A Question I Was Asked:

Can You Offer Any Comments on Luke 16:1-9?

A Look at a Famous 'Difficult Scripture'

The Question:

Would you have any comments on the parable of the unjust steward in Luke 16:1-9?? I have read many commentaries and explanations on the internet and none seem to give a "good" answer - whatever "good" means!? Would this parable have anything to do with doing business on the world's terms...?

UK Apologetics Reply:

This is one of the famous 'difficult Scriptures' of the New Testament.

Okay, let us look at this:

Luke 16:1-9:
Jesus told his disciples: "There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. So he called him in and asked him, 'What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.' "The manager said to himself, 'What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I'm not strong enough to dig, and I'm ashamed to beg - I know what I'll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.' "So he called in each one of his master's debtors. He asked the first, 'How much do you owe my master?' "'Nine hundred gallons of olive oil,' he replied. "The manager told him, 'Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty.' "Then he asked the second, 'And how much do you owe?' '"A thousand bushels of wheat,' he replied. "He told him, 'Take your bill and make it eight hundred.' "The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings."

I am going to tackle this question under two general headings:

1. Bribes and Bribery.

Of course this Scripture goes beyond the topic of bribes but since some do associate it with bribes, I will look at that first.

I used to know a man who did evangelistic work in Africa, he told me that whenever he attempted to get back on his plane for the homeward journey from Nigeria, he would not be allowed back on his homeward flight unless he offered a small payment. Oh, he had his ticket - no problem there - but taking bribes were just part of the way of life in that country. There was no way he could be naive about this, he just had to have some cash in hand in order to get back on that plane, otherwise, no flight home! He was at the wrong end of a bribe situation and just had to use common sense. That was not the time or place to make a big issue over this.

One might say one should not give in to that sort of thing but there is no point in being naive here, additional payments - often unexpected - seem to govern life. What right does a restaurant have to expect 'tips'? What right a taxi driver? But sometimes 'tips' (which are not too far removed from bribes) are expected and most of us expect, and pay them. From personal experience I might say that drives in Dubai taxis are seemingly not too expensive, but that 'tip' is all-important!

The Bible condemns bribes but the condemnation is upon those who are doing the manipulating, expecting to receive such illegal payments - not on the payer, as long as that person's conscience is entirely clear. As my e mailers state in their very interesting e mail:

"Every marginal or questionable task in our society really comes down to this same point - what is my overall motive? If I first "offer" a bribe, I am tempting someone else to do wrong, [but] If someone first temps me to pay a bribe, they are instigating the problem. .."

My emailer also points out the corruption involved in the "tax collecting" extant in Judea during New Testament times. Bribes were everywhere which is why tax collectors were so hated as a group at the time of Jesus.

Let us look at a few examples of the biblical attitude towards bribes:

Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds those who see and twists the words of the innocent. (Exodus 23:8).

Appoint judges and officials for each of your tribes in every town the LORD your God is giving you, and they shall judge the people fairly. Do not pervert justice or show partiality. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the innocent. (Deuteronomy 16:18-19).

When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as Israel's leaders. The name of his firstborn was Joel and the name of his second was Abijah, and they served at Beersheba. But his sons did not follow his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice. (1 Samuel 8:1-3).

There are several more examples we could look at but we will just consider one more:

Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine and champions at mixing drinks, who acquit the guilty for a bribe, but deny justice to the innocent. (Isaiah 5:22-23).

I think we have seen enough to see that bribes are not a good practice for the Christian to be involved in. To offer a bribe (in order to get something one might not be entitled to) is bad and can be a great evil (such as in the case of a criminal bribing a policeman to look the other way while a crime is commited, or to bribe a jury), Having said that, did my old friend do wrong to pay a bribe in order to get back on his flight out of Nigeria? Absolutely not. It was not he that was the instigator of the illegal practice and he needed to get home! So here is one area in which the Christian should not be simplistic or naive! So balance comes into all of this.

2. General Lessons of Luke 16:1-9.

I have myself observed that believers sometimes do indeed act somewhat foolishly and naively when dealing with the 'world.' They sometimes get into unnecessary problems by doing so. Christians should act wisely and sensibly. I heard of an elderly widow who refused to enter banks because, " they are corrupt and do not act according to Godly principles." She was right on that score but real life in this present society means one has to deal with banks!

Jesus stated that "... the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light." Sometimes believers are just a little too quick to fall into traps which 'worldly types' have carefully laid for them. More shrewd people often note these traps quicker than we do and marvel at our naivety. At times we should be quicker to play the world at its own games rather than simply being gullible.

Interestingly, in the parable we are looking at, the steward/manager is not accused of dishonesty by Jesus. Dishonest he plainy was, but Jesus commended this man for being shrewd in dealing with worldly people and worldly matters. Some have been shocked that Jesus went on to say, "I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings." The meaning is that, while this decaying old world lasts, it is not wrong to use worldly wealth, or even worldly tactics to make friends or good contacts which may lead to a more successful spreading of the gospel by virtue of us appearing as friendly and helpful to others (obviously, as long as serious Christian principles of integrity are not compromised), this is done in order that discipleship may be better served. Jesus is not talking about us all starting to play the financial stock market, taking huge risks, in order to hope for huge personal wealth. That would simply be a vain attempt to 'store up treasure' for ourselves upon earth. Rather, He is saying, use any tool you have (even mammon) to make disciples for Christ!

Interestingly, the NIV Study Bible suggests that the shrewd manager was quick to offer the creditors a better debt deal because he already knew that he had overcharged them in the first place! Hmmm, a good point.

The Amplified Bible makes the following of Luke 16:9:

And I tell you, makes friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous mammon (deceitful riches, money, possessions), so that when it fails, they (those you have favored) may receive and welcome you into the everlasting habitations (dwellings).

Of course nothing here excuses the money-motivated behaviour of the 'health, wealth and prosperity gospel' merchants. They will surely come into judgment for using the gospel as merchandise in order to enjoy a comfortable living for themselves. Jesus was talking about something quite different. He was - effectively - saying, 'Don't be naive, learn to handle worldly/financial situations with a little acumen and common sense while this old world lasts, especially if it might be advantageous to the Gospel. Eventually, this old world will be gone, then you will be welcomed into "eternal dwellings," perhaps even welcomed by some you were able to help.' He is certainly not saying that those who are a little gullible and naive, too slow to play the world according to the world's often devious tactics, will not be in those "eternal dwellings."
Robin A. Brace. March 14th, 2012.