Monday, September 12, 2016

The Accused Economist

Below is a rough translation of Luke 16 1-13, the Revised Common Lectionary gospel reading for the 18th Sunday after Pentecost. This may be the most dreaded parable and context for a parable in the gospels.

1  Ἔλεγεν δὲ καὶ πρὸς τοὺς μαθητάς,  Ἄνθρωπός τις ἦν πλούσιος ὃς εἶχεν 
οἰκονόμον, καὶ οὗτος διεβλήθη αὐτῷ ὡς διασκορπίζων τὰ ὑπάρχοντα
Yet he was also saying to the disciples, “A certain man was wealthy, who had a manager, and it was shown clearly [Or: falsely charged] to him that he was wasting his livelihood.
Ἔλεγεν: IAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
ἦν: IAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
εἶχεν: IAI 3s, ἔχω, 1) to have, i.e. to hold  
διεβλήθη: API 3s, διαβλέπω, 1) to look through, penetrate by vision  1a) to look fixedly, stare straight before one  1b) to see clearly 
διασκορπίζων : PAPart, nms, διασκορπίζω, 1) to scatter abroad, disperse, to winnow  1a) to throw the grain a considerable distance, or up into the air,  that it may be separated from the chaff 
ὑπάρχοντα: PAPart apn, ὑπάρχω, 1) to begin below, to make a beginning  1a) to begin  2) to come forth, hence to be there, be ready, be at hand  3) to be
1. My online resources are in disagreement over the stem of διεβλήθη. says it is διαβλέπω, the root of which is βλέπω, “to see.” says it is διαβάλλω, the root of which is βάλλω, “to throw.” The first has the sense of making something clear for someone to see. The second has the sense of slandering someone, even by a false charge, by throwing them overboard. (I generally have more confidence in, so I will assume this is more slanderous than insightful until I discover otherwise.)
2. What is the difference in the meaning of this parable if the charges against the manager are true or if they are not true?
3. The word οἰκονόμον is always interesting. Transliterated into English as ‘economist,’ it refers to the νόμος (law) of the οἰκος (house). I would translate it ‘economist’ here, except it appears in different forms to where the words “manager, management, and manage” are easier to use consistently.
4. I originally had “property” for ὑπάρχοντα, misreading it as a noun. It is a participle of the word ὑπάρχω, which can refer to one’s state of being. I’m thinking “livelihood” captures the fullness of this participle better. “Property” can give the impression of excess, while “livelihood” feels personal and meaningful.
5. Notice that the manager has no adjective. See vv. 4 and 8.

2 καὶ φωνήσας αὐτὸν εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Τί τοῦτο ἀκούω περὶ σοῦ; ἀπόδος τὸν 
λόγον τῆς οἰκονομίας σου, οὐ γὰρ δύνῃ ἔτι οἰκονομεῖν.
And having yelled for him, he said to him, “What is this that I am hearing about you?  Give the account of your management, for you are no longer able to manage.” 
φωνήσας: AAPart nsm, φωνέω, 1) to sound, emit a sound, to speak   1a) of a cock: to crow
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
ἀκούω: PAI 1s, ἀκούω, 1) to be endowed with the faculty of hearing 2) to hear
ἀπόδος : AAImpv, 2s, ἀποδίδωμι, 1) to deliver, to give away for one's own profit what is one's  own, to sell  2) to pay off, discharge what is due … 2d) to render account 
δύνῃ: PMI 2s, δύναμαι, 1) to be able, have power
οἰκονομεῖν: PAInf, οἰκονομέω,1) to be a steward  2) to manage the affairs of a household  3) to manage, dispense, order, regulate
1. I suppose “having yelled” for φωνήσας may be over the top, but this word is how Luke describes the cock that crows, the rich man crying out from the flame begging Abraham to have Lazarus give him aid, and Jesus crying out from the cross. Other uses seem less dramatic, but this could signify a very emotional confrontation.
2. Notice that it is, “What is this I am hearing about you?” as opposed to, “You scoundrel! What have you done?” And the manager does not defend himself or admit guilt.
3. The ESV has “turn in the account,” which sounds like, “You’re done. Go gather the records and turn them in.” The KJV  has “give an account,” which sounds like the manager is to explain himself.

3 εἶπεν δὲ ἐν ἑαυτῷ ὁ οἰκονόμος, Τί ποιήσω, ὅτι  κύριός μου ἀφαιρεῖται τὴν 
οἰκονομίαν ἀπ' ἐμοῦ; σκάπτειν οὐκ ἰσχύω, ἐπαιτεῖν αἰσχύνομαι.
Yet the manager said to himself, “What shall I do?  Because my lord is taking the management away from me? I am not strong to dig, I shame myself to beg.
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
ποιήσω: AASubj 1s, ποιέω, 1) to make 2) to do 
ἀφαιρεῖται: PMI, 3s, ἀφαιρέω, 1) to take from, take away, remove, carry off  2) to cut off
σκάπτειν : PAInf, σκάπτω, 1) to dig
ἰσχύω: PAI 1s, ἰσχύω, 1) to be strong 
ἐπαιτεῖν: PAInf, ἐπαιτέω, 1) to ask besides, ask for more  3) to beg, to ask alms 
αἰσχύνομαι: PMI, 1s, αἰσχύνω, 1) to disfigure, 2) to dishonor, 3) to suffuse with shame, make ashamed.
1. The manager is talking to himself at this point, which means this is not him giving an account of his management to the master.
2. Because αἰσχύνομαι is in the middle voice, I am making it “shame myself.”
3. Is there significance to the emphasis being on the master taking away the management, rather than the manager losing his position?
4. Notice here that the manager has no adjective. See vv. 1 and 8.

4  ἔγνων τί ποιήσω, ἵνα ὅταν μετασταθῶ ἐκ τῆς οἰκονομίας δέξωνταί με εἰς 
τοὺς οἴκους αὐτῶν.
I knew what I would do, in order that when I am dismissed out of the management they will take me into their homes.
ἔγνων: AAI 1s, γινώσκω, 1) to learn to know, come to know, get a knowledge of perceive, feel 
ποιήσω: AASubj 1s, ποιέω, 1) to make  1a) with the names of things made, to produce, construct,  form, fashion, etc.  1b) to be the authors of, the cause 
μετασταθῶ: APSubj, 1s, μεθίστημι, 1) to transpose, transfer, remove from one place to another  1a) of change of situation or place  1b) to remove from the office of a steward 
δέξωνταί : AMSubj, δέχομαι, 1) to take with the hand  1a) to take hold of, take up 
1. It is curious that the verb ἔγνων (to know) is in the aorist or simple past tense. None of the major translations honor that tense. I wonder if it means this: The manager doesn’t get fired, run to his office, call in the debtors, work out deals in the debtors’ favor, making friends along the way, then turn in the books. Rather, this is the mismanagement itself. In the past, the manager decided to make allies of the debtors and to collect only partial returns. Verses 4-7 show that, because of a decision that the manager made to hedge himself quite some time ago, he was settling debts in a way that gave to advantage to the debtors and not his master. I’m reading vv.4-7 as describing the mismanagement itself.  

5 καὶ προσκαλεσάμενος ἕνα ἕκαστον τῶν χρεοφειλετῶν τοῦ κυρίου ἑαυτοῦ 
ἔλεγεν τῷ πρώτῳ, Πόσ ονὀφείλεις τῷ κυρίῳ μου;
And having to himself one by one the ones the lord’s debtors, he was saying to the first, “How much do you owe my lord?” 
προσκαλεσάμενος : AMPart, nms, προσκαλέομαι, 1) to call to  2) to call to one's self  3) to bid to come to one's self  
ἔλεγεν: IAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
ονὀφείλεις: PAI 2s, ὀφείλω, 1) to owe  1a) to owe money, be in debt for

6  δὲ εἶπεν, Ἑκατὸν βάτους ἐλαίου.  δὲ εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Δέξαι σου τὰ γράμματα καὶ καθίσας ταχέως γράψον πεντήκοντα.
And he said, “A hundred jugs of olive oil.”  And he said to him, “Take up your bill and sitting down quickly write fifty.” 
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
Δέξαι : AMImpv 2s, δέχομαι, 1) to take with the hand  1a) to take hold of, take up
καθίσας: AAPart nsm, καθίζω, 1) to make to sit down 
γράψον: AAImpv 2s, γράφω, 1) to write, with reference to the form of the letters
1. The adverb “quickly” weakens my assumption that vv.4-7 describe the mismanagement itself. It seems to fit more easily into action that the manager might take in between the firing and turning in the accounts. The adverb does not reappear in the next verse. Hmm …

7 ἔπειτα ἑτέρῳ εἶπεν, Σὺ δὲ πόσον ὀφείλεις;  δὲ εἶπεν, Ἑκατὸν κόρους σίτου. 
λέγει αὐτῷ, Δέξαι σου τὰ γράμματα καὶ γράψον ὀγδοήκοντα. 
Then he said to the other, “And how much do you owe?”  And he said, “A hundred containers of wheat.”  And he says to him, “Take up the bill and write eighty.” 
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
ονὀφείλεις: PAI 2s, ὀφείλω, 1) to owe  1a) to owe money, be in debt for
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
λέγει: PAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
Δέξαι : AMImpv 2s, δέχομαι, 1) to take with the hand  1a) to take hold of, take up
γράψον: AAImpv 2s, γράφω, 1) to write, with reference to the form of the letters

8 καὶ ἐπῄνεσεν  κύριος τὸν οἰκονόμον τῆς ἀδικίας ὅτι φρονίμως ἐποίησεν: 
ὅτι οἱ υἱοὶ τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου φρονιμώτεροι ὑπὲρ τοὺς υἱοὺς τοῦ φωτὸς εἰς 
τὴν γενεὰν τὴν ἑαυτῶν εἰσιν.
And the lord commended the manager of injustice because he acted shrewdly; For the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.
ἐπῄνεσεν : AAI 3s, ἐπαινέω,  1) to approve, to praise 
ἐποίησεν: AAI 3s, ποιέω, 1) to make  1a) with the names of things made, to produce, construct,  form, fashion, etc.  1b) to be the authors of, the cause  
εἰσιν:, PAI 3p, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
1. Notice here that the manager now has an adjective. See vv. 1 and 8. On this side of the description of vv.4-7, he is now the “unjust” (ἀ/δικίας, not/just) manager. That’s why I think vv.4-7 show the case, not the response for the manager’s firing.
2. I have “manager of injustice” as opposed to “unjust manager” because the adjective and the noun are not the same case. “Manager” is in the accusative case, but “unjust” is genitive. I will not do the same with the phrase “unjust mammon” in the next verse, because both of those words are in the genitive case.
3. “Injustice” or “unjust” has the sound of a wholesale evaluation. Either the manager’s specific scheme is an unjust way of managing the owner’s assets or the economic system itself is unjust.

9 Καὶ ἐγὼ ὑμῖν λέγω, ἑαυτοῖς ποιήσατε φίλους ἐκ τοῦ μαμωνᾶτῆς ἀδικίας, 
ἵνα ὅταν ἐκλίπῃ δέξωνται ὑμᾶς εἰς τὰς αἰωνίους σκηνάς. 
And I say to you, “Make friends for yourself out of the unjust mammon, in order that when it should fail, they may welcome you into their eternal tents.  
λέγω: PAI 1s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
ποιήσατε: AAImpv 2p, ποιέω, 1) to make  1a) with the names of things made, to produce, construct,  form, fashion, etc.  1b) to be the authors of, the cause
ἐκλίπῃ : AASubj, 3s ἐκλείπω, 1) fail  1a) to leave out, omit, pass by  1b) to leave, quit  2) to fail  2a) to leave off, cease, stop 
δέξωνται : AMSubj, 3 pl, δέχομαι, 1) to take with the hand 
1. The phrase “unjust mammon” is curious. It reappears in v.11 and “mammon” is posited opposite of “God” in v.13. Is it a reference to monies that were not rightly collected? If so, does its potential ‘failing’ indicate that sooner or later the gig might be up? Or, it is a reference to the whole lending/borrowing structure that impoverishes people? If so, does its potential ‘failing’ indicate that sooner or later the whole shebang may come falling in? If the individual’s deception fails or if the whole system fails, will friendships be one’s only salvation?
Notice that in the verses (14-15) that follow our pericope, Jesus tells the Pharisees (whom Luke identifies as “lovers of money”) that “
what is prized by human beings is an abomination in the sight of God.” The opposition continues.
2. I suspect there is a textual variation for the word ἐκλίπῃ (transliterated as “eclipse” in English), because the YLT and KJV (both pre-20th century) translate it into the 2nd person, “when you fail,” and not the 3rd person, “when it fails.”
3. The translator seems to have a decision to make here. The word ὅταν (when) makes this sound like an inevitable outcome and just a matter of time before unjust mammon fails. Hence, the ESV, “when it fails” or the NIV “when it is gone.” However the verbs following ὅταν are in the subjunctive voice, which means that not just the “welcome” but the “failing” are conditional possibilities rather than certain realities. That is why I have the awkward consequence of “when it should fail,” trying to honor both.
4. Yeah, I don’t know what to make of “eternal tents” either. I’ve been trained to see every reference to ‘eternal’ (αἰωνίους, literally “age-during”) as either signifying heaven or hell, but I’ve grown suspicious of that assumption. It might mean that friendships are more enduring than monetary schemes or monetary systems. Perhaps the “eternal” (“lasting”?) is the opposite of “should it fail.” 
5. This verse begins with Jesus saying, “I say to you.” We want Jesus to say, “Well, you gotta hand it to him, …” We’re accustomed to reading “I say to you” as Jesus saying, “Here’s the moral of the story and what you need to do to be a good Christian.” Then we read what actually follows the “I say to you” and we are a bit horrified. And it is in the imperative voice! “Ah! Jesus is telling me to cheat my boss and do a solid to my boss’ debtors so that if I get fired one of them might take me in!”
6. Phyllis Tickle (of blessed memory) speaks volumes of this parable and of a preacher’s typical response to this parable in an essay entitled, “Oh No! Is It Really Time for “The Parable of the Dishonest Servant?” 
Tickle identifies the problem as the association we tend to make between owners, kings, and generally anyone in positions of authority in parables with God. “Where along through the centuries did we come up with the notion, now firmly fixed in millions of Christian heads, that, since God and the rich man were the same in our minds, we have to go through linguistic contortions to justify or excuse God for some kind of moral failing that may or may not be patent in the wealthy man’s reactions ? And why can’t the clever steward be just what his lord says he is: clever, crafty, shrewd? None of those adjective is, in and of itself, a moral assessment or a holy judgment. Rather, any one of them is only a descriptor of an effective modus operandi.”
7. So, with Tickle’s admonition in mind, I have to ask myself whether my perspective toward this parable and the words of Jesus that follow arise out of the text itself or whether it arises out of my misperception of the text, or whether it arises out of my need to make all biblical texts a nice, neat package. But, let’s keep plowing on.

10  πιστὸς ἐν ἐλαχίστῳ καὶ ἐν πολλῷ πιστός ἐστιν, καὶ  ἐν ἐλαχίστῳ ἄδικος 
καὶ ἐν πολλῷ ἄδικός ἐστιν. 
The one who is faithful in few is also faithful in much; and who is unjust in few is also unjust in much. 
ἐστιν: PAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
ἐστιν: PAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
1. Here, ἄδικος (unjust) appears as a substantive adjective and the opposite of πιστὸς (faithful). They both follow a consistent trajectory.
2. This trajectory of few and much is a new wrinkle to the teaching and exceeds the parable itself.
3. While most translations have ἐλαχίστῳ as ‘the least,’ I’m being a bit of a stickler at this point because it does not have a definite article. Neither does πολλῷ. I’m going with ‘few’ and ‘much’ for now, but that might be the best choice in the long run.

11 εἰ οὖν ἐν τῷ ἀδίκῳ μαμωνᾷ πιστοὶ οὐκ ἐγένεσθε, τὸ ἀληθινὸν τίς ὑμῖν 
Therefore, if in the unjust mammon you did not become faithful, who will have faith in you (for) the true mammon?
ἐγένεσθε: AMI 2p, γίνομαι, 1) to become, i.e. to come into existence, begin to be, receive being 
πιστεύσει: FAI 3s, πιστεύω, 1) to think to be true, to be persuaded of, to credit, place confidence in
1. Okay, nobody else in translationville has gone with making “mammon” the implied noun for the adjective “true.” But, really, that’s how we would translate any other sentence like this, so why not? Maybe the phrase “unjust mammon” is a genuine way that the adjective “unjust” modifies the noun “mammon” and does not mean that mammon is always or intrinsically unjust. This sentence, anyway, works best to let mammon be mammon and to say that there is unjust mammon and true mammon. Just know that when we see “true riches” in most other translations, the word “riches” is supplied by the translator.
2. It would be easier to translate πιστεύσει as “trust” or “entrust” but then we’d not see that it is the verbal form of the adjective πιστοὶ (faithful) that is already in play.

12 καὶ εἰ ἐν τῷ ἀλλοτρίῳ πιστοὶ οὐκ ἐγένεσθε, τὸ ὑμέτερον τίς ὑμῖν δώσει;
And if in that belonging to others you did not become faithful, who will give you that which is your own?
ἐγένεσθε: AMI 2p, γίνομαι, 1) to become, i.e. to come into existence, begin to be, receive being 
δώσει: FAI 3s, δίδωμι, 1) to give  2) to give something to someone
1. In this verse and the last, it would be easier to translate ἐγένεσθε as “be” rather than “become.” At this stage of a rough translation, I want to see that the more common form of ‘to be’ (εἰμί, see v.10) is not what Luke is using.

13 Οὐδεὶς οἰκέτης δύναται δυσὶ κυρίοις δουλεύειν:  γὰρ τὸν ἕνα μισήσει καὶ 
τὸν ἕτερον ἀγαπήσει,  ἑνὸς ἀνθέξεται καὶ τοῦ ἑτέρου καταφρονήσει. οὐ 
δύνασθε θεῷ δουλεύειν καὶ μαμωνᾷ.
No house servant is able to serve two lords. For either he will hate the one and love the other, or hold one and disdain the other. You are not able to serve God and mammon.
δύναται: PMI 3s, δύναμαι, 1) to be able, have power
δουλεύειν: PAInf, δουλεύω, 1) to be a slave, serve, do service
μισήσει: FAI 3s, μισέω, 1) to hate, pursue with hatred, detest  2) to be hated, detested 
ἀγαπήσει: FAI 3s, ἀγαπάω, 1) to welcome, to entertain, to be fond of, to love dearly 
ἀνθέξεται: FMI 3s, ἀντέχομαι, 1) to hold before or against, hold back, withstand, endure
καταφρονήσει: FAI 3s, καταφρονέω, 1) to contemn, despise, disdain, think little or nothing of 
δύνασθε: PMI 2p, δύναμαι, 1) to be able, have power
δουλεύειν: PAInf, δουλεύω, 1) to be a slave, serve, do service
1. The first word that is usually translated “servant” in this verse is οἰκέτης, in which we see (like in the word οἰκονόμον, v.1 n.3 above) the root οἰκος, which means “house.” The economist/manager of the parable is one form of οἰκέτης. Another more customary word for “servant” is δουλος, which is the nominal form of the word δουλεύειν, “to serve” in this verse. This may be a 1st century distinction between house slaves and field slaves.
2. This verse, unlike v.11 above, makes it pretty clear that mammon can be an object of service, utterly incompatible with service to God. 

There you have it. I am thinking of Mikhail Bakhtin’s argument that the relationship between gospel contexts and the parables is dialogic. The challenge of this text is to bring the parable and the teachings surrounding it into dynamic interaction.


  1. So glad you tackled this one, and interesting about the possible order of events. This reminds me of a Scottish saying "Your jacket is on a shoogly peg"- which means "you are in danger of being sacked", if you make wealth your master.

    1. Thanks, Heather. Your Scottish saying makes about as much sense to me as the parable, so thanks for the interpretation!

  2. Thank you so much for bringing the aorist tense in vs. 4-7 to light! I haven't looked at the Greek this closely in a very long time. Also, prior to verse 8, lord, (kyrios) is referred to as "my lord." In verse 8 it becomes "the Lord". Another example of two lords? The owner makes a living by treating people unjustly with exorbitant interest rates. And yes, the manager worked for him but the True Lord commends the manager for serving God, for being faithful in trying to bring about justice (belong)to those people. Again, thank you so much!

    1. Thanks, Katherine. It's an intriguing prospect that "my lord" in vv.4-7 would be the manager's employer, but "the lord" in v.8 would be the God of justice whom the manager is honoring by subverting the unjust interest rates. That would cause me to consider v.9 less puzzling and more of an invitation to be a wrench in the cogs of the exploitation machine by making friends via money rather than making more money via money.
      If I'm hearing you correctly, that is a very promising conversation. I don't know if there is anything about the grammar, syntax, etc. that suggests that one "lord" differs from the other, but the idea is marvelous.


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