Bibliotheca Sacra 153 (April-June 1996) 179-98.  Pt. 1 of 2

          Copyright © 1996 by Dallas Theological Seminary.  Cited with permission.

 

 

 

              REJECTION IMAGERY IN THE

                     SYNOPTIC PARABLES*

 

 

                                          Karl E. Pagenkemper

 

 

            Synthesizing a biblically based soteriology, especially

when attempting to relate works to faith, is an area of theology

that attracts much attention.1 One aspect of the relationship of

works to faith pertains to the requirements for entrance into or re-

jection from the kingdom of God. This two-part series discusses

how Jesus' parables contribute to this area of theology.

            After clarifying the meaning of "rejection," this first article

identifies the parables important to the topic and explores the im-

agery used to describe this rejection. The second article ad-

dresses the impact of the imagery on the interpretation of the

parables themselves, identifies the nature of the criteria God will

use to accept or reject an individual from the eschatological

kingdom, and suggests how Jesus' parabolic teaching may help

in synthesizing Synoptic and Pauline expressions of soteriology

and the relationship of faith to works.

 

Karl E. Pagenkemper is Associate Professor of New Testament Studies,

International School of Theology, Arrowhead Springs, California.

 

*This is article one in a two-part series.

 

1 For example John F. MacArthur Jr., The Gospel according to Jesus (Grand

Rapids: Zondervan, 1988); Charles C. Ryrie, So Great Salvation: What It Means to

Believe in Jesus Christ (Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1989); Zane C. Hodges, Absolutely

Free: A Biblical Reply to Lordship Salvation (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1989);

Livingston Blauvelt Jr., "Does the Bible Teach Lordship Salvation?" Bibliotheca

Sacra 143 (January–March 1986): 37-45; Darrell L. Bock, "Jesus as Lord in Acts and

in the Gospel Message," Bibliotheca Sacra 143 (April-June 1986): 146-54; idem, "A

Review of The Gospel According to Jesus," Bibliotheca Sacra 146 (January–March

1989): 21-40; Zane C. Hodges, "Review of ‘A Review of The Gospel according to Je-

sus,’ by Darrell L. Bock," Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society 2 (1989): 79-83;

S. Lewis Johnson Jr., "How Faith Works," Christianity Today, September 22, 1989,

and 21-25.



180     BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / April—June 1996

 

                        THE "REJECTION" MOTIF

 

            The "rejection" motif found in certain parables is the

element that describes a judgment to be carried out at the end of

the age. The description of judgment most frequently focuses on

the one being rejected. When an acceptance or "reward" element

is also present, it is usually employed as a dramatic foil to

highlight what is missed by those who are rejected.2 Each parable

with such a motif is designed to challenge all hearers in light of

their current response to Jesus: Is the listener prepared for the

end? While many portions of the Gospels present Jesus' teachings

on the kingdom or eternal life, or a challenge to discipleship

(including the demands to believe in the Son of Man, to give up

all, to take up one's cross, and so forth), few passages picture the

end-time consummation of the kingdom and the subsequent

judgment (rejection or acceptance) as clearly as do the parables.

            Ten parables include material that reflects such an eschato-

logical rejection motif: the Tares (Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43); the

Dragnet (Matt. 13:47-50); two banquet parables: the Wedding

Banquet (Matt. 22:1-14)3 and the Narrow Door (Luke 13:22-30, be-

cause of its allusion to the eschatological banquet); and four para-

bles from Matthew's eschatological discourse along with two Lu-

can "parallels": the Good and Bad Servants (Matt. 24:45-51; Luke

12:41-48), the Ten Virgins (Matt. 25:1-13), the Talents (Matt.

25:14-30), the similar Minas (Luke 19:11-27), and the Judgment of

the Sheep and the Goats (Matt. 25:31-46).

 

2 This is clearly seen, for example, in the parables of the Narrow Door (Luke

13:22-30), the Ten Virgins (Matt. 25:1-13), and the Sheep and the Goats (Matt. 25:31-

46). In each parable those who are given "rewards" are specifically contrasted with

those who are omitted. In the Narrow Door, those left out attempt to gain entrance

but are denied since they are unknown to the head of the house: "I do not know

where you are from" (Luke 13:25).

3 The Great Supper parable of Luke 14:15-24, while similar to Matthew 22:1-14, is

viewed as inappropriate for this discussion because in Luke its primary applica-

tion is to the coming rejection of national Israel (certified by the destruction of

Jerusalem). Luke's version is indeed a kingdom parable (Luke 14:15), but the crite-

ria for inclusion in the present discussion are more narrow. The emphasis in Luke

is on the rejection of those who have been invited (the Jewish people) and their

replacement by those who inhabit the highways and the hedges in the city. Luke's

primary focus is the filling of the house for the dinner (14:21b-23)—not the

rejection of those who might finally fill that house. This filling, in Luke's account,

is to be made up of the "outcasts" of Israel. (This does not ignore Lucan hints of

Gentile inclusion [e.g., 20:16], but this parable is presented as directed at the

people of Israel, or more specifically, their leaders; 14:1.) This example of rejection

is directed toward those who have been previously invited, a reference to Jesus'

contemporaries and His audience. There is no comment about the nature of the

acceptance of those subsequently invited, as in the Matthean account. For these

reasons Luke 14 is omitted from the following study.



            Rejection Imagery in the Synoptic Parables           181

 

                                  REJECTION IMAGERY

            Several elements of rejection imagery in these parables re-

quire attention: (1) the picture of "the furnace of fire" (Tares,

Dragnet; cf. Sheep and Goats); (2) the phrase "weeping and

gnashing of teeth" (Tares, Dragnet, Wedding Banquet, Narrow

Door, Good and Bad Servants [Matthew's version], Talents); (3)

the image of "outer darkness" (Wedding Banquet, Talents); (4)

the concept of a shut door (Narrow Door, Ten Virgins); (5) the

phrase "I do not know you" (Narrow Door, Ten Virgins); (6) the

force of dixotome<w ("cut in pieces," Good and Bad Servants [both

Lucan and Matthean versions]); and (7) the concept behind the

removal of the talents and minas from the unfaithful servants

(Talents, Minas). Other important elements cannot be developed

at length here,4 but some conclusions about them will be noted in

the second article.

 

"THE FURNACE OF FIRE"

            Jesus spoke of the "furnace of fire" in His interpretation of the

Tares (Matt. 13:42) and of the Dragnet (13:50).5 In these parables

the phrase ei]j th>n ka<minon tou? puro<j speaks of separation. The

tares will be separated out to be burned at the harvest,6 and the bad

 

4 Examples include the wedding garment of Matthew 22, the tares and various

kinds of fish in Matthew 13, the conceptual framework of the banquets, and the var-

ied judgments of those slaves who do or do not know the master's will in Luke 12:47-48.

5 The concept of eternal fire (to> pu?r to> ai]w<nion) is also found in the judgment of

the sheep and goats (Matt. 25:46). In Matthew 13:40 Jesus simply used the dative

puri> ("burned with fire"), another common usage for judgment. The symbolism of

such a fire is found in the Old Testament, in intertestamental writings, and in the

New Testament (e.g., Gen. 19:24; Exod. 9:24; Lev. 10:2; Num. 11:1; Dan. 3:6; Amos 1:4,

7; T. Levi 10:2; 4 Ezra 7:38; 13:10; Bar. 37:1; 44:15; Jub. 9:15; 3:10; Sib. Or. 2:186ff.,

238ff.; Matt. 3:10; 7:19; Luke 3:9; John 15:6). In addition this was a common motif in

the Qumran writings: (1QS 2:8; 4:13; 1QH 3:25ff. [the "little apocalypse"]; 17:13).

Revelation 9:17 also identifies horses coming on the scene to execute God's

judgment with smoke and sulfur coming out of their mouths. In several cases "fire"

is seen as representing the opposite of the kingdom of God (Matt. 13:42; 18:8-9;

25:41; cf. Mark 9:43, 45, 47; 9:48; the "hell of fire"). There seems to be no doubt that

fire emphasizes eternal judgment on God's enemies. "In the post-exilic period it

was expected that Yahweh would appear to bring history to its consummation, and

fire is the token announcing the day of Yahweh (Joel 2:30). The enemies of Yahweh

will be destroyed by fire and the sword (Isa. 66:15f.; Eze. 38:22; 39:6; Mal. 4:1).

According to Isa. 66:24, the effects will be far-reaching: those condemned in the

judgment will be continuously tormented by fire" (Hans Bietenhard, "pu?r," in New

International Dictionary of New Testament Theology [1975], 1:655).

6 The picture of the "harvest" is commonly used as a reference to the eschatologi-

cal separation of those who follow after God and those who do not. Old Testament

verses that speak of a harvest in reference to the eschatological judgment and sepa-

ration include Isaiah 17:11 and Joel 3:13 (cf. Jer. 51:33; Hos. 6:11; these last two refer

to the temporal judgment of God on Babylon and Ephraim, though the idea of com-

ing judgment and rejection is still clear).



182       BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / April-June 1996

 

(sapro<j, v. 48) fish will be separated out for destruction.7 Jesus

identified the tares as "sons of the evil one"8 in contrast to "the

sons of the kingdom" (v. 38), and the bad fish are identified as the

wicked in contrast to the righteous (v. 49). In other words the

parable depicts a separation between the righteous and the wicked

at the end of the age (e]n t^? suntelei<% tou? ai]w?noj). For the wicked

this separation involves the destruction and punishment of a fur-

nace of fire.

            Fire in relation to eternal punishment is mentioned in

Matthew 5:22 and 18:9, which refer to the Gehenna of fire (th>n

ge<ennan tou? puro<j).9 Mark 9:43-44 identifies hell as a place of

unquenchable fire; Matthew 25:41 refers to a place of eternal fire,

specifically reserved for the devil and his angels (cf. Rev. 19:20-

21); and Luke 16:23-24 refers to the rich man crying out in his

agony in the flames of Hades.10 Other Old Testament" and in-

tertestamental12 passages strongly support the notion that such

 

7 Some have objected that a furnace of fire seems out of place for a separation of

fish, raising questions about the authenticity of the interpretation of the dragnet

(e.g., David Hill, The Gospel of Matthew, New Century Bible Commentary [Grand

Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981], 238). But as Carson points out, the so-called problem of

the mixed metaphor (throwing the fish into the furnace) only occurs when one does

not shift from the reference to the referent. The reference in verses 47-48 is to fish;

but, as with the tares, it is clear that the referent is the wicked. "To be consistent

. . . [an interpreter] would also have to object that the tares, when burned (v. 42), do

not weep and gnash their teeth" (Donald A. Carson, "Matthew," in The Expositor's

Bible Commentary, 12 vols. [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984], 8:330). Cf. Jack Dean

Kingsbury, The Parables in Matthew 13: A Study in Redaction Criticism

(Richmond: Knox, 1969), 165-66, n. 143.

8 These "sons of the evil one" (13:38) correspond to tou>j poiou?ntaj th>n a]nomi<an in

13:41. Cf. John's accusatory "offspring of vipers" (Matt. 3:7) and Jesus' words, "You

are of your father the devil" (John 8:44). Such a division into two radically opposed

groups is common in biblical literature. The Qumran covenanters would identify

the "good" as the sectaries, while the "evil" are those who are outside (cf. 1QS 2.4;

4.17). But part of the difference between Qumran and the New Testament is that Je-

sus exhorted His disciples to leave the ultimate separation until God Himself performs the deed

on the last day; Qumran insisted on the separation while men still reside in this world.

9 Second Esdras 7:36 also uses "Gehenna of fire" to refer to hell.

10 One must be careful about arguing from a parable for details concerning the na-

ture of the abodes for punishment. Still this picture created by Jesus probably re-

flects common thinking of the time and His hearers would have understood His

reference. For recent study on the topic of Gehenna, see Hans Scharen, "Gehenna

in the Synoptics," Bibliotheca Sacra 149 (1992): 324-37, 454-70.

11 Cf. Isaiah 66:15-16; Jeremiah 29:22; Ezekiel 38:22; 39:6; Daniel 3:6 (a text that

clearly connects the furnace with death); Zephaniah 1:18; 3:8; and Zechariah 12:6.

12 An example of a verse that clearly connects this fire and eternal soteriological

rejection is 1 Enoch 103:2: "Their names shall be blotted out of the book of life and

out of the holy books . . . and they shall cry and make lamentation in a place that is a

chaotic wilderness, and in the fire shall they burn." Cf. 1 Enoch 18:11-16; 27:1-2;

54:1-6; 90:25-27; 91:9; 100:9; 102:1; 103:8; 2 Apoc. Bar. 37:1; 44:15; 48:39, 43; 59:2-3; 85:13;



            Rejection Imagery in the Synoptic Parables           183

 

imagery refers to a separation that is eschatological and ulti-

mately soteriological.

            Jesus used the imagery of the furnace of fire in the Tares and

Dragnet parables to picture the eternal separation of "the sons of

the kingdom" (Matt. 13:38), also called "the righteous" (13:49),

from "those who commit lawlessness" (13:41), also identified as

"the wicked" (13:49). Neither the imagery itself nor the context

suggests anything other than eternal separation from God at the

end of the age.

"WEEPING AND GNASHING OF TEETH"

            The expression "weeping and gnashing of teeth" (o[ klauqmo>j

kai> o[ brugmo>j tw?n o]do<ntwn)13 occurs seven times (Matt. 8:12;

13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30; Luke 13:28). Since this phrase does

not appear in this specific wording in either classical Greek or

the Septuagint,14 the source of the suffering depicted by the phrase

must be discerned from its context.

            Six of the seven occurrences are found in the parables.15 In

the parable of the Tares (Matt. 13:41-42), the imagery refers to the

grief experienced by "those who commit lawlessness" (tou>j

poiou?ntoij th>n a]nomi<an), who will be cast into the furnace of fire.

This is in contrast to "the righteous," who will "shine forth as the

 

2 Esdras 13:10–12; Psalms of Solomon 15:4–5; Jubilees 9:15; 36:10; 4 Maccabees 9:9;

Sibylline Oracles 2:285–310; 3:54; 72–73, 542–44, 618, 672–73, 761; 4:160–61; Assump-

tion of Moses 10:10; 1QS 2.8. Many more could be added.

13 The use of the Greek article "indicates the unique and extreme character of the

action" (Walter Bauer, William F. Arndt, and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English

Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 2d ed., rev.

F. Wilbur Gingrich and Frederick W. Danker [Chicago: University of Chicago

Press, 1979], 434).

14 The conceptual framework may be derived from verses such as Psalms 37:12 or

112:10. Although these examples are not eschatological, the idea of suffering is

clear. The picture of "gnawing" one's tongue as a result of eschatological judgment

from God, a conceptual parallel, is used in Revelation 16:10.

15 Since this phrase is used outside parabolic texts only in Matthew 8:12, its use

there is quite suggestive. (All the other examples are directly related to the study

at hand.) Jesus used the phrase here to refer to the grief and pain of those who will

recognize "Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven," while they,

even though they are "sons of the kingdom," will be cast out (Matt. 8:12). An impor-

tant fact to observe is the immediate connection this vignette has with the account

of the centurion (8:5-10). Jesus' point in juxtaposing the exclusion of the "sons of

the kingdom" with the centurion was to highlight the centurion's faith. (This is

confirmed by Jesus' return to the topic of the man's faith after his denunciation in

8:13 of those who would be left out.) In other words their lack of faith would keep

them out of the kingdom, in contrast to a Gentile's faith that gained Jesus' sanction

and blessing. The implication is that his faith would allow him to be in the king-

dom with those heroes of the faith all Jews would recognize, while "the sons of the

kingdom" would ultimately be denied the kingdom experience. Such a comment

about sonship is all the more pointed in light of Matthew 12:46-50, a pericope about

true sonship and the importance of deeds that demonstrate such sonship.



184     BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / April-June 1996

 

sun in the kingdom of their Father" (v. 43). In the Dragnet para-

ble the phrase describes the suffering of "the wicked" who will be

separated from "the righteous" and cast into the Furnace of fire

(13:49-50).16 In the Matthean version of the Wedding Banquet

(22:1-14), the man who is unprepared because of not having the ap-

propriate garment is bound hand and foot and cast into outer

darkness where "there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth"

(v. 13). In other words he will be rejected from the wedding ban-

quet, to which the kingdom of heaven is compared (22:2). In the

parable he came because he was invited; but he was rejected be-

cause he was not properly prepared. Luke's account of the Narrow

Door (13:22-30) focuses not only on the narrowness of access to the

kingdom,17 but also on the certainty that the door will be shut

sometime in the future so that those who do not enter before it

closes will be locked out. (The imperative "to enter by the narrow

door," v. 24, is motivated not by the narrowness of the door but by

the assurance that it will be closed.) Those left outside18 will ob-

 

16 The term "righteous" is extremely important in Matthew. The word is used by

Matthew to highlight those who are in conformity with God's requirements

(whether based on God's demand or God's juridical provision) and thus will be a

part of the kingdom, in contrast to those (the unrighteous) who will have no inheri-

tance in the kingdom (J. A. Ziesler, The Meaning of Righteousness in Paul [Cam-

bridge: Cambridge University Press, 1972], 20; Gottlob Schrenk, "di<kaioj, dikaisosu-

nh," in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament 2 [1964]: 182-210; Gunther

Bornkamm, "End-Expectation and Church in Matthew," in Tradition and Inter-

pretation in Matthew, ed. Gunther Bornkamm, Gerhard Barth, and Heinz Joachin

Held, trans. Percy Scott [Philadelphia: Westminster, 1963], 31; Benno Pryzbyiski,

Righteousness in Matthew and His World of Thought [Cambridge: Cambridge

University Press, 1980], 41, see esp. 105-15 for an excellent summary of this discus-

sion; and Horst Seebass and Colin Brown, "Righteousness, Justification," in New

International Dictionary of New Testament Theology 3 [19781: 352-77).

17 That the door is being compared to some element of the kingdom is not made

explicit in the parable itself, but is clear from the comparative element in the pre-

ceding two parables of the Mustard Seed (Luke 13:18-19) and the Leaven (13:20-21).

The connection is further clarified by the question concerning how many shall be

saved (v. 23). (The verb used is sw<zw. That it refers to entry into the kingdom is

strongly suggested both by the context and by passages such as Luke 18:18-26 where

the phrases "to inherit eternal life" [v. 18], "to enter the kingdom of God" [v. 24], and

"who then can be saved?" [v. 26] are synonymous concepts.) The kingdom in the pre-

ceding short parables was portrayed as growing and being very expansive. But the

question of the real size of the kingdom, as measured by the total number being

saved, is an appropriate one. Some writers see the question in 13:23 as reflecting

how some will speculate long and hard on worthless subjects: "Much time wasted

in vain speculation could be put to better use in gospel proclamation" (Hendriksen,

Luke, 717). G. B. Caird puts it a little more diplomatically: "Idle speculation can

only distract men's attention from the one clear and urgent fact that the kingdom of God is present

and the door is open" (The Gospel of St. Luke [Philadelphia: Westminster, 19631, 172).

18 Again, those who are left out are identified as evildoers (pa<ntej e]rga<tai

a]diki<aj, Luke 13:27). The description of those who are rejected is frequently related

to terms associated with their deeds.



            Rejection Imagery in the Synoptic Parables           185

 

serve those who are at the banquet of the kingdom (v. 29) and,

knowing that they have missed the privilege of being in the pres-

ence of the heroes of the faith, will experience grief expressed in

"weeping and gnashing of teeth" (v. 28).

            Matthew used the phrase again in his version of the Good and

Bad Servants (24:45-51), applying the experience of remorse to the

wicked (kako>j) servant (v. 48) who is assigned a place with the

hypocrites (v. 51).19 To intensify the severity of the punishment,

Jesus said that the master will "cut him in pieces" (dixotomh<sei

au]to<n). Jesus also used the phrase in referring to the woeful expe-

rience of the wicked and lazy slave (25:26) who will have "even what he

does have taken away" (v. 29) and will be cast into outer darkness (v. 30).

            Such examples show that Jesus used this phrase idiomati-

cally, specifically when referring to the suffering experienced by

those rejected from the kingdom. The phraseology by itself need

not require an eschatological/soteriological setting for the suffer-

ing and grief,20 but the contexts show that Jesus consistently used

the phrase that way.21 As Jeremias summarizes, "Weeping and

 

19 In light of the previous reference to hypocrites in Matthew 23, it is difficult to

escape the notion that Jesus assumed that such an assignment is to be equated with

rejection from the kingdom. In Matthew 23:13 Jesus spoke of hypocrites as those

who not only shut the kingdom off from others but who also themselves do not en-

ter. In 23:15 Jesus identified them (specifically referring to the scribes and the

Pharisees) and their "converts" as "sons of hell" (ui[o<n gee<nnhj). Hodges takes an al-

ternative view here: "This servant had become a hypocrite. Not a hypocrite in the

sense that he only pretended to be a Christian. Such a thought is totally extraneous

to this text" (Grace in Eclipse, 30 [italics his]). However, this understanding of

"hypocrite" is not extraneous, but is the very point of the text. R. T. France writes,

"The unfaithful disciple can therefore expect no better fate than the ‘hypocrites’

who have been castigated in ch. 23 for not doing what their professed position de-

manded" (The Gospel according to Matthew, Tyndale New Testament Commen-

taries [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985], 249 [italics his]). In the Septuagint the

word for "hypocrites" could be translated "godless." In the Psalms of Solomon 4:7, 25

the term is used by the Pharisees of the Sadducees who were considered worldly

(Eduard Schweizer, The Good News according to Matthew, trans. David E. Green

[Atlanta: Knox, 1975], 143). Although the term initially refers to one who is an actor,

and could indicate unconscious hypocrisy, the clear assumption in this parable is that the man

id it on his own volition: "he said in his heart" (Matt. 24:48). Therefore the consignment is to be

understood as a divine passive: the deliberate sinner is cut off by God (cf. 1QS 2:13).

20 Hodges, Grace in Eclipse, 89-90, 118-19, nn. 3, 5.

21 The term klauqmo>j refers to weeping because of sorrow over a loss (cf. Luke 6:25;

Acts 20:37; James 4:9; 5:1; Rev. 18:11). On the other hand brugmo<j refers to "rage" as

seen in the grinding chatter of teeth in anger (cf. Acts 7:54; Prov. 19:12; Sir. 51:3)

and is often used in the Septuagint to express the hatred shown by enemies (Job

16:9; Pss. 35:16; 37:12; 112:10; Lam. 2:16). See Karl Heinrich Rengstorf, "klauqmo<j," in

Theological Dictionary of the New Testament 3 (1965): 725-26; idem, "brugmo<j," in

Theological Dictionary of the New Testament 1 (1964): 641-42; Hermann Haarbeck

"klai<w," in New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology 2 (1976): 417.

"While it is true that in many instances the usage of [bru<xw] in the expression ‘to



186      BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / April—June 1996

 

gnashing of teeth is . . . a symbol of despair, always because sal-

vation has been forfeited through one's own fault."'22

 

                                    "OUTER DARKNESS"

The phrase ei]j to< sko<toj to< e]cw<teron (literally, "into the

darkness that is farthest out"23 occurs only three times in the New

Testament (Matt. 8:12; 22:13; 25:30). In 8:12, Jesus described

where the "sons of the kingdom" (oi[ de> ui[oi> th?j basilei<aj) will

be cast (e]kblhqh<sontai) because of their lack of faith.24 The rejec-

tion of the way of faith (exemplified by the centurion) by the people

of Israel would remove them from their rightful and expected role

as sons and heirs of the kingdom. In the parable of the Wedding

Banquet (Matt. 22:1-14) the man who is bound hand and foot is

cast into outer darkness. And in the Talents parable (Matt. 25:14-

30) outer darkness is the place to which the third servant (the

wicked and lazy slave, v, 26) will be sentenced.

            The most common interpretation of this phrase, that it refers

to hell itself, is consistent with Jewish and intertestamental lit-

erature. Texts uniting judgment, darkness, and the dead

abound: "Behold they have surely died; and from now on they

shall never see light forever" (1 Enoch 102:8). "But when the

judgment of the world and of mortals has already come, which

God himself will perform, judging impious and pious at once,

 

gnash the teeth' connotes anger, the association of the word with [klauqmo<j]

(weeping), and the figure of torment that accompanies the term in Matt. 13:41, 50

seems to indicate that the gnashing of the teeth is not an indication of rage but of

extreme suffering and remorse" (Thomas McComisky, "bru<xw," in New Interna-

tional Dictionary of New Testament Theology 2 [1976]: 421).

22 Joachim Jeremias, Rediscovering the Parables (New York: Scribner's Sons, 1966), 82.

23 Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament

and Other Early Christian Literature, 279. While it could simply carry the idea of

something that is outside in comparison with something that is inside, the usage

here probably favors the nuance noted above.

24 While it is true that Matthew 13:38 uses "sons of the kingdom" explicitly in con-

trast with those who are "sons of the evil one" (oi[ ui[oi< tou? ponhrou?), it is difficult

methodologically to assume that 13:38 informs the very differing context of

Matthew 8:12 (contra Gregory P. Sapaugh, "A Call to the Wedding Celebration: An

Exposition of Matthew 22:1-14," Journal of the Grace Evangelical Theological So-

ciety 5 [1992]: 29). The imagery used in 8:12 relates to national heirship on the part

of the Jews. The natural antecedent to "sons of the kingdom," they will be rejected

from enjoying the kingdom banquet because of their lack of faith. (The banquet mo-

tif is made clear by the presence of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob reclining.) The point-

edness of the whole pericope (8:5-13) is that those who were prepared as "sons" will

ultimately forfeit their covenantal right to look forward to the messianic kingdom.

Israel had been selected for the kingdom, but their disobedience and lack of faith

(unlike the centurion) doomed their national rights, consistent with the conditions

of the Deuteronomic promise to curse them if they did not stay faithful to Yahweh

(cf. Deut. 28:15-68; 31:14-21).



            Rejection Imagery in the Synoptic Parables           187

 

then he will also send the impious down into the gloom of fire, and

then they will realize what impiety they committed" (Sib. Or.

4:40-44). "Therefore their [sinners' and criminals] inheritance

is hades, and darkness and destruction; and they will not be

found on the day of mercy for the righteous" (Pss. Sol. 14:9). "And

the inheritance of sinners is destruction and darkness, and their

lawless actions shall pursue them below into hades" (Pss. Sol.

15:10).

            Frequently intertestamental literature mentions hell and

fire together.25 At the same time, intertestamental writers did not

have a problem relating darkness and fire,26 in contrast to some

modern writers. Lang, for instance, feels that hades or hell can-

not be the meaning of "outer darkness." Since the rich man in

Luke 16:23 (who, Lang says, was clearly suffering eternal perdi-

tion) was able to see Lazarus in Abraham's bosom, hades could

not have been a place of darkness. Nor does it square with the im-

agery of the lake of fire (Rev. 14:10; 19:20; 20:10), according to

Lang. As he writes, "Darkness and flaming fire are incompati-

bles."27 But such an approach lacks semantic sensitivity. He at-

tempts to apply this binding and casting into outer darkness to be-

lievers. But it is far more likely that fire and darkness are dif-

ferent pictures of the same reality.

            The New Testament consistently affirms that belief in Christ

unites an individual with God's kingdom of "light." Therefore

the casting of a child of light into the outermost reaches of dark-

ness contrasts with the motifs of light and darkness and the re-

vealed realities of salvation.28 To be in outer darkness indicates

that one is not related to light. They are incompatible. This sepa-

ration is most clearly seen in the Gospel of John. Those who be--

 

25 Cf. 1 Enoch 1:18, 23, 24, 38, 71, 72, 81, 84, 88; 2 Enoch 1:118–19, 188; Sibylline Ora-

cles 1:323, 324, 333, 385, 409, 469, 471; and many others. "Casting out" is associated

with "the darkness" in 1 Enoch 10:4, which is an especially appropriate parallel to

Matthew 22:13.

26 Cf. Sibylline Oracles 4:40–44.

27 George Henry Lang, The Parabolic Teaching of Scripture (Grand Rapids:

Eerdmans, 1956), 305-8. Lang's point that most feasts took place at night—suggest-

ing that the darkness simply refers to a place outside the palace lights from a ban-

quet, is difficult to sustain. Lang admits that much is not clear about this imagery,

but he affirms that there is a clear distinction between "outer darkness" and the

"furnace of fire" mentioned in Matthew 13. His point is that some believers are

"experientially" outside the kingdom of God, whatever that means.

28 Hans Conzelmann, "fw?j," in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament 9

(1974): 310-58, esp. 343-56; idem, "sko<toj," in Theological Dictionary of the New Tes-

tament 7 (1974): 423-45, esp. 438-45; H-C. Hahn, "fw?j," in New International Dic-

tionary of New Testament Theology 2 (1976): 490–96; idem, "sko<toj," in New Inter-

national Dictionary of New Testament Theology 1 (1975): 421-25.

 



188     BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / April-June 1996

 

lieve in Christ become "sons of light" (ui[oi> fwto>j, John 12:35-36)

and no longer remain in darkness (v. 46; cf. Matt. 5:14, 16; Luke

16:8; John 1:4-9, 3:19-21; 8:12; 9:5).

            In all three occurrences the phrase ei]j to< sko<toj to< e]cw<teron

(as with "weeping and gnashing of teeth") is used virtually as a

technical idiom for the place where people are cast when rejected

from the kingdom.29 More precisely, they are cast into hell.

Calvin's comments on the Banquet parable in Matthew summa-

rize the view adopted here: "Outer darkness is contrasted with the

light which is within the house; for, as banquets were held, for the

most part, at night, and were illuminated by numerous torches

and lamps, of those who are banished from the kingdom of God,

Christ says, that they are cast without into darkness."30

THE DOOR THAT IS SHUT

            In the parables of the Ten Virgins (Matt. 25:1-13) and the

Narrow Door (Luke 13:22-30) Jesus referred to a door that is shut.

In the parable of the Virgins the door is pictured as the way of en-

trance into a wedding banquet—the feast being a picture already

 

29 Each time the phrase is used there is either a clear connection to a banquet or

an allusion to it (or a similar conceptual context). In the Talents the phrase "enter

into the joy of your master" (Matt. 25:21, 23) is viewed by many writers as suggestive

of an invitation to a banquet (many connect this directly with the eschatological

banquet). Some see a connection between the Hebrew term hHAm;Wi and banquet feast-

ing (Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, A Hebrew and English

Lexicon of the Old Testament [Oxford: Clarendon, 1907], 970; 2 Chron. 30:23; Neh.

8:12; 12:27). The connection is rather strongly made in Gustaf Hermann Dalman,

The Words of Jesus: Considered in the Light of Post-Biblical Jewish Writings and

the Aramaic Language (Edinburgh: Clark, 1909), 117-18. Also see Hans Conzel-

mann, "xara<," in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament 9 (1974): 363; Jo-

hannes Schneider, "ei]se<rxomai," in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament 2

(1964): 677-78, n. 6 (his comment on the usage of this verb in eschatological contexts

is very suggestive: e.g., Matt. 5:20; 7:13, 21; 19:17; cf. Mark 10:15; Luke 11:52; 13:24;

24:23); Joachin Jeremias, The Parables of Jesus, trans. S. H. Hooke, 2d rev. ed.

[New York: Scribner's Sons, 1972), 60; H. Benedict Green, The Gospel according to

Matthew, New Clarendon Bible, New Testament (Oxford: Oxford University Press,

1975), 205; Pierre Bonnard, L'Evangile selon Saint Matthieu, Commentaire du

Nouveau Testament (Paris: Delachaux et Niestle, 1963), 362-63.

30 John Calvin, Commentary on the Harmony of the Evangelists, trans. T. H. L.

Parker, 3 vols. (reprint, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978), 2:445. For the same con-

clusion by a wide variety of interpreters, see Francis Wright Beare, The Gospel ac-

cording to Matthew, 491; Floyd V. Filson, A Commentary on the Gospel according

to St. Matthew, Harper's New Testament Commentary (New York: Harper & Bros.,

1960), 266 ("complete and final rejection"); R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St.

Luke's Gospel (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1961), 986 ("none who are a]rxrei?oj, useless to

the Lord, can remain in his kingdom"). Craig Blomberg comments, "To argue .. .

that the ‘darkness’ of Matt 25:30, which is ‘outside’ and in which there is ‘weeping

and gnashing of teeth’ is simply a less desirable compartment in heaven defies all

credulity" ("Degrees of Reward in the Kingdom of Heaven?" Journal of the Evan-

gelical Theological Society 35 [1992]: 168).



            Rejection Imagery in the Synoptic Parables           189

 

used by Jesus to depict one's presence in the kingdom.31 Those

who were prepared (the five wise virgins) entered the feast

through that door (25:10); after they entered, the door was shut.

The five foolish virgins returned after the door was closed, but

were rejected in their attempt to enter. Once the door was closed, it

was too late to enter.

            The same picture is drawn in Luke 13:22-30. While the para-

ble initially depicts the door as "narrow" (dia> th?j stenh?j qu<raj,

v. 24), the movement of the parable is toward the closing of that

door whereby the "evildoers" (pa<ntej e]rga<tai a]diki<aj, literally,

"everyone working unrighteousness," v. 27) will be kept out—

even when they insist that they really do belong.32 Ultimately the

door leads not only to the joys of the festive banquet (13:28-29), but

also to the eschatological kingdom.33 Those who are shut out miss

not simply a fine meal, but also the kingdom itself.

 

"I DO NOT KNOW YOU"

            Connected closely to the imagery of the door that closes is the

response of the one who closes the door34 to those who attempt to

enter after it is shut. This response is important since it shows the

finality of the closure and the reason for rejection. In the Narrow

Door parable, the retort of the master of the house to the ones plead-

ing for entrance is straightforward and is given twice: "I do not

 

31 The feast depicts full communion with God in the kingdom (Isa. 25:6-8; Matt.

8:11; 22:1-14; 26:29; Luke 12:37; 14:15-24; 15:23-24; 22:36; Acts 10:41).

32 That the door refers to entrance into the kingdom is suggested by the nature of

the judgment declaration (its severity) and the subsequent punishment, the imme-

diately preceding context of the kingdom parables (Luke 13:18-21), and the clear

connection with the presence of the righteous dead (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, v.

28) who will be seated (a]nakliqh<sontai) in the kingdom (v. 29). While some argue

that the closing of the door cannot be equated with the eschatological consumma-

tion, this view usually results from supposing that Luke's view of the fall of

Jerusalem in A.D. 70 influenced him to include the following pericope (13:31-35)

concerning Jesus' travel to Jerusalem and His assertion that "your house is left to

you desolate" (13:35). See Helmuth L. Egelkraut, Jesus' Mission to Jerusalem. A

Redaction Critical Study of the Travel Narrative in the Gospel of Luke, Lk 9:51–

19:48 (Frankfort: Lang, 1976), 172, n. 1.

33 Joachim H. Jeremias, "qu<ra," in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament 3

(1965): 173-80, esp. 178.

34 Luke 13:25 has o[ oi]kodespo<thj ("the owner of the house"), whereas Matthew

25:10 has o[ numfi<oj ("the bridegroom"). Matthew 24:42-44 confirms that the refer-

ence to the groom in the Virgins is eschatological and ultimately points to Jesus

Himself. That the "head of the household" in Luke 13:25 is also an allusion to Jesus

Himself is suggested by the nature of the objection of those who are shut out. They

press a claim on the kingdom because they were present when He taught in their

villages. They had even eaten with Him. The connections with the ministry of Jesus

seem obvious. Besides, with the closing of the door being identified in Luke 13:28-

29 as the eschatological consummation, no other identification would make sense.



190      BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / April—June 1996

 

know where you are from" (ou]k oi#da u[ma?j po<qen e]ste<, Luke

13:25, 27). The phrase is worded somewhat differently from that

which is used in Matthew 7:23 ("I never knew you"35), but the im-

pact is identical. The context of Matthew 7:23 indicates some will

claim they had performed deeds in His name, similar to those in

Luke 13 who will contend they deserve the kingdom because they

were present when Jesus performed miracles or because they ate

with Him; yet they will be excluded. The idea is that, despite the

"associations," the Master did not know these people, their con-

cerns, nor "their antecedents."36 As in Matthew 7, to have known

Christ in the flesh gives those in Luke 13 no claim to admission

into the kingdom. The reason for their exclusion is identified in

the Old Testament quotation that follows (Luke 13:27): they were

workers of iniquity (cf. Ps. 6:8, LXX).

            In the Ten Virgins parable, the response of the groom to those

who plead for entrance after the door is shut is virtually identical

to the response of the head of the house in Luke 13: "Truly I say to

you, I do not know you" (a]mh>n le<gw u[mi?n, ou]k oi#da u[ma?j, Matt.

25:12).37 Again the notion is that the groom claims to have no per-

sonal association with the five foolish virgins trying to gain en-

trance. This specific form of response does not occur in the rest of

Matthew, but the close connection with the rejection passages

noted above seems obvious: they will be left out of the wedding

banquet. The implication for the kingdom teaching of this para-

ble is that those represented by the five foolish virgins will not be

allowed into the kingdom. "In the face of this chilly reception all

that the late-comers can claim is superficial contact with Jesus

[Luke 13:25-26]. They have sat at the same table with Him or have

heard Him preach. They say in effect, ‘You are one of us,’ to

which the answer is, ‘You are none of mine.’"38

 

35 The phrase "I never knew you" (ou]de<pote e@gnwn u[ma?j) simply means "I will have

nothing to do with you." The concept is likely rooted in the Old Testament; those

who are God's people are "known" by Him and those not known by Him are not His

people (Ps. 138:6; Isa. 63:16; Hos. 5:3; 13:5; Gal. 4:9; 2 Tim. 2:19).

36 I. Howard Marshall, The Gospel of Luke, New International Greek Testament

Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978), 566.

37 This phrase was used by a rabbinic teacher in forbidding his student access to

him for a period of seven days (Herman Lebrecht Strack and Paul Billerbeck,

Kommentar zum Neuen Testament aus Talmud and Midrasch, 6 vols. (Munich:

Beck, 1924-61), 1:149; 4:293. Obviously the time limitation does not seem to apply in

this parable, though the essence of the rejection is apparently similar (whether or

not the evidence used is anachronistic). Cf. Jeremias, The Parables of Jesus, 175;

Jan Lambrecht, "The Parousia Discourse: Composition and Content in Matt. xxiv-

xxv," in L'Evangile selon Matthieu: Redaction et theologie, ed. M. Didier

(Gembloux: Duculot, 1972), 160.

38 T. W. Manson, The Sayings of Jesus (1949; reprint, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,

1979), 125.



            Rejection Imagery in the Synoptic Parables           191

 

THE VERB dixotome<w

            The parable of the Good and Bad Servants occurs in both

Matthew (24:45-51) and Luke (12:41-48), and while there are some

differences there is also much in common. One important shared

element is the specific nature of the judgment handed down to that

servant who is unfaithful in his assigned duties (Matt. 24:51;

Luke 12:46). The Matthean servant is given punishment fitting

for "hypocrites," while the Lucan servant is assigned a place with

"unbelievers."39 Both servants are subjected to severe judgment

described in the phrase dixotomh<sei au]to>n. The Revised Standard

Version rather blandly translates these words "and [he] will pun-

ish him," but the New American Standard Bible suggests a dif-

ferent force: "and [he] shall cut him in pieces." The interpretation

of this occurrence of the verb dixotome<w is a thorny problem.40

            Little doubt exists about the meaning of the verb. Yet because

of its harshness in these parables, many try to soften it. Six op-

tions are suggested. The first three suggest that something in the

Semitic original argues against the form found in the New Tes-

 

39 These terms strongly suggest that the unfaithful servant is viewed as rejected

from the kingdom. On Matthew's use of oi[ u[pokritai<, see note 19 above, especially

concerning the important link with the term in Matthew 23:13. While Luke used oi[

a]pi<stoi only two other times, neither time as a substantive (9:41; Acts 26:8), the

term is used in the New Testament almost exclusively of unbelievers, and not

simply of those who are unfaithful to a calling (with the possible exception of Matt.

17:17 = Mark 9:19 = Luke 9:41). This is similar to Paul's epistles, in which all 14

examples refer to unbelievers (e.g., 1 Cor. 6:6; 7:12-15; 2 Cor. 4:4; 6:14-15; Titus 1:15),

and Johannine usage (John 20:27; Rev. 21:8). One may object to this interpretation on

the grounds that a soteriological interpretation of "unbeliever" goes beyond the

bounds of the parable's point. But the eschatological context of both parables and

the obvious soteriological connections surrounding them indicate the salvific impact of the term.

            On the other hand Hodges interprets oi[ a]pi<stoi as "the unfaithful" rather than

as "the unbelievers" (Grace in Eclipse, 80, n. 9). Alfred Plummer (The Gospel according to St.

Luke, International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: Clark, 1922), 333), and every other

commentator consulted, interpret of oi[ a]pi<stoi as "unbelievers." Hodges's view also creates

problems of consistency for the following elaboration on the punishments in Luke 12:47-48.

40 The problem is identified by Paul Ellingworth, "Luke 12:46—Is There an Anti-

climax Here?" Bible Translator 31 (1980): 242-43. In other words, is the assignment

to the place of the nonbeliever in Luke 13 anticlimactic after dixotome<w? Perhaps

the question overstates the problem, but it does help identify the perplexity of the

verb dixotome<w. C. G. Montefiore suggests that dichotomizing is too strong (The

Synoptic Gospels, 2 vols., 2d ed. [1927; reprint, New York: KTAV, 1968], 2:315). Cut-

ting in two seems to make the following assignment irrelevant. (Is not "firing"

strong enough? But to shoot the man and then burn him seems simply to add insult

to injury.) Cf. C. H. Dodd, The Parables of the Kingdom, rev. ed. (New York: Scrib-

ner's Sons, 1961), 126, n. 1; John Drury, The Parables in the Gospels: History and

Allegory (New York: Crossroad, 1985), 102; Manson, The Sayings of Jesus, 118 (who

also identifies Luke 12:47-48 with the punishment in verse 46, making a larger

problem out of the "anticlimax," for dichotomization is seen as virtually equivaent

to lashings); and John R. Donahue, The Gospel in Parable: Metaphors, Narrative

and Theology in the Synoptic Gospels (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1988), 100.



192      BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / April—June 1996

 

tament. First, Manson proposes that the original Aramaic verb

HTana, "to take away, separate," was confused with the Hebrew verb

HTani, "to cut in pieces."41 Second, Black believes that the original

Aramaic statement was, "he will divide him his portion [with the

hypocrites]" for the whole phrase dixotomh<sei au]to>n kai> to> me<roj

au]tou? meta> tw?n u[pokritw?n  [a]pi<stwn, in Luke 12:46] qh<sei.42 But

this stretches the meaning of the Greek verb, omits the impact of

the kai>, and ignores the final verb qh<sei, all of which suggest two

separate subject/compliment constructions in the phrase, not one.

            Third, Jeremias takes a similar approach, though he wants to

keep two phrases ("he will give him blows and treat him as a

profligate") in the text. "The mention of the punishment of hell,

introducing an element which transcends the limits of the

parable, must, as has been independently recognized by various

scholars, go back to an erroneous translation of the original

Aramaic form of the parable. Originally, the ending preserved

its earthly setting."43 He suggests that the object of the verb dixo-

tomh<sei was intended to be in the dative case, possibly rendering,

"he will give him blows." Thus the translator wrongly took the hl,

in gle.Pa hl,, as accusative and came up with "he will divide him."44

But difficulty arises when trying to insert the word "blows."45

            More profitable are the three views that assume the present

text adequately reflects the original intention. Fourth, many take

the wording to reflect its literal meaning.46 The punishment is

harsh, but not unheard of in ancient literature.47 Those who object

 

41 Manson, The Sayings of Jesus, 118. Marshall suggests the linguistic basis for

this shift is doubtful (The Gospel of Luke, 543).

42 Matthew Black, An Aramaic Approach to the Gospels and Acts, 3d. ed.

(Oxford: Clarendon, 1967), 256-57. Cf. Montefiore, The Synoptic Gospels, 115.

43 Jeremias, The Parables of Jesus, 57.

44 Ibid., 57, n. 31.

45 Otto Betz suggests that the insertion of "blows" was not important enough for

the severe eschatological theme of judgment the text is trying to convey. This is a

reasonable criticism ("The Dichotomized Servant and the End of Judas Iscariot

[Light on the Dark Passages: Matthew 24, 51 and Parallel; Acts 1, 18]," Revue de

Qumran 5 [1964]: 44).

46 Carson implies this is his view ("Matthew," 511). Hill suggests that the severity

of this verb is no worse than the tortures Jesus would endure (The Gospel of

Matthew, 324).

47 Cf. 1 Samuel 15:33; 2 Samuel 12:31; 1 Chronicles 20:3; and Amos 1:3. It was used

in the Old Testament of dichotomizing an offering to be sacrificed (Gen. 15:10, 17;

Exod. 29:17; Lev. 1:6; Ezek. 24:4 [cf. Heb. 11:37]). Such severity is also suggested in

Luke 19:27. Cf. Sus. 59; Homer, The Odyssey 18.339; Suetonius, Cal. 27; and Hero-

dotus 2.139.2; 7.39.5. Donahue sees a connection with the Persian punishment of

dismemberment (The Gospel in Parable, 100). For other uses of the term dixotome<w

in antiquity, see Heinrich Schlier, "dixotome<w," in Theological Dictionary of the

New Testament 2 (1964): 225-26.



            Rejection Imagery in the Synoptic Parables           193

 

because it is too harsh (compared to its cause or because of the so-

called "anticlimactic" quality of the subsequent punishment)

miss the fact that the eternal consignment to hell (where there is

"weeping and gnashing of teeth") is worse than anything that

could happen to a person's body (cf. Luke 12:4-5). Closely related

to that is the fifth view that the verb dixotome<w is a metaphorical

reference to severe punishment. Several writers suggest it may be

equivalent to the idiom, "I'll tan your hide."48

            A sixth view, drawing on Qumran literature, suggests that

the servant will be "cut off."49 Betz has drawn together much liter-

ature to suggest that dixotomh<sei au]to>n is virtually equal to the

phrase jvtm trk, "to cut off from the midst of."50 In some passages

the hypocrite is singled out for an evil end so that he will be cut off

from the midst of the sons of light and be consigned a "portion"

with those who are accursed eternally. One example reads, "May

he be cut off from the midst of the sons of light because he swerved

from following God. . . . May He place his lot in the midst of the

eternally cursed" (1QS 2:16-17).51  This text, besides showing that

dixotome<w can refer to separation from the believing community

for judgment, also reflects the two-step consignment described by

Jesus: first dichotomization, then assignment with the hyp-

ocrites/unfaithful (the arrangement that led the second element to

be viewed as "anticlimactic" in the first place).

            On the whole, the sixth view seems to carry the most weight,

 

48 Marshall, The Gospel of Luke, 543; Ellingworth, "Luke 12:46—Is There an Anti-

Climax Here?" 242; Simon Kistemaker, The Parables of Jesus (Grand Rapids:

Baker, 1980), 125 ("skin him alive"); John Martin Creed, The Gospel according to

St. Luke (New York: Macmillan, 1930), 177; and Hodges, Grace in Eclipse, 79.

49 This view is developed fully by Betz ("The Dichotomized Servant and the End of

Judas Iscariot," 43-58). Marshall, who favors this view, indicates that the verb dixo-

tome<w is an "over-literal translation" of the original saying (The Gospel of Luke,

543). Carson finds the Qumran evidence "unconvincing," since he thinks the verb

best reflects the Qumran view of excommunication ("Matthew," 511). Agbanou

agrees with Betz in general, but he suggests that the Qumran covenanters allowed

time for reformation within a temporal setting, while Jesus did not. But both writ-

ers seem to have missed the fact that Betz recognizes the differences and argues

that the term points to eschatological judgment, not simply excommunication (“The

Dichotomized Servant and the End of Judas Iscariot,” 54).

50 Betz suggests that the background for this whole teaching is rooted in Psalm 37

which contrasts the good with those who will be cut off (trk in vv. 9, 22, 28, 34. 38)

(ibid., 47). He points out that the normal translation of trakA; would be e]klba<llw, which

also carries eschatological overtones as seen in Matthew 25:30 (ibid., 56).

51 The idea of cursing or dichotomizing is usually found in the passive and is to

be understood as a divine passive. (Other passages of note include 1QS 1:10-11; 6:24-

25; 7:1, 2, 16; 8:21-23). See the discussions in Andre Dupont-Sommer, The Essene

Writings from Qumran, trans. Geza Vermes (1961; reprint, Glouchester, MA:

Smith, 1973), 84-85, 87-89, 91-93; and Geza Vermes, The Dead Sea Scrolls in English

(Baltimore: Penguin, 1962), 82-86.



194      BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / April—June 1996

 

but views four and five are also possible. In view five the literal

"dichotomization" works well within the parable for shock effect,

but when applied to the eschatological judgment it is probably to be

understood metaphorically. This distinction between the

parabolic context and its symbolic referent may account for much

of the concern to soften the harshness of the terminology and even

to search for alternative approaches to the verse through Aramaic

or Hebrew reconstruction.

            The one who is “cut off” will also be assigned "a place with the

hypocrites" (Matt. 24:51) or "with the unbelievers" (a]pi<stwn, Luke

12:46). This "place" (to> me<roj au]tou?) refers to one's share in

something, and in this context means "to give someone [his or

her] just due."52 In other words after being dichotomized, he is to

receive the same reward or punishment the hypocrites or

unbelieving receive.53 This condition is eschatological and per-

manent. If he takes no note of the coming return and deludes

himself into thinking either it will never happen or he will have

time to reform, there is no recourse for him; the punishment is

both severe and eternal.

 

REMOVAL OF TALENT AND MINA FROM THE UNFAITHFUL SERVANT

            While there are several differences between the parables of

the Talents (Matt. 25:14-30) and the Minas (Luke 19:11-27), the

description of the rejection of the third, unfaithful servant has

similar elements in both parables, and thus they will be dealt with

together.54 In both versions the third servant is pictured as

demonstrating traits that are the exact opposite of the ones highly

praised in the other two servants.55 The offending slaves in both

Luke and Matthew are described in terms far from flattering. In

 

52 Jeremias, The Parables of Jesus, 57, n. 31; Marshall, The Gospel of Luke, 543;

and Johannes Schneider, "me<roj," in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament,

4 (1967): 594-98, esp., 596.

53 See notes 19 and 39 above. Perhaps, as Marshall suggests, the consignment is

epexegetical to the dichotomization and is not an additional punishment (The

Gospel of Luke, 543). But that changes none of the solutions suggested for the in-

terpretational problems of dixotome<w.

54 The last verse in the Matthean version (25:30) carries motifs already noted

above ("outer darkness," and "weeping and gnashing of teeth"; cf. Matt. 8:12; 13:42,

50; 22:13; Luke 13:28). Luke omitted these elements, thus not specifying the "death"

of the third servant, and he included a subtheme of the so-called "Throne Claim-

ant" (specifically 19:14, 27, and the role of a@nqrwpoj tij eu]genh<j, v. 12). While there

are obvious similarities, the fact that these two parables are dealt with together is

not to overlook their differences. Yet the lack of "death" terminology in the Lucan

account, in relation to the servant, does not change his status as a rejected servant.

55 The de< in Matthew 25:24 is probably contrastive. The term o[ e!teroj in Luke

19:20 suggests immediately that the outcome of the third servant would be different

from the previous two.



            Rejection Imagery in the Synoptic Parables           195

 

Matthew 25:26 he is called a "wicked, lazy slave" (ponhre> dou?le

kai> o]knhre<), while in Luke 19:22 he is referred to as a "wicked

slave" (ponhre> dou?le). These seem rather strange terms to use if

these men are to be viewed as simply wayward individuals. They

are qualitatively different from the preceding faithful servants.

            Ostensibly the servant was not faithful in his assignment, be-

cause of his view of the master.56 The servant claimed that he did

not want to risk the master's property because of how "hard"

(sklhro?j, Matt. 25:24) the master was on his servants or because of

how "exacting" (au]shro>j, Luke 19:21) he was, something the mas-

ter of both stories finds incredibly foolish. With this argument the

servant attempted to make his laziness a necessity and a virtue.

By defaming the master, portraying him as one who enriched

himself by exploiting others, he attempted to excuse his own

actions.57 The description of the servant's attitude suggests

something qualitatively different from the other two servants

found faithful in both versions. The statement that returns the

talent to the master is succinct and blunt, reflecting his attitude:

"Here, you have what is yours" (i@de e@xeij to> so<n, Matt. 25:25; cf.

Luke 19:20).58 In both accounts the third slave essentially severed

himself from any liabilities.59

            In both accounts the master is pictured as angry at the third

servant. His response is to judge the man according to the charac-

teristics the man attributed to him.60 In both versions, the master

raised the question of why the wicked slave (ponhre> dou?le) did not

at least take his money to the trape<zan.61 His view of the master

as hard and unbending, were this an honest reaction to the mas-

 

56 Luke 19:22 uses the phrase au@reij o{ ou]k e@qhkaj ("carry off what you did not de-

posit") instead of suna<gwn o@qen ou] diesko<rpisaj ("gathering where you did not

winnow," Matt. 25:24). For Luke's terminology, see Josephus, Against Apion 2.30

§30; Plato, Leges 11.913c; Philo, Hypothetica 7.6; also see J. D. M. Derrett, "Law in

the New Testament," 184-95, esp. 191, n. 30.

57 A similar argument was used by Adam to blame God for giving him Eve; that act

of transferring blame became one of the first failures of the fallen condition, and it

occurred despite the obvious joys of the garden (Gen. 3:10-12).

58 Derrett views this statement as a disclaimer of responsibility ("Law in the New

Testament," 191).

59 The phrase is apparently a commercial statement that declares the speaker's

disconnection from liability concerning his trust. Cf. m.B.Q. 9.2; 10.5; b.B.Q. 97a;

98a; 116b; 117b; b.Sheb. 37b. Bertram T. D. Smith argues that the attitude prevalent

among the rabbis was that the return of a gift intact would be the expected action of

the day (The Parables of the Synoptic Gospels: A Critical Study, 163-65). But this

was clearly not the master's expectation in this parable.

60 Literally, "Out of your mouth I will judge you" (Luke 19:22; cf. Job 15:6). Cer-

tainly this pronouncement has an insinuation of condemnation here.

61 Cf. Matthew 21:12; Mark 11:15; John 2:15; Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews

12.2.3.



196     BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / April-June 1996

 

ter, should not have pushed him into inaction; rather it should

have prompted him to at least put the talent/mina into the bank.

Even if the interest rates were not high by their standards, at least

some profit would have been shown for the benefit of the master.62

            Two interrelated elements found in both the Matthean and

Lucan versions are worth noting: the removal of the talent from

the third servant (Matt. 25:28; Luke 19:24), and the brief aphorism

explaining why it was removed (Matt. 25:29; Luke 19:26). First,

because of the slave's laziness,63 the master ordered that the talent

be removed from the servant's possession and given to the first

servant. With this command Jesus (the master) highlighted the

example of the first servant as one to be followed by His hearers.

The failure to use what was entrusted is viewed by the master as a

grievous wrong, and so he severed his relationship with the ser-

vant by removing the resources granted to him.64

            In addition Matthew 25:29 and Luke 19:26 give virtually

identical reasons (cf. yap in Matt. 25:29) to justify the master's

removal of the servant's talent/mina and the severance of their

relationship: "For to everyone who has shall more be given

[Matthew includes, ‘and he shall have an abundance’]; but from

the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken

away."65 This saying in both parables has been criticized as hav-

 

62 Derrett discusses various rates of return on investments in that time period

("Law in the New Testament," 192). The rates of the moneychangers might be con-

sidered high by today's standards, but not in their time. For example Derrett sug-

gests that 24 percent was quite low for international trade (ibid , 192, n. 32b). The

aorist participle e]lqe>n in Luke 19:23 (along with the a}n) suggests that the last

phrase of verse 23 acts as a contrary-to-fact apodosis to a conditional phrase begun

in verse 22b with the verb ^@deij. He should have collected the interest, if the ser-

vant invested it, but he had not done so. In actuality he did not fear the master as

much as he suggested.

63 The ou#n in Matthew 25:28 makes clear the connection between laziness and the

removal of the servant's talent. While the conjunction ou#n is not used in Luke 19:24,

the logical connection is as clear as in Matthew.

64 Such consequences are not so different from the destructicn due to disobedi-

ence to the lending laws in the Old Testament (cf. Deut. 28:44-45). Derrett suggests

that this parable may actually allude to the chapters at the end of Deuteronomy

(esp. chap. 28) that deal with the blessings and cursings in order to reinforce the

book's recommendation of service with joyfulness of heart (ibid., 193). Whatever the

case, the command to remove the talent is consistent with contemporary financial

laws indicating a severance of slave/master relations (ibid., 194). Manson reads

Matthew 25:28 and Luke 19:24 simply as a deprivation of opportunity (The Sayings

of Jesus, 248).

            The basic thrust concerning the third servant is virtually identical in both the

Talents and the Minas. The only distinct element is the lack of specific final judg-

ment found in Matthew 25:30. Otherwise the verses on the third servant are in

close literary and verbal parallel between the parables—a fact that has not been lost

to those who argue that the two parables come from a common or-.gin.

65 This maxim occurs in similar forms in several places. For example Matthew



            Rejection Imagery in the Synoptic Parables           197

 

ing nothing to do with the rest of the story.66 The problem is that

none of the servants had anything to start with. Even the initial

capital was given to them. How can anything be taken from one

who has nothing? Derrett suggests a viable solution: "If a mer-

chant possessing capital shows a profit, people eagerly offer him

further capital; the trader who reports no profit loses the capital

entrusted to him. From him that has not (profit to show) it is taken

(withdrawn) even that (capital) which he still has."67

            The strength of Derrett's approach is, as he argues throughout

his article, that the whole parable is filled with commercial

terms, and that an interpretation supporting complete severance

would be in keeping with such a motif and terminology. Money is

entrusted to a man consistent with his success. The one who is

successful will be given more. The one who is unfruitful with en-

trusted capital will have that capital taken away, since the

depositor no longer has need for such a man. This maxim would

have been viewed as reasonable then as it is today.

            The logical implication of the saying in both versions of the

parable is that the evaluation made of those who have something

entrusted to them goes beyond simply having, but includes

whether things are put to use. The phrase "everyone who has" im-

plies praise for the activity of the good servants, specifically their

faithfulness in trading with or using what was given. Manson's

paraphrase is suggestive: "To him who has added something of

his own to what I entrusted to him, more of mine shall be entrusted

and he shall have abundance. But from him who has added noth-

ing of his own to what I entrusted to him, shall be taken away what

I entrusted to him."68 The nuance may be slightly different, but

 

13:12 has the same conceptual maxim in discussing response to a revelation of the

mysteries of the kingdom of God. Jesus spoke parables in such a way that those who

were responding to the kingdom would gain more knowledge. Those who have not

been granted insight into the kingdom and who do not respond to even the "crumbs"

before them will find that even what they do have will be removed. In Luke 8:18 es-

sentially the same maxim is given in a context concerning how a person responds to

what he hears ("take care how you listen"). The implication is that the one who does

not respond properly will find that even what he thinks he has (or "seems" to un-

derstanddoke<w), even a relationship with the kingdom, will be taken from him.

The verbs doqh<setai and a]rqh<setai (used in each of these examples and in the Tal-

ents/Minas parables under study), while suggesting the favor of the master within

the parable, should be understood as divine passives.

66 Beare sees an obvious analogy at the spiritual level which suggests that spiri-

tual gifts need to be used lest they atrophy, and they will increase when they are

exercised (The Gospel according to Matthew, 491). Although such may be true and

even be implied by this parable, it does not explain how this saying fits into this

situation. Manson says this verse is simply a general principle, though he feels

that it is so brief that it is cryptic at best (The Sayings of Jesus, 248).

67 Derrett, "Law in the New Testament," 194.

68 Manson, The Sayings of Jesus, 248.



198      BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / April–June 1996

 

the point is identical. It is not simply the possession of what was

entrusted, but how it was employed. In light of the command to

"Watch!" in 25:13, such preparedness does not lead to passivity

but to doing one's duty.69 The lazy disuse of entrusted gifts is con-

sidered blameworthy, and such is also true in light of the expecta-

tion of the coming kingdom. Such an unfaithful servant will be

severed from his relationship with the master.70

 

                                    CONCLUSION

            This study has surveyed Jesus' phrases and statements used

in some of His parables to describe the nature of the "rejection mo-

tif." The imagery central to these parables shows that the rejec-

tion will be severe and complete. Jesus' kingdom parallels

strongly suggest a rejection that is not simply that of a follower

losing out on an esteemed position in the kingdom, but a soterio-

logical rejection from the eschatological kingdom.

            In the next article in this series these parables will be exam-

ined to discover the nature of the criteria used by the master/king

to determine a servant's rejection or acceptance. Since the appli-

cation of these parables teaches that the judgment made on the

servants is soteriological (determining entrance into or rejection

from the kingdom), the relationship of these criteria to soteriology

will be discussed.

 

69 Cf. Filson, A Commentary on the Gospel according to St. Matthew, 266; and R.

C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Matthew's Gospel (Minneapolis: Augsburg,

1964), 985.

70 Additional support that the third servant is rejected completely might be

drawn from the strong terminology used in the parallel (Matt. 25:30). The radical

rejection is not quite so clear in the Lucan account (19:26-27), since the final rejec-

tion in 19:27 shifts back to those who, as the king's enemies, were tying to thwart

his accession to the throne (19:14). More will be noted when the flow of these para-

bles is discussed in the next article; but it should be highlighted that the third ser-

vant is distinguished from the enemies of the king. They actively defied the king's

wishes. Yet the third servant's clear misperceptions of the master (in both ac-

counts) suggests that he did not really know the master at all. And the strength of

the Lucan phrase ponhre< dou?le is suggestive.  Ponhre< often refers to the evil that is

connected with the underworld (7:21; 8:2; 11:26) and the sin of the world (3:19;

11:29). His release from employment in the removal of the entrusted gift combines

with all the other elements to argue that the man is ultimately removed from his

relationship with the master.

 

This material is cited with gracious permission from:    x

Dallas Theological Seminary

            3909 Swiss Ave.         

            Dallas, TX   75204          

            www.dts.edu

Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at:  thildebrandt@gordon.edu