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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Steward, Stewardship

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The former word is a translation of ἐπίτροπος in Matthew 20:8, Luke 8:3, and of οἰκονμος in Luke 12:42; Luke 16:1; Luke 16:3; Luke 16:8; the latter, of οἰκονομία in Luke 16:2-4. In Luke 16:2 the verb οἰκονομεῖν occurs. The distinction between οἰκονομεῖν and οἰκονόμος has been variously stated. Horne treats them as synonyms; Meyer says the former is a more general term; Schleusner, that the ἐπ. is appointed by law or a magistrate, the οἰκ. by will; Elliott and Lightfoot agree in thinking that ἐπ., like our ‘guardian,’ has special reference to ‘persons’; οἰκ., like ‘steward,’ to property (see their notes on Galatians 4:2 and references there cited, and Smith’s Dict. of Gr. and Rom. [Note: Roman.] Ant., s.v. ἐπίτροπος). The last view is probably the right one. But the exact duties of each of them doubtless varied in different cases and under different masters, and often the two are used interchangeably (so Meyer on Matthew 20:8). Meyer’s view is probably true of the Gospels, although if Chuza as ἐπίτροπος (Luke 8:3) had special charge of the education of the royal children, it might lend further colour to Sanday’s theory of Joanna’s relation to the authorship of Luke 1:2. In Matthew 24:45 δοϋλος is used of one whose position is evidently that of the steward, as may be seen by comparison with Luke 12:42. Usually, indeed, the steward is a slave or freedman, corresponding to Lat. dispensator or villicus (as in Luke 12, Matthew 24); occasionally he is a freeman, Lat. procurator (Luke 16). See Plummer in ICC [Note: CC International Critical Commentary.] on Luke 12:42; Luke 16:1, and Hatch, Bibl. Greek, p. 62.

The primary passages are Matthew 20:1-20 (Labourers in Vineyard), Matthew 24:45-51, Luke 8:3; Luke 12:42-48; Luke 16:1-21 (the Unjust Steward). Some would add the parables of the Prodigal and of Dives as illustrations of wealth wrongly used. The secondary are Matthew 21:33-46 (Wicked Husbandmen) Matthew 25:14-30 (Talents), Luke 19:12-27, (Minae), Matthew 10:24 f., Matthew 18:23-35, Mark 13:34, John 15:14-27, Luke 17:10. Of these Luke 8:3 yields no teaching.

The facts and teachings of the others may be thus summarized:

1. The steward’s position.—He was entrusted with the oversight of part or all of his master’s estate, including persons and property. He had the ‘management of his affairs, the care of receipts and expenditures, and the duty of dealing out the proper portion to every servant and even to the children, (Grimm-Thayer). The education of the children as well as their maintenance was under his charge. His control was more or less absolute according as the master was absent or present. Christ teaches that we are all God’s stewards. The trust covers (a) ourselves (for we are His); (b) others whom we can influence; (c) our time, means, opportunities, etc. For everything we rightfully have is from God (cf. Matthew 5:45). What one has wrongfully seized is no part of his trust.

2. The steward’s duty was to manage everything with most watchful fidelity and utmost efficiency, and to do it in the interest of his master. So with us. We should therefore (a) discipline ourselves—body, soul, and spirit, so as to realize God’s ideal for us and be most efficient for service—a duty demanding care of the body, training of the mind, culture of the affections, discipline of the will, etc.; (b) pursue our calling, whatever it may be, in the interest of God’s Kingdom, whether our work be that of the labourer, the farmer, the merchant, the lawyer, physician, statesman, teacher, preacher, or any other; (c) utilize time, influence, opportunities, money, in the wisest way; (d) urge and help others to do the same. One must plan one’s probable life as a whole that it may subserve God’s purposes in the largest measure possible.

3. The master’s duty was (a) to assign to the steward only just and honourable work, and (b) to provide for his needs. The righteous God can be trusted to do both (Matthew 6:33). This leads to the topic that is commonly uppermost when Christian stewardship is thought of; only it approaches the matter from a rather different, but the true, standpoint.

The arrangements between master and steward varied. Is it so in our relation to God? or is there any definite arrangement or understanding? Some have held that tithing represents it. Yet a regulation like that does not seem fully in harmony with the spirit of the new dispensation (cf. Jeremiah 31:33), which deals in principles rather than rules, just because God is more careful to develop character than to get men’s gains. Perhaps the best way of stating the case, however, would be this: God wills that His stewards should spend on themselves such a proportion of the income as is necessary to their highest working efficiency. This will vary with different persons according to conditions. Each must determine honestly for himself. ‘To his own Master he stands or falls.’ In general, it will mean less than is commonly supposed. It must be determined not by love of ease or pleasure, not by selfishness or pride, not by custom or fashion (where these are wrong), nor even by what would be reasonable and allowable in a normal world of sinlessness and blessedness, but wholly by the spirit of Divine love in view of the pressing needs of this abnormal world with its appalling sin, ignorance, and wretchedness.

4. Rewards and penalties.—All rewards are of grace (Luke 17:10). These begin now, but their fulness is hereafter. Through faithful service there comes the perfecting of character, the richer development of the personality, and the final winning of our souls (Luke 21:19). We are now stewards holding all on trust. We shall then receive as our own the inheritance prepared from the foundation of the world (Luke 16:12, Matthew 25:34). We shall be welcomed into eternal tabernacles (Luke 16:9) and be entrusted with the rule and authority for which we have become fitted (Luke 12:14, Matthew 24:47; Matthew 25:20-23). The unfaithful shall be beaten, or stripped of what they had, cut asunder as hypocrites, and cast into outer darkness with the unbelieving (Luke 12:46, Matthew 24:51; Matthew 25:28-30).

Literature.—Commentaries: works on the Parables; Stirling, Stewardship of Life; Hartman, The Business Aspect of Christian Stewardship; F. W. Robertson, Serm. iv. 239; C. H. Spurgeon, An All-round Ministry, 260; A. L. Moore, God is Love, 52; W. Houghton, Secret of Power, 80; the best treatment is that of C. A. Cook, Stewardship (Am. Bapt. Publ. Soc.).

J. H. Farmer.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Steward, Stewardship'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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