Problem: The parable of the minas is incoherent
Verses: Luke 19:11-27; Status: Minor

In Luke's gospel, Jesus tells a story that is also found in Matthew 25:14-30. Luke gives a variant of the story, but with two apparent errors in it.

How many servants?

This is the start of the story, Luke 19:13:

Calling ten of his servants, he gave them ten minas, and said to them, 'Engage in business until I come.' (ESV)

In Luke 19:15-16, 18, and 20 we find out how well the servants have been doing:

When he returned, having received the kingdom, he ordered these servants to whom he had given the money to be called to him, that he might know what they had gained by doing business. The first came before him, saying, 'Lord, your mina has made ten minas more.' (ESV)
And the second came, saying, 'Lord, your mina has made five minas.' (ESV)
Another came, saying, 'Master, here is your mina, which I kept put away in a handkerchief; (ESV)

And that's it. Where there were ten servants to start with, now we are only told about three. I should note that the NRSV, which in general makes no attempt to cover up contradictions, renders Luke 19:20 like so:

Then the other came, saying, "Lord, here is your pound. I wrapped it up in a piece of cloth, (NRSV)

This translation (the other instead of another) gives a far more direct problem. "The other" seems to be the translation favoured by academics, rather than apologists, and is based on the best manuscripts. Alfred Plummer, in A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to Saint Luke, writes:

The omission of the article [i.e. the word "the"] in A and inferior manuscripts is a manifest correction to avoid a difficulty.

But in any case, since this is a just a parable, not historical fact, there is no reason for Jesus to start with ten servants if only three of them mattered to the story. Nor does the equivalent parable in Matthew do so. It seems that Luke started to alter the story, but in the end gave up and told it in something like its original form. Alternatively, he may have conflated two different parables that Jesus told.

The final mina

Also worthy of note is that, in Matthew, the money that the final servant hid was taken from him and given to the servant who had made the most. This also occurs in Luke, yet Luke has already said that the most successful servant was given ten cities as his reward, so it now makes little sense to give him another mina (three month's wages, according to the ESV's notes). This is Luke 19:17, where the first servant is rewarded for his success:

And he said to him, 'Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities.' (ESV)

And this is Luke 19:24-26, where the third servant's mina is given to the first:

And he said to those who stood by, 'Take the mina from him, and give it to the one who has the ten minas.' And they said to him, 'Lord, he has ten minas!' 'I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. (ESV)

Verse 26 saves the day by putting the final mina to some theological use, which lessens the severity of this problem. It's still odd though.

Anyway, these issues together convince me that Luke has muddled up the story. Luke's version is very sloppy, and very human in its origins. Mark Goodacre rightly notes that Matthew's version is far more popular.

Updated: 2008-08-15

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