Criswell Theological Review 6.2 (1993) 255-68
Copyright © 1993 by The
THE PARABLE OF THE
PRUDENT STEWARD AND
ITS LUCAN CONTEXT
DAVID A. DE SILVA
The Parable of the Prudent Steward (Luke 16:1-8), or the "Unjust
Steward" as it is commonly known, presents several problems to the
reader which scholars have multiplied into incalculable difficulties.
One remarks that "more than any other parable it can be expected to
keep its mystery for future generations of exegetes, for it bristles with
difficulties."1 The difficulty has caused exegetes as early as Cyril of
every detail as this would obscure the point of the parable,2 and still
causes some exegetes to turn to the very allegorizations which Cyril
hoped to avoid. Perhaps one of the most helpful of recent methodolo-
gies for studying a parable such as the "Unjust Steward" is one which
remembers the nature of a parable as an aural/oral experience which
aims at evoking a response or realization in the hearer or reader.
It is the aim of this study, after establishing the boundaries of the
parable itself, to analyze first what the parable by itself achieves in
its hearers/readers, namely the setting up (for imitation) of a picture
of one who prudently responds to the present, though unexpected, es-
chatological moment of decision. Then, more briefly, we will examine
how the tradition preserves for the hearer/reader a concrete plan for
meeting the demands of the eschatological moment and thus for gain-
ing the commendation and welcome of the Master. The hermeneuti-
cal move, as it were, centers on the expedient use of material wealth,
1 J. Topel, “On the Injustice of the Unjust Steward,” CBQ 37 (1975) 216.
2 Cyril of
256 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
and moves from the steward's context of remitting debts to the con-
text of using wealth to benefit the disenfranchised members of the
community and society.
Boundaries of the Parable
Scholars continue to advance arguments concerning where ex-
actly the parable ends. The beginning of the parable at anthropos tis
("a certain person"), a very common incipit (14:16, 15:11, 16:19, 19:12), is
not debated. The ending is variously placed at 16:7; 8a, 8b, and even 9.
Crossan advocates the early ending based on his study of the parable
against the background of a certain trickster-dupe genre of story.3 The
trickster has played his trick on the master by the end of 16:7 and
presents a picture (for the moral) of "laziness organizing itself under
crisis."4 Scott rightly counters that Crossan has neglected the fact that
the primary plot, which initiates an accounting story as a frame for
the trickster plot, is left open-ended until v 8a.5 The hearers, he ar-
gues following reader-response concerns, are led from the beginning
to anticipate the master's response to all that the steward has done.
This makes perfect sense as it is the rich man who initiates the action
and creates the crisis in the first place. Crossan's scheme is missing its
last scene, the return to the steward/master relationship for closure.
Those who object to ending the parable at 8a, whether they
choose like Crossan to look for the end in v 7 or like earlier or more
conservative writers to look in v 8b, object on the basis of finding it
inconceivable that the master of the parable, having suffered such a
loss at his hands, would commend the steward.6 The popular alterna-
tive is to suggest that ho kyrios ("the master") refers to Jesus, who
breaks into the story itself and commends the steward.7 The support-
ers of this alternative look to 18:6 as a parallel case where Jesus
breaks in, but here it is followed by a direct quotation referring back
to the judge. As Blomberg among others points out, however, there is
no such sense of a break in 16:8a,8 but only in v 9 does a clear break
occur. Those who support this position often further defend the im-
possibility that any immoral act be commended in Scripture by point-
ing out that Jesus went on to say 8b as the final word of the parable
“to prevent possible misunderstanding.”9
3 J. D. Crossan, In Parables (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1973) 109-10.
5 B. B. Scott, Hear Then the Parable (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1989) 260.
6 Crossan, In Parables, 109.
7 J. Jeremias, Rediscovering the Parables (New York: Scribner, 1966) 34.
8 C. Blomberg, Interpreting the Parables (Downers Grove: IVP, 1990) 246.
9 A Plummer, Saint Luke (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1901) 384-85.
David A. de Silva: THE PARABLE OF THE STEWARD 257
It seems likely, however, that those who end the parable in 8a
have the strongest arguments on their side. It is appropriate for the
end of a parable concerned with depicting the kingdom to have a sort
of "Twilight Zone" ending. One recalls the action of the landlord in
the "Laborers in the Vineyard" story, or the father in the "Prodigal
Son," the host of the "Great Supper," the Samaritan who provides the
example of a neighbor, and so forth. It is the stumbling block of such
characters or actions in a parable which is needed to make the hearer
look beyond the story for its meaning. The unembarrassed affront to
the norms which everything is expected to follow allows for the hear-
ers' discovery of a new set of norms which violate the old ones but
lead to the Kingdom. From the point of view of literary closure, then,
one expects the second scene of interaction between master and stew-
ard and the commendation of the steward by the duped master to
strike us as strange, but appropriate for a parable's ending.
The Summons to Reckoning:
Questioning Traditional Assumptions about the Characters
Having set the boundaries of the parable at anthropos tis and
phronimos epoiesen ("he had done prudently"), we proceed to a closer
exposition of the parable itself. The first character introduced is "a
certain rich man who had a steward." He is the center of attention in
vv 1-2. It has been suggested that plousios ("rich") is redundant here
(having a steward is enough to define the man as well-to-do) and pos-
sibly is Luke's own addition to the parable to fit it closer into the
theme of rich and poor in his gospel. If this is true, then it holds
equally true for the parable of "The Rich Man and Lazarus" of 16:19
and the "Rich Fool" of 12:16. It is true that Luke develops the theme
of rich and poor and the proper relationship one should have with re-
spect to riches, but this concern must no doubt be located originally in
Jesus' teaching (which Luke transmits).
Scott points out that, for the Palestinian hearer, identifying a char-
acter as plousios, “rich,” might lead to a negative valuation.10 The rich
were stereotypically despots, treating their poorer dependents with an
arbitrariness consummate with their power. A lexical study of Luke's
gospel affirms this hypothesis. Plousios occurs in 6:24; 12:16; 14:12;
16:19, 21, 22; 18:23, 25; 19:2; and 21:1. All those depicted as rich in the
text are in one form or another excluded from the redeemed commu-
nity or disapproved, with the single exception of Zaccheus, whose sal-
vation comes when he ceases to be notably plousios, giving away (or
giving back) more than half his possessions. This should serve as a
10 B. B. Scott, “A Master's Praise,” Bib 64:2 (1983) 179.
258 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
strong warning to those who would move too quickly to identifying the
rich man with God or Jesus, suggesting already that the place to look
for meaning or impact is not in a simple substitution of the "familiar
allegorical referents for master, servant, and debtors."11
The steward comes on the scene already in a position of disad-
vantage. He is "denounced hostilely," dieblethe, to the rich man by
some unnamed accusers. The verb is a hapax here in the gospels, but
is linguistically related to diabolos, the "accuser," or more often "false
accuser," as in 2 Tim 3:3,3:11, or Titus 2:3. With the noun having such
overtones, one might well ask whether or not the verb diaballein has
more to do with slander than faithful testimony. Fitzmyer, along with
others, reasons from the absence of an attempt to defend himself
on the part of the steward that the accusations were correct.12 Scott
notes, however, that the effect of the swift move from accusation to
dismissal is the impression that the steward was not given nor would
be given a chance to answer his accusers.13 Pressing a point based on
the absence of evidence is often not a sound methodology and would
lead to some embarrassment if applied in the same manner to Jesus'
trial, where he, too, does not defend himself.
Also against the quick assumption that the accusations are reli-
able is the use of oikonomos ("steward") generally in the NT. The say-
ing concerning the "prudent and faithful steward" in Luke 12:42
points the follower of Jesus to see in the steward a positive example
of how awareness of the kingdom is to affect his or her own life. The
ecclesiastical appropriation of the figure of steward in 1 Cor 4: 1-2,
Titus 1:7 and 1 Pet 4:10 suggests further that the image of steward
("of the grace of God," etc.) was used generally as a positive example
in exhortation or for describing faithful functionaries of the gospel. It
is undoubtedly the strength of the exegetical decision which reads
oikonomos tes adikias as "dishonest steward" which influences those
readers who so quickly believe the slanderous accusations about the
action of the steward. Van Daalen and Blomberg, for example, take
this for granted with no explanation.14
Finally, the nature of the "crime" itself contains nothing criminal.
The steward is accused of diaskorpizen ta hyparchonta autou, of
"wasting his substance," understanding the loss to be the master's di-
rectly, not the steward's. This is the same verb as appears in the story
11 Blomberg, Interpreting the Panzbles, 245.
12 J. A Fitzmyer, Gospel According to Luke, X-.XXIV (New York: Anchor, 1964)
13 Scott, “A Master's Praise,” 182.
14 D. van
52; Blomberg, 244.
David A de Silva: THE PARABLE OF THE STEWARD 259
of the prodigal son, who wastes ten ousian autou, "his substance"
again. He is unprofitable, even negligent, but not dishonest. If any-
thing, it shows the steward's innate inability to serve the interests of
the rich man, which as we have seen are not necessarily untainted in-
terests. Indeed, the questions of how he might have used ta hypar-
chonta ("the property") better or why the way he did at last use ta
hyparchonta in vv 5-7 received commendation (this might have been
supposed to be the object of commendation, and not the dynamic pru-
dence itself) might have led to the moral reflections on this parable
generated in v 9 especially.
The command of the rich man completes the opening picture
and defines the nature of the story which we are hearing. Apodos ton
logon, "give the account," coupled with the earlier phonesas, "sum-
moning," creates the atmosphere of an accounting or judgment story.
The same word is used in the parable of the talents (19:15) when the
servants are to give an account for how they managed the funds in
the nobleman's absence. The phrase apodidomi ton logon is used par-
ticularly with respect to an ultimate judgment in Rom 14:12, Matt
12:36, 18:23 (The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant), Heb 13:17, and
1 Pet 4:5. The use of apodos in Luke 12:59 and Acts 19:40 also refers
to matters of legality.
Economic Accounting and Eschatological Judgment
Verses 1 and 2 draw up the picture, then, of an accounting, and
the use of such language in the NT tends toward eschatological judg-
ment. The audience may well have been conditioned by life experi-
ence to expect antagonism from the rich and therefore would have
reserved their allegiance for the character in the one-down position,
which would have been closer to their situation anyway. The particu-
lar appellation of this servant as oikonomos may have given added
impetus to identifying with him and looking for some sort of positive
moral example in his actions or posture. What the hearer is concerned
with is not the truth of the accusations which were brought against
the steward by unnamed and unimportant characters, but what the
steward is going to do about the situation in which he finds himself.
How will he respond to the crisis of the hour?
There is an ambiguity surrounding the rich man's pronounce-
ment which also makes the steward's response the focus of the para-
ble. The alleged facts are laid out and the steward dismissed, yet he is
allotted an indefinite amount of time to prepare the account of his
stewardship, presumably for his successor and not as a defense which
might reinstate him. He thus is dismissed yet retains legal power to
260 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
act legitimately (in some sense) for a brief period.15 The story main-
tains tension by creating this "already/not yet" scheme in terms of the
accounting, or the judgment. It draws out a scenario to which the
steward must respond in some way. This internal, paradoxical tension
points to what Jeremias argues is the thrust of the parable in Jesus'
own context. In light of the dawning
A.D. 31 face a krisis of ultimate proportions. They stand as those al-
ready judged by the kanon of the kingdom, yet have some indefinite
(but fearfully short) space of time in which to respond to the crisis in
such a way as to make provision for the future. Jeremias sees the
"bold, resolute, and prudent" action of the steward in light of the eco-
nomic crisis as an exemplary response which might be emulated by
the unconverted or the hesitant in light of the eschatological crisis
which they face.16 It is therefore a call to decisive action and realign-
ment couched in parabolic terms.
Verse 3 draws the hearer closer to the character of the steward
by opening up his mind to the hearer in a soliloquy. The phrase en
heauto(i) ("in/to himself") combined with some verb of saying, think-
ing, or realizing, appears at significant junctures in three other Lucan
parables: The Rich Fool (12:17), The Prodigal Son (15:17), and The
Judge (18:4). (The Parable of the Unforgiven Pharisee [18:11] uses the
phrase with a verb of praying, and so steps somewhat aside from the re-
flective emphasis in the other four parables.) By itself, the soliloquy
serves to make the audience further identify itself with the steward.
Taken together with the other parables, this inward reflection suggests
the greater significance of the moment of crisis and decision.
All four characters which are given these internal soliloquies are
faced with a crisis, a situation which calls for immediate attention.
stakes vary from peace of mind to survival itself, but the
tial dynamic is the same. Three realize the nature of their predica-
ment and act positively and successfully. The Rich Fool, as the title
usually given him suggests, reveals that he does not realize the signifi-
cance of the moment and the sort of attention and redirection it de-
mands, and dies disapproved by God. The repertoire suggests that it is
demanded that the people of this world recognize the crisis of the
hour and respond effectually. The seriousness of the moment and the
response is heightened by cases of failure to do so. The move toward
internal monologue brings the hearer closer to one who is facing cri-
sis and formulating a response, such that the hearer may begin to
sense the demand that he or she engage in the same internal mono-
logue and decision-making process.
15 G. B. Caird, Saint Luke (England: Penguin, 1963) 187.
16 Jeremias, Rediscovering the Parables, 144.
David A. de Silva: THE PARABLE OF THE STEWARD 261
The Steward's Plan:
Seizing the Eschatological Moment
Presented with the scenario, the steward takes stock of his own
resources. He is limited by his strength with respect to what sort of
work he might seek out and by his pride with respect to living on the
charity of others. Scott believes this would cause the hearers to "reflect
upon the estimation of the steward" in a negative way,17 but this
might depend on the particular circumstances of each hearer. Tax-
collectors and whores could certainly sympathize, let alone honest
merchants and managers. The steward recognizes his limitations,
whatever their source. He does not have time to build up his stamina
for digging nor seek counseling with regard to his attitude problem, if
there is one, but instead settles decisively on some plan which does lie
in his power to execute. He sees one way out, which represents a radi-
cal departure from the behavior and principles which a steward is
expected to exhibit, and sets to work on it at once. Two points here de-
The steward rejects a plan of action wherein he relies on himself.
This option is negated by his estimation of his strength. He also rejects
a plan by which he throws himself on the system of almsgiving, rely-
ing thus on others' munificence without any contribution of his own.
The plan that he will execute focuses on the relationship of himself to
others. He pawns material capital for relational debt. The moral pos-
sibly drawn by later tradition in v 9, but possibly highlighted by Jesus,
is thus not without its roots in an aspect of the parable itself. The
admonitory application flows naturally from the eschatological coordi-
nates, following Jeremias.
Second, the terms metastatho ("[when] I am expelled") and dex-
ontai ("they will receive [me]"), while referring explicitly to the stew-
ardship and to the debtors' homes, cannot be without some broader
connotations given the expectations which arise alongside a story of
accounting or judgment. The fact of impending exclusion is very real
for the steward, and the image of being "turned out" is closely related
to the images of being cast out in other parables, such as the Great
Banquet or the Sheep and the Goats. There is here also the correlative
to the pair, "being welcomed" or "received" into the community of the
blessed. One recalls the wise investors of the talents who are bid to
"enter into the joy" of their master. These two concepts, the threat of
being turned out and the desperate hope of being welcomed, become
the two coordinates of the steward's thought. His fixation upon these
points enables him to fashion and execute an appropriate plan. Both
17 Scott, Hear Then the Parable, 263.
262 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
in Jesus' original context and the context of the early church, these
two coordinates were commended to the hearers or congregation as
the ultimate principles which should guide action. Realizing the re-
ality and measure of the judgment, and discovering the way toward
inclusion and being welcomed, must form the "first principles'" of the
Donahue and others look to the work of Derrett and Fitzmyer for
an explanation of the plan as described in vv 5-7.18 Traditionally this
plan has been understood, or misunderstood, as the steward's swin-
dling the rich man out of his principal which had been lent out, but
these scholars argue convincingly that more than likely it was primar-
ily the interest on the principal which the steward remitted. Docu-
Josephus bear witness to the practice of writing a bill of indebtedness
for the sum of principal plus interest, noting no such breakdown per
se on the bill.19 Scholars have reconstructed at length the rabbinic ar-
guments in support of this practice as a way of doing business profit-
ably while not violating the letter of the law.
Caird takes this one step further in noting that, if this interpreta-
tion is correct, the act of the steward was in fact truly pious, even
though executed for his own advantage.20 A knowledge of this level of
meaning in the early church would explain how this parable could
then be linked with sayings concerning the true fulfillment of the law
in 16:14-18 and the place of the law and the prophets in 16:27-34.
While many might view this explanation on the basis of the practice
of usury in
trived at best, this would more likely be owing to our distance from
such practices and concerns. The avenues it opens up for exploring the
unity of Luke's redaction of this section justify entertaining it as a vi-
able option at least. Here Blomberg's argument, namely that these his-
torical reconstructions "are not spelled out" and "may or may not have
been self-evident to Jesus' original audience," is of questionable help
to the interpreter.21 Spelling out the economic background would, of
course, be out of place in a parable-sort of the filler that kills good sto-
ries in a bad storyteller's mouth. The fact that it is not "spelled out;'
coupled with the evidence found for the practice in Jewish circles,
strengthens the supposition that it would have been self-evident to
Jesus and his hearers. Further, Jesus would have no need to challenge
his disciples to lend without expecting anything in return, let alone
18 J. R Donahue, The Gospel in Parable (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1988) 165.
19 Fitzmyer, Gospel, 1098.
20 Caird, Saint Luke, 187.
21 Blomberg, Interpreting the Parables, 244-45.
David A. de Silva: THE PARABLE OF THE STEWARD 263
interest, if it were not a hallmark of economy to lend with interest
(cf. Luke 6:34, 35). Nevertheless, investigation into the social, econo-
mic, and political backgrounds of the time is an indispensable step
toward closing the distance between us and the original audiences.
Rather than "reading into" the text, such investigation helps to open
up the first-century world and prevent our reading into the text our
The Surprising Commendation
The parable comes at last to its surprising ending. "The master
praised the steward of injustice, for he had acted prudently." Fitzmyer
attempts to understand the master's commendation in terms of the ac-
tual plan of the steward. He suggests that the steward eliminated only
his own commission from the total debt, which might well elicit the
praise of the master.22 The steward was willing to forego some profit
in order to make better provision for the future, Donahue refers to
Fitzmyer as if the latter agreed that the steward canceled the whole
part of the interest and not simply the steward's own profit.23 Fitzmy-
er's concern, however, to make the master's commendation intelligible
to this world's logic is in direct violation of the intrinsic skandalon
("offense" or "stumbling block") of these parables which jars the
hearer out of everyday, intelligible existence to glimpse an alternative
The master of the parable has sustained substantial loss, but the
new debt may well be in accordance with the requirements of God's
law, "one jot or tittle" of which cannot pass away. There is scandal, but
is there really injustice or dishonesty? We will return to this point in
a discussion of the genitival construction tes adikias ("of unrighteous-
ness"). The steward is praised for his shrewdness, which may also en-
tail being praised for his shrewd plan. The strangeness of seeing a
man who has just been duped praise the trickster is not too different
from the strangeness of the behavior of the landowner who pays all
his hirees the same wage or the extravagant father's unreserved wel-
come of the wastrel son. It seems to be part of the genre to point to or
convey meaning in this way. No attempt to rationalize the strange-
ness, whether through arguing that the master was making the best of
a bad situation by sharing in the pious act of the steward in this
way,24 or simply that one shrewd and cynical businessman applauded
22 Fitzmyer, Gospel, 1098,
23 Donahue, The Gospel in Parable, 165.
24 Caird, Saint Luke, 187-88.
264 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
a consummate fellow con artist,25 fits the focus of the parable, which
was on the response of the steward to the crisis. The commendation of
the prudent self-application to the problem is more important than
speculations as to its motivation. The steward has simply moved from
impending exclusion and being turned out to a place of favor through
his diligent and single-minded attention to the demands of the hour.
The Genitive "tes adikias":
Personal Characteristic or Eschatological Realm?
We noted earlier that the motivating factor in many scholars' in-
quiries into v 8a, whether it was spoken by the master of the parable
or by Jesus, ho kyrios, was the apparent trouble of seeing a criminal
praised. Even Jeremias takes the steward's criminality for granted.26
There are many questions as to whether or not the steward has in fact
acted criminally at any point in his career, let alone in the parable.
While being unconcerned with this, he nevertheless disallowed him-
self and his master the interest on the debt and so worked a pious con-
version of the accounts. Still, the appellation oikonomos tes adikias is
taken as the justification for calling him unjust and so judging that at
some point his actions have been criminal.
The question becomes a grammatical one. Is the genitive tes
adikias a subjective or objective genitive?27 It is generally translated
as a subjective genitive, "unjust steward." Fitzmyer provides a de-
fense of this traditional rendering by appealing to the Semitism be-
hind it, the Hebrew construct chain.28 This doesn't really solve the
problem. While it is true that this construction, as Fitzmyer states, of-
ten indicates a characteristic (in the absolute position) of a subject (in
construct), it far more often denotes possession or relationship. The
fact that the word in the genitive here, corresponding to the absolute
of such a chain, is an abstract quality does not necessitate the conclu-
sion which Fitzmyer supports. The expressions which follow in v 8b,
"sons of the light" and "sons of this age," both of which are closely re-
lated to Qum'ranic expressions and therefore have Semitic counter-
parts,29 ought to be enough to disprove the certainty of Fitzmyer's
conclusion. We have in fact "sons of the light" and not "radiant sons."
25 E. M. Poteat, Parables of Crisis (New York: Harper and Bros., 1950) 155.
26 Jeremias, Rediscovering the Parables, 144.
27 Donahue, The Gospel in Parable, 165.
28 Fitzmyer, Gospel, 1101.
29 Ibid., 1108.
David A. de Silva: THE PARABLE OF THE STEWARD 265
Other uses of the genitive res adikias or tes dikaiosynes ("of
righteousness") offer support for an alternative rendering. In Rom 6:13,
Paul speaks of yielding our members as hopla adikias ("instruments
of unrighteousness") no more, but rather as hopla dikaiosynes ("instru-
ments of righteousness"). There is no argument that the genitive ex-
presses alignment with one of two opposing qualities and not a simple
modifier. We have "instruments of righteousness," not "righteous instru-
ments," and so forth. Likewise in 2 Pet 2:13-15, the author speaks of a
misthon adikias, a reward which comes to those who have practiced
unrighteousness, not an unjust reward.
One further problem is the proximity of mamona tes adikias
("mammon of unrighteousness") and adiko(i) mamona(i) ("with regard
to unrighteousness mammon") in vv 9 and 11. Would Luke, who has
otherwise been credited with much redactional acuity and activity, not
regularize the language a bit more? Scholars hold that these sayings
were brought together because of such catchword connections as this. If
this is true, would a redactor not cement the connection by smoothing
out such differences in syntactical constructions, unless he desired to
preserve some semantic nuance?
These considerations may justify looking beyond simple Semit-
isms to explain the appellation oikonomos tes adikias, as well as ma-
mona tes adikias and krites tes adikias ("unjust judge," 18:6). All that
takes place in parables, with the single exception of Lazarus and the
Rich Man, is set in the everyday, ordinary world. The characters, the
props, the activities, and the dangers, are all common, everyday expe-
riences. Yet this same world is the world which is "passing away," or
"this age" which has its termination in the arrival of the Kingdom of
God. The theme was common to Pharisaism and separatist move-
ments such as settled in Qum'ran. It became a major vehicle for Paul's
making sense of Jesus Christ and salvation (our being transferred
from the realm of nomos, "law," to that of charis, "grace"). In light of
this, it is conceivable that "the genitive tes adikias is appended to
define the sphere in which the steward has been operating, within
whose limits he has concerned himself and responded. It makes the
next move necessary for the hearer--to determine what this com-
mended response would look like for him or her with respect to the
penetration of the realm of light into the realm of unrighteousness.
The parable of the krites tes adikias provides a close parallel.
The judge cannot be reasonably called unjust because he is "no re-
specter of persons." That is required of judges. His boast concerning
his asebeia ("lack of piety"), however, indicates his distance from
the perfect Judge who is beyond the limited, terminal realm of the
earthly judge who does not know God. Here the point of the parable
266 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
is obviously to extend a quality demonstrated by a finite being in one
realm to the Infinite being in a higher realm. The Judge's response to
the persistent widow points positively to what one ought to expect
from the Heavenly Judge--to be answered benevolently. It is an argu-
ment a fortiori, but it goes further in its signification, moving from
the realm of adikia, this age, to that of dikaiosyne, God's Kingdom.
If this understanding of the genitive is correct, then the conclu-
sion or moral drawn by an early commentator, or perhaps Jesus him-
self, in v 8b has its roots in the parable itself. That is, the parable
points to what 8b makes more explicit--the need for the children of
light to respond in a corresponding prudence with respect to the com-
ing age, with its yoked threat and hope. The use of genea here calls to
mind the division of ages, not simply generations, along the eschato-
logical lines. When Peter calls out in Acts 2:40, "Save yourselves from
this generation," Luke links, as he does throughout Luke-Acts, the gen-
eration alive in
or cosmological entity, the genea which corresponds to "this present
evil age" (Gal 1:4).
Concretizing the Steward's Correct Response
The parable is ultimately a call to act and align oneself phroni-
mos, "wisely," in light of the crisis in which the hearer finds himself
or herself. It portrays the movement of the prudent one from the
realm of exclusion to the realm of favor; which is highlighted by the
fact that one must move the parable from the realm of this world (dis-
favor) to the realm of the dawning Kingdom (charis, "favor"). When
we turn to examine the parable in its present Lucan context, how-
ever, we see that the tradition has preserved an interpretation of how
the hearers/readers may respond concretely to their situation of crisis
and decision. Here we are concerned only with the present form of
the Lucan context, not with questions of how it came to stand thus.
The literary context of 16:9-31 particularizes what sort of decision!
response/action was called for by the parable. The parable advises es-
chatological readiness, but within it provides the key to its concrete
application, namely the use of material goods. In the move "from the
eschatological to the admonitory," as Jeremias puts it, the tradition
elaborates on the proper use of possessions (9),30 the proper qualities
to exhibit with respect to possessions (10-12), and the proper rela-
tionship one is to have with possessions (13). The parable of the Rich
Man and Lazarus completes the concretization as the hearer/reader
30 Jeremias, Rediscovering the Parables, 34-36.
David A. de Silva: THE PARABLE OF THE STEWARD 267
is shown most explicitly where to direct her or his efforts in prepar-
ing for the final accounting.
St. Cyril exemplifies this move, although he comes late on the
scene. He sees in the parable the "way of salvation for the rich."31
Right stewardship, distributing to the poor--these things save a rich
man from the judgment which falls on "Dives" in 16:19-34. Several
scholars have attempted to analyze larger sections to formulate a
"larger picture" from Luke's redaction. J. Topel discusses the parable in
connection with the three which precede it, drawing on the image of
debts and debtors as figures for sin and transgressors.32 Remitting
debts; that is, forgiving, becomes the work of the prudent steward.
While his argument commends itself at many points, and while the
signification of debt as sin is well established in the NT, the argument
is a little forced and looks like an allegorical rendering of the Steward
parable guided by a desire to make it fit the parables of chap. 15.
Donahue does better to focus on the theme of wealth in Luke 16
and then in Luke generally,33 but only in connection with the work of
Byrne does the richness of Luke's weaving come to the fore. Normally
one must be content to unravel a strand. Byrne begins with the verses
on the Law in 14-18, noting the stress on the replacement of the Law
on the one hand and the permanence of the Law on the other.34 The
external observance of the Law, accompanied by the neglect of the
heart of the Law, cannot coexist with the Kingdom. Here Caird's ob-
servations on the Steward's [unconscious] recovery of the Law from
the forensic acrobatics which nullified its intention to protect the poor
so that business could continue as usual are helpful.35 Byrne argues
that the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus lays its stress and pri-
mary admonition on vv 27-34, where the hearing of the Law and the
Prophets is all that is given to keep the five brothers from sharing the
wretched man's fate.36
The text combines themes of the proper use of wealth, the deci-
sive devotion to a plan in time of crisis, and the abiding demand of
the Law which come together in laying aside one's devotion to wealth,
power, and position in order to serve the unempowered and the poor.
Here even the logion concerning divorce, a potentially disenfranchis-
ing crisis for a woman, finds a place.37 Those with a concern to be
31 Cyril, Commentary, 440.
32 Topel, “On the Injustice. . .”, 224-25.
33 Donahue, The Gospel in Parable, 172-73.
Byrne, “Forceful Stewardship and Neglectful Wealth,”
35 Caird, Saint Luke, 187.
36 Byrne, “Forceful Stewardship. . .”, 9.
37 Donahue, The Gospel in Parable, 174.
268 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
welcomed into the community of the blessed shall be welcomed by
the poor which they bless (a welcome the Rich Man missed through
not blessing Lazarus).
The certainty of the judgment of the coming Kingdom plunges
one into this new intention for wealth and new investment in rela-
tionships, so that when we are "turned out of doors," or when we "fail/
die," they shall welcome us into eternal dwellings. The eschatological
direction of Jesus' original telling is preserved, to be sure, but it is also
enfleshed in particularity. The decision to act in light of an under-
standing of the import of the hour is also given a specific content in
new personal ambitions and social relations.
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