Bibliotheca Sacra 153 (July-September 1996) 308-31. Pt. 2 of 2
Copyright © 1996 by
IN THE SYNOPTIC PARABLES*
Karl E. Pagenkemper
The first article in this two-part series looked at im-
agery from Jesus' parables in the Synoptic Gospels that point to an
eschatological rejection (thus the so-called "rejection" motif).
Seven elements of imagery were examined: (1) "the furnace of
fire," (2) the phrase "weeping and gnashing of teeth," (3) the im-
agery of "outer darkness," (4) the motif of the shut door, (5) the
phrase "I do not know you" (and its variations), (6) the verb dixo-
tome<w, and (7) the nature of the rejection for those servants who did
not invest their talents or minas. In each case the rejection signi-
fied not simply a rejection from some of the privileges of the
kingdom, but rather a complete rejection from the coming escha-
tological kingdom. The ones rejected did not have any connec-
tion with the salvation Jesus offered.
This article discusses the criteria on which the eschatological
judgments themselves are made. That is, what criteria did the
master or king in each of these parables employ to determine ul-
timate (i.e., eschatological) rejection or acceptance?
TWO KEY PARABLES IN MATTHEW 13
The point of the parables of the Wheat and Tares and of the
Dragnet in Matthew 13 is to teach about the nature of the kingdom
of heaven and its mysteries). An issue these parables address is
Karl E. Pagenkemper is Associate Professor of New Testament Studies, Interna-
*This is article two in a two-part series.
1 As indicated in Matthew 13:11 these parables concern "the kingdom of heaven."
This phrase is common in the Book of Matthew, occurring thirty-three times (or
thirty-four, depending on how one reads the textual evidence in 7:21), and nowhere
else in the New Testament. The phrase "the
in Matthew (12:28; 19:24; 21:31, 43), while occurring forty-six more times in the
Rejection Imagery in the Synoptic Parables 309
that evil people are still mixed in with the true "sons of the king-
dom," and evil continues even though Christ, the Son of David has
come.2 At the future cataclysmic entrance of the kingdom, the
Messiah will sift human society and deal with evil. This clearly
has not happened yet. The New Testament and its contemporary
Jewish literature agree that judgment is certain and that the con-
summation of the kingdom will come in the future when this
fallen age finally concludes and the kingdom will be manifest
in universal power.3
THE PARABLES OF THE TARES
The parable of the Tares presents a man sowing wheat seed
only to find that what grew was not simply wheat but also tares.4 A
other Synoptics out of a total of sixty-three times in the New Testament (plus four
times without the definite article in Paul's letters). Most scholars agree that
Matthew used the term "of heaven", (while other writers used "of God") to follow the
Jewish (and probably Jesus') tradition of venerating the name of Yahweh and
therefore speaking in circumlocution about Him. The term "heaven" seems to focus
not on the sphere of the rule, but the source of the rule (Dan. 4:26; 1 Macc. 3:50, 60;
4:55; Luke 15:18, 21). See Joachim Jeremias, New Testament Theology: The
Proclamation of Jesus, trans. John Bowder (New York: Scribner's Sons, 1971), 31–
32, 97; Robert Gundry, Matthew: A Commentary on His Literary and Theological
Art (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981), 43; and D. A. Carson, "Matthew," in The
Expositor's Bible Commentary, 12 vols. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978), 8:99–101.
Similar to older dispensationalists, some attempt a chronological distinction be-
tween the two "kingdoms" (e.g., Margaret Pamment, "The Kingdom of Heaven
according to the First Gospel," New Testament Studies 27 [1980–81]: 211–32).
2 For a good survey of first-century messianic expectations, see Emil Scharer,
The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ (175 BC–AD 35), rev.
and ed. Geza Vermes, Fergus Millar, and Matthew Black, 3 vols. (
The Soils," in Studia Evangelica, ed. Frank L. Cross (Berlin: Akademie, 1964),
2:203–10, esp. 206–7. See examples of kingdom expectations at the time of Christ in
The Assumption of Moses and the Psalms of Solomon 10–17. While kingdom expec-
tations at the time of Christ were varied, one thread throughout is that at the cata-
clysmic entrance of the kingdom, the Davidic conquering king would deal decisively with evil.
3 Cf. Werner Georg Kammel, Promise and Fulfillment: The Eschatological Mes-
sage of Jesus (Naperville, IL: Allenson, 1957), 136.
4 Almost all agree that Jesus was referring to lolium temulentum, the technical
name for "bearded darnel," from which comes the common name "darnel" (Harold
Moldenke and Alma Moldenke,
Plants of the Bible [
Botanica, 1952], 134–35, 282–83; and Winifred Walker, All the Plants of the Bible
less one looks closely; it is difficult to deal with when found in quantity; and it acts
as a host to a fungus that, if eaten, can be poisonous to both animals and men
Jeremias, The Parables of Jesus,
trans. S. H. Hooke, 2d ed. [
Scribner's Sons, 1972], 224; Eduard Schweizer, The Good News according to
Matthew, trans. David E. Green
Notes on the Parables of Our Lord,
9th ed. [
Henry Alford recounts such a reseeding happening to him personally—affording a
sizable compensation in the court system (The Greek Testament, rev.
4 vols. [reprint,
310 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / July—September 1996
hint to identifying the tares is offered in the parable (when the
grain "comes to head," Matt. 13:26), but the identity and outcome
is clarified in Jesus' interpretation ("the tares are the sons of the
evil one," 13:38). When the wheat bore grain (karpo>n e]poi<hsen:
literally, "made fruit," v. 26), the tares became evident.
Obviously the production of grain (karpo<j) preceded aware-
ness of the tares. This is highlighted by the o!te . . . kai< . . . to<te
construction. But it is difficult to know the precise nuance of the term karpo<j.
It is used nineteen times in the Gospel of Matthew (compared to five in Mark
and twelve in Luke, out of fifty-five times in the New Testament).5
The problem with the term is one of both usage and hermeneu-
tics. Of the nineteen occurrences of karpo<j in Matthew, thirteen
are placed in contexts that suggest a moral emphasis (i.e., good
works).6 Five others refer to literal fruit from a tree; but even
among these, four are used of physical fruit in parabolic texts
(13:8, 26; 21:34, 41).7 This suggests that Jesus consciously alluded
to good works when He used the term karpo<j. In addition this
"fruit" was observable to the servants who could distinguish the
tares from the wheat.
Yet the hermeneutical problem remains. Should an inter-
preter understand the "fruit" in this parabolic reference as "good
works"? The issue may be unresolvable, because the interpreta-
tion distinguishes two kinds of seed, but it does not identify how
the distinction is made. Thus one might maintain a certain
amount of agnosticism about this issue because of the nature of the
parables, for the fruit might not have any significance at all.
However, such an allusion may be precisely what Jesus had
in mind—and in light of Matthew's use of "fruit," it is difficult to
avoid the notion that he knew what his readers would hear. Since
5 Gundry has identified the term karpo<j as part of Matthew's special vocabulary
(Matthew: A Commentary on His Literary and Theological Art, 645).
6 In Matthew 3:8, 10, John the Baptist used the word karpo<j to refer to fruit in
keeping with righteousness. Matthew 7:16-20 suggests false prophets can be identi-
fied by their fruits just like good and bad trees. Matthew 12:33 indicates that the
quality of one's heart is shown by one's "fruit" (cf. 12:35). And after the parable of
the Landowner, Matthew referred in 21:41 to the
and given to those who produce the appropriate fruit.
7 The last two references (21:34, 41) are clearly in the context of moral usage, as
indicated by Jesus' comments in 21:43 (an examination of the Jews' fruit lest the
kingdom be taken away). Meanwhile 13:8 refers to the fruit of the good soil as it
produces various amounts. Gundry argues that in 13:8 karpo<j "obviously" refers to
good works because of Matthew's usage of the term (Matthew: A Commentary on
His Literary and Theological Art, 254). A literal reference is found in 21:19, where
the fig tree is cursed for lack of literal fruit. But one might argue that this too is a
immediately before the account of Jesus' cleansing of the temple because it had
become a den of thieves.
Rejection Imagery in the Synoptic Parables 311
the interpretation shows a separation of the good from the bad, and
the term karpo<j is used (in the parable itself) to identify the tares
for destruction (not to mention the heavy emphasis on works in
all Jesus' other eschatological parables on separation, e.g., espe-
cially Matt. 25:31-46), it is reasonable to suggest that He wanted
His hearers (or at least the disciples8) to understand this as a ref-
erence to good works.
While the practice of pulling a limited number of weeds may
have been fairly normal,9 Jesus prohibited the practice (perhaps
because of the sheer number of tares10) until the appropriate time
(e]n kair&?) of harvest (13:30).11 As Schweizer suggests, "Co-exis-
tence is not the final stage."12 Instead of leaving the job to the
slaves who were asking about the tares, the landowner said he
would instruct reapers (e]rw? toi? qeristai?j) to gather the tares.13
After the tares are gathered as fuel for burning, the wheat will be
gathered into his storage barn (13:30).14
8 Jesus had said that the "secrets of the kingdom" were not for the crowds at
large (11:25-27; 13:10-16, 34-35). Thus it is possible that Matthew deliberately
placed the interpretation of the Soils in between the giving of the parable of the
Soils and that of the Tares. This suggests that 13:24-30 followed 13:1-9 in the origi-
nal event, and that the interpretations of both the Soils and the Tares were given
later to the disciples (perhaps in the house mentioned in 13:36) along with some
9 David Hill, The Gospel of Matthew, New Century Bible Commentary (Grand
Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981), 232; A. B. Bruce, "The Synoptic Gospels," in The Exposi-
tor's Greek Testament, ed. W. Robertson Nicoll,
5 vols. (reprint,
Eerdmans, 1979), 1:200; and Erich H. Kiehl, "Jesus Taught in Parables," Concordia
Journal 7 (1981): 225.
10 Since tares mix their roots with those of the wheat, the extraction of so many
weeds could threaten the owner with a total loss. T. W. Manson notes, "It is not
clear why the servants should be surprised at the appearance of the darnel among
the wheat, unless it was present in great quantity which is not stated. The surpris-
ing thing would be a field that did not have some weeds" (The Sayings of Jesus
Synoptic Gospels," 1:200; William Hendricksen, Exposition of the Gospel accord-
ing to Matthew (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1975), 564; Jeremias, The Parables of Jesus,
255, n. 76; and William G. Doty, "An Interpretation: Parable of the Weeds and
Tares," Interpretation 25 (1971): 185—93.
11 Concerning the eschatological connections of the "harvest," see Friedrich
Hauck, "qeri<zw, qerismo<j," in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 3
(1965): 132-33 (cf. Matt. 3:12; Mark 4:29). The eschatological element is confirmed by
the interpretive pericope (cf. Matt. 9:37-38). The same imagery appears in the
Dragnet parable (13:49). On eschatological judgment, separation, and harvest, see
Isaiah 17:11; Joel 3:13; Jeremiah 51:33; and Hosea 6:11 (the last two refer to the tem-
poral judgment of God on
rejection is still expressed in harvest terminology).
12 Schweizer, The Good News according to Matthew, 304.
13 The shift to the reapers anticipates the reference to angels in verse 39.
14 The imagery of gathering into barns may come from John the Baptist (Matt.
3:12), which also suggests an eschatological cast to the parable.
312 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / July—September 1996
THE PARABLE OF THE DRAGNET
Many have pointed out that the parables of the Tares and of the
Dragnet are structurally similar;15 thus one can rightly antici-
pate the many similarities in design and interpretation. Being
sent the eschatological harvest of the kingdom. Jesus depicted
fishermen collecting various kinds of fish that happened into the
path of a seine net. Clearly some fish would be worth keeping and
some would not.16 Though e]k panto>j ge<nouj (v. 47) could suggest
varying degrees of goodness, it is unlikely, since Jesus did not
highlight that fact at all. Neither is it likely to be racial in nature.
It simply suggests that many sorts will be brought in, all of which
will be categorized as either "good" or "worthless."17 The refer-
ence to the sea (th>n qa<lassan), a common figure in the Old Tes-
tament, probably suggests the place where God's enemies reside.
Thus the image of fishing for men, as used in Matthew 4:19 (a
passage also connected with the throwing of nets; cf. 4:18), pic-
tures souls being pulled from "enemy territory."18
15 David Wenham outlines the eight parables in Matthew 13 in a chiastic struc-
ture. In his arrangement the Tares and the Dragnet parables are paired, and so the
similarities should not be surprising ("The Structure of Matthew 13," New Testa-
ment Studies 25 : 516-22). Wenham is apparently developing a thesis of C. H.
Lohr ("Oral Techniques in the Gospel of Matthew," Catholic Biblical Quarterly
: 403-35), in which Lohr argues that the whole Book of Matthew has a grand
16 The terms kala> and saora> (v. 48) probably refer to ceremonial suitability (cf.
Lev. 11:9-23) not moral suitability. Some are fit to eat and some are not. Cf. the use
of sapro<j in Ephesians 4:29 and in various parabolic texts, namely, Matthew 7:17-
19; 12:33; and Luke 6:43. Also see Otto Bauernfeind, "sapro<j," in Theological Dic-
tionary of the New Testament, 1.(1964): 94-97; and Carson, "Matthew," 8:330.
17 Strangely some writers try to add interpretive color to this "evangelistic" en-
terprise by looking from the Dragnet to John 21:11 (a reference to 153 fish caught
under Jesus' direction). In the history of interpretation this text was often under-
stood to refer to the great variety of people who will come into the kingdom because
of the efforts of the disciples (Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel according to John,
Bible, 2 vols. [
commentator as Brown admits that gamatria may be at work on "153 fish" ("on the
principle that where there is smoke there is fire" [ibid., 2:1075]), yet he suggests
that the point in John is ultimately to authenticate the eyewitness character of the
writer. Also see Robert M. Grant, "One Hundred Fifty-Three Large Fish (John
21:11)," Harvard Theological Review 42 (1949): 273-75; Bruce Vawter, "The Gospel
according to John," in The Jerome Biblical Commentary, 2 vols. in 1 (
Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1968), 2:465; and Jindrich Manek, "Fishers of Men,
Novum Testamentum 2 (1958): 140. Amazingly this discussion is still alive (see O.
T. Owen, "One Hundred and Fifty Three-Fishes," Expository Times 100 : 52-
54; and a response by J. M. Ross, "One Hundred and Fifty-Three Fishes," Exposi-
tory Times 100 : 375).
18 Manek draws attention to the Old Testament cosmological associations of the
sea motif and the,"enemy of God" ("Fishers of Men," 138-41). For example the earth
Rejection Imagery in the Synoptic Parables 313
The picture of a seine net does not suggest that every fish in
the ocean is caught. It may accumulate "all sorts," but never all.
Since some discrimination is naturally made in the process of
fishing, a distinction between the "bad" of the catch and the world
at large is reasonable. With such a difference between the world
at large and those that are only associated with the kingdom
through gathering activities, it may be well to identify the "bad"
fish as false professors.
Following the pattern of the Tares (13:42), angels will cast the
"bad" fish into the furnace of fire (13:50), a place characterized by
weeping and gnashing of teeth. While the "bad" fish are sent to a
place of eternal suffering (the suffering involved with "weeping
and gnashing of teeth" does not suggest annihilation), the inter-
pretive pericope has little to say about the outcome for the righteous
other than placement into containers (a@ggh, v. 48).19
Five things can be noted about these two parables; two pertain
to the Son of Man, and three relate to the rejection element. First,
one key role of the Son of Man is to direct the "sowing operation"
in the current age. While the Dragnet suggests that the "fisher-
men" (which presumably includes the church's activities) are the
instruments whereby the "sons of the kingdom" are gathered, the
Son of Man is in charge. A second role for the Son of Man is to di-
rect the eschatological "harvest." Though angels are the agents of
harvest in both parables (cf. Matt. 24:31), the Son of Man is
clearly portrayed as the One who will send out those angels to
their harvest duties.
Third, the timing of the rejection/judgment is clearly escha-
tological. All the characteristics discussed concerning the fiery
furnace and the weeping and gnashing of teeth are related to the
end of the age. Fourth, this judgment is eternal.20 There is no ev-
idence in the descriptions that the judgment is a type of purgatory
is created from the waters, essentially an ordering of chaos (Job 26:5-8; Pss. 24:2;
74:13; 136:6), and the waters are seen as the place of the kingdom of death (Jon. 2:2-
4). In the New Testament .John saw Satan ("the dragon") standing on the shore of the
sea in Revelation 13:1. Thus to fish for men is to rescue them from the kingdom of
19 The furnace may seem inappropriate for fish, but this misses the distinction
between the reference (fish) and its applicational referent (the wicked). Possibly
the reason Jesus repeated an element of the interpretation of the Tares in Matthew
13:50 was to call rhetorical attention to the similarities of these two parables
(Gundry, Matthew: A Commentary on His Literary and Theological Art, 280).
20 See Timothy R. Carmody, "The Relationship of Eschatology to the Use of Exclu-
sion in Qumran and New
Testament Literature" (Ph.D. diss.,
314 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / July—September 1996
believers go through before entering the kingdom. Nor is there
any hint that the distinction between the "sons of the kingdom"
and the "sons of the evil one" (13:38) means that the former will
gain a special inheritance in the kingdom while the latter are
weeping out of grief for their sins, not being able to receive all the
kingdom has to offer. Those who are rejected in these parables
had been outwardly associated with the true "sons of the king-
dom"; but when examined, their claim to the kingdom was found
to be false. Their condemnation was as eternal as that of the
wicked who made no such claim.
Fifth, the parable of the Tares suggests that the basis of the
judgment is the works (karpo<j, "fruit," v. 26) of the believer.
(This element is not so clearly indicated in the Dragnet.) It was
seen that the term "fruit" in 13:26 (cf. 3:10; 7:17-19; 12:33) sug-
gests that the works of the "sons of the kingdom" are what distin-
guish them from the "sons of the evil one." They are the criteria
for detecting those who will enter the eschatological kingdom.
While this is not probative (since the specific meaning in context
relates to the referent of wheat as it produces its heads of grain), it
will be seen in the parables yet to be discussed that this basis for
judgment is consistent with Matthew's use of karpo<j elsewhere as
well as the usage of the term "righteous."21
THE BANQUET MOTIF IN OTHER ESCHATOLOGICAL
THE BANQUET MOTIF
The banquet is a biblical motif referring to the consumma-
tion of the age when all God's people will be brought together in the
kingdom to enjoy God's blessings.22 This event is symbolized by
a lavish banquet in which all the past and present giants of the
faith (particularly the patriarchs) will partake together. Two im-
portant parables fit this category: the Wedding Banquet (Matt.
22:1-14)23 and the Narrow Door (Luke 13:23-30).
21 The weeds are not called "bad" or "evil," but their contrast with "the righteous"
makes such an association reasonable.
22 For the expectation of a banquet in the kingdom, see Isaiah 25:6-8; 55:1-2; 65:13-
14; Ezekiel 32:4; 39:17-20; 1 Enoch 62:14; 2 Enoch 42:5; 2 Apocalypse of Baruch 29:1-
8 (in which Leviathan is said to be eaten at the messianic banquet); 4 Ezra 2:38-41;
6:49; and Pirqe Aboth 3:20. On the connection of banquets with the banquet of the
Messiah and His bride, see D. S. Russell, The Method and Message of Jewish
Old Testament Library (
1964), 294; and George F. Moore, Judaism in the First Centuries of the Christian
Era, 3 vols. (reprint [3
vols. in 2],
23 Luke 14:15-24, an apparent parallel to Matthew 22:1-14, is not discussed here
because the rejection is not eschatological, but was temporally applied to national
Rejection Imagery in the Synoptic Parables 315
THE WEDDING BANQUET (MATT. 22:1–14)
After the introduction to the parable (22:1-2), there are three
sections: (a) the doubled invitation, rejection, and subsequent
consequences (22:3-7); (b) the new invitation to outsiders (given
only once, 22:8-10); and (c) a picture of the rejection of one who is
improperly prepared (i.e., without a wedding garment, 22:11-14).
This last element is important to the topic at hand. The gather-
ing24 of the good and evil (ponhrou<j te kai> a]gaqou<j, v. 10) is the
verbal transition within the parable into the "garment inspec-
tion" imagery of verses 11-14. As such it suggests that the mixed
company in verses 11-14 is to be understood in the same vein as
the mixed company in the Tares and the Dragnet before their re-
Entering the banquet hall to observe his guests, the king spot-
ted a man not properly dressed25 in wedding clothes. Wedding
attire would normally be newly washed white clothing,26 and it
was often bought specially for the occasion.27 The king speaks to
helpful use of statistical data, see Craig L. Blomberg, "When Is a Parallel Really a
A Test Case: The Lucan Parables,"
(1984): 78–103, especially 81, 85–90. Also see Carson, "Matthew," 8:455; and Ned B.
Stonehouse, Origins of the Synoptic Gospels: Some Basic Questions (reprint,
larity, see Rudolf Bultmann, History of the Synoptic Tradition, trans. John Marsh,
rev. ed. (New York: Harper & Row, 1976), 1–7; but cf. Eugene Lemcio, "The Parable
of the Great Supper and the Wedding Feast: History, Redaction and Canon," Hori-
zons in Biblical Theology 8 (1986): 1–7.
24 Suna<gw, which occurs in four passages in Matthew (3:12; 13:30, 47; 25:32), consis-
tently refers to an eschatological gathering.
25 The figurative use of clothing is common in Scripture (Job 29:14; Ps. 132:9; Isa.
11:5; 61:10 [the "garments of salvation" are parallel to the "robe of righteousness'];
13:14; Gal. 3:27; Eph. 4:22, 24; Col. 3:8–14; Rev. 19:8). In Ezekiel 16:6–14
had been found in blood and received new garments from God. The motif is similar
to Pauline thinking (Eph. 4:1; Phil. 1:27; 1 Thess. 2:12).
26 These clean, white garments are to be contrasted with dirty clothes, which sig-
nify mourning. In other words they are to be festive, not dreary (J. Duncan Derrett,
Law in the New Testament [
Zechariah 3:3–5; Revelation 3:4–5, 18; 19:8; 22:14; 1 Enoch 62:15–16; m. Ta'an. 4.8;
Josephus, The Jewish Wars 2.8.5; Midr. Prov. 16.11; Midr. Qoh. 9.8. A parallel rab-
binic parable can be found in b. Shabb. 153a (attributed to Johanan b. Zakkai, ca. A.D.
27 Was the king responsible to provide the garments? Hendriksen (Exposition of
the Gospel according to Matthew, 797–98) and Simon Kistemaker (The Parables of
support an affirmative answer: (1) the elapsed time from the invitation until the
expected arrival at the banquet is too short for a king to assume they all bought
their own; and (2) the makeup of those invited (presumably the poor; cf. Luke 14:21–
23) suggests many would be unable to provide such affluent "extras." However, "the
complaint against the offender in v. 12 is not that he refused a wedding-garment
but that he came in without one" (Manson, The Sayings of Jesus, 226).
316 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / July–September 1996
him (calling him "friend"28): "How is it that you entered without
the proper wedding clothes?" The answer, obvious to the hearers of
the parable, was that he was invited. Yet he was still out of place.
His, lack of excuse for his condition is made clear by his lack of
response: he is put to silence (literally, "muzzled"; cf. 1 Cor. 9:9; 1
Tim. 5:18). When no answer is given, the king tells his servants
to bind the man hand and foot and cast him out of the hall (Matt.
22:13).29 Whatever the binding implies, it is clear that the subse-
quent punishment is absolute. He is to be cast ei]j to> sko<toj to>
e]cw<teron, "into the darkness which is farthest out."30
THE NARROW DOOR (LUKE 13:23-30)31
Set in the middle of Luke's travel narrative,32 Jesus included
Evidence for the provision of garments by a host is hardly overwhelming.
Schweizer argues there is no evidence for such a custom at the time of Jesus, and
that if such a practice was to be understood in this parable, its exceptional nature
would require the writer to include such a detail (The Good News according to
Matthew, 417). Some writers insist that the garment refers to some sort of imputed
righteousness (e.g., Gundry, Matthew: A Commentary on His Literary and Theo-
logical Art, 439; J. C. Fenton, Saint Matthew, Westminster Pelican Commentaries
Gospel according to St. Matthew, Harper's New Testament Commentaries [New
Parables of the Kingdom, 94; and Madeleine I.
Boucher, The Parables [
DE: Glazier, 1981], 104). But this may be going beyond the confines of the parable by
mixing a possible application with its interpretation. The implication of these
verses is that the man feels he should be in the kingdom and allowed to enjoy the
banquet meal prepared for all who were invited and responded. Yet his lack of preparation
suggests that his "reality" is out of accord with his profession to the right of entrance.
28 The term e[tai?roj occurs three times in the New Testament, all in Matthew
(20:13; 22:12; 26:50; all in the vocative). In 20:13 and in 26:50 Jesus used the term in
polite irony. Commonly used of people not known by the speaker, it is probably
used in 22:12 as a mild rebuke (Walter Bauer, William F. Arndt, and F. Wilbur
Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Chris-
tian Literature, 2d ed., rev. F. Wilbur Gingrich and
29 The binding of the man hand and foot may have prevented him from getting
back into the hall. Hands and feet are often referred to together (Matt. 18:8; Mark
9:43-45; Luke 15:22; 24:39-40; John 11:44; Acts 21:11), but the best verbal parallel may
be in 1 Enoch 10:4: "Bind Azaz'el foot and hand and throw him into the darkness"
(dh?son to>n ]Azah>l po<sin kai> xe<rsin, kai> ba<le au]to>n ei]j to> sko<toj ).
30 Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testamentand Other Early
Christian Literature, 279. While the phrase could simply carry the idea of something outside in
comparison with something inside, the usage here favors the accepted nuance above.
31 Many question whether this is a parable or only a similitude, since it is so
short (13:24-27). The symbolic elements are clear: the banquet motif is seen in 13:29
while the rejection element is already evident in verse 28.
32 On the travel narrative as a structural unit, see Craig L. Blomberg, "Midrash,
Chiasmus, and the Outline of Luke's Central Section," in Gospel Perspectives:
Studies in Midrash and Historiography, ed. R. T. France and David Wenham
Rejection Imagery in the Synoptic Parable 317
this pericope after two brief comparisons with what the kingdom
is like (13:18-21). The expansive growth of the kingdom is sug-
gested by the size of the mustard seed relative to the size of the
adult plant and by the role of leaven. With such grand notions in
mind the disciples asked, "Lord, are there just a few who are be-
ing saved?" (13:23). Jesus' answer was indirect, for He responded
with the exhortation, "Strive to enter through the narrow door." In
saying this, Jesus excluded the assumption of many that their
heritage would be their passport to the kingdom, for one's familial
relationship is something that striving cannot change.33 While
many may seek entry, genuinely wanting what is inside, the el-
ement of the narrow door suggests criteria other than "wanting"
The response by the master (oi]kodespo<thj, v. 25) to the ones
pleading for entrance is straightforward: "I do not know where
you are from."34 The reason for their exclusion is clarified by the
Old Testament quotation that follows: they were "workers of iniq-
uity" (v. 27). The context of Psalm 6:8 identifies those who "do in-
iquity" as the adversaries of righteousness (cf. Ps. 6:7). In other
words something in their behavior marked them as enemies of
ness excludes men from the heavenly banquet."35 By identifying
those who were rejected (those who claimed a right to entrance but
were not allowed in after the door had closed) as "all you evildo-
ers," Jesus taught that there is an inherent connection between re-
jection and doing evil. The specific nature of the connection be-
tween faith and entrance and between works and rejection is not
delineated in this pericope, but the connection between "evildoers"
and those who do not enter the kingdom is clear.
(Sheffield: JSOT, 1983), 240-48. Other suggestions of the structure of the whole sec-
tion (not found as helpful) are given by E. Earle Ellis, The Gospel of Luke, New
Century Bible Commentary, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), 148-50; Wal-
ter Grundmann, "Fragen der Komposition des lukanischen ‘Reiseberichts,’
Zeitschrift fur die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft 50 (1959): 252-70; Charles H.
Talbert, Literary Patterns, Theological Themes, and the Genre of Luke Acts
(Missoula, MT: Scholars, 1974), 51-56; and James L. Resseguire, "Point of View in
the Central Section of Luke (9:51-19:44)," Journal of the Evangelical Theological
Society 25 (1982): 41-47.
33 Cf. Luke 4:25-27; 6:20-38, 46-49; 7:9; 8:9-15; 11:29-52. One can infer that Jesus
taught broadly that the answer to the question would be "Yes, few."
34 This phrase was reviewed in the first article in this two-part series. "I never
knew you" means "I will have nothing to do with you." The source of this concept is
the Old Testament where those who are God's people are spoken of as being known
by Him (Pss. 1:6; 138:6; Isa. 63:16; Hos. 5:3; 13:5; 2 Tim. 2:19). Previous table fellow-
ship would be insufficient,
Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978), 567.
318 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / July–September 1996
This parable does not teach that some believers will be denied
only the banquet in the kingdom because of their evil deeds; the
text does not make this distinction. One's acceptance at the ban-
quet is synonymous with one's acceptance into the kingdom.36
The parable refers to the final soteriological judgment at the es-
Two points can be made from these parables. First, without
preparation for the kingdom even those who are invited cannot
enter. The presence of one without a garment (Matt. 22:11-14)
parallels the tares that appeared to belong in the kingdom, but
when the proof of the quality came out in their lack of "fruit" (or
wheat), their true nature was made clear. The man was present at
the banquet because he responded to an invitation; he assumed he
belonged. Still his lack of preparation showed he did not belong.
While the specifics of the preparation are not clear, the allu-
sion to the garment is likely the good works of one who claimed to
respond to the kingdom. This is comparable to the parable of the
Two Sons recorded just a few verses earlier (21:28-32). There Je-
sus correlated true "sonship" with obedience (an important point
in relation to Matthew's theme that Jesus is the
true Son that
never was). This also correlates with the condemnation of the
Jewish leaders (Matt. 23) in which Jesus based His acceptance or
rejection on the proof of their hearts as seen in their works (cf.
Luke 13:6-9). The garments were related to some form of obedi-
ence. How much obedience is necessary for acceptance? Such a
"quantity" question is not addressed in this parable. But the ne-
cessity of this preparation for acceptance is clear. Is this prepara-
tion to be separated from one's faith in the work of Jesus on the
cross? This is unlikely; although they are not identical, Matthew
did not separate the two ideas.37
Second, while Matthew 22:11-14 suggests that the lack of
some preparation for the kingdom (obedience) indicates one does
36 This is in contrast to
Zane C. Hodges, Grace in Eclipse (
Viva, 1985), 87.
37 Hodges agrees that the garment is not simply the robe of "alien righteousness"
given to believers at the moment of salvation. He agrees that it represents fulfill-
ment of some obligation which "acceptance of the King's invitation places upon
him"' (ibid., 88). The difference from the above analysis is that Hodges redefines
what is missed because of one's lack of preparation. For him, the unprepared one
will miss the banquet, but not the kingdom itself, since he is a believer. Hodges
thinks the disobedient believer (the "evildoer" concerning whom it is pronounced,
"I never knew you") will only miss the banquet; but since he is a believer, he will
later experience the joys of the kingdom, even if it means he will never experience
all that "co-heirs" with Christ could experience (ibid., 90).
Rejection Imagery in the Synoptic Parables 319
not belong to it in the first place, the parable of the Narrow Door
(Luke 13:23-30) focuses on the pleas of those excluded. Some
claimed the door should be reopened for their sake. They rea-
soned that they had already had table fellowship with Jesus while
He was in His earthly ministry and therefore they had a right to
be included. They were left out of the kingdom even though they
had time to respond. And as in Matthew 22:11-14, the ones re-
jected were those who were originally expected to respond (viz.,
the Jewish audience).38
But the controller of the door, Jesus Himself, saw such claims
to the kingdom as insignificant. It may upset the rejected ones
that those whom they deemed less deserving were allowed in, but
the rejection stands. As in Matthew 7:15-23, it was not those who
claimed any right to the kingdom who would be accepted. It was
not even those who had performed miraculous deeds because of
their supposed association with Jesus. Instead, Jesus rejected.
those who were "evildoers" even though they claimed to be associ-
ated with Him. The justification for acceptance or exclusion in
the kingdom is found, once again, not simply in a claim, but in
the evidence of that claim—one's works.
PARABLES FROM JESUS' ESCHATOLOGICAL DISCOURSE
This section includes four consecutive parables from the
Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24-2539 along with two parallels—
the parable of the Good and Bad Servants (Luke 12:41-46) and the
parable of the Minas (Luke 19:11-27).
THE GOOD AND BAD SERVANTS (MATT. 24:45-51; LUKE 12:41-46)40
This story reflects a fairly common practice of selecting a
slave41 to be chief among the domestics in a household. Manson
38 In Matthew 8:11-12 the "sons of the kingdom" (the Jews) were rejected, even
though it is clear that the kingdom was supposed to be their inheritance.
39 While Matthew 24:4b-35 is a description of the phases of the future and is pri-
marily informative, 24:36-25:30 is parenetic and contains exhortations to vigilance.
For general structural analysis of Matthew 24-25, two useful sources are Victor
Kossi Agbanou, Le Discours Eschatologique de Matthieu 24-25: Tradition et Re-
daction (Paris: Gabalda, 1983); and Jan Lambrecht, Once More Astonished: The
Parables of Jesus (New York: Crossroad, 1981), 152.
40 The similarities, even at the verbal level, are remarkable (Craig L. Blomberg,
"When Is a Parallel Really a Parallel?" 81; Agbanou, Le Discours Eschatologique de
Matthieu, 134; and C. G. Montefiore, The Synoptic Gospels, 2 vols., 2d ed. (reprint,
41 Matthew 24:45 uses dou?loj, while Luke 12:42 has oi]kono<moj to reflect more
specifically the idea of a steward. The motif of slavery is commonly used of Chris-
tians (Rom. 1:1; Gal. 1:10; 2 Cor. 4:5).
320 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / July–September 1996
appropriately translates Jesus' rhetorical question as a state-
ment: "If anyone deserves the name of wise and faithful steward,
it is he, who being left in charge of his fellow-servants, devotes
himself to their welfare."42 After having been away for some
time, the master on his return praises the servant for fulfilling
his task. The servant who is found performing such responsibili-
ties faithfully is called blessed (maka<rioj, Matt. 24:46; Luke
There is an alternative outcome, for a servant may prove un-
faithful, and such behavior results in severe punishment. While
Luke did not call this servant evil (kako>j) as did Matthew (24:48;
compare the descriptions in 21:41; 25:26), there was no need for
Luke to do so. The character of the faithless servant (in both
Gospels) is evident in his treatment of those left in his charge.
Both Matthew and Luke noted that the wicked servant had made a
decision in his heart44 and was motivated in his actions by an as-
sumption that the master would be away a long time. The servant
used his master's delay as an excuse to take advantage of his fel-
But the master will return-at an unanticipated time (Matt.
24:36, 42, 44, 50; cf. 25:13). The one who is not vigilant will also
not be faithful to his charge, for he is not motivated by the return of
one who will hold him accountable. As suggested in the previous
article, terms like "unfaithful" (oi[ a]pi<stoi, Luke 12:46) and
"hypocrite" (oi[ u[pokritai<, Matt. 25:51) indicate this slave is ulti-
mately unbelieving. The consequence of this unbelief is destruc-
tion, as seen in the phrase "weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matt.
24:51) and the dichotomization (dixotomh<sei au]to>n, Luke 12:46).45
In summary, when the Son of Man returns He will bless the
42 Manson, The Sayings of Jesus, 118.
43 The term maka<rioj suggests divine approval, not simply "happiness" (Matt. 5:1-
11; 11:6; 13:16; 16:17). Jeremias misses the force of the text when he asks, "Why
would anybody want a promotion on a job since it would only mean more responsi-
bility?" (The Parables of Jesus, 56, n. 25). As Manson notes, the essence of "reward"
suggests that the new responsibility will bring great pleasure to the servant, and
Jesus' audience would have agreed with His perspectives here (The Sayings of Je-
44 Manson notes that the phrase "say in his heart" (cf. Luke 12:17) is a Hebrew id-
iom for "think," as in Psalms 14:1 and 53:1 (ibid.).
45 Luke's judgment of the servants is more detailed, for while Matthew cited' only
two options, Luke presented four kinds of judgment. Whether Luke 12:47-48 sug-
gests varying degrees of perdition or blessing can be debated; but the judgment on
the dichotomized servant is unambiguous because of Luke's usage of "unbelievers"
(v. 46; see previous article). For a discussion of the varying judgments given at the
end of Luke's account, see Charles H. Talbert, Reading Luke (
road, 1974), 143-44; and Ellis, The Gospel of Luke, 47-48.
Rejection Imagery in the Synoptic Parables 321
faithful and judge the unfaithful and hypocritical. While the
hour is not known, all are to be faithful at doing what they are as-
signed. The second servant is called "evil" and is condemned
eternally because of his unfaithfulness to his assignment. In fact
the unfaithfulness was the proof of his evil nature, as suggested by
the reference to the man speaking "in his heart."
THE TEN VIRGINS (MATT. 25:1-13)
In this parable the kingdom is being compared not to ten vir-
gins but to a wedding.46 "That is how it is with the coming of God's
Kingdom, as when a group of girls with torches brings in the
bridegroom.47 At the time of the kingdom's entrance the events
can be compared. to this story concerning the virgins.48
The point of the parable is to examine what makes the wise
and foolish virgins different, leading in turn to their different
outcomes. Some were "ready" and some were "not ready."49
While the delay of the arrival of the groom aids in telling the
story, the key is the lack of sufficient oil for the procession after
the groom arrives.50 Jesus did not explain why there was not
enough oil, nor whether the torches (or lamps51) were lit during
the hours spent waiting for the groom. He stated only that the un-
wise had insufficient oil for the task. The result was the rejection
of those who were unprepared.
Obviously the nature of the preparation in this parable is prob-
lematic. The tendency is to suggest that oil is a symbol for
46 The wedding feast, as previously noted, depicts full communion with God in
the kingdom (Matt. 8:11; 22:1-14; 26:29; Luke 12:37; 14:15-24; 15:23-24; 22:15-18; Acts
10:41; Isa. 25:6-8).
47 Joachim Jeremias, Rediscovering
the Parables (
1966), 137 (cf. Schweizer, The Good News according to Matthew, 466; and Lam-
brecht, Once More Astonished, 154). On introductory formulas, see Eta Linnemann,
Jesus of the Parables trans. John Sturdy, 3d ed. (New York: Harper & Row, 1966),
48 Virtually all writers argue, correctly, that the number ten should not be
pushed. As A. B. Bruce suggested long ago, the number ten came to their mind just
as "a dozen" comes to a modern Western mind ("The Synoptic Gospels," 299). The
reference to "five" in verse 2 should be treated similarly.
49 This division between the "ready" and the "unready" is pursued throughout the
surrounding parables (24:40-44; 24:45-51; 25:2, 8-9; 25:20-29). Agbanou notes that the
reality of their foolishness is not discovered until the point of crisis (Le Discours
Eschatologique de Matthew 24 25, 146, n. 7). In fact the parable focuses primarily
on the ones who were rejected (cf. Linnemann, Jesus of the Parables, 192).
50 Much is made of the element of delay in the secondary literature because of as-
sumptions about the extent of Jesus' knowledge of the future. But Kummel makes
the discussion immaterial by arguing that the delay is only a literary device pre-
sented to explain the flow of events (Promise and Fulfillment, 58-59).
51 Commentators disagree over whether lampa<daj refers to torches or ordinary
322 BIBUOTHECA SACRA / July—September 1996
"works," the lack of which, in turn, is the basis for the rejection of
the unprepared. But this connection remains uncertain.52 Within
the parable itself Jesus used the oil primarily as a literary foil or
test to help identify the necessary preparation. Still the larger
context of the surrounding parables does suggest such a connec-
tion; therefore connecting oil with good works cannot be rejected
out of hand.53 Assuming that the parable was not to be interpreted
independent of its context (nor in another context),54 the sugges-
tion of a connection with good deeds is unmistakable in the
broader strokes of the parable's message. The story discusses
only two categories: those who are ushered into the kingdom and
those who are excluded.
Once the door to the feast is shut, the one introduced as the
groom serves as a judge, and his statement of their rejection is
unequivocal. His response ("I do not know you," 25:12) indicates
he had no personal association with them.55 In a real-life wed-
ding such a statement would sound strange, for surely a groom
would know those in the wedding party. Thus the rejection state-
ment is a twist in the story that calls attention to itself, since it
puts the picture at odds with normal weddings.
The response by the groom is not simply a calloused rejection
of those whose entire life had been spent trying to enter the king-
dom. Rather, this rejection comes despite appearances, for those
who were rejected only appeared to be prepared for its coming by
bringing lamps. As in the parable of the Narrow Door (Luke
13:24-25), once the door is closed, it is too late. In light of such an
outcome the parable ends (Matt. 25:13) with the imperative "be
alert" or "keep watch" (grhgorei?te).56
52 Three major interpretations of "oil" can be found: (1) the Holy Spirit (e.g., David
was anointed with oil by Samuel; 1 Sam. 16:13); (2) the act of repentance (based on
Matt. 6:17; Fenton, Saint Matthew, 396); and (3) good deeds (Gundry, Matthew: A
Commentary on His Literary and Theological Art, 499). For examples of the use of
allegory among early writers, see A. B. Bruce, "The Synoptic Gospels," 1:301.
Chrysostom viewed the lamp as symbolic of virginity and the oil as a reference to
pity; thus moral continence was said to be worthless
sists any allegorical meanings behind the oil ("Matthew," 512-13).
53 A key to understanding Matthew's fifth discourse is his use of the terms poie<w
and thre<w (e.g., Matt. 25:31-46), arguing for a connection with good deeds. Yet the
specifics are difficult to certify (cf. Karl Paul Donfried, "The Allegory of the Ten
Virgins (Matt. 25:1-13) as a Summary of Matthean Theology," Journal of Biblical
Literature 93 : 419-20).
54 Cf. Don O. Via, The Parables: Their Literary and Existential Dimension
(Philadelphia: Fortress, 1987), 122—24.
55 Cf. Jeremias, Rediscovering the Parables, 175; and Lambrecht, Once More
56 Of course one need not stay awake to be prepared, for preparation assumes ar-
rangements ahead of time (Hill, The Gospel of Matthew, 327).
Rejection Imagery in the Synoptic Parables 323
Ultimately it seems that the division between the two groups of
virgins is not between two widely disparate groups. All ten vir-
gins are viewed as anticipating the kingdom and expecting en-
trance into it. No distinction was made until the time of the cri-
sis—when the groom arrived. The foolish virgins are not those
who have no interest in the things of the kingdom, but are those
who, despite their interest, are not prepared. Matthew's initial
readers would likely have understood that the parable is not about
those who clearly and blatantly reject the gospel. It is about those
who are "close" to the gospel message and yet have not experi-
enced the reality of it, as seen by their lack of preparation. In the
broader context of Matthew 24–25 this preparation would include
obedience to the will of the Father.
THE PARABLES OF THE TALENTS AND THE MINAS57
(MATT. 25:14-30; LUKE 19:11-27)
The lessons of these two parables are similar, though the ve-
hicle for the teaching is slightly different.58 In Matthew the tal-
57 The relationship between these two parables is a well-known problem
(Blomberg, "When Is a Parallel Really a Parallel?" 81; Boucher, The Parables, 139;
Carson, "Matthew," 8:515; John Dominic Crossan, In Parables: The Challenge of the
Historical Jesus [
des talents et des mines," in De Jesus aux Evangiles. Tradition et Redaction dans
les Evangiles Synoptiques, ed. I. de la Potterie [Gembloux: Ducolot, 1967], 2:248-71;
Dodd, The Parables of the Kingdom, 114; Fitzmyer, The Gospel according to Luke,
2:1228-29; Hill, The Gospel of Matthew, 328; Manson, The Sayings of Jesus, 245; J.
Schmid, Das Evangelium nach Lukas, 5th
The Four Gospels: A Study of Origins [
Wenham, The Rediscovery of Jesus' Eschatological
JSOT, 1984], 71-76). On the supposed "throne claimant" in Luke (esp. 19:14, 27), and
its historical connections, see Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews 17.8.1; 17.9.3-4;
17.11.1-4; idem, The Jewish Wars 2.2.2-3; 2.6.1-3. See also the discussions by Dodd,
The Parables of the Kingdom, 117-18; Jeremias, The Parables of Jesus, 63; Lam-
brecht, Once More Astonished, 180-83; Lane C. McGaughy, "The Fear of Yahweh
sion in the Parable of the Talents," Journal of Biblical Literature 94 (1975): 241;
Alan Hugh McNeile, The Gospel according to St. Matthew (1915; reprint, Grand
Rapids: Baker, 1980), 36,3; and F. D. Weinert, "The Parable of the Throne Claimant
(Lk. 19:12, 14-15a, 27) Reconsidered," Catholic Biblical Quarterly 39 (1977): 505-14.
58 Matthew presented the Talents to picture how a faithful slave is to act. While
the Ten Virgins emphasized "wisdom" (fro<nimoj, 25:2; cf. 24:45), the Talent parable
focuses on the term "faithful" (pisto>j, 25:21, 23). Luke put the Minas in a different
context, occurring after Jesus' encounter with Zacchaeus (19:1-10) and before His
cause of a misunderstanding about the current presence of the kingdom among
them (19:11; cf. 17:21). No more eloquent example of the kingdom's presence could
be found than its presence in the household of Zacchaeus (19:9). The salvation of
one like Zacchaeus suggested to Jesus' followers that the kingdom would soon ap-
pear and bring with it the reality of freedom from
light of such an expectation, Jesus was forced to add a corrective note to popular
expectations (not uncommon in this section of Luke; cf. 17:20-24; 18:1-8; 21:8-9), ex-
324 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / July–September 1996
ents are distributed based on the abilities of the individuals to use
them and produce results; in Luke the minas are distributed
evenly between all the servants. In Matthew, assessments are
based on the profit relative to the gift entrusted (the first two ser-
vants are given the same praise and reward despite their differ-
ent earnings); in Luke, evaluations are determined by how much
profit each is able to make based on a common starting point. In
each case faithfulness to the assigned task results in rewards that
include more responsibility and joy in the future. "The reward of
a duty [done] is a duty [to be done]."59
In both passages the third servant portrays rejection. Osten-
sibly the reason he hid his talent was his fear the master was hard
on his servants. By declaring his desire not to risk the master's
property, the servant virtually made his laziness into a necessity,
even a virtue. He attempted to excuse his own actions by blaming
the master.60 The slave was suggesting that if he had made any
profit the master would have taken it all away, or if he had lost it
the servant would have been held responsible. In returning the
talent to the master the servant was succinct and blunt: "See, you
have what is yours" (i@de e@xeij to> so<n, Matt. 25:25).61
Assuming the servant's own reasoning, he had the weakest
excuse of all of them, for he had the least to risk.
"Grace never condones irresponsibility; even those given less
are obligated to use and develop what they have."62 Instead of be-
ing praised as a "good and faithful servant," the third servant
was called a "wicked and slothful servant" (ponhre> dou?le kai>
o]knhre<, v. 26). The actions and words of the servant vindicated the
true nature of his heart. He should have at least done something;
he could have put the money in a bank so he could return it with
interest (su>n to<k&, v. 27).63 The master did not necessarily accept
plaining that the consummated presence of the kingdom is yet future.
59 M. Aboth 4.2. McNeile suggests that the responsibilities in the coming kingdom
will be analogous to but much greater than the opportunities for service now (The
Gospel according to St. Matthew, 365).
60 He felt the master was hard (sklhro?j is emphatic) and was enriching himself at
the cost of others (Matt. 25:24). A similar argument was used by Adam to blame God
for giving him Eve, thus precipitating the fallen condition despite the obvious joys
of the garden (Gen. 3:10–12).
61 This phrase is a commercial statement suggesting the speaker's disconnection
from liability concerning a trust (cf. m. Baba Qamma 9.2; 10.5; b. Baba Qamma 97a;
98a; 116b; 117b; b. Sheb. 37b). Bertram T. D. Smith shows that the attitude prevalent
among rabbis was that the return of a gift intact would be the expected action of the
Parables of the Synoptic Gospels: A Critical Study [
sity Press, 1937]).
62 Carson, "Matthew," 517.
63 On trapezi<taij, see Mark 11:15; Matthew 21:12; John 2:15; and Josephus, The
Antiquities of the Jews 12.2.3. Tra<peza is a common financial term referring liter-
Rejection Imagery in the Synoptic Parables 325
the servant's description of him, but he responded that, if such a
view is correct, it is more, not less, reason for the servant to exert
himself.64 The failure to use what was entrusted is viewed by the
master as a grievous wrong, and so the master severed the rela-
tionship by removing the resources granted to the slave.65
Some argue the third servant is similar to those described in 1
Corinthians 3:14-15, in which judgment is pronounced on true
disciples who have not been faithful. Despite unfaithfulness,
these disciples are saved "as through fire."66 In this view the third
servant represents those whom Paul described as "carnal," those
who are not producing fruit consistent with their salvation. The
man was indeed called a "servant."67 But this fact does not con-
firm this view.
ally to the table or bench that is used in transaction, later referring to those who do
such business there (James Hope Moulton and George Milligan, The Vocabulary of
the Greek Testament Illustrated from the Papyri and Other Non-Literary Sources
64 It is unlikely Jesus was trying to discredit or do away with the Old Testament laws against
usury in lending among the Jewish people (Exod. 22:25; Lev. 25:35–37; Deut. 23:19), though
interest could be charged to the Gentiles (Deut. 23:20). See W. W. Buckland, A Textbook of
Roman Law from Augustus to Justinian, 2d ed., (London: Macmillan, 1933), 465.
65 Such consequences are not so different from the destruction based on disobedi-
ence to the Old Testament lending laws (Deut. 28:44–45). Derrett argues this para-
ble alludes to the chapters at the end of Deuteronomy on blessings and cursings to
reinforce the book's recommendation of service with joyfulness of heart. Whatever
the case, the command to remove the talent is consistent with contemporary finan-
cial laws indicating a severance of slave-master relations (Law in the Old Testament, 193-94).
66 Cf. Danker, Jesus and the New Age: A Commentary on Luke's Gospel, 309–1.0;
G. H. Lang, The Parabolic Teaching of Scriptures (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956),
289–90; Hodges, Grace in Eclipse, 90–95; idem, The Gospel Under Siege, 112; and
Schweizer, The Good News according to Luke, 295. Lang believes the third servant
is saved, but that he is being warned he would lose his inheritance. The inheri-
tance, he says, is not the privilege of entering the kingdom, but the opportunity to
receive rewards in the kingdom. All of Lang's support comes from Pauline pas-
sages (1 Cor. 6:7–11; Gal. 5:21; Eph. 5:5).
67 Lang writes, "It is wholly unwarranted to regard him as type of a false professor
or one deceived as to relationship with Christ" (ibid., 290). Lang suggests that the
vocative kurie< identifies his personal relationship with the master.
However, in several instances in Luke the term dou?loj is used without over-
tones of spiritual relationship, but simply to indicate a functional relationship of
an inferior to a superior (e.g., Luke 7:2, 3, 8; 14:17, 21–23; 15:22). Also in the
Matthean parallel (25:30) the one suffering the judgment was also called a servant,
and his exclusion from the kingdom seems certain. The title kurie< is no more sig-
nificant here than the fact that the goats in 25:44 addressed the Son of Man as
"Lord." In the future all will address Him as Lord (Phil. 2:11); thus the enemies are
also subjects of the king. They are not any less his subjects because of their trea-
sonous actions. Instead, that they are his subjects gives the king authority to con-
demn them to death. Lang's approach (and those who follow him) is an unwar-
ranted application of the theological categories of Paul's thought to the categories
of Luke's (and Matthew's) thought.
326 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / July-September 1996
In both versions of the parable, while the specific elements
differ, the criterion of judgment is the works of the servants.
Their works demonstrate the reality of their trust in the master—
or even an appropriate fear. Each servant was judged on his us-
age of the gifts entrusted, not simply the presence of the gift, for the
third servant in both cases received a gift but refused to use it.
Those servants who are faithful prove their trust and obedience to
their master, whereas the actions of the third servant in both para-
bles demonstrate his lack of trust toward the master. The disobe-
dient servant's hatred is shown by "works" which prove his rejec-
tion of the master's kingship over him. So the king condemned
this enemy in no uncertain terms.
Like the servants during the absence of their masters in these
parables, disciples must faithfully be waiting, and true servants
will be productive.
THE SHEEP AND THE GOATS: THE FINAL JUDGMENT (MATT. 25:31–46)
The parable of the Sheep and Goats is the most pointed of the
parabbles being surveyed, for its parabolic elements only thinly
veil the clear references to deeds and eternal judgment.68 After
setting up the story with a picture of separating sheep and goats as
if night were coming on a flock in the fields,69 the Son of Man,
now under the title of King," pronounced blessings on the sheep
and cursing on the goats. The clear reason for such discrimina-
tion relates to the deeds they perform. Such priorities are not new
68 Many have wondered whether this passage should even be taken as a parable,
since its parabolic elements concerning the sheep and goats are mentioned in only
two verses (vv. 32-33). For the discussion see Agbanou, Le Discours Eschatologique
de Matthieu 24-25, 178; Beare, The Gospel according to Matthew, 492; Carson,
"Matthew," 8:518; David R. Catchpole, "The Poor on Earth and the Son of Man in
Heaven: A Re-appraisal of Matthew xxv. 31–46," Bulletin of the John Rylands Uni-
versity Library 61 (1979): 355; Lamar Cope, "Matthew xxv:31–46. The ‘Sheep and the
Goats’ Reinterpreted," Novum Testamentum 11 (1969): 34; J.-C. Ingelaere, "La
‘parabole’ du Jugement Dernier (Matthieu 25, 31–46)," Revue d'histoire et de
philosophie religeuses 50 (1970): 26; Jeremias, The Parables of Jesus, 206;
Kistemaker, The Parables of Jesus, 147; McNeile, The Gospel according to St.
Matthew, 368; Robert H. Stein, An Introduction to the Parables of Jesus
(Philadelphia: Westminster, 1981), 131; and John F. Walvoord, "The Judgment of the
Nations," Bibliotheca Sacra 129 (1972): 307.
69 With darkness comes cooler temperatures, and goats gather for warmth while
sheep are a bit heartier (Carson, "Matthew," 8:521; Jeremias, The Parables of Jesus,
206; and Beare, The Gospel according to Matthew, 494). While the relative hearti-
ness of these animals may explain how animals were treated at certain times of the
day, it may not ultimately be germane because of the way Jesus described the sepa-
ration of some on one side and some on the other.
70 The reference to "my father" (patro<j mou) clearly presents Jesus as the King
rather than the Father (thus presenting separate persons).
Rejection Imagery in the Synoptic Parables 327
to either the New Testament or Jewish sentiment in general.71 In
addition, however, such criteria for judgment are not all Matthew
said on the subject of how to enter the kingdom.
that the "reason for admission to the kingdom in this parable is
more evidential than causative."72
The surprise of the "goats" indicates they were not aware of
the nature of the criteria: the Son of Man had identified with His
followers in such a way that things done to them would also be
done to Him. "True disciples will love one another and serve the
least brother with compassion; in so doing they unconsciously
serve Christ. Those who have little sympathy for the gospel of the
kingdom will remain indifferent and, in so doing, reject King
Messiah."73 With such criteria in mind the destiny of the indi-
vidual is left to two options: either he or she will gain an inheri-
tance in the kingdom (i.e., eternal life), or he or she will be sepa-
rated out for a never-ending punishment in "the eternal fire pre-
pared for the devil and his angels" (Matt. 25:41).
The rejection of the goats was not based on what they did, but
on what they failed to do. It was a sin of omission toward "the least
of these" (cf. the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31). God
abhors not simply the performing of sinful acts but also the omis-
sion of deeds. Failure to do good is in fact to do evil. In addition
the free gift of grace (as represented in Matt. 20:1-16) has to be
reconciled with the role of works (as here in 25:31-46). The works
are the fruit. that demonstrates the reality of the conversion of
one's heart. The love shown by these deeds of mercy springs from
true faith. As Walvoord affirms, "What is presented here is not
71 Cf. Job 22:7; 31:16-21, 31-32; Proverbs 25:21; Ezekiel 18:7, 16; Tobias 4:16; Sirach
7:35; Testament of Joseph 1:4-7; Testament of Benjamin 4:4 (divine reward for
showing mercy even to sinners); 2 Enoch 9:1; 10:5; 52:8; 63:1, 3; Sukka 49b; Nedarim
40a ("He who visits the sick will be saved from the judgment of Gehinnom"); and m.
Aboth 1.2 ("On three things the world stands, on the Torah, the Worship and the
performance of kindnesses"). Gundry calls verses 35-36 a targum on Isaiah 58:7.
Beare points out that the visitation of prisoners is apparently not mentioned in
Jewish lists of pious deeds (The Gospel according to Matthew, 494), while at the
same time there is no mention here of the burial of the dead, a prime duty of the pi-
ous (e.g., Tob. 1:16; cf. Matt. 8:21-22). The Testament of Joseph 1: 5-6 echoes many of
the same elements as the deeds of mercy in Matthew—though it is interesting to
note who fulfills those needs:
"I was sold into slavery, and the Lord of all made me free;
I was taken into captivity, and His strong hand succoured me.
I was beset with hunger, and the Lord Himself nourished me.
I was alone, and God comforted me;
I was sick, and the Lord visited me;
I was in prison, and my God showed favor to me."
72 Carson, "Matthew," 8:521.
73 Ibid., 522.
328 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / July-September 1996
the basis or ground of salvation but the evidence of it. . . . Accord-
ingly, while works are not the ground of justification for salva-
tion, they can be the fruit or evidence of it."74
Are such deeds sufficient for justification? No (Matt. 20:1–
16; cf. Luke 11:23), but this is the wrong question to ask. The real
question should be, "Am I (the reader or hearer) reflecting my re-
ception of the message?" Such works, as evidence of a truly
changed heart, will be accurately judged by God, who truly knows
the heart and who promises recompense based on deeds (Matt.
16:27; Rom. 2:6; Rev. 20:12–13). Matthew emphasized that disci-
ples must do the will of the Father (e.g., Matt. 12:46-50). As Don-
ahue notes, "No gospel is harsher than Matthew on an ethic of
words without deeds" (6:2, 5, 16; 7:15-21;23:13-15).75
BRIEF THOUGHTS ON THE SYNOPTICS VERSUS PAUL
Few question that Paul viewed faith as the key to justification
and that faith results in the believer having the "right" to enter
God's presence at the end of the age. In addition few question that
the Synoptics view Jesus as having high requirements for those
who enter the kingdom.76 But it is at this very juncture that the
writers must be brought together. When Paul discussed justifica-
tion by faith, he was specifically identifying the "entrance" re-
quirements. But when Jesus discussed discipleship, He viewed
salvation from a full-orbed perspective—not just the entrance, but
the life of commitment to His lordship.77 In other words the Syn.-
74 Walvoord, "The Judgment of the Nations," 312. Walvoord views this as identical
to the problems created by comparing James's discussion on works with Paul's
texts on justification (John F. Walvoord,
Matthew: Thy Kingdom Come [
Moody, 1974], 202). The works give evidence of life. The adjective "dead" in James
2:17, 26 need not mean that the faith was at one time alive any more than that the
phrase "dead rock" implies that a rock previously had life if it is now described as
"dead." To be dead means to have no life. See John F. Walvoord, The Nations in Pro-
phecy (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1967), 151-57.
75 Donahue, The Gospel in Parable, 31. Cf. Jan Lambrecht, "The Parousia Dis-
course: Composition and Content in Mt. xxiv-xxv," in L'Evangile selon Matthieu:
Redaction et theologie, ed. M. Didier (Gembloux: Duculot, 1972), 2309-42.
76 For example Matthew 7:15-23; 10:24-28, 32-33, 37-39; 12:33; 16:24-28; 18:8-9;
19:16-22; 20:25-28; 21:27-32; 22:34-40; Mark 3:31-35; 4:24-25; 8:34-38; 9:43-48; 10:17-31,
42-45; Luke 6:20-49; 9:23-27, 57-62; 10:25-37; 11:33-36; 12:8-9, 31-34; 14:7-14, 26-35.
This list is not to suggest Jesus viewed these "requirements" as prior to faith, for
faith is a key element in Jesus' teachings, even outside the Gospel of John. See the
examples of faith in Matthew 9:18-22, 27-31; 11:25-27; 14:31; 18:6; Mark :1:15; 9:42;
10:30, 52; 11:23-24; Luke 1:45; 8:12, 50; 10:21-24.
77 Paul also viewed faith as a continuing process (Rom. 1:17; Gal. 2:20). "Faith is
not simply the accepting of a justifying act of God, but the establishing as a result of
a new relationship with Christ. . . . The new life was seen as a continual act of faith,
Rejection Imagery in the Synoptic Parables 329
optic Gospels teach, "This is what the disciple, the one who has
trusted Christ, does." This certainly includes faith in Jesus, but
the presentation usually focuses on a disciple as one who follows
hard after his master in obedience.78
At the same time Paul spoke of the rejection of the unrighteous
based on their lack of good works (
Jesus spoke in His parables of those who would not gain the king-
dom. Overall, this is a relatively brief element in Paul's corpus,
but it is not thereby insignificant. On the other side the role of faith
as a requirement for entrance into the kingdom in Jesus' message
is also relatively rare, but it is hardly nonexistent.79
In summary several points are worth highlighting. First, in
each parable the judgment occurs at the consummation of this
age.80 While the timing of that event is unknown, each follower
is to be ready for and anticipate the coming kingdom.
a continual appropriation of what Christ had done for him. This does not lessen
the once-for-all character of justification, but highlights the constant grip of faith
upon it" (Donald Guthrie, New Testament Theology [
sity, 1981], 592). Also see Jeremias, New Testament Theology, 204-30; Paul S. Min-
ear, And Great Shall Be Your Reward: The Origins of Christian Views of Salva-
tion (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1941), 12, 40–53 (cf. 60–63); and Her-
man Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology, trans. John Richard de Witt
(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975), 205–6.
78 For an example of free offer and serious demand in close context, see Luke
14:16–24 and 14:25–33. Luke 14:16–24 refers to the eschatological banquet to which
people are freely invited, the only requirement being that they show up and accept
the invitation. The next passage (14:25–33), addressed to those accompanying Him
on His travels, concerns the necessity of counting the cost of following Christ
(Charles C. Ryrie, So Great Salvation [Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1989], 74–76). The diffi-
culty comes, though, in making the decision to enter the banquet separate from the
life of discipleship (as Ryrie seems to suggest). Rather, Luke put these two ele-
ments one after the other to highlight two sides of the same coin. The banquet
shows the broadness of the invitation and the free cost of attending (though the
banquet clearly cost the master greatly). While the entrance is open to each one who
will enter at no cost, the life of the disciple, assumed of all who enter the kingdom,
will itself expect much and be costly. The first pericope looks strictly at the en-
trance point, while the second looks at salvation in its full-orbed perspective. Sep-
aration takes place only at the semantic and conceptual level.
79 The account of the centurion in Matthew 8:5–13 is particularly instructive. Je-
sus commended the man's faith when He marveled at his insight into the nature of
spiritual authority. Jesus then connected that faith with an illustration of the con-
summation of the age. Many will come from all over the world to recline at the table
with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but some of the "sons of the kingdom" will be ex-
cluded and cast into eternal punishment. The man's faith is the key by which those
sons of the kingdom (Jews) might also enter the banquet in the next age.
80 The judgments are presented so that both the righteous and the evil are judged
at the same time. The picture is different from the one in Revelation 20 where
judgment of the righteous and the evil is separated by one thousand years. This is
an example of later revelation adding details to the earlier.
330 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / July—September 1996
Second, the essential nature of the judgment is soteriological.
The judgment will render decisions that are eternal in nature,
reflecting the status of each human being with regard to his or her
eternal relationship to the kingdom. Phrases such as "the dark-
ness outside," the "fiery furnace," and "weeping and gnashing of
teeth" describe eternal separation from the kingdom. They are
not simply expressions of grief over a Christian life that did not
count for much in the kingdom, for they are figures and phrases
representing an eternal exclusion from the presence of God. With
this in view, it has been suggested that salvation in these parables
is viewed as a "whole," not simply as a point of entry. The "sons
of the kingdom" and the "sons of the evil one" (Matt. 13:38) are on
opposite sides of the soteriological divide. There is no room for
purgatory, universalism, or a view that some may miss the heav-
enly "banquet" while yet retaining a right to entry into the king-
dom (i.e. "salvation," in Pauline terms). Those who are rejected
are permanently excluded.
Third, the basis for this eternal judgment is the individual's
works. In some cases the emphasis is on faithfulness to a job as-
signed: perhaps in a picture of preparation for an event, or a pic-
ture of the fruit (karpo<j) of the believer. But however it was pic-
tured, works were the key to the judgment.
What complicates the problem is that the decision for rejec-
tion or acceptance is presented as a soteriological decision based
on these works. Such a judgment is highlighted by the parables of
the Wheat and the Tares (perhaps along with the Narrow Door
and the Virgins) in which those who appear to fit into the proper
categories do not do so (even when they think they do) since they
were not properly prepared for the kingdom. Perhaps the clearest
example is the parable of the Sheep and the Goats, in which eter-
nal life and eternal perdition are the options meted out based on
how people treated the followers of the Son of Man.
Works are not separated from the faith one exercises for en-
trance to the kingdom for works are evidence of that faith. A true
change of heart will be reflected in a person's life.81 A lack of that
change is apparently enough to prevent entrance into the eschato-
logical kingdom (the goats are prohibited from entrance because
of their actions while the sheep are given entrance because of their
81 Ryrie, So Great Salvation, 45, 92. It is true that in each parable the one who
makes the final decision is the master or king. Yet to say such works are not evi-
dent to others before the end of the age overlooks the fact that in the parable of the
Tares, the servants are aware of the incongruity of tares in a field of wheat. The
servants are prohibited from tearing up the wheat, but this does not deny their
ability to notice the reality of such inconsistency. Yet judgment will be left to the
Son of Man, who alone knows the hearts of men.
Rejection Imagery in the Synoptic Parables 331
works); but works are never ultimately separated from the faith
of the individual, for it was also shown that works are not in
themselves enough to impress the Son of Man positively in His
role as judge (cf. Matt. 7:21-23).
Paul wrote with different emphases in mind, focusing
clearly on the entrance requirements into salvation, namely,
justification by faith. While the Synoptics support the role of faith
in establishing one's relationship with God (usually in phrases
such as "repent and believe the gospel"), they tend to emphasize
the whole life of faith for the believer. In other words the life of a
follower of Jesus is to be a constant exercise of faith in order to
obey and please God. Paul clearly recognized this same truth, for
he knew that something started by faith cannot be perfected by
works (the burden of Galatians).
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