Identifying The Talents Contextual Clues for the Interpretation of the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30) -- By: Ben Chenoweth

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 56:1 (NA 2005)
Article: Identifying The Talents Contextual Clues for the Interpretation of the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30)
Author: Ben Chenoweth


Identifying The Talents
Contextual Clues for the Interpretation of the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30)

Ben Chenoweth

Summary

The parable of the Talents contains some elements that were intended to be interpreted allegorically. The master represents the Son of Man; the servants represent the disciples. But what about the talents? Some say the talents represent gifts and abilities; others, that they do not represent anything specific but are necessary only to demonstrate faithful stewardship. However, this article proposes that Matthew did have a specific referent in mind. By means of an extended verbal repetition (Matt. 13:12 and 25:29) Matthew intended the talents to refer to ‘the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven’. In other words, the disciples have been given inside information about the kingdom – they were given the interpretation of Jesus’ parables unlike the crowds who only heard the parables – and therefore they must make use of this knowledge to bring about a profit for Jesus. Those who do will be rewarded; failure to do so will result in punishment. Furthermore, this applies just as much to the readers of Matthew’s gospel. Support for this view is found in 1 Corinthians 4:1–5.

1. Introduction

In the history of Christian scholarship, apart from the occasional dissenting voice,1 the interpretation of the parable of the Talents has

been largely a matter of scholarly consensus: it teaches fidelity in what God has entrusted to us. Where disagreement emerges, however, is what precisely the parable is claiming God has entrusted to us. In other words, what do the talents represent? The most common answer is that the talents refer to gifts and abilities. However, it is the contention of this article that this is not what Matthew intended when he included this parable of Jesus in his gospel.

2. The Presence of Allegory

It is widely recognised today that Jesus’ parables contain elements that were intended to be interpreted allegorically. This does not mean that they are allegories in the full sense such that all characters and events, right down to the tiniest detail, have equivalents in the real world. Rather, there are only a limited number of allegorical connections. The issue for the interpreter is, of course, which ones can be made legitimately.

The parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14–30 describes a wealthy man who, before going on a...

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