Understanding Jesus' parables, a requirement for salvation?


I had a question in bible study yesterday in which I want further clarity. The teacher bemused me when he said that a believer must learn the parables in order to be saved. He stated something to this effect: “only when you can grasp the secrets of the kingdom of heaven our sins are forgiven”. So, not understanding the parables is a sin. And understanding them grants us repentance.
He mentioned that those on the outside (the ones who can’t understand the parables) are the ‘them group’, and the ones who can understand the parables are the ‘you group’. And only the ‘you group’ receive the message of salvation.
This concept is based off Mark 4:10-12.

Was I rightly outraged at this teaching?

Thanks in advance.

Hi @hluke, I would have been bemused as well. Connecting salvation to our understanding of parables would make salvation a works-based achievement. I’m not sure how this theological claim could be made without first rejecting salvation by faith.

I could add a lot more to this response but I don’t think it’s necessary. I welcome any follow-up questions you may have.

Thanks for bringing this question here, I’m sure you’ll receive a lot of helpful insight from this community.

Stay Sharp!
(Prov. 27:17)

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Hello noverby thanks for your response.

This study group, not associated with any denomination, insistently emphasise the need to 1.ask a question from the bible (point a) and 2. find the answer in the bible (point b). I respect this teaching and agree with it in much, but it definitely makes some things too literal (missing context) and borderline legalistic. I did confront this teaching, and I was humbled by someone who is more bible literate than I. So he provided evidence for his position, but despite recognising the questionable message, I could not provide evidence for my position.

I have developed a strong connection with this community, and I truly believe their intentions are right. If it’s true that this teaching is misunderstood, I wish to lovingly correct it.

It would be great if someone can help me with some verses.

Thanks !

Could you please assist me with some evidence to refute.

I think you are correct in being discomfited by this teaching. Salvation is the work of God, effected through the death, burial and resurrection of Christ who paid for our sins on the cross. Today, that salvation which Christ effected for us is available to us if we will believe on Him, put our trust completely in Him. Salvation is by faith - period. Not by works, not by secret knowledge or anything else. It is a relationship between God and man, that starts with sincere faith that changes us into a new person. People have been burnt on the stake, ex-communicated, put into prison and through all kinds of difficulties in the defense of this doctrine of salvation by faith alone - it is a precious resource that we need to safeguard.

Ephesians 2:8,9 - For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- not by works, so that no one can boast. (NIV)

John 3:15-17 - Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him." For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (NIV)

Romans 10:9,10 - …because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. (ESV)

This is suspiciously similar to a heresy common in the first and second century AD called gnosticism, where one of the requirements for salvation was a ‘deep knowledge’ and ‘knowledge of secrets’ apart from faith. Paul was very clearly against this in his epistles.

1 Timothy 6:20,21 - Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge (gnosis), which some have professed and in so doing have departed from the faith. Grace be with you all.

Paul was very clear that the only knowledge we must have is that of knowing Christ personally since in Him, we have everything we need for salvation and life eternal.

Colossians 2:2-4 - so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments.

John 17:3 - Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.

In short, knowing Christ is eternal life, believing in Him is salvation. There is no mention anywhere that a full understanding of all of Christ’s teachings or parables is necessary.

To be frank, how many of us can honestly claim that we have understood fully every aspect of the parables of Christ. I don’t think any one in history can honestly say that. I learn more each time I read and meditate on Christ’s words and His parables.

Yes, Jesus did explain the parables in greater detail to his disciples in private, but did they understand it fully? From what I gather from scripture, even the disciples did not fully comprehend the teachings of Christ, and it was a process of gradual and progressive learning even for them - especially Peter! Perfect understanding will come only when we are made perfect and complete, which is something I look forward to on the other side of the river. Right now, I am completely dependent on Christ my Lord for my salvation.

When I sit at the feet of Christ today in prayer and reading of the Bible, He reveals truths from scripture through the work of the Holy Spirit who lives within every disciple - yes, Christ still continues to reveal secrets to His disciples, who became His disciples through faith.


Truth; behold,

“…Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.”

Amen. this is the exact question I asked, and that is in part why I lost my guard.
In addition, I find this basic premise helpful:

This again made me passionate to resist.

In my defense I tried to use Jeremiah 31 to describe how knowing God, “the law in our minds/heart” fulfills the new covenant; however, the teacher keeps urging us to “keep the promises of the new covenant, and avoid falling into the trap, like the Pharisees”…

Trust and obedience I understand and apply, THROUGH FAITH but,
What other promises are there to keep???

Now, I have read the NT a few times with spiritual and intellectual guidance: there seems to be an expectation for something that does not come into mind: like a special commitment of some sort

In addition, I had to debate the teacher about some wording. I am taught all prophecies contain parables and thus, because the Jewish lawyers did not understand the prophecies/parables, we must understand them and keep them. I insisted that a parable only, or if not, overwhelmingly refers to Jesus’ parables, and not prophecies. Hosea 12:10
So, with a basic understanding of the key principles in the gospel, I do regularly ask questions, but too often unfortunately, since I cannot yet retrieve specific verses spontaneously, feel dejected when my view is rebuked. This is not a bad thing as such, but because the class has many new believers I feel a constant urge to speak up when appropriate.

And as mentioned before, I certainly think these people have good intentions: they are by no means wolves in sheep’s clothing… They are just misinformed.

I am very innocent however so I need to be reasonable.


Oh, and thanks for your insight!

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Perhaps I went a little ballistic about the ‘gnostic heresy’ part. It is just that I have, over the years, heard so many questionable teachings from well-meaning Christians who have added things to faith in order to be saved, and they have brought me so much confusion and pain that I am vigorous when I see even a hint of this now. These teachings have include things like - you have to be water baptised to be saved, you need to speak in tongues to be saved, you need to keep away from jewellery to be saved etc. - these troubled me so much in my early years that I have spent months (and years sometimes) trying to understand and clear up this confusion.

As for correcting this person, I would suggest doing this with much prayer and love, and privately if possible, especially since there are new believers involved. Sometimes, we simply have to state the clear teaching and leave it there, whether the person understands this or not at that moment. Sometimes we simply have to speak up - that is a matter of discernment.


Oh yes, this sounds awfully similar to my developing views against forms of politics, and other emotion dictated fables. I am also extra vigilant when it comes to dealing with false doctrine. As a teenager unfortunately I’ve already had my fair share of heretical teachings from which I escaped through debate of the word. Actually I spent a few months debating a pastor last year about strange teachings. This ended up being emotionally draining: with all due respect, a typical symbol of a cult.

So, I can relate: :frowning:

Great advice! God first.

Much appreciated.

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Hl hluke.

After having been saved at age 45 I began to read the bible. I had no clue of the parables what so ever. Upon receiving my salvation or being made aware of it I began to read the bible daily. Jn 3:3-8 were very enlightening verses to me. Truly you must be born again to enter Gods kingdom. That will happen only when God wants it to. My advise would be read His word. Ask, seek, knock. Repent, pray, believe as best you can. The truth of Gods salvation cannot be told but must be experienced. I was blind but now I see. He made you and desperately wants you to become His.


Thank you for responding.

While my faith is a continual process with God (always being sanctified, renewed, and rebuked), I have been born again.

Strangely, I’ve had two supernatural encounters with the Holy Spirit. The first one I was in a botanical garden by myself, and began writing praises to God (I know: a bit unorthodox :slight_smile:) , and an immense feeling of joy, happiness, tranquility, perfect love: a feeling of utter perfection filled my body. (about two years ago). The second was recently when I rediscovered worship, which I had for some reason forsaken. Again, a similar feeling but I got the sense it was a stamp of approval. (two weeks ago)

The message I received at the second time was that, while a true believer, a born-again Christian probably cannot lose their salvation, one can lose their spiritual connection with God (obvious).

I was talking to this bloke the other day on a different forum, and he told me this: "About 25 years ago, I asked the Lord why Christians were so easily deceived. God answers my questions, but not always do I hear what I expect. He said to me, “They know me as the Way. They know me as the Truth. They do not know me as the Life”. He now runs his own ministry aimed at a “life” centred faith. John 14:6

This hit me. It’s so true. And a lot of us are guilty of forsaking our ability to be utterly, wholeheartedly devoted to God, myself included at times.

We are designed to worship God for a reason.

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Hi @hluke! I really respect your desire to lovingly correct any teaching you find to be unbiblical. Often times we avoid correction for the sake of comfort but that is always to the disservice of others. I also think it’s awesome that you’re part of a study that puts so much emphasis on the Bible. This sounds like a group that would be open to biblical correction.

You’ve already received a lot of great biblical references for the nature of salvation so I would just like to offer two considerations about the actual verses in question.

First, the disciples didn’t “learn” the secrets of the parables, they were “given” the secrets (Mark 4:11). If the relationship between the disciples and the parables is meant as a qualifier for salvation, then we should be asking Jesus to gift us the meaning rather than trying to discern it through study.

Second, Mark 4:12 is a reference to Isaiah 6. The context of Isaiah 6 shows that God conceals the truths of His kingdom as a form of judgment, not a test for righteousness. The secrets of the kingdom are not meant as an extra qualification for salvation or some king of security measure meant to keep the wrong people out. I’m not sure how you would even begin to biblically defend this theology.

Did your teacher mention Isiah 6 at all? I would recommend that you study that chapter becuase of how essential it is to understand Mark 4:10-12. Once you have done so, offer your understanding to the teacher and see what he has to say.

I hope this helps and look forward to any questions/challenges you may have.
Stay Sharp!


If it helps, I also thought of Gnosticism when reading this, so I don’t think recognizing Gnostic teaching is “ballistic.” People who taught heretical doctrines were usually sincere about it and sincerely believed they were true. That did not make them any less heretical. So I think there is merit to bringing up the gnostic heresy here. We do have to be able to identify teachings as false. And it is important to remember that isn’t the same thing as calling someone a false teacher :slight_smile:

I am wondering, did Jesus and Paul not contend for the faith in front of others? Do you think there is a difference between correcting a brother or sister and correcting false teaching that could lead others away from the path of salvation? If someone doesn’t believe the gospel as the way to salvation and is teaching other ways (clearly this person has read the New Testament and knows of the gospel message), I don’t know that we could properly refer to that person as a brother or sister in Christ. I mean, I could be way off on this, but these are my questions and thoughts about this at the moment. @jlyons, curious to hear your take on this, too, since you’re a pastor.


Thanks for responding Nathan.
Yes the verses were presented in context of Isaiah 6. Without going into too much detail, the connection they taught was that those who “hear and perceive” the parables have some sort of special understanding of God, and thereby qualify to receive salvation. (edit: this is probably stretching their intention: rather they receive the message of salvation) You can read my earlier post. I addressed this.

They see the bible text literally, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but this causes them to miss the context: we are not the Pharisees; however they use the pharisees as a warning example. 1 Cor 10:10-12. They support this using Ecc 1:9, which could mean history repeats itself. And the second coming will be similar to Jesus’ original ministry. This does credit their position because the parables are certainly used to prepare people for the bride’s coming.

In addition, the teacher uses an interesting concept to explain ‘time’. Closed time is when prophecies have not been fulfilled. Isa 8:16. Whereas open time is when these prophecies become a reality. Amos 3:7
I must admit this teaching has a lot of interesting details but I think it is overthought.

Again, thanks for taking time to respond

Hello again hluke,
Jn 5;39 you diligently study the scriptures because you think that by then you possess eternal life. These are the scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.
I always keep this verse in mind when i study my bible. Jesus is the reason.


Great verse to support this issue,
Thank you!

I agree that taking the Bible literally is not necessarily a bad thing and the irony is that they may not be taking the Bible literary enough in this passage.
Mark 4:11 literally says that the disciples were “given the secret of the kingdom of God.” How can this be translated to claim that humans have some obligation to discern the parables when the disciples couldn’t?
Also, Jesus was also literally referring to Isaiah 6, which literally identifies the judgment of God.

1 Cor 10:10-12, Ecc 1:9, Isa 8:16, and Amos 3:7 literally have nothing to do with the parables. Whatever connection being drawn seems like it’s taking some hermeneutics gymnastics.

I apologize if none of this is helping or if I’m just missing something. This is your question and challenge so please disregard anything I’m saying that isn’t useful.

Blessings to you and in your conversations to uphold biblical truth.

P.S great scripture reference @kirby!

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I might be wrong but I always thought Jesus used parables for unbelievers. If this is the case who wants to remember parables. its is counterintuitive just a thought

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The original issue appeared to be that the Bible study leader was phrasing things backward. Jesus said in the passage that it was given to His followers to understand the mysteries, but to those who were without, the Lord hid these things with parables. From that, the leader concluded that one must understand the parables in order to be saved. I think it would be better stated that one must be saved in order to understand the parables. Hopefully, this was what the leader was intending to say - a generous approach would be to assume he was awkwardly wording his point.


I know that this is a serious question that you are asking, but I am not sure that I will be able to give you an answer like a list of proof verses that you take back to your group and somehow show them there are in error. Without trying to overwhelm you with resources, links, and the like, I do want you to take a look at this site. Kenneth Bailey will show you that the parables could be understood in the 1st-century setting. He covers 15 parables from Luke in 30-minute video sessions. As good as these videos are, his books are better. If you can only have one of his books, I highly recommend this one.


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Yes, I had a talk with them yesterday and I will again tomorrow. The message of salvation by faith is not heard. Thanks for this response. I think your estimation is right: there is a clear misunderstanding in the purpose of parables within the set context.