The Parable of the Talents – It’s not about money!

Perhaps this is old news and many of you already caught on but I hadn’t…. until last night. 

I had an epiphany about what Matthew 25:14-30 is “really” talking about (fine, I’ll take something from everyone’s beloved Bishop).   This passage is otherwise known as “The Parable of the Talents” by most accounts.   The TNIV did something really weird with this passage.  They called it “The Parable of the Bags of Gold.”  Totally unrecognizable. 

Anyhow, one aspect of Christian discipleship is teaching folks about money management issues.  It’s a subject the Gospel writers account Jesus as having talked quite a bit about, with Matthew 6:24 (cf. Luke 16:13) serving as a major focal point.   Typically in a Bible study series on money issues, the parable of the talents comes into play.  It’s typically taught that the talents refer our money and that we need to be manging our money appropriately for the Lord or like the unjust manager in Luke 16 – we’ll be called to account and lose our money or responsibilites over the money, after all it is not our money it’s God’s money, we just manage it. 

So, what was my epiphany?  Well, we went over the passage last night in Bible study and while everyone was looking it up, I already had the passage at hand and saw verse 14 and how it says, “”Again, it will be like a man going on a journey...”  I said to myself, “wait a minute, to what does “it” refer?  So I looked back to fine “it”s referant.  I looked back up to the beginning of the chapter and noticed 25:1  “At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. ”   I noticed particularly the first part of the verse, “At that time the Kingdom of heaven will be like….”  and it dawned on me, I was about to become a false teacher if I tried to teach that this parable is about how to handle money! 

The parable of the talents is not about money management!  It is about kingdom management!   Jesus is not talking about money issues in this parable (per se).  He is talking about Kingdom responsibilites.  Now, money may be one aspect of that but it is not the only aspect.  There are many aspects involved in being part of the Kingdom of God.  Each person has been given a talent (ταλαντα) or a unit or coinage or a bag of gold (TNIV).   In this passage I do not think the talents are money per se, but a metaphor for whatever giftings or abilities God has given each person, perhaps even a person’s place in the Kingdom. 

The question(s) becomes, what are we doing with the abilities God has given us in our place in the Kingdom?   Are we fulfilling our roles and responsibilities appropriately, even effectively, to the benefit of God’s Kingdom?  How are we doing in serving the King? 

So when we read this parable – we need to ask ourselves, what are we doing to advance the Kingdom of God in this world?  Are we working our jobs well?  Are we managing our money responsibly?  Are we taking care of our families, one another?  and so on. 

When we do well, we enjoy the benefits.  We get to enjoy our master’s happiness (v. 21, 23).   It helps our relationship with the Lord when we have a clean conscience about what we’ve been doing.  If not, we need to think about the consequences of our irresponsibility as members of the Kingdom, and how that will affect our relationship with the Lord as well.  It doesn’t look pretty does it?  

So that was my epiphany – Matthew 25:14-30 – aka: the Parable of the Talents – is not about money – it’s about the Kingdom of God and our responsibilites therein.

Any thoughts?

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26 responses to “The Parable of the Talents – It’s not about money!

  1. Your epiphany is hardly a new one, for something like your interpretation is embedded in the English language, in the modern meaning of the word “talent” which is I think derived from interpretation of this parable. At least in the kind of tradition I am used to it has never been assumed that the application of this parable is about money – any more than the parable of the sower is to be applied to agriculture or the parable of the hidden treasure is encouraging people to literally dig up fields searching for treasure. But such misunderstandings of parables go back to the disciples – Mark 8:15-16.

    The problem is that at least in recent years “talent” has come to mean something like “innate special ability” rather than “gifting or ability given by God”.

    But I would defend the TNIV title of the parable. By calling it “The Parable of the Talents”, given the modern English meaning of the word, other Bible versions are misleading readers into thinking that Jesus was literally talking about abilities, and so confusing the parable with its application.

  2. Peter, I figure “talent” is simply a transliteration of ταλαντα.

    I guess this all goes back to support looking at things in context. When we do that we start to see what’s going on with the text.

    Thanks for your comments.

  3. Well, yes, in the text “talent” is a transliteration, but in a title it is not because there is no original text to transliterate. It is important that section headings are accurate and not misleading like this one. Anyway, I would always avoid using an accurate transliteration if it can be confused with a word with a different meaning. There is for example this problem with the city name “Madmen”.

  4. Interestingly enough I have never really thought of the parable of the talents as directly relating to money. I see it instead of how we need to use the gifts Gods gives us to the glory of his kingdom… I see it as a metaphor of how we are expected to do different things based on our ability and we will be rewarded as such…

  5. Brian,

    I refused to take my wife through “Crown” because of their constant abuse of the scriptures. The only Money Management principle we have in the New Testament is that it is all Jesus’ hold it with a loose hand! Most of the modern money management groups do a disservice to the weight of particual scriptures not only, churches who allow these ministries to “teach” money management in their church teach students of the scripture to handle the scriptures in a very “evangelical” proof texting way. Some of the very churches who teach “expositorily” somehow forget to scrutinize these ministries.

    There was a guy I was spending time mentoring over the last few years and he is a financial planner. He put together a power point and used this verse. I asked him to keep reading which put us to “the outter darkness” portion. So I asked do you believe those who have bad money management goes to hell for it? He thought awhile then took this out of the power point. Our modern verse division makes us really bad students of the scripture, especially when we find hobby horses and want to use scripture to validate our put emphasis on our conviction.

  6. Lionel – Debbie and I both went through Crown Financial as well and like you, I was horrified at the abuse of the Scriptures used to get people to manage thir money appropriately. I thought, “over 2500 verses in the Bible that talk about money?” Riiiight. On some of them they were right, on most of the others, they were WRONG, way way wrong.

    I prefer Dave Ramsey over Crown Financial.

  7. Yep,

    Just give a secular dude (though I think Ramsey may be a believer) who just writes hard nose. Though Ramsey is a bit radical for me I do like his technique and the success stories have been overwhelming. We hope to adpot it soon and employ it in our home. I really like the Debt Snowball. If I were smarter and more Christ Centered 5 years ago debt wouldn’t be an option. But a couple of bogus purchases (Time Share) can hurt you! LOL

  8. Yes, Dave Ramsey is a Christian, he has said so is open about it but not too evangelistic about it since that is not his area of expertise and he is trying to reach as wide an audience as possible. I also think Ron Blue’s book Master your Money is a good resource too.

    As to Debt, I think Ramsey is fine with a mortgage on a house but is very much against consumer debt, aka: credit cards. Those are big big money drainers.

  9. Forgetting for the moment where the passage is in the “logic” of Matthew’s narrative, I would wish to locate the text much more historically and say that Jesus is not even attending to us out here (however much we want all of Scripture to speak directly to us), rather and specifically he is inditing those Israelites who are refusing his call and way, they are soon to find destruction (ie-destruction of Jerusalem and Temple) as the end of unfaithfulness.

  10. Pingback: Here is the WP version of my 2010 Year in review « συνεσταύρωμαι: living the crucified life

  11. The Parable of the Talent.
    Matthew 25:14-30

    I had a revelation about this parable yesterday in the car as I was driving. People make this parable about what’s usually the most important thing in their life. A majority believe this parable is about money, and some people think it’s about actual talents. I’m not going to discredit either of them, because it’s really upto everyone’s own revelation that they recieve from the Holy Spirit.

    I wasn’t even studying this verse when it came to me. I was talking to my daughter about saving other people. And it hit me as Jesus talked about letting your lamp shine on a pedistal and not covering it up with a bushel. So I began to think about the man with one talent burying it. And he wasn’t letting it shine. He wasn’t letting his life in Christ shine to multiply and become more believers.

    Bringing other people to Christ is the one thing that God really cares about. God doesn’t care about money or your talents as much as you think. He wants to bless you, but more than that, he cares about people. It’s his will that none should perish but have everlasting life. He want’s your life to shine and become more saved life’s so that the harvest is abundant and overflowing.

    It’s every believers duty in Christ to bring more people to Christ. This is what all the sowing parables and all the harvest parables are all about. It was never meant to be misconstrued to become about money. You don’t plant your money seed and watch it grow into a money tree. You plant the seed of salvation and watch it grow into a tree of saved lives.

  12. I think too, it may be about growing in him, and not staying with just your base gifting, but struggling, listening, praying, gaining understanding, being a loving person and putting the things you learn as a Christian into practice.

    Right now, I have been struggling with raising my 14 year old son, he is rude, moody and disrespectful sometimes, rather than taking it personally and being offended at his bad ways, I can seek wisdom and look at this as an opportunity to steer him to Christ, I have to fight the urge to want to feel respect and appreciation and try and focus on ministering to his needs. Getting the focus off me and on to his relationship with God. This is not very natural for me and requires me to grow, thus the return for God should be enlarged all the way around.
    Pray for me to do it the best I can!! I have work to do…..

  13. Hi Brian,
    After reading this parable I thought to myself, “Investments? Really?” This discussion has really helped me in this morning’s time with God. The seed you planted here will grow many more than one tree :-)

  14. A parable is a fictional story meant to illustrate a principle or truth by Jesus… “putting a heavenly truth into an earthly context.” Since this parable talks about MONEY specifically… my take is that MONEY isn’t really what the parable is about.

    As you noted, the word “again” in Matt 25:15 identifies the time of the story as being the same as in the previous story, the Parable of the 10 Bridesmaids. That parable begins with the phrase “at that time” so you have to keep going back all the way to Matt 24:21 and 29 to discover that the time about which He is teaching occurs after the end of Great Tribulation, when He comes back to establish His kingdom.

    What will the situation on Earth be at that time? Follow the parable. He will have been gone for a long time and will have just come back. He will have left some valuable property of His in the care of various servants, and some will have multiplied their share while others will have buried theirs. He is now requiring an accounting of them that will determine their destiny. The context tells us a lot, but what property of His is symbolized by the talents?

    So one has to ask themselves if MONEY is so important to us here on earth… what is as important to God in comparison?

    The key to finding the right answer is found in Psalm 138:2, “I will worship toward thy holy temple, and praise thy name for thy loving kindness and for thy truth: for thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name (KJV).”

    Jesus values His WORD higher than even His Holy Name.

    So the talents represent His Word, the Gospel of our Salvation. Those who sow it liberally into the hearts of their listeners find it multiplies. Where there were five, ten now appear. Where there were two, now there are four. Those who simply study it find their understanding multiplies. Richer and deeper meanings appear from passages they thought were familiar. Over and over they discover that as their understanding grows their faith deepens.

    Those who bury it and pay no attention find its value diminishes the longer they ignore it. Not only are their friends and neighbors deprived by their lack of communication, but they themselves lose insight and understanding. Finally even what little they had is taken from them.

    All of these related kingdom parables are directed to the tribulation saints (not the church)… and summarize that FAITH is what will be needed for a tribulation believers to make it into heaven or the millenium… just as FAITH has always been a requirement for the church age believers, and for the age of believers before the church age.

    Unfortunately, FAITH during the tribulation period will be a tough feat… since those believers won’t be sealed with the Holy Spirit as with the Church age believers.

  15. My new understanding is that Talents = measure of faith. Faith is Kingdom currency. Put it to work no matter how much you were given. Faith without works is dead … burried!

  16. Dear Brian,

    I know this was written in 2009, but I’m just finding it now. I want you to know how enormously helpful it was to me. I have never understood this parable, and if I’m being honest, never tried very hard to figure it out. It was one more thing in the Bible that made me say “I just don’t get it”. I’m new in my pursuit to have a real and meaningful connection and relationship with God, and it’s information like this that is making that possible. Thank you.

  17. Hi Brian,
    I share the same sentiments as Sue. Your epiphany really unbundled it for me. To think all was hidden in the “IT”!

    Thanks a mil.

  18. There is one thing i want to share about this. We know that we glorify God through Spirit and truth but then there are two meanings in this passage. Yes! You can explain it in spiritual way but you cannot deny the fact that we still live in this world so i believe that its our guidance about handling money.Its true. Saving money is a worst way of handling money without growing it,in the other hand, keeping your talent and not using it for the kingdom of God is a curse

  19. I cannot understand this parable. Does God only favor the entrepreneurs or those who increase the yield in whatever field? To my mind, such a person is a burden of earth. Such a person is your mega businessman, an exploiter of others a person who take more than his share of wealth, a person who has no concern for the weak, the animals, women and children.

    • James, I find you comments offensive, as the husband of an entrepreneur, a woman who has (with my support) set up a business (a dance studio) providing services primarily for children. I too have my concerns about “mega businessman” type people who exploit others. But for each such person there are hundreds of entrepreneurs who have set up small scale businesses. That is not God’s call for everyone, but surely it is a good Christian calling for many.

  20. See this parable by kingdom of god point of view.

    Receiving Bags of gold and talent of doing things are equal to: joyful

    The joyful was so intense, these 5 and 2 “joyful” people were willing to extent their joyful by doubling them.

    But one person who received 1 “joyful” saw it differently. The joyful was like a burden, sadness, scary item. He even went against the owner and the way of obtained them.

    To reduce this person suffering, the owner took that 1 “supposed to be” joyful item away from him and gave it to the 10 whom surely glad on receiving it.

    Even more relieve has been given to this person, the owner placed him outside joyful territory, where he may feel comfortable that way.

    Boundary kingdom of god and earth is clear.

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