A Disastrous Attempt to Apply the Bible - Island of Sanity

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A Disastrous Attempt to Apply the Bible

A number of years ago, when I was in college, the science department kept a bulletin board on which was posted various anti-Christian messages. (This was a state-sponsored college. I can't help but wonder what the reaction would have been if an official, locked bulletin board at a tax-supported institution was used to post pro-Christian material. But that's another subject.) One day they posted an article about a church which attempted to apply the "Parable of the Talents", with disastrous results.

The Parable

This parable is found in Matthew 25:14-30. To sum it up briefly, in the parable, a wealthy man goes on a long journey, and entrusts various sums of money to three of his employees. Two use the money to set up successful enterprises of some sort, and are able to give the boss a profit when he returns. The third buries the money in a hole. When the boss returns he gives praise, honors and rewards to the first two. The third he condemns harshly, calling him evil and lazy, and telling him he could at least have put the money in the bank so it would have earned interest. The third employee is then fired.

The Application

The church in the news story wanted to raise money for a new building. So they borrowed a large sum of money. Then they placed advertisements in the local paper, asking people to come to the church with investment ideas. They gave whomever showed up various amounts of money on the promise that they would invest it in one way or another and give the church the profits.

It's not hard to guess what happened. Many people simply took the money and disappeared. (While the news story did not spell this point out, apparently the church either did not even bother to keep records of who all these people were, or made no effort to check that people did not give them false names and addresses.) But even disregarding those who were simply dishonest, most of the investment plans fizzled, losing money. The few who made a profit did not make up for the losses, and the church ended up unable to repay the original loan, in serious financial trouble.

The obvious intent of the anti-Christians who posted this article on a bulletin board was to say, See, the Bible doesn't work. These people followed the advice in the Bible and the result was disaster.

What Went Wrong?

But what really went wrong? This story makes a good parable in itself, on how not to interpret and apply the Bible.

For the church in the news story clearly missed almost every important point in the parable.

First, the boss in the story entrusted the money to his own employees, not to strangers off the street. He knew who these people were, and he had every expectation of being able to find them and demand an accounting of the money. Indeed, in the context in which Jesus told the story, employment was a much closer and more permanent relationship than it is in America today. Employees frequently lived in the boss's house and held their jobs for life. So these people were far from strangers.

Furthermore, he would have had some idea of their capabilities. He had at least some reason to believe they were qualified to handle the money.

Second, the boss did not borrow the money to be invested, but was seeking to put money to use that would otherwise be lying idle. While a loss would, of course, still be unpleasant, he was not putting himself into debt.

But third and most important of all, Jesus did not tell this parable to give his listeners investment advice. The whole point of the story is that one of the three servants did not invest the money wisely. While the numbers given in the parable still show the boss making a profit, there is nothing to indicate that Jesus intended to convey that this was the inevitable result. It is not at all clear that any point Jesus was trying to make would have been changed if, say, only one of the three employees had made a profit and the other two had both lost money rather than breaking even.

While the Bible does not spell out the intended interpretation of this parable, comparing it to other, similar parables which are explained for us has led Christians throughout the ages to understand it essentially like this: The boss represents God, the employees are Christians, and the money is abilities he has given to us. While the "talent" of the parable is a unit of money, it is precisely our talents that he is talking about. (Indeed, it is from this parable that we get our English word "talent".) God expects Christians to use the abilities he has given us productively. Those who do will be praised and rewarded; those who do not will be condemned and punished.

But Why the Disaster?

A compassionate person might well ask, Even if these people misunderstood the parable, why didn't God still honor their good intentions and prevent this disaster?

I am cautious about speculating on the motives of others, but a little thought must make us suspicious of the people in this news story. Most churches considering a major expenditure like a new building dig into their own pockets to come up with the money, or at least personally engage in fund raising activities. That is, they give their own time and money. But this church was apparently unwilling to make personal sacrifices. Instead they wanted others to work to earn the money for them, and simply hand them the proceeds. They weren't even willing to raise the "seed money" themselves, but simply borrowed it from a bank. It sounds like they were looking for easy money.

But perhaps I am mis-judging them here. Perhaps they had the best of motives. The news article did not give full details of everything they did: perhaps the people were giving all they could manage and were working hard, and this was intended as a supplement to the best they could do personally.

But still, they were not applying God's word with discernment. It might be nice to believe that if only we have good intentions, God will protect us from failure. But nowhere does the Bible promise any such thing. We are expected to exercise our intelligence as well as our faith.

Did the Bible Fail?

Does this incident prove the Bible wrong? Obviously that was the "lesson" that the atheist professor who posted this article on the bulletin board intended to convey.

The answer is "No". The whole point of the parable is that God expects Christians to use the talents he has given them wisely and diligently, or they will face unpleasant consequences. The people in this incident did not use their talents at all. At best they were ignorant, foolish, and irresponsible. At worst they were stupid, lazy, and greedy. And they wanted God to reward them for this? Hah! They got exactly what the parable promised. The Bible was proven true once again.

© 1997 by Jay Johansen


Fernanda Jul 23, 2014

Hi Yenifer,Thank you so much for your interest. You can very eailsy be involved in any of our activities just come. You can come to our church services on Sunday. We now have two services or meetings one at 9:30am and the other at 11:30am. You can attend Our Wednesday night service at 7pm. We simply teach through the Bible in our church services and Worship God in song. Of course it is all in English. You can also attend our English conversation clubs that meet on Wednesday mornings at 10:30 till noon and on Friday 2:30 till 4:30. You also might be interested in out Coffee Shop Nights. They are a time to come hang out, meet new people, and practice your English. We have music in English, table games, and conversation questions. We have these events on the last Friday night of each month. All of this is free and there is no need to sign up just come.I look forward to meeting you soon.

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