Luke Chapter 19:11-27

Now we return to our regularly scheduled programming. Verse 11 is included below, but the comment on it is included in the separate post.

That being said, we are brought to the story of the talents, or the Money Usage, or however one wishes to label it. I have never particularly liked this story. It always seemed a bit too harsh; actually, my objection is that it’s a bit (or a lot) too capitalistic for my taste. An alternative rubric, or title, could easily be The Rich Get Richer. And this is a long section of text; however, since the story itself is familiar, it may not require much commentary. This has become something of a problem for the Triple Tradition material: it’s hard to come up with a new take, so I either repeat what I’ve said about the other two versions, or I say nothing at all. Which is better? Or worse?

So with that as a means of a (brief) introduction, let’s get to the


11 Ἀκουόντων δὲ αὐτῶν ταῦτα προσθεὶς εἶπεν παραβολὴν διὰ τὸ ἐγγὺς εἶναι Ἰερουσαλὴμ αὐτὸν καὶ δοκεῖν αὐτοὺς ὅτι παραχρῆμα μέλλει ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ ἀναφαίνεσθαι.

They having heard these things he spoke an added parable, since he was near to Jerusalem and it seemed to them that the kingdom of God was to be immediately apparent.

See Post Luke Chapter 19:11 for comment on Verse 11.

11 Haec autem illis audientibus, adiciens dixit parabolam, eo quod esset prope Ierusalem, et illi existimarent quod confestim regnum Dei manifestaretur. 

12 εἶπεν οὖν, Ἄνθρωπός τις εὐγενὴς ἐπορεύθη εἰς χώραν μακρὰν λαβεῖν ἑαυτῷ βασιλείαν καὶ ὑποστρέψαι.

13 καλέσας δὲ δέκα δούλους ἑαυτοῦ ἔδωκεν αὐτοῖς δέκα μνᾶς καὶ εἶπεν πρὸς αὐτούς, Πραγματεύσασθε ἐν ᾧ ἔρχομαι.

14 οἱ δὲ πολῖται αὐτοῦ ἐμίσουν αὐτόν, καὶ ἀπέστειλαν πρεσβείαν ὀπίσω αὐτοῦ λέγοντες, Οὐ θέλομεν τοῦτον βασιλεῦσαι ἐφ’ ἡμᾶς.

15 Καὶ ἐγένετο ἐν τῷ ἐπανελθεῖν αὐτὸν λαβόντα τὴν βασιλείαν καὶ εἶπεν φωνηθῆναι αὐτῷ τοὺς δούλους τούτους οἷς δεδώκει τὸ ἀργύριον, ἵνα γνοῖ τί διεπραγματεύσαντο.

Thus he said, “A certain man, well-born (i.e. noble) left to a far country to receive to himself a kingdom, and to return. (13) Calling ten slaves to himself he gave to them ten minas, and said to them, ‘Engage yourselves until I come (back)’. (14) The citizens of him hated him, and they sent messages after him saying, ‘We do not want him to rule over us’. (15) And it happened upon his return having received the kingdom and he said to be called to him the slaves to whom he had given the silver, in order that he might know what they had realized in commerce.

First, the whole set-up for the story seems a bit bizarre. The nobleman has been called to receive a kingdom? Really? Someone just sent an angel (messenger) with a note asking for the guy to come? And then “the citizens” send their own angel (i.e., messenger) with a different note to say they hate the guy. Presumably, these are the citizens of the kingdom to be received; that is not entirely clear, but it’s difficult to find another way to take this that makes any sense. But the nobleman does receive the kingdom, at which point he does return. OK. Got it?

The story of the consigned money is also in Matthew, but not in Mark; ergo, it’s considered to be part of Q. Now, here we have a setting, a description of surrounding circumstances for the story that is completely missing from Matthew. Therefore, the implication is that Matthew chose not to include this backstory, and probably for obvious reasons. So then we have to ask which version is the more “primitive”. Is it Matthew, who left out stuff? Or Luke, because he included material that was in Q? Now, Kloppenborg, in his “definitive” Q text, leaves out the part about the message from the citizens, so that part is not purported to be in Q. So I guess that means Luke made it up? Or, he got it from some mysterious L Source, presumably an oral source that kept alive material that bypassed Mark and Matthew. So is this L material older than Q? If so, why wasn’t it included in Q? Well, it could be that it was contemporaneous with Q, but it traveled through a different line of transmission. Was the author of Q aware of this part of the story and chose not to include it? Why not? If there were two lines of transmission, each reaching back to Jesus, then we have one origin who chose to include this part, while another either chose not to include these details. Again, why not? If both lines trace back to Jesus, there is a common source that then became bifurcated, with some material left out. On what criteria did the author of Q chose to omit these details? Has anyone ever offered an explanation why Q omitted this part? Of course, if Q did include these details, what are Matthew’s criteria for leaving it out? Anyone? Bueller? 

The other alternative is that it may not be older than, or contemporaneous with Q; however, that necessarily means that someone else made it up, and this presents an entirely different set of problems and questions. If Matthew got his story directly from Q, and Q did not have these details as Kloppenborg says it didn’t, then Matthew provides the more primitive version of the story. But who made up these other details? And when? And if these details were made up later, what other material was made up later? Now, this is an exercise that desperately needs to be done. We need to stop and think and try to reconstruct a path of development that the story of Jesus took. It should start during his ministry, continue through his death and resurrection (whether literal or figurative; that is a discussion yet to be had), through the years when James the Just was leading the ekklesia in Jerusalem, then branching into the ekklesiai that Paul established, bringing us Mark, Matthew, Luke, & John. The epistles that were not written by Paul truly need not concern us much; they are minor stops on the larger journey. To the best of my knowledge, this undertaking I am suggesting has never been done. If it has, I would appreciate someone giving me the cite(s), so that I can follow up on my own. Tracing the path of development would be very instructive, IMO. It would help us understand more completely just what we are up against when we try to sort out questions of the sort we face in this section of text. Where did these details about the kingdom, the existence of which is not hinted at in Matthew, originate? When did they originate? Where did the M Source originate? The L Source? We can’t just attribute them to some vague “oral tradition”. That is woefully insufficient.

Let’s notice something else. The stories in the L Source are more elaborate than those in the M Source. This latter gives us the story of the banquet where no one comes. The former gives us the Prodigal Son, The Good Samaritan, The Good Shepherd, and all the details about the kingdom that we get here. Why is that? And, for that matter, why are Matthew’s stories attributed to the M Source, more elaborate, for the most part, than the stories in Mark? Mark has the Geresene Demonaic, which Matthew shortened and Luke restored more closely to its original length. As a general rule, stories become more complex as they are told, as new tellers add their own touches and flourishes. There are all the studies of how oral traditions work, and we have an idea of how something like The Iliad was recited, how each poet more or less composed his own version, a process that was finally ended when Homer (or someone) wrote it down. This would imply that the elaboration of Luke’s stories took time; or they took a very creative author, and we may as well call him Luke.

12 Dixit ergo: “ Homo quidam nobilis abiit in regionem longinquam accipere sibi regnum et reverti. 

13 Vocatis autem decem servis suis, dedit illis decem minas et ait ad illos: “Negotiamini, dum venio”. 

14 Cives autem eius oderant illum et miserunt legationem post illum dicentes: “Nolumus hunc regnare super nos!”. 

15 Et factum est ut rediret, accepto regno, et iussit ad se vocari servos illos, quibus dedit pecuniam, ut sciret quantum negotiati essent. 

16 παρεγένετο δὲ ὁ πρῶτος λέγων, Κύριε, ἡ μνᾶ σου δέκα προσηργάσατο μνᾶς.

17 καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Εὖγε, ἀγαθὲ δοῦλε, ὅτι ἐν ἐλαχίστῳ πιστὸς ἐγένου, ἴσθι ἐξουσίαν ἔχων ἐπάνω δέκα πόλεων.

“And it happened the first saying to him, ‘Lord, your mina I have parlayed into ten minas’. (17) And he (the lord) said to him (the slave), ‘Well done, good slave, that in small things faith has been in you, you having power are above ten cities’.

Just a few technical points. The Greek is a bit oblique;, I’ve done the best I could to put it into English that still retains some of the oblique character. The meaning is clear enough, but Greek allows some twists of grammar that English cannot convey. For example, in Verse 17, the word ‘faith’ is in the nominative, which means it should be the subject, but the verb form is second person singular, ‘you’. This sort of straightens out in the final clause, but it remains a bit awkward. Second, my imagination fails me for the word rendered as “parlayed”. I tried “invested”, but that has connotations in English that are completely anachronistic to the first century. The root of the verb used is ‘to go to market’; the concept conveyed is that he bought and sold to reap a profit of 1000%. Not bad.

And a mina is a weight of silver, as is a talent, and, I believe, a shekel.

16 Venit autem primus dicens: “Domine, mina tua decem minas acquisivit”. 

17 Et ait illi: “Euge, bone serve; quia in modico fidelis fuisti, esto potestatem habens supra decem civitates”. 

18 καὶ ἦλθεν ὁ δεύτερος λέγων, Ἡ μνᾶ σου, κύριε, ἐποίησεν πέντε μνᾶς.

19 εἶπεν δὲ καὶ τούτῳ, Καὶ σὺ ἐπάνω γίνου πέντε πόλεων.

20 καὶ ὁ ἕτερος ἦλθεν λέγων, Κύριε, ἰδοὺ ἡ μνᾶ σου ἣν εἶχον ἀποκειμένην ἐν σουδαρίῳ:

21 ἐφοβούμην γάρ σε, ὅτι ἄνθρωπος αὐστηρὸς εἶ, αἴρεις ὃ οὐκ ἔθηκας καὶ θερίζεις ὃ οὐκ ἔσπειρας.

22 λέγει αὐτῷ, Ἐκ τοῦ στόματός σου κρίνω σε, πονηρὲ δοῦλε. ᾔδεις ὅτι ἐγὼ ἄνθρωπος αὐστηρός εἰμι, αἴρων ὃ οὐκ ἔθηκα καὶ θερίζων ὃ οὐκ ἔσπειρα;   

23 καὶ διὰ τί οὐκ ἔδωκάς μου τὸ ἀργύριον ἐπὶ τράπεζαν; κἀγὼ ἐλθὼν σὺν τόκῳ ἂν αὐτὸ ἔπραξα.

“And the second came, saying, ‘Your mina, lord, I have made five minas’. (19) And he (the lord) said to him (the slave), ‘And you come over five cities’. (20) And the other came, saying. ‘Lord, behold your mina, having which I wrapped in a cloth. (21) For I feared you, that you are a stringent man, you take up what you do not put down, and you reap what you do not sow’. (22) He (the lord) said to him (the slave), ‘From your mouth you judge yourself, wicked slave. Did you know that I an a stringent man, taking up what I did not put down, and reaping what I did not sow? (23) And on account of what did you not give my silver to the money changers and I coming with interest which it has performed’.

It’s a little difficult putting this into terms that make sense in both the ancient and modern worlds. The lord literally asks why the slave didn’t put the silver on a table; however, this came to be understood to be a money-changer’s table. The idea is that by giving the silver to money changers who took a certain percentage of the money exchanged, it would have earned a return. It is not proper to call it interest; a transaction fee is perhaps more accurate. The word used for this transaction fee actually means ‘usury’, but that has connotations of a loan. Which I suppose isn’t too far off, since the slave would be, in effect, loaning the money to the changers. And I have to say, lending the silver to money-changers doesn’t seem like a bad way to invest. From the disparaging way they are talked about, it would seem that they had a pretty good track record when it came to financial return. It wasn’t a venture likely to result in the loss of capital invested. Perhaps the slave feared they wouldn’t give him a fair return? Or even a return of the principal? Finally, the word for ‘stringent’ transliterates as ‘austeros’, ‘austere’. I believe stringent more effectively captures the idea that the lord is s hard man rather than one who lives a Spartan lifestyle.

18 Et alter venit dicens: “Mina tua, domine, fecit quinque minas”. 

19 Et huic ait: “Et tu esto supra quinque civitates”. 

20 Et alter venit dicens: “Domine, ecce mina tua, quam habui repositam in sudario; 

21 timui enim te, quia homo austerus es: tollis, quod non posuisti, et metis, quod non seminasti”. 

22 Dicit ei: “De ore tuo te iudico, serve nequam! Sciebas quod ego austerus homo sum, tollens quod non posui et metens quod non seminavi? 

23 Et quare non dedisti pecuniam meam ad mensam? Et ego veniens cum usuris utique exegissem illud”. 

24 καὶ τοῖς παρεστῶσιν εἶπεν, Ἄρατε ἀπ’ αὐτοῦ τὴν μνᾶν καὶ δότε τῷ τὰς δέκα μνᾶς ἔχοντι.

25 καὶ εἶπαν αὐτῷ, Κύριε, ἔχει δέκα μνᾶς.

26 λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι παντὶ τῷ ἔχοντι δοθήσεται, ἀπὸ δὲ τοῦ μὴ ἔχοντος καὶ ὃ ἔχει ἀρθήσεται. 

27 πλὴν τοὺς ἐχθρούς μου τούτους τοὺς μὴ θελήσαντάς με βασιλεῦσαι ἐπ’ αὐτοὺς ἀγάγετε ὧδε καὶ κατασφάξατε αὐτοὺς ἔμπροσθέν μου. 

“And to those standing around he (the lord) said, “Take from him the mina and give (it) to the one having ten minas’. (25) And he (the slave) said to him (the lord), ‘I have ten minas.’ (26) ‘I say to you that to all (individuals) having (it/something/more) will be given, but (δὲ) from the one(s) not having, even what he has will be taken. (27) Except those my enemies not wishing me to rule over them, lead them (here) so that you can also slay them in front of me’.”

And there you go, the First Church of Christ Capitalist. We discussed the lesson here in the commentary on Matthew’s version of the story. Does it not seem contrary to the idea of a humble saviour, one who tells us to turn the other cheek? What we have here is a many riding roughshod over his enemies, consigning them to public execution while he watches. This is a damn sight worse than simply taking the mina away from the slave who perhaps did not have the market savvy to put the money to work and produce a return. This inability to make money is offensive to the lord, and he will not tolerate it.

OF course, this is not to be taken literally. The ability to make money is symbolism for spiritual growth. The one with faith will have, or produce more, while the one with little will lost even that. Such a symbolic meaning does blunt the unsettling aspect of the parable; but only to a point. I don’t entirely like the sound of a lesson that tells me the person needing an infusion of faith will not receive it. Or, I suspect, we should substitute “grace” for “faith”. Outside of Romans, I do not know the scriptural passages Augustine used as a basis for his argument for predestination; however, it seems like this would be a prime candidate. The whole thing rests upon whether or not humans can merit salvation. Augustine and Luther, and especially Calvin following, believed that we are so wretchedly depraved that the initiative had to come from God in the form of prevenient grace which God grants to some-but only some–humans, thereby allowing them to start on the path to redemption and salvation. I really don’t like that message. Really, if it’s all God’s choice, than what is the point? And I see this thinking on display in some very ugly ways in these United States. Thanks to the Calvinist heritage brought over by the Pilgrims/Puritans (there is no functional difference), we know that all God’s chosen are rich. This provides a justification for ignoring the poor; they’re all Foreknown and will be damned, so why bother? It’s also apparent in the heritage of the Scots-Irish, and their attitude towards the US as a country. Since the USA is the new Chosen People, we can commit all manner of atrocities on non-Christians for much the same reason. So this strain that runs through Christianity has had some very pernicious consequences.

Pardon the rant. The real significance of this version of the story comes from the fact that the lord is also a king. We’ve already discussed what this means for Q. The length and elaboration of this version would indicate that it was later, at least in part, than Matthew’s version. Just to repeat, Kloppenborg does not believe the part about the king was in Q. So someone made it up. And if someone made that up, then other stuff could have been made up as well. There is no evidence for an L Source, or an M Source, except for the fact that Luke and Matthew have material found nowhere else in the NT. Calling it an oral source really doesn’t help because oral sources are impossible to pin down. That is not to say they didn’t exist; they did, and probably numbered in the hundreds. Zaccheus could easily be the result of an oral source that originated in Jericho came that up with a story that included Jericho in the Jesus cycle of stories. Many of the stories of Jesus interacting with pagans probably started as oral sources. So what is my point? That these oral sources very likely were invented after, perhaps decades after Jesus died. The “oral source” trick is to imply that the material contained originated at the time of Jesus and survived to be included in the gospels of Matthew, Luke, and even John. Of course, a few of these stories did just that; the Parable of the Sower is probably one of them; or, it is more likely to represent a genuine survival than almost all of the others. And it is entirely possible that one or two of the stories unique to Matthew or Luke had an origin in or about the time of Jesus. It’s possible, but not very likely.

Why not? That is an extremely difficult topic. It goes back to the question of why nothing was written about Jesus until thirty years after his death. More, it is the question of how the traditions that reached Mark were formulated and transmitted. That is a very difficult question; it’s also one that has been pretty much completely ignored. 

As an aside, back in Verse 13, there were ten slaves who were each given a mina. We have had an accounting from only three. What happened to the other seven? Were they erased due to editorial fatigue? Luke lost count? Actually, that was intended as a glib, throwaway remark; however, having been committed to paper, it resonates more than I had expected. Along with the kingdom, the number of slaves presents a significant discrepancy with Matthew– but only at the beginning of the story. The term “editorial fatigue” is the condition where someone working from an earlier source starts out by making initial changes to give a fresh coat of paint to the older story, but then sort of gets ‘fatigued’ from all that new thinking, and eventually just slips back into following the original source. On one hand, I find this a bit ludicrous; after all, we’re talking about a few paragraphs and not an epic poem. OTOH, how to explain the change that ends up where we started: in Matthew’s version of the story? One plausible resolution is that it should be called copyist fatigue; the scribe, copying a manuscript, doesn’t feel like going into the whole rigamarole with seven more slaves, and whacks it back to the smaller number reported by Matthew. The difference between editor and copyist has major ramifications. If it’s editorial fatigue, this will imply, if not require, that Luke was working with knowledge of Matthew. This blows a hole in Q. If the fatigue arose in the copyist, any later copyist could have had access to both Matthew and Luke. This does not require that Luke be aware of Matthew. The laziness could have occurred hundreds of years after Luke was written. Hence, there is no impact on the Q discussion. So which is it?

Finally, there is the discrepancy between the measures of silver; here we have minas, but Matthew has talents. This need not detain us. Each author could have easily substituted the weight more common to the area he was writing. That is a minor change, and any conclusions drawn from the substitution lack any real substance. IMO, anyway. 

24 Et adstantibus dixit: “Auferte ab illo minam et date illi, qui decem minas habet”. 

25 Et dixerunt ei: “Domine, habet decem minas!”. 

26 Dico vobis: “Omni habenti dabitur; ab eo autem, qui non habet, et, quod habet, auferetur. 

27 Verumtamen inimicos meos illos, qui noluerunt me regnare super se, adducite huc et interficite ante me! ”.

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 December 7, 2019, in Chapter 19, gospel commentary, gospels, Luke's Gospel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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