Why the Matthean Parable of the Talents and Lukan Parable of the Pounds/Minas Differ.
Despite a strikingly similar core story, Matthew’s parable of the talents (Matt 25:14-30) and Luke’s parables of the minas or pounds (Luke 19:11-27) are not considered by most scholars to be parallel. Besides notable differences in the storylines of each parable, the issues of location within the narratives, expected audiences and the general theologies and/or slants of the respective evangelists enter into the equation. This post seeks to ascertain the similarities and distinctions of the two parables before summarizing the theories expressed by scholars about the underlying reasons for the differences that exist.
Virtually no significant differences were found between various translations of each parable. One exception found was whether the words ‘immediately’ or ‘at once’, euthos, pertained to Matt 25 v.15 (KJV, Rheims) or v.16 (NAS, NRSV, NIV). Another difference occurred within the NRSV alone. The same Greek word, kurie, was translated as master in Matthew (M20,22,24) and Lord in Luke (L16,18,20,25) when it was spoken by the slaves. Neither difference was deemed significant for this post, however. Since a Greek language study would be beyond the scope of this post (not to mention the interest of the reader), a side-by-side comparison of the NRSV translation of the two parables was made before consulting the secondary scholarly texts.
The first area of concentration was the stories themselves. The similarities between the two passages are striking enough to point to a common source. Within each parable there appears a tale that seems to be akin to a wisdom story about handling responsibility for a master’s property. It could be told something like:
A man was going on a trip (M14, L12). He called his slaves and gave each responsibility for some of his possessions/wealth (M14, L13). When he returned, he called his slaves to him and settled accounts (M19, L15). The first slave had made considerable profit (M20, L16). The master praised him and told him that he would have many responsibilities in the future, because he had shown he was trustworthy with little (M21, L17). The second slave had made moderate profit and was given additional responsibilities relative to the gain he made (M22-23, L18-19). Finally the last slave came and told the man, “Here is your property. I simply kept my portion safe. I was afraid because you are harsh, reaping where you do not sow and taking what you don’t own”(M24-25, L20-21). The man, livid, said, “You wicked slave. If you believe that about me, you should have done what I would do. You should have, at least, put it in the bank so I could get interest. Take this slave’s portion and give it to the one that made the most profit” (M26-28, L22-24).
Luke’s gospel appears to have taken this basic tale and interwoven it with another separable story that is absent from Matthew. The story within the story, while possibly being another piece of wisdom, reads more like a statement of fact – a generic historical or legendary tale, perhaps. Luke’s addition would read something like:
A nobleman went on a trip to gain himself a kingdom (L12). The citizens of his country hated him and sent a delegation saying, “We don’t want this man to rule over us”(L14). Upon being granted his kingdom, the king returned and summoned his subjects to hold them accountable for their actions (L15). To those that supported him he gave authority over cities within the kingdom (L17,19). Angry at their defiance, he had his detractors slaughtered in his presence (L27).
Besides this departure in Luke, each of the evangelists incorporated additional details into their accounts. The number of slaves summoned in Matthew was three (M15), while in Luke it was ten (L13). Luke, however, had three offer reports after the return of the master. The beginning number of ten could be a departure from the ‘original’ tale. In Luke, each slave got one mina/pound, while in Matthew the slaves were prejudged as to their abilities and given dissimilar amounts – five, two and one talent respectively. The embedding of certain language common to Matthew appears to intentionally allude to theological issues, i.e. the reward of entering into the master’s joy (M21), and the last slave being thrown into the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (M30). The phrasing of v.30 also appears in Matt 8:12 and 22:13, while the ‘weeping and gnashing’ portion of the sentence appears additionally in 13:42, 13:50 and 24:51. Both phrases have distinctly eschatological meanings. In contrast, Luke’s account can be easily read as a story without inherent theological inference, since there is no markedly theological language embedded within it. The introductory verse (L11), as well as the general context, gives the Lukan parable its theological importance. Luke’s narrative also includes an objection, voiced by witnesses, to the redistribution of the last slave’s mina to the one who made the most profit (L25), thus giving voice to the apparent unfairness of the decision.
The largest single difference in location of the parables within their respective gospels is timing with regard to Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem. In Matthew, Jesus arrived in Jerusalem (M21:10), then entered into several verbal altercations with the scribes and Pharisees (M21:23-23:39), followed by the discourse with his followers regarding the Kingdom of God (M24:1-25:46). The parable of Talents appears towards the end of this discourse, in which Jesus was teaching the disciples about being ready for the Kingdom. Matthew 25 begins with, “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids…”. Verse 14 begins, “For (gar ) it is as if a man, going on a journey…” immediately after the preceding parable. The use of gar may indicate that the parable of the Talents is also linked to the beginning phrase, “The kingdom of heaven will be like…”.
Within Luke, the parable was placed within Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, after just leaving Jericho (L19:1). It follows on the heals of accounts that include Jesus’ healing of the ten lepers (L17:12-19), a lesson to the disciples on the coming of the Kingdom (L17:22-37), the parable of the “Widow and Unjust Judge” exhorting the disciples to keep praying and not lose heart (L18:1-8), the parable of the “Pharisee and Tax Collector” about holding contempt for others (L18:9-14), the third explanation of Jesus’ pending death (L18:31-34), the healing of the blind man (L18:35-43) and the story of Zacchaeus (L19:2-10). The parable is placed within various accounts that appear to be aimed at getting Jesus’ followers to understand what they do not seem to grasp – getting the blind to see, so to speak. Immediately following the parable of the Minas in Luke, Jesus enters Jerusalem. In Luke, the evangelist’s convenient practice of occasionally giving a reason for the parable lets the reader know that it’s point, to dispel thoughts of the impending Kingdom or Reign of God, is somewhat different than in Matthew.
The differences between these two parables pale when compared to the variety of interpretations expressed by scholars, but these differences, again, are not within the scope of this post. Interesting as they may be, Herzog’s thoughts about the theologizing of these particular parables by the early church, which added “moralizing redactional touches” that have completely changed the meaning of both parables being discussed, do not actually address the differences between the parables themselves. Jeremias’ claim that the early church took “crisis-parables”, which were “intended to arouse [their audiences] to a realization of the awful gravity of the moment”, and turned them into explanations for the delayed parousia, or return of Christ, is similar and is equally as interesting. Again, however, his thoughts in this regard are of little consequence since he believes this is true of both versions. Of specific interest for this study are the scholars’ explanations for the differences that exist between the two parables as recorded in their respective Gospels.
Whether the parables are attributable to a common source or are very similar stories from two autonomous traditions is a source of scholarly disagreement that is pertinent to the discussion. While Senior leans towards an origin in the Q material, Hultgren discards that in favour of two independent traditions specific to each of the evangelists, M and L. Hultgren also addresses other theories about the origins of the stories for which he sees little evidence: (1) Jesus told two different parables at different times and places; and (2) Matthew derived his version from his own tradition, while Luke relied on Q. Additionally, each of these parables are positioned within their respective gospels to indicate they were told by Jesus to particular audiences to provoke certain responses. There are then two sets of people to which each parable is directed – the audience of Jesus described in the narratives, and the intended audience, some 30-50 years later, of the evangelists’ accounts.
It is apparent that discussions about sources and audiences revolve around the contexts of the evangelists themselves. If the sources are unique to Matthew and Luke, they would have been based on traditions that were promulgated within their particular communities. If the source is Q, then each evangelist has re-fashioned his/her version based on the agendas or theologies that they deemed necessary to communicate to his/her community. Either way, the intended audiences had impact on the meanings of the parables.
Senior and Hare both consider Matthew’s audience to have been a church or community that was primarily Jewish/Christian at odds with the Jewish religious hierarchy and their normative teachings. Most commentators reviewed believe that the destruction of the Jerusalem temple had already occurred, and that the church was facing two particular crises.
The first is indicated in Matthew by the disciples who asked Jesus a question about his foretelling of the destruction of the temple, “When will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age (M24:3)?” The question mirrors one in Mark 13:4, but the answers seem to concentrate more on the coming of the New Age and to nullify the relevance of the temple’s destruction, which by this time was a historical event, as a marker for the coming Reign. Calamitous events had long been considered indicative of the coming of the Reign, and the destruction of the temple had been an event of the appropriate magnitude. The destruction had come and gone, however, leading many of Matthew’s contemporaries to assume the Reign was imminent. Now faced with the delay, the timing of the parousia had to be envisaged anew. In response to the aforementioned question, Matthew portrayed Jesus as beginning what has been described as his apocalyptic or eschatological discourse. This is assumed by most commentators to be Jesus’ instructions to his disciples on faithfully waiting for the delayed Reign of God.
The second crisis Matthew’s community faced was the increasing number of Gentiles that were coming into the church. The growing influx left the community with concern over those in the church whose lives did not conform with their confession, and those that proposed all one had to do for salvation was accept Jesus as Lord and Savior. “Matthew’s Gospel strongly emphasizes virtuous action as an essential quality of discipleship. The authentic disciple is one who “does the will of the Father in heaven” as proclaimed by Jesus (7:21); saying the right words or having the right status are insufficient (e.g., 21:28-32).” In short, Matthew’s Gospel served as a form of moralistic teaching for the converts.
The influx of gentiles also presented an opportunity. With the Reign delayed, another marker of its coming had to exist. Hence, Matthew concentrated on the inclusion of the gentiles in the body of believers. Matthew provided a theological explanation for the delay of the parousia: it was a time for mission to all people. The faithful were to use this time to evangelize and convert the nations and the Reign would come with the fulfillment of this task.
These social and theological contexts of Matthew’s Parable of the Talents helps explain his particular account. While differences of opinion exist as to the extent of the ‘original’ story, there seems to be general agreement that it was more closely followed in Matthew. It was a lesson about not simply waiting for the coming Age, but of “investing” oneself in it by utilizing gifts already given to participate in its coming. The first two slaves, having fulfilled the requirements of active engagement were praised and given more responsibility, but the third, who did what was entirely appropriate in the culture’s eyes by burying his talent, was deemed unfaithful because he played it safe. Matthew also included moralistic teaching about the reward for righteousness and punishment for iniquity. The quantity of money entrusted, talents being significantly larger than in the ‘original’ story, can either be understood to represent the monumental value of that which was entrusted to the church/community or simply Matthew’s tendency to the grandiose. The kurios who goes on a journey and returns symbolized Jesus, who also predetermined the abilities of the slaves to whom responsibility was given. This is consistent with Matthew’s robust Christology, placing Jesus at the fulcrum of history.
While equally eschatological in its context, the Lukan version contrasted the real Reign of God with the expectations of Jesus’ followers – an imminent worldly kingdom. The key difference between the Matthean and Lukan parables rests in expectations of the parousia. While Matthew was trying to dispel a pending eschatological event and present a new marker for its arrival, Luke’s concern was the type of event that will occur.
Luke has long been considered the Gospel to the Gentiles, but this seems counter to the messages that make up the section within which the Parable of the Minas is found. As Culpepper aptly phrases it, “The Lukan parable … contrasts the coming of the kingdom of God with the typical pattern of the establishment of a political kingdom.” Luke’s audience within the story expected a conquering Jesus to take royal authority on earth when he reached Jerusalem. The earthly king is a decidedly Old Testament or Jewish expectation of the Anointed One. Luke’s contemporary audience, already knowing the outcome of Jesus’ experience in Jerusalem, may still have expected an imminent political kingdom. Tannehill thinks that the issue was more likely to be that the Christians in Luke’s community were enthralled with the image of a kingly Messiah, because it meant triumph without suffering – at least their own. Tannehill also states that the community in which Luke functioned was a mixed bag – different ethnicities, religious backgrounds, genders and economic strata – but maintains that there must have been a reasonably heavy concentration of Jews because a clear understanding of Luke demands a thorough knowledge of Jewish scripture. Craddock essentially agrees but deems that knowledge of OT scripture would not have been quite as critical, because Luke’s use of it was indirect or allusive and left the audience to make the connection.
Hultgren, Tannehill and Craddock believe Luke’s parable contains very similar allegorical elements to Matthew’s – the nobleman going away and returning represented Jesus, the slaves were Christians, etc. When considered in this light, the parable still has somewhat different connotations than Matthew’s. While in Matthew’s parable the need to actually invest that which was given was implied by the punishment of the third slave later in the story, the instructions were explicit in Luke – “Do business with these …” (L19:13). This set the stage for the last slave who not only hid the money, but disobeyed the commands of his master in doing so. Unlike the third slave in Matthew who was afraid of taking risks, this one wrapped the money in cloth, a step that was understood in Jewish circles to be reckless or careless. This slave, then, risked his master’s money needlessly and disregarded his master’s instructions entirely, and then gave an explanation that was wholly incompatible with his actions. Rather than fear, the slave was portrayed as having disdain for his master, which fit in nicely with the interwoven story that symbolized Jesus, upon his return, punishing those who rejected him.
In contrast, Wright, Jeremias and Culpepper reject the notion that the nobleman symbolizes Jesus. Jeremias goes so far as to say that, while Luke associated the nobleman with Jesus, “Luke is certainly wrong”, since Jesus would not have identified himself with such a ruler. Craddock describes in detail the literary prowess of Luke and highlights, in particular, his great skill in the use of contrasts. This aspect of Luke’s literary skill leads Wright and Culpepper to see the Parable of the Minas as an intentional negative comparison of the nobleman’s rule with Jesus’. Unlike Matthew’s account meant to elicit responsible use of gifts, they see Luke’s as a story of an earthly power of unrestrained greed, acquisition and vengeance meant to stand in stark contrast to the coming of the Son of Man. Every source used in this paper that addressed Luke’s parable agreed that Luke’s embedded story likely represented Herod Archelaus, who did kill large numbers of Jewish detractors that opposed his rule. This adds credence to the opinions of Wright and Culpepper that Luke would not have used this particular episode in Jewish history as a comparison with Jesus. The feature in the Minas parable that has the witnesses objecting to the redistribution of the last slave’s mina to the most favored, also fits well with this argument.
When all is said and done, it appears that the parables of the Talents and Minas have more dissimilarities than likenesses. Whether or not there is a central core story that the accounts build on may be irrelevant, since the differences in perspective create such disparate images. While Hultgren finds little or no evidence to support the notion that these parables were told by Jesus at different times and places, neither is there evidence to disprove this possibility. It may be disquieting to some, who have long assumed these stories to be just different presentations of the same parable, to consider that the evangelists may have created, recreated or embellished these accounts to make particular points. This practice, however, neither began nor ended in the first century. It is virtually impossible to explicate any text without introducing additional ideas, theologies or agendas. Rather than reducing these parables to contrivances, the notion that each parable had particular messages for a particular community, and yet is fully relevant to today’s congregations, adds great currency to the value of scripture in general, and parables in particular.
Bailey, Kenneth E. 1983 (combined edition). Poet & Peasant (1976) and Through Peasant Eyes (1980) – a Literary-Cultural Approach to the Parables in Luke. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.).
Culpepper, R. Alan. 1995. “The Gospel of Luke”, Volume IX of The New Interpreter’s Bible – A Commentary in 12 Volumes. (Nashville: Abingdon Press.) Accessed through online subscription to Cokebury’s iPreach Biblical resources available at http://www.cokesburylibraries.com/NXT/.*
Craddock, Fred B. 1990. “Luke”, Interpretation – a Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. (Louisville: John Knox Press.) Accessed through online subscription to Cokebury’s iPreach Biblical resources available at http://www.cokesburylibraries.com/NXT/.*
Hare, Douglas R.A. 1993. “Matthew”, Interpretation – a Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. (Louisville: John Knox Press.) Accessed through online subscription to Cokebury’s iPreach Biblical resources available at http://www.cokesburylibraries.com/NXT/.*
Herzog, William R. II. 1994. Parables as Subversive Speech – Jesus as Pedagogue of the Oppressed. (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press).
Hultgren, Arland J. 2000. The Parables of Jesus – A Commentary. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.).
Jeremias, Joachim. 1963. The Parables of Jesus. (London: SCM Press).
Senior, Donald. 1998. “Matthew”, Abingdon New Testament Commentaries. (Nashville: Abingdon Press.) Accessed through online subscription to Cokebury’s iPreach Biblical resources available at http://www.cokesburylibraries.com/NXT/.*
Tannehill, Robert C. 1998. “Luke”, Abingdon New Testament Commentaries. (Nashville: Abingdon Press.) Accessed through online subscription to Cokebury’s iPreach Biblical resources available at http://www.cokesburylibraries.com/NXT/.*
Wright, Stephen. 2002. Tales Jesus Told – an Introduction to the Narrative Parables of Jesus. (Carlisle, Cumbria: Paternoster Press).
* These texts, being electronic versions structured within Java framework, have neither numbered pages nor individual url’s. An effort was made to identify them by subtitle and paragraph number with the section.
 Herzog, 152
 Jeremias, 59-63.
 Senior, Commentary – In the Holy City: Conflict, Death & Resurrection, Section: The Parable of the Talents (25:14-30), ¶1.
 Hultgren, 273.
 Hare, Part III – The Messiah’s Obedient Submission to Death, Section: Events Prior to the Great Tribulation 24:3-14, ¶1.
 Hultgren, 278; Hare, Part III – The Messiah’s Obedient Submission to Death, Section: Matthew 24:1-25:46, ¶1; Senior, Commentary – In the Holy City: Conflict, Death & Resurrection, Section: The Apocalyptic Discourse (24:1-25:46), ¶1.
 Senior, Introduction – Some Characteristic Issues of Matthew’s Gospel, Section: Ethics, ¶1.
 Hare, Part III – The Messiah’s Obedient Submission to Death, Section: Events Prior to the Great Tribulation 24:3-14., ¶6.
 Hultgren, 273, limits his similarities to verses M14:L13, M28:L24 & M29:L26 while Jeremias, 60-61, expresses an opinion that agrees largely with the core story outlined on pg. 2 of this paper.
 Hultgren, 278; Senior, Commentary – In the Holy City: Conflict, Death & Resurrection, Section: The Parable of the Talents (24:14-30); Hare, Part III – The Messiah’s Obedient Submission to Death, Section: The Parable of the Talents (24:14-30).
 Senior, Introduction – Some Characteristic Issues of Matthew’s Gospel, Sections: Christology and A Theology of History.
 Hultgren, 288; Wright, 149; Culpepper, Luke 19:11-27, The Parable of the Greedy and Vengeful King, Commentary, ¶10; Tannehill, An Expanded Mission as Jesus Journeys to Jerusalem (9:51-19:44), Section: A Nobleman, His Slaves, and His Citizens (19:11-28), ¶2; Craddock, Part IV – The Journey to Jerusalem, Section: The Parable of the Pounds (19:11-28) ¶1.
 Culpepper, Luke 19:11-27, The Parable of the Greedy and Vengeful King, Commentary, ¶1.
 Tannehill, A Nobleman, His Slaves and His Citizens (19:11-28), Section: 19:11-14, ¶2.
 Tannehill, Introduction. Section: Understanding the Audience and the Setting, ¶5.
 Craddock, Introduction. Section: Perspective – Luke as Preacher, ¶15.
 Hultgren, 288; Tannehill, A Nobleman, His Slaves and His Citizens (19:11-28), Section: 19:15-28; Craddock, Part IV – The Journey to Jerusalem, Section: The Parable of the Pounds (19:11-28).
 Hultgren, 286.
 Wright, 149; Jeremias, 59; Culpepper, Luke 19:11-27, The Parable of the Greedy and Vengeful King, Commentary, ¶4.
 Jeremias, 59
 Craddock, Introduction. Section: Perspective – Luke as Preacher, ¶15.