An idle, groundless, and worthless story, like the mythological legends of the heathen and the vain traditions of the Jews. These were often not only false and weak, but also pernicious, 1Ti 4:7; Tit 1:14; 2Pe 1:16.
applied in the New Testament to the traditions and speculations, "cunningly devised fables", of the Jews on religious questions (1Ti 1:4; 4:7; 2Ti 4:4; Tit 1:14; 2Pe 1:16). In such passages the word means anything false and unreal. But the word is used as almost equivalent to parable. Thus we have (1) the fable of Jotham, in which the trees are spoken of as choosing a king (Jg 9:8-15); and (2) that of the cedars of Lebanon and the thistle as Jehoash's answer to Amaziah (2Ki 14:9).
It represents man's relations to his fellow man; but the PARABLE rises higher, it represents the relations between man and God. The parable's framework is drawn from the dealings of men with one another; or if from the natural world, not a grotesque parody of it, but real analogies. The fable rests on what man has in common with the lower creatures; the parable on the fact that man is made in the image of God, and that the natural world reflects outwardly the unseen realities of the spiritual world. The MYTH is distinct from both in being the spontaneous symbolic expression of some religious notion of the apostate natural mind. In the fable qualities of men are attributed to brutes. In the parable the lower sphere is kept distinct from the higher which it illustrates; the lower beings follow the law of their nature, but herein represent the acts of the higher beings; the relations of brutes to each other are not used, as these would be inappropriate to represent man's relation to God.
Two fables occur in Scripture: (1) Jotham's sarcastic fable to the men of Shechem, the trees choosing their king (Jg 9:8-15). (2) Joash's sarcastic answer to Amaziah's challenge, by a fable, the sarcasm being the sharper for the covert form it assumes, namely, the cedar of Lebanon and the thistle (2Ki 14:9). Eze 17:1-10 differs from the fable in not attributing human attributes to lower creatures, and in symbolizing allegorically prophetical truths concerning the world monarchies; it is called chidah, "a riddle," from chaadad "to be sharp", as requiring acumen to solve the continued enigmatical allegory.
The fable of Jotham (1209 B.C.) is the oldest in existence; the Hebrew mind had a special power of perceiving analogies to man in the lower world; this power is a relic of the primeval intuition given to Adam by God who "brought every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air, unto Adam to see what he would call them." Other nations were much later in this style of thought, the earliest prose fables in Greece being those of the legendary Aesop, about 550 B.C. Many of the proverbs are "condensed fables" (Pr 26:11; 30:15,25,28).
The analogies in the lower creatures are to man's lower virtues or defects, his worldly prudence, or his pride, indolence, cunning (compare Mt 10:16). "Fables" mean falsehoods in 1Ti 1:4; 4:7, "old wives' fables"; Tit 1:14, "Jewish fables," the transition stage to gnosticism; 2Pe 1:16, "cunningly devised (Greek text: sophisticated) fables," devised by man's wisdom, not what the Holy Spirit teacheth (1Co 2:13); incipient gnostic legends about the genealogies, origin, and propagation of angels (Col 2:18-23).
For the definition of a fable, as distinct from parable, allegory, etc., see Trench, Parables, p. 2 ff. Its main feature is the introduction of beasts or plants as speaking and reasoning, and its object is moral instruction. As it moves on ground common to man and lower creatures, its teaching can never rise to a high spiritual level. Worldly prudence in some form is its usual note, or it attacks human folly and frailty, sometimes in a spirit of bitter cynicism. Hence it has only a small place in the Bible. See Parable.
1. In OT.
?????, lit. 'a word, a speech.' The English word is not used in the N.T. in the sense in which it is now often employed, signifying a supposed incident to teach some moral truth; but has the sense rather of myths, false stories (as the Greek word was used by later writers), which in one passage are called "profane and old wives' fables." 1Ti 1:4; 4:7; 2Ti 4:4; Tit 1:14; 2Pe 1:16.
A fable is a narrative in which being irrational, and sometimes inanimate, are, for the purpose of moral instruction, feigned to act and speak with human interests and passions. --Encyc. Brit. The fable differs from the parable in that --
1. The parable always relates what actually takes place, and is true to fact, which the fable is not; and
2. The parable teaches the higher heavenly and spiritual truths, but the fable only earthly moralities. Of the fable, as distinguished from the parable [PARABLE], we have but two examples in the Bible:
1. That of the trees choosing their king, addressed by Jotham to the men of Shechem,
2. That of the cedar of Lebanon and the thistle, as the answer of Jehoash to the challenge of Amaziah.
The fables of false teachers claiming to belong to the Christian Church, alluded to by writers of the New Testament,
do not appear to have had the character of fables, properly so called.
FABLE, a fiction destitute of truth. St. Paul exhorts Timothy and Titus to shun profane and Jewish fables, 1Ti 4:7; Tit 1:14; as having a tendency to seduce men from the truth. By these fables some understand the reveries of the Gnostics; but the fathers generally, and after them most of the modern commentators, interpret them of the vain traditions of the Jews; especially concerning meats, and other things, to be abstained from as unclean, which our Lord also styles "the doctrines of men," Mt 15:9. This sense of the passages is confirmed by their contexts. In another sense, the word is taken to signify an apologue, or instructive tale, intended to convey truth under the concealment of fiction; as Jotham's fable of the trees, Jg 9:7-15, no doubt by far the oldest fable extant.