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In Kenneth E. Bailey's book "Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes" he challenges common renderings of the Parable of the Ten Minas in Luke 19 (also called the Parable of the Pounds):

"As Westerners one of our lenses [we perceive texts through] is Capitalism. Does the Parable of the Pounds need to be liberated from the presuppositions of capitalism that perhaps have unconsciously influenced our translations and interpretations of this story?" (p397)

He makes the case that 'pragmateusanto' (g4231) in v13 and its variant in v15 refer to 'doing business', not profit. Essentially, the nobleman does not instruct them to make profit, but rather to do business, and then asks how much business they did: Luke 19:13

The last word in verse 15 (g1281) is commonly translated as some kind of profit or gain oriented request by the nobleman: Luke 19:15

Bailey goes on to make the case that the Parable is about Faithfulness rather than Profit, that the challenge for the hearers was more about representing Jesus faithfully in a place which is hostile towards him, and that the unfaithful servant was unfaithful because he hid his allegiance to his master, not because he made no profit.


What is the most faithful rendering of the nobleman's words in v13 and v15? Does Bailey's reading hold water linguistically, or are the more popular 'gain' oriented translations of this text more faithful?

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  • If I didn't know any better, I would think you've been pondering the parable of the pounds recently =) Apr 12, 2023 at 21:34
  • @HoldToTheRod - I'll be speaking on it this Sunday, so I'm gathering thoughts in preparation :) I'm really quite staggered at how many interactions there are between this Parable, its local context, cultural context, parallels and the other hermeneutical angles... this may be my last question on it, but I could certainly add more.
    – Steve can help
    Apr 12, 2023 at 21:42
  • What does capitalism have anything to do? Everyone in the day understood the parable, one rich man, ten servants, ten portions of wealth, bring back an increase however small. The application theologically is, just because you’re saved, if you don’t obey your Lord (carry out your salvation to the end) you are as good as someone who was never saved and never obeyed or those that rejected the lord. What good is it to have a lord that you don’t obey? Simple economics, not capitalism or socialism. Apr 13, 2023 at 4:42
  • @NihilSineDeo - actually, in the Parable those who rejected the Lord receive a different punishment from the unfaithful slave. The point of contention here is that "bring back an increase" is not the objective at all - the slaves are commended on being 'good and faithful', not profitable. Pastorally the difference is pretty huge, imo: Should I be worried about whether I'm producing a profit for my Lord, or should I be more concerned about being faithful in a hostile land?
    – Steve can help
    Apr 13, 2023 at 5:06
  • Besides the fact that this parable parallels with the talents even this parable speaks of the servant as being EVIL. Are you saying that the master accepts evil servants in his midst? second, how in the world is good and faithful possible without works or demonstration of faithfulness? There will be many who have been saved and rejected because they did nothing for the Lord after their conversion and their born again experience, they will be cast out just like the five unwise virgins, like the servant with the talent, like the man without the garb for the wedding which is the DEEDS of saints. Apr 13, 2023 at 12:34

4 Answers 4

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The word mina in and of itself sets the theme of the parable as one that is, at least on the surface, about business and profit. Parables are stories based on everyday human experiences. Their beauty lies in their simplicity and accessibility, aspects that would be affected were the renderings to stray too far from the basic elements of the story.

The parable of the ten minas leverages business concepts in order to teach about what I call “God’s economy of grace.” When we examine the details, however, there is more to learn from the differences between them than their similarities. For one, unlike in human economies, God provides both the initial investment and the increase.

Then came the first, saying, ‘Master, your mina has earned ten minas.’ – Lk 19:16 NKJV

And the second came, saying, ‘Master, your mina has earned five minas.’ – Lk 19:18

The subject of the verb rendered as earned in verses 16 and 18 is not the servant, but the nobleman’s mina. It is actually God’s grace that does the work. And instead of taking a share of the profit, God gives us even more (vv 24-26). Contrary to the words of the unfaithful servant (v21), it is we who reap all the benefits (cf Jn 4:38). The only requirement is that we remain faithful to God and to his grace.

The concept of capitalism can actually help us to understand God’s economy of grace by serving as its perfect foil. While capitalism is based on the profit motive and the principle that each party acts according to their own best interest, God’s actions are devoid of self-interest. The economy of grace is entirely one-sided; it is God who gives, and we who receive (cf 1 Cor 4:7).

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    Great point - by adding a title to the Parable we influence how hearers will interpret it. Perhaps it would be more in line with Jesus' intent (v11) if we referred to it as "The Parable of the absent master"?
    – Steve can help
    Apr 15, 2023 at 12:40
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    Or maybe "The Parable of the Misunderstood Master"? I think it is because of their lack or distorted understanding of the master that makes the servant(s) hostile to his rule.
    – Nhi
    Apr 16, 2023 at 11:45
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"Do business" is probably the best translation in terms of capturing what is meant. But the other usual translations are also good: invest, put this money to work, trade with this money, etc.

The OP asks: "Does Bailey's reading hold water linguistically, or are the more popular 'gain' oriented translations of this text more faithful?"

Even granting Bailey's supposition that we are influenced by capitalist culture in our understanding of the parable, none of the translations is linguistically problematic. It is obvious that the nobleman wants his agents to make money for him. To cancel the profit motive in this story is to gut its basic narrative.

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The modern English versions render the verb πραγματεύομαι in Luke 19:13 as follows:

  • NIV: Put this money to work
  • ESV: Engage in business
  • BSB: Conduct business
  • BLB, NKJV, NASB: Do business
  • LSB, CSB, HCSB: Engage in business
  • ERV: Trade ye herewith
  • etc

Indeed, I could find no version that mentioned "profit". Indeed, BDAG defines πραγματεύομαι as:

do business, trade

In Luke 19:15, the word διαπραγματεύομαι is defined by BDAG as:

gain by trading, earn

Thus it is rendered in many versions:

  • NIV: what they had gained
  • ESV: gained by doing business
  • BSB: what each one had earned
  • BLB, KJV, NKJV: gained by trading
  • NASB: made by the business they had done
  • CSB: made in business
  • etc.
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The origins of socialism can be traced back to the Age of Enlightenment and the 1789. The Communist Manifesto, written by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, was published in 1848 and is considered a seminal work in the development of socialist thought.

We cannot change the definition of business. There's no business in socialism, but only stealing from the poor and making everyone equally poor. If it was was a socialist parable, the nobleman would not have entrusted a huge sum of money (property, capital, in Matt 25.14) to the low class comrades. There is no rich nobleman under communism. The parable of capitalism shows God as an austere & hard man like a greedy capitalist loan shark in need for profit.

The word πραγματεύομαι means to engage in business or trade. We know that business is only for profit. And διαπραγματεύομαι too has only one meaning in BDAG3, to gain by trading, earn. The wicked servant was condemned for not earning gain or profit even by putting the money in a bank for interest. Hence, his work proved to be a loss for the master. The servant is called "unprofitable" in Matthew 25:30 NMB, NHEB, the word means useless, unprofitable in this context.

ἀχρεῖος, ον (χρεῖος ‘useful’; Hom. et al.; pap, LXX; Jos., Vi. 50; 117; Ath., R. 70, 16 al.)

① pert. to being of no use or profit, esp. economic, useless, worthless of slaves (Ps.-Pla., Alcib. 1, 17 p. 122b τῶν οἰκετῶν τὸν ἀχρειότατον; Achilles Tat. 5, 17, 8; PParis 68, 54 ἀ. δούλους) in wordplay of one who fails to make a good investment profitless Mt 25:30. (BDAG3)

It seems, the error of the wicked servant was assuming that the master expects no profit or interest on the money, because that was not stated explicitly, however, the purpose of investment is quite obvious, otherwise, the master would have deposited all in the bank himself. In Luke 19:15 "he commanded these servants, to whom he had given the money, to be called to him, that he might know what they had gained by conducting business".

In Luke 19:22, the master calls the useless servant as his enemy who doesn't want him to rule over them. This reminds me of people who conveniently reject Christ & his words as obsolete part of the OT, since they find a few misinterpreted words of Paul more appeasing to turn grace into licence for sin, enmity & uselessness for God, for their own destruction.

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