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Bible Commentaries
Luke 16

The Expositor's Greek TestamentExpositor's Greek Testament

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These two parables, the unjust steward and Dives , bear such a foreign aspect when compared with the general body of Christ’s teaching as to give rise to a doubt whether they have any claim to a place in an authentic record of His sayings. One at first wonders at finding them in such company, forming with the preceding three a group of five. Yet Luke had evidently no sense of their incongruity, for he passes from the three to the two as if they were of kindred import ( ἔλεγε δὲ καὶ ). Doubtless they appealed to his social bias by the sympathy they betray for the poor ( cf. Luke 6:20 , Luke 11:41 ), which has gained for them a place among the so-called Ebionitic sections of Luke’s Gospel ( vide Holtzmann in H. C.). In favour of the authenticity of the first of the two parables is its apparently low ethical tone which has been such a stumbling-block to commentators. Who but Jesus would have had the courage to extract a lesson of wisdom from conduct like that of the unrighteous steward? The literary grace of the second claims for it the same origin and author.

Verse 1

Luke 16:1 . ἔλεγε δὲ καὶ : the same formula of transition as in Luke 14:12 . The καὶ connects with ἔλεγε , not with πρὸς τ . μαθητὰς , and points not to change of audience (disciples now, Pharisees before) but to continued parabolic discourse. μαθητάς , disciples, quite general; might mean the Twelve, or the larger crowd of followers (Luke 14:25 ), or the publicans and sinners who came to Him (Luke 15:1 , so Schleiermacher, etc.). διεβλήθη , was accused, here only in N.T., often in classics and Sept [133] ; construed with dative here; also with εἰς or πρὸς , with accusative. The verb implies always a hostile animus , often the accompaniment of false accusation, but not necessarily. Here the charge is assumed to be true. ὡς διασκορπίζων , as squandering, that the charge; how, by fraud or by extravagant living, not indicated; the one apt to lead to the other.

[133] Septuagint.

Verses 1-7

Luke 16:1-7 . The parable of the unjust steward .

Verse 2

Luke 16:2 . τί τοῦτο , etc. τί may be exclamatory = what! do I hear this of thee? or interrogatory: what is this that I hear of thee? the laconic phrase containing a combination of an interrogative with a relative clause. τὸν λόγον : the reference may be either to a final account previous to dismissal, already resolved on (so usually taken), or to an investigation into the truth or falsehood of the accusation = produce your books that I may judge for myself (so Hahn). The latter would be the reasonable course, but not necessarily the one taken by an eastern magnate, who might rush from absolute confidence to utter distrust without taking the trouble to inquire further. As the story runs, this seems to be what happened.

Verse 3

Luke 16:3 . εἶπε ἐν ἑ .: a Hebraism, as in Matthew 3:9 ; Matthew 9:3 . The steward deliberates on the situation. He sees that his master has decided against him, and considers what he is to do next, running rapidly over all possible schemes. σκάπτειν , ἐπαιτεῖν : these two represent the alternatives for the dismissed: manual labour and begging; digging naturally chosen to represent the former as typical of agricultural labour, with which the steward’s position brought him much into contact (Lightfoot). But why these two only mentioned? Why not try to get another situation of the same kind? Because he feels that dismissal in the circumstances means degradation. Who now would trust him? ἐπαιτεῖν = προσαιτεῖν (Mark 10:46 , John 9:8 ).

Verse 4

Luke 16:4 . ἔγνων : too weak to dig, too proud to beg, he hits upon a feasible scheme at last: I have it, I know now what to do. ἔγνων is the dramatic or tragic aorist used in classics, chiefly in poetry and in dialogue. It gives greater vividness than the use of the present would. δέξωνται : his plan contemplates as its result reception of the degraded steward into their houses by people not named; probably the very people who accused him. We are not to suppose that permanent residence in other people’s houses is in view. Something better may offer. The scheme provides for the near future, helps to turn the next corner.

Verse 5

Luke 16:5 . ἕνα ἕκαστον : he sees them one by one, not all together. These debtors might be farmers, who paid their rents in kind, or persons who had got supplies of goods from the master’s stores; which of the two of no consequence to the point of the parable. τῷ πρώτῳ , the first, in the parable = to one. Two cases mentioned, a first and a second ( ἑτέρῳ ), two, out of many; enough to exemplify the method. It is assumed that all would take advantage of the unprincipled concession; those who had accused him and those who had possibly been already favoured in a similar manner, bribed to speak well of him.

Verse 6

Luke 16:6 . τὰ γράμματα : literally, the letters, then a written document; here a bill showing the amount of indebtedness. The steward would have all the bills ready. γράψον , write, i.e. , write out a new bill with fifty in place of a hundred; not merely change a hundred into fifty in the old bill. ταχέως , no time left for reflection “is this right?” Some think that the knavery had come in before, and that fifty was the true amount. That might be, but the steward would keep the fact to himself. The debtors were to take it that this was a bonâ fide reduction of their just debt.

Verse 7

Luke 16:7 . ὀγδοήκοντα , eighty, a small reduction as compared with the first. Was there not a risk of offence when the debtors began to compare notes? Not much; they would not look on it as mere arbitrariness or partiality, but as policy: variety would look more like a true account than uniformity. He had not merely to benefit them, but to put himself in as good a light as possible before his master.

Verses 8-13

Luke 16:8-13 . Application of the parable . There is room for doubt whether Luke 16:8 should form part of the parable (or at least as far as φρονίμως ἐποίησεν ), or the beginning of the application. In the one case ὁ κύριος refers to the master of the steward, in the other to Jesus, who is often in narrative called Lord in Lk.’s Gospel. On the whole I now incline to the latter view (compare my Parabolic Teaching of Christ ). It sins rather against natural probability to suppose the steward’s master acquainted with his new misconduct. The steward in his final statement, of course, put as fair a face as possible on matters, presenting what looked like a true account, so as to make it appear he was being unjustly dismissed, or even to induce the master to cancel his purpose to dismiss. And those who had got the benefit of his sharp practice were not likely to tell upon him. The master therefore may be supposed to be in the dark; it is the speaker of the parable who is in the secret. He praises the steward of iniquity, not for his iniquity (so Schleiermacher), but for his prudence in spite of iniquity. His unrighteousness is not glozed over, on the contrary it is strongly asserted: hence the phrase τὸν ο . τῆς ἀδικίας , which is stronger than τ . ο . τὸν ἄδικον . Yet however bad he still acted wisely for himself in providing friends against the evil day. What follows ὅτι οἱ υἱοὶ , etc. applies the moral to the disciples = go ye and do likewise, with an implied hint that in this respect they are apt to come short. The counsel would be immoral if in the spiritual sphere it were impossible to imitate the steward’s prudence while keeping clear of his iniquity. In other words, it must be possible to make friends against the evil day by unobjectionable actions. The mere fact that the lesson of prudence is drawn from the life of an unprincipled man is no difficulty to any one who understands the nature of parabolic instruction. The comparison between men of the world and the “sons of light” explains and apologises for the procedure. If you want to know what prudent attention to self-interest means it is to men of the world you must look. Of course they show their wisdom suo more , in relation to men of their own kind, and in reference to worldly matters (this the sense of εἰς τ . γενεὰν , etc.). Show ye your wisdom in your way and in reference to your peculiar generation ( εἰς τ . γενεὰν , etc., applicable to both parties) with equal zeal.

Verse 9

Luke 16:9 . ἐγὼ : the use of the emphatic pronoun seems to involve that here begins the comment of Jesus on the parable, Luke 16:8 being spoken by the master and a part of the parable. But J. Weiss (in Meyer) views this verse as a second application put into the mouth of Jesus, but not spoken by Him, having for its author the compiler from whom Lk. borrowed (Feine’s Vork. Lukas ). He finds in Luke 16:8-13 three distinct applications, one by Jesus, Luke 16:8 ; one by the compiler of precanonical Lk., Luke 16:9 ; and one by Lk. himself, Luke 16:10-13 . This analysis is plausible, and tempting as superseding the difficult problem of finding a connection between these sentences, viewed as the utterance of one Speaker, the Author of the parable. Luke 16:9 explicitly states what Luke 16:8 implies, that the prudence is to be shown in the way of making friends . φίλους : the friends are not named, but the next parable throws light on that point. They are the poor , the Lazaruses whom Dives did not make friends of to his loss. The counsel is to use wealth in doing kindness to the poor, and the implied doctrine that doing so will be to our eternal benefit. Both counsel and doctrine are held to apply even when wealth has been ill-gotten. Friends of value for the eternal world can be gained even by the mammon of unrighteousness . The more ill-gotten the more need to be redeemed by beneficent use; only care must be taken not to continue to get money by unrighteousness in order to have wherewith to do charitable deeds, a not uncommon form of counterfeit philanthropy, which will not count in the Kingdom of Heaven. The name for wealth here is very repulsive, seeming almost to imply that wealth per se is evil, though that Jesus did not teach. ἐκλίπῃ , when it (wealth) fails, as it must at death. The other reading, ἐκλίπητε (T.R.), means “when ye die,” so used in Genesis 25:8 . αἰωνίους σκηνάς , eternal tents, a poetic paradox = Paradise, the poor ye treated kindly there to welcome you! Believing it to be impossible that Jesus could give advice practically suggesting the doing of evil that good might come, Bornemann conjectures that an οὐ has fallen out before ποιήσετε (fut.), giving as the real counsel: do not make, etc.

Verses 10-13

Luke 16:10-13 . These verses contain not so much an application as a corrective of the parable. They may have been added by Lk. (so J. Weiss in Meyer, and Holtzmann, H. C.) to prevent misunderstanding, offence, or abuse, so serving the same purpose as the addition “unto repentance” to the saying, “I came not to call,” etc. (Luke 5:32 ); another instance of editorial solicitude on the part of an evangelist ever careful to guard the character and teaching of Jesus against misunderstanding. So viewed, their drift is: “the steward was dishonest in money matters; do not infer that it does not matter whether you be honest or not in that sphere. It is very necessary to be faithful even there. For faithful in little faithful in much, unfaithful in little unfaithful in much. He who is untrustworthy in connection with worldly goods is unworthy of being entrusted with the true riches; the unjust administrator of another’s property will not deserve confidence as an administrator even of his own. In the parable the steward tried to serve two masters, his lord and his lord’s creditors, and by so doing promoted his own interest. But the thing cannot be done, as even his case shows.” This corrective, if not spoken by Jesus, is not contrary to His teaching. (Luke 16:10 echoes Matthew 25:21 , Luke 19:17 ; Luke 16:13 reproduces verbally the logion in Matthew 6:24 .) Yet as it stands here it waters down the parable, and weakens the point of its teaching. Note the epithets applied to money: the little or least, the unjust , and, by implication, the fleeting, that which belongs to another ( τῷ ἀλλοτρίῳ ). Spiritual riches are the “much,” the “true” τὸ ἀληθινὸν , in the Johannine sense = the ideal as opposed to the vulgar shadowy reality, “our own” ( ἡμέτερον ).

Verse 14

Luke 16:14 . φιλάργυροι · an interesting and very credible bit of information concerning the Pharisees (2 Timothy 3:2 ). ἐξεμυκτήριζον ( ἐκ and μύκτηρ , the nose), turned up the nose at, in contempt, again in Luke 23:35 .

Verses 14-18

Luke 16:14-18 form a “somewhat heavily built bridge” (H. C.) between the two parables, which set forth the right and the wrong use of riches.

Verse 15

Luke 16:15 . ἐνώπιον τ . ἀ .: cf. the statements in Sermon on Mount (Matthew 6:0 ) and in Matthew 23:5 . ὅτι , etc.: a strong statement, but broadly true; conventional moral judgments are very often the reverse of the real truth: the conventionally high, estimable, really the low; the conventionally base the truly noble.

Verse 16

Luke 16:16 = Matthew 11:12-13 , inverted, introduced here in view of Luke 16:31 .

Verse 17

Luke 16:17 = Matthew 5:18 , substantially. Luke 16:18 = Matthew 5:32 . Its bearing here is very obscure, and its introduction in a connection to which it does not seem to belong is chiefly interesting as vouching for the genuineness of the logion . J. Weiss suggests that its relevancy and point would have been more apparent had it come in after Luke 16:13 . On the critical question raised by this verse, vide J. Weiss in Meyer.

Verse 19

Luke 16:19 . ἄνθρωπος δὲ , etc.: either there was a certain rich man, or a certain man was rich, or there was a certain man rich , this the first fact about him. καὶ introduces the second, instead of ὃς , after the Hebrew manner. πορφύραν καὶ βύσσον : his clothing of the costliest: “purple without, Egyptian byssus underneath” (Farrar in C. G. T.). λαμπρῶς (from λάμπω ), splendidly, characterising his style of living; life a daily feast; here only in N.T.

Verses 19-31

Luke 16:19-31 . Parable of the rich man and Lazarus . This story is hardly a parable in the sense of illustrating by an incident from natural life a truth in the spiritual sphere. Both story and moral belong to the same sphere. What is the moral? If Jesus spoke, or the evangelist reported, this story as the complement of the parable of the unfaithful steward, then for Speaker or reporter the moral is: see what comes of neglecting to make friends of the poor by a beneficent use of wealth. Looking to the end of this second “parable,” Luke 16:31 , and connecting that with Luke 16:17 , we get as the lesson: the law and the prophets a sufficient guide to a godly life. Taking the first part of the story as the main thing (Luke 16:19-26 ), and connecting it with the reflection in Luke 16:15 about that which is lofty among men, the resulting aim will be to exemplify by an impressive imaginary example the reversal of positions in this and the next world: the happy here the damned there, and vice versâ . In that case the parable simply pictorially sets forth the fact of reversal, not its ground. If with some (Weizsäcker, Holtzmann, Feine, J. Weiss) we cut the story into two, an original part spoken by Jesus and an addition by a later hand, it will have two morals, the one just indicated, and another connecting eternal perdition with the neglect of the law and prophets by a worldly unbelieving Judaism, and eternal salvation with the pious observance of the law by the poor members of the Jewish-Christian Church. On this view vide J. Weiss in Meyer.

Verse 20

Luke 16:20 . Λάζαρος gives the impression of a story from real life, but the name for the poor man is introduced for convenience in telling the tale. He has to be referred to in the sequel (Luke 16:24 ). No symbolic meaning should be attached to the name. πρὸς τὸν πυλῶνα αὐτοῦ : Lazarus is brought into relation with the rich man. This favours the view that the moral is the folly of neglecting beneficence. If the story were meant to illustrate merely the reversals of lot, why not describe Lazarus’ situation in this world without reference to the rich man? Is he placed at his door simply that he may know him in the next world? εἱλκωμένος : covered with ulcers, therefore needing to be carried to the rich man’s gate; supposed to be a leper, hence the words lazaretto, lazar, etc.

Verse 21

Luke 16:21 . ἐπιθυμῶν , desiring, perhaps not intended to suggest that his desire was not gratified. Suppose morsels did come to him from the rich man’s table, not meant for him specially, but for the hungry without, including the wild street dogs , would that exhaust the duty of Dives to his poor brother? But the trait is introduced to depict the poor man’s extreme misery rather than the rich man’s sin. ἀλλὰ καὶ : no ellipse implied such as that supplied by the Vulgate: et nemo illi dabat . Bornemann supplies: “not only was he filled with the crumbs,” etc., but also, etc. ( οὐ μόνον ἐχορτάσθη ἀπὸ τῶν ψιχίων πλουσίου , ἀλλὰ , etc.). ἀλλὰ simply introduces a new feature, and heightens the picture of misery (so Schanz) = he was dependent on casual scraps for his food, and moreover, etc. ἐπέλειχον , licked (here only in N.T.); was this an aggravation or a mitigation? Opinion is much divided. Or is the point that dogs were his companions, now licking his sores (whether a benefit or otherwise), now scrambling with him for the morsels thrown out? The scramble was as much a fact as the licking. Furrer speaks of witnessing dogs and lepers waiting together for the refuse ( Wanderungen , p. 40).

Verse 22

Luke 16:22 . The end comes to the two men. ἀπενεχθῆναι : the poor man dies, and is carried by angels into the bosom of Abraham; the man , body and soul (so Meyer), but of course this is poetry . What really happened to the carcase is passed over in delicate reserve. ἐτάφη : of course Dives was buried with all due pomp, his funeral worth mentioning. (“It is not said that the poor man was buried because of the meanness of poor men’s burial, but it is said expressly of the rich man, διὰ τὸ πολυτελὲς τῆς τῶν πλουσίων ταφῆς .” Euthy. Zig.)

Verses 23-26

Luke 16:23-26 . In the other world . ἐν τῷ ᾅδῃ : from the O.T. point of view Hades means simply the state of the dead. Thus both the dead men would be in Hades. But here Hades seems = hell, the place of torment, and of course Lazarus is not there, but in Paradise. ἀπὸ μακρόθεν : Paradise dimly visible, yet within speaking distance; this is not dogmatic teaching but popular description; so throughout. ἐν τοῖς κόλποις : plural here ( cf. Luke 16:22 ); so often in classics.

Verse 24

Luke 16:24 . Πάτερ Ἀ .: the rich man, like Lazarus, is a Jew, and probably, as a son of Abraham, very much surprised that he should find himself in such a place (Matthew 3:8-9 ), and still hoping that the patriarch can do something for him. καταψύξῃ ( καταψύχω , here only in N.T.): surely that small service will not be refused! If the flames cannot be put out, may the pain they cause not be mitigated by a cooling drop of water on the tip of the tongue? a pathetic request.

Verse 25

Luke 16:25 . τέκνον : answering to Πάτερ , introducing in a kindly paternal tone a speech holding out no hope, all the less that it is so softly and quietly spoken. τὰ ἀγαθά σου , τὰ κακά : you got your good things what you desired, and thought you had a right to Lazarus got the ills, not what he desired or deserved, but the ills to be met with on earth, of which he had a very full share (no αὐτοῦ after κακά ). νῦν δὲ , but now, the now of time and of logic: the reversal of lot in the state after death a hard fact, and equitable. The ultimate ground of the reversal, character, is not referred to; it is a mere question of fairness or poetic justice.

Verse 26

Luke 16:26 . The additional reason in this verse is supplementary to the first, as if to buttress its weakness. For the tormented man might reply: surely it is pressing the principle of equity too far to refuse me the petty comfort I ask. Will cooling my tongue increase beyond what is equitable the sum of my good things? Abraham’s reply to this anticipated objection is in effect: we might not grudge you this small solace if it were in our power to bring it to you, but unfortunately that is impossible. ἐν ( ἐπὶ , T.R.) πᾶσι τούτοις , in all those regions : the cleft runs from end to end, too wide to be crossed; you cannot outflank it and go round from Paradise to the place of torment. With ἐπὶ the phrase means, “in addition to what I have said”. χάσμα μέγα , a cleft or ravine (here only in N.T.), vast in depth, breadth, and length; an effectual barrier to intercommunication. The Rabbis conceived of the two divisions of Hades as separated only by a wall, a palm breadth or a finger breadth ( vide Weber, Lehre des Talmud , p. 326 f.). ὅπως implies that the cleft is there for the purpose of preventing transit either way; location fixed and final.

Verse 27

Luke 16:27 . οὖν = if no hope for me , there may be for those still dear to me. Possibility of transit from Paradise to earth is assumed. That this is desired reveals humane feeling. No attempt to show that Dives is utterly bad. Is such a man a proper subject for final damnation?

Verses 27-31

Luke 16:27-31 . Dives intercedes for his brethren .

Verse 28

Luke 16:28 . ἀδελφούς , brothers, in the literal sense. Why force on it an allegorical sense by finding in it a reference to the Pharisees or to the Jewish people, brethren in the sense of fellow-countrymen? Five is a random number, true to natural probability; a large enough family to make interest in their eternal well-being on the part of a deceased member very intelligible. διαμαρτύρηται , urgently testify to, telling them how it looks beyond, how it fares with their brother, with the solemn impressiveness of one who has seen.

Verse 29

Luke 16:29 . Μωσέα , etc.: cf. Luke 18:20 , where Jesus refers the ruler to the commandments. Moses, or the law, and the prophets = the O.T., the appointed, regular means of grace.

Verse 30

Luke 16:30 . οὐχί , a decided negative = nay! that is not enough; so he knew from his own experience; the Scriptures very good doubtless, but men are accustomed to them. τις ἀπὸ νεκρῶν : something unusual , the preaching of a dead man returned to life, that might do.

Verse 31

Luke 16:31 . εἶπε δὲ : Abraham does not plead impossibility as in reference to the first request; he simply declares his unbelief in the utility of the plan for converting the five. The denizens of Paradise set little value on the unusual as a means of grace. Abraham does not say that a short-lived sensation could not be produced; he does say that they would not be persuaded ( πεισθήσονται ), i.e. , to repent (Hahn). By taking πεισθήσονται as meaning something less than μετανοήσουσιν , and emphasising the difference between ἐκ νεκρῶν ἀναστῇ and ἀπὸ νεκρῶν πορευθῇ (Luke 16:30 ), Trench ( Notes on the Parables ) makes this point: “A far mightier miracle than you demand would be ineffectual for producing a far slighter effect”. It is doubtful if the contrast be legitimate in either case; certainly not as between “repent” and “be persuaded”. In the other case there may be the difference between an apparition and a resurrected man. It may be noted that the resurrection of Christ and of Christians is spoken of as ἐκ νεκρῶν ( vide Luke 20:35 ), while the general resurrection is ἡ ἀνάσ . τῶν νεκρῶν ( e.g. , 1 Corinthians 15:42 ).

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Luke 16". The Expositor's Greek Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/egt/luke-16.html. 1897-1910.
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