Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary - Alford
And 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.Chap. 16:1-8.] Parable of the unjust steward. Peculiar to Luke. No parable in the Gospels has been the subject of so much controversy as this: while, at the same time, the general stream of interpretation is well defined, and, in the main, satisfactory. It would be quite beyond the limits of a note to give any thing like a recension of the views respecting it: the principal ones which differ from that which I have adopted, will appear in the course of my remarks.
1.] ἔλεγεν δὲ καί—a continuation, I believe, of the foregoing:—certainly closely connected in subject with it, as is the second parable in this chapter also: see below.
πρὸς τ. μαθ., not to the Twelve only, but to the multitude of the disciples; and more immediately perhaps to the Publicans, whose reception by Him had been the occasion of this discourse. I say this because I believe them to hold a place, though not a principal or an exclusive one, in the application of the parable which follows.
ἄνθρ. τ. ἦν πλοίσ.…] The history in this parable is, in itself, purely worldly. The master is a υἱὸς τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου, as well as his steward: bear this in mind:—the whole parabolic machinery is from the standing-point of the children of this world.
In the interpretation, this rich man is the Almighty Possessor of all things. This is the only tenable view. Meyer, who supposes him to be Mammon (defending it by the consideration that dismissal from his service = being received into everlasting habitations, which it does not,—see below), is involved in inextricable difficulties further on. Olshausen’s view, that he = the Devil, the ἄρχων τοῦ κόσμου τούτου, will be found equally untenable. Schleiermacher’s, that the Romans are intended, whose stewards the Publicans were, and that the debtors = the Jews, hardly needs refuting;—certainly not more refuting, than any consistent exposition will of itself furnish.
οἰκονόμον, a general overlooker—very much what we understand by an agent, or ‘a man of business,’ or, in the larger sense, a steward. They were generally of old, slaves: but this man is a freeman, from vv. 3, 4. This steward = especially the Publicans, but also all the disciples, i.e. every man in Christ’s Church. We are all God’s stewards, who commits to our trust His property:—each one’s office is of larger or smaller trust and responsibility, according to the measure entrusted to him. I say, especially the Publicans, because the Twelve, and probably others, had relinquished all and followed Christ, and therefore the application of the parable to them would not be so direct: and also because I cannot but put together with this parable, and consider as perhaps prompted by it or the report of it, the profession of Zacchæus, ch. 19:8. Other interpretations have been—the Pharisees (Vitringa, and more recently Zyro, Theol. Stud. und Krit. for 1831)—but then the parable should have been addressed to them, which it was not,—and this view entirely fails in the application:—Judas Iscariot (Bertholdt), of the vindication of which view I am not in possession, and therefore can only generally say, that it is perfectly preposterous:—Pontius Pilate &c. &c.
διεβλήθη—not wrongfully, which the word does not imply necessarily—but maliciously, which it does imply: see Daniel 6:24. The reason why it has come so generally to signify ‘wrongful accusation,’ is, that malicious charges are so frequently slanderous. The steward himself does not deny it.
Meyer (see above) in carrying out his view, would interpret this charge as an accusation by the Pharisees against the disciples that they wasted the goods of Mammon by entering the service of Christ:—but then (1) this other service never once appears on the face of the parable; and (2) surely it would hardly be within the bounds of decorum that this διασκορπίζειν should = the entering Christ’s service;—this would bring a train of false interpretations with it, and even hold up the ἀδικία of the steward, as such, for imitation.
διασκορπίζων—not that he had wasted (E. V.), but was wasting, his goods, ὡς διασκορπίζων = ὅτι διεσκόρπιζεν. So διέβαλλον ὡς λυμαινόμενον τὴν πολιτείαν, Xen. Hell. ii. 3. 23. In this charge (spiritually) we may see the real guilt of every man who is entrusted with the goods of our heavenly Father. We are all ‘scattering His goods.’ If some one is to be found to answer to οἱ διαβάλλοντες, the analogy of ὁ διάβολος, ‘the accuser of the brethren,’ is too striking to escape us.
2. τί τοῦτο …] It makes very little difference either in admissibility of construction or of sense, whether we render, ‘why do I hear this of thee?’ i.e. ‘what is the ground of this report?—what occasion hast thou given for this being brought to me?’ or, ‘What is this that I hear of thee?’ i.e. ‘give some account of it.’ There is the same ambiguity in Mark 11:3, τί ποιεῖτε τοῦτο; I prefer rather the former, because no opportunity of explanation what it is, is given him, but he is commanded to produce his books, to shew how it has arisen.
ἀπόδος …] give up the account of thy stewardship; for (taking for granted the correctness of the report, the steward not denying it) thou wilt not be able to retain thy stewardship any longer,—in ordinary English, thou canst not, &c.
οὐ δύνῃ—in the nature of things—thou art precluded from.
The interpretation of this announcement to the steward, is the certainty, spoken by God in every one of our consciences, that we must give up and give an account of our stewardship at death. The great truth lies in the background, that that dismissal, death itself, is the consequence of the διασκορπίζειν τὰ ὑπάρχοντα αὐτοῦ,—the wages of sin.
3.] The steward sets before himself the certainty of poverty and misery. He has not by his waste of his lord’s property been laying up any store for himself;—that is not the point of the parable;—he has lived softly and effeminately, and cannot do an honest day’s work:—σκάπτειν, for all manual labours; so Aristoph. Av. 1432, σκάπτειν γὰρ οὐκ ἐπίσταμαι. This speech, of digging and begging, must not be sought for in the interpretation; it belongs to the truth of the parable itself as introducing the scheme which follows, but has no ulterior meaning.
4.] ἔγνων—not = ἔγνωκα, which would be, ‘I know, as part of my stock of knowledge, I am well aware,’—but implying, I have just arrived at the knowledge,—an idea has just struck me—I have a plan. δέξωνται
δέξωνται—viz. those who are about to be spoken of, the χρεοφειλέται. He has them in his mind.
Observe, the aim of his scheme is that they may receive him into their houses,—give him shelter. This is made use of afterwards in the interpretation, for which see on ver. 9.
5.] It is more natural to suppose that these χρεοφειλέται had borrowed, i.e. not yet paid for these articles of food out of the stores of the rich man, than that they were contractors to the amounts specified.
τοῦ κ. ἑαυτοῦ, of his own lord,—shewing the unprincipled boldness of his plan for saving himself; as we express the same when we say, ‘he robbed his own father.’
6. βάτους] ὁ δὲ βάτος δύναται χωρῆσαι ξέστας ἑβδομήκοντα δύο, Jos. Antt. viii. 2. 9;—the same for liquids as the ephah for solids. See Ezekiel 45:10, Ezekiel 45:11, Ezekiel 45:14, where the LXX represent the Heb. בַּת by χοῖνιξ and κοτύλη.
δέξαι σ. τ. γρ.] The steward, not yet out of office, has all the vouchers by him, and returns each debtor his own bond, for him to alter the figure (not, to make another, which would imply the destruction of the old bond, not its return).
σου is not emphatic, as Wordsworth, who has several times fallen into this mistake: see note, ch. 14:26, 27: but entirely unemphatic; almost expletive.
καθ. ταχ.] καθίσας is graphic. ταχέως implies the hurry with which the furtive business is transacted. The debtors seem to be all together, that all may be implicated and none may tell of the other.
7. κόρους] ὁ δὲ κόρος δύναται μεδίμνους ἀττικοὺς δέκα, Jos. Antt. xv. 9. 2. There does not appear to be any designed meaning in the variation of the amount deducted. We may easily conceive a reason, if we will, in the different circumstances of the debtors.
8.] ὁ κύριος—of course, the lord of the steward. The E. V. ought to have been expressed his lord, and there would have been no ambiguity.
τ. ο κ. τῆς ἀδ., not ‘the steward for his injustice,’ but (see reff.) the unjust steward. He is not praised ‘for his injustice:’ see below.
ὅτι φρονίμως ἐπ., because he had acted shrewdly, cleverly for his own interest. The point brought out is not merely the shrewdness of the steward, but his lord, whose injury was wrought by this very shrewdness, praising it: for, our Saviour adds, the sons of this world,—to which category both belonged—he who conceived and he who praised the shrewdness—are more shrewd, εἰς τ. γ. τ. ἑαυ., for the purposes of their self-interest,—than the sons of light. But this very τὴν ἑαυ. indicates that there is a better and a higher γενεά, the family of light (John 12:36: Romans 13:12: Ephesians 5:8: 1Thessalonians 5:5), whose interests require a higher and better wisdom and foresight. It is hardly necessary to add that the discovery of the steward’s trick by the master is essential to the parable, as exemplifying the φρονίμως and φρονιμώτεροι. Had the master (as Wordsw.) merely seen the result, that the debtors received him into their houses, the praise could hardly have been put in this form. The aor. ἐποίησεν too seems to point at the past device, rather than the permanent result.
9.] We now pass to the application at once—from the mouth of our Lord Himself. All that is dishonest and furtive in the character of the steward belonged entirely to him as a υἱὸς τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου: but even in this character there was a point to praise and imitate. And the dishonesty itself is not inserted without purpose—viz. to shew us how little the νἱοὶ τ. αἰ. τ. scruple to use it, and how natural it is to them. Now, however, we stand on higher ground: καθαροῖς πάντα καθαρά:—in bringing up the example into the purer air which the sons of light breathe, its grosser parts drop off, and the finer only remain.
καὶ ἐγὼ ὑμῖν λ. seems to recognize a necessary difference in the two situations:—‘although you are sons of the light and the day, and can do no such furtive acts, yet I say to you’ … This view will explain how we may make φίλους ἐκ τοῦ μαμ. τῆς ἀδ. just as we can make an example for ourselves out of the οἰκονόμος τῆς ἀδικ.—that which is of itself τῆς ἀδικίας—which belongs to, is part of a system of, ἀδικία,—which is the very ῥίζα πάντων τῶν κακῶν, the result, and the aptest concretion, of that system of meum and tuum (see ch. 15:12) which is itself the result of sin having entered into the world. And we are to use this Mammon of unrighteousness to make ourselves,—not palaces, nor barns, nor estates, nor treasures,—but friends; i.e. to bestow it on the poor and needy—(see ch. 12:33, which is the most striking parallel to our text—compare ὅταν ἐκλίπῃ, with θησαυρὸν ἀνέκλειπτον there) that when it shall fail,—they, i.e. the φίλοι—(compare the joy in heaven ch. 15:7, 10, and Baxter’s remark cited there by Stier—‘Is there joy in heaven at thy conversion, and will there be none at thy glorification?’) may receive you into the (or their) everlasting tabernacles. See also ch. 14:13, 14.
God repays in their name. They receive us there with joy, if they are gone before us: they receive us there by making us partakers of their prayers, which ‘move the Hand that moves the world,’ even during this life. Deeds then of charity and mercy are to be our spiritual shrewdness, by which we may turn to our account the ἄδικον μαμωνᾶ,—providing ourselves with friends out of it;—and the debtors are here perhaps to be taken in their literal, not parabolic sense—we are to lighten their burdens by timely relief—the only way in which a son of light can change the hundred into fifty, or fourscore: see Isaiah 58:6-8.
10-12.] Closely connected with the foregoing (against De Wette and Strauss):—the ‘faithfulness in the least’ is the same as the prudence and shrewdness just spoken of;—in the case of the children of light they run up into one—τίς ἐστιν ὁ πιστὸς οἰκονόμος καὶ φρόνιμος, ch. 12:42;—the ἐλάχιστον = ὁ ἄδικος (see above: not “fallacious,” as Wordsw.) μαμωνᾶς = τὸ ἀλλότριον—the wealth of this present world, which is not the Christian’s own, nor his proper inheritance. The πολύ = τὸ ἀληθινόν = το ὑμέτερον = the true riches of God’s inheritance: of which the earth (see Matthew 5:5) forms a part, which ὁ θεός (implied in the τίς—for there will be none to give it you if you be untrue during this state of probation;—He will not be your God) shall give to you. The wealth of this world is ἀλλότριον—forfeited by sin—only put into our hands to try us, and to be rendered an account of.
13.] See note on Matthew 6:24. The connexion here is,—that we must, while put in trust with the ἄδικος μαμωνᾶς, be serving not it, but God. The saying here applies (as Olshausen remarks) admirably to the Pharisees and Publicans: the former were, to outward appearance, the servants of God, but inwardly served Mammon;—the latter, by profession in the service of Mammon, were, by coming to Jesus, shewing that they inwardly served God.
14-31.] By occasion of the covetous Pharisees deriding Him, our Lord speaks the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. The Pharisees were not slow in perceiving that the scope of ταῦτα πάντα was to place this world’s goods, and all that the covetous seek after, at a very low price. It will be observed that the sayings which follow, are in reference to matters mentioned during the discourses, or arising out of the character of the Pharisees as commented on in them.
15.] See last note, end.
δικαιοῦντες … ἐνώπ. τ. ἀνθρ., a contrast to ἥμαρτον ἐνώπιόν σου, ch. 15:18: and βδέλυγ. ἐνώπιον τ. θεοῦ to χαρὰ ἐνώπιον τ. ἀγγ. τοῦ θεοῦ, ch. 15:10.
16.] See Matthew 11:12 and note. After προφ. supply προεφήτευσαν, not (Meyer) ἐκηρύσσοντο, which would be inapplicable to the law and the prophets.
The connexion is,—‘Ye are they that justify yourselves before men; ye are no publicans and sinners,—no poor and needy,—but righteous, and increased with this world’s goods. But, since John, a kingdom has been preached, into which every one, publicans and sinners too (πᾶς πάντες, ch. 15:1) are pressing in. The true relation however of that kingdom to the law is not as ye suppose, to destroy the law (Matthew 5:17), but to fulfil.’ Then, as an example, our Lord reiterates the decision which He had before given on a point much controverted among the Jews—the law of adultery. But this He does, not without occasion given, and close connexion with the circumstances, and with what had before been said. As early as Tertullian, cont. Marc. iv. 34, vol. ii. p. 443, it was remarked, that an allusion was meant here to the adultery of Herod Antipas with his brother Philip’s wife, which the Pharisees had tacitly sanctioned, thus allowing an open breach of that law which Christ came to fulfil. To this mention of Herod’s crime the μέχρι Ἰωάννου gave relevance. Still the idea must not be too lightly assumed. Bleek’s remark is worth notice, that, had such an allusion been intended, the last words of the verse would have been otherwise expressed. Antipas had not married a divorced woman, but abduced a married woman from her husband.
See on Matthew 5:32.
19-31.] Our Lord, in this closing parable, grasps the whole covetous and self-seeking character of the Pharisees, shews them a case in which it is carried to the utmost, by one who ‘made no friends’ with the unrighteous Mammon;—places in contrast with it a case of extreme destitution and poverty,—the very thing which the φιλάργυρος most abhorred;—and then passes over into the region beyond the grave, shewing them the contrast there also—and ending with a mysterious prophetic hint at the final rejection of the Kingdom of God and Himself by those for whom the law and prophets were insufficient to bring them to repentance. And while it does not appear that the φιλαργυρία of the Pharisees shewed itself in this particular way, our Lord here grasps the depravity by its root, which is, a godless and loveless self-seeking—saying in the heart, ‘There is no God’—and acting accordingly.
The explanation of particular points see below.
19.] δέ connects this directly with what goes before; being an answer, not immediately to any thing said by the Pharisees, but to their scoffs at Him;—q. d. ‘hear now a parable.’
ἄνθρ. πλ.] Tertullian thought (l. c.) that Herod was meant, and by Lazarus John; and this view has been taken by Paulus and Schleiermacher also: but surely with no probability. Our Lord might hint with stern rebuke at the present notorious crime of Herod, but can hardly be thought to have spoken thus of him. That the circumstances will in some measure apply to these two, is owing, as above in ch. 15, to the parable taking the general case, of which theirs was a particular instance. Zeller (refuted by Bleek in loc.) thinks that the rich man sets forth the Jews and the poor man the Gentiles. In my view, the very name of the poor man (see below) is a sufficient answer to this.
Observe, that this rich man is not accused of any flagrant crimes:—he lives, as the world would say, as became his means and station; he does not oppress nor spoil other men: he is simply a υἱὸς τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου, in the highest form.
πορφ. κ. βύσ., the Tyrian costly purple—and the fine linen (for under clothing) from Egypt.
εὐφρ. λαμπ.] Probably the E. V. is right—fared sumptuously: ‘epulabatur splendide,’ Vulg. Others render it ‘enjoyed himself sumptuously.’
20.] The significant name Lazarus (= Eleazarus = אֶלְעָזָר, Deus auxilium) should have prevented the expositors from imagining this to be a true history.
Perhaps by this name our Lord may have intended to fill in the character of the poor man, which indeed must otherwise be understood to be that of one who feared God.
ἐβέβ., was, or had been, cast down, i.e. was placed there on purpose to get what he could of alms.
πυλῶνα, see on ref. Matt.: it was the portal, which led out of the προαύλιον into the αὐλή.
21.] It would seem that he did obtain this wish, and that, as in ch. 15:16, the ἐπιθ. must mean, he looked for it, willingly took it.
The ἀλλὰ καί seems also to imply, that he got the crumbs: this verse, relating the two points of contrast to the rich man: his only food, the crumbs, with which he longed to fill his belly, but could not:—his only clothing, nakedness and sores, and instead of the boon companions of the rich man, none to pity him but the dogs, who ἐπέλειχον—certainly in pity, not ‘dolorem exasperantes’ (Bengel)—his sores, as they do their own. Such was the state of the two in this world.
22.] The burial of Lazarus is not mentioned, διὰ τὸ ἀτημέλητον τῆς τῶν πτωχῶν ταφῆς, This is the only admissible reason. Meyer rejects it as arbitrary, and not consistent with the received notions about Hades, in which not the soul only, but the whole man was after death—believing it to be meant that the angels carried Lazarus bodily into Paradise. But then his interpretation halts, when he comes to the burial of the rich man, whom he makes go down out of his grave into hell. The fact is, that in both cases the material corpse remains on this earth, buried or unburied; while that personality, to which universal consent rightly attributes sensibility to bliss and woe, and the feelings and parts of the body, the man’s real self, is translated into the other world. (If, when parts of the body are removed, we still believe that we possess those limbs, and feel pain in them, why may not the disembodied spirit still subjectively exist in, and feel the sensations of, that corporeal system from which it is temporarily separated?)
ἀπενεχθ. αὐτ.…] In the whole of this description, the following canon of interpretation may be safely laid down:—Though it is unnatural to suppose that our Lord would in such a parable formally reveal any new truth respecting the state of the dead,—yet, in conforming himself to the ordinary language current on these subjects, it is impossible to suppose that He, whose essence is Truth, could have assumed as existing any thing which does not exist. It would destroy the truth of our Lord’s sayings, if we could conceive Him to have used popular language which did not point at truth. And accordingly, where such language was current, we find Him not adopting, but protesting against it: see Matthew 15:5.
τ. κόλπ. Ἀβραάμ] The above remark does not apply here—for this, as a form of speech among the Jews, was not even by themselves understood in its strict literal sense; and though the purposes of the parable require this, ver. 23, no one would think of pressing it into a truth, but all would see in it the graphic filling up of a state which in itself is strictly actual. The expression בחיקו של אברהם signified the happy side of Hades, where all the Fathers were conceived as resting in bliss. In Joseph. de Macc. § 13 we have οὕτω γὰρ θανόντας ἡμᾶς Ἀβραὰμ κ. Ἰσ. κ. Ἰακ. ὑποδέξονται εἰς τοὺς κόλπους αὐτῶν.
The death of the rich man last should be remarked; Lazarus was taken soon from his sufferings; Dives was left longer, that he might have space to repent.
κ. ἐτάφη] There can be no doubt that the funeral is mentioned as being congruous to his station in life,—and, as Trench observes, ‘in a sublime irony,’—implying that he had all things properly cared for; the purple and fine linen which he wore in life, not spared at his obsequies. See Meyer’s interpretation above.
23. ἐν τ. ᾅδῃ] Hades, שְׁאוֹל, is the abode of all disembodied spirits till the resurrection; not, the place of torment,—much less hell, as understood commonly, in the E. V.
Lazarus was also in Hades, but separate from Dives; one on the blissful, the other on the baleful side. It is the gates of Hades, the imprisonment of death, which shall not prevail against the Church (Matthew 16:18);—the Lord holds the key of Hades, (Revelation 1:18);—Himself went into the same Hades, of which Paradise is a part.
ἐν βασάνοις—not eternal condemnation;—for the judgment has not yet taken place; men can only be judged in the body, for the deeds done in the body:—but, the certainty and anticipation of it.
ἐπάρας, not necessarily to a higher place, though that may be meant:—see reff.
24.] ‘Superbus temporis, mendicus inferni.’ (Trench, Par. in loc.)
On πάτερ Ἀβρ. see Matthew 3:9.
φλογί, not subjective only, though perhaps mainly. The omission of the article before βασάνοις points no doubt to subjective torments;—but where lies the limit between inner and outer to the disembodied? Hardened sinners have died crying ‘Fire!’—Did the fire leave them, when they left their bodies?
25.] The answer is solemn, calm, and fatherly;—there is no mocking, as is found in the Koran under the same circumstances; no grief, as is sometimes represented affecting the blessed spirits for the lot of the lost. (Klopstock, cited by Stier, iii. 319, edn. 2: Wehmuth der Himmlischen die verlorenen Seelen begleitet.)
μνήσθητι …] Analogy gives us every reason to suppose, that in the disembodied state the whole life on earth will lie before the soul in all its thoughts, words, and deeds, like a map of the past journey before a traveller.
Those that were good things to thee, τὰ ἀγ. σου, came to an end in thy lifetime: there are no more of them.
What a weighty, precious word is this σου: were it not for it, De Wette and the like, who maintain that the only meaning of the parable is, ‘Woe to the rich, but blessed are the poor’—would have found in this verse at least a specious defence for their view:—though even then τὰ ἀγ. would have implied the same, in fair interpretation.
τὰ κακά—not αὐτοῦ—for to him they were not so.
παρακαλ.] See ch. 6:24.
26.] Even if it were not so,—however, and for whatsoever reason, God’s decree hath placed thee there—thy wish is impossible.
χάσμα μέγα] In the interpretation,—the irresistible decree—then truly so, but no such on earth—by which the Almighty Hand hath separated us and you, in order that, not merely so that, none may pass it. In the graphic description, a yawning chasm impassable.
ἐστήρικται, is fixed for ever. This expression precludes all idea that the following verse indicates the beginning of a better mind in the rich man.
27.] This is the believing and trembling of James 2:19. His eyes are now opened to the truth; and no wonder that his natural sympathies are awakened for his brethren.
That a lost spirit should feel and express such sympathy, is not to be wondered at; the misery of such will be very much heightened by the awakened and active state of those higher faculties and feelings which selfishness and the body kept down here.
29.] ἡ πίστις ἐξ ἀκοῆς, ἡ δὲ ἀκοὴ διὰ ῥήματος χριστοῦ. Romans 10:17. ‘Auditu fideli salvamur, non apparitionibus.’ Bengel. This verse furnishes a weighty testimony from our Lord Himself of the sufficiency then of the O.T. Scriptures for the salvation of the Jews. It is not so now.
30, 31.] οὐχί—not, ‘they will not hear them:’ he could not tell that, and besides, it would have taken away much of the ground of the answer of Abraham:—the word deprecates leaving their salvation in such uncertainty, as the chance of their hearing Moses and the Prophets seems to him to imply.—‘Leave it not so, when it might be at once and for ever done by sending them one from the dead.’
Abraham’s answer, besides opening to us a depth in the human heart, has a plain application to the Pharisees, to whom the parable was spoken. They would not hear Moses and the Prophets:—Christ rose from the dead, but He did not go to them;—this verse is not so worded, ‘they would have rejected Him, had He done so:’—the fact merely is here supposed, and that in the very phrase which so often belongs to His own resurrection. They were not persuaded—did not believe, though One rose from the dead. To deny altogether this allusion, is to rest contented with merely the surface of the parable.
Observe, Abraham does not say, ‘they will not repent’—but, ‘they will not believe, be persuaded:’ which is another and a deeper thing.
Luther does not seem to conclude rightly, that this disproves the possibility of appearances of the dead. It only says, that such appearances will not bring about faith in the human soul: but that they may not serve other ends in God’s dealings with men, it does not assert. There is no gulf between the earth and Hades: and the very form of Abraham’s answer, setting forth no impossibility in this second case, as in the former, would seem to imply its possibility, if requisite.
We can hardly pass over the identity of the name Lazarus with that of him who actually was recalled from the dead, but whose return, far from persuading the Pharisees, was the immediate exciting cause of their crowning act of unbelief.