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Bible Commentaries

The Fourfold Gospel

Luke 16

Verses 1-18


XCII.
SECOND GREAT GROUP OF PARABLES.
(Probably in Peræa.)
Subdivision E.
PARABLE OF THE UNRIGHTEOUS STEWARD.
cLUKE XVI. 1-18.

c1 And he said also unto the disciples [If we remember that many publicans were now taking their stand among Jesus’ disciples, we will more readily understand why Jesus addressed to them a parable about an unjust man. They would be more readily affected by such a story], There was a certain rich man, who had a steward; and the same was accused unto him that he was wasting his goods. ["Wasting" of this verse and "wasted" of Luke 15:13 are parts of the same verb. The attitude of the two brethren to their father’s estate, as set forth in the previous parable, introduced thoughts as to the proper relation which a man bears to his possessions, and these relations Jesus discusses in this parable. While no parable has been so diversely explained, yet the trend of interpretation has been in the main satisfactory. In Luke 16:8 the Lord himself gives the key to the parable, which is that the children of light, in the conduct of their affairs, should emulate the wisdom and prudence of the children of the world in the conduct of their affairs. The difficulty of the parable is more apparent than real. The whole parabolic machinery is borrowed from worldly and irreligious life, where dishonest cunning and rascality are freely tolerated. The child of light is equally shrewd and wise in the management of his affairs; using, however, only those means and methods which are permissible in his sphere of action. God’s word, of course, nowhere teaches the absurdity [506] that sinful methods are permitted to him whom it calls to lead a sinless life. While the steward’s conduct teaches valuable lessons, the steward himself is condemned as an "unrighteous" man in Luke 16:8.] 2 And he called him, and said unto him, What is this that I hear of thee? [an indignant expression of surprise arising from abused confidence] render the account of thy stewardship; for thou canst be no longer steward. [Ordinarily the stewards were slaves; but this was evidently a free man, for he was neither punished nor sold, but discharged.] 3 And the steward said within himself, What shall I do, seeing that my lord taketh away the stewardship from me? I have not strength to dig [Being too weak in body because of my luxurious living. Digging refers generally to agricultural labor]; to beg I am ashamed. [Being too strong in pride because of my exalted manner of life.] 4 I am resolved what to do [a way of escape comes to him in a sudden flash of discovery], that, when I am put out of the stewardship, they [my lord’s debtors] may receive me into their houses. 5 And calling to him each of his lord’s debtors, he said to the first, How much owest thou unto my lord? 6 And he said, A hundred measures of oil. [The measure mentioned here is the Hebrew bath, which corresponded roughly to a firkin, or nine gallons.] And he said unto him, Take thy bond [literally, writings], and sit down quickly and write fifty. [The amount remitted here--450 gallons of olive oil--represented a large sum of money. Such a reduction would put the debtor under great obligation to the steward.] 7 Then said he to another, And how much owest thou? And he said, A hundred measures of wheat. [The measure here is the Hebrew cor, which contains ten baths, or ephahs, or, more exactly, eighty-six and seven-tenths gallons.] He saith unto him, Take thy bond, and write fourscore. [The amount remitted was about 267 bushels, and the debtor himself altered the writing, that he might be in no uncertainty about it. Scholars disagree as to whether these debtors were tenants or traders; i.e., [507] purchasers of produce who had given their bonds or notes for the same. Meyer, Trench, Godet, and others favor this latter view, but the language used and the customs of the land rather indicate that the former is correct. In the East rents are in proportion to the crop, and hence they vary as it varies. It was natural, therefore, that the steward should ask the amount of the rent; and also natural, since rents were thus payable in kind, that the tenant should answer as to the very thing owed. A trader would have been held, not for the purchase, but for the price, and would rather have specified the money due than the quantity or thing bought. Since the price of produce varies, it has been the immemorial custom everywhere to fix the amount to be paid for it at the very time it is purchased, and this amount becomes the debt.] 8 And his lord commended the unrighteous steward because he had done wisely [shrewdly]: for the sons of this world are for their own generation [their own clan or class] wiser than the sons of light. [That is to say, the steward, a worldly-minded rascal, knew better how to deal with a worldly-minded master above him and dishonest tenants beneath him, than a son of light knows how to deal with the God over him and his needy brethren about him. The verse contrasts the sons of two households: the children of the worldly household exercise more forethought and prudence in gaining among their brethren friends for the day of need, and in expending money to that end, than do the children of the light. The "devil’s martyrs," in their skillful prudence, often shame the saints. If the latter showed a wisdom in their affairs analogous to that which the unjust steward employed in his affairs, God would commend them as the lord commended the steward.] 9 And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness [see Matthew 25:35-40, where our Lord altogether identifies himself with his poor and unfortunate disciples, and returns on their behalf a heavenly recompense for any kindness which has been shown them on the earth. Only in this secondary and subordinate sense can those whom the Christian has benefited receive him into heaven. Nor does the passage teach that their is any merit in almsgiving, since the thing given is already the property of another ( Luke 16:12). Almsgiving is only a phase of the fidelity required of a steward, and the reward of a steward is not of merit but of grace-- Luke 17:7-10, Matthew 25:21.] 10 He that is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much: and he that is unrighteous in a very little is unrighteous also in much. [God does not judge by the magnitude of an act, but by the spiritual principles and motives which lie back of the act. A small action may discover and lay bare these principles quite as well as a large one. In the administration of small properties entrusted to us on the earth we reveal our disposition and temper as stewards quite as well as if we owned half the universe.] 11 If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? [The word "unrighteous" is here used to mean deceitful, as opposed to true. Worldly riches deceive us by being temporal and transitory, while the true riches are eternal-- 2 Corinthians 4:18.] 12 And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? [We are all God’s stewards, and the perishing possessions of earth are not our own ( 1 Chronicles 29:14), but that which is given us forever is our own-- 1 Corinthians 3:22.] 13 No servant can serve two masters [ Galatians 1:10, James 4:4]: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and [509] mammon. [See Luke 23:35). This was a new phase of their opposition, and showed that they no longer feared Jesus as formerly, being assured that he aimed at no earthly dominion. Because of his poverty they may have regarded him as prejudiced against wealth. At any rate, they regarded themselves as living contradictions of this to them ridiculous statement that a man could not be rich and yet religious.] 15 And he said unto them, Ye are they which justify yourselves in the sight of men; but God knoweth your hearts: dor that which is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God. [The Pharisees lived in such outward contrast to the publicans and made such pretensions and claims that men esteemed them righteous, but they were none the less abominable in God’s sight. God approves righteousness when inward, but despises the mere outward show of it.] 16 The law and the prophets were until John: from that time the gospel of the kingdom of God is preached, and every man entereth violently into it. [See p. 283.] 17 But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away, than one tittle of the law to fall. [See page 236. The law and the prophets had been used of God to set up the old dispensation, and it had been so perverted and abused that in it the Pharisees could pass for righteous men, though abominable according to its true standard. Since the days of John the old dispensation has been merging into the new, and this also has been subjected to violence. But despite all the changes made, approved, and justified by men, the God-given law had never changed. Its smallest letter could no more be eliminated than the universe could be obliterated. But of course the Lawgiver could with notice modify his law.] 18 Every one that putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and he that marrieth one that is put away from a husband committeth adultery. [See p. 242. This precept is inserted here as [510] an illustration of a flagrant violation of the law of God both countenanced and practiced by these Pharisees.]

[FFG 506-511]

Verses 19-31


XCII.
SECOND GREAT GROUP OF PARABLES.
(Probably in Peræa.)
Subdivision F.
PARABLE OF THE RICH MAN AND LAZARUS.
cLUKE XVI. 19-31.

[The parable we are about to study is a direct advance upon the thoughts in the previous section. We may say generally that if the parable of the unjust steward teaches how riches are to be used, this parable sets forth the terrible consequences of a failure to so use them. Each point of the previous discourse is covered in detail, as will be shown by the references in the discussion of the parable.] c19 Now there was a certain rich man, and he was clothed in purple and fine linen, faring sumptuously every day [For convenience’ sake, this rich man has been commonly called Dives, which is simply Latin for rich man, and is therefore not truly a name, for it is not fitting to name him whom the Lord left nameless. Along the coast of Tyre there was found a rare shell-fish (Murex purpurarius) from which a costly purple dye was obtained, each little animal yielding about one drop of it. Woolen garments dyed with it were worn by kings and nobles, and idol images were sometimes arrayed in them. This purple robe formed the outer, and the linen the inner garment. The byssus, or fine linen of Egypt, was produced from flax, which grew on the banks of the Nile. It was dazzlingly white, and worth twice its weight in gold ( Genesis 41:42, Exodus 26:31-33, Exodus 28:5, 1 Chronicles 15:27, Ezekiel 27:7). The mention of these garments and a continual banqueting indicates a life of extreme luxury.] 20 and a certain beggar [literally, one who crouches. It is used thirty-four times in the New Testament, and is everywhere translated "poor" save here and at Galatians 4:9. In the last stages of life Lazarus had become an object of charity, but there is nothing to indicate that he had been an habitual beggar] named Lazarus [This is the only [511] name which occurs in our Lord’s parables. It is derived from Eleazar, which means, God a help. The name is symbolic of destitution, and many words indicative of beggary are derived from it] was laid at his gate [in the East the gates of the rich are still the resorts of the poor.] full of sores, 21 And desiring to be fed with the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table; yea, even the dogs come and licked his sores. [The contrast here is sharp. Lazarus is naked and clothed with sores instead of rich apparel, and desires crumbs instead of a banquet. That he limited his desire to crumbs suggests a freedom from both worldly lust and envy. Whether he got the crumbs is not stated. His sufferings may have been as unmitigated on earth as those of the rich man were in Hades ( Luke 16:24), and it is certain that even if he received the crumbs they did not count as a gift, being mere refuse, utterly worthless in the sight of the rich man. The very point of the parable is that the rich man gave him nothing. The dogs also suggest a contrast. The rich man is surrounded by loyal brethren and attentive servants, while Lazarus is the companion of dogs, the scavengers of the streets, who treat him with rude compassion as one of their number, soothing his sores with their saliva.] 22 And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and that he was carried away by the angels into Abraham’s bosom [it is the office of angels to minister to the heirs of salvation-- Matthew 24:31, Mark 13:27, Hebrews 1:14]: and the rich man also died, and was buried. [In death as well as in life the two men stand in contrast. The rich man passes from view with the pomp and pagentry of a burial ( 2 Chronicles 16:13, 2 Chronicles 16:14), an earthly honor suited to a worldly life. But Lazarus passes hence with the angels, a spiritual triumph suited to one accepted of God.] 23 And in Hades, he lifted up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth [ Revelation 14:10] Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. [Hades (Greek), or Sheol (Hebrew), was the name given to the abode of the dead between death and the resurrection. In it the souls of the wicked are in torment, and those of the righteous [512] enjoy a paradise ( Luke 23:43). The joys of Paradise were conceived of as those of a feast, and the expression "Abraham’s bosom" is taken from the custom of reclining on couches at feasts. As a guest leaned upon his left arm, his neighbor on his left might easily lean upon his bosom. Such a position of respect to the master of the house was one of special honor, and indicated great intimacy ( John 1:18, John 13:23). What higher honor or joy could the Jew conceive of than such a condition of intimacy and fellowship with Abraham, the great founder of their race?-- Matthew 8:11.] 24 And he cried [in earnest entreaty] and said, Father Abraham [the claim of kindred is not denied, but it is unavailing-- Luke 3:8], have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame. [The smallness of the favor asked indicates the greatness of the distress, as it does in Luke 16:21, where crumbs are desired. There is a reciprocity also between the desired crumbs and the prayed-for drop, which contains a covert reference to Luke 16:4, Luke 16:5. Had the rich man given more he might now have asked for more. The friendship of Lazarus might have been easily won, and now the rich man needed that friendship, but he had neglected the principle set forth in Luke 16:9, and had abused his stewardship by wasting his substance upon himself. Again, the former condition of each party is sharply reversed. Lazarus feasts at a better banquet, and the rich man begs because of a more dire and insatiable craving. Thus the life despised of men was honored by God, and ( Luke 16:15) the man who was exalted among men is found to have been abominable unto God.] 25 But Abraham said, Son [a tender word-- Joshua 7:19], remember [ Proverbs 5:11-14] that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things: but now here [where a different order pertains from that of the earth] he is comforted and thou art in anguish. [The woes received by Lazarus are not spoken of as his. He neither earned nor deserved them ( Revelation 7:13-17). His was the stewardship of suffering [513] ( 1 Corinthians 4:9, 2 Corinthians 4:7), and in its small details he had shown great faithfulness. The rich man had the stewardship of wealth, with its accompanying obligation of generosity. This obligation he had esteemed as too contemptibly small to deserve his notice; but in neglecting it, he had inadvertently been unfaithful in much. See Luke 16:10. This has been the sin of omission on the part of the rich man, and his sin of commission answered as a complement to it, for he had been guilty of that money-loving self-indulgence which was condemned by Jesus and justified by the Pharisees ( Luke 16:14, Luke 16:15). No other crime is charged against the rich man, yet he is found in torment. But the rich man during his lifetime had been so deceived by his wealth that he had failed to detect his sin. Moreover, as he indicates in Luke 16:28, a like deception was now being practiced upon his brethren. Thus the parable justifies the term "unrighteous" which Jesus had given to mammon at Luke 16:9, Luke 16:11.] 26 And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, that they that would pass from hence to you may not be able, and that none may cross over from thence to us. [We have here a clear statement of the separation which parts the good from the evil in the future state. But it has been urged that the coloring and phraseology of this parable is derived from rabbinical teaching, that our Lord made use of a current but erroneous Jewish notion to teach a valuable lesson, and that therefore it is not safe to draw any inferences from the narrative relative to the future state. But it should be observed that the parables of Jesus never introduce fictitious conditions, nor do they anywhere violate the order and course of nature. It is hardly possible that he could have made this an exception to his rule, especially since it is in a field where all the wisdom of the world is insufficient to make the slightest correction. Moreover, it is certainly impossible that he could exaggerate the differences between the states of the lost and saved in the hereafter. Nor can the teaching of the parable be set aside on the ground that it represents merely the intermediate and not the final condition of things. If the [514] intermediate condition of things is fixed and established, the final condition must, a fortiori, be more so. Moreover, the teaching here differs from that of the old rabbis, for, according to Lightfoot, a wall and not a gulf separated between the just and the unjust, and they were not "afar off" from each other, the distance being but a handbreadth. The passage therefore confirms the doctrine that the righteous are neither homeless nor unconscious during the period between death and the resurrection ( Philippians 1:23), and refutes the doctrine of Universalism, for the gulf is, 1, fixed, and, 2, can not be passed or bridged. The gulf of pride and caste between the rich man and Lazarus while on earth was easy to cross.] 27 And he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house [The double attempt of the rich man to use Lazarus as his servant shows how hard it was for him to adjust himself to his new condition]; 28 for I have five brethren [there is no typical significance in the number]; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. [Deceived by his wealth, the rich man looked upon his earthly possessions as real and substantial, and, like rich sinners of to-day, had simply disregarded the affairs of the future life. Aroused by the sudden experience of the awful realities of the future state, he desires to make it as real to his brethren as it had now become to him. In endeavoring to carry out his desire he proceeds on the theory that the testimony of the dead in reference to the realities of the future state are more trustworthy and influential than the revelations of God himself, given through his inspired spokesmen. This dishonoring of God and his law was to be expected from one who had made mammon his real master, even though professing (as the context suggests) to serve God. The singleness of his service is shown in that he, though practically discharged by one master--mammon, can not even now speak respectfully of God. Some commentators make much of the so-called repentance of the rich man, manifested in this concern for his brethren; but the Lord did not count kindness shown to kindred as evidence of goodness, [515] much less of repentance (Luke vi. 32-35, John 1:45, John 5:39-46, Luke 24:27. The Scriptures are a sufficient guide to godliness-- 2 Timothy 3:16, 2 Timothy 3:17, and a failure to live rightly when possession them is due to lack of will, and not to lack of knowledge.] 30 And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one go to them from the dead, they will repent. [With the spirit of a true Pharisee, he sought a sign for his brothers. See John 12:10). This is also a reference to Jesus’ own resurrection. It is true that he did not appear in person to those who disbelieved in him, but they had clear knowledge of his resurrection ( Matthew 28:11-15), and it was considered as proved to all men-- Acts 17:31.] [516]

[FFG 511-516]

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website. These files were made available by Mr. Ernie Stefanik. First published online in 1996 at The Restoration Movement Pages.
Bibliographical Information
J. W. McGarvey and Philip Y. Pendleton. "Commentary on Luke 16". "The Fourfold Gospel". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tfg/luke-16.html. Standard Publishing Company, Cincinnati, Ohio. 1914.