Posted by: mattcolvin | July 31, 2011

Notes on Luke 19:11-47

In the course of reading Hebrew and Greek with my pupil Erin, I covered Luke 19. Nothing theological here, just some things that amused or delighted me:

Progressives and political liberals must hate this proverb of the ten minas. It is anti-democratic and opposed to popular self-determination: The lord goes to a far country to receive a kingdom, and the people send an embassy after him to say that they do not want him to rule over them. (19:14)

It is also arbitrary and regressive in the distribution of the means of production: the lord gives out a total of 16 minas, but rather than giving 5 or 6 to each of his 3 servants, he gives 10 to one servant, 5 to another, and a pitiful 1 to a third.

The two servants who invest the minas reap profit and do not appear to pay any capital gains taxes. The one who had the single mina is blamed for not investing it with the bankers (literally, “on the table”, ἐπὶ τράπεζαν, since the bankers, like the moneychangers in the Temple, operated at tables) so that the lord might have received it back “with interest” (19:23) Amusingly, the word for “interest” (on money) is τόκος, which literally means “offspring”. The medieval objection to usury was that money, unlike livestock or crops, is sterile, unable to reproduce itself. The metaphor behind the Greek word for interest indicates that someone in that culture agreed with Calvin (who said that money is fruitful) over against Aristotle.

The one who had little fails to invest, merely hiding the money in a napkin (σουδαρίον, 19:20). His reward for this failing is that his mina is taken away and given — here the Democrats would be furious — to the one who had 10 minas!

Even the servants whom the master commands to carry out this most regressive of wealth redistributions are taken aback and interject with the obvious objection: “Lord, he has ten minas!” (19:25) What could he need another for?

To crown all, the fat-cat investors who turned 10 minas into 20 and 5 minas into 10 are given charge over cities!

What morals can we draw from the the story? Just as in real life, the financial elites end up ruling the politics of the world. The rich get richer. The poor get poorer. And those who wanted the unfair lord not to rule over them? For wishing for this regime change, they are brought out and slaughtered before him.

Not at all an enlightened, progressive parable. Obama would not be pleased!

The other thing that I got a chuckle out of was 19:30: “You will find a colt on which no man has ever sat ( πῶλον… ἐφ’ ὃν οὐδεὶς πώποτε ἀνθρώπων ἐκάθισεν).” What is Jesus planning? A little rodeo? The likelihood of him riding this untrained beast placidly into Jerusalem, with no bucking, is about as good as… oh, a pair of yoked milk cows going straight up to Beth Shemesh and paying no further attention to the calves that have just been removed from them. Just another little miraculous bit that I’ve rarely heard mentioned.


  1. Recently listened to Mark Driscoll speak on these same verses:

    I appreciate your linguistic insights!

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