Two Parables (#2: Mt 25:14-30 || Lk 19:11-27)
- To: Synoptic
On: Two Parables (#2: Mt 25:14-30 || Lk 19:11-27)
The moral of this exercise (at least for me) is that if we take details
separately, and attempt to solve them only from what the details alone
contain, we are liable to miss important information elsewhere, which might
clarify or even redefine the problem as seen on the small scale. For
example, if we compare Lk 8 with the corresponding Mk text, and nothing
else, we will say, Aha, Lk lacks a Nazareth episode. If a colleague compares
Lk 4 with the corresponding Mk text, they will say, Aha, Luke supplies a
Nazareth episode; he must have had a special Nazareth source (N), and since
that was Jesus's birthplace, the N source can only go back to the most
authentic reports of those who knew Jesus best.
Whereas if we would get together with our colleague, we might together
exclaim. "Aha, either Mark or Luke has moved the Nazareth episode! Now which
one was it, and why did they do it?"
With a little help from Fitzmyer, or an extra fifteen minutes of one's own
time, we can with reasonable certainty reach the conclusion that Luke has
not only moved Mark's text, but that he originally had it in a position
*corresponding to its place in Mark.* We have thus found that (a) Luke is
later than Mark, and that (b) Luke itself was written, not in one stage, but
in two. If sustained by compatible indications elsewhere, that might
eventually count as Synoptically relevant information. We could not have
found it by considering only one of the points in question.
This is the Parable of the Talents (Mt; a large unit) or Minae (Lk; a
smaller unit). It should be noted that, as was the case with Parable 1,
there is a tiny precedent in Mk 13:34. The core plot common to Mt/Lk is
this: The master has left his servants with money, and on his return he
calls them to show what they have done with it. The two who made a profit
are promoted, and the one who simply held onto it has everything taken away.
The moral is that membership in the community of believers is not enough;
one must do something with it ("bear fruits") in order to merit salvation.
That, by the way, was the moral of the second portion of Matthew's Parable
of the Feast (Parable 1). We here get that theme in an independent,
The parable is differently placed in Mt/Lk, and it is differently developed;
as Klyne Snodgrass says (p519), it has "two interwoven plots." The second
plot is what Klyne calls the Throne Claimant: the master of the house is
also a king, who returns with rights of rulership over his former property,
and proceeds to execute those who "do not want him to rule over them." As in
Parable 1, these "kingship" details have obvious allegorical meaning, but
they are also discordant with the basic story. In the previous case, I
argued that the relationship between Mt/Lk is near to indeterminate, with
evidence in the lack of contextual fit in Lk tending to suggest that, if
anything, Lk has freely cleaned up (and rewritten) Mt's inept story, rather
than that Mt has freely but ineptly complicated Lk's story.
The Kingly element is thus our chief disturbing factor.
To attempt to explain it, I now note the differences of placement. In the
Synoptics, the transition between the Journey and Jerusalem phases of the
story, as usually located, are at:
It was noticed that the skew parallel version of Parable 1 (the
Feast/Banquet) fell on opposite sides of that line, the Mt version at
22:1-14, AFTER that transition, and the Lk version at Lk 14:15-24, BEFORE
that transition. I noted that in that pair, the "kingship" motif occurred in
that parable which lay AFTER the transition line, namely in the Mt version.
In Parable 2, the Mt version again occurs after that line, and the Lukan one
is here still BEFORE the line, but DIRECTLY before it, and its introduction
specifically names the nearness of Jerusalem as defining the background for
the story. Lk 19:11, "As they heard these things, he proceeded to tell a
parable, because he was near to Jerusalem, and because . . ." I suggest that
the fact of occurring within, or on the verge of, the Jerusalem portion of
the narrative is here influencing the "kingly" motif in the Lukan version.
(That the Matthean one lacks it is presumably because it was already used,
whether concinnitously or no, in Parable 1, which occurred earlier in Mt).
Another way of saying it is that Luke may have transferred the motif of
kingly status from his version of Matthew's Feast parable to his version of
Matthew's Talents parable, precisely because both he and Matthew thought of
kingship as most appropriate in the Jerusalem context, where Jesus at least
briefly is openly, not metaphorically, proclaimed as a king.
A philologically tempting but ultimately disappointing detail is the fact
that Lk begins with ten servants, and concludes, like Mt, with only three.
If Mt had had consistently ten servants, then Lk would be an inconsistent
adaptation, and thus presumptively secondary. That is not the case. If,
alternatively, there was a core story behind both versions, it undoubtedly
contained three servants. In that case, whichever place in the Mt/Lk
sequence we assign to Lk, we will not be able to say that he got this "ten"
business either from Mt or from a hypothetical lost source. Since it causes
trouble, it is unlikely to be a totally free invention. It appeared for some
reason, and then was inconsistently dropped. Inconsistency lies in wait for
all authors, ancient and modern, and perhaps no further explanation is
needed for the later dropping of the detail, but the detail itself must come
from somewhere. Where?
I think that M Goulder makes an appropriate suggestion, and in line with the
theme of this note, I point out that he does so not by eyeballing the Greek
words of the Lukan Parable, and then stopping, but by considering Lukan
parable usage across the whole Gospel. From that perspective, he writes
"The stingy feel which this [changing from talents to minae] gives to the
story is in no way redeemed by his increasing the number of 'servants' to
ten, Luke's familiar proportion of 10:1 (ten lepers, one Samaritan; ten
silver pieces, one lost). . . " This makes the "ten" element in the Minae
parable a Lukan authorial reflex, dropped as the parable continues. I
haven't so far found a more convincing reading. Has anyone?
Goulder finds the whole Lukan parable unsatisfactory, a judgement in which
many might concur. He says (2/682), So, sadly, Luke's last great parable
from a base in Matthew is a disappointment. Why then has Homer nodded? From
falling between two stools: he has neither followed his Vorlage closely, as
he does with Mark's Husbandman, nor elaborated as we have seen him do so
many times with brilliance. He has superimposed the kingship theme on the
Matthean Talents, an uneasy combination. His preference for manageable sums
of money does not fit the scale of his royal allegory. His liking for
ten-to-one proportions does not fit the structure of a parable which has two
good servants and one bad. Even the allegory is not properly worked out . .
I would say instead, given the mix of motifs, it COULD NOT properly be
worked out. As to why both motifs are present, despite those difficulties, I
concur with Goulder, but would say it this way: Luke has here transferred a
Jerusalem Kingship motif from one Matthean parable, where it was already
causing trouble, and imposed it on another Matthean parable, where if
anything it causes even worse trouble.
All this, so far as it goes, is compatible with the Mt > Lk directionality
which may also be seen, sometimes with less difficulty and confusion of
particulars, at many other levels.
E Bruce Brooks
Warring States Project
University of Massachusetts at Amherst