Upside down interpretation of the Parable of the Kingdom

A few months ago, Andrew posted at City of God a few question, one of which was:

  • Does Jesus’ logic in the parable of the talents support the concept that, all other things being equal, it is more rational that people invest money than hoard it in the ground?
  • I responded as follows: In my view yes. Jesus is teaching from the known to the unknown; from everyday experience, in this case investing, to the unknown characteristics of the kingdom of God. Thus, Jesus is not teaching that investing money is better than burying money, but using that very assumption to point out something about the Kingdom of God.

    Then a certain Brandon responded (Brandon is a missionary in South Africa and if you would like to give some of your ill-gotten filthy usuary to him, you can link to this giving page here):

    1. March 6, 2010 1:48 pm

      Why do we always assume the parable of the talents is a glorification of free market principles?

      As he is much more eloquent than me, I’ll let the words of Ched Myers speak:

      This parable reads much more coherently as a cautionary tale about the world controlled by great householders (this is even clearer in Luke’s version of the story, Luke 19:11-27). Jesus may even have been spinning a thinly-veiled autobiographical tale here—for he, too, will shortly stand before the powers, speak the truth, and take the consequences. To read in it a divine endorsement of mercenary economics and the inevitable polarization of wealth is to miss the point completely—and to perpetuate both dysfunctional theology and complicit economics in our churches.
      The consequence of the third slave’s noncooperation is banishment to the “outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (25:30). We have presumed this to be “hell,” and so perhaps it is—that is, the hell on earth experienced by those rejected by the dominant culture: in the shadows where the light of the royal courts never shine, on the mean streets outside the great households, the dwelling place of the outcast poor like Lazarus (Luke 16:19-21). But the story that immediately follows this tragic conclusion—the famous last-judgment parable of the sheep and the goats (Matt. 25:31-46) may illuminate the nature of the dissident slave’s exile. This singular judgment story in the Gospels suggests that we meet Christ mysteriously by feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, and visiting the imprisoned (Matt. 25:25-40). In other words, we meet Christ in places of pain and marginality; the “outer darkness.” The whistle-blower’s punishment kicks him out of the rich man’s system, but brings him closer to the true Lord, who dwells with the poor and oppressed.

      From here


    To this I wrote:

    Brandon, the parable doesn’t glorify free market principles. It uses an investment as an means of illustrating the nature of the Kingdom. Thus, the parable makes certain assumptions. Evidently, in Jesus’ day, no one would ever think it proper to bury a couple hundred thousand US dollars in the ground (on this understanding of how much is a talent, see Is Debt Sin ).

    The article Brandon cites starts out:

    Even more problematic than our sentimentalizing of kingdom parables is the way we misread Jesus’ parables about the world, reading them as if they were kingdom parables—with disastrous consequences. The most notorious case is the infamous parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14-30).”

    Matt 25.1, which is the near context says: “Then the Kingdom of heaven shall be compared to … ” (Τότε ὁμοιωθήσεται ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν). Then vs. 14 (῞Ωσπερ γὰρ ), “For it will be as when …”(RSV); “Again it will be like” (NIV). BDAG suggest the meaning of ῞Ωσπερ γὰρ is “for it is just like” — i.e., we are not dealing with parable of the world as the authors suggest but with another parable of the kingdom. Their position is a severe violation of context.

    The article goes down hill from this statement to other false assumptions. One of which is the time period of the journey:

    In the 1st Century AD, without the availability of today’s electronic financial instruments, securities exchanges and stock markets, hedge funds, arbitrage, trading on margin, etc., to double such a vast fortune in currency within a journey’s time was unthinkable, and impossible through honest “work”. We today have difficulty hearing the story as those first listening to Jesus heard it, because in our day and age we are utterly habituated to dubious investment schemes, unlike the poor in Jesus’ audience.

    The period of time is unspecified. I always thought of it as about 10 years (“now after a long time”; μετὰ δὲ πολὺν χρόνον), perhaps because of the Odyssey, where the warriors were all gone 10 years, and the Odysseus himself was lost another 10 years. But in any case, the period time is a long time, not a short time, which the exegesis of Myers and Debode requires to be coherent. Brandon, I was able to quintuple one of my RRSPs (like an IRA) in 22 months. Does that make me a faithful servant or a dishonest investor, using the evil capitalist system make more myself “dubious” gain?

    Thanks for referring to this article. It will be easy to retort such tendentious “exegesis” in a future blog post at the Righteous Investor. Cheers.

    Then the following discussion ensued:
    Continue reading

    Who is the better reader? PoserorProphet … not

    PoserorProphet, liberation theologian, Christian anarchist and frequent blogger, regularly chokes the internet with his false teaching.  When I accuse him of misreading the Bible or other sources, he comes back and says that I blatantly misread him.  So yesterday, for example, I suggested that his view that Jesus’ advocated violence against property was going to get him killed, and that already during a protest he had had his hand on the firearm of a law enforcement officer, he wrote:

    “Near” not “on” (and only because I was pushed off balance from behind). No need to charge me with crimes I have not committed. Although, let’s be honest, that’s one of the difficulties of speaking with you — you continually engage in such blatantly false misreadings of the texts (whether my own writing or Jewett’s comments on insulae in Rome or whatever else) that it’s hard to not conclude that you are engaging in false misreadings deliberately (after all, you do have a fair amount of exegetical training… [sic] you should know better). Still, despite all the rhetoric, I want to love you, buddy.

    My fault in the case of his hand on or near a gun was one of memory, not reading, since I was referring by memory to blog that he’d posted a few months ago.  Now I have asked Poser for clarification regarding my blatantly false misreading of Jewett, because I am genuinely mystified by what he could mean.  I will write more on that later.  But here he accuses me of doing something that he himself does quite regularly: blatantly false misreadings of texts.  We could take for example his blatantly false misreadings of the biblical text as a beginning.  But this discussion reminded me of something I wrote earlier at City of God.  In a blog by the Brooks, discussing a book by Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine, Brooks (in the comments) demonstrates that Poser had misread Klein’s book.  I wrote to congratulate Brooks with these words:


    You have defended the accuracy of your original post very well and have managed also to show Poser as the one who can’t seem to read his sources accurately (surprise, surprise).

    You have to be careful not to accept Poser’s take on a source as right, because while he reads widely, he doesn’t appear to be a careful reader–at least this example confirms my own experience of going back to his secondary source and finding that he seriously misconstrued and misrepresented what that author was trying to say. If you ever watched Home Improvements, it is like when Tim Taylor repeats to his wife Jill what Wilson, his philosopher neighbor, recently told him; only in the case of Taylor the essence of what Wilson says usually survives–in the case of Poser, the essence of his source may be turned on its head.

    I wonder if it is symptomatic also of the manner in which Poser treats the Scripture. He is deeply influenced by liberation theology and their interpretative methods. If you get used to interpreting the Scriptures to say the opposite of what they are saying, how much more likely are you to read modern, secondary sources with the same imprecision and lack of attention to detail? Take the article that Brandon cited in Andrew’s recent post. Ched Myers and Eric Debode turn Matthew’s Parable of the Talents into a parable of the world instead of a parable of the Kindgom in direct violation of the context. The good guy is the whistle-blower who calls the master hard. The bad guy is the master who lends the talents and expects exorbitant returns on his investment, profiting from the labor of others. This turns the parable on its head. Once you get used to these kinds of interpretations, your sources can say just about anything that you want them to say; and then you can turn around and tell others how much smarter you are than they are because you read so widely–but while they may read slower, at least they are trying to come to an authentic understanding of what their sources are really saying. … [snip]

    Poser gives reasons to doubt the accuracy of the reviewers of Klein. Keith, you’ve shown that he is dead wrong on that count. So now we have sufficient reason to doubt Poser’s accuracy, whenever and where ever he cites or interprets a resource. Breadth in a scholar is indeed a virtue. But if breadth is not combined with insight and precision, the scholar remains mediocre at best.

    This is one of the reasons for reading narrowly. If you decide, hey life is short, and that you don’t have that much time, why not choose to read only the best scholars who have breadth, insight and precision? Otherwise, you are likely to pick up bad habits from the books that you read.

    Poser has blocked me from commenting on his blog.  His refutations of my criticisms are very insubstantial and reactionary.  For example, I wrote a long post concluding that he commits several of interpretive errors which James Sire explains in his books Scripture Twisting: 20 ways that cults misread the Bible.  His only response was to ask me if I’d read the French philosopher’s Foucault, whom he insists is necessary for understanding Paul’s view of sexuality.  Thus, he usually lashes out rather than dealing with the substance of my criticisms. Telling his opponents that they can’t understand the Bible unless they’ve had his experiences or read the books that he’s read is both arrogant and fallacious.  So I don’t blame him for blocking me.  Yet it would suggest that he does view me as a nemesis, since otherwise he would have no fear of what I might write in the comments.