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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
Luke 16

 

 


Verse 1

§ 93. PARABLE OF THE UNJUST STEWARD AND OF THE RICH MAN, Luke 16:1-31.

1. He said also—In addition to what he had said to the Pharisees in the last chapter, but probably on a later occasion. The disciples here mentioned are understood by most commentators to be not so much the twelve as the received sinners alluded to in the second verse of the last chapter; namely, the publicans and (Gentile) sinners converted under Christ’s preaching in the Jordanic regions of Peraea and Judea.

A steward—The steward is probationary man; the rich man whom he serves, is the God of life and providence. The removal from the stewardship is the fail or life-close at Luke 16:9.

Was accused—Disease and decay in due time charge the man with unfitness for his stewardship, and the God of life calls him to answer it.


Verse 2

2. Be no longer steward—The voice of death is imperious; for it is the decree of God himself.


Verse 3

3. Said within himself—When death approaches the most worldly man begins to reflect. But with the Christian all this has been thought of, and the provision made in due time. He has prepared for death before the king of terrors drew near.

I cannot dig—No work or device, no skill of science can postpone the inevitable hour, to make provisions for the better world.

To beg I am ashamed—To supplicate for life is as useless as it is cowardly. The ear of the destroyer is deaf to all expostulations.


Verse 4

4. Put out of the stewardship—The steward here was an overseer to the landlord’s estate, namely, his landed property. He bargained with the tenants and took the rents. About to be expelled by his lord, he means now so to make friends of the tenants, that they will furnish him with house and home.


Verse 5

5. So he called—His purpose is to gain the favour of the tenants by cancelling a large part of the rents due This was a fraud upon his landlord; but he was one of the children of this world. (Luke 16:8.)

Every one—So that they might all be in the plot and none be on the landlord’s side.

Debtors—Who owed for rents.


Verse 6

6. Hundred measures—This is the Hebrew bath, containing nearly nine gallons.

Oil—The tenants paid not in money, but in the products of their estate.

Take thy bill—The account which is to be receipted,

Sit down— Said by way of picturing the transaction.

Quickly—In order that the whole may be done before detection.

Write fifty—So that they must pay but half the real due, and he will give the receipt in full of all demands.

[We have throughout given the interpretation of the parable which has for ages been generally adopted. This interpretation makes this lowering of the tenants debt a dishonest transaction on the steward’s part; and yet it follows in the next verse that he was commended for it; and from the whole parable, that a bad man is held up as, in one respect, a model.

But Van Oosterzee furnishes another explication which removes these last particulars. The key to the whole parable, which he gives, is briefly this: The steward had overcharged the tenants and pocketed the surplus; and so this marking the tenants at a lower figure really is a righting of the matter. The unjust steward therefore is commended for only the right part of his conduct.

Yet the principle still remains that the good may learn many things of the bad, in the way of example; and we therefore (while accepting Van Oosterzee’s modification) conclude to change nothing we have said on that point.] 7. To another—The parable narrates the case of two as specimens of the whole.


Verse 8

8. The lord—The landlord. The same lord as in Luke 16:3; Luke 16:5.

Commended the unjust steward—Though he had been the victim of his fraud, and saw no way of redress, yet he commended the acuteness of the trick. He laughed at the stratagem like a shrewd worldling, if for no other purpose than to turn the laugh from himself. He would himself have played the same manouvre, or one twice as good.

For—These are the words of Jesus, explaining why the landlord laughed, and why the steward was commended by the landlord.

The trick and the laugh at the trick were in the spirit of the children of this world. In so saying our Lord guards us against the idea that either the fraudulence of the stratagem or the commendation of it by the landlord was by him approved. They are before condemned as not belonging to the children of light; he would have the child of light be in his way as acute as the children of this world in THEIR way. As the former are wise for this world, so he would have the good be wise for the better world. As the former are wise in the things of darkness, so he would have the latter wise in the things of light. We should be as wise in holiness as they are wise in wickedness.

In their generation—See note on Luke 22:32. By a derived meaning, their kind, class species. One class are the children of God; the other class are the children of Satan.


Verse 9

9. I say unto you—As this steward in his worldly dealing made earthly friends which would receive him into their earthly houses, so do you, from your worldly management, so contrive to make heavenly friends above, who will receive you

to everlasting habitations. Make to yourselves friends—Of God, of Christ, of all the holy ones above. Render yourselves fit to be a congenial associate with glorified saints and angels. Of—Rather, from or by means of. The mammon—The world’s god. See note on Matthew 6:24.

Mammon of unrighteousness—That is of unrighteous mammon—The mammon of unrighteousness is unrighteous mammon, just as a man of wealth is a wealthy man, or a woman of great beauty is a beautiful woman. Mammon is called unrighteous, not because trade is in itself unlawful, nor because, as Stier would tell us, property is founded in sin; but because the spirit which pervades trade, if not purified by Christianity, and as it exists in heathen countries, and as a heathenish element in Christian countries, is unrighteous. When ye fail—In the Greek, when you depart or leave off: that is, from life, as the steward did from his office. They—The friends above, whom you have made, as directed in the former part of the verse.

Everlasting habitations—In contrast with the houses of the tenants mentioned in Luke 16:4.

Jesus does here advise us to imitate a wicked man, but not in his wickedness. Good men may be often instructed by the example of the wicked. If a reveller can, as he often does, spend one night a week in revelry, surely the Christian may be incited to have one watch-night in the year. We may take the devil as a model of unceasing activity; we in a good, as he in a bad cause. It is a maxim in heraldry, that of the animal placed as emblem on the coat of arms, the good qualities alone must be considered, and not the bad. So, if on the national banner an eagle, a lion, a rattlesnake, be placed, we leave out of account the beastly or reptile baseness, and take in only the excellences in these beings. Our Lord commends to his apostles the wisdom of the serpent, but not his venom; the harmlessness of the dove, but not his simplicity. In the same way he instructs from the Unjust Judge and the Reluctant Neighbour. See note on Luke 18:2-8, and on Luke 11:5-8.


Verse 10

10. Faithful in… least… in much—If we are faithful in this world’s least, we are faithful for eternity’s

much. Unjust in the least… in much—Our least sin is committed for eternity, and if unforgiven must result in an eternal woe proportionate to its guilt. We may, by our degrees of unrighteousness, more or less sink ourselves deeper into perdition; but the slightest unremoved condemnation is eternal.


Verses 10-12

10-12. In these three verses (which are the moral of the parable) the three terms, the least, the unrighteous mammon, and that which is another man’s, all mean essentially the same thing; namely, the earthly, the temporal, the finite. In contrast to each of these, separately, are the terms much, the true riches, and that which is your own; by which are meant the heavenly, the eternal, the infinite. The sentiment then given in each verse in succession is this: if we are unfaithful in temporal things we are unfaithful for eternity.


Verse 11

11. In the unrighteous mammon… the true—We have here the real definition of the term unrighteous mammon. It is the opposite of the true divine riches; the riches of God’s favour. We may remark that the word riches is here in italics, which intimates that it is supplied by the translators, there being no word for it in the Greek. It is as if our Lord wanted a word which language did not supply. To say in the contrast the unrighteous mammon, and the true mammon) would be to sanctify the word mammon. He gives the word true and leaves us to supply the blank; and so the translators have supplied with the literal word riches.


Verse 12

12. That which is another man’s—This other man, in the parable, is the landlord. With probationary man, it is God. Nothing earthly is our own if we are stewards. Nothing is ours, because everything is but in our momentary possession. Everything is like the snowflake upon our warm palm; it vanishes as the snowflake to the air, back to the God who gave it.

That which is your own—The permanent and the eternal, which is not lent for a time, but given for endless ages, is our own. According then as we have faithfully dealt with what God has temporarily lent, so will he bestow on us eternal possessions.


Verse 13

13. No servant can serve two masters—This verse is found nearly verbatim in Matthew 6:24, on which see our note.


Verse 14

Renewed topic of controversy with the PhariseesThe doctrine concerning riches, Luke 16:14-31.

14. The Pharisees (probably the same Herodian set as in Luke 13:31-33, and Luke 15:1-2, where see our notes) raised a dispute because Jesus received and ate with converted publicans and sinners. Their murmurs then drew out the THREE PARABLES in regard to mercy for the penitent. Their present assault in consequence of the two last parables, and the doctrine of Christ in regard to riches, called forth the parable of the rich man. Were covetous—Literally, in the Greek they were φιλαργυροι, or silver-loving. That is, they were greedy for wealth and pomp.

Heard—The Greek imperfect tense signifies were hearing. They were listening while our Lord delivered the last parable, greatly disgusted with his treatment of the subject of riches. Derided—Greek, were deriding him; they were doing so while he spoke. The word in the original signifies that sort of propelling the breath through the nostrils expressed by the word to snuffle, and more delicately by the word to sneer. Of course they sneered with bitter words also. We might imagine them saying, “No doubt that treacherous steward is the proper model for his set of villainous publicans; the stewards of the Roman oppressors of Israel.” But they themselves were the courtiers of Herod Antipas, who was by blood an Edomite.


Verse 15

15. Ye—The countenancers of royal adultery.

Justify yourselves before men—Make an imposing display of maintaining your own purity and righteousness before the government and nation.

Your hearts—God knows that you are unrighteous from your covetousness for wealth and power.

Highly esteemed—In the original lofty or very high. Alluding to the lofty haughtiness of these sneering favourers of royal vice.

Abomination… God—Whose law you are surrendering to your own self-interest.

In the three following verses our Lord shows that the law continued until the coming of John; and the Gospel still maintains the law, and both condemn adultery.


Verses 15-31

Replies of Jesus to the sneers of the Pharisees, Luke 16:15-31.

Jesus first shows these haughty deriders how abominable was their own position as the supporters of adultery, 15-18. He then illustrates the fate of the φιλαργυροι, or silver-lovers, by the instance of the rich man and Lazarus. The passage 15-18 is somewhat obscure, but the key of it is perhaps to be found in Luke 16:18. Herod Antipas had been guilty of adultery by his most notorious marriage with Herodias, and the Pharisees had left it to John the Baptist to rebuke him.


Verse 16

16. Until John—God’s law and the prophets, which condemn wickedness in the highest as well as the lowest, reached as far as John, the rebuker of Herod’s adultery.

Every man—Even this crowd of publicans and sinners.

Presseth—Pushes himself in with whatever success he may.


Verse 17

17. And—The word is in the Greek, but. The meaning is, that the Gospel, which now succeeds the law, rather confirms than abolishes the law. And so the law, the prophets, John, and the Gospel, all with one voice condemn the adultery which these Herodian Pharisees dare not condemn.


Verse 18

18. Marrieth her—Our Lord calls no names, but there was no hearer but made the application. Herod Antipas had married the wife of his brother, as all the nation knew. See notes on Matthew 14:1-4. The part these guardians of the nation’s morals had acted would rise up to every man’s mind to their confusion as deriders of Jesus. Thus did this first reply of Jesus serve to show them how little they were making the mammon of unrighteousness the genuine friend of their highest interest.


Verse 19

19. A certain rich man—His name is not given; for Dives, which many suppose to be his proper name, is but the Latin word for

rich man. Clothed in purple—The purple was anciently the royal colour, the gorgeous hue of the imperial robes; and hence the very term, the purple, is still used to signify the royal dignity. Though already used in our Saviour’s time by the opulent, it was considered a mark of pomp and effeminacy. This most brilliant dye was discovered, it was said, at Sidon, being the juice from a shellfish brought to notice by its having stained the mouth of a dog who had devoured one.

Fine linen—The fine byssus or linen was first commonly used by the Jews in the time of Solomon. It was either white, or a brilliant yellow; so that this rich and effeminate man disclosed a golden undergarment beneath the external purple.

Sumptuously—Brilliantly, magnificently; referring rather to external pomp than to luxurious diet.

Every day—This rich display was not reserved for special days, for festivals, or galas; it was his ordinary style. It has been argued by many divines that no special wickedness is here ascribed to the rich man; nothing but ordinary worldliness; so that we thereby learn that it requires no extraordinary human guilt to attain a terrible destiny in the world to come. On the other hand, Strauss carries the same idea so far as to maintain that Jesus makes simply the being a rich man his only sin, and poverty the only merit of Lazarus by which he attains Paradise. Thence Strauss charges our Saviour with maintaining the ascetic doctrine of the Ebionites, that wealth is in itself a damnable sin, and poverty an excellence deserving salvation. But Trench well replies that Abraham, in whose bosom Lazarus reposed, was a rich man; and we may add that so were Isaac and Jacob; and both Moses and the prophets, whom this rich man was condemned for not believing, taught that riches were a blessing from God. And it may be doubted that Ebionitism or asceticism ever maintained that mere poverty was a merit or constituted a claim to Paradise. Religious poverty—poverty from devout motives and accompanied by rigid morality in all other respects, is the poverty which all asceticism demands in order to holy merit. It is perfectly preposterous to maintain that Jesus represents Lazarus as a voluntary religious mendicant. The sins of this rich man were those of the Sadducee: infidelity, selfishness, and a sordid, hard-hearted worldliness. And when we conceive such a character, all kinds of wickedness may be considered as truly in him. Such a man will for his own self-interest sacrifice every other interest. To benefit himself, he will invest in any iniquity, whether it be the rum traffic, the slave-trade, the gambling “hell,” or piracy. So that you may fully consider this rich man as the blank figure, the outline skeleton, upon which you may inscribe any or every iniquity you think proper.


Verses 19-31

Jesus’s second reply to his deridersThe Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, Luke 16:19-31.

Is this a parable or history? The answer depends very much upon the definition we give of a parable. The parable may be strictly a fictitious narrative, in which symbols are used to represent some other object, as the lost sheep to represent a sinner, or the mustard seed the Gospel. In this sense it is no parable; for the rich man represents not some other self or thing, but his own self; namely, a worldly rich man. He is taken as an example of his class. Nor is it a history in the sense of a narration of a particular real individual fact. It is not so much a detail of a particular case as a picture of what takes place in thousands of cases. It may indeed be founded upon or suggested by some particular case; it may be so framed that some particular man, as Herod Antipas, may be suggested to the hearer’s imagination. Just so the parable of the pounds is by all admitted to be based upon the history of Archelaus. And this answers the objection of Trench and others to this view, namely, that it is derogatory to our Lord to suppose that he would frame offensive pictures applicable to particular men. If Archelaus could be the basis of the parable of the pounds, Antipas could be the basis of the parable of the rich man. The parable of the rich man bears some resemblance to that of the rich feel, (Luke 12:13-21;) but that drops the veil at death, whereas this traces his destiny into the world of spirits. That is a rural parable, and was perhaps delivered in the country; whereas this is a parable of town life, and was delivered probably in a city; a city in Eastern Judea, it may be Jericho, a favourite city of the Herod family.


Verse 20

20. Named Lazarus—The abbreviated form of Eleazar, signifying, “God is my help;” a very suitable name for one who had no sympathy from man, and very little aid from the brutes. But, besides this suitableness, it is very probable that our Lord was soon to be on his way to raise Lazarus of Bethany from the dead; a circumstance which not only sheds a peculiar illustration upon Luke 16:31, but suggests the reason why Jesus at this time adopted that name for the parable. See notes on Luke 13:32. Two messages had just been announced to Jesus: one that his friend Lazarus is dead; the other that his own life is threatened by Herod. To the silver-loving Pharisees, followers of Herod, he might now say: Let a Lazarus be as poor as a perishing beggar, and an Antipas rich as a prince, yet the destiny of the former is infinitely preferable to that of the latter.

Laid at his gate—Deposited there with the hope of attracting the rich man’s pity. The portals of the wealthy were the customary resort for mendicants.

Full of sores—Ulcerated; one of the natural effects of a mendicant’s life.


Verse 21

21. Desiring to be fed—Jesus does not say being fed; but introduces the dogs as showing a kindness for which he gives no credit to the man. The dogs—The street dogs of the city where the rich man resided. See note on Matthew 7:6. These ferocious and ravening brutes softened to tenderness; but the man had no pity.


Verse 22

22. The beggar died—It is not said that the beggar was, like the rich man, buried. His carcass may have been thrown into the valley of Hinnom; so that while his soul may have been in Paradise, his body may have been in the earthly symbol of hell.

He was carried—That is, his true self, his soul. Phaedon asked the dying Socrates: “How shall we bury you, Socrates?” “Just as you please,” said Socrates, “if you can catch me.” And smiling, he continued: “I cannot convince Phaedon that the mind conversing with him is myself; but he thinks me to be the corpse he will soon see laid out, and asks how he shall bury ME.”

Lazarus’s dogs gave place to the angels. Thus heavenly beings minister to them which shall be heirs of salvation. Abraham’s bosom—The abode of the blessed spirits was symbolized by the Jewish Church as a great banquet at whose head was the great father of the faithful, Abraham. Happy he who, as John reclined on the Saviour’s breast at the last supper, reclines at the paradisaic table in Abraham’s bosom. But this, the chief point of happiness, was then not only conceived as belonging to all, but the very term Abraham’s bosom became the name for the blessed abode. So it is said by the Jewish doctors, “We, dying, shall be received by Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob into their bosoms.”


Verse 23

23. In hell—In hades, or the great unseen. That is, the invisible place or region of disembodied spirits. While the body of man is in the grave, his soul is in hades. So taught the Jewish Church; and Jesus here confirms the teaching. But hades, it is said, consists of two regions, namely, Paradise, or Abraham’s bosom, the abode of the righteous; and Tartarus, the abode of the wicked. But though hades is thus the abode of the blessed spirits, still it is overshadowed by the power of death, and the happiness of the blessed is incomplete until the resurrection. And because it is thus under the power of death, and is the place of detention, even for the good, the word hades is sometimes, as here, used as the proper name of the compartment of the wicked only. But when the day of resurrection shall come, the righteous shall, after the judgment, ascend body and soul to heaven, and the wicked be cast into the lake of fire, gehenna, or the second death. And death and hades shall be merged into the same lake of fire. Revelation 20:14.

These views of future retribution, more or less clearly, have been taught among all the nations of the earth; as if they were written by the finger of God upon the human heart. It is not, indeed, possible in the present parable to draw the line between the figurative and the literal. The conversation between the two parties embraces doubtless the truths it suggests in dialogue form. But the true conclusion is, that the Great Teacher here opens as true a picture of the world beyond death as our present inexperienced minds can receive, conceive, and truly understand. The commentator who by a natural unforced construction arrives at the most literal interpretation, attains probably the nearest to the essential if not to the physical truth.

Eyes—But has the disembodied spirit eyes, tongue, finger, etc.? We answer, a spirit possesses sight; for even in life it is the soul that sees, and the eye is but its instrument. So also it is the soul that hears, feels, tastes, and smells, through its sensorial organs. And so our entire present sensitive system is in the human form, extending from within to the surface of the body. Our sensitive skin is a dress of and in the human form; our bone system is a skeleton in human form; and so our nerve system and blood system are so many outline sketches of the same figure. The sensible soul, extending its power and apparent presence, is limited by the skin to the same shape. How know we that it carries the same limitations and the same shape when emancipated from the outward world?

He lifted up his eyes— No angel bearers carry him to hades; but, as if the transition were instant, as soon as he closes the eyes of the body upon earth, he opens those of the soul in hell.

Being in torments—The word here rendered torments is used in Matt, Matthew 4:24 and signifies bodily pangs from disease. The rich man is not in the final hell, but in the place of intermediate woe.

And seeth Abraham The Jewish Church believed Abraham to be the master-spirit of the blessed Israelite dead. “In the future world,” says one of their writers, “Abraham will sit at the gate of hell; nor will he permit a circumcised man to descend thither.” Jesus teaches that no Abrahamic descent will save a man from woe.

Afar off—The Jews believed that Paradise and Hades were so near as to be in sight.

And Lazarus in his bosom—We are not to figure here one man as in another’s bosom; but both as reclining at table, in such a way as that the guest next to the host reclines his head on the bosom of the host.

In order to unfold the lesson of the parable, our Lord uses the conception of an actual banquet, with the actual Abraham at the head and Lazarus next. The lesson is, that the poorest being on earth may be exalted by the purest piety to the highest place in Paradise. He sits not only at the banquet, but after his first arrival he at least takes his turn in occupying the highest seat. Yet more truly we may say that Lazarus represents humble Christianity on its way to eternal glory; while Abraham represents the ancestral Church of past ages. The humble latter-day Church joins the eternal banquet and reclines in the bosom of the Church that has gone before.


Verse 24

24. Father Abraham—He reminds the great father of his descent from him. And he who sat at the banquet once, and refused the crumb to the beggar, now sees the beggar at the banquet, and is refused his supplication.

Dip… cool my tongue… this flame—That tongue which had so often been pampered with sensual gratifications, is now parched with the terrible deprivation. Those licentious passions which had heated his blood will now, in the atmosphere of the new world, kindle to a flame. Besides, the effeminacy which he had cultivated induces him to magnify his new sufferings, and he is perfectly miserable. But all these miseries are, it may be, rather natural than penal. This is the intermediate state, after death, but before the judgment-day. Sentence has not yet been pronounced, and penalty is not yet in its full sense now inflicted. So that we have here, perhaps, the natural sorrow of the lost spirit on leaving the body. Accommodation to his condition may enable his wretched excitement to subside into a permanent state of quiet, settled, and, perhaps, even contented consciousness of badness and woe. This poor wretch prays not to God but to a holy father. The result is a poor encouragement for praying to dead saints.

Flame—Are the damned tormented by a real material fire? We might, perhaps, answer—the visible fire may be but a material emblem of an immaterial power. The element of the very lake of fire may be to the human soul what the fire is to the visible human body.


Verse 25

25. In thy lifetime receivedst thy good—He was of the number who receive their portion in this life instead of that good part which shall never be taken from them. He had preferred the world and its rewards, and had obtained them; but he had lost the world to come.

He is comforted—To be consoled, to be refreshed with repose, are terms of mild bliss with which the Jews characterized the lesser happiness of the intermediate state as compared with heaven.


Verse 26

26. A great gulf—A chasm, or gorge; one impossible for even the disembodied spirit to overpass.

Fixed—Permanently established. We have thus, as far as sense can conceive, a complete view of the invisible state of the departed. Two regions there are of settled bliss and woe, with a broad impassable separation between them.


Verse 29

29. They have Moses and the prophets—Even from these they might learn (not that it is wicked to be rich and blessed to be a beggar, but) that a rich, infidel, sensual worldliness meets a terrible retribution from a just God.


Verse 31

31. Neither… persuaded though one rose from the dead—Jesus was expecting soon to be on his way to raise a Lazarus from the dead. Many did believe on him in consequence. Hence, our Lord is not to be understood as saying no one would have been convicted or converted by a message from the dead. But there are Sadducees, both of the sensual and intellectual character, whom no miracle would convince. Indeed, an isolated single miracle or testimony from the dead, perhaps, ought not to convince a man. The miracles of the Bible are a great system of miraculous dealings of God with man. They are to be embraced as a great whole; as the one comprehensive miracle, embracing and consisting of many subordinate miracles.

Upon this parable, note:

1. It was a terrible rebuke to the silver-loving Pharisees of Luke 16:15; men of worldly hearts, and who probably were but the panders to the profligate Sadducee, Herod Antipas and his court.

2. It was a fit completion of the parable of the rich fool. The latter traces the worldly sinner to death, and this pursues and pictures him in the world after death.

3. It is a striking counterpart to the parable of the unjust steward. The latter so made friends of mammon as to secure his eternal life; this rich man so made a master of mammon as to secure eternal death.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Luke 16:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/luke-16.html. 1874-1909.

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