The parable of the unjust steward records that a steward/manager was to be fired. He proceeded to reduce the debts owed by debtors to his master, and he was commended for this. This has long been a parable I have struggled to understand.

4 I am resolved what to do, that, when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses.

5 So he called every one of his lord’s debtors unto him, and said unto the first, How much owest thou unto my lord?

6 And he said, An hundred measures of oil. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and sit down quickly, and write fifty.

7 Then said he to another, And how much owest thou? And he said, An hundred measures of wheat. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and write fourscore.

8 And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely: for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.

The response of the Pharisees after this and the subsequent pericope is interesting:

14 And the Pharisees also, who were covetous, heard all these things: and they derided him. (Luke 16:14)


  • Is Jesus teaching people to follow this example or to NOT be like this? The practical application of this parable appears somewhat obscure.
  • Is Jesus using this parable to condemn the covetousness of the religious leaders of His day?
  • What is meant by the children of the world are wiser than the children of light?

Related questions

Lk. 16: 8 - Was the steward commended for the act of wise provident care of his future or the change of heart from “wasting” to the benevolent acts?

Was the discounting by the manager in Luke 16 a dishonest act?

10 Answers 10


Perhaps the reason this parable is hard to grasp lies in the difficulty of understanding the character of the rich man. While the unjust steward, a person whose greed and self-interest consistently guides his behavior, is not a particularly hard character to understand or imagine, the rich man’s behavior, on the other hand, is much more puzzling.

Instead of being angry with the steward for discounting the debts that were owed to himself, the rich man commends his behavior.

And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely: for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light. —v. 8

And though the steward’s behavior is clearly calculating and self-serving, Jesus advises others to follow the steward’s example.

And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations. —v. 9

The idiosyncrasies in the rich man’s character and in Jesus’ words are resolved only when the rich man is understood to be God, to whom all, steward and debtors alike, are indebted. When God is assumed to be the rich man, it is easy to see why he would give his whole-hearted approval when that which ultimately belongs to him is used for the benefit of others. God’s anger is aroused when his wealth is hoarded for one's personal gain, but nothing pleases him more than when his wealth is distributed and shared.

Does Jesus want everyone to be like the unjust steward? Surely it would be better to be counted among the children of light, rather than the children of this world. The steward is wise, but only in the ways of the world. This kind of wisdom is of questionable value “for the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God” (1 Cor 3:19). The Pharisees “heard all these things,” that is, they recognized the parallels between themselves and the character of the steward and understood that Jesus’ words constituted a rebuke.

And the Pharisees also, who were covetous, heard all these things: and they derided him. —v. 14

Nevertheless, those who are in possession of unrighteous wealth are given the example of the steward’s shrewdness to follow. Perhaps an inference can be made that the debts one reduces for others will be received by God as though it were paid against one’s own debt burden.

  • +1 Yes I agree that the rich master in the parable is God. The other thing I came to realize when meditating on this scripture is that I believe the "debts" and the money are actually worldly wealth and debts "owned" by the unjust steward. He owns a business and people owe him money. The trick to understanding the parable is while we would consider ourselves to be "owners" of this wealth - to God we are merely stewards of it. Its all Gods and everything we have comes from him. We are then charged with using it wisely. The stewards change to forgive others debts is shown as "good stewardship"
    – Marshall
    Commented Nov 1, 2021 at 10:49
  • @Marshall "It’s all Gods and everything we have comes from him." I particularly like this statement. This story, I think, can be understood on many different levels. Sometimes I think of how we owe every grace and blessing, indeed, every good thing to God (Jam 1:17). More often though, I think of God’s wealth as the love and mercy that he bestows upon us, especially in the moments when we are least worthy.
    – Nhi
    Commented Nov 2, 2021 at 13:20

Jesus was taking about dealing with money/wealth.

And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings. (Luke 16:9, ESV)

That also fits the context:

“One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. 11 If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? 13 No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” (Luke 16:10–13, ESV)

Jesus was talking about using your money to serve God helping people. Money is a shrewd master.


The parable of the unjust servant is troubling because normally moral imperative is sought. Perhaps that is not what is being taught at all.

Using the methods described in other questions called 'sensus plenior' let's see how this parable might be unpacked.

  1. The keys to the kingdom (teaching) are the pictures of the cross.

There are several suggestive points:

  • v2. The servant would no longer be a servant. Christ had come to serve and ceased to serve in the flesh on the cross.
  • v3. The Hebrew word for 'beg' כרה also means 'trade'. Jesus could not get relief from the cross by trade; he alone would suffice.
  • v3. The Hebrew word for dig שאל also means 'ask'. Jesus asked for the cup to be removed, but obtained no relief. He was figuratively ashamed of his work on earth (increase for God ש-אל( because he would die alone; unfruitful. This is the language of riddle and does not attribute literal shame to Christ in this matter.
  • v4. Only after his stewardship is ended (the cross) will they receive him into their houses; tabernacles.
  1. After the event of the cross is identified in the riddle, look for things that happen before and after the cross. Before the cross:
  • v5. He asks the debtors to confess their debt. In close reading we would expect the bookkeeper to know what they owed. He is asking for a confession, just as Jesus taught them to repent.
  1. Identify key elements in Hebrew translating back from the Greek:
  • Mammon - the believing ones.(1)

  • wisdom - From ancient times it has been understood that wisdom was hidden in riddle. Ezekiel equates riddles and parables. [2] and God says that the literal history would be a parable. [3] THe proverb also connects wisdom to understanding riddles. [4]

  • generation - The word in Genesis for generation is toledoth תולדות which also means 'record' as in the written history.

  1. Work out some riddles, synonyms, etc, so they become familiar.
  • unjust - we might say 'merciful' from the context, and it does not contradict unjust.

  • mammon of unrighteousness - the ones believing in unrighteousness, or the ones believing in grace; sinners.

  • the true - the righteous; there are none righteous.

  1. Make a first pass at a restatement with Christ at the center.

v1. There was God who had a servant (Christ) who was accused of not being productive.

v2 "Give an account of your life, it will end soon."

v3 "I will die, I cannot trade the task. I cannot ask. I have no increase"

v4 "I am resolved to do what I must so that they will receive me after my death"

v5 He called everyone to repentance and asked for confessions.

v8 God commended his merciful servant because he had hidden a riddle (wisdom) in his literal history. For the children of the world write the wisdom of God with their literal histories as parables. The children of holiness speak plainly.

  1. Now fill in the gaps with deeper digging:
  • 100 - the church. By taking 'half' they are joined 50-50 like a marriage. It is a symbol of taking the church as his bride. The bride is 'like' him.
  • 80-20 - When Joseph stored grain to save the people of the earth, he took 20%. This is a picture of the servant becoming the savior.
  1. The last of the parable is an admonition to Jesus himself. If he is not faithful to the sinners, he will have no reward since there are no righteous.

The last line is silly if read literally. Everyone will give you your own. But Jesus must be faithful to the enemies of God, in order for them to become his own.

I have asserted some things to be symbols without support because they are not the main topic. They are also not required to understand the main part,since there is sufficient evidence from the remainder, that this proverb is a picture of the cross.

I have also used notarikon to obtain meaning from the letters within the words, as is the custom with the methods of sensus plenior, as is found in other answers.

(1) See Deut 1:32, and Is 28:16 . You cannot serve God and self.

(2) Eze 17:2 Son of man, put forth a riddle, and speak a parable unto the house of Israel;

(3) De 28:37 And thou shalt become an astonishment, a proverb [parable], and a byword, among all nations whither the LORD shall lead thee.

(4) Pr 1:6 To understand a proverb, and the interpretation; the words of the wise, and their dark sayings. [{the interpretation: or, an eloquent speech }]

  • That's interesting, @Bob Jones. I always enjoy reading your posts.
    – Robert
    Commented Jun 24, 2021 at 5:10
  • @Robert Thank you. It appears that all the parables speak of him.
    – Bob Jones
    Commented Jun 24, 2021 at 12:08

I agreed that this is a difficult parable due to its complexity.

The bottom line of the parable is expressed in Luke 16:13 New International Version

"No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money."

This is the application: Use your access to money to be merciful to those who don't have much. This will please God.

Is Jesus using this parable to condemn the covetousness of the religious leaders of His day?

If they were not generous and merciful, then yes.

Jesus was just stating a fact in Luke 16:8b

For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.


This is a relatively simple to understand parable once it’s placed in context


Is Jesus teaching people to follow this example or to NOT be like this? The practical application of this parable appears somewhat obscure.

The practical application must be understood before we answer if Jesus was encouraging we do likewise.

“And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.” ‭‭Luke‬ ‭16:9‬ ‭

Firstly this was a servant. Meaning this person is part of the house. If you like, he will be saved on the last day. But being wasteful he will have little to no reward, the position he was set to inherit in the next life he will lose. There is no promotion for he, just demotion.

“And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’” ‭‭Luke‬ ‭16:2‬ ‭


“He also said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions.” ‭‭Luke‬ ‭16:1‬ ‭

Let’s begin understanding Jesus’ conclusion

Make friends - that’s simple to understand. Make friends, befriend, surround yourself with, be in the company of, invite to your house, doing friendly things, make yourself likable

By means - with the help of. Through the use of.

unrighteous wealth - unrighteous or incorrectly named as such. What is wealth that is not true wealth? Anything that ultimately has an expiration date. Everything on the earth will pass away. Calling anything on this earth wealth is incorrectly so called because it will pass away and it’s lifetime is relatively insignificant in comparison to eternity

they may receive you - who is they? Your new friends. Who should you be befriending then? Men of God.

What’s Jesus saying?

“And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.” ‭‭Luke‬ ‭16:9‬ ‭

If you are wise you will use the money, resources and wealth you have on this earth, which you are wasting anyway (apparently so) to make friends with godly men and women. So that when you come at the resurrection life, these people who were close to God and probably very poor in this life, will remember you and invite you into their eternal rewards. In this way you’ll have friends in the next life.

Yes Jesus is saying follow this example

Is Jesus using this parable to condemn the covetousness of the religious leaders of His day?

Absolutely He is, for they had accumulated a vast amount of wealth and the rest of the city was struggling. Struggling so much that the imbalance of power led women into prostitution and young men into being roadside thieves.

What is meant by the children of the world are wiser than the children of light?

They think ahead

Jesus is saying think ahead not just for the here and now. If you are wealthy on earth invest in your eternal friends if you’re not willing to put in the work to fast, pray, study the scriptures as much as others.

  • 1
    I really like your observation "What is wealth that is not true wealth? Anything that ultimately has an expiration date." Commented May 10, 2021 at 19:12

The unjust Steward is not ethical, but he is wise, and those are the kinds of stories that really appeal to me given they offend - as the saying goes - all the right people.

Why is the steward wise? Because he sees the end coming, he knows that there is no future for him with his lord, and so he defects. He does everything he possibly can to secure a future in the next life, not being held back by any expectation of his current office or any code of behavior.

Look at Rahab, who brazenly lied to her King and defected from Jericho. She saw the end and broke the most sacred ethical laws of her society - loyalty to her king and neighbors -- in order to have a future in what was coming

“I know that Yahweh has given you the land, and that dread of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away in fear because of your presence. Joshua 2.9 LEB

There are many other stories like that in the Bible. Joseph enslaved all of Egypt by taxing the people's food and then selling it back to them in exchange for all their property and freedom. That wasn't ethical, but it was wise, as he did this in order to secure a better future for his own line, which he knew was in the promise and not in Egypt. (Gen 41)

Jacob stole Esau's blessing, because he knew that he had no future if the promise was not passed to him. Then he stole Laban's flock and fled, because he saw that Laban's face had changed and he had no future with him.

The Israelites plundered the treasure of Egypt as they fled, knowing they had no future in Egypt but the treasure was needed to build the tabernacle which was their future.

So the wisdom of the unjust steward was recognizing what was coming and doing whatever it took to secure a place in the life to come, with no holds barred. If you saw that you were on a sinking ship, wouldn't you rip apart some of the furniture to try to make a makeshift raft, or would you worry that this was stealing and destruction of private property?

In this way, the children of the current generation are wiser than the children of light, who are still trying to play by the rules and expectations placed on them by the world that is passing away. They have not fully defected and want to please both masters.


This parable has rightly been described by theologians as the most difficult & puzzling passage. My interpretation is made with the help of this article A History of Recent Interpretation of the Parable of the Unjust Steward, by Dennis Ireland, which is an abridged form of his first chapter of his PhD. dissertation, "Stewardship and the Kingdom of God: An Exegetical and Contextual Study of the Parable of the Unjust Steward in Luke 16:1-13".

Negative Example Interpretation

Some have interpreted it as a negative example in that there is nothing worthy of imitation in the steward. In the course of the recent history of interpretation several interpreters of our parable have argued that irony is the key to its understanding. They agree that the parable is a negative example for Christians, but this has been conveyed by Jesus in the form of irony, especially in vv 8-9. P. G. Bretscher (1951) puts his finger on the interpretive crux of our parable when he observes that, on the analogy of faith, vv 8-9 (where the steward is commended and the disciples are exhorted to "use worldly wealth to gain friends" for themselves) are the opposite of what one would have expected Jesus to say. The way out of this difficulty, he suggests, is to "read into the voice of Jesus as He utters the words of verses 8 and 9 the overtones of deepest irony."

While it is a common and ingenious trick to undermine the word of God by turning it into sarcasm, satire & irony, to argue it doesn't mean what it says, according to the example and spirit of "You will not surely die." Gen 3:4. Simply turn God into a joker. I can give Bretscher the benefit of doubt here, since it is a difficult passage and not a plain command. For it is difficult to make sense of why does he say to make friends using unrighteous wealth. It seems he is approving of the unrighteous wealth, thus approving fraud and corruption.

The Right interpretation

According to Dennis Ireland, the most common way to justify the steward's actions toward the debtors is by appealing to the socioeconomic background of the parable. Among the first to have done so was J. J. Oosterzee in Lange's commentary, in 1859. Oosterzee explains that steward had been charging excess from the debtors, taking high rates of rent. The master saw that the accounts don't tally, there should have been more profit according to the transactions. The final debt reduction, therefore, was not falsification of the accounts (to which the master unnaturally shows mercy and even commends him for), but it was a rectification of the past wrongs. The debt reduction was being paid by the theft portion itself, and thus, he was not defrauding the master in doing so. This is why the master perfectly approves of the discount, he is not showing mercy by allowing him to steal more.

This right interpretation has been extended or developed further by M. D. Gibson, "On the Parable of the Unjust Steward," ExpTim 14 (1902-3), by P. Gachter, and J. D. M. Derrett who used the ancient Jewish cultural context to explain rather than the contemporary and eastern culture parallels.


The reason why the master commends and approves of the debt reduction is because of the Steward's shrewdness for repaying the debtors of the fraud that they will accept him as friend. The debtors won't know that they had been defrauded by this man, but on seeing the great generosity in debt reduction or discount, they will gladly help him, as they owe him the favour. The parable doesn't show the Steward rectifying his fraud out of moral reasons due to repentance, but only for his shrewd, wise self interest for survival. He is an example of the sons of this age, the corrupt people, he was an unrighteous man. His act of returning the unrighteous wealth was only incidental to his shrewdness, but nonetheless it was a righteous act.

Jesus is teaching shrewdness for survival and other necessary righteous self-interests. The lesson is not to become unrighteous, but to spend your unrighteous wealth (if any) for good purpose like returning those whom you have defrauded or by making good friends from it or by simply doing charity. The children of the light should learn to be wise and clever like serpents. The children of the light should not live as fools and naive people, but wise like this fraud manager. The goal for shrewdness is not social and monetary possessions, but for righteous purpose only. Doing favours for others may surely prove to be life saving at times and can help in obtaining favourable outcomes for any in need. Survival for the end times was the need of that hour, however, the parable is not solely meant for the eschatological context. The negative-example and the eschatological angle interpretations are way off the mark.

If then you have not been faithful (to God) in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another's, who will give you that which is your own?

Zacchaeus, the tax collector was surely a living parallel example of how he gave up all his unrighteous wealth. The rich young ruler of Luke 18 was a negative example who could not give up his unrighteous wealth.

[Luke 19:2, 8-10 ESV] And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich.... Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”


In the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16), Jesus uses the figure of the "father of the family" who would hire workers to convey the message of God's goodness and justice. The vineyard owner, representing God, demonstrates generosity by treating all workers equally in terms of pay, regardless of length of service.

The parable highlights the perfection of God's goodness, as mentioned in Luke 18:19, emphasizing that although God's ways may seem incomprehensible, His goodness and justice prevail in the end as the owner of the vineyard pays all the workers, regardless of of the time they spent working, the same daily salary. This creates a situation where those who have worked more hours are surprised and, from their perspective, feel like they should be paid more. This action can be seen as a seemingly unfair distribution of resources.

In the Parable of the Unfaithful Steward (Luke 16:1-13), the steward acts cunningly to secure his future by reducing the debts of his master's debtors. The lord praises the unjust butler for his cunning, which, from a human point of view, may seem surprising.

The suggested connection is that Jesus, as the steward in both stories, acts in an apparently perplexing way according to human standards but with redemptive and merciful purposes.

Jesus as the Redeeming Steward:

Workers in the Vineyard: Just as the vineyard owner acts unexpectedly by offering the same payment to all workers, Jesus, as the divine steward, offers redemption and salvation to all, regardless of their past or merits.

Unjust Steward: Similarly, Jesus, represented as the steward, can be understood as the one who, in a shrewd and incomprehensible manner to human eyes, takes measures to ensure redemption and forgiveness for those who trust in him.

Redemption May Seem Unjust by Human Standards:

In the parable of the workers, the seemingly unjust distribution of resources highlights God's abundant grace, offering salvation to all, irrespective of their efforts.

In the parable of the steward, the steward's cunning can be likened to Jesus's strategy to secure redemption, even when human logic may not fully comprehend his methods.

In both parables, Jesus is portrayed as one who acts surprisingly to provide redemption and salvation for all. This underscores the incomprehensible yet profoundly gracious nature of God's divine plan for humanity.


There are a few passages in the NT where I wonder if there are 'imposter doubles'. The strange Luke 16:1-9 verses were certainly a poor imitation of Jesus, to me, as written.

E. W. Bullinger (The Companion Bible) suggests in his Page Notes:

v. 9 - And = And, Do say unto you? &c. Is this what I say to you? In verses: Luke 16:10-12 the Lord gives the reason why He does not say that; otherwise these verses are wholly inconsequent, instead of being the true application of verses: Luke 16:1-8 (Z, above).... [bold added]

  • Thanks for this response--could you expand a little upon it? I'm not sure I completely follow where you're going, but I gather you believe this is a parable that was developed by somebody else? Commented May 8, 2021 at 23:35
  • @HoldToTheRod - Please let me know when you've red the edit to answer your comment.
    – tblue
    Commented May 9, 2021 at 2:38
  • Thank you for clarifying. I appreciate the sentiment in your last paragraph - a line I've used on my YouTube channel is "don't take my word for it" =) Commented May 9, 2021 at 3:23

The Parable of the Unjust Steward is truly the most puzzling, but I would agree that it is a negative example. The parable is full of irony. It's a warning not an endorsement just because people interpret the "Eternal Habitation" as Heaven. There are two eternal habitation Heaven and Hell. Since all the characters in the parable are Unjust, Jesus is telling the Disciples if you want to end up where these people (the friends you made with the unrighteous mammon) will be (HELL) do likewise. All the Unjust characters benefited in this parable (all are shrewd). The debtor pay less, The steward win friends and the rich man became more wealthy...why? Because by reducing what is owed the debtors were able to pay making him collect some than nothing before. Having found out what the steward did made the rich man praise him. They are all sons of this age. "When it fails" is actually when you fail (eclipse) or when you die, referring not at the money but at the person. Final conclusion is seen in the last part. BE HONEST or Trustworthy. This is the simplest explanation that make sense and consistent with Jesus teachings.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.