This Sunday I’m preaching planning to preach on the Parable of the Talents. Yesterday my issue was which one to preach on. There are two: Matthew 25:14-30 and Luke 19:11-27. There’s a lot of similarities between the two passages, yet significant differences too. Since the gospel writers are less concerned with chronology, it can sometimes be difficult to figure out whether the Synoptics are recording the same events from different perspectives or whether there are two separate events (e.g., does Jesus cleanse the temple of money changers once, or twice?).

With the Parable of the Talents, the question is, Are Matthew and Luke describing the same teaching? Those who utilize strict redaction criticism have tended to take Matthew and Luke as editing the same source material and adding their own theological and historical opinion into the mix. So those scholars suggest that these two passages are indeed based upon the same actual parable.

But this is by no means the standard view. While there are resemblances between the two parables, there are some rather large differences too. Here are three reasons why I don’t think it is correct to see Matthew and Luke recording the same parable:

  1. The amount of talents that are given out are quite different between Matthew and Luke. In Matthew, three servants each receive a specific number of talents – five, two, and one, respectively. Luke’s parable has a group of ten servants each receiving one talent. There’s a formidable difference between the two texts in relation to the actual number of talents handed out.
  2. Related to the first issue, there’s differences in the number of servants mentioned. Matthew has three, Luke has ten.
  3. In Luke, an interpretive controller is found in v.14 (“But his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to reign over us.'”). This is missing in Matthew. In Luke, the attitude of the servants is the major focus in the passage. Matthew’s focus is on trading and being diligent with what has been entrusted; Luke’s focus is on a man going to receive a kingdom and the attitude of the servants towards that man (cf. v.27, “But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slaughter them before me.”).

I’m sure there are other reasons, but these differences are striking. France writes,

“It is, however, at least possible that Jesus should have told similar stories on more than one occasion, changing the details in order to emphasize different areas of application for different audiences.” (R.T. France, Matthew, 353)

I’d take this further. Not only is it possible, it’s highly likely.

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