The word parable (Hebrew mashal ; Syrian mathla , Greek parabole ) signifies in general a comparison, or a parallel, by which one thing is used to illustrate another.
It is a likeness taken from the sphere of real, or sensible, or earthly incidents, in order to convey an ideal, or spiritual, or heavenly meaning.
Its affinity, as a form of Divine speech with the "Sacrament" ( mysterion ) as a form of Divine action, may profitably be kept in mind.
Neither can we overlook the points of resemblance which exist between parables and miracles, both exhibiting through outward shows the presence of a supernatural doctrine and agency.
A type consists in the significance given by prophecy to a person or his acts, e.g., to Isaac as the lamb of sacrifice, and the symbolical deeds of Ezechiel or Jeremias.
As uttering one thing and signifying something else, it is in the nature of a riddle ( Hebrew khidah , Gr.
ainigma or problema ) and has therefore a light and a dark side ("dark sayings", Wisdom 8:8 ; Sirach 39:3 ), it is intended to stir curiosity and calls for intelligence in the listener, "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear" Matthew 13:9.
But it will be a likeness which contains a judgment, and so includes the "maxim" or general proposition bearing on conduct (Greek "gnomic wisdom"), of which the Book of Proverbs ( Meshalim ) is the chief inspired example. John's Gospel nor paroimia (proverb) in the Synoptics.
In classic Latin, the Greek word is translated collatio (Cicero, "De invent.", i-xxx), imago (Seneca, "Ep. Likeness and abstraction enter into the idea of language, but may be contrasted as body and spirit, standing as they do in a relation at once of help and opposition.