The Parable of the Unjust Steward

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Luke 16:1-13

Synopsis of Parable:

A rich man had a steward who was accused of wasting the rich man's goods. So the king called the steward to give an account of himself But before this account, the steward called in the rich man's debtors and forgave them partially of their bills. The rich man commended the unjust steward for acting wisely.

Parable Given in Response to:

This parable was given after the Parable of the Prodigal Son(Luke 15:11-32.) to an audience while the Pharisees and scribes were muttered about Jesus.(Luke 15:1, 2.)

Symbolism Chart

Symbol Meaning Verse Found
↓ Rich Man God Luke 16:1
↓ Steward Pharisee Luke 16:1

The Parable of the Unjust Steward

As presented in the King James Version of Luke 16:1-13

Luke 16:1And he said also unto his disciples, There was a certain rich man, which had a steward; and the same was accused unto him that he had wasted his goods.
2 And he called him, and said unto him, How is it that I hear this of thee? give an account of thy stewardship; for thou mayest be no longer steward.
3 Then the steward said within himself, What shall I do? for my lord taketh away from me the stewardship: I cannot dig; to beg I am ashamed.
4 I am resolved what to do, that, when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses.
5 So he called every one of his lord's debtors unto him, and said unto the first, How much owest thou unto my lord?
6 And he said, An hundred measures of oil. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and sit down quickly, and write fifty.
7 Then said he to another, And how much owest thou? And he said, An hundred measures of wheat. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and write fourscore.
8 And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely: for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.
9 And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations.
10 He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much.
11 If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches?
12 And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man's, who shall give you that which is your own?
13 No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

Explanation of the Interpretation of Symbols

The Rich Man is God Back to Top ↑

There is a lot of confusion around this parable, so it would behoove everyone to be especially careful with our interpretations. Here, the rich man represents God.

The first objection that people raise is that most people think the rich man is dishonest, or otherwise evil, and that because of that, the rich man cannot represent God. Nothing in the parable says this, however. All we know is that the rich man had a steward, and that someone accused the steward of wasting the rich man’s goods. In fact, the rich man did not even believe the accuser at face value, instead he gave an opportunity for the accused (the steward) to give an account of his stewardship. The only other thing we know is that the rich man then considered the steward’s actions as wise. There is nothing in this parable that shows that the rich man was evil.

Even if there were things that made the rich man out to be evil, that still would not rule out God as an interpretation. In the Parables of the Talents and Minas, the nobleman represents Jesus Christ, and yet the unprofitable servants said of the nobleman, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed. Matthew 25:24 cf. Luke 19:21 Merely because someone might have some flaws in a parable, does not mean that they cannot represent God. In the Parable of the Persistant Widow, the unjust judge was also symbolic of God, even though he was plainly called "unjust,"(Luke 18:1.) a trait God does not have.(You cannot be, of course, both just and unjust. And God is just. Deuteronomy 32:4.)

Most denominations do not even try to interpret the rich man as anything. They do not address the subject and leave it blank. However, when Jesus explained his parables, he did so by using symbols, and as a central figure in the parable, the rich man must also be a symbol.

The Steward is a Pharisee Back to Top ↑

This interpretation will surely be surprising, however we have to be careful to note after Jesus gave this parable, Luke records And the Pharisees also, who were covetous, heard all these things: and they derided him.Luke 16:14 If the parable did not include the Pharisees, why would they deride them? And why would Luke record them are being "covetous" if they were unrelated to the parables?

The steward of a rich man is a person who manages the resources of the rich man. Upmost trust is required for this. This is the same position that the Levitical priesthood had, God entrusted them to the spiritual care of Israel, but as time went on, they became more and more horrid, and cared more about money. Then, the Pharisees, as an extension of the Levitical priesthood, cared more for money than God, which Jesus had identified many times already.(Matthew 23:14, 23; Mark 12:40; Luke 20:47.) Jesus even says he would gather them together, but they would not have it!(Matthew 23:37, Luke 13:34.)

The Pharisees and other fit this role perfectly. With this interpretation, we can now explain why the Pharisees derided Jesus after this parable. They felt that they were the steward in the parable, they felt that Jesus said they were going to be fired, they felt that Jesus said they were cheating God when he said, And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely: for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light. Luke 16:8

The most common interpretation of the steward is to say that the steward is a person in the kingdom of God. This makes little sense, as it would result in Jesus encouraging people to gain money unscrupulously."mammon of unrighteousness" Jesus denies this in other sayings, saying, For it is easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. Luke 18:25 cf. Matthew 19:24; Mark 10:25 or Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God. Luke 6:20 When Jesus sent out his disciples, he instructed them to take no money or even extra clothing.(Luke 9:3.)To then turn all of that around and explain this parable as meaning “use unrighteous means to gain money to use for any purpose, including securing an eternal inhabitation” makes a mockery of Jesus and divides his words into two categories: truth and untruth. Nonsense! We must throw out the false interpretation and keep the harmony of Jesus’s sayings instead!


There are two additional things about the steward that should be acknowledged. First, a note on history. In the modern day, an employer will pay a salesman a salary plus commission for their work selling goods to other businesses. The commission and sales is typically (but not always) set, and for the more common things, the buyer could find out what the seller is gaining from the transaction. For instance, when someone buys a new phone, the seller may earn $50 commission. However, in Jesus’s time, this was not the case. Instead, the steward would add his own commission on top of whatever his master would get. For instance, if he was selling a barrel of grapes for $50, he could increase the price to $70, and pocket the difference of $20. This was how many stewards in this line of work were paid.

When we later see the steward reduce the debts of many of the lord’s debtors, we have to be careful not to apply our modern day cultural ideas to the first century. It could be that he was not cheating his master, but merely removing his portion of the sale, so as to make the debtors happier. Thus, the reason the steward would be called unjust would be in the original markup of the items. For the oil, it was 100%, and for the wheat, 25%.

This unjust markup would also be why the steward panicked. The king only called him to give an account of his goods, and yet the steward knew that if he had to do that, he would be fired. He then set about correcting them. In one context, this could be seen as correcting his own wrong, which God would surely appreciate, and be a moral that Jesus would want to teach.For what it's worth, this is more or less the Catholic teaching of this parable.

That brings us to our second point. The rich man did not think his servant was guilty. It was the steward who came to that conclusion himself: Then the steward said within himself, What shall I do? for my lord taketh away from me the stewardship: I cannot dig; to beg I am ashamed. Luke 16:3 The steward's own guilt and desire for a peaceful life I am resolved what to do, that, when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses. Luke 16:4 led him to doing this. Was it guilt and a desire to correct what he did wrong, or was is desperation and a desire to live peacefully that made him do this?

Jesus's message for this was, No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. Luke 16:13 Given that, it would make sense to think the steward acted out of a desire for a peaceful life of not digging, and not begging. Instead of asking for forgiveness, he did what wicked people do. That would explain why Jesus had the rich man say, For the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light. Luke 16:8 In the eyes of the world, it is wiser to forge records than it is to beg forgiveness.

However, interpreting the steward as a pharisee, makes perfect sense when we consider these additional requirements. The priesthood ate the sacrifices that were given to God in the temple, and the Pharisees, continuing that tradition, also did the same. As previously discussed, the Pharisees enjoyed their money. Last, both Jesus and John the Baptist condemned them as hypocrites and vipers, similar to how the rich man in the parable commented on the difference between the people in this world and the children of light.

In Conclusion Back to Top ↑

The Parable of the Unjust Steward is probably the most difficult parable to understand. However, if you identify the symbols in the parable, and place it in the context of Jesus’s audience, it becomes clear what the parable means. It represents the Pharisees who were around during Jesus’s time. God was going to call them to account for what they were doing, and they instead killed Jesus to appease themselves and to try to be Roman. They charged Jesus with sedition, and sold him out to the Romans.(Luke 23:2.)

With these two symbols identified, it becomes trivial to identify the rest of the parable. For instance, when the rich man said, How is it that I hear this of thee? give an account of thy stewardship; for thou mayest be no longer steward. Luke 16:2 This is similar to God inspecting the fruits of the temple leaders to ensure they are accurate or true.

Likewise, as just previously discussed, the erasing of the debts is analogous to "selling out" Jesus to the Romans, so that the Romans are happy with Israel and let them continue their quasi-self-rule.

In taking this position, we avoid presenting Jesus as awkwardly telling his disciples to use unrighteous means to gain money to give to people to earn eternal life, a stance that is against some of Jesus's other sayings.

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