The simple and endearing definition of a parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. However, the Bible is replete with various kinds of figurative language. Consequently, there is not universal agreement what is a parable versus another figure. Therefore, there is also a lack of consensus regarding the number of parables, including the number of parables presented by Christ, versus other figurative language.
Hence, it is little surprise that some commentators count seven parables of our Lord in Matthew 13, whereas others see eight parables in the chapter. Of course, identifying the species of figurative language employed as a vehicle to communicate divine messages is far less important than understanding those messages.
Most teachers categorize the first seven figures of speech as parables and ignore The Householder when discussing parables. "This last and eighth parable of this great parabolic chapter seems to be the unwanted orphan by many writers on the parables of our Lord." (Herbert Lockyer, All the Parables of the Bible, Zondervan Publishing House, p. 208.)
The Householder, though, along with the seven parables, appear between the signaled beginning and ending of Jesus' parabolic teaching of that occasion (Matthew 13:3, 53).
"And he spake many things unto them in parables . . . And it came to pass, that when Jesus had finished these parables, he departed thence."
Parenthetically to the eight parables in Matthew 13, between parables seven and eight, Jesus somewhat superficially assessed the apostles' comprehension of the first seven parables. "Jesus saith unto them, Have ye understood all these things? They say unto him, Yea, Lord" (Matthew 13:51).
That they thought they understood the divine message borne by the seven parables is probable. If they realized misgivings regarding our Lord's message the apostles might well have asked for an explanation as they did earlier. "And his disciples asked him, saying, What might this parable be?" (Luke 8:9). However, it is obvious from other passages that there was yet much about the kingdom of heaven that Jesus' disciples did not understand (John 6:15; Luke 24:21). "When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?" (Acts 1:6).
However, in response to their affirmation that they understood, Jesus apprised them of their corresponding responsibility to convey that knowledge to others. With knowledge and opportunity comes responsibility in the kingdom. This interchange between Jesus and the apostles was the setting in which our Lord represented the eighth parable in this chapter. "Then said he unto them, Therefore every scribe which is instructed unto the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old" (Matthew 13:52).
The Householder, like the seven previous parables, pertains to the "kingdom of heaven." The theme remained the same throughout these eight parables. The illustration, of course, is different.
Jesus dubbed his apostles as "scribes" to the kingdom of heaven. The scribes in Judaism, though trained in the Scriptures and traditions, were not suitable for induction in that capacity into the kingdom of heaven. The scribes of Jesus' day along with the Pharisees were rigorously, repeatedly and publicly reproved by the Christ (Matthew 23).
In contrast, the apostles of Christ had no rabbinical training. Being from Galilee, they also lacked refined educational and cultural opportunities. Their association with Jesus, though, was more precious and useful for their duties in the kingdom (Acts 4:13).
Another advantage the apostles had over the contemporary scribes was that they were better instructed regarding the kingdom of heaven. Whereas the apostles, like the scribes, had misgivings about that kingdom, at least the apostles did not reject the King of the kingdom. The apostles did not resist the Holy Spirit and every benevolent gesture of the Father. To their credit, the apostles were teachable. As a group, the contemporary scribes were not willing to be taught by the Master Teacher. "Naming those He has called to follow Him as Scribes, He commissioned these representative men to go out and interpret the mystery and message of the Kingdom of Heaven to an ignorant world." (Ibid., p. 210.)
As his scribes, Jesus compared each of his apostles to a "householder." This officer was in charge of the total resources of an estate over which he was placed, perhaps his own possessions. He managed all over which he had command with full authority and complete understanding of the most advantageous distribution for optimum operation.
The resources on which the householder relied, in this parable, were called treasure. The treasure was further described as "new and old." Applied to the apostles, the treasure represented the knowledge attained through their discipleship of Jesus. The "new and old" represented the New and Old Testaments. Similar to horizontal strata or the foundation of a building, the New rests upon and is dependent upon the Old.
The Law is old, and the Gospel is new, yet the latter came as the development of the former. . . . . The root is old; the fruit is new. (Ibid., p. 212.)
How are we to understand the words "old" and "new" in the text? Remember Matthew is writing to those of a Jewish background. How would a Jewish thinker respond? The "old" would be the riches of the Old Testament and the "new" would be the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. (Harry Darrow, "The Parable of the Net," The Parables of Our Saviour, Garfield Heights church of Christ, p. 168.)
The responsibility that first belonged to the apostles (2 Corinthians 4:7) is the duty of other Christians, too (Mark 16:15-16; 2 Timothy 2:2). We must tell others the Gospel of Christ.