Looking at Matthew 25:14–30 with ancient eyes
What does the Parable of the Talents mean?
Jesus tells the Parable of the Talents (or the Talents’ parable) to his disciples. It appears in Matthew 25:14–30, and another version of the parable can be found in Luke 19:11–27. The story in Matthew 25:14–30 unfolds as such: A man goes away on a trip. Before he leaves, he entrusts money to his slaves. To one he gives five talents, to the second he gives two talents, and to the third he gives a single talent. The first two slaves double their money; they give the original investment and their profit to their master when he returns. The third slave, however, buries his talent out in a field instead of trying to make a profit; he returns only this when his master comes back. The master is pleased with the first two slaves, but he is dissatisfied with the third’s actions. He reprimands this slave and casts him out into the darkness.
Richard L. Rohrbaugh examines the Parable of the Talents’ meaning in his Biblical Views column “Reading the Bible Through Ancient Eyes” in the September/October 2016 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review. Although the story itself is fairly straightforward, Rohrbaugh argues that the Parable of the Talents’ meaning is less clear. An ancient audience would have interpreted it differently than a modern one.
The Talents’ parable has typically been interpreted by the Western church as being about proper investment: Jesus’ disciples are urged to use their abilities and gifts to serve God—without reservation and without fear of taking risks. Rohrbaugh, however, argues that the Talents’ parable is all about exploitation. Whereas a modern, Western audience would applaud the first two slaves for trading and investing well, an ancient audience would have approved of the third slave’s behavior and condemned that of the first two slaves because they profited at the expense of others. Rohrbaugh explains:
[G]iven the “limited good” outlook of ancient Mediterranean cultures, seeking “more” was considered morally wrong. Because the pie was “limited” and already all distributed, anyone getting “more” meant someone else got less. Thus honorable people did not try to get more, and those who did were automatically considered thieves: To have gained, to have accumulated more than one started with, is to have taken the share of someone else.
This interpretation of the Parable of the Talents’ meaning casts the actions of the first two slaves as shameful and that of the third slave as honorable.
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The scenario played out in the Talents’ parable (Matthew 25:14–30)—of a master leaving his property in control of his slaves—was not uncommon. In the ancient world, greedy people who did not want to get accused of profiting at someone else’s expense, which was considered shameful, would delegate their business to slaves, who were held to a different standard. Rohrbaugh explains the ancients’ reasoning: “Shameful, even greedy, behavior could be condoned in slaves because slaves had no honor nor any expectation of it.”
Accordingly, in the Talents’ parable, the master leaves his money with his slaves in the hope that they will exploit the system and increase his riches. The first two slaves do just this, but the third “honorably refrains from taking anything that belongs to the share of another.”
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This slave also does not invest his money at the bank, through which he would have earned interest. The master further reprimands the slave for not doing this, but Rohrbaugh points out: “[S]eeking interest from another Israelite was forbidden by the Torah (Deuteronomy 23:19–20), and, elsewhere in Luke, Jesus says that we should lend ‘expecting nothing in return’ (Luke 6:35).”
Should then the actions of the third slave be condemned or lauded? According to Rohrbaugh, reading Matthew 25:14–30 with ancient eyes suggests that the third slave is the only one who behaved honorably in the Talents’ parable.
Learn more about the Parable of the Talents’ meaning by reading Richard L. Rohrbaugh’s full Biblical Views column “Reading the Bible Through Ancient Eyes” in the September/October 2016 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.
This Bible History Daily feature was originally published on September 26, 2016.
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I’m not confident this parable in Luke is, at its core, about stewardship. In context in Luke, it is right before the triumphal entry of Christ and the His Kingship. This parable opens with the idea that the master’s son has been made King. Some took invested their faith in Him and did great things, others greater… and then there was the one who did nothing. He buried it.
Essentially, this is what the religious leaders did with all their knowledge of Jesus, His works and the prophetic word. They did not want Him to be their king. Hence. the difficult outcome noted by Jesus at the parable’s ending. They will perish.
Positioned against this is the triumphal entry. The disciples honor Jesus as King, with praises and song, while the religious leaders rebuke Him. The result for the latter follows the parable… destruction.
The parable is a parable about Israel and the rejection of Jesus. It fits well with the stewardship of gifts and faith, but as a secondary, but important topic – what will we do with our faith to serve our King?
There is another possibility: if the third slave had invested the talent but the investment went bad, then the owner would have probably had the slave killed.
I think this interpretation of the parable is completely off in this article. Why does the parable end with, “And cast out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth”? That is a description of hell, is it not? And your interpretation is that the the third slave was rewarded because he did not exploit others’ money as he buried his one talent?
The parable is about faith. The first and second slaves did not exploit — they invested faithfully and wisely. Notice what the master tells both the first and second slaves upon his return — he rewards their faithfulness with how they stewarded what was rightfully owned by the master; “Well done, good and faithful slave; you were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things, enter into the joy of your master.”
I hate to say it, but this interpretation is one of the most ridiculous things I’ve heard. Regardless of the culture of the time, Jesus’ clear intent was to encourage kingdom expansion spiritual gain, not financial gain). John 15 is a different way of relating a similar truth. “Herein is my Father glorified that you bare much fruit.” The writer displays some gnostic tendencies in providing an interpretation that is 180 degrees opposite if the obvious intended message. Similar to teaching that Judas is the hero of the story, because he was the only one who understood Jesus’ mission, even though though the Bible calls him the “son of predition.”
I agree with you. This I a poor and impropper interpretation if this parable.
Total lack of spiritual understanding of the Parable of the Talents. This parable is about increasing the Kingdom with souls, not some humanistic Marxist material understanding of the world. Jesus Christ left his disciples with this parable so they would understand their commission in the world. Their purpose is to save souls and increase the Kingdom.
Good read but still being puzzled about the meaning of this end time parable, I asked the Servant in Matt 24:46 who is now on the earth. He said “we know that the LORD is not concerned about money so there is something more. He believes the “bankers” are the Pastors – Preachers – Teachers in these end times who know our Master is coming shortly and starting to talk about the rapture, etc. We servants, though we may not have much can listen and discern these people on tv and radio and give appropriately.
I know I’m commenting on an old post here, but this is one of those debates that keeps coming up, and this is as good a place as any to address it.
Rohrbaugh is correct that many modern readers get the point of the parable of the talents wrong, but not for the reason he cites. Others in these comments have noted the fallacy of assuming that all personal gain would be considered immoral, so I won’t rehash that.
The trick to interpreting this parable is found in in verse 29 where Jesus says, “For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.” If this sounds familiar it should. Jesus uses this exact same language in Matthew 13:12 when he is answering the disciples question about why he teaches in parables. Jesus uses this to explain that the parables are all about the secrets of the kingdom, or spiritual knowledge. This is what the parable of the talents is really about, not personal time, talents, or treasure as many pastors would put it.
In Matthew 24 Jesus tells about the coming destruction of the temple as a judgment from God. At the end of the chapter he warns his disciples not to abuse their power as leaders in this new Kingdom, and the implication is that the Pharisees and Jewish religious leaders have done just that, which is one of the reasons for God’s coming judgment on the temple. All three of the parables in Matthew 25 are an explanation of this judgment.
Where the Jewish leaders had been entrusted with the gift of the Torah and other Hebrew scriptures as a calling to represent God to all nations of the world, they had hidden that knowledge among themselves and failed to live up to their God-given responsibilities as leaders of God’s chosen people, much like the wicked servant hid the talent he was given. For that he is punished as the Jewish leaders and the temple will be.
Jesus gives this parable as a warning to his disciples that they are not to keep the knowledge of the kingdom to themselves, but to “invest” it, or spread it to others, so that all may benefit from God’s coming new creation. Roahbaugh is right that Jesus’s point is not about wise investment practices, but he misses the clear scriptural parallels and the context of the passage itself which holds the key to understanding what Jesus means.
Always remember, scripture interprets itself.
Thank you! This is correct and well cited. I just can’t wrap my head around the fact that the author has taken a parable to its literal end, and essentially rewrote the scripture itself.
Thank you. Your explanation mirrors what Christ did with His talents, or put another way, with His life and time – spreading God’s love doing good to others, and revealing God’s mind with instructive parables. His ministry focused exclusively on establishing and spreading God’s Kingdom, so the servant who buried his talent can be accurately interpreted as having done nothing in the way of helping or furthering God’s Kingdom.
If someone is reading this, please make sure to read Matthew 24 and 25 for yourself. This interpretation is borderline heresy. Jesus makes it plain with exactly what He means. He gives multiple parables. Do not twist the Lord’s words. This article could be a stumbling block for someone.
AMEN! The writer forgets how the two wise investors were further rewarded by their Master and the slacker slave was punished. That shoots a hole in the author’s deviant re-writing of Scripture interpretation.
Agree with Ashly. The parable is not about money at all, that is an analogy to God’s spiritual gifts. Jesus was focused on tje Spirit. It is about using our spirtual gifts and increasing them in service to others. Rohrburg’s scholarship has blinded him to the real spiritual meaning.
What is this? Marxism for Christian theology?
If the third servant was indeed the most honorable, why was he condemned in the latter part of the passage?
That’s a legitimate question. Jesus was condemned as well. Do you think there could be a connection?
The third servant could have bought a field and planted a vineyard. Then sold the fruit and had a profit. this does not necessitate living dishonorably. There are many ways to manage money or possessions or even abilities and be honorable doing it thus being able to give back to the Master more than we were given and being honored as “good and faithful servants.”
Rohrbaugh’s has demonstrated that in seeing they do not see and in hearing they do not understand. According to Rohrbaugh, the third slave was the only one who behaved honorably. If that is the case, then why did Jesus finish the parable with the following:
v26 …Thou wicked and slothful servant, …
28 Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents.
30 And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
It is clear in the context of the parable and the context of the setting that he third servant is the only one being disciplined by the master.
It is not about being a venture capitalist but about mercy. That is why it doesn’t make sense from that perspective.
For me the parable is about obedience. In the previous paragraphs, a man named Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus so much that he looked around, seen a tree and used it to give him a better vantage point. When Jesus saw this he said that he was going to stay with him that night. In his joy at that, Zacchaeus made the decision to give half his possessions away and give 4 times as much as what he owed to anyone he owed money to. He was using what he had to bless both himself and the people around him. But what was the response of the people around him? They grumbled about “he is going to the house of a sinner”. But Jesus so often told us to love people as ourselves and be a blessing to others. Which is what the man was doing. He was obedient to the word of God. Now to the parable the key is to see the one line. It doesn’t say what religion the master was – only that he was going away and left a directive as well as money needed to carry that directive out – Put this money to work. That could mean invest it – or it could mean buy something else that would yield a return on investment. I read the verse in Deuteronomy and it said don’t charge a brother interest. But taking it to to the bank to invest it there isn’t the same thing as a friend coming to you and asking for $10. You wouldn’t charge interest on that kind of loan but give freely. A business though is different. The bank uses your money to fund things they themselves want to invest in – the money is not theirs so it is only right that they pay interest on it. The same with the money the servants were given – it wasn’t theirs it was their masters and he was clear on what he wanted them to do with it even if he didn’t specify how. As for taking it away – the person wasn’t using it, he merely had it in his possession and it was not his to begin with. If my mom gives me $10.00 and I throw it in a drawer and then she asks for it back to give to one of my sisters – can I really throw a fit if my sister already has lots of money? No. Because it was my mom’s money and not mine. I can only think about how disappointed my mom would be if she had given that money to be to be a blessing to me and I treated it with contempt like that. And that is exactly what that third servant did. AND THEN blamed the master for being mean!
There is no questioning his attentiveness to traditions, ancient. But, the context must be found within the scripture itself. What is Jesus actually trying to show us—teach us. Slaves; those surrendered and submissive to the Lordship of Christ are invested with weighty abilities and must be faithful in the administration of their calling? To whom much is given, much is required. Verse 26 & 29 are telling verses. The Kingdom of God is within us. However, this is very intriguing, Rohrbaugh gives food for thought.
I’m not sure then according to Rohrbaugh’s interpretation what lessons we are to take away from the parable. If “limited good” was the ancient cultural norm, then perhaps Jesus is actually challenging that. It might even be the main incentive for Jesus relating this parable. In other words, perhaps Jesus was introducing a more “capitalistic” view as more desirable than Rohrbaugh’s more “socialistic” interpretation of the kingdom of God.
Matthew 25:1 shows that the parables in this chapter are related to the Kingdom of the heavens….first parable dealing with the 5 wise and 5 foolish virgins; and then in verse 14 starts off with “For it (Kingdom) is just like a man…….
Pardon me, but I find it sad that “Laymen” i.e., “Pastors” are arguing over this silly subject for the “Profits sake” when they CLEARLY dont understand the Parables at all. The Parable of the Talents has NOTHING TO DO WITH YOUR ESTATES, FINANCES, ETC! It is not a parable on “how to get rich.” Its called a “Parable” for a reason, which a Parable is a “metaphor.” The “Talents” are “the sheep.” Its not “putting their butts in the seats of your pagan/cursed churches,” its laying the Doctrine of Messiah (12 Foundational Stones) in their lives, and raising up “Righteous people.”
So Rohrbaugh is claiming that Jesus Christ got it wrong.
Yup, Jesus Christ, Logos, differentiator of chaos and order, the creator of order out of chaos, ie the the universal reversor of Entropy, and thus the creator of space and time, got it wrong.
I offer my own challenges to Rohrbaugh’s interpretation, although I freely admit I am but a layman and am not as well schooled as most others.
1. Rohrbaugh’s interpretation relies heavily on the premise that all forms of wealth accumulation would have been considered “bad” by Jesus’ audience. It is difficult to accept there was no room for appropriate wealth accumulation in ancient Judean society. The patriarchs were extremely wealthy, powerful men, in particular Abraham being the most venerated of all. Jesus warns of the dangers of having wealth, but says nothing about wealth accumulation in general being wrong.
2. Rohrbaugh’s premise is that there was only one form of wealth accumulation (appropriating the property of others through unlawful or excessive usury or other unscrupulous means), and that this was the means by which the master conducted his own business. If there were more scrupulous methods for building wealth (trade, for instance?) the premise is faulty.
3. Admittedly the servant’s characterization of the master as “hard” and taking that which he did not own supports Rohbaugh’s interpretation. There is nothing in the text to suggest that the servant’s assessment of his master is not accurate.
4. The master’s use of the phrase “well done, good and faithful servant” isn’t befitting a villain. It is too similar to the general theme of patience, waiting, and being good stewards of that which God has given in Jesus’ other teachings.
5. That the master does not refute the servant’s assessment of him as a hard man, nor his suggestion that he put the money in the bank, is not necessarily an admission of guilt or supporting immoral moneylending. In another interpretation, the master is calling the bluff of this lying, lazy servant. In other words, he’s saying “You say I’m a hard, unscrupulous man, and that’s why you did nothing? Fine, if that were true, then surely you would have at least put it in the bank to earn some interest No, you didn’t put it in the bank because my character has nothing to do with it. You did nothing with the money because you are lazy and shiftless.”
6. The Master’s response is particularly harsh. Is the Master Jesus? This seems problematic given that the servant loses everything and is cast out to his ruin, and then immediately following this parable is the parable of the sheep and goats, where Jesus teaches his followers that caring for those who have lost everything is in effect caring for him personally, and that those who do not care for the least of these will go to eternal punishment.
I am still not sure which interpretation holds more water for me. Both are problematic in my view.
It is a shame that so many people here, who, feeling they are somehow spiritually superior, resort to hateful personal attacks against the author. Disagree by all means, and do so with force if necessary, but be careful calling someone a fool or questioning their faith or integrity.
Some of you have said “Why not just interpret the parable in the most obvious sense?” There is hubris hidden in this statement, as though our reading of it now is more enlightened than a reading of it by an ancient Palestinian. We should have great curiosity about how the original audience would have interpreted it. Arguments against Rohrbaugh’s interpretation should at least include refutation of his premises about how ancients would have understood the story. The noisemaking about “obvious interpretations” rings hollow.
I completely disagree with the author. Obviously the Bible makes it plain that the first two servants did what they were supposed to while the last servant was wicked. The parable was talking about something of a spiritual nature.
As some others have pointed out.. I believe the parable wasn’t talking about financial investments; instead it’s about opportunities of advancing the kingdom of God. For example, say the first servant was given a platform of some sort; he was famous. If he used his fame to reach people with the saving message of Jesus Christ, then he would be rewarded.
It’s about what you do with the life you were given. Not everyone was given the same things- some people have bold personalities perfect for public speaking, others have the ability to cheer people up and show mercy, ect. So in other words, with whatever abilities you were given will also come opportunities to share Christ (not just the message of salvation, but His love, generosity, forgiveness, ect.) with others. If you see an opportunity to advance the kingdom of God by behaving like a disciple would, and you take it, then you will be rewarded
On the other hand, if you were given opportunities to share the love of Christ with others and instead chose to do nothing- you will face the wrath of God. The last servant was an example of a person who, over the course of their entire life, could have shared food with the hungry, but chose not to. Could have spent time with the weird person no one else liked, but chose not to. Could have stepped in and stopped a fight between others, but chose not to. Could have shown mercy but chose not to. Could have done something nice for a loved one, but chose not to, ect. the list goes on and on. And notice I said COULD HAVE. God won’t expect you to do things He hasn’t given you the ability to do. But if you CAN do something, and DON’T, there is no excuse.
This also lines up with the parable of the sheep and the goats….
Fascinating. It may be interpreted that a principled stand may cost you. That would resolve why in Lk 18:8, the manager who purposely lost the master’s money (and appears alot like embezzlement) to benefit others (but mostly benefiting himself) is praised by the master. You still can’t reslove the differing value systems of the two “masters”
its the difference between a slave mind and a free mind, those with masters and those without masters, both in a condition of prisoner.
riba = usury.
I think there is another way of viewing this that doesn’t create a combative environment. What I see is an article about how the audience of the day may have received this parable. The capitalist lense may not have been the filter through which the ancient audience viewed this parable. It is obvious that the Master rebuked the servant, the question that I think is worth asking is would the audience have agreed with the Master’s conclusion? I don’t necessarily see a Marxist plot to subvert the parable in this article. The parable isn’t about money. It’s about the furtherance of God’s kingdom. We see this now in the context of the entire scope of scripture. Would the audience of the day have interpreted it this way?
If the ancient audience would have looked at this in the way the article describes, does this add information for us to consider. For instance if it was shameful for the master to manipulate the system for his own gain, what does that say about the system and who contolls it. The ancient mind may have seen economics as a zero sum game. Who is the god of this world? When the parable was delivered, Satan had yet to be defeated in our timine. Could the nature of the system been a consideration?
I found this interesting. It definitely didn’t threaten my understanding of the main themes of the parable. It did make me question how the initial audience would havery received it, and assuming Jesus knew this, what we might learn from some of the subtleties of the narrative.
We are often too quick to start an argument. I didn’t see this as the intention of the author. This conversation doesn’t threaten my understanding of Jesus. It does make me consider the parable more closely with new information.
If one could miss an interpretation by such length as this author, (although his is not an original thought) imagine what he would do with Jesus stating to ‘drink his blood and eat his flesh’.
Notice the story states if with “kingdom of heaven” in italics meaning it is not in the original manuscript. Could be he’s talking about an evil master and his minions – of which the third did not wish to take usury – as it is strictly forbidden to charge interest from a fellow hebrew.
Anyone that is happy to be cast into outer darkness, where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth”, then the interpretation in the article above is for you.
Isaiah 5:20 “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil,who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! 21 Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight! 22 Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine, and valiant men in mixing strong drink, 23 who acquit the guilty for a bribe, and deprive the innocent of his right!”
Do you think Jesus knew this verse from Isaiah? The Master knows what he is talking about. He said he only says what he hears the Father saying.
Wow, what a very naive interpretation. This is a parable, not to be interpreted literally as Rohrbaugh has. I am surprised this website is even offering it. The parable is about the talents that God has given the believers. Talents back then was a currency denomination. However, over time and justly so it has become to describe a person’s skills. In this case, it is the gifts that God has given each believer. Jesus was referencing the gifts that the believers were given to go out into the world and spread the gospel. It is our duty as bondservants of Jesus to do this. It is the Great Commission. The slave who did nothing with his talent received no reward when his master, Jesus returned.
In Luke this parable follows the Zachaeus story. He, like the 3rd steward, decided not to play along w the wicked king’s unjust rule. He no doubt paid a steep price for that. Jesus also refused to conform to the ruler of the world and look at what that cost him.
Actually Richard L. Rohrbaugh is not reading the Bible with ancient eyes but with blind spiritual eyes. May be the western church interpretation is wrong , your interpretation is worse.
JESUS spoke with parables, neither to entertain you nor to make you sleep.
Consider my interpretation :
The slaves are the ministers of the church. The talents given to them are the believers. The work the first two did was evangelism or spreading of Gospel, so that increasing the number of believers. since during second coming, the church will be tested with fire. The souls that withstand(Gold) will alone be accepted.
Here, truly the third minister was lazy. Anyway he kept the souls given to him from falling, but failed to increase the Gold(souls). God is caring about the souls, nothing else.
Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.(Daniel 12:3)
So, J.A. – Jesus was Wrong – right?
I don’t see how anyone could interpret that the third servant was good and the other two bad.It defies all understanding and reason
Thank you, Dr. Rohrbaugh, for an interesting piece. I think one of the most important points you raised in your article is the obvious fact that the master himself is a thief — and not only a thief, but probably, in our modern parlance, a psychopath who has no empathy for others. I’m not sure who Jesus had in mind as a model for the master, but it certainly wasn’t God!
As always with Jesus’ parables, there are several layers of interpretation, and the literal one is never the one he would have had in mind.
In addition to the layer about exploitation, I see in this parable yet another of Jesus’ many rebukes of hypocrisy; yet another of Jesus’ realistic commentaries on how society will treat you if you dare to be honest and speak the truth about tyrants (a theme that always reminds me of Shakespeare’s King Lear); and yet another of Jesus’ teachings on the importance of taking responsibility for your own choices and not using the excuse we’ve heard so many times in history: “But my Master TOLD me I HAD to steal from others, and what choice do I, an ignoble slave, have when I’m just following orders?”
The third slave in this parable is the only one with the courage to refuse to participate in an act of theft.
Michael Coogan has referred to the Book of Job as anti-Wisdom Wisdom, and I see the same pattern of anti-Wisdom Wisdom in Jesus’ parables. ANE Wisdom decreed that those who do what the master says will be suitably rewarded. Both Job and Jesus said something very different about our relationship with God.
for crying out loud d author said and I quote “viewing the parable of the talent in ancient perspective”so where is the deceit here?
While I will join in rejecting Rohrbaugh’s interpretation, many of the refutations are no better. First, he has a much more sensitive understanding of the ancient worldview than he is credited by the majority. It is anachronistic to regard it as Marxist, since he nowhere argues that wealth should be distributed evenly and, as far as I’m aware, Marxism doesn’t assume limited resources. The ancients believed that one’s status in birth, society, ethnos, etc. entitled one to an appropriate amount of resources and that it was a threat to society to exceed that amount–but the parable does not suggest the earnings were inappropriate or elevated the master’s wealth beyond his station. So that argument is speculative. The master and his competitors could have been expected to work to increase their public honour and personal holdings so as to be more active patrons. There is a whole matrix of ideas assumed by the parable but not stated, and Rohrbaugh has a much better grasp of this social ordering. What he fails to do, though, as noted, is read it in its literary context. But even here, some go too far by drawing an equation between the master, stated to acquire material wealth illicitly, and Jesus. It is a parable. It is an analogy expressed in terms of common everyday life. The kingdom is “like” its message but not the same thing as. The way the kingdom spreads is not illustrative of how we are to behave. It says in essence that, in a competitive society in which masters vie for honour, servants are to fight and compete for their master’s best interests. Rohrbaugh is correct that in the ancient context the profits would have come at others’ loss. Since this is not in focus, we not need pull it in to displace the message that actually is stated, nor draw absurd prophecies about Jesus’ followers managing cities in the new age. It is about the master, not a treatise on evangelism.
I thought it was about growing the kingdom of God. The first two increased the souls of man for the Lord and the third was given gifts which he did not use to further the kingdom of God.
The viewpoint expressed here does not reflect the clearly stated point of the scripture passage. Why does BiblicalArchaeology.org even entertain articles like this?
We all just have to remember that it’s still a parable no matter how we interpret it. No one is right and no one is wrong with the Bible, as long as it does make sense to life, ’cause there are still questions out there to be answered.
Rohrbaugh’s “interpretation” of the Parable of the Talents is out of context.When Jesus approved the action of first two slaves and disapproved the action of the third slave by saying ” you wicked,lazy servant” who is more authentic Jesus or Rohrbaugh. Don’t interpret only on the merit of the culture or the circumstances but look at the parable through the eyes of the Master teacher and the context of the whole story as told by Jesus Christ.
Dean is absolutely correct that this interpretation is a Marxist interpretation. As far as being a sign of the “last days”. It’s very possible but there has been plenty of “deceiving and being deceived” ever since Adam and Eve hid from the Lord to cover up their nakedness.
From a purely academic perspective this is just bad scholarship. He takes the parable completely out of context as other commentators noticed.
Mr. Rohrbaugh’s attempt to convince Bible readers that the ancient world supported Marxism is almost humorous. Jesus referred to the third slave as “wicked and slothful” because he did no work for the Master.
A lot of good comments. I would add that Israelis always had a different attitude toward business from that of the rest of the Middle East. Israelis held business in high esteem. All other cultures considered business to be comparable to prostitution. Jesus encourages his servants to invest, meaning going into business. The last servant was just lazy and had the wrong attitude toward his master. Besides Jesus is talking about investing to lay up treasures in heaven.
Furthermore, JESUS HIMSELF makes it clear that he disapproves of the 3rd slave hiding the talent he is given, while praising the other 2 who invested theirs. He made it more impactful by giving the sad, miserable, insecure slave have only one talent, while the others had more. So by having only one, insecurity is increased about not doing the proper thing. That is shameful. Use and spread your “talents.” Furthermore, do not succumb to the Marxist Communist ideology of envious losers.
When a Marxist/Communist reads the Bible, he cares not about the actual spiritual meaning, only about his backward ideology, already proven to be a failure. There is no such thing as a limited pie. God does not give a limited pie. There is only growth. Like the a lit candle, it can only grow by sharing its flame, without being divided or limited.
Well put, Carolyn
I suspect the author “interpreted” this passage as he would LIKE to see it – not as it is actually stated in scripture. That is called “self-deception”. The Bible says there will much “deceiving and being deceived” going on in the “last days”. I do believe we are there!
Rohrbaugh gives us a great example of how ideology blinds oneself to the obvious meaning of Scripture. His interpretation (and apparently Barbara Reid’s) are clearly socialist/marxist in nature. And like all ideas of man, need to twist Scripture in an attempt to legitimize their ideology. As Francis Schaeffer said, communism is a Christian heresy.
I am astonished that a scholar of note would not simply read Matthew 25:25-30 and see that Messiah literally condemned that first servant to hell! He also penalized the first servant for not putting it in the bank to earn interest and gave that talent to the servant who yielded ten as a reward. The Bible interprets itself just fine, thank you very much.
If this person disagrees, then my suggestion would be to at least mention these passages even in refutation, to say they were added from later Mss. or something similar. But to ignore them is unacceptable in exegetical processes. Also, Messiah spoke Aramaic and the word for “talents” in Aramaic (and in the Peshitta, the received Aramaic NT) also means “cities”, which puts a whole other complexion on the matter. Please be more thorough next time.
Andrew Gabriel Roth
Translator, Aramaic English New Testament
Thanks heavens for those who refuted this man’s rediculous interpretation of the parable of the talents…its obvious this man does not have spiritual eyes to see or ears to hear what the Word is saying here…with no understanding at all in his fat heart… and it is his own mind’s twisted doctrine that he brings here that would lead many good people astray…the good and faithful servants multiplied the talents/the sharing of the revealed word of the Master here who is symbolic of God…they did not keep it to themselves as the wicked servant did by not sharing all that his Master/God had revealed to him…by burying/concealing it deep within himself..the earth….This is symbolic of our kingdom mandate…we too are to share the revealtion of God’s revealed words to others and not bury it deep in our earth within..
The talents are not “abilities” as sometimes supposed. The talents were given to the slaves “according to their abilities.” The talents were responsibilities. Each received responsibilities according to his abilities to handle those responsibilities. The 5 talent man and the 2 talent man discharged their responsibilities while the 1 talent man was afraid. Fear of discharging one’s responsibilities is destructive. Rohrbaugh missed the single important point of the parable.
Rohrbaugh’s “interpretation” of the Parable of the Talents is absolutely ludicrous. First of all, it’s not his interpretation. This “exploitation” interpretation was first presented by in America Magazine by Sr. Barbara Reid, a Professor of Theology at the Chicago Theological Union. The major sin that Sr. Reid made in her original article, is repeated by Rohrbaugh. They both completely ignore the context of the chapter in which we find the Parable of the Talents. Matthew 25 begins with a parable about the Kingdom of Heaven and the return of Christ and the reward of good and faithful servants. Matthew 25 ends with a description of the Kingdom of Heaven and the return of Christ and the reward of good and faithful servants. So, what would we expect the middle of Matthew 25 to be about? Well, Rohrbaugh, and Sr. Reid, want us to believe that sandwiched in between the parable about Christ’s return and the reward of His faithful disciples and an actual description of Christ’s return and the reward of His faithful disciples, is a parable that has absolutely nothing to do with the Kingdom of Heaven, and that the master who goes away and then returns is not representative of Christ, but rather it is a parable about a wicked master and about how an individual can undermine an unjust economic system! Sorry, Richard Rohrbaugh – and Biblical Archaeology Review – but that dog don’t hunt. There are other problems with this flawed interpretation as well. You can find a more thorough refutation of this interpretation here: https://www.biblechristiansociety.com/newsletter/239-apologetics-for-the-masses-issue-187
Talk about new speak, Rohrbaugh must have had a serious eye problem if that’s what he got from the talents. Jesus always would tell a servant, “enter into your Lords rest good and faithful servant.” Read the talents, the first 2 slaves are issued the same intended “enter in…” The multiplication of talents and goods is a hallmark of all the biblical giants from Abraham on down. Remember Job got back double towards the end.
Mr. Rohrbaugh seems not to have even read the text. Plainly, from vvs. 19–30 the traditional interpretation is upheld and Mr. Rohrbaugh’s refuted. The first two are described by Jesus as “good and faithful” (v.21,23) while the last as “wicked and slothful” (v.26). What on earth is the author thinking??
The Parable of the Talents is not always understood properly by interpreters. The third servant hid the talent because he did not want to put it into a bank and let them know he had it. The third servant hid the talent because he thought it was “his” talent and he did not want the lord to return. He was hoping the lord would not return. The master goes along with the accusation. He is accused of being a thief. The third servant thought of this because this is the way he thought about people. However, if the master were a thief, then logically the third servant should have invested the talent in a bank (and registered it with the authorities). There was real evil in the heart of the third servant. That is why the lord had him to be cast into a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth.
This is an interesting viewpoint! I love it.
This parable was spoken before the beginning of the New Covenant. There was no universal body of Christ, no church , no Indwelling of the Holy Spirit and no spiritual gifts as yet. Are today’s “unprofitable ” servants cast into outer darkness as was him of this parable?