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The Gospel according to Luke (15)

(16:1 to 17:19)


The preceding parables have shown the special faults of the Pharisees and those that follow on in this chapter do the same. Failure to see this makes great problems in the interpretation of the parables of chapter sixteen which are peculiar to Luke. The self-righteousness of the Pharisees, their hard exclusiveness, contempt for others, and their unscriptural traditions are mercilessly exposed by the Lord Jesus and apart from this, one cannot understand these parables. In fact it would be possible to take their wrong thoughts and actions as examples of Truth! First of all we have the parable of the Shrewd Steward which, while spoken to the disciples, concerned the outlook and conduct of Israel's leaders, and was in the nature of a warning to the Twelve. Christ had already given the story of the Wise Steward in chapter 12 verses 42-48; the one who could be trusted to look after his master's goods and servants faithfully. The reader is referred to this where we considered the word oikonomos, steward, oikonomia, stewardship and oikonomeo to act as a steward. The word oikonomos literally means 'house-manager', one who is put in charge of someone else's property. The house-manager of Luke 16 is very different from the one in chapter 12 who was so reliable. This one is the opposite. He ignores his responsibilities and plays fast and loose with his master's goods and is reported to the master who immediately calls for him and charges him to give an account of his activities.

He said:

"... 'What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, (oikonomia) because you cannot be manager any longer.'" (verse 2 N.I.V.).

These words made the house manager begin to think quickly as to how he could extricate himself from this difficulty. Suddenly a clever idea came to him. 'I have it!' he said and then he planned to reduce all the bills owing to his master, so that when he lost his job, he would be welcomed by these people into their homes (verses 3-7).

But what was the reaction of his employer? Judging by the standards of the world, he had to admit that the manager had been clever in his unscrupulousness, but surely he did not approve of being robbed! We must keep this in mind when we read:

"The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly (judged by the law standards of worldly behaviour). For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light (God's people)." (verse 8 N.I.V.).

This so-called shrewdness may be tolerated by an unsaved world, but it is no standard for the believer, who most certainly is exhorted by God's word to act with heavenly wisdom and only in this way can human actions receive God's approval.

Verse 9, as translated by the A.V. and other versions makes insoluble difficulties, 'make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations', the whole tenor of which is against the teaching of Scripture. Paul says, 'what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness?' (2 Cor. 6:14). The Lord's own summary of this parable is found in verses 10-12 :

"Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else's property, who will give you property of your own?" (N.I.V.).

The teaching is surely perfectly clear, which shows that the action of the dishonest manager was certainly not to be copied for 'whoever is dishonest with very little, will also be dishonest with much'. Therefore verse 9 is not a command to the believer, for, if it is, then the end justifies the means, which surely completely contradicts the immediate context and in fact the context of the whole Bible. Verse 9 is better read as a question, 'do I say unto you ... (compare Romans 8:33,34 in the text of the Revised Version and the margin, where the text is a statement of fact and the margin a query).

Sometimes the Lord teaches by contrast and this is certainly true in chapter 16 which cannot be rightly expounded if this is not recognized. The believer is never exhorted to use anything doubtful in order to get advantage from it.

The Lord Jesus goes on to assert:

"No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money." (verse 13 N.I.V.).

Would that every true Christian believed and acted upon these words! The next verse tells us that the Pharisees who loved money were listening, but they sneered at the Lord. Literally they 'turned up their noses' at Him. We point out again that all the parables in this chapter were heard by the Pharisees and directed against them. This is a considerable help in their interpretation. The Lord's reply to them was:

"You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God's sight." (verse 15 N.I.V.).

He continued by saying that the law and Prophets were proclaimed until John. From that time the good news of the kingdom was being proclaimed and 'everyone is forcing his way into it'. This is a difficult phrase. The word biazetai, 'forces', occurs only here and in Matthew 11:12 and can be regarded as middle voice or passive. The passive sense is that the kingdom is forced, taken by violent men or seized like a conquered city. The middle voice can mean 'experiences violence', or 'forces its way' like a mighty wind.

The meaning probably is that the preaching of John had resulted in a violent and impetuous thronging around the Lord and His disciples, as the Gospels testify, and his enemies, the Pharisees were there too. They were unwilling to enter by the door (Christ Himself) but were trying to get in some other way, on their own conditions, and by their own righteousness and attainments.

And with them still in mind, Christ added:

"It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law. Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery" (verses 17,18 N.I.V.).

This gives us Christ's opinion of the law of God and His Word. It was perfect and complete to the smallest letter or particle and would remain so. As regards divorce, the Lord is alluding to the scandalous freedom of divorce allowed at this time by the leaders. Hillel is said to have declared that a man might divorce his wife for spoiling a dinner. The great problem of divorce is sadly up to date, and we must stress that the whole testimony of Christ as recorded in the Gospels must be considered before any verdict can be given. To pick out a verse and ignore others can only lead to false conclusions and error.

The Pharisees and scribes made void the law of God as to divorce, they made void the prophets, and also the rest of Old Testament Scripture as regards the dead and this they did by their traditions which they added to the Word of God. No wonder Christ told them that they made God's law of none effect by their tradition (Matt. 15:3-6 and see Psa. 6:5; 30:9; 31:17; 115:17; 146:4). This is the testimony of the Hebrew Scriptures whose teaching the Pharisees claimed to know and believe. These facts we must bear in mind when we consider the parable that immediately follows, namely the Rich Man and Lazarus. Some refuse to take this as a parable and look on it as history because it commences with the words 'there was a certain man', but so does the parable of The Prodigal Son, and no one has any problems with this being a parable! Luke has several parables where the Lord uses contrast to illustrate Truth as we have seen with the Unjust Steward and another is the parable of the Widow and the Unjust Judge (Luke 18:1-8). We have it similarly in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. One important rule in interpretation is that no figurative passage may be interpreted in such a way that the plain statements of the rest of Scripture are reversed or denied. When we compare Luke 16:19-31 with the Old and New Testaments it is evident that it has no clear basis in either of them and this should make us refuse to accept the corrupt Jewish tradition as a revelation from God.

What this does do is to show up the unscriptural traditions of the Pharisees which they had added to the law of God. The reader should consult if possible the Works of John Lightfoot (1658)* vol. 11 pp. 116-21 and vol. 12 pp. 159-168 and also the writings of Josephus.

The parable gives us Pharisaic tradition, as a comparison with these works will show:
Luke 16:19-30 (A.V.)JosephusComments
'And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom'.'There is one descent into this region (hades), at whose gate we believe stands an archangel with an host; which gate when those pass through that are conducted down by the angels appointed over souls ... are guided to the right hand ... while they wait for that rest, and eternal new life in heaven, which is to succeed this region. This place we call The Bosom of Abraham'.Here we have two parallel items (1) the ministry of angels to the dead and (2) the name of this part of hades, The Bosom of Abraham.
'the rich man also died, and was buried; and in hell (hades) he lift up his eyes ... Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented'.'Now, as to hades, wherein the souls of the righteous and unrighteous are detained, it is necessary to speak of it...this region is allowed as a place of custody for souls in which angels are appointed as guardians to them, to distribute to them temporary punishments, agreeable to everyone's behaviour and manners'.Here we have further parallels; in both, hades is a place where punishments are meted out before the day of judgment, agreeable to the life lived on earth.
'... and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom'.'They are struck with a fearful expectation of a future judgment, and in effect punished thereby; and not only so, but where they see the place of the fathers and of the just, even hereby are they punished'.
'Father Abraham, have mercy on me ... I am tormented in this flame'.'Now those angels that are set over these souls, drag them into the neighbourhood of hell itself, who, when they are hard by it, continually hear the noise of it and do not stand clear of the hot vapour itself'.
'... send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue ... between us and you is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence'.'A chaos deep and large is fixed between them insomuch that a just man that hath compassion on them cannot be admitted, nor can one that is unjust, if he were bold enough to attempt it, pass over it'.

It must surely be obvious that the whole imagery of the Rich Man and Lazarus is Pharisaic doctrine and tradition. The Word of truth knows nothing of a place called Abraham's bosom for the redeemed after death. Nor is hades a place where judgment is meted out for the lost. The New Testament is clear that this takes place after resurrection at the day of judgment.

Nor does the Word teach that those in hell can see and converse with those in heaven. Anyone who knows the Word of God well cannot help but feel this parable cannot be a revelation of God concerning believers or unbelievers after death. But it fits in with the parable of the Unjust Steward, for in both the Lord Jesus is exposing the false doctrine and ways of the religious leaders who, we are told in the chapter, 'derided Him'. Verse 31 must surely be the conclusion of the Lord, 'if they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead'.

Had the Pharisees and other leaders based their teaching solely on the Old Testament Scriptures, they could not have produced the false doctrine that is so evident in this parable. They were 'blind leaders of the blind'. They refused to come into the light of Christ's teaching and so walked in darkness and led others into that darkness. The parable purports to deal with heaven, but no guidance is given as to how to get there. There is no hint of the gospel or belief in Christ as the appointed way.

All one has to do, apparently, is to be poor and have a bad time like Lazarus and then automatically one will find oneself in heaven eventually (see verse 25). Dr. W.F. Adeney aptly sums it all up. He says:

It is not reasonable to take the imagery of the parable literally as a description of the state of the dead. It is parabolic throughout. Nor is it reasonable to suppose that Jesus is here giving a revelation concerning the state of the dead. He uses conventional Jewish imagery and adds nothing material to it (St. Luke p. 313).

Those who do base their ideas of life after death on this parable and not on the Scriptures as a whole, are resting on a very insecure foundation.


This chapter commences with the Lord Jesus dealing with sin and hindrances to faith:
"Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come. It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied round his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin. So watch yourselves. If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, 'I repent,' forgive him." (verses 1-4 N.I.V.).

On another occasion Peter questioned the Lord in a similar way (Matt. 18:21) and brought Christ's answer 'seventy times seven' which shows that there must be no limit to forgiveness, especially in view of the fact that, as believers, all our sins have been forgiven by God (Col. 2:13) and forgotten (Heb.8:12). Who are we then to usurp Christ's place and sit in judgment, criticizing other people?

The Apostles, evidently feeling the smallness of their faith, asked the Lord to increase it (verse 5). We note that they did not ask Christ to give them faith. On four occasions the Lord lamented over the smallness of their faith (Matt. 6:30; 8:26; 14:31; 16:8). When He was able to commend the greatness of a person's faith, it was not to Israelites, but to outsiders (Matt. 8:10; 15:28). The sycamore tree to which the Lord refers was the black mulberry. The white mulberry (sycamore) also exists in Palestine and Luke uses both terms, here and in 19:4. Both trees apparently have medicinal properties and differ from the English sycamore. Luke, as a physician, makes the distinction. In Matthew 17:20 we have 'mountain' in place of 'sycamore tree'. Metaphor is being used, but in each case it is shown that real faith apart from doubt can achieve great results.

The Lord goes on to give the illustration of the servant who comes in from work, but is still expected to wait on his master, and in doing this, he is but carrying out his job. He does not expect praise for it (verses 7-10). The last verse reminds us that our service, whatever it is, is not perfect and in it all we are but doing our duty. This is humbling but often needful for us to recognize. The fact that we are allowed to serve God is an act of grace on His part when we remember He could do all His work without us!

On His way up to Jerusalem, passing the boundaries of Galilee and Samaria, the Lord Jesus is met by ten lepers. They did not approach Him, for this was the requirement of the law with such a contagious disease. They called out 'Jesus, Master, have pity on us'. Christ's reply was, N"Go, show yourselves to the priests." And as they went, they were cleansed' (verse 14). The Lord makes no direct reference to healing, but instead gives them a command. And it was, as they obeyed the command, they were healed. There is a lesson for us all here. The Scripture not only talks about faith, but also faith-obedience (Rom. 1:5). The lepers could have argued among themselves about going to the priest in their present condition, but they believed what the Lord had said and in their obedience to Him the miracle took place.

Something spoiled this gracious work; only one felt the need to go back and express his gratitude, and Luke, in line with his purpose of writing, tells us that he was an outsider, a Samaritan! What a mean and pitiable sin ingratitude is! It was a turning point in the history of the nations, 'neither were (they) thankful' (Rom. 1:21).


* Not to be confused with the works of J.B. Lightfoot, Bishop of Durham.

Edited on April 13, 1997 / Updated on April 13, 1997
The Alachua Freenet does not endorse or disendorse the content of this document. Everything is the author's private opinion.
Location: http://www.afn.org/~leo/be_luke_15.html
Contact: Leo Wierzbowski / leo@afn.org

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