The Gospels contain parables. Jesus spoke a lot of parables, not always to conceal the truth but sometimes to speak the truth. The Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary defined “Parable” as “a short, simple story designed to communicate a spiritual truth, religious principle, or moral lesson; a figure of speech in which truth is illustrated by a comparison or example drawn from everyday experiences.”
One of the most obscure and misinterpreted or diversely interpreted parables of Jesus may be found in Luke 16:1-9.
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. 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.’ And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’ So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world [age] are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. 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.”
Let us first establish the context or background of the parable. It was uttered by Jesus against the Pharisees; See Luke 15:1-3.
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear Him [Jesus]. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” So He told them this parable:
The Pharisees had unjustly accused Jesus of wrongdoings, because He welcomed tax collectors and sinners, which had been a repeated contention raised against Jesus Christ. See Luke 5:30.
And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”
Also, Luke 7:39.
Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.”
And many other instances.
The Pharisees were an influential religious sect within Judaism in the time of Christ and the early church. They were known for their emphasis on personal piety (the word Pharisee comes from a Hebrew word meaning “separated”), their acceptance of oral tradition in addition to the written Law, and their teaching that all Jews should observe all 600-plus laws in the Torah, including the rituals concerning ceremonial purification.
The Pharisees were mostly middle-class businessmen and leaders of the synagogues. Though they were a minority in the Sanhedrin and held a minority number of positions as priests, they seemed to control the decision-making of the Sanhedrin because they had popular support among the people.Source: GotQuestions.Org
The influence and teachings of the Pharisees have much effect on the minds of the Jews; hence, they acted similarly here in Luke 19:5-7.
And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried and came down and received Him joyfully. And when they [the Jews] saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.”
Jesus actually spoke a series of parables in response to the Pharisees’ accusation (Luke 15:1-2), one after the other – “the parable of one lost sheep” (Luke 15:4-7); “the parable of lost coin” (Luke 15:8-10); “the parable of the prodigal son” (Luke 15:11-32); “the parable of the shrewd manager” (Luke 16:1-9); and lastly, “the parable of the rich man and Lazarus” (Luke 16:19-31).
Jesus through each parable was setting up His argument and rebuke against the Pharisees – the Pharisees who were teachers of the Law, God’s Word, so they should be concerned with the flock of God, even if only for one lost sheep (Luke 15:4-7), for God desires to redeem even one lost soul, figuratively represented by the “lost coin” (Luke 15:8-10).
Next, Judah was the son who never left his father, yet had no heart to embrace back Israel (the Northern Kingdom of Israel), but having repented from his wrongdoings the father willingly restored him as a son. Likewise, the Pharisees, like the eldest son in the parable refuses to accept the tax collectors, they grumbled against Jesus for welcoming them to hear Him – parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32).
See Isaiah 11:11-13.
In that Day the Lord will extend His hand yet a second time to recover the remnant that remains of His people, from Assyria, from Egypt, from Pathros, from Cush, from Elam, from Shinar, from Hamath, and from the coastlands of the sea. He will raise a signal for the nations and will assemble the banished of Israel, and gather the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth. The jealousy of Ephraim shall depart, and those who harass Judah shall be cut off; Ephraim shall not be jealous of Judah, and Judah shall not harass Ephraim.
The apostle Paul spoke of its impending fulfillment in Romans 11:25-27.
Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in [cf. Luke 21:24]. And in this way all Israel [remnants of Israel and Judah] will be saved, as it is written, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, He [Jesus Christ] will banish ungodliness from Jacob”; “and this will be My covenant with them when I take away their sins.”
The Pharisees, experts in the Law and the Prophets – the Old Testament Scripture, failed to see the commencing of Isaiah 11:11-13 happening – right then and there – in their midst. Most refused to recognize that the first coming of Jesus Christ was the initial fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies concerning the restoration of Israel. The apostle Paul made use of his own conversion to Christianity as an example that it’s happening. See Romans 11:1-5.
With His second to last parable spoken against the Pharisees, Luke 16:1-9, Jesus told a story of a rich man who was told his manager was wasting his possessions (16:1). In 16:2, the rich man called the manager and said to him, “What is this I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.” Without first investigating to ascertain the veracity of what he was told, the rich man fired the manager on the basis of what he heard (16:2). The rich man therefore was unjust. The manager, however, continued with his work. He tried to recover money owed to his master by forgiving a certain percentage of the debt, without keeping any of it. He therefore was not unjust.
Now look closely at Luke 16:3-8.
And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’ So, summoning his master’s debtors [G5533] one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.
See “debtors,” in verse 5. A quick check with a Lexicon, a dictionary of Greek and Hebrews – in our case Greek words. “Debtors” was used only twice by Jesus in the entire narrative across all four Gospels of the New Testament Scripture. The other occurrence may be seen in Luke 7:41, but I will include the context for proper understanding. See Luke 7:40-43.
And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.” “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And He said to him, “You have judged rightly.”
Did you notice how Jesus had used “debtors” in His storytellings or teachings? “Debtors” refer to those who have bad debts, people who can no longer pay their debts – people who have gone bankrupt, in other words.
So having understood Jesus’ use of the word “debtors,” indeed the manager had acted wisely. He was able to collect a portion of debts owed from his master. Hence, Jesus said, “And his master praised the unrighteous manager because he had acted shrewdly (Luke 16:8a).”
Oh, by the way, did you notice that I used a translation that refers to the manager as unrighteous rather than dishonest, which was the translation of most English Bibles? Some of those translations even have the heading “The Parable of the Dishonest Manager”, which I believe has caused a lot of misunderstanding, misleading its readers to have a conclusion or premise even before studying the narrative. So as we read the passage, we already see the manager was dishonest. In biblical interpretation, that’s eisegesis.
The “manager” cannot be dishonest – see how he had managed his master’s possessions. He gave huge discounts to redeem what must had already been written off as bad debts. Also, nowhere in the story did Jesus say the manager made a cut for himself while negotiating the new terms with his master’s debtors. Again, the manager was not unjust. He was accused to be unrighteous – not doing the right thing. Similarly, Jesus was unjustly accused by the Pharisees, simply because He welcomed tax collectors and sinners. The Pharisees understood they were the “rich man” in the parables of Jesus, specifically Luke 16:19-31 – the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, which spoke of their punishment.
The tax collectors and sinners exemplify each and every one of us. We owe God a huge debt, which cannot be repaid by us but by Christ Jesus alone.
Now to continue, Jesus continued on in verse 8b-9 and said:
“For the sons of this world [age] are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. 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.”
Let me first point out that “sons of this world“ should properly be translated “sons of this age“, “aiōn, G165” in Greek, which was rightly translated by the New American Standard Bible translation. The Strong’s Greek Dictionary explained “by implication the world; specifically (Jewish) a Messianic period”.
“Messiah (H4899)” a Hebrew noun, meaning the “Anointed One”. The New Testament also attests the word in this latter meaning, see John 1:41-42.
He [Andrew] first found his own brother Simon [Peter] and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter).
Let us also see John 4:25-26.
The [Samaritan] woman said to Him [Jesus], “I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ). When He comes, He will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am He.”
The coming of Jesus Christ, the Son of Man, then was the beginning of the Messianic Age (Luke 17:20-21). The sons of this age, in Luke 16:8, then refers to the sons of the Jewish Age or Old Covenant Age, distinguishing them from the sons of light. See John 12:34-36.
So the crowd answered Him [Jesus], “We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” So Jesus said to them, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them.
See also Ephesians 5:8. “For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.”
The interval between the end of the Jewish Age (Old Covenant Age) and the beginning of the Christian Age (New Covenant Age) was the Messianic Age (Period). The Messianic Age encompassed the seemingly two comings of Jesus Christ, which actually was one in the Old Testament prophecies. Examples may be seen through Malachi 3:1-5 and Matthew 3:11-12.
The New Covenant (or New Testament) is the promise that God makes with humanity that He will forgive sin and restore fellowship with those whose hearts are turned toward Him. Jesus Christ is the mediator of the New Covenant, and His death on the cross is the basis of the promise (Luke 22:20). The New Covenant was predicted while the Old Covenant was still in effect—the prophets Moses, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel all allude to the New Covenant.Source: GotQuestions.Org
See Matthew 26:26-29.
Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And He took a cup, and when He had given thanks He gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the [new] covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”
Back to our discussion in Luke. In effect with verse 8, Jesus pointed out the shrewdness of the Pharisees – the sons of this age – who actually were unjust but had accused Him to be unrighteous. Then comes verses 9-13, Jesus continued on, 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. “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. If then you have not been faithful 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? 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.”
Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible has wonderfully explained the meaning of “unrighteous wealth”:
These words are an Hebrew expression for “unrighteous mammon,” the noun being used for an adjective, as is common in the New Testament. The word “unrighteous,” here, stands opposed to “the true riches” in Luk 16:11, and means “deceitful, false, not to be trusted.” It has this meaning often. See 1Ti 6:17; Luk 12:33; Mat 6:19; Mat 19:21. It does not signify, therefore, that they had acquired the property “unjustly,” but that property was “deceitful” and not to be trusted. The wealth of the steward was deceitful; he could not rely on its continuance; it was liable to be taken away at any moment. So the wealth of the world is deceitful. We cannot “calculate” on its continuance. It may give us support or comfort now, but it may be soon removed, or we taken from “it,” and we should, therefore, so use it as to derive benefit from it hereafter.
Therefore, Luke 16:9-13 is simply reiterating Jesus’ teachings on Luke 12:32-34.
Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
According to Jesus’ own teaching, “unrighteous wealth or temporal wealth (v.9)” is of less value than “true riches (v.11)”. True riches is with Christ Jesus our Lord, it’s about the kingdom of heaven. As I have said earlier, the Pharisees have repeatedly rebuked Jesus for welcoming tax collectors and sinners. In Luke 5:30-32, Jesus Christ explained His reason.
And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at His [Jesus’] disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”
To continue with our study, see Luke 16:14-17.
The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed Him. [Jesus] And He [Jesus] said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God. “The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it. But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void.
Finally, the Bible revealed the true condition of the Pharisees’ heart – they were lovers of money. They put much importance to temporal wealth (unrighteous wealth) over true riches; hence, they failed to see the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets has been unveiling before them. The Gospel of the kingdom has been preached.
It is truly sad that Luke 16:1-9 has been unjustly translated and interpreted. So somehow somewhere we find ourselves lost in understanding Jesus’ true teaching. Jesus Christ used His temporal life on earth for the glory of God. He made friends – tax-collectors and sinners – using every available temporal means so that people may come to repentance and be received into the eternal dwellings. As followers of Jesus Christ, shouldn’t we also be doing the same?
Look at Jesus’ last words to the church. Let it resonate in your mind and heart that you may find the strength to live your lives holding on to true riches. See Revelation 3:18-22.
I counsel you to buy from Me [Jesus Christ] gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with Me. The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with Me on My throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on His throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
Let me remind everyone that these words of Jesus Christ were spoken millennia ago. Thanks be to God, Jesus Christ was faithful to all His promises. He is not a liar, as alleged by some. Click here to read this article and ask yourselves the same questions.
I firmly believe and understand that Jesus came and He fulfilled all His promises. So let me encourage everyone: seek Christ, His righteousness and His kingdom, for only then may anyone find true riches – entrance to the kingdom of heaven.
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