Is C. H. Dodd’s approach to the parables of Christ still relevant?
C. H. Dodd’s The Parables of the Kingdom, first published in 1935, opened a new era in the study of the parables of Jesus.
Dodd endeavoured to put the parables back into their original historical setting, in so far as this was possible. He explained that “we should expect the parables to bear upon the actual and critical situation in which Jesus and his hearers stood; and when we ask after their application, we must look first, not to the field of general principles, but to the particular setting in which they were delivered” (Parables of the Kingdom).
In order to ascertain the likelihood of this setting in the life of Jesus, it is necessary to dig through several layers of subsequent traditions that grew over the original parables, both in the contextualisation of their redaction by the Evangelists, and also the ways in which they were nuanced when reapplied to the circumstances of the Early Church. Dodd sought to retrieve the primal thrust and cutting edge of the parables in our Lord’s ministry of the Kingdom of God, the interpretation of which he defined as “realized eschatology” that denoted the arrival of the critical in-breaking of God’s rule in saving activity.
This task of exposing the original form and point of the parables was a sound exercise, even if Dodd’s interpretative key is better described (as he himself came to admit) as “an eschatology that is in the process of realization”. But his principal aim continues to supply invaluable and extremely relevant starting-points for effective preaching of the parables. There have, of course, been many fresh insights in the study of the parables since Dodd, which treat them as “performative utterances” or language events that challenge our existential response.
It remains true, however, that it is the historical core of the parables which Dodd strove to uncover which always provides crucial points for preachers to expound.
Dodd’s approach was developed and, indeed, refined when Joachim Jeremias produced his Parables of Jesus, in which he affirmed that “it is unthinkable that there should be any retreat from the essential lines laid down by Dodd for the interpretation of the parables of Jesus.”
Today’s homilists have good reason to be grateful to C. H. Dodd — and Jeremias — for their classic contribution to parables studies.
(Canon) Terry Palmer
In a building with obscured sightlines, where television screens are provided, which way does one face during the Gospel: towards the pillar behind which one thinks the reader is, or towards the pillar where one can see him or her?
The question of facing the Gospel when proclaimed in the context of the eucharist is not one of seeing the reader, but hearing what they’re saying, hence “Hear the Gospel…” rather than “watch”. Therefore, one should face towards the pillar behind which the Gospel is being read and the sound is still coming.
Additionally, the Gospel is to be read in the midst of the congregation, and the act of everybody turning towards a central point is a powerful value-laden encoded action, a communal effect somewhat lost if the worshippers turn to their nearest TV screen.
I can recommend the chapter on posture in Carolyn Hammond’s The Sound of the Liturgy (SPCK, 2015) as expounding on how posture encodes belief.
Jack Drury, Cambridge
The important thing is to listen to the Gospel and take it to heart; so look at the screen rather than wonder where the reader is. Don’t worry about the rest of the congregation. If you are watching a broadcast service on TV, you look at your set rather than towards the place it is coming from.
(Canon) John Goodchild
The other evening, a car stopped outside my front door, which opens directly on to the pavement. The driver got out, put a mat on the pavement facing the direction he thought was Mecca, and started to pray. I knew that he was not facing Mecca. I could easily have opened my door and showed him which way to face; I could have invited him inside to pray in private. In practice, I did nothing. What is my responsibility to my neighbour in such a situation?
Have other hon. treasurers had as much trouble as I am having, opening a PCC bank account? We are a small parish and are not a registered charity. The bank sent all the required forms — or, rather, didn’t. Since then, it has asked for “independent verification . . . that the entity exists, the name of the entity, and the names of the members”. Any suggestions how I do this? The bank has now demanded that every PCC member complete a “personal details form”. I pointed out that PCC membership changes every year. The bank advised that we would have to update personal details every year for new members. So, every year, new PCC members will have to fill in a form for the bank. Are all banks demanding this level of information?
The Synod has recently debated children as lay eucharistic ministers. Given that in some parishes such ministers distribute the sacrament outside the eucharist, what qualities, in addition to decorum and manual dexterity, are looked for in them? Is a degree of theological learning desirable, or may this ministry suitably be exercised by an altar server or PCC member?
When the Rt Revd Rachel Treweek was introduced into the House of Lords, she took her oath as the Lord Bishop of Gloucester. Does this mean that the more formal style for addressing a woman bishop, in a letter or in speech, is “My Lord”?
Address for answers and more questions: Out of the Question, Church Times, 3rd floor, Invicta House, 108-114 Golden Lane, London EC1Y 0TG.
We ask readers not to send us letters for forwarding, and those giving answers to provide full name, address, and, if possible, telephone number.