Corrupt ... or clever?

The manager has a terrible job. He’s the representative of the richest guy in town and has to deal with all sorts of money-hungry merchants and traders. The manager must combine the slippery skills of a politician, with the money savvy of an investor who trades in commodity futures. If he pours too much of his master’s money in olive oil or wheat, and it’s a bad year, then he’ll be out of a job. And back then there aren’t many second chances —mess it up, you’re done, you spend the rest of your life among the expendable class, the beggars and common labourers. There isn’t really another company or investment group to work for in town. But apparently, our friend the manager offends some of the town traders enough for them to send some nasty rumours to the boss. They want the manager sacked; or maybe it’s just the merchants showing their strong arm to the manager—letting him know who’s really in charge.

I think we misunderstand this story if we conceive of the manager as dishonest, a thief, stealing from his boss. That’s not what this story is about. This story is about a guy stuck right smack in the middle of an unjust, dog-eat-dog system. And the Bible translators lead us astray when they call the manager “dishonest”. He is not. The Greek word used in this parable of Jesus in Luke 16, is ‘adikia’—and it means unjust, or unrighteousness. And he is not an unjust or unrighteous manager—he is the manager of unrighteousness, which is very different.

But what does that mean—to be a manager of unrighteousness? It means that he’s caught in the middle of an unjust economic world, a world that operates in unrighteousness, a system that charges interest and creates severely burdened debtors in violation of God’s law. What does the manager do? How does he manage all this unrighteousness?

There are six Greek words used in the parable in Luke 16, which are essential to understand our story.


1. ‘Oikonomos,’ meaning an economist or steward. He is the manager of the rich man’s farms. The story is about stewardship, using another’s wealth wisely.

2. ‘Methistemi,’ meaning to change place, to remove from one place to another. The manager is being removed from his job and this is an allusion to when we will be removed from this earth to face our Maker. The story is essentially eschatological, concerned with our eternal destiny.

3. ‘Phronimos,’ meaning shrewd. The manager used practical wisdom to navigate a delicate situation and was praised for being shrewd and doing the right thing. The story is about showing practical wisdom in a tough situation.

4. ‘Adikia,’ meaning unrighteous. The Greeks had a goddess of injustice and wrongdoing called Adikia. It denotes a spirit of iniquity, always moving people to do wrong. The manager is called ‘the manager of ‘adikia’. And money is referred to as ‘the mammon of ‘adikia’. The story is about doing what is right and managing this all-present force which tends to dishonesty and to do what is wrong, unrighteous.

5. ‘Mammonas,’ meaning… mammon, the fallen spirit behind money which wants us to place our trust in money to bring us meaning and significance in life. In our story many Bible translators have translated this away as ‘money’ or ‘wealth’, neglecting the name ‘mammon’ which is a spiritual force diametrically opposed to God. The story is essentially spiritual, about the choice we make to serve God or to serve mammon. We cannot do both.

6. ‘Pistos,’ meaning faithful. The manager was faithful in the transaction of his business, and the discharge of his duties, showing he is, in fact, trustworthy. The story is about faithfulness.

In short , we could re-tell the parable of Luke 16:1-13 in these two short sentences.

“The steward (oikonomos), has to manage an unrighteous (adikia) financial situation and must correct it because he is being transferred (methisthemi) to another state. He devises a wise (phronimos), praiseworthy solution, faithfully (pistos) using unrighteous money (mammon of adikia) to make friends who will be introduced to Gods eternal home."

Many Bible versions choose as a heading “The unrighteous (or dishonest) steward. I prefer to call it, “The Parable of the Shrewd Manager.” He is not the ‘unrighteous steward’, but the ‘steward of unrighteousness’. He has to manage money which is the ‘mammon of unrighteousness’, (‘mammonas tes adikias’) and in this he is praised because he acted wisely.

In the book “Monkey Business,” Peter J. Briscoe gives a verse-by-verse commentary on Jesus’ parable, explaining fully why the manager was clever and not corrupt!

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