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We read in Mtt 25:24-27 (KJV), of the response of the servant who had received one talent from his master :

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: And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine. 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:

Some versions like NRSVCE and NIV replace the word "strawed" with "scattered seed". But, sowing and scattering seed mean the same thing, do they not ? That implies that Jesus was referring to scattering of something else, for instance, harvested grain for sun-drying . It could also mean spreading of fruits like grape and figs in the sun and drying them for preservation. Of course, the phrases have a wider meaning, beyond the literal one. I am only worried of the literal meaning. My question therefore, is: What is the literal meaning of "gathering what was not strawed" as said by Jesus in the parable of the talents ?

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    "sowing and scattering seed mean the same thing, do they not?" — I think in this context, strewn seeds are scattered on the surface of the ground, and perhaps trampled in (e.g. grass seed), while sown seeds are put into a hole or slit and then covered over (e.g.beans). Nov 14, 2022 at 15:59
  • Mtt 13 has Jesus saying : "A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. " It is not practical for each seed of grain say wheat, to be individually buried. So, the farmer tills the filed to make a rough surface and then sow. He then levels the ground so that the seeds get buried under a thin layer of soil. The sower in the parable was careless. Many seeds fell on footpath, rock and thorny ground. Nov 15, 2022 at 5:37

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The KJV expression "have strawed" here may have been more clear in times past, but the usage is certainly archaic now. In Webster's 1828 Dictionary, the entry for "straw" used as a verb says: "To spread or scatter. [See Strew and Strow.]"

A modern dictionary entry for "strew" has:

strew | stro͞o | verb (past participle strewn | stro͞on | or strewed)
[with object] (usually be strewn) scatter or spread (things) untidily over a surface or area: a small room with newspapers strewn all over the floor.
• (usually be strewn with) cover (a surface or area) with untidily scattered things: the table was strewn with books and papers |
[as adjective, in combination] (strewn) : boulder-strewn slopes.
• be scattered or spread untidily over (a surface or area): leaves strewed the path.

But we can easily see how the Greek word is used in the New Testament at a glance, for it occurs in only nine verses.

Reference Annotated Text (KJV)
Mat 25:24 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 G1287 not strawed: G1287
Mat 25:26 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 G1287 not strawed: G1287
Mat 26:31 Then saith Jesus unto them, All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad. G1287
Mar 14:27 And Jesus saith unto them, All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered. G1287
Luk 1:51 He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered G1287 the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
Luk 15:13 And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted G1287 his substance with riotous living.
Luk 16:1 And he said also unto his disciples, There was a certain rich man, which had a steward; and the same was accused unto him that he had wasted G1287 his goods.
Jhn 11:52 And not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad. G1287
Act 5:37 After this man rose up Judas of Galilee in the days of the taxing, and drew away much people after him: he also perished; and all, even as many as obeyed him, were dispersed. G1287

Note John 11:52, especially. The word paired with this "strawed" in the couplet is "gathering," which has an interesting usage itself. It can also mean "convening" or "collecting" or "leading together."

To my understanding, the passage implies a gathering of people; i.e. a harvest of souls; and this is even where they have not heretofore been dispersed.

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  • Thanks, Biblasia. But I am only interested in the literal meaning of the usage, so that one can have an imaginative picture of what the servant was accusing the master of. Reaping by stealth or force, someone else's harvest is a matter of robbery and greed. Taking away by force, the dried grain or fruit that the farmer had prepared in his courtyard through many days of toil and patience, is more serious an offence. Hence my question . Nov 14, 2022 at 10:53
  • Well, if the servant is saying the master had been collecting where he had not scattered/dispersed, one could say that the servant is accusing his master of unfairness, perhaps even akin to miserliness. But, as I see it, the very words of the servant can also be taken with a positive perspective, showing how generous the master is to accept and gather (souls) even from places where he had not been well invested. It's almost a case of the servant judging himself by his own words, in line with "For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned." (Mt. 12:37).
    – Biblasia
    Nov 14, 2022 at 11:36
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    +1. Good answer. The old English "strawed" is part of the English verb "to strew" meaning to scatter as you have correctly noted.
    – Dottard
    Nov 14, 2022 at 21:11
  • Kind of like trying to understand "superfluity of naughtiness" :) +1 Nov 21, 2022 at 20:50
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Since you want a literal meaning, let's go back to the source. In the NT Greek manuscripts, this is what we have recorded for us:

“προσελθὼν δὲ καὶ ὁ τὸ ἓν τάλαντον εἰληφὼς εἶπεν· κύριε, ἔγνων σε ὅτι σκληρὸς εἶ ἄνθρωπος θερίζων ὅπου οὐκ ἔσπειρας καὶ συνάγων ὅθεν οὐ διεσκόρπισας·” (Μαθθαῖον 25·24 THGNT-T)

And here is my translation of that verse:

The one who received the one talent of gold approached and said, "master, I know that you are a hard man,

Reaping where you did not sow, and, gathering where you did not scatter.

The man accused his master of cruelty with a proverb that is set in parallel construction. In other words, the two statements (in italic) mean the same thing.

Reaping is the cutting that happens during the harvest. Harvesting is, of course, the gathering together of that which is cut off/down.

Sowing and scattering mean the same thing.

The difficulty here is not in the Greek. It's in the King James Version. Using a bible translation that is over 500 years old presents its own problems. And one of the biggest is the shift in meaning over time. The word, "strawed" here in the KJV leads us in weird directions with our own usage of that word today. As another example of this, have a look at Philemon. One will quickly realize that we do not use the word, "bowel" in the same way as the translators of the KJV did. Unless one has the tenacity and tools to go back and recover the original meaning intended by the KJV translators, it's best to just use a decent modern translation to avoid the disclarity.

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