Howard wrong on parable of the Talents

Last night Lateline reported John Howard’s Hillsong address to churches around Australia.

JOHN HOWARD: Parable of the Talents, to me has always been, has always seemed to me to be the “free enterprise parable”. The parable that tells us that we have a responsibility if we are given assets to add to those assets.

He’s got it completely wrong. Here’s a sermon I preached a couple of months ago:

The Parable of the Talents
Matthew 25:14-30

[The congregation was first asked what the parable means and which figure represents God.]

I have some problems with the interpretation you have just given me, with the Master representing God [or Jesus], the first two slaves as good and the third slave as wicked.

To begin with, is this what God is like? “I knew that you were a harsh man” “You knew, did you?” “throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth”. Is God like a harsh man? One who throws the lazy into the outer darkness? Hey, God may be cruel, but he’s fair! Is that the God of peace and love and justice proclaimed by Jesus?

Secondly, the Master is pleased with 100% return on an investment. And if you can’t get that, at least get some interest for it. Does God support usury, the lending of money at interest? It is forbidden elsewhere in the bible. Has God changed his mind? And is it just, to double your money with investments? Who pays the price for this?

And what do we make of this phrase:
“For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.”
How easily this can be used to say I deserve my wealth, whereas those without deserve their fate.

And my final problem is that this is not the way you tell a story. It is always the third person who provides the lesson. We should be drawn in by the first two characters, people who behave as expected, and then the third person should surprise us with something unexpected and teach us the lesson. The story of the good Samaritan is like this, the first person, not unreasonably, passes by on the other side. The second person does the same, as would we. But the third person – The Samaritan, of all people – provides the lesson and teaches us who our neighbour is. Any good joke follows the same pattern. But with the parable of the talents, we get the lesson straight away. The first slave does the right thing – he uses his talents wisely and is rewarded. Good on him. The second slave does the same thing… ok, we get the idea. And the third slave… does the wrong thing and is punished. The good are rewarded and the bad are punished. Where’s the twist? The surprise at the end, that gives the lesson? Sounds like a fairly mediocre parable.

Now I don’t want to throw away the parable, but I do want to throw away this interpretation and find a better one. And to find that, let’s first look more closely at what this parable is about, before we decide what it means.

So, the parable of the talents is about… talents. So, what was a talent? Well, it was an amount of money, but how much money? Now if you’re like me, your main cultural reference for the worth of a talent is a scene in “The Life of Brian”. A beggar comes up to Brian and his mother and says: “Spare a talent for an old ex-leper”. Brian’s mother replies: “A talent! That’s more than he earns in a month!” Unfortunately this is highly misleading. Who would have thought that Monty Python was not historically accurate, but there you go. A talent certainly was more than Brian earned in a month. A talent was about 15 years wages. In today’s terms, taking a wage of say, $65000, a talent comes out to one million dollars. Hardly the amount a beggar would be asking for on the street, unless he were very ambitious.

Now, what exactly was the household described in the parable? The Master has five, plus two, plus one, talents. Do any of you have eight million dollars lying around and need other people to look after it for you? This is not a household like the ones we live in today. In fact, at the time, power was concentrated in cities. And the cities controlled the surrounding countryside. But within the cities power was held by large households – the Packers and Murdochs of their day. It is in these households that you would find a master with eight talents, lying around needing looking after, while the Master went away searching for other business opportunities.

So we’ve looked at the talents, looked at the household, now, what about the slaves?

Who are these slaves? Well, any sizable institution, like a household, needs a sizable bureaucracy to manage it. And at the top of the bureaucracy are these slaves, entrusted with looking after the household’s vast wealth. The slaves have played the game to rise to this position, and must maintain it if they wish to stay where they are.

Let’s leave the parable for a while and see if we can make some connection with these slaves. What have a I got here in my hand? A credit card. But this is no ordinary credit card. It is an Australian Government Purchasing credit card, and it’s got my name on it. What does this allow me to do? It lets me spend someone else’s money – in this case the Federal Government’s money, tax payers’ money. Now could you put your hand up – this is the interactive part in case you’ve tuned out – put your hand up if you have ever had control over money that was not yours, not part of a business you owned, not a relative’s, but someone else’s money. The money of a Government, your employer, a church, a school, a community organisation.

Ok, everyone with a hand up – like the slaves in this parable, you are a manager of other people’s money. This parable is about you and me. You can put your hands down now.

We often have parables about the poor, but we’re not poor. We have parables about the rich, and again, we’re not rich, that’s somebody else, we’re off the hook. But this parable, it’s about the managers. And at Ringwood Uniting, we should pay attention, because for many of us, this… is a parable about us.

Now if you didn’t have your hand up. If you’re a worker, a small business owner, a student, unemployed, looking after children full time, you’re off the hook today. You can just glance at all the managers and look smug.

Now, back to the parable. Let me suggest that it’s not a parable about the Kingdom of God at all. It doesn’t begin with ‘The Kingdom of God is like’ as many other parables do. No, this is a story about the world, and what the world is like.

The Master is not God. The Master is just a master. The Master is harsh, he believes those who have, should get more.

And how do they get more? Well, one of the ways large households doubled money, was to lend it out to farmers and charge them exorbitant interest. The real money was not in the interest, but in foreclosing on the loan. Getting the land and crops when the farmer could no longer pay the loan back.

People who no longer had land, had to go to the city and sell their labour, and would be the sort of people hearing this parable as Jesus told it. A parable about the people who had ripped them off. What would Jesus’ audience think of the slaves? Not very nice things, I reckon.

So how do we see the parable now? The head of a large and powerful household goes away leaving three able slaves, his Senior Management team, in charge of 8 million dollars. The first two slaves do what it takes to double their money. “Those evil so and sos. We all know someone who’s lost their land to them” is what we’re meant to be thinking. But such unpleasantness is avoided in the polite conversations between the Master and the first two slaves. “I have made five more talents” , “ Well done good and trustworthy slave”. No mention of people thrown off their land. The slaves just enjoy their master’s happiness that the finances have gone so well.

The third slave is the hero is this story. For whatever reason, he decides he cannot partake of this any longer. He decides to become what is now called a “whistle blower”. Instead of using the money to make more money, instead of entrusting it to bankers, he takes it out of the system, burying it in the ground, where it can do no harm. When the master returns, it no polite chat. Rather, the third slave says the unmentionable, making plain where the Master’s wealth comes from. Telling it straight to the Master. “ I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed” – a description of reaping a harvest sown by others who have been thrown off their land by the Master. The Master does not take kindly to this, giving the usual slander of idleness and immorality that accompanies any whistle blower: “You wicked and lazy slave!”.

The third slave is stripped of all of his responsibilities and they are given to the other slaves. No longer part of the bureaucracy that has supported him, the slave will soon be destitute, living in the world of the poor – the outer darkness, as the Master sees it – where people do indeed gnash their teeth, whether in anguish, or chattering from the cold.

Having looked at what this parable is about, I will now close by looking at what it means.

For managers like many of us, it is a call to be awake to the realities of the institutions we manage. Is injustice kept hidden behind polite language and euphemisms? Is it time to say “no more”? Do you have the courage to risk the consequences of speaking out? Possibly losing your employment, your reputation?

Now we don’t do altar calls in this church. But I’m tempted to say “Do you feel the spirit is prompting you to reveal the truth with us today? If so, come on down and share with the congregation.” Maybe you do feel this way. But that would be unfair because there is one final bit to this parable.

Government whistle blower Andrew Wilkie has said, “Some would have followed me out the door before the [Iraq] war, if only they felt they could have. But in reality most people find themselves constrained either by their sense of duty or by financial consideration – they cannot afford the instant loss of a career with little immediate prospects of another. Or else they feel powerless to make a difference and are overwhelmed with despair.”

Yes, the fate of the whistle blower can be harsh as this parable attests. But it is not the end of the story. The hearers of Jesus’ parable would detest the manager-slaves, but this story encourages empathy for the third slave. Not “one of those so and sos has finally got what they deserve”, but rather “he’s now in the outer darkness with us. How should we treat him?” With no support the whistle blower would be hungry, thirsty, he would be a stranger, lacking clothes, he could get sick, possibly imprisoned. Do you see where I’m going with this? Yes, the very next passage in Matthew is the “Last Judgment”, the one with the sheep and the goats, where we are encouraged to feed the hungry and thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned, because that is where we meet Jesus.

So there is a message here for the church as a whole. You non-managers don’t get off scott free today after all. Whistle blowers may end up in the outer darkness, but that is where the church should already be. With Jesus, providing the necessary resources to those outside of the system.

If the managers of our society really believed that the church would support them spiritually and economically, they would be more inclined to act like the third slave and blow the whistle when they see injustice.

Delivered Sunday April 22nd 2007
Ringwood Uniting Church, 9am Service


William R. Herzog II, Parables As Subversive Speech: Jesus As Pedagogue of the Oppressed, Westminster/John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, 1994, Chapter 9, “The Vulnerability of the Whistle-blower: The Parable of the Talents”.

Ched Myers and Eric DeBode, “Towering Trees and Talented Slaves”, The Other Side, May-June 1999.

Andrew Wilkie, Axis of Deceit: The Story of the Intelligence Officer who Risked All to Tell the Truth about WMD and Iraq, Schwartz Publishing, Melbourne, 2004, p 146.


50 comments so far

  1. Justin Morahan on

    I like this interpretation.

    I wonder how much the early and later copiers have changed the original text and how much the original authors or evangelists changed what they heard in order to put their own slant on the story or bolster up a point they were making.

    It happens all the time nowadays with the best of intentions.

  2. Dave Fagg on

    Justin, I reckon the mainstream interpretation is less about the authors/evangelists/later editors changing the story, than it is about the fact that we read the gospels with cultural lenses on.

    The Prosperity Gospel reads this passages assuming that the Bible will validate its point of view, instead of trying to get into the world of the evangelist, where a more accurate meaning (such as the one Paul has given) can be got.

  3. Justin Morahan on

    Dave, I have already written that I like Paul’s interpretation.

    The comment about accuracy and truth of presentation (at the time of writing and at the later times of copying, translating, editing, annotating etc) was an additional, but related comment. It might also be worth considering with regard to our reliance on and interpretation of ancient documents.

  4. Paul on

    Justin, Ched Myers and William Herzog (my two references) approach your question of changing the text in different ways.

    Ched, if I’m not mistaken, sees the gospel text as being carefully crafted by the author. So we are getting Matthew’s theology, or the theology of Matthew’s community. If you make a movie of someone’s life you shape the material to fit the format and to make various points, so too with the gospels.

    Herzog, approaches it quite differently. He attempts to get back to what is the authentic parable of Jesus before Matthew and others added their layers of interpretation.

    So Herzog argues that verse 29 “For to every one who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” should not be taken as part of the parable and can be left out when interpreting the parable. Ched would say that Matthew put it in, so we should respect the integrity of Matthew’s narrative and deal with it, as I do above.

    This does not get into the question of later changes to the text. The only textual variant my Greek bible lists for the parable is whether the word “immediately” should belong to the last sentence of verse 15 or the first sentence of verse 16 – no big deal.

  5. Mike on

    Thanks for this – I really like your interpretation of the parallel – it sounds much more like Jesus than the prosperity or “use what God has given you” versions.

  6. Johnfitz on

    This always intrigued me! seemed incompatible with rest texts. I welcome this interpretation

  7. john on

    I did some surfing and found these 2 pages with information relating to that particular parable.

    I think it quite remarkable that a Government that takes from the poor and gives to the rich has the audacity/hypocricy to use God’s word as a political stunt.

    Given the references to Solomon and the 666 talents he acquired through taxation, I think we should see what this Government’s real agenda is.

    The blind shall lead the blind and both shall fall into the ditch – that’s my sermon to you John Howard and all who follow after riches.

  8. Justin Morahan on

    Thanks Paul. No big deal indeed.

    I suppose I am adopting a non-faith-based approach and asking more fundamental questions than Ched Myers and William Herzog.

    But I am still very interested in their work and yours.

  9. Martin J Cowling on

    I really really enjoyed this sermon. Got me thinking about a parable in a new way.

  10. paul cassidy on

    John-fitz brought this to my attention
    I think the parable refers to an economy of grace; so we’re talking about adding grace to grace, virtue to virtue as we clothe ourselves more fully in love.
    If we neglect the natural graces that we have been bestowed with for the things of this world then we lose even what little grace we had; but if we develop the graces we have been given then more graces are added to our store, so we become more virtuous, till we are clothed in love.
    This has nothing to do with financial economy; the parable is intended as a simile for Jesus’ economy of grace. It seems that for Jesus and Shakespeare, alike, there was nothing more disappointing than good come to naught:
    ‘For sweetest things turn sourest by their deeds;
    Lillies that fester, smell far worse than weeds (Sonnet 13).


  11. Paul on

    This post was linked to by blogger Simon Barrow from The Guardian Newspaper in the UK on 25th September 2007. Link.

  12. Jenn on

    Fantastic sermon! This parable has not sat well with me and my husband. He had learned a similar interpretation in one of his college theology classes.

  13. JD on

    Context, context, context! There is a definite linking by Jesus of this parable to the one before it, particularly in regards to his second coming. So what has he given us his servants? Read Luke 17, and understand that what He has left his servants is the Holy Spirit by faith, that we might be witnesses of Him (Acts 1:8). Translating parables by what feels good to our self-righteous sensibilties is a great way to miss the messaqe of our Lord! It is not about money or works of the flesh manifested in the social gospel. That which is of the Spirit will bring life and multiplication. The deeds of the flesh, no matter how noble, bring death! Whatever is not of faith is sin.

  14. Justin Morahan on

    I skip all of the previous comment to the last two lines.

    Death comes to people of faith as well as to people without faith.

    And what an outrageous philosophy/belief for anyone to hold that “Whatever is not of faith is sin”!

  15. John on

    While I cannot claim to understand all of the cultural background of the parable, I do agree with JD that context is of utmost importance. This parable cannot be pulled out of the chapter (or surrounding chapters) and interpreted as a stand-alone story.

    It can only be properly understood in light of the preceding story which deals with being ready when the bridegroom comes. Therefore, I understand it as Jesus telling the listeners or readers that the way to stay ready for his return is to be faithful in our service with the gifts he has given us.

  16. Paul on

    I agree that the parable cannot be pulled out of the chapter. That is why the sermon shows how the parable leads into the passage about the sheep and the goats that immediately follows.

    But how does it fit in with the preceding parable?
    That parable tells us to “Watch” and be ready to meet Jesus. The parable of the Talents tells us what to watch out for, namely large organisations, such as the household, that exist by making people destitute.

    The sheep and the goats passage is about what we should be ready for, and it tells us where we can meet Jesus: with the least.

    In the sermon I attempt to place the parable in its cultural context in 1st century Palestine as well as its literary context within the gospel of Matthew.

  17. Bill Cusano on

    I found this interpretation fascinating and included a reference to it in my daily reflection on this parable on my site today. I like the fact that you think of the 1st century audience, what the story may have meant to the group Jesus would have been talking and living with. I believe the more open we are to being uncomfortable with the teachings of Jesus, the more open we become to understanding ourselves. Thank you for this, and I look forward to reading more of your sermons. – Bill Cusano (

  18. jenndixon on

    My husband first brought this interpretation to my attention and it makes more sense than the one that is often taught. In fact, doing an online search, this is one of the VERY few resources that has this interpretation.

    Well done!

  19. carol on

    Thanks for this interpretation. It seems so closer to the truth. Jesus warned about money, so why would he encourage profiting from money. Jews were not allowed to charge interest, as Romans did, so what would this story mean in their life? He also describes the master as ruthless, taking what is not his, not at all like he describes his Father in heaven, reaching out for the weak. So He clearly seems to be referring to the Roman rulers and their treatment of people and focus on material wealth. Their ruthless treatment of the poor who do not “deliver” or pay their exorbitant taxes. I have even wondered if Jesus was the “talent buried in the ground,” cast off as worthless… who rose to free the oppressed. We are to use our gifts, but I think this is a completely different story, as you described. Thanks!

  20. Ashley Tate on

    Wow, what an extraordinary case of reading ones desired result into a Biblical text without regard to the clear context and meaning!

    Here is the full text of the parable (NKV,;&version=50;):

    14 For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them. 15 And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey. 16 Then he who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and made another five talents. 17 And likewise he who had received two gained two more also. 18 But he who had received one went and dug in the ground, and hid his lord’s money. 19 After a long time the lord of those servants came and settled accounts with them.
    20 So he who had received five talents came and brought five other talents, saying, ‘Lord, you delivered to me five talents; look, I have gained five more talents besides them.’ 21 His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’ 22 He also who had received two talents came and said, ‘Lord, you delivered to me two talents; look, I have gained two more talents besides them.’ 23 His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’
    24 Then he who had received the one talent came and said, ‘Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground. Look, there you have what is yours.’
    26 But his lord answered and said to him, ‘You wicked and lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I have not sown, and gather where I have not scattered seed. 27 So you ought to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I would have received back my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him, and give it to him who has ten talents. 29 ‘For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away. 30 And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

    I’ll answer the points presented by this post in order. First, there is no authoritative descripion of the master as a harsh or hard man. This comes from the mouth of the third servant who is clearly trying to excuse his laziness. The master does not dispute the servant’s description, but simply answers that even in the servant’s own terms his behavior was foolish.

    Second, the Bible nowhere indicates that 100% gain on an investment is wrong. The passage does not give a specific time frame–it simply says the master was away for a “long time”. This could be anywhere from months to years, meaning the gain may be anywhere from more than 100% per year to much, much less. You also can’t assume that usury or interest is involved in the gains of the first two servants. There are many, many ways to invest and gain return on capital besides loaning money at interest. Nor does the Bible unequivocally forbid interest. See Deuteronomy 23:19-20 (NKV,;&version=50;):

    19 You shall not charge interest to your brother interest on money or food or anything that is lent out at interest. 20 To a foreigner you may charge interest, but to your brother you shall not charge interest, that the LORD your God may bless you in all to which you set your hand in the land which you are entering to possess.

    Verse 20, which explicity allows charging of interest to Gentiles, is often conveniently dropped by those teaching that all interest is sin. Another example is Leviticus 23:35-37 (NKV,;&version=50;):

    35 ‘If one of your brethren becomes poor, and falls into poverty among you, then you shall help him, like a stranger or a sojourner, that he may live with you. 36 Take no usury or interest from him; but fear your God, that your brother may live with you. 37 You shall not lend him your money for usury, nor lend him your food at a profit.

    The Bible clearly teaches that it’s wrong to take advantage of the poor or misfortunate by charging interest on life essentials. But it’s not sinful to charge Donald Trump interest when you loan him money to build his latest high-rise!

    Third, the standard story/parable pattern DOES fit. The third servant DOES teach us a lesson–it is simply a negative lesson rather than a positive one! Rather than teaching “do this” the parable teaches “don’t do this”. What’s surprising about a parable with a negative lesson? There are many, many such in scripture.

    Fourth, the amount of money involved here is greatly exaggerated. The term talent in the ancient world was used variously to indicate gold or silver coins or specific weights of gold or silver (a silver talent was 1/2 the weight of a gold talent). The value varied between civilizations and locations. The original word used in the parable of the talents specifically indicates silver and a Jewish, silver talent was most likely valued at $1-2,000, not several a million dollars. This sort of deflates the theory that this parable is about the master of a super-rich household who built his estate on the backs of the poor, doesn’t it? Not to mention the long chain of assumptions used to make the master seem like a really bad guy! (Everything about the master building his estate by loaning money at exorbitant interest and foreclosing, etc. etc. is simply made up–not in the text or indicated by the historical context.)

    Fifth, if the third servant was a heroic “whistleblower”, he was the most pathetic hero in the Bible! Consider: We have Daniel in the lion’s den; we have young David taking down Goliath; we have Gideon and his 300 against 135,000 Midianites–and the whiny whistleblower who hid his talent in the ground is a hero?! What!? If he was really on the side of right and a heroic example for us to follow, wouldn’t he have simply given the masters money away to the poor (or at least loaned it at zero interest for an indefinite term) and boldly confronted the master with his deed?!

    Sixth, the parable DOES begin with “the kingdom of heaven is like”, making the point of the parable perfectly clear. In some translations this is spelled out (such as NKV, quoted above), and in some translations the reference to “the kingdom of heaven” is implicit by virtual of the fact that the parable of the talents is a continuation of the same illustration started with the parable of the ten virgins (which begins with “the kingdom of heaven” in all translations). The structure of the text in all translations is:
    “the kingdom of God/Heaven is like”

    [parable of the ten virgins]

    “again, it is like/for it is like/for it will be like/again, it will be like”

    [parable of the talents]
    In some cases the pronoun “it” is translated explicitly as “the kingdom of God” and in some cases “it” is left as an implicit reference to “the kingom of God/Heaven” at the start of the previous parable. But in all translations it is clear that the parable refers to the kingdom of God.

  21. Paul on

    Replying to the points in the previous post:

    1. Yes, there is no authoritative description of the master as a harsh or hard man, but also there is no authoritative description of the master as a good man. We make that decision as part of our interpretation of the parable. I have given reasons above as to why the slave is correct in his assessment of the master as a harsh man.

    2. I am not saying that the master’s return on his money is usury. The master is in favour of usury when he suggests to the slave that he invest the money with bankers. This is put forward by the master as an alternative to reaping without sowing and gathering without scattering. As I said: ‘the Master is pleased with 100% return on an investment. And if you can’t get that, at least get some interest on it.’

    The question still remains as to whether doubling money with investments is just. In the situation of the parable, where this meant that small landholders would lose their land, it was not just.

    3. There is no problem with a negative lesson. The problem is that the third slave adds little to the message. In the parable of the good Samaritan, the first two people are seen as fully justified as passing by on the other side. This is normal behaviour, no lesson is learned. It is the Samaritan who provides the lesson and shows that in fact the first two people were wrong. Without the Samaritan there is no lesson. In the parable of the talents as usually interpreted, the actions of the first two slaves do not draw us in. They are seen as behaving properly and that is confirmed by the wicked third slave. It’s like telling a joke with 3 people going into a bar and then first person gives away the punchline. It makes the rest of the joke pointless.

    4. Books I have read place the value of a talent as equivalent to many years wages. For what it’s worth, Wikipedia uses 200 months (over 16 years) of wages to calculate a value of a silver talent and arrives at $300,000. Of course if you just take the current market value of the silver that makes up the talent you get a much smaller figure, say $11,500 (Wikipedia again). But that’s like saying that our coins only have the value of the metal in them. For metal currency to work they must always be worth more than this, or people would just melt them down for scrap.

    5. Perhaps the New Teastament has a different style of hero than the Old Testament.

    6. The Greek text says “It is like”, it does not say “The kingdom of God is like”. Where translators have made this interpretation, I disagree with them. The previous parable (of the virgins) is about the kingdom of God, telling us to keep watch because we don’t know when Jesus will return. The parable of the talents is about what to watch for, namely the ripping off of the poor in this world by large institutions, and the last judgment (the following passage) is about Jesus’ return. It fits together nicely.

  22. craig on

    i have just been reading your comments of matthew 25v 14-30.
    we all see it differently and i would like to try and show how i see it.
    firstly jesus uses an earthly egsample but behind it is a spiritual truth, the master leaves but we are not sure when he returns so we see the servants
    being active and alert for when he returns.
    the master is jesus and the servants are the church,
    every person has been given a talent by GOD.
    some choose to use that talent and others choose to bury theirs, each persons talent is to be used for the benefit of the church, your talent maybe
    sunday school or maybe cleaning the church every
    talent is important no matter how little you or i may see just as paul talks about the body and how important each part is.

    but any way back to the story the third servant does have a part to play he shows us that when we choose to bury our talents and choose not to use it sooner or later that talent has gone, sadly
    the third servant had a pretty poor image of his master, we see the master has trust in his servants not just to leave them alone but to leave them with the talents.
    the third servant even though he knew his master
    he did not truly know him at all, this is how some in the church see GOD as judgemental, hard
    not turning but we see that when we look through the bible we see a GOD of love, compassion and mercy.
    in matthews gospel 3 parables use this same phrase
    after a long time.
    the bride groom
    the land owner
    the judgement.
    we know jesus will return but we dont know when
    this is what these phrases are pointing too.
    in the parable of the wedding feast when we look into the background of it it is not the groom who makes the decision but his father when he is to go get his bride.
    and the same is with jesus.
    only the father knows the day and hour,
    are his servants ready.

  23. Holly on

    I agree with Craig and Ashley. I actually heard a sermon about this this past Sunday, and I believe Pastor Nik really had God’s heart on this subject. He read from Luke ch.19. He said that the master is Jesus. As stated in the post above, He left all His servants an amount of money. This money does not represent talents and abilities, and it does not represent prosperity. It represents a measure of faith. Pastor Nik researched the culture and Greek definitions to come up with these representations. He went away, as Christ did, and will return at an unexpected time. When the master returned in the parable he went to the first man and asked how much he had. Jesus will be pleased because his servants take that measure of faith that God has given them and they multiply it. He grew in his faith. The second guy also grew in his faith, and the master (Jesus) was pleased. The third guy took the faith and buried it.(He buried the talent.) He did not grow in his faith and that is why God said he was wicked. God gives every Christian who really knows His heart a mustard seed of faith to make it until His return. The question He will ask when he does return is, “What did you do with that faith? Did it grow, or did you bury it and kill it? When God gives you something that He wants you to do, do you have the faith to believe and know that He gives you every resource of faith to do the things that you think seem impossible? Do you truely believe it with all your heart, or do you murmur against God like the children of Israel in the wilderness. This man had a false idea of who God is and that is what caused him to not walk in faith. He stifled his faith because he didn’t understand the love of God for him. Do you allow things to slip in your heart that cause you to accuse God as this man did? That’s what was really happening here. He didn’t trust the master’s command. He felt that he was not capable of performing what the master asked of him, so he chose not to obey and invest. Do you not trust that God’s will is the best even when it’s what you think you don’t want? When you feel that it is impossible to obey him, do you believe with all your heart that all things are possible through Christ? Do you believe that he gave you every resource of faith that you need to obey Him, or do you accuse Him in your heart and say that His will is not good? God is good no matter how you feel. When your sin nature tells you that God is hard and merciless, do you choose to believe, or do you falsely accuse God as this man did? That’s why He was wicked. He falsely accused God of being a hard cruel God. Who is God to you? do you see Him as hard and cruel, or is He a God of love and mercy?

  24. Holly on

    I think that if you want to know what this parable really means you need to put your books down and quit trying to think up some logical explanation to this. The only way you will ever know the true meaning of the scriptures is if you get in your prayer closet and seek God’s face and let Him tell you what He wants to say about it. The gospel is not about man’s ideas and opinions. You need to hear the voice of God for yourself, and let Him speak to you through the scriptures. That is the only way that you will ever see the true depth of God’s word. If you want to know the voice of God seek Him in His word. His word is His voice in written form!!!

  25. ron on

    Paul, you are certainly correct in that this passage has been terribly misused in some of the traditional interpretations. However, your application of exegetical principles is terrible! You are obviously a very intelligent, educated and creative individual. Please use your God-given talents in being fair to the text of Scripture. You seem to be trusting your opinions and your view of certain facts on many things to come up with your interpretation. Please take seriously Ashley’s comments. They are not perfect nor or mine, but they will be helpful to you in being true to the clear meaning of this scripture and others. People are easily misled. Remember that as a teacher you will be judged by God more strictly. This is not to discourage you from teaching, but it is God’s own instructions to all of us to be very careful to rightly teach the Word of God.
    Thanks for your prayerful consideration.

  26. Paul on

    Hi Ron,

    Thanks for your comments. If could tell me what you found about my application of exegetic principles to be terrible then we could continue this discussion.

  27. Aaron on

    A very helpful book from Wayne Grudem called “Business for the Glory of God” really cleared up my thinking concerning the business world. Grudem uses the Parable of Talents to show that business and interest is not evil, but can be used for evil purposes. I do think that God wants us multiply our monetary stewardship.

  28. preson777 on

    Paul, I very much agree with your interpretation, I have actually preached it this way for quite some time.

    I DID however come to a different application.

    This conversation happen within days of Jesus himself confronting the sin and injustice of the entire world. I believe He was pointing towards His own coming trials and crucifixion and suffering the same fate as the prophets.
    The Prophets have ALWAYS suffered that fate after putting their finger in the face of those who did evil in the sight of the Lord.

    I see this passage as an invocation to stand against sin, even when it causes you great suffering.
    The following verses pretty much sum it all up, when Jesus turns the tables and judges all of us.

  29. Paul on

    Thanks to jebiv for submitting this post to redit.

    A few people have added comments about this post there.

  30. Dale on

    April 18, 2009 I enjoyed very much the various comments posted here on Jesus’ parable of the talents. I am a lifelong Christian, but this parable and its usual interpretation has bothered me since I was 7 years old and first heard it. I generally subscribe concept of the Bible being absolutely authentic, but somehow I find it hard to believe that the usual meaning is the meaning that Jesus had when he told told the story. Even since 7 years old I had often wondered why in the parable none of the 3 servants lost any of the talents. To me, that would have been more realistic. What would the master have said to the one who lost some or all of the talents as opposed to what he said to the servant who held the single talent he had been given. Since the master didn’t say what the investment objectives were to be for these talents, I think the 3rd servant is indeed the hero. What risks and what abuses may have been involved in doubling the talents ? I think the point of the parable was that one should be very careful when one is entrusted with someone else’s assets. Especially in the absense of a clear agreement as to what is to be done with the assets. The 3rd servant also wisely knew the personality of the master, and knew that if there were losses on the talents, the master would be very sore. I think the first 2 servants did a lot of speculation, perhaps not dishonest but definitely subjecting the talents to way too much risk. I offer the “parable” of two travelers who come to a deep valley across which is stretched an old rope bridge. The first traveller goes across the bridge. The second takes the longer way around because he feels that the bridge is unsafe. I believe the second traveller is the one whom I would want to lead me. Risk taking to a small extent is almost always reasonable. Just getting up every day is a risk, but actually perhaps not more risk than not getting up. However, beyond that, rewards in general are a result of risk, with the risk of loss, defeat, death, and degradation that goes along with it. If one is only accountable to one’s self, I suppose any amount of risk taken is one’s business, but when someone is holding assets for another person, assets that don’t belong to one’s personal portfolio, large risk taking is unacceptable. I think somewhere in the Bible writings through the years, the authors and translators must have taken some liberties.

  31. mark on

    Hi there Paul and others,
    I am about to preach on this passage and came across your sermon which really sparked my interest. I have spent a couple of days pondering and reading as a result of your work. I must say I agree with you entirely that John Howard has misinterpreted the parable. He sees in it only earthly principles to justify his philosophical and hence political agenda.

    I also agree with your point that managers should be very careful with how they treat their workers. However I think that is where we part company. That message of fairness can be found in copious passages from the bible, but not in this passage. This passage is about the kingdom of God.

    You have, in fact, mis-interpreted the passage on exactly the same terms as Mr Howard, just the other side of the same coin. Many on the “economic rationalist” train have made “the market” into their god by making it the fundamental organizing principle of society. Ironically The Howard years achieved a goal Marx could not, the continual running of industry. Marx is just the other side of the same coin, call it the market, or labor or whatever, it became the organizing principle of society in order to free the Prols from the oppressive Bourgeois. Paul, like Mr Howard you have assumed it is about earthly matters to justify your own philosophical and hence political means I suspect.

    But now to the passage itself. You were critiqued by Ron as having terrible exegesis. However I think it is more of a problem of eisegesis, reading into the passage. Paul, you and church have a large interest in social welfare which is great, but you have read that agenda into this passage and let it ride over exegesis.

    Your eisegesis starts when you tell us your opinion on the character of God saying “Is God like a harsh man? One who throws the lazy into the outer darkness? Hey, God may be cruel, but he’s fair! Is that the God of peace and love and justice proclaimed by Jesus?” God is not a harsh man, but a fair and loving God. Note he is fair, and like an “fair” entity or person he punishes wrong doing. This is all through the Gospel of Matthew, the other Gospels and the whole bible. The book of Matthew makes it abundantly clear that indeed God does punish evil, but you seem to miss that out.

    Exegetically your gramatical error is in failing to note the presence of the conjuction that starts this passage. The 7 or 8 times Matthew uses “hosper” it clearly continues the theme of the previous passage, in this case it is the kingdom of God, not merely watching. This pericope is on the same topic as the one before, being ready for “The Lord” and judgement on those who are not ready.

    Exegetically you have not given enought credence to context. Luke 19 is a similar account and where you could not possibly read your interpreation into it, it is clearly about Jesus as a king. Also there are numerous pericopes in Matthew with the exactly same result for those who are disobedient or lazy; punishment. Lastly the immediate context will not allow you to remove the judgement of God on evil as the main point of the parable. It just cannot be done without serious violence to the text, sorry.

    There is more I could say, and will at a future date if you would like. Please pray about this as i have before. Please come back to me on any of this.

  32. Paul on

    Thanks for you comments. Here are my replies to your points.

    I never say anything about how managers should treat their workers. There are no workers in this parable. There is a master and three slaves, and I connect the slaves with managers. The parable is about a whistle blower, and it encourages us to be on his side. This is a long way from telling manages to treat their workers well. It is not a parable about fairness.

    I do think the passage is about earthly matters. It is condemning of both Howard’s and Marx’s organising of society. Both involve the sort of practices exposed by this parable.

    You say God is not a harsh man. Yet the master in this parable is described as harsh and does not deny it, but quotes the third slave’s criticism of him: reaping where I have not sown, and gathering where I have not scattered. God may punish the evil, but God is not the harsh master in this parable.

    The problem with taking the parable the other way is that the slave still isn’t all that evil. Making a bad investment return just doesn’t strike me as all that evil and deserving of punishment. This does not depict a fair God, but a harsh one.

    It is continuing the theme of ‘staying awake’ from the verse immediately before this passage and also from before the parable of the ten bridesmaids.

    In Luke 19 the people are expecting the kingdom of God to show itself then and there in Jerusalem. The people are wrong, so the parable must be against this view. The telling of this parable is a warning against this sort of kingship. It is in the same vein as the warning God gives when the Israelites want a king. If you want a king, then this is the sort of harsh and capricious rule you will get.

  33. mark on

    Hi again Paul,
    Thanks for your reply. This is a passage that is a wrestle for us, because it tells us things that we may not want to hear; about ourselves. Your interpretation is indeed a possible interpretation of the passage, only if there were no context. But in context it can really only be about God’s judgment of a lazy servant upon his eschatological return. This is what Matthew 24 and 25 is all about. In the parable of the talents there are many echoes of the clear eschatological warnings of Ch 24. Eg in v 19 (“long time”), the language of master and servant, and v 26 (“wicked”) are all echos of Matt 24:48. Your interpretation, while novel, just can’t stand the test of context.
    Another problem is when you say that the servant calling the master a “hard man” and the master’s non reply proves the master is “hard.” Thisis the cop out of someone who has been busted really. When my kids find themselves in trouble for bad behaviour or leaving a mess, it is strange that I am the one who is always unfair for asking for their obedience. In truth they have done the wrong thing, just like this servant, and will blame anyone but themselves. It has been happening since Adam was a boy, remember his cry “This woman you gave to be with me…” Really it is a nice try to avert blame for his crime.

    Here again I don’t think you have understood the severity of his crime. It is not just a bad investment. In the parable 1 talent is still a lot, and he should have done something with it. God has given each of us a lot; life, liberty, and most especially the Gospel of life. To not put this to work for a generous master is more than a bad investment, it is a total disregard for the Master’s business, or in this case God’s business. Not just a bad investment. I recently read a Mark Mittelberg book who put it like this. “the seemingly mild sin of self-centredness is, in my opinion, Satan’s greatest weapon against evangelism.” The crime of the servant is that he does not know about, care about or take part in God’s work in the world to save people, and then when he is sprung for it he tries to blame God. Seems pretty serious to me.

    Let me know what you think when you have the time.


  34. David on

    To gain understanding into the “Parable of the Talents” it is helpful to consider it in comparison with the teachings of Jesus in Matthew 24 and 25. This group of teachings begins with questions from the disciples regarding “Your coming and the end of the age”. They want to know “when will these things happen?” (24:3) In Matthew 24:36 Jesus states that the day and the hour are unknown to all but God the Father. In light of the uncertain timing, Jesus gives several parables which stress two important instructions.

    The first truth is that no one knows the exact time, and so, we are instructed to remain ready. “Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming.” (24:42) This teaching is illustrated by the homeowner (24:43) and the ten virgins (25:1-13). Notice the admonishment to “be on the alert” occurs just before the homeowner parable, and immediately after the Parable of the Ten Virgins.

    The second instruction is that while the master is gone the servants are to continue to conduct the master’s affairs. This teaching is illustrated by the servant left in charge of meals for the household (24:45-51) and the servants left in charge of the master’s possessions (25:14-30).

    Notice the similar rewards given to the “good” and “faithful” slaves. They are promoted, and “put in charge” of more of the master’s possessions. Notice, too, the similar punishments given to the “evil” and “wicked” slaves. They are treated extremely harshly and in both cases, they are sent to that place where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth”.

    Looking at the common elements of the two parables involving slaves:
    1. the master places the slaves in charge of a specific portion of his household while he is gone
    2. the exact time of the master’s return is not certain
    3. upon the return of the master, he rewards the faithful servants by giving them more responsibility
    4. the servants who did not manage the master’s possessions were treated harshly and sent away

    In reviewing these common elements I would propose that these parables are about being a faithful or unfaithful steward of the master’s resources. None of the servants are dealing with their own household or money. None of the servants are given their own money as a reward. Their reward is more responsibility. The faithful slave in chapter 24 is put in charge of “all” of the master’s possessions. The two faithful slaves in chapter 25 are put in charge of “many things”.

    What has the Lord Jesus left in the stewardship of his disciples (slaves)? Faithful stewardship, I propose, takes on many different forms. In the original sermon Paul proposes that we should “blow the whistle” when we see injustice. Certainly, God desires justice and mercy in our lives, businesses, and societies. For example, James 1:27 defines “true religion” as looking out for “orphans and widows in their distress”.

    A previous post by Holly mentions our faith. Faith is a gift from God which we should nurture and use. As mentioned on the reddit post, the whole earth belongs to the Lord, and we should be good stewards of the earth. The church is called the “bride of Christ”. We should care for and build the church. Craig and Ron mention our talents in their posts. A faithful steward develops and exercises their God-given abilities. Aaron proposes being good stewards of money. Most churches rely on generous contributions to sustain and grow their ministries. And, above all, we must be faithful stewards of the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

    When the master will return is uncertain. That the master will return is certain. And, when he returns may he find us faithfully managing his affairs, for his glory.

    Scripture from NASB on

  35. David on

    Please allow me to propose a different take on the business dealings of the master in the “Parable of the Talents”. In his sermon, Paul suggests large households of those times doubled money by lending money to farmers at “exorbitant interest”. Further, the “real money was not in the interest, but in foreclosing on the loan”. Loaning money, and then foreclosing on loans, is perhaps, one way of getting rich in those times.

    However, there is another way to earn wealth in ancient times which I think fits better with this parable. There were several major trade routes going through Israel. For thousands of years, along these routes, valuable items would travel going between North Africa and the East.

    Remember way back in Genesis 37 when Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers? He was sold to “traders” carrying “aromatic gum and balm and myrrh” from Gilead to Egypt.

    How might the master in the parable achieve such great wealth as 8 talents? Perhaps he was a merchant trader who purchased goods common in one country at a low price, and sold them in a distant country where they were rare, and more valuable. Spices, oils, and perfumes are examples of valuables traded during that time.

    Being a trade merchant also coinsides with a journey that lasts for a “long time”. And, it would explain why the return date of the master was so uncertain. Traveling to a distant country to obtain goods for trade and then returning home with the goods would be an ambitious, and dangerous, undertaking in those days.

    While is he gone the master entrusts his business earnings with his slaves, according to their ability.

    Putting this parable in a modern setting, perhaps it would be told like this:
    A man who owned 8 stores in Melbourne. Business was going well, so he decided to expand his company by opening some stores in Brisbane. He would be in Brisbane for many months as he searched for store locations, hired and trained workers, and stocked the stores with merchandise.

    Before he left he called his three top managers together for a meeting. In his absence he assigned the operation of five stores to the first manager, two stores to the second manager, and one store to the third manager. His assignments were based on their ability to perform all the functions required of a retail store manager.

    After many months the business owner returned to Melbourne. He called another meeting with his three managers. The first manager reported that business continued to be excellent. In fact, profit from sales were up 100%! The second manager also reported that business was strong and that his two stores matched the 100% profit from the other five stores.

    With solid reports from seven stores, the owner looked forward to hearing the report of the third manager.

    “As soon as you left for Brisbane I went to the store and put up a sign that read, ‘Store closed while the owner is out of town.’ Then I locked all the doors, turned on the alarm, and went home.”

    “This morning I went back to the store and found all of the merchandise is safe. Nothing has been removed the entire time you were gone!”

    What would you expect? How would the business owner respond to the third manager? It makes sense that the one store which was shut down would be re-assigned to the manager who profitably managed five stores. And, of course, it makes sense for the owner to “fire” the manager who left the store idle!

    (Scripture from NASB on Please excuse me for listing .com in the previous post instead of .org)

  36. joseph bada on

    David, your conclusions are correct, but you missed something. that the third manager knew that the owner is a corrupt one. well in the parable (vs26) the owner/master DID NOT deny that he is harsh, so in your conclusion., you miss that, so.. im hoping that you edit those..

    my reply to david again on his 1st post on july 5 2009

    i think its not advisable to compare each parable to the other. because every parable have different meanings

    one thing again is.., the context of chapter 25 is for helping the poor such that the eisegesis of the parable of the talents(vs 14-30) is (vs 31-46).
    now, are you trying to say that faithful stewardship is the main lesson of this context? for me, its definitely not, because if you will read(vs 31-46) it talks about helping the poor ones. and now in the context (vs.14-30) the one who was thrown in darkness because of “LAZINESS” said by the master is the one who is poor. why? because base on (vs.26) the master only thinks of himself of how he will earn money without noticing others. and he is glad to the first two servant because they had doubled them, so if the master is SELFISH, then so his first two servants because they agreed with each other. while the 3rd servant who kept it safe is the ones correct because accg. to recent post verses, we shall not put interest on money related figures.

    last one is, for me, its not also advisable of comparing the four synoptic gospels because each authors have their own interpreted experience of how they interpret it, they are in different situations,

    for short, in most lines, i agree with paul’s interpretation, others, no…

    thats all..

    by the way

    these are only my OWN OPINION


    because im not that good in the English language,

    thats why when im reading your posts, i use dictionary..^^

    well also this is just an opinion of a 16 yr oldboy,

    no hard feelings though..^^

    may the good Lord bless us always..

  37. Daniel on

    Bravo! I was looking for such an interpretation, and I almost gave up. I’ve only ever heard the parable interpreted in the master’s favor, and always found it disagreeable. The feel is in the wording. What honorable person reaps where they do not sow?

  38. Daniel on

    Good comments. All of them! Personally, I do not subscribe to a particular religion, so to speak…I consider them to be tools to enhance my own experience of life and to live, and love, and learn, and to grow. Undeniably though, they can be misused as well…These things aside, and to get right to it…I consider the difference in opinions on the matter to be a healthy step in our development as human beings. Gosh…we’re so cute… ;]

  39. tony on

    So what do we do with the other parables? Is the vineyard owner not God? How about the parable of the two sons- is the one that did the will of the father the wrong one. Be careful, because a preacher that doesn’t rightly divide the word-for the sake of a new take on an ancient parable- is in sin. How about the talent representing the Spirit or God’s word? It may make sense then as well.

  40. tony on

    The owner never was a harsh man- Check in luke 19. That is what the what the slave said as an excuse. He was a victim of ignorance, laziness, and lack of concern not the hero of the story. The story is set in end times when Christ judges. I suppose the parable of the 10 virgins was about those working for Satan and not the church.

  41. caitlin on

    Thanks Paul,

    I found you reflection upon the knowledge in this parable to be loving and considered, something that I value in the person known as Jesus. I also found strength in the new understanding gained from your use of the allegory of parables. That is they’re advantage, they speak of many meanings, each relevant to where we are, and how we currently see.

    After all, if Jesus wanted to state something emphatically he was skilled enough as an orator to state it. “Lend money, Greed is good”. But he chose a more etherial method of complex meaning.

    All those with two ears, who speak here on behalf of God, Listen!

  42. Msgr Osvaldo D. Santagada, emeritus Univ. Cath. Argent. on

    Buenos Aires, November 12th, 2011
    This is exactly what the sound interpretation of the parable is about.
    Take off the word “Kingdom of God” and put World instead. The scriptors must have committed a mistake because of lack of attention.
    As it is the preaching is very long.
    Shorter and to the point.

  43. Scotty D on

    As we draw closer to the end of the age, it is very telling to see the vehemence in the oppositional posts. The Spirit of Mammon is very strong and getting stronger. We should each understand that there is no gain without loss. If these servants were creating gain, it was at someone else’s loss, period. This is very difficult to reconcile against to character of The Messiah. Secondly, consider what would happen to any of us if we chose to opt out of our monitary/commerce situations in our respective countries; to become conscientious moral objectors if you will… hunger, thirst, nakedness and inprisonment to name a few. Now read the sheep and goats all of you contextual hardballers.

  44. […] taking a risk. mp Parable of the Talents – another interpretation:   Parable of Talents Share […]

  45. sjsnr on

    A lesson there for certain thank you.
    Actually everything in the scriptures are in an order and you found that gem as the following goes on to say about the poor and how we should be.
    I rather agree in some ways if your rendition of this.
    It was that tiday the church I attended used this parable in a different manner and above your Webb site us jack somebody who has shown his cold heart in this third mans treatment in the parable.
    I frequently hear my heart saying Robert you are saved by grace so that you can not boast hallelujah I keep saying for we are inclined with more learning to forget our first love.

  46. Tina on

    Thank you so much for sharing your understanding. The KJV has perplexed me by injecting the phrase ” like in the kingdon of heaven” at the beginning of this parable, which does not exist in the other versions. This gives a much clearer understanding and is not attempting to edify usury. I feel that this was a very good example of passive resistance back in that time. Just not participating in wrongdoing even though you may be unable to stop others. A great revelation to me personally.

  47. secret xxx on

    I’m no longer sure the place you’re getting your info, however
    great topic. I must spend a while studying more or working
    out more. Thanks for fantastic info I was looking for this information for my mission.

  48. flislegger tromso on

    I do enjoy the manner in which you have framed this problem and it does give us some fodder for thought. Nonetheless, through everything that I have observed, I only trust as the actual commentary stack on that individuals keep on point and in no way get started on a soap box regarding some other news of the day. Anyway, thank you for this fantastic point and although I can not necessarily agree with it in totality, I value the point of view.

  49. Roosevelt Neenan on

    I have to say that I started to visit your website after finding a very interesting post about some info that I was looking for.

  50. Stuart on

    Thank you for this sermon… It was a great inspiration for the one I gave this morning (so thought I’d better let you know!):

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