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Parable of the talents or minas

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The Parable of the talents or minas (sometimes the Parable of Talents and/or The Parable of the Pounds) is a pair of very similar parables of Jesus. They are found in Matthew 25:14-30 and in Luke 19:12-27. They are thought to be a version of the same original parable or each other.[1] Scholars think that the parable is probably part of the Q document[2]

It was told to illustrate an aspect of the nature of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Parable of the Talents

The parable tells of a master who was leaving his home to travel, and before going gave his three servants different amounts of money. (The large unit of money is called a talent, the word not yet having the meaning of a personal aptitude to do certain things.) On returning from his travels, the master asked his servants for an account of the money given to them. The first servant reported that he was given five talents, and he had made five talents more. The master praised the servant as being good and faithful, gave him more responsibility because of his faithfulness, and invited the servant to be joyful together with him.

The second servant said that he had received two talents, and he had made two talents more. The master praised this servant in the same way as being good and faithful, giving him more responsibility and inviting the servant to be joyful together with him.

The last servant who had received one talent reported that knowing his master was a hard man, he buried his talent in the ground for safekeeping, and therefore returned the original amount to his master. The master called him a wicked and lazy servant, saying that he should have placed the money in the bank to generate interest. The master commanded that the one talent be taken away from that servant, and given to the servant with ten talents, because everyone that has much will be given more, and whoever that has a little, even the little that he has will be taken away. And the master ordered the servant to be thrown outside into the darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Parable of the Minas

The similar Lukan parable, the Parable of the Minas, is generally the same, but one of the few core differences is that the master entrusted his servants with equal amounts, measured in Minas rather than Talents (1 Talent = 60 Mina). Additionally, Luke adds to the beginning an account of citizens sending a message after the Master to say that they don't want him as their ruler, and to the end of the account Luke adds that the Master instructs that his opponents should be brought to him and then be slain.

The parallels between the Lukan material (the Gospel of Luke, and Book of Acts) and Josephus' writings have long been noted[3][4][5][6]. The core idea, of a man traveling to a far country being related to a kingdom, has vague similarities to Herod Archelaus traveling to Rome in order to be given his kingdom; although this similarity is not in itself significant, Josephus' account also contains details which are echoed by Luke's additions to the parable[7]. Josephus describes Jews sending an embassy to Augustus, while Archelaus is travelling to Rome, to complain that they do not want Archelaus as their ruler[8][9]; when Archelaus returns, he arranged for 3000 of his enemies to be brought to him at the Temple in Jerusalem, where he had them slaughtered[8]


According to some, Jesus used the perspective of Jewish society at that time. He begins with the Parable of The Ten Virgins to illustrate, and continues with the Parable of Talents. Talents were used as a unit of currency. It is impossible to be exact about their value, and different kinds of talent were in use. However, even the lowest value for a talent puts it as worth several thousand denarii, and a denarius was the usual payment for a day's labor. So a talent was the value of many years of work by an ordinary person. The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, third edition, lists precise values of the talent: The Babylonian silver talent was equal to 3,000 shekels; the Greek talent contained 60 minae or 6000 silver drachmae, and the value of the late Attic talent of silver, with pure silver at 4s 9d, an oz. troy, has been estimated at £200.

Joachim Jeremias (1900-1979), in his book The Parables of Jesus, concluded that the original meaning of the parable was not an ethical one about every man. Instead, he saw it as aimed at the scribes who had withheld from their fellow men a due share in God's gift...Much had been entrusted to them: the Word of God; but like the servants in the parable, they would shortly have to render account of how they had used that which had been committed to them. Jeremias also believed that in the life of the early church the parable took on new meaning: The journey of the an allegory of Christ, his journey has become the ascension, his subsequent return...has become the Parousia, which ushers his own into the Messianic banquet.

As social critique

In Parables as Subversive Speech: Jesus as the Pedagogue of the Oppressed (1994), William R. Herzog II gives a liberation-theology reading of the parable. Herzog's analysis focuses on the fact that the "master" is not described as an exemplary person.[10] Furthermore, this wealthy man does not deny the claim of the third servant: "thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown". The parable suggests that he is an aristocrat, a rapacious absentee-landlord, whose sole interest is maximizing his financial gain. Only the third servant refuses to participate in the game of increasing his lord's financial wealth "at the costs of the poor."

When he upbraids the third servant, the aristocrat's remark shows that he himself is in violation of the Old Testament laws that Jesus seeks to defend: the third servant has willfully refused to invest the money, which would have resulted in the aristocrat regaining his capital "with interest."[Mt. 25:27] This kind of financial transaction is forbidden in the Torah; see the biblical teaching on usury.

The servant's frank remark shows him to be a "whistle-blower". He calls the aristocrat harsh and merciless, which are not God-like qualities. He exposes the sham of what has occurred: the other servants have allowed themselves to be used for exploitative purposes, for which they will be rewarded by the wicked aristocrat.

According to Herzog's reading, the point of the parable is to show how much it can cost for an underling to expose the truth about injustice in society. Indeed, this parable is the last Jesus delivers before his crucifixion, the ultimate consequence of his own speaking of truth to worldly power.

The term 'talent' in English

The parable is apparently the origin of the use of the word 'talent' to use a skill or ability, from the common interpretation of the story to teach that we are under a moral obligation to use our abilities rather than bury them; compare the phrase in Milton's sonnet on his blindness,

And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless...

See also


  1. Peake's commentary on the Bible, on Matthew 25:14-30
  2. Reconstruction of Q by Tabor
  3. Steve Mason, Josephus and Luke-Acts, (1992), pages 185-229
  4. Gregory Sterling, Historiography and Self-Definition: Josephos, Luke-Acts and Apologetic Historiography (1992)
  5. Heinz Schreckenberg, Flavius Josephus and the Lukan Writings (1980), pages 179-209.
  6. Max Krenkel, Josephus und Lukas (1894)
  7. Luke Timothy Johnson, Daniel J. Harrington, The Gospel of Luke (1991), endnote 12, page 289
  8. 8.0 8.1 Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 17:11
  9. Luke Timothy Johnson, Daniel J. Harrington, The Gospel of Luke (1991), endnote 14, page 290
  10. William R. Herzog II, Parables as Subversive Speech: Jesus as Pedagogue of the Oppressed, pp. 150-168.

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