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Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament Commentary for Schools and Colleges

Luke 16

Verses 1-99

Ch. 16:1 13. The Unjust Steward

1 . And he said also unto his disciples ] In interpreting the two following parables it is specially necessary to bear in mind the tertium comparationis , i. e. the one special point which our Lord had in view. To press each detail into a separate dogmatic truth is a course which has led to flagrant errors in theology and even in morals.

a certain rich man, which had a steward ] The rich man and the steward are both men of the world. It is only in one general aspect that they correspond to God and to ourselves as His stewards (Titus 1:7 ) who are ‘required to be faithful,’ 1 Corinthians 4:1-5 . No parable has been more diversely and multitudinously explained than this. For instance in the steward some have seen the Pharisees, or the publicans, or Judas Iscariot, or Christ, or Satan, &c. To enter into and refute these explanations would take up much space and would be quite fruitless. We cannot be wrong if we seize as the main lesson of the parable the one which Christ Himself attached to it (8 12), namely, the use of earthly gifts of wealth and opportunity for heavenly and not for earthly aims.

was accused ] In Classic Greek the word means ‘was slandered.’ Here it has the more general sense, but perhaps involves the notion of a secret accusation.

that he had wasted ] i. e., had squandered upon himself.

2 . give an account ] Rather, render the account .

thou mayest be no longer steward ] Rather, thou canst not be any longer steward .

3 . I cannot dig ] Rather, to dig I am not strong enough .

to beg I am ashamed ] Ecclus. 40:28, “better die than beg.”

4 . I am resolved what to do ] The original graphically represents the sudden flash of discovery ‘I have it! I know now what to do.’

into their houses ] Literally, “ into their own houses .” I will confer on them such a boon that they will not leave me houseless. This eating the bread of dependence, which was all the steward hoped to gain after his life of dishonesty, was after all a miserable prospect, Ecclus. 29:22 28. If different parts of the parable shadow forth different truths, we may notice that the steward has not enriched himself; what he has had he has spent. So at death, when we have to render the account of our stewardship to God, we cannot take with us one grain of earthly riches.

5 . So he called every one of his lord’s debtors unto him ] In the East rents are paid in kind, and a responsible steward, if left quite uncontrolled, has the amplest opportunity to defraud his lord, because the produce necessarily varies from year to year. The unjust steward would naturally receive from the tenants much more than he acknowledged in his accounts.

6 . measures ] The Hebrew bath and the Greek metretes ; rather less than, but roughly corresponding to, the firkin = 9 gallons. This remission would represent a large sum of money.

Take thy bill ] Rather, Receive thy bill . The steward hands the bill back to the tenant to be altered.

write fifty ] Since Hebrew numerals were letters , and since Hebrew letters differed very slightly from each other, a very slight forgery would represent a large difference.

7 . measures of wheat ] Not the same word as before, but cors . The cor is believed to be about an English ‘quarter,’ i. e. 8 bushels, but from Jos. Antt. xv. 9, § 92, it seems to have been nearly 12 bushels. The steward knows what he is about, and makes his remissions according to the probabilities of the case and the temperament of the debtor.

8 . the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely ] The lord is of course only the landlord of the parable. The word phronimōs does not mean ‘wisely’ (a word which is used in a higher sense), but prudently . The tricky cleverness, by which the steward had endeavoured at once to escape detection, and to secure friends who would help him in his need, was exactly what an Oriental landlord would admire as clever , even though he saw through it. And the last act of the steward had been so far honest that for the first time he charged to the debtors the correct amount, while he doubtless represented the diminution as due to his kindly influence with his lord. The lesson to us is analogous skill and prudence, but spiritually employed. This is the sole point which the parable is meant to illustrate. The childish criticism of the Emperor Julian that it taught cheating (!) is refuted by the intention of parables to teach lessons of heavenly wisdom by even the ‘imperfections’ of earth. There is then no greater difficulty in the Parable of the Unjust Steward than in that of the Unjust Judge, or the Importunate Friend. The fraud of this “steward of injustice” is neither excused nor palliated; the lesson is drawn from his worldly prudence in supplying himself with friends for the day of need, which we are to do by wise and holy use of earthly gifts.

in their generation wiser than the children of light ] Rather, the sons of this age are more prudent than the sons of the light towards or as regards their own generation ; i. e. they make better use of their earthly opportunities for their own lifetime than the sons of the light (John 12:36 ; Ephesians 5:8 ; 1 Thessalonians 5:5 ) do for their lifetime; or even than the sons of light do of their heavenly opportunities for eternity. The zeal and alacrity of the “devil’s martyrs” may be imitated even by God’s servants.

9 . Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness ] The Greek may mean either Make the unrighteous mammon your friend ; or make yourselves friends by your use of the unrighteous mammon . There is no proof that Mammon is the Hebrew equivalent to Plutus, the Greek god of wealth (Matthew 6:24 ). Mammon simply means wealth and is called ‘unrighteous’ by metonymy (i. e. the ethical character of the use is represented as cleaving to the thing itself) because the abuse of riches is more common than their right use (1 Timothy 6:10 ). It is not therefore necessary to give to the word ‘unrighteous’ the sense of ‘false’ or ‘unreal,’ though sometimes in the LXX. it has almost that meaning. We turn mammon into a friend, and make ourselves friends by its means, when we use riches not as our own to squander, but as God’s to employ in deeds of usefulness and mercy.

when ye fail ] i. e. when ye die; but some good MSS. read “when it (mammon) fails,” which the true riches never do (12:33).

they may receive you ] The ‘ they ’ are either the poor who have been made friends by the right use of wealth; or the word is impersonal, as in 12:11, 20, 23:31. The latter sense seems to be the best, for it is only by a very secondary and subordinate analogy that those whom we aid by a right use of riches can be said (‘by their prayers on earth, or their testimony in heaven’) to ‘receive’ us.

into everlasting habitations ] Rather, into the eternal tents, John 14:2 . “And give these the everlasting tabernacles which I had prepared for them,” 2 Esdr. 2:11. (Comp. 2 Corinthians 5:1 ; Isaiah 33:20 , and see p. 384). The general duty inculcated is that of “laying up treasure in heaven” (Matthew 6:20 ; comp. 1 Timothy 6:17-19 ). There is no Ebionite reprobation of riches as riches here; only a warning not to trust in them. (Mark 10:24 .)

10 . faithful in that which is least ] Comp. 19:17. The most which we can have in this world is ‘least’ compared to the smallest gift of heaven.

11 . the true riches ] Literally, “ that which is true ,” i. e. real and not evanescent. Earthly riches are neither true, nor ours.

12 . that which is another man’s ] The lesson of the verse is that nothing which we possess on earth is our own; it is entrusted to us for temporary use (1 Chronicles 29:14 ), which shall be rewarded by real and eternal possessions (1 Peter 1:4 ). “Vitaque mancipio nulli datur, omnibus usu ,” Lucr. iii. 985.

13 . No servant can serve two masters ] God requires a whole heart and an undivided service. “If I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ,” Galatians 1:10 . “Whosoever … will be the friend of the world is the enemy of God,” James 4:4 . “Covetousness … is idolatry ,” Colossians 3:5 .

14 31. Dives and Lazarus, a Parable to the Covetous, preceded by Rebukes to the Pharisees

14 . who were covetous ] Rather, lovers of money , 2 Timothy 3:2 . The charge is amply borne out by the references in the Talmud to the rapacity shewn by the Rabbis and Priests of the period. See Matthew 23:13 .

they derided him ] The word is one expressive of the strongest and most open insolence, 23:35. There is a weaker form of the word in Galatians 6:7 . Here the jeering was doubtless aimed by these haughty and respected plutocrats at the deep poverty of Jesus and His humble followers. It marks however the phase of daring opposition which was not kindled till the close of His ministry. They thought it most ridiculous to suppose that riches hindered religion for were not they rich and religious?

15 . Ye are they which justify yourselves before men ] 7:39, 15:29; Matthew 23:25 , &c.

God knoweth your hearts ] Hence God is called “a heart-knower” in Acts 15:8 ; and “in thy sight shall no man living be justified,” Psalms 143:2 . There is perhaps a reference to 1 Samuel 16:7 ; 1 Chronicles 28:9 .

highly esteemed ] Rather, lofty .

abomination ] Their ‘derision’ might terribly rebound on themselves. Psalms 2:4 .

16 . The law and the prophets were until John ] This is one of our Lord’s clearest intimations that the aeon of the Law and the Prophets was now merging into a new dispensation, since they were only “a shadow of things to come,” Colossians 2:17 .

every man presseth into it ] The word implies ‘is making forcible entrance into it,’ Matthew 11:12 , Matthew 11:13 . The allusion is to the eagerness with which the message of the kingdom was accepted by the publicans and the people generally, 7:20; John 12:19 . The other rendering, ‘every man useth violence against it,’ does not agree so well with the parallel passage in St Matthew.

17 . than one tittle of the law ] The word for ‘tittle’ is keraia , the tip or horn of a letter, such as that which distinguishes ב from כ or ח from ה . Thus the Jews said that the letter Yod prostrated itself before God, because Solomon had taken it from the law (in the word Nashim ) by marrying many wives and God made this same answer to them. Similarly they said that when God took the Yod (the “jot” of Matthew 5:18 ) from the name Sara i , He divided it between Sara h and Abra h am, since Yod = 10, and H = 5.

to fail ] Rather, to fall . See Matthew 5:18 . The law did not fall to the ground; its abrogation was only its absolute fulfilment in all its eternal principles. The best comment on the verse is Matthew 5:27-48 . The bearing of these remarks on the previous ones seems to be that our Lord charges the Pharisees with hypocrisy and men-pleasing, because while they professed the most scrupulous reverence to the Law, they lived in absolute violation of its spirit , which was alone valuable in God’s sight.

18 . Whosoever putteth away his wife ] At first sight this verse (which also occurs with an important limitation in Matthew 5:32 ) appears so loosely connected with the former as to lead the Dutch theologian Van der Palm to suppose that St Luke was merely utilising a spare fragment on the page by inserting isolated words of Christ. But compressed as the discourse is, we see that this verse illustrates, no less than the others, the spirit of the Pharisees. They professed to reverence the Law and the Prophets, yet divorce (so alien to the primitive institution of marriage) was so shamefully lax among them that great Rabbis in the Talmud practically abolished all the sacredness of marriage in direct contradiction to Malachi 2:15 , Malachi 2:16 . Even Hillel said a man might divorce his wife if she over-salted his soup. They made the whole discussion turn, not on eternal truths, but on a mere narrow verbal disquisition about the meaning of two words ervath dabhar , ‘some uncleanness’ (lit. ‘matter of nakedness’), in Deuteronomy 24:1 , Deuteronomy 24:2 . Not only Hillel, but even the son of Sirach (Ecclus. 25:26) and Josephus ( Antt. iv. 8, § 23), interpreted this to mean ‘for any or every cause.’ (Matthew 19:3-12 ; Mark 10:2-12 .) Besides this shameful laxity the Pharisees had never had the courage to denounce the adulterous marriage and disgraceful divorce of which Herod Antipas had been guilty.

19 . There was a certain rich man ] He is left nameless, perhaps to imply that his name was not “written in heaven” (10:20). Legend gives him the name Nimeusis . Dives is simply the Latin for ‘a rich man.’ Our Lord in the parable continues the subject of his discourse against the Pharisees, by shewing that wealth and respectability are very differently estimated on earth and in the world beyond. The parable illustrates each step of the previous discourse: Dives regards all he has as his very own; uses it selfishly, which even Moses and the Prophets might have taught him not to do; and however lofty in his own eyes is an abomination before God.

in purple and fine linen ] The two words express extreme luxury. Robes dyed in the blood of the murex purpurarius were very costly and were only worn by the greatest men

“Over his lucent arms

A military vest of purple flowed

Livelier than Melibaean or the grain

Of Sarra (Tyre) worn by kings and heroes old

In time of truce.”

Byssus is the fine linen of Egypt (Genesis 41:42 ; Esther 8:15 ; Proverbs 31:26 ; Ezekiel 27:7 ; Revelation 18:12 ), a robe of which was worth twice its own weight in gold.

and fared sumptuously every day ] Literally, “ making merry (12:19) every day, splendidly ,” Luther, lebte herrlich und in Freuden . It indicates a life of banquets. The description generally might well apply to Herod Antipas, 7:25; Mark 6:14 , Mark 6:21 .

20 . named Lazarus ] Lazarus is not from lo ezer , ‘no help,’ i. e. ‘forsaken,’ but from Elî ezer , ‘helped of God,’ Gotthilf . It is contracted from the commoner Eleazar. This is the only parable in which a proper name occurs; and the only miracles of which the recipients are named are Mary Magdalene, Jairus, Malchus, and Bartimaeus. Whether in the name there be some allusive contrast to the young and perhaps wealthy Lazarus, brother of Martha and Mary, as Prof. Plumptre has conjectured, is uncertain. From this parable come the words lazaretto, lazzarini, a lazar, &c.

at his gate ] Not a mere pulê but a pulōn a stately portal.

21 . with the crumbs ] The same word as in Matthew 15:27 . It is not said that such fragments were refused him.

the dogs ] The only dogs in the East are the wild and neglected Pariah dogs, which run about masterless and are the common scavengers.

came and licked his sores ] The incident is only added to give in one touch the abjectness of his misery, and therefore to enhance the rich man’s neglect. The fault of Dives was callous selfishness.

22 . into Abraham’s bosom ] Comp. 13:28. This expression is used as a picture for the banquet of Paradise (comp. Numbers 11:12 ; John 1:18 , John 13:23 , and Josephus, De Maccab . 13).

the rich man also died ] “They spend their days in wealth, and in a moment go down to the grave,” Job 21:13 .

and was buried ] Nothing is said of the pauper-funeral of Lazarus. In one touch our Lord shews how little splendid obsequies can avail to alter the judgment of heaven.

“One second, and the angels alter that.”

23 . in hell ] Rather, in Hades . Hades, which is represented as containing both Paradise and Gehenna, and is merely the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew Sheol , ‘the grave,’ is the intermediate condition of the dead between death and the final judgment . The scene on earth is contrasted with the reversed conditions of the other world. The entire scenery and phraseology are Jewish, and are borrowed from those which were current among the Rabbis of Christ’s day. Beyond the awful truth that death brings no necessary forgiveness, and therefore that the retribution must continue beyond the grave, we are not warranted in pressing the details of the imagery which was used as part of the vivid picture. And since the scene is in Hades, we cannot draw from it any safe inferences as to the final condition of the lost. The state of Dives may be, as Tertullian says, a praelibatio sententiae , but it is not as yet the absolute sentence.

24 . I am tormented ] Rather, I am suffering pain . The verb is not basanizomai but odunōmai , as in 2:48, where it is rendered ‘sorrowing.’

in this flame ] Perhaps meant to indicate the agony of remorseful memories. In Hades no

“Lethe the river of oblivion rolls:

Her watery labyrinth, whereof who drinks

Forthwith his former state and being forgets,

Forgets both joy and grief, pleasure and pain.”

As for the material flame and the burning tongue, “we may,” says Archbishop Trench, “safely say that the form in which the sense of pain, with the desire after alleviation, embodies itself, is figurative.” Even the fierce and gloomy Tertullian says that how to understand what is meant by these details “is scarcely perhaps discovered by those who enquire with gentleness, but by contentious controversialists never.”

25 . Son ] Rather, Child . Even in the punishment of Hades he is addressed by a word of tenderness (15:31, 19:9).

receivedst ] Rather, receivedst to the full .

thy good things … evil things ] The ‘good things’ of Dives were such as he had accounted to be absolutely his own, and to be really good (Matthew 6:2 ); the ‘evil things’ of Lazarus were not ‘his,’ but part of God’s merciful discipline to him, Revelation 7:14 . The parable gives no ground for the interpretation that the temporal felicity of Dives was a reward for any good things he had done, or the misery of Lazarus a punishment for his temporal sins.

but now ] Add ‘ here ,’ with the best MSS.

thou art tormented ] ‘Pained,’ as before. The parable is practically an expansion of the beatitudes and woes of 6:21 25.

26 . there is a great gulf fixed ] Change of place is not a possible way of producing change of soul . Dives while he still had the heart of Dives would have been in agony even in Abraham’s bosom. But 1 Peter 3:19 , 1 Peter 3:20 throws a gleam of hope athwart this gulf. It may be (for we can pretend to no certainty) no longer impassable, since Christ died and went to preach to spirits in prison. With this “great gulf” compare the interesting passage of Plato on the vain attempts of great criminals to climb out of their prisons. Rep . x. 14.

27 . that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house ] It is difficult not to see in this request the dawn of a less selfish spirit in the rich man’s heart.

28 . I have five brethren ] If there be any special meaning in this detail, the clue to it is now lost. Some have seen in it a reference to the five sons of the High Priest Annas, all of whom succeeded to the Priesthood, Eleazar, Jonathan, Theophilus, Matthias, and the younger Annas, besides his son-in-law Caiaphas. But this seems to be very unlikely. An allusion to Antipas and his brethren is less improbable, but our Lord would hardly have admitted into a parable an oblique personal reflexion.

29 . They have Moses and the prophets ] See John 1:45 , John 1:5 :39, John 1:46 .

31 . neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead ] “We are saved by faithful hearing, not by apparitions,” Bengel. This was most remarkably exemplified in the results which followed the raising of another Lazarus (John 12:10 ) and the resurrection of our Lord Himself (Matthew 28:11-13 ). Observe that the reply of Abraham (‘be persuaded,’ ‘arose, ‘from among’ [ ἐκ not ἀπὸ ] the dead) is much stronger than the words used by Dives. “A far mightier miracle … would be ineffectual for producing a far slighter effect,” Trench.

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Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Luke 16". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". 1896.