thousand years of parable interpretation, often urging readers to see more in the parables or to view them through a different set of eyes. As a knowledgeable guide through a lively history, David Gowler highlights the evocative interpretations that emerge when a parable encounters a fertile imagination."

Matthew L. Skinner, professor of New Testament, Luther Seminary

The Author

  1. David B. Gowler

    David B. Gowler

    David B. Gowler, PhD, is the Dr. Lovick Pierce and Bishop George F. Pierce Chair of Religion at Emory University, where he also directs the Pierce Institute for Leadership and Community Engagement and is senior faculty fellow for the Center for Ethics. He...

    Continue reading about David B. Gowler


"A helpful resource to use when preaching Jesus' parables. . . . Seeing how Christians over the past two thousand years interpreted the parables does not necessarily show us the right way to read them, but it can expose things we missed or failed to consider. In this way this book can enrich and enliven the preacher's grasp of the parables."

Ray Van Neste,

Preaching (Annual Preaching Survey of Bibles and Bible Reference Works)

"I love studying and teaching about Jesus' parables in the Gospels--that is one of my favorite class sessions in the NT intro course I teach. I am also fascinated by the history of interpretation of the parables. So, I was overjoyed to see David B. Gowler's new book. . . . I appreciate Gowler's concise summaries of each figure or artist's interpretation. . . . It is especially satisfying that Gowler included artwork images throughout the book. . . . Very insightful chapters, lots of fun learning, and prods the reader to follow up on many of these interpreters of the parables."

Nijay Gupta,

Crux Sola blog

"This journey through church history with the parables is fascinating. . . . . Given the massive variety of people, times, and mediums covered, it's surprising how well Gowler explicates each source and interacts with recent scholarship. It's almost hard to believe that one person could write with equal proficiency on the writings of the Church Fathers, Victorian artwork, and modern novels. Serious work was put into this volume. . . . A fantastic resource for any interested in the Bible or church history. Those in an academic setting will appreciate Gowler's meticulous and thorough account the reception history of an integral part of Jesus' public ministry. Pastors and ministers will appreciate Gowler's multitude of examples of how parables have been interpreted, preached, and represented in a variety of settings. This book has my highest recommendation."

Jake Raabe,

Words about God blog