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, as 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 or parable of the minas, also known as the parable of the pounds or the "parable of talents", is one of the parables of Jesus. It appears in two of the canonical gospels of the New Testament and a variant is also found in the noncanonical Gospel of the Hebrews. The differences between Matthew 25:14-30 and the Luke 19:12-27 are substantial, and the two parables may not be derived from the same source.[1] In Matthew, the opening words appear to link the parable to the preceding parable of the Ten Virgins,[1] a parable about the Kingdom of Heaven.

Parable of the talents[edit]

The parable in Matthew 25:14-30 tells of a master who was leaving his home to travel, and before going entrusted his property to his servants (property worth 8 talents, where a talent was a large unit of money, as discussed below). One servant receives five talents, the second two talents, and the third one talent, according to their respective abilities.

Returning after a long absence, the master asks his servants for an accounting. The first two servants explain that they have each put their money to work and doubled the value of the property they were entrusted with, and so they are each 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, has merely hidden his talent in a hole in the ground, and is punished:

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 lord 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]

Literal meaning of "talent"[edit]

An etching by Jan Luyken illustrating the parable of the talents.

A talent (from Ancient Greek τάλαντον, talanton 'scale, balance') was a unit of weight of about 80 pounds (36 kg),[11] and when used for money, it was the value of that weight of silver. As a unit of currency, it was worth about 6,000 denarii.[1] Since a denarius was the usual payment for a day's labour,[1] a talent was roughly the value of twenty years of work by an ordinary person.[12] By modern standards, the 2009 US minimum wage was $7.25 per hour, which would amount to approximately $300,000 over 20 years, while at the median wage of $26,363, it would be a half-million dollars.[13] The talent as used in the parable is the origin of the sense of the word "talent" meaning "gift or skill" as used in English and other languages.[citation needed]


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 a social critique[edit]

William R. Herzog II notes the traditional interpretation of the parable,[18] but gives a liberation theology reading in which the image of the absentee landlord, who reaps where he didn't sow, is taken literally. On Herzog's reading, the third servant is a "whistle-blower"[18] who has "unmasked the 'joy of the master' for what it is, the profits of exploitation squandered in wasteful excess."[18] He is punished for speaking the truth, not for failing to make a profit. For Herzog, the point of the parable is the need to act in solidarity when confronting injustice.[18]

Sociologist Robert K. Merton used the parable of talents to describe the reward system in science in which famous scientists often receive disproportionate credit for their contributions, whereas lesser known scientists receive less credit than their contributions actually merit. He called this phenomenon the Matthew effect; see also Stigler's law of eponymy.[19]

Allusions in the arts[edit]

The parable of the talents has been depicted by artists such as Rembrandt, Jan Luyken, and Matthäus Merian. Bertolt Brecht attacks the parable as a tool of capitalist ideology in the Threepenny Novel.[20]

A number of hymns mention the parable, notably John Wesley's "Servant of God, Well Done!", which refers to Matthew 25:23, and was written on the death of George Whitefield.[21] It begins:

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 6 days of paid work per week, and roughly 50 weeks per year, 6,000 paid days = 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 c d William R. Herzog II, Parables as Subversive Speech: Jesus as pedagogue of the oppressed, 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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