Shrewd Manager Parable of the Unjust Steward
Contemporaries: Jesus, Essenes (Children/Light), Jewish: Pharisees, Sadducees
NOTE To READER: It has been pointed out to me that this study is long on detail and short on brevity. If you just want to see my major point(s), I suggest reading my movie review of "Tower Heist", then come back here for elaboration if needed.
The KJV's Luke 16 chapter heading is The Parable of the Dishonest Steward, sometimes also called the unfaithful or unjust Steward. In the NIV the chapter heading calls him a shrewd manager.
I must shake my head when hearing (1 Timothy 3:4--NIV) the word manage as what a leader of the church must do. I know the word rule from my KJV Bible well enough.
What's the difference? one might ask. Well, for comparison, if leading a church is similar enough to leading a family then we know scripturally a man leading his wife parallels Christ leading the church. A real good example of a man ruling his body, ruling the government, is FDR who had polio but kept his body in subjection in order to perform his office. Is there not a difference between a head ruling a paralyzed body and a head managing one.
Take Christopher Reeves the actor who portrayed the man of steel able to leap tall buildings. He got thrown from a horse, paralyzed from the neck down, and had to settle for managing his paralysis. He did more than manage; he ruled his body.
One of the best examples of ruling a paralyzed society was how Jesus addressed the Essenes (known back then as "children of light") who were paralyzed in their use of money (they called it "mammon of unrighteousness") which they would not traffic in. His parable so cuts to the quick that I would say He more than manages the economically out-of-touch group; he rules them.
I don't mean to bore my reader with a lengthy web page, but a haste to write briefly carries an unwarranted shortcut by referring to the parable of the unjust steward (Luke 16) as if the average Christian has it under his belt. I checked the library books on parables and found they all said the same thing, that this is the most difficult parable of Jesus in all of Christianity, so I don't think I'd be insulting my reader's intelligence to explain it, although, to be sure, I won't explain the parable per se, but its setting, after which the parable explains itself. Jesus had a way of hitting the nail right on the head with his parables, and I do believe his audience at the time had no difficulty understanding what He was getting at.
Unfortunately I've been unable to locate the book explaining this parable in the library , the book I was after, so I'll quote a second-best study I got off the internet and go from there. The study starts out great and only falls flat when it comes to an eternal application.
If my reader wants to read a (fictional) dynamic similar to the Lord's parable of the unjust steward, I strongly recommend chapter 2 of Mitch Silver, In Secret Service from which I offer this excerpt:
A month after what has come to be known in Irish Hell's Kitchen as the "Rising of the Moon River," Callan's life has changed a little. Not only is he still living it, which is a surprise to him, he's become a neighborhood hero.
However, I think that in fact Jesus did have an eternal application in mind, and that the obscure fragment the new version used is the one that got it wrong, and so did the teacher. But up to that point the study is quite informative. Let's take his statement: "Now, who are the children of light? It is the denomination which the Essenes had given themselves" at face value and assume Jesus may have in fact been addressing the Essenes. They were contemporary with Him, and he didn't spare other religious groups like the Jewish Pharisees and Sadducees in his critiques and parables, so why should the Essenes get off? Well, who were the Essenes?
The Essenes were a group "having no money", "in their contempt for money", "as abstinence from all covetousness of money", "would not engage in commerce", "None of them allows himself to have any private property, either house or slave or estate or cattle or any of the other things which are amassed and abundantly procured by wealth, but they put everything together into the public stock and enjoy the benefit of them all in common." (see above, references 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 6, 7, 8)). Furthermore, "they are farmers, shepherds, cowherds, beekeepers, artisans and craftsmen, but they did not make weapons, would not engage in commerce [emphasis added] and were no sailors"; "Among those men you will find no makers of arrows, or javelins, or swords, or helmets, or breastplates, or shields, no makers of arms or any employment whatever connected with war, or even to any of those occupations even in peace which are easily perverted to wicked purposes, for they are utterly ignorant of all traffic, and of all commercial dealings [emphasis added], and of all navigation, but they repudiate and keep aloof from everything which can possibly afford any inducement to covetousness" ,"renounced riches" , "These men are despisers of riches" , "Nor do they either buy or sell any thing to one another, but every one of them gives what he hath to him that wanteth it, and receives from him again in lieu of it what may be convenient for himself, and although there be no requital made, they are fully allowed to take what they want of whomsoever they please" (see above, references 1, 2).
The study I could not find gives the detail that in their contempt for money, the Essenes ("children of light"--Luke) would not even use the coin-of-the-realm but referred to it as "mammon of unrighteousness," the term Jesus used in the parable in Luke. That is where the expression derives from, the Essenes.
The means by which the friends are to be made is indicated in the phrase ek tou mamona tes adikias. The noun mamonas, which is from Aramaic, occurs in the NT only four times, all on the lips of Jesus (here, 16:11, 13, and Matthew 6:24 [the latter two verses are parallels]). Although the etymology of the word is uncertain, its frequent use in the literature of the rabbis and of Qumran [emphasis added] makes it clear that it means material possessions, property in the sense of movable effects, especially money.424 Mammon is money in the widest sense, possessions of all kinds, wealth in any form. The derogatory sense which the word eventually acquired in Judaism is recognizable in Jesus' own use of it. This sense is particularly clear in the present verse where mamonas is qualified by the phrase tes adikias. ... Here, as in v. 8, the noun adikia in the genitive is used as an adjective and the expression can be translated "unrighteous mammon." While interpreters generally agree on the construction itself, "the big question," to use Krämer's words, is what Jesus meant by this unusual expression. ... ¶One explanation of Jesus' use of the expression "unrighteous mammon" emphasizes the unrighteousness and injustice often associated with the acquisition of wealth.
This uncommon use of the phrase was in fact the regular use of the Essenes as attested by their Dead Sea scrolls at Qumran.
In CDVI.15 amid allusions to 'separating from the Sons of the Pit' and the 'Nazarite'-rooted language ofkeeping away from (lehinnazer) polluted Evil Riches ... and from the Riches of the Temple ... and (from) robbing the Poor (Ebionim).In the newer fragments of the Damascus Document from Cave 4 (4Q266), this language is also found in the First Column in the instrudtions 'to the Sons of Light' 'to keep away from the Paths' (again lehinnazer) probably 'of Evil' ...
The Essenes thought money was evil—and Jesus seems to agree more or less—, and they wouldn't use it, use the coin of the realm, calling it "unrighteous mammon." Jesus' parable uses the greater wisdom of the children of this world in providing for their temporal future to set an example for the Essenes to follow for their eternal one. The idea is that the poor who are our neighbors will be better off if the righteous engage in honest commerce with them rather than exempt themselves from that activity, and that the active love of neighbor is a proper preparation for eternity.
Now to see the eternal aspect from the perspective of the Essenes, recall what their fellowship consists of: "the Essenes lived all over Judæa but Josephus maintains that they preferred to live in villages not towns" , "there is no one who has a house so absolutely his own private property, that it does not in some sense also belong to everyone. For besides that they all dwell together in companies, the house is open to all those of the same nations, who come to them from other quarters" , "They live in many cities of Judea and in many villages and grouped in great societies of many members" , "They live together formed into clubs, bands of comradeship with common meals, and never cease to conduct all their affairs to serve the general weal", "When travelling, they never needed to carry anything with them except weapons to protect themselves against robbers because wherever they lived someone was appointed to look after visitors--they offered hospitality to any visiting brother Essene just as if he were part of the family" , "so very communicative as raises our admiration" , "They have no one certain city, but many of them dwell in every city and if any of their sect come from other places, what they have lies open for them, just as if it were their own, and they go in to such as they never knew before, as if they had been ever so long acquainted with them" (see references 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 above). The Essenes regarded the welcoming into one another's houses as the essence of Christian fellowship and so that would naturally be a metaphor for an eternal reward just as we sing in our hymns about the mansion Christ is preparing for us, individualized as we are in our culture.
Let's look at what metaphor they would use for eternal punishment. "Their judgements were just, not being passed by a court of less than a hundred, and usually permanent. If anyone was guilty of sin he was cast out eating only grass since he could accept no succour from anyone without the permission of the guardian and thus he wasted away to die of starvation. Excommunication therefore meant death because no Essene would forgo his vows even though excommunicated. In practice the community accepted them again when they felt they had been punished enough. They obeyed their elders and accepted majority decisions" , "But for those that are caught in any heinous sins, they cast them out of their society, and he who is thus separated from them does often die after a miserable manner, for as he is bound by the oath he hath taken, and by the customs he hath been engaged in, he is not at liberty to partake of that food that he meets with elsewhere, but is forced to eat grass, and to famish his body with hunger, till he perish. For which reason they receive many of them again when they are at their last gasp, out of compassion to them, as thinking the miseries they have endured till they came to the very brink of death to be a sufficient punishment for the sins they had been guilty of" (see above, references 1, 2).
I would say that in Jesus' parable the position of the steward who lost his job and can't provide for himself is readily recognizable to the Essene as a metaphor for a place of punishment. Therefore the up and coming situation where the man no longer has his stewardship and will either find himself warmly accepted into people's houses or else in a situation where he is unable to provide his basic needs, that to the Essene is the metaphor for entering the afterlife where he can no longer deal with money--no more stewardship--and will either find himself in the good place or the bad place. The sin of omission, not making friends of the mammon of unrighteousness, not becoming involved at all, even honestly, in the economy of this society, would more likely prepare him for the bad than the good.
Here, let me give you an illustration. On Saturdays I'd been going to a free lunch a Christian group holds in the park. Some Saturdays they cannot get the location, so I always carry a little money in case they're not there, so I can go to Taco Time and buy a couple tacos, and sometimes I'll have a soda with a girlfriend.
Well, one Saturday I got to the park to find the group was not there. Instead there was some kind of Mexican fiesta going on, with various food booths set up all around. I was about to head off to Taco Time to get my tacos when it occurred to me that there were tacos for sale here. I could afford it and it looked like the vendors were on the poor homemade side with good product and few customers. I would help them out.
So I went to a taco booth and ordered two tacos. The price was marked
at $1.00 which I took to be
Since I was their customer, they invited me to sit in their chair (they had only one chair). I had a hard time getting permission to leave, even to go buy a beverage which I needed to drown the hot sauce. They sure wanted their customer to feel welcome.
The booth that sold beverages had all these homemade concoctions for a dollar each and soda for 75¢. Rather than demean their wares buy buying a soda, I bought some Mexican lemonade for $1.00.
As I was eating my lunch, someone with the band decided to test the
My point here is that if I had tried to jew them down to a dollar for a taco and then passed up their good Mexican beverages for a cheap soda, then I might not have been offered the only seat in the place, let alone have felt an impetus to praise God with them. Nor would I have felt the same had I gone off to do my own thing for lunch. I think Christ's parable of the unjust steward teaches us to use money--the mammon of unrighteousness--in a worthy way that benefits our poor neighbors if we would expect to be joining the faithful praising God in eternity.
Okay, if we've started to understand the parable, perhaps we can expand its applications. When I was chief engineer for a country radio station, one of the job requirements for all the employees was we had to develop an appreciation for the format; it didn't have to be our favorite, but we had to appreciate it. One of the songs I had to learn to appreciate was:
FASTER HORSES (THE COWBOY AND THE POET)
Tom T. Hall - 1975
He was an old-time cowboy, don't you understand. His eyes were sharp as razor blades, his face was leather tan. His toes were pointed inward from a-hangin' on a horse. He was an old philosopher, of course. He was so thin I swear you could have used him for a whip. He had to drink a beer to keep his britches on his hips. I knew I had to ask him about the mysteries of life. He spit between his boots and he replied, "It's faster horses, younger women, Older whiskey, more money." ... I told him I was a poet, I was lookin' for the truth, I do not care for horses, whiskey, women or the loot. I said I was a writer, my soul was all on fire. He looked at me an' he said, "You are a liar." chorus Well, I was disillusioned, if I say the least. I grabbed him by the collar and I jerked him to his feet. There was something cold and shiny layin' by my head, So I started to believe the things he said. "It's faster horses, younger women, Older whiskey, more money." Well, my poet days are over and I'm back to being me As I enjoy the peace and comfort of reality. ... etc.
The cowboy was "an old philosopher, of course." Compare him to the poet who "was lookin' for the truth," who would be more like the Essenes: "they devote all their attention to the moral part of philosophy." The poet "does not care for horses, whiskey, women or the loot" as the Essenes have "proof in their contempt for money, fame, and pleasures, their continence, easy satisfying of their wants, their simplicity, modesty, etc."
Obviously, the cowboy and the poet have come into conflict with their philosophies, just as did Jesus and the Essenes. And what do we see happen? "There was something cold and shiny layin' by my head,/So I started to believe the things he said," which is sort of the language the Essenes are used to: "they were tortured and distorted, burnt and torn to pieces, and went through all kinds of instruments of torment," Of course, the "something cold and shiny" here represents the parable of Jesus that convinced them, hit the nail on the head.
The point of the parable is, "It's faster horses, younger women, older whiskey, more money." But these are exactly the categories with which Christians have to learn to come to terms in order to best love their neighbors in this world--"reality"--in preparation for the next.
"Faster horses." Our beasts of burden, technology. Do Christians have to drive horse-and-buggies but not cars?
"Younger women." Are our Christian sisters allowed to wear makeup at all? What about when they start getting old and need just a touch of maintenance? Are the unsaved going to want to join us if they see us driving slow cars with ugly women in them?
Are we allowed to take pleasure in our women? The Essenes, "they eschew marriage" , "Another order of Essenes accepted marriage though maintaining strict rules about intercourse ... They regarded pleasure as evil and disciplined themselves in continence and self control" , "there is another order of Essenes who agree with the rest as to their way of living, and customs, and laws, but differ from them in the point of marriage, as thinking that by not marrying they cut off the principal part of human life, which is the prospect of succession. Nay, rather, that if all men should be of the same opinion, the whole race of mankind would fail. However, they try their spouses for three years, and if they find that they have their natural purgations thrice, as trials that they are likely to be fruitful, they then actually marry them. But they do not use to accompany with their wives when they are with child, as a demonstration that they do not marry out of regard to pleasure, but for the sake of posterity" (see above, references 1, 2, 3.)
"Older whiskey." Whiskey is supposed to age to mellowness in order to be palatable. There is some debate on whether a Christian may drink socially and I don't want to get into that. The general category here is aesthetics, and I don't see how a wooden or squeamish Bible like the American standard is the way to go.
"More money." That's the main thrust of the shrewd manager parable of the unjust steward, to actually use the mammon of unrighteousness, etc.
There are two areas where I see modern versions faulty in taking after the Essenes. The first is where some Bibles like the American Standard are too squeamish to translate the phrase "pisseth against a wall" (1 Samuel 25:22,34; 1 Kings 14:10, 16:11, 21:21; 2 Kings 9:8). The Essenes, "While in the act of defecating they wrapped themselves with their white robe so that they did not offend, not simply other people because their toilets were well away from habitation, but the divine rays of light. Afterwards they washed themselves thoroughly."
The second is the Essenes are squeamish about male-female relations
to the point that they won't have sex with their wives when they are
pregnant, because it's only for procreation. The NIV is so squeamish about
sexual sin that it won't properly translate fornication, but
will let it read "sexual immorality." Sexual immorality is relative
and means different things to different people while fornication is
illegal sexual activity, plain and simple. If our Bibles do not tell
us not to fornicate, but only not to be sexually immoral, then who
defines what that sexual immorality is? The Schools?
Or how about Ann Landers? Will she rightly define sexual morality for us?
I think the New International version dangerously skirts the issue when it substitutes "sexual immorality" for the word fornication and leaves it up to us to figure out what that means.
Me, I take the opposite approach. "I will readily affirm,/"It's faster horses, younger women, older whiskey, more money." See, I used to be in Christian communes that were altogether too much like the Essenes: discouraged marriage, nobody had or used money, all lived together, etc., but at some point I was confronted by the song, the word of God--parable--, and/or common sense, and I got to figuring that I'm better prepared for eternity if I interact down here in ways that will help people, especially poor people, in ways that concern them down here.
I helped start the Oregon Country (erstwhile Renaissance) Fair which is a mecca for hippies. Hippies highly esteem the body, and while I am not for youthful lusts, hippiedom is found in God's answer in Job, so a hippie fair is fair game. It's sure appreciated by a lot of people.
I helped start the Oregon Ballroom Dance Club. The other Friday there was a man there to learn the waltz for his daughter's wedding, and a physicist who said one of the best decisions of his life was to learn to dance.
In an alley off of Saturday Market a jug band was playing for a small audience. When they struck up a hillbilly waltz I asked a girl to dance. I had to show her the moves starting with the proper dance position.
also helped Eugene
Folkdancers keep running along. Of course, folk dancing--including
Israeli folk dancing--is more appreciated by Christians than some other
Now, it may have looked askew, me an older gentleman dancing with a girl with body piercings and punk hair style, but one woman took a picture of us saying it demonstrated peace--evidently because we were two different ages dancing together. I suppose at times it may seem I am taking the "younger woman" bit too far, but so long as it isn't youthful lusts, I'm on good ground.
I figured that if I were married I would actually enjoy my wife, not consider her just a vehicle for procreation, so why not enjoy women in this time of learning how to relate to them before marriage.
My point here is that I am in such a different place from these new translations that they cannot really minister to me. If they are so squeamish about one's bodily functions and women, how do I know they are not also squeamish about, say, the subject of baptism? Jesus talked about behaving credibly with the world's wealth before being entrusted with true riches, so if a Bible cannot handle these mundane subjects, how can I trust it with the spiritual ones? (Sorry it took me so long to make the point.)
I see in my reliable KJV where (I Kings 14:10, 16:11, 21:21, II Kings 9:8) reference is made to sprinkling a little piss against a wall, but it doesn't happen in the American Standard. If sprinkling can be left out in one place, why couldn't it be left out in another? So how do I not know from the ASV that perhaps sprinkling is allowed rather than just full immersion, but it got left out in the translation?
The King James Version makes many references specifically prohibiting fornication where in the NIV the prohibition is just against the relative "sexual immorality." If I can let man define what is sexual immorality, maybe man should be allowed to define baptism too.
I'm not saying I think that way, only that what is clear in the KJV isn't so in the NIV or ASV. If the modern versions can be vague about what I can and cannot do with my body in other areas, how do I know they clearly want me to immerse my body all the way under in water baptism?
People get upset with the KJV because of all the thee's and thou's. Those pronouns do get used a lot, so let's look at a reaction to another word used overmuch by politicians.
In any convention, the adjective heard most often is great. If entertainers are provided, they may be described as wonderful, even if nobody listens to them, which is usually what happens. Everything else is great. If a wonderful entertainer is to sing"O Sole Mio,"it is a great song, and the wonderful entertainer gives a great performance. If a display of great friendship kindles a glow in somebody's heart, it is a great glow. The convention is a great gathering.
Yes, great may get a lot of use, but the substitute of massive in size leaves a lot to be desired. According to my dictionary432 the definition reads:
massive, adj. 1. big and heavy; large and solid; bulky.Size is only half of it, weight also being included in massive.
Then we come to Barnabas in the NT.
But in the NIV we see just the half of it as "son of exhortation," not the included comfort.
"Mundt then demonstrated how dangerous it is for convention speakers to leave the well-trodden ways." That's nothing unique to political conventions.
The idea of traditional is staying on that "well-trodden way." For Bible reading it means using the King James Version whose sacred dialect can be traced back through Tyndale and Wycliffe at least as far back as the 1300's. Oh, you can leave the well trodden ways by incorporating modern singing into a service still using the good old KJV and still rightly call it a contemporary service, but you can't rightly call a service traditional by singing a few traditional hymns but then using modern English Bibles, at least not in my opinion.
The problem of trying to change new version use to traditional in an ongoing pseudo-traditional service reminds me of Rush Limbaugh's best illustration of the number one political problem in America:
Americans decided on conservative leadership for such and such terms. We somehow decided to instigate a traditional service in church. There are lower level decisions which made our government liberal nonetheless, and similarly there are lower level decisions that make our supposed traditional service somewhat contemporary.
Pensacola has a huge boost to its economy from the aircraft carrier based there. The liberal congressman has the clout to keep it there; a conservative congressman might not. Do the conservative voters keep the liberal or elect the liberal?
There are a lot of people in the traditional service who read these updated Bible versions. It's probably better that they read these Bibles than some other books. It's a boost that they are reading some Bible. Do we change over to the King James Version and risk them not being willing to follow along? Or to we keep using a modern translation in a traditional service?
Ronald Reagan was a man who often chose principle over political expediency, but even he had to yield to political expediency on occasion.
Let's see what difference the KJV
would have made in that one sermon. Here is the passage used.
Okay, first of all, the King James Version would not have been hard to understand. It reads very easy. Furthermore, it has the flavor of an old respected text (older whiskey) which the NIV doesn't.
The only word that has really changed its usage is house (vs. 31, 32), but even that is easy to understand in its context.
Okay, somebody may be tripped up a little with house meaning household, but I doubt it, at least not the people who come to a traditional service.
That newer use of the word house should be weighed against the change of thou to you in verse 31. The word thou is singular in the King James dialect, while our modern you can be either singular or plural. The question is asked in verse 30, "what must I do to be saved?" and the answer (KJV vs. 31), "Believe [thou--understood, singular] on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou [singular] shalt be saved, and thy house."
My study Bible438 explains the ending to the verse:
16:31 ... (3) the rich Jewish tradition which assumes that what the head of the family did would be followed by the members.
Leaving us to figure out that exact meaning by tradition without spelling it out in detail is entirely consistent with the writing back then.
Okay, but look what happens when it gets translated with a modern you which can be either singular or plural: (Vs. 31, NIV) "Believe [you--singular, understood in answer to question in the singular] in the Lord Jesus, and you [either singular or plural depending on the rest of the context] will be saved----you and your household [making the prior you plural as including you-singular-and your household]." There actually are some Christians (I've heard their hopeful testimonies) who believe that once one member of a family gets saved, God will hound the rest of the family until they do also--guaranteed--, even in our individualistic society. Changing a dialect to one which is less precise on the number of the pronoun you affects the perceived doctrinal content of this passage at least.
In the sermon in question the preacher said that the jailer's use of "sirs" (vs. 30) was actually "lords" in the Greek. Since sirs is also a title of respect, I don't let the difference bother me too much. In the NIV the word was men which is not so respectful these days, and seems to have been an important enough distinction for the preacher to have switched over to the KJV "sirs" in this instance. Why not just read it all from the King James then?
Finally, we come to how soon after belief one is to be baptized. The example here is (vs. 30) "straightway"--KJV--or "immediately"--NIV. My dictionary440 defines:
straightway, adv., at once; immediately.
In fact the King James Version uses immediately in verse 26, "immediately all the doors were opened, and every one's bands were loosed," while the NIV uses at once, "At once all the prison doors flew open, ..." These three words get used interchangeably.
However, we should consider:
Perfect synonyms are extremely rare.441
Straightway has the feeling of going directly from point a to point b with no stops along the way. Immediately, is after all, a five syllable word, so if one goes through a process of stages to get baptized immediately, who can blame him? And at once is somewhat passive. If I am going to get baptized at once, that could well mean once the building is open; I'm not going to bother the janitor with a phone call beforehand.
Maybe I'm being too picky here. Personally, I'd rather just stick to the King James Version and not worry about it, which is my suggestion, at least for the traditional service.
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Copyright © 2004, Earl S. Gosnell III
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Licence.
Permission is hereby granted to use the portions original to this paper--with credit given, of course--in intellectually honest non-profit educational material. The material I myself have quoted has its own copyright in most cases, which I cannot speak for but have used here under the fair use doctrine.
I have used material from a number of sources for teaching, comment and illustration in this nonprofit teaching endeavor. The sources are included in a notes file. Such uses must be judged on individual merit, of course, so I cannot say how other uses of the same material might fare.
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Scripture quotations marked NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION or NIV are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.
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