My Question:Can anyone give an explanation of the parable of the unjust steward in Luke 16?


Hi everyone, Luke 16’s Message of the parable of the unjust steward has always been somewhat obscure to me. Jesus says in 16:9, “And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by the means of the wealth of unrighteousness, so that when it fails, they will receive you into eternal dwellings.” Notes in Macarthur study Bible say that “believers are to use their Master’s money in a way that will accrue friends for eternity–by investing in the kingdom gospel that brings sinners to salvation, so that when those sinners arrive in Heaven, they will be there to welcome them.

Any thoughts from my new family out there?:dancer::green_heart:

(SeanO) #2

@carmen On this particular parable, I liked the perspective of the Mercer Commentary. Not one I normally use - but very clear here. Some people debate whether the steward was reducing the amount owed to the master or simply not charging what he would normally make in profit for himself. However, this discussion is not necessarily significant to the meaning of the parable.

Clearly the Master is God and the exhortation of the parable is that we should steward the resources God gives us wisely for the sake of His Kingdom. The dishonest steward was shrewd in how he dealt with money to win the favor of both his master and the tenants - why is it that those who are supposed to serve God do not use their money wisely for God’s Kingdom? The point is not to commend the dishonesty of the steward, but to point out to what extreme lengths he went to use the money well for himself and win friends on earth. Likewise, we should go to extreme lengths to use our resources well for God’s Kingdom and earn God’s favor.

That this parable is meant to reference wealth is made more clear by Luke’s admonition of the Pharisees of ‘lovers of wealth’ immediately after the parable. The Pharisees understood that Jesus was saying they ought to love God rather than money, but they did not.

One really interesting point the Mercer commentary makes is that when Jesus says ‘they will welcome you into eternal dwellings’ it could be a circumlocution for ‘God will welcome you into eternal dwellings’. So Jesus could be indirectly saying God - rather than Macarthur’s interpretation that it is other believers who will welcome us into eternal dwellings. Not necessarily a crucial point, but very interesting.

circumlocution: the use of many words where fewer would do, especially in a deliberate attempt to be vague or evasive

Hope the excerpt and thoughts are helpful. Christ grant you wisdom :slight_smile:

Excerpt from Mercer Commentary on the New Testament:

(Dean Schmucker) #3

Luke 16:10
‭He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much.‭

I agree
Its about fidelity
Can’t take it with you, but what you do with it is a reflection of who you are.
Right before this the religious crowd is upset about the company Jesus keeps… Lost coin, lost sheep. Prodigal son, then unjust each case He is confronting the smallness of their hearts.

(Jimmy Sellers) #4

Let me share this. Try reading the prodigal and the unjust without chapter breaks. I think you will see that they are parallels. This is from a commentary I have.

  1. Each has a noble master who demonstrates extraordinary grace to a wayward underling.
  2. Both stories contain an ignoble son/steward who wastes the master’s resources.
  3. In each the wayward underling reaches a moment of truth regarding those losses.
  4. In both cases the son/steward throws himself on the mercy of the noble master.
  5. Both parables deal with broken trust and the problems resulting from it.
    Bailey, K. E. (2008). Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels (p. 332). Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic.

To get the full impact of what is transpiring in this parable you have to understand it in the middle eastern honor/shame paradigm. If you don’t I think you will find yourself forcing an explanation.
Things that you would understand if you lived then/there. Here is my summary of the explanation:

Master and steward:
• The charges against the steward are credible, not hear say.
• When presented to the steward he did not deny or appeal he accepted the fact that he was caught. (ordinally the accused would appeal based on work history or family loyalty)
• The master is of good character and above reproach. The steward is a liar and a cheat. They are not co-conspirators nor are they “evil”.
• From the moment the steward accepts his dismissal everything he does after that is illegal and would be understood so by the hearers.

“The appointment and powers of the agent may be revoked at any time with or without good cause, and whatever the agent does after revocation is not binding on the principle. It takes effect, however, only from the time that it is brought home to the agent or the person with whom he is dealing.”
George Horowitz, The Spirit of Jewish Law (New York: Central Book, 1953), p. 542.

• Realizes that he is in a tight spot. He won’t be able to get work as a manger again and he cannot/will not do common labor nor will he beg.
• It dawns on him that he has the master’s books in his possession and the power to make a name for himself. After the dust settles he will be popular with the local as well as shrewd, think Robin Hood. Because of his fame he will land on his feet. As a reminder anything done with the master’s money from this point forward is illegal and the audience is in full knowledge of this fact.

Steward and debtors:
• He calls in the debtors (farmers who rent the land) individually to ask them what they owe the master. (generally, it would be the other way round, the master would tell you what you owed) and because of this he has now opened the door for these men to become confederates unknowingly in this thievery. You would never expect an underling to administer the master property without assuming that the steward had his, the master’s, authority.
• Each farmer writes in his own hand his new debt as dictated by the steward knowing full well that this was highly unusual.
Note: The total of the theft was the equivalent of 1 ½ yrs wage each.
Another thing to keep in mind on the honor/shame side. The is idead of public propriety and private awareness. The debtors could publicly claim ingornace of the fact that the steward was fired but privately they could accept the a side deal, we might say a taste, that would benefit both parties.
Because the deal was done in private there would be no recourse for either party as there were no witnesses. Without witnesses it is a he said she said defense.

• The steward knew exactly what he was doing, in the vernacular of the day he was shrewd!
• The steward gathers up the books and the new bills and returns them to the master.
• The master knows that he has been taken to the cleaners. He can go to the village and reverse what the village now thinks was a very generous gift from a very generous master or he can acknowledge the shrewdness of the corrupt steward which he does.
• Now the steward and the master are heroes in the village and steward has guaranteed himself a new position because of his shrewdness.
• The steward was the recipient of master grace once already but knowing his (the master’s) character he rolled the dice one more time knowing that the master was merciful and would pardon him again.

This is from the commentary: Bold is my emphasis.

“The parable is a “Tom and Jerry” story. The little mouse matches wits with the big cat and wins. The parable is built on the psychology of an oppressed peasantry, such as is known to have existed in Galilee at the time of Jesus. The steward is a Robin Hood figure, a countercultural hero. But at the end of the story, Jesus calls him “a son of this age/world**.” He is smart enough to know that his only hope is to put his entire trust in the unqualified mercy of his generous master.** His morals are deplorable. Nonetheless, Jesus wants “the sons of light” to use their intelligence, like the dishonest steward, and to trust completely in the mercy of God for their salvation. The prodigal son made a similar decision.”
Bailey, K. E. (2008). Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels (p. 341). Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic.

I hope this was helpful.
As aside note in the 4th century Julian the apostate used this text to teach that Jesus taught his disciples to lie and steal.

“Julian was wrong. Jesus does not teach his disciples to lie and cheat. Using the psychology of an oppressed peasantry, Jesus creates a parable with profound theological and ethical resonances.”
Bailey, K. E. (2008). Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels (p. 342). Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic.


Dear Jimmy,
Thank you for that well-presented discourse on the unjust steward and I agree that trying to interpret every angle would be forcing the issue. If you have access to a Macarthur Study Bible, take a look at his notes on this parable. On 16:8, he writes: “Outwitted, he (the master) applauded the man’s cunning. …It is the natural tendency of fallen hearts to admire a villain’s craftiness.” I appreciated your parallel to the prodigal son, except that the steward does NOT ask for mercy, he continues his unjust practices depending on the ‘kindness of strangers’.

(Anthony Costello ) #6

Nice answer. I’m aware of Bailey’s books, but haven’t gotten around to them yet. That really clarified that parable for me.

Thanks Jimmy!


(Jimmy Sellers) #7

Thanks for your comments. I agree the steward didn’t verbally ask for mercy, but he did bet the ranch that the master was a merciful man. We need to remember that the master had legal options available to him for the recoupment of his losses. Possible options include jail and force labor for the steward’s family. Surely the steward had this in mind and even so, he doubled down, not on his own cunning or shrewdness but on the good character of the master. I know that this is not the same a verbal request for mercy viewed in a 21th century western POV, but both the prodigal and the steward threw themselves on to the mercy of a noble master. We can only speculate about the steward’s behavior going forward as the story ends here and to my knowledge is never picked up again.

(Jimmy Sellers) #8

It cleared things up for me also. The big find for me was the book and the author. I am moving him to the soon to be read stack.:grinning: You probably already this but he has several titles that look interesting.

(Anthony Costello ) #9

I read an article by Bailey a few years ago for a research paper on the capacity for oral tradition in ancient times. He had coined a term, “Informal Controlled Oral Transmission” that I found quite interesting. I recall the article being very helpful in presenting a reasonable argument for the authority, and possibly inerrancy, of Scripture.