He only spoke in parables
At the end of his account of the Parables of the Kingdom, Matthew says this:
Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using the parable. So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet:
I will open my mouth in parables,
I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world (Matthew 13:34 – 35).
The Hebrew original of Matthew’s quotation of Psalm 78, verse 2, uses for ‘parables’ the word meshalim. In the singular, mashal means proverbial saying, parable, similitude, poem, or wise saying (Brown-Driver-Briggs, Hebrew and English Lexicon, 605). We should probably understand the term ‘parable’ in Matt. 13:34 as a generic term for any number of kinds of figurative sayings.
As the Master Teacher, Jesus was an expert in the use of a wide variety of figurative sayings. Best known for His parables, He was also adept at crafting Proverbs. Many of them have characteristics that make them resemble Proverbs of the Old Testament, especially those in the Book of Proverbs. They are characterized by synonymous or antithetical parallelism and reveal profound truths while still putting a premium on brevity.
Proverbs of Jesus
Here are some examples of the proverbs of Jesus. See if you can extend this list on your own.
Matt. 6:24 – No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.
Matt. 6:33 – But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
Matt. 6:34 – Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Matt. 7:1 – Do not judge, or you too will be judged.
Matt. 7:2 – In the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
Matt. 7:6 – Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.
Matt. 10:16 – Be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.
Matt. 12:33 – A tree is recognized by its fruit.
Matt. 15:11 – What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.
Matt. 15:14 – If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.
Matt. 19:24 – It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.
Matt. 23:24 – Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!
Matt. 26:52 – All who draw the sword will die by the sword.
Mark 2:17 – It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.
Mark 3:25 – If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.
Mark 6:4 – A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.
Luke 7:31 – Do to others as you would have them do to you.
Luke 7:35 – But wisdom is proved right by all her children.
Luke 17:37 – Where there is a dead body, there the vultures will gather.
Want to go deeper?
J. Fletcher. “The Example of the Queen of Sheba,” 2: 216 in The British Pulpit (1839).
Ben Witherington, III. Jesus the Sage: The pilgrimage of wisdom (Fortress, 2000).
A masterful study of the relationship between ancient Jewish wisdom literature and the Jesus tradition. Examining meshalim, Ben Sira, the Wisdom of Solomon, and the Cynics, Witherington demonstrates how these texts influenced Christ’s teaching and shaped the thought of James, Paul, the Gospel authors, and other New Testament writers. 436 pages, softcover from Augsburg/Fortress.
Robert H. Stein. “The Form of Jesus’ Teaching,” 7-33 in The Method and Message of Jesus’ Teachings. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1978.
Stein explains and gives numerous examples of the various teaching methods of Jesus, including his use of proverbs, puns, irony, logic, and many more.