Parable of the talents or minas

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For the novel by Octavia Butler, see Parable of the Talents (novel).
The parable of the talents, depicted in a 1712 woodcut. The lazy servant searches for his buried talent, while the two other servants present their earnings to their master.

The Parable of the Talents (also the Parable of the Minas and the Parable of the Pounds), is one of the parables of Jesus, which appears in two of the canonical gospels of the New Testament; a thematically variant parable appears in the non-canonical Gospel of the Hebrews. The differences between the parables that appear in the Gospel of Matthew 25:14-30 and in the Gospel of Luke 19:12-27 are substantial, indicating that the parables do not derive from the same source.[1] In Matthew, the opening words link the Parable of the Talents to the preceding Parable of the Ten Virgins, which is a parable about the Kingdom of Heaven.[1]

Parable of the talents[edit]

The “Parable of the Talents”, in Matthew 25:14–30 tells of a master who was leaving his house to travel, and, before leaving, entrusted his property to his servants. According to the abilities of each man, one servant received five talents, the second servant received two talents, and the third servant received one talent. The property entrusted to the three manservants was worth 8 talents, where a talent was a significant amount of money. Upon returning home, after a long absence, the master asks his three servants for an accounting of the talents he entrusted to them. The first and the second servants explain that they each put their talents to work, and have doubled the value of the property with which they were entrusted; each servant was rewarded:

His lord said to him, "Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a few things, I will set you over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord."

— Matthew 25:23, World English Bible

The third servant, however, had merely hidden his talent, had buried it in the ground, and was punished by his master:

He also who had received the one talent came and said, "Lord, I knew you that you are a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter. I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the earth. Behold, you have what is yours."

But his master answered him, "You wicked and slothful servant. You knew that I reap where I didn't sow, and gather where I didn't scatter. You ought therefore to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received back my own with interest. Take away therefore the talent from him, and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will be given, and he will have abundance, but from him who doesn't have, even that which he has will be taken away. Throw out the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."

— Matthew 25:24–30, World English Bible

Parable of the minas[edit]

The similar parable in Luke 19:12-27, the parable of the minas, is generally similar, but differences include the inclusion of the motif of a king obtaining a kingdom[2] and the entrusting of the servants with equal amounts measured in minas rather than talents (1 talent = 60 mina). Additionally, Luke includes at the beginning an account of citizens sending a message after the master to say that they don't want him as their ruler; and, at the end, Luke adds that the master instructs that his opponents should be brought to him and then be slain.

The parallels between the Lukan material (the Gospel of Luke and Book of Acts) and Josephus' writings have long been noted.[3][4][5][6] The core idea, of a man traveling to a far country being related to a kingdom, has vague similarities to Herod Archelaus traveling to Rome in order to be given his kingdom; although this similarity is not in itself significant, Josephus' account also contains details which are echoed by features of the Lukan parable.[7] Josephus describes Jews sending an embassy to Augustus, while Archelaus is travelling to Rome, to complain that they do not want Archelaus as their ruler;[8][9] when Archelaus returns, he arranges for 3000 of his enemies to be brought to him at the Temple in Jerusalem, where he has them slaughtered.[8]

Version in the Gospel of the Hebrews[edit]

Eusebius of Caesarea includes a paraphrased summary of a parable of talents taken from a "Gospel written in Hebrew script" (generally considered in modern times to be the Gospel of the Nazarenes); this gospel was presumably destroyed in the destruction of the Theological Library of Caesarea Maritima in the 7th century and has yet to be found. In that gospel, Eusebius writes that while the man who had hid the talent was rebuked for his burial, only the man who had received two talents had invested and gained a return on his investment. The recipient of the five talents instead "wasted his master’s possessions with harlots and flute-girls;" it was he, in the Hebrew gospel, that was sent into the darkness (Eusebius expressly identifies the darkness as being imprisonment).[10]

The values of a talent[edit]

A talent (Ancient Greek τάλαντον, talanton ‘scale’ and ‘balance’) was a unit of weight of approximately 80 pounds (36 kg), and when used as a unit of money, was valued for that weight of silver.[11] As a unit of currency, a talent was worth about 6,000 denarii.[1] Since a denarius was the usual payment for a day's labour,[1] the value of a talent was about twenty years of labour, by an ordinary person.[12] By contemporary standards (ca. AD 2009) at the rate of the US minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, the value of a talent would be approximately $300,000 over 20 years, while, at the median yearly wage of $26,363, a talent would be valued at about $500,000.[13]


In Matthew, the opening words appear to link the parable to the parable of the Ten Virgins, which immediately precedes it.[1] That parable deals with wisdom in an eschatological context.[1] This parable, however, has been interpreted in several ways.

As a teaching for Christians[edit]

Traditionally, the parable of the talents has been seen as an exhortation to Jesus' disciples to use their God-given gifts in the service of God, and to take risks for the sake of the Kingdom of God.[1] These gifts have been seen to include personal abilities ("talents" in the everyday sense), as well as personal wealth.[1] Failure to use one's gifts, the parable suggests, will result in judgment.[1]

The poet John Milton was fascinated by the parable (interpreted in this traditional sense),[14] referring to it repeatedly, notably in the sonnet "On His Blindness":[14]

When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide,
And that one Talent, which is death to hide,
Lodg'd with me useless, though my Soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he, returning, chide

Some critics interpret the poem's exhortation to be ready to receive God's will as a critique of a misunderstanding of the parable as literal or economic, and that waiting--rather than amassing wealth to prove one's worth--is the proper way to serve God.[15] While the narrator worries over his limited accomplishments, Patience reminds him that God does not need "man's work." Milton may even be contrasting God (as King) with the lord of the parable.[16]

As a critique of religious leaders[edit]

Joachim Jeremias believed that the original meaning of the parable was not an ethical one about every man. Instead, he saw it as aimed at the scribes who had withheld "from their fellow men a due share in God's gift."[17] In his view, Jesus is saying that these scribes will soon be brought to account for what they have done with the Word of God which was entrusted to them.[17]

Jeremias also believed that in the life of the early church the parable took on new meaning, with the merchant having become an allegory of Christ, so that "his journey has become the ascension, his subsequent return ... has become the Parousia, which ushers his own into the Messianic banquet."[17]

As social critique[edit]

In the Parables as Subversive Speech: Jesus as Pedagogue of the Oppressed (1994), William R. Herzog II presents a liberation theology interpretation of the “Parable of the Talents”, wherein the absentee landlord reaps where he didn't sow, and the third servant is a whistle-blower who has “unmasked the ‘joy of the master’ for what it is — the profits of exploitation squandered in wasteful excess.”[18] Hence, the third servant is punished for speaking the truth, and not for failing to make a profit. From the critical perspective of liberation theology, the message of the “Parable of the Talents” is that man must act in solidarity with other men when confronting social, political, and economic injustices.[18]

To describe how scientists are awarded authorial credit for their work, the sociologist Robert K. Merton applied the term The Matthew effect of accumulated advantage, in which the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. With the “Parable of the Talents”, Merton metaphorically described the system of authorial rewards used, among the community of scientists, whereby famous scientists usually are awarded credit that is disproportionately greater than their contributions, while less-famous scientists are awarded lesser credit than is merited by their contributions; see also Stigler's law of eponymy: “No scientific discovery is named after its original discoverer.”[19]

Depictions in the arts[edit]

The teachings of Jesus: the Parable of the Talents, as etched by Jan Luyken.

The “Parable of the Talents” has been depicted by artists such as Rembrandt, Jan Luyken, and Matthäus Merian. In literature, the Threepenny Novel (1934), by Bertolt Brecht (1895–1956), presents a social critique of the parable as an ideological tool of capitalist exploitation of the worker and of society.[20]

In religious music, the hymn “Servant of God, Well Done!”, by John Wesley, notably alludes to the “Parable of the Talents” (Matthew 25:23), which was written on the occasion of the death of George Whitefield (1714–1770), the English Anglican cleric who was instrumental to the First Great Awakening (ca. 1731–55) in Britain and in the American colonies.[21]

The hymn “Servant of God, Well Done!” begins thus:

Servant of God, well done!
Thy glorious warfare’s past;
The battle’s fought, the race is won,
And thou art crowned at last.[22]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Arland J. Hultgren, The Parables of Jesus: A Commentary, Eerdmans Publishing, 2002, ISBN 0-8028-6077-X, pp. 271-281.
  2. ^ Luke Timothy Johnson and Daniel J. Harrington, The Gospel of Luke, Liturgical Press, 1991, ISBN 0-8146-5805-9, p. 292.
  3. ^ Steve Mason, Josephus and Luke-Acts, (1992), pages 185-229
  4. ^ Gregory Sterling, Historiography and Self-Definition: Josephos, Luke-Acts and Apologetic Historiography (1992)
  5. ^ Heinz Schreckenberg, Flavius Josephus and the Lukan Writings (1980), pages 179-209.
  6. ^ Max Krenkel, Josephus und Lukas (1894)
  7. ^ Luke Timothy Johnson, Daniel J. Harrington, The Gospel of Luke (1991), endnote 12, page 289
  8. ^ a b Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 17:11
  9. ^ Luke Timothy Johnson, Daniel J. Harrington, The Gospel of Luke (1991), endnote 14, page 290
  10. ^ Eusebius, Theophany on Matthew 22
  11. ^ Ridgeway, William, "Measures and Weights" in Whibley, Leonard (ed). A Companion to Greek Studies, Cambridge University Press, 1905, p. 444.
  12. ^ At the rate of 6 days of paid work per week, at the rate of 50 weeks per year, 6,000 paid days equal 20 years.
  13. ^ The median U.S. wage in 2010 was just $26,363 Washington Post by Suzy Khimm 10/20/2011
  14. ^ a b David V. Urban, "The Talented Mr. Milton: A Parabolic Laborer and His Identity" in Milton Studies, Volume 43, Albert C. Labriola (ed.), Univ of Pittsburgh Press, 2004, ISBN 0-8229-4216-X, pp. 1-18.
  15. ^ Lewalski, Barbara. The Life of John Milton: A Critical Biography. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2003. Ebook. Page 306.
  16. ^ "When I Consider How My Light Is Spent (On His Blindness)." Shmoop Editorial Team. Shmoop University, Inc., 11 Nov. 2008. Web. 5 Aug. 2014.
  17. ^ a b c Joachim Jeremias, The Parables of Jesus, Scribner, 1954.
  18. ^ a b William R. Herzog II, Parables as Subversive Speech: Jesus as Pedagogue of the Pppressed, Westminster John Knox Press, 1994, ISBN 0-664-25355-5, pp. 150-168.
  19. ^ Gerald Holton (December 2004). Robert K. Merton, 4 July 1910 – 23 February 2003. 148. American Philosophical Society. ISBN 1-4223-7290-1.
  20. ^ Bertolt Brecht, Threepenny Novel, Penguin Books, 1962, ISBN 0-14-001515-9, p. 365.
  21. ^ James Thomas Lightwood, Samuel Wesley, Musician: The story of his life, Ayer Publishing, 1972, ISBN 0-405-08748-9, p. 222.
  22. ^ The Cyber Hymnal: Servant of God, Well Done!

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