Matthew Chapter 25:14-30

Here we have the famous Parable of the Talents. This was not in Mark, but it is in Luke, but I’m not sure it was supposedly in Q. The section before and this next section are still actually the continuation of Chapter 24. Jesus is talking about the coming judgement. There are aspects to the composition (no doubt the “masterful” composition) that are interesting about this, but they are best left to the summary. Once again the message is fairly plain, and the text is very known. I expect a minimum of comment on this.

14 Ὥσπερ γὰρ ἄνθρωπος ἀποδημῶν ἐκάλεσεν τοὺς ἰδίους δούλους καὶ παρέδωκεν αὐτοῖς τὰ ὑπάρχοντα αὐτοῦ,

15 καὶ ᾧ μὲν ἔδωκεν πέντε τάλαντα, ᾧ δὲ δύο, ᾧ δὲ ἕν, ἑκάστῳ κατὰ τὴν ἰδίαν δύναμιν, καὶ ἀπεδήμησεν. εὐθέως

16 πορευθεὶς ὁ τὰ πέντε τάλαντα λαβὼν ἠργάσατο ἐν αὐτοῖς καὶ ἐκέρδησεν ἄλλα πέντε:

17 ὡσαύτως ὁ τὰ δύο ἐκέρδησεν ἄλλα δύο.

18 ὁ δὲ τὸ ἓν λαβὼν ἀπελθὼν ὤρυξεν γῆν καὶ ἔκρυψεν τὸ ἀργύριον τοῦ κυρίου αὐτοῦ.

“For {the kingdom} even as a man journeying away from home called his private slaves and gave to them the goods of him. (15) And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, each according to his particular ability, and he went away. In the meantime, (16) the one with five talents, going out, working among them (putting them to work), and he earned five more. (17) And in the same way the he {with two} earned two more. But he with one, taking it (and) going away he dug the earth and hid the silver of his lord.

To me, the most striking aspect of this is the capitalistic sensibility displayed. The verb used of the first is that he put the talents “to work”. If that’s not capitalism, I don’t know what is, or what it is. Very enterprising slaves, these.

A word on ancient slavery. By no means do I want to soft-peddle it. Slavery is slavery, but the application of it can be very different. A certain number were given virtual death sentences by sending them to work in mines. OTOH, a certain number of slaves were very much part of the grand scheme of the master’s house. So the notion that these slaves should be so diligent about the master’s property need not be surprising. After all, the master entrusted a lot of money to his slaves.

Finally, there is the theological import. Perhaps we usually hear Luke’s version of this, for two reasons. I am used to hearing that the distribution was 10/5/1. And I am not used to hearing the line about “each according to his abilities”. That radically changes the whole sense of the story. Revelation: I pulled out my trusty Harmony of the Bible and was presented with a mild shock. Unless I’m totally misusing that volume–which is far from impossible–there is no corresponding version of this story in Luke; rather this is a “Matthew only” story. So the “to each per his/her own abilities” is integral to the story, which effectively reinforces the idea of the kingdom being a reward, while punishment is earned  & deserved.

14 Sicut enim homo peregre proficiscens vocavit servos suos et tradidit illis bona sua.

15 Et uni dedit quinque talenta, alii autem duo, alii vero unum, unicuique secundum propriam virtutem, et profectus est. Statim

16 abiit, qui quinque talenta acceperat, et operatus est in eis et lucratus est alia quinque;

17 similiter qui duo acceperat, lucratus est alia duo.

19 μετὰ δὲ πολὺν χρόνον ἔρχεται ὁ κύριος τῶν δούλων ἐκείνων καὶ συναίρει λόγον μετ’ αὐτῶν.

20 καὶ προσελθὼν ὁ τὰ πέντε τάλαντα λαβὼν προσήνεγκεν ἄλλα πέντε τάλαντα λέγων, Κύριε, πέντε τάλαντά μοι παρέδωκας: ἴδε ἄλλα πέντε τάλαντα ἐκέρδησα.

21 ἔφη αὐτῷ ὁ κύριος αὐτοῦ, Εὖ, δοῦλε ἀγαθὲ καὶ πιστέ, ἐπὶ ὀλίγα ἦς πιστός, ἐπὶ πολλῶν σε καταστήσω: εἴσελθε εἰς τὴν χαρὰν τοῦ κυρίου σου.

22 προσελθὼν [δὲ] καὶ ὁ τὰ δύο τάλαντα εἶπεν, Κύριε, δύο τάλαντά μοι παρέδωκας: ἴδε ἄλλα δύο τάλαντα ἐκέρδησα.

23ἔφη αὐτῷ ὁ κύριος αὐτοῦ, Εὖ, δοῦλε ἀγαθὲ καὶ πιστέ, ἐπὶ ὀλίγα ἦς πιστός, ἐπὶ πολλῶν σε καταστήσω: εἴσελθε εἰς τὴν χαρὰν τοῦ κυρίου σου.

“After much time the master of those slaves came {back} and took up speech with them. (20) And coming forward the one receiving five talents brought forth the other five talents saying, ‘Lord, you handed over five talents to me. Behold another five talents that I have earned’. (21) And his master said to him, ‘Well {done}, good slave and faithful. Upon a little {you were} faithful, upon much I will place you. Therefore come into the delight of your lord’. (22)  And also coming forward he {given} the two said, ‘Lord, two talents you have given me. Behold the other two talents I have earned’. (23) He said to him [the slave], ‘Well done good and faithful servant, upon little faithful, upon much I will stand you. Therefore come into the delight of your lord’.

Just a few minor matters. I had been translating “kyrios” as “master”. That works, but “lord” is better. Not that it’s any more accurate, but because it has the double implication of an earthly AND a heavenly lord. The Jews often referred to God as “lord” (Adonnai, IIRC?) in order to circumvent the need to use the word “God” or YHWH.

Second, the expression<<δοῦλε ἀγαθὲ καὶ πιστέ >> is in the vocative case. This is reserved for direct address, when speaking directly to someone. As such, it does not get a lot of use in historical, or expository writing; it’s much more common in poetry (O Nightingale) or prayer (O Zeus), or even drama. In works such as the NT, where there is no direct dialogue. Pater Noster, and its Greek equivalent are technically in the vocative, but for the word “father” in both languages the vocative and the nominative case have the same ending. Words ending in -us (Latin) or -os (Greek) generally have a distinctive ending for the vocative.

“Come into the delight of your lord” is rather an interesting phrase, and concept. The KJV and others give this as “enter into the joy of your lord”, and that may have a more natural sense in English. The NIV provides “come share in the joy”, which sort of gets the message across, but is dead wrong as far as the Greek goes. Regardless, the implication is pretty straightforward, that the servants are to be rewarded. More, the proper inference is that they will be rewarded eternally, in the joy of the kingdom.

18 Qui autem unum acceperat, abiens fodit in terra et abscondit pecuniam domini sui.

19 Post multum vero temporis venit dominus servorum illorum et ponit rationem cum eis.

20 Et accedens, qui quinque talenta acceperat, obtulit alia quinque talenta dicens: “Domine, quinque talenta tradidisti mihi; ecce alia quinque superlucratus sum”.

21 Ait illi dominus eius: “Euge, serve bone et fidelis. Super pauca fuisti fidelis; supra multa te constituam: intra in gaudium domini tui”.

22 Accessit autem et qui duo talenta acceperat, et ait: “Domine, duo talenta tradidisti mihi; ecce alia duo lucratus sum”.

23 Ait illi dominus eius: “Euge, serve bone et fidelis. Super pauca fuisti fidelis; supra multa te constituam: intra in gaudium domini tui”.

24 προσελθὼν δὲ καὶ ὁ τὸ ἓν τάλαντον εἰληφὼς εἶπεν, Κύριε, ἔγνων σε ὅτι σκληρὸς εἶ ἄνθρωπος, θερίζων ὅπου οὐκ ἔσπειρας καὶ συνάγων ὅθεν οὐ διεσκόρπισας:

25 καὶ φοβηθεὶς ἀπελθὼν ἔκρυψα τὸ τάλαντόν σου ἐν τῇ γῇ: ἴδε ἔχεις τὸ σόν.

26 ἀποκριθεὶς δὲ ὁ κύριος αὐτοῦ εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Πονηρὲ δοῦλε καὶ ὀκνηρέ, ᾔδεις ὅτι θερίζω ὅπου οὐκ ἔσπειρα καὶ συνάγω ὅθεν οὐ διεσκόρπισα;

27 ἔδει σε οὖν βαλεῖν τὰ ἀργύριά μου τοῖς τραπεζίταις, καὶ ἐλθὼν ἐγὼ ἐκομισάμην ἂν τὸ ἐμὸν σὺν τόκῳ.

28 ἄρατε οὖν ἀπ’ αὐτοῦ τὸ τάλαντον καὶ δότε τῷ ἔχοντι τὰ δέκα τάλαντα:  

29 τῷ γὰρ ἔχοντι παντὶ δοθήσεται καὶ περισσευθήσεται: τοῦ δὲ μὴ ἔχοντος καὶ ὃ ἔχει ἀρθήσεται ἀπ’ αὐτοῦ.

30 καὶ τὸν ἀχρεῖον δοῦλον ἐκβάλετε εἰς τὸ σκότος τὸ ἐξώτερον: ἐκεῖ ἔσται ὁ κλαυθμὸς καὶ ὁ βρυγμὸς τῶν ὀδόντων.

Coming forward, also he having received one talent said,  ‘Lord, I know that you are a hard man, reaping where  you do not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter. (25) And I being afraid went out and hid your talent in the ground. Look, you have what is yours’. (26) Answering the lord said to him, ‘Wicked slave and slothful, you knew that I reap where I do not sow, and gather where I do not reap. (27) So you ought have thrown my money to the exchangers (money changers), and coming I carried off what was mine plus growth (i.e., usury = interest; lit =  birth). (28) Take from him the talent and give it to the one having ten talents. (29) For to him has all been given and he has reproduced abundance. From him not having and what he has will be taken. (30) And the useless slave throw him into the darkness outside. There will be the wailing and gnashing of teeth’.”

What was I saying about capitalism? There is something extremely harsh about all of this. Yes, it’s metaphorical, and yes, it’s meant to instill a bit of fear, but this sounds so much like the modern business world that it’s a bit scary. The slave with one talent did nothing wrong; he did not squander the money, nor lose it, nor do anything disreputable with the money. He kept it safe. No more, but no less. But this was not enough for the greedy lord. He wanted return, and not only a return, but a doubling of his money. That is a pretty harsh demand, and a very high expectation. And it’s not simply that the slothful slave is not rewarded; he’s actively punished. This feels like Jack Welch’s “Up or Out” system of review during his tenure at GE. An employee was either worthy of advancement (up), or he was fired (out). And they were pretty much always a ‘he’. Now, this was only for higher-level executives, but still, talk about a cutthroat atmosphere! So here it wasn’t that the slothful slave was able to work out his tenure doing his job; rather, he was fired. Think about this, and then think about the message of the Prodigal Son. Could they be more diametrically opposed? There the son did squander the money and engage in riotous living. 

But the truly grinding part of this is the message: he who has nothing/little, even that will be taken away. Wow. At least the contrapositive of this is not added: that to him who has, even more will be given. Of course, that is exactly what happened. The one with the most got more. And it’s not like the second didn’t provide an equal return; he did. Both earned a gain of 100%. And it’s arguable that the second had to work harder, because the more you have in principle to start with, usually you can earn a higher return. So I would have given it to the one who started with two. Regardless, the message here is that the rich get richer, even if it’s not stated explicitly. Of course, the “gains” being discussed are meant to be spiritual, but that is not what is said. I don’t honestly know if this happened, but I can certainly imagine the good Puritans using this story to justify a lot of sharp business practices, to justify chasing after money and serving Mammon rather than God. I know there was a long-lived debate about whether it was acceptable to lend money at interest, the Church being generally opposed. The solution was for Jews to act as money lenders, then bankers. Neither side was terribly concerned about the prospects for eternity of the other, so it was not considered sinful. IIRC, the Rothschilds originally made their money as bankers.

Yes, again I understand that there is a didactic point being made here: make use of your talents. (BTW: the word in Greek transliterates to ‘talenta’.) If you do not, you will be punished. Presumably the “return” you are to make is to bring others into the community? That is not completely clear, but it seems a reasonable inference. Regardless, the real and true purpose of this story is to light a fire under believers, to get them to appreciate the need to get up and hustle for your salvation, that you cannot be complacent or just nurture what you have. Rather, you have to be active in seeking your salvation. So I think the existence of this story indicates a situation in which the literal coming of the kingdom was seeming a bit less likely, leading to a “why bother” sort of mentality. Hence the reference to Noah.

So I think it’s safe to infer that, with this gospel, we are at a point when the Parousia seems a little less imminent, the kingdom perhaps seems a little less nigh. I don’t think we’ve quite turned the corner into John, when the idea of the Second Coming has truly receded, but the first steps along that path have been taken. Indeed, perhaps we’ve taken the second and third sets of steps on that path. It is interesting to not that the concept of a “Parousia” (which should be ‘parousia’) has been coined, leading to it being referred to as a noun unto itself. It is the parousia now, even if the word is never used by Luke, and only shows up in some of the epistles. That Matthew labels it as a something, I believe, tells us that he saw it as necessary, or at least important, to establish–or re-emphasize, perhaps–this as an idea, to remind the community of the faithful that it was going to happen. the next step on this process, I believe, will be to equate one’s personal death with Judgement Day. That will not happen within the context of the NT.

24 Accedens autem et qui unum talentum acceperat, ait: “Domine, novi te quia homo durus es: metis, ubi non seminasti, et congregas, ubi non sparsisti;

25 et timens abii et abscondi talentum tuum in terra. Ecce habes, quod tuum est”.

26 Respondens autem dominus eius dixit ei: “Serve male et piger! Sciebas quia meto, ubi non seminavi, et congrego, ubi non sparsi?

27 Oportuit ergo te mittere pecuniam meam nummulariis, et veniens ego recepissem, quod meum est cum usura.

28 Tollite itaque ab eo talentum et date ei, qui habet decem talenta:

29 omni enim habenti dabitur, et abundabit; ei autem, qui non habet, et quod habet, auferetur ab eo.

30 Et inutilem servum eicite in tenebras exteriores: illic erit fletus et stridor dentium”.


About James, brother of Jesus

I have a BA from the University of Toronto in Greek and Roman History. For this, I had to learn classical Greek and Latin. In seminar-style classes, we discussed both the meaning of the text and the language. U of T has a great Classics Dept. One of the professors I took a Senior Seminar with is now at Harvard. I started reading the New Testament as a way to brush up on my Greek, and the process grew into this. I plan to comment on as much of the NT as possible, starting with some of Paul's letters. After that, I'll start in on the Gospels, starting with Mark.

Posted on August 16, 2016, in Chapter 25, gospel commentary, gospels, Historical Jesus, mark's gospel, Matthew's Gospel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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