Parable of the Talents - man holding a single talent

Jesus continued his sermon to the disciples: “It will be like a man going on a journey who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them while he was away. To one of the servants, he gave five bags of gold, to another, two bags, and to the third, one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey.

The man who received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. But the man who received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground, and hid his master’s money in the dirt.

After a long time, the master returned and settled accounts with each man. The man who received five bags of gold brought the other five and said, “Master, you have entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.”

His master replied, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things. I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”

The man with two bags of gold also came. “Master, you entrusted me with two bags of gold. See, I have gained two more.”

His master replied, “Well done good and faithful servant. You have been faithful with a few things. I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”

Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. “Master, I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So, I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.”

His master replied, “You wicked, lazy servant! So you know I am a businessman? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers so that when I returned, I would have received it back with interest.”

Take back the gold from him and give it to the one with ten bags. For whoever has will be given more and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

What the story means to us today

As Christians, we have an obligation to fulfill God’s purpose for us.

The story seems harsh. After all, the servant with a single bag of gold merely hid the gold to keep it safe and yet, was banished from the household. But as with all ancient writings, the parable must be understood within the context of the time it was told.

The Parable of the Talents

The point of the parable extends the lesson from the prior one (“be prepared”). The servant who received one bag of gold was too fearful and lazy to honor his obligation and multiply his riches. Similarly, we have an obligation to God – and those that meet that obligation will be rewarded.

God doesn’t only give us salvation for living according to his creed, he assigns us tasks in life – to be kind to others, to help the less fortunate, to spread his word, and so on. He doesn’t expect us to just sit around and live in the shadow of his good grace.

We have a responsibility as Christians to be fruitful disciples. Those that live according to God’s wishes will hear these words: “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

Additional thoughts and considerations

Harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed.

The parable of talents, showing two men brining their money back to their master

The servant tells the master he is a “hard man” that “harvests where you have not sewn.” In other words, the servant is telling the master that he recognizes he is a shrewd businessman that financially profits from his labor (i.e., reaps what he does not sew). The servant may have feared he either lacked the business acumen to expand his master’s riches or presumes he would get no reward no matter what he does since his master was a hard businessman.

In ancient times, servants and masters had a different relationship than slaves of the 1800s. A servant in ancient Israel, who was more like a butler than a slave, was expected to show loyalty and appreciation for his job. In fact, a good servant would be proud of his work. Like a good worker today, an outstanding servant would go beyond his normal duties to please his master. That the servant rebelliously insulted his master likely shocked ancient readers.

But the servant kept the master’s money safe. What’s wrong with that?

There is nothing wrong with the servant keeping the master’s money safe and in fact, that is not the point of the parable. In biblical days, money could be held in temples where it was perfectly safe. And since there were few rich people in those days (and thus, low amounts of capital reserves), money held in these banks is believed to have earned very high interest rates – potentially up to 900% or more.

The servant could have easily deposited the money in the bank. Instead, he was fearful and thus took the lazy route and simply buried the master’s money in the ground. Similarly, Christians today may be fearful and refuse to heed God’s call to discipleship. They take the easy way out, burying their heads in the sand.

Is slavery condoned in the Bible?

Slavery is not condoned in this parable. At the time it was written, slavery was commonplace. Thus, it made sense to use the practice in a parable, a story which is meant to provide an easy-to-understand example for the listener. In their day, the disciples would not have batted an eye when slavery was brought up – it was all around them and an accepted part of their society.

Just like Jesus’ example of a “thief in the night”, the message must be pruned from the parable. Even modern-day readers will accept, however, that the parable paints a vivid picture in the reader’s mind, one that is not easy to forget.

The science and history behind the story

What is a “talent”?

The Parable of the Talents etching

Some translations refer to bags of gold, but most refer to a monetary measurement called “talent”. In ancient times, a talent was a unit of measurement used for weighing precious metals, such as gold and silver. The exact value of a talent varied depending on the time and place, but it generally ranged from about 26 to 60 kilograms. In terms of monetary value, a talent was worth a significant amount of money, equivalent to several years’ worth of wages for an average worker. For example, in ancient Greece, a talent of silver was worth approximately 6,000 drachmas, which was enough to pay a skilled worker for 15 years of labor. Similarly, in ancient Rome, a talent of silver was worth around 5,000 denarii, which was the equivalent of 10 years’ worth of wages for a legionary soldier. Overall, a talent was a valuable asset in ancient times and was often used as a form of currency or as a means of exchange for goods and services.

In the parable, the amount mentioned is believed to be about 75 years’ worth of wages – pretty much a lifetime’s worth of income.

Bible Text

NIV

“Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. 15 To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. 17 So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. 18 But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

19 “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’

21 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

22 “The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’

23 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

24 “Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’

26 “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.

28 “ ‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. 29 For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

The New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011. Print.

The NET Bible

25:14 “For it is like a man going on a journey, who summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them. 25:15 To one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 25:16 The one who had received five talents went off right away and put his money to work and gained five more. 25:17 In the same way, the one who had two gained two more. 25:18 But the one who had received one talent went out and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money in it. 25:19 After a long time, the master of those slaves came and settled his accounts with them. 25:20 The one who had received the five talents came and brought five more, saying, ‘Sir, you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.’ 25:21 His master answered, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave! You have been faithful in a few things. I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 25:22 The one with the two talents also came and said, ‘Sir, you entrusted two talents to me. See, I have gained two more.’ 25:23 His master answered, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave! You have been faithful with a few things. I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 25:24 Then the one who had received the one talent came and said, ‘Sir, I knew that you were a hard man, harvesting where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed, 25:25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.’ 25:26 But his master answered, ‘Evil and lazy slave! So you knew that I harvest where I didn’t sow and gather where I didn’t scatter? 25:27 Then you should have deposited my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received my money back with interest! 25:28 Therefore take the talent from him and give it to the one who has ten. 25:29 For the one who has will be given more, and he will have more than enough. But the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. 25:30 And throw that worthless slave into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Biblical Studies Press. The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible. Biblical Studies Press, 2006. Print.

New King James Version

14 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them. 15 And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey. 16 Then he who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and made another five talents. 17 And likewise he who had received two gained two more also. 18 But he who had received one went and dug in the ground, and hid his lord’s money. 19 After a long time the lord of those servants came and settled accounts with them.

20 “So he who had received five talents came and brought five other talents, saying, ‘Lord, you delivered to me five talents; look, I have gained five more talents besides them.’ 21 His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’ 22 He also who had received two talents came and said, ‘Lord, you delivered to me two talents; look, I have gained two more talents besides them.’ 23 His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’

24 “Then he who had received the one talent came and said, ‘Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground. Look, there you have what is yours.’

26 “But his lord answered and said to him, ‘You wicked and lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I have not sown, and gather where I have not scattered seed. 27 So you ought to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I would have received back my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him, and give it to him who has ten talents.

29 ‘For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away. 30 And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

The New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982. Print.

The Message

14–18 “It’s also like a man going off on an extended trip. He called his servants together and delegated responsibilities. To one he gave five thousand dollars, to another two thousand, to a third one thousand, depending on their abilities. Then he left. Right off, the first servant went to work and doubled his master’s investment. The second did the same. But the man with the single thousand dug a hole and carefully buried his master’s money.

19–21 “After a long absence, the master of those three servants came back and settled up with them. The one given five thousand dollars showed him how he had doubled his investment. His master commended him: ‘Good work! You did your job well. From now on be my partner.’

22–23 “The servant with the two thousand showed how he also had doubled his master’s investment. His master commended him: ‘Good work! You did your job well. From now on be my partner.’

24–25 “The servant given one thousand said, ‘Master, I know you have high standards and hate careless ways, that you demand the best and make no allowances for error. I was afraid I might disappoint you, so I found a good hiding place and secured your money. Here it is, safe and sound down to the last cent.’

26–27 “The master was furious. ‘That’s a terrible way to live! It’s criminal to live cautiously like that! If you knew I was after the best, why did you do less than the least? The least you could have done would have been to invest the sum with the bankers, where at least I would have gotten a little interest.

28–30 “ ‘Take the thousand and give it to the one who risked the most. And get rid of this “play-it-safe” who won’t go out on a limb. Throw him out into utter darkness.’

Peterson, Eugene H. The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2005. Print.

King James Version

14 For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods. 15 And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey. 16 Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents. 17 And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two. 18 But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord’s money. 19 After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them. 20 And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more. 21 His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord. 22 He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them. 23 His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord. 24 Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed: 25 And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine. 26 His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed: 27 Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury. 28 Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents. 29 For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath. 30 And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

The Holy Bible: King James Version. Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009. Print.

Sources: NIV, The Message, The NET Bible, King James Version, NET Bible Notes, Faithlife Study Bible, The Apologetics Study Bible, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Commentary, The Bible Reader’s Companion, Matthew Henry’s Commentary, Holman Concise Bible Commentary, The Bible Exposition Commentary, The Teacher’s Bible Commentary, The Teacher’s Commentary, The Bible Guide, Word Studies in the New Testament, Holman Bible Handbook, Calvin Commentaries, Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines, The New Manner and Customs of the Bible, Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, The Lexham Bible Dictionary, Easton’s Bible Dictionary, Harper’s Bible Dictionary, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, The Archaeological Encyclopedia, Biblical Archaeology Review, The New Bible Dictionary, The Lexham Analytical Lexicon, Glossary of Morpho-Syntactic Database

Image Credits:
• The Parable of the Talents via ACU by John S. C. Abbott and Jacob Abbott with usage type - Public Domain, 1878
• Parable of the Talents - man holding a single talent via Wikimedia Commons by Andrey Mironov with usage type - Creative Commons License, 2013
• The parable of talents, showing two men brining their money back to their master via Wikimedia Commons with usage type - Public Domain, 1712
• The Parable of the Talents etching via Wikimedia Commons with usage type - Public Domain

Featured Image Credit:
• Parable of the Talents - man holding a single talent via Wikimedia Commons by Andrey Mironov with usage type - Creative Commons License, 2013

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