Today’s post will briefly explore the genre of the Gospels and attempt to identify any characteristics of these writings that might influence our understanding of our chosen parable.
As you know, there are four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John). Of these four Gospels only Luke includes the parable of the shrewd manager. As I discussed yesterday, there is likely a significant reason why a Gentile, writing to other Gentiles, would choose to include this parable in his version of the Gospel.
Some people may bristle at the idea that human authors were selective in the material they presented, but as Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart point out in their exception book How To Read The Bible For All Its Worth, the stories and sayings of Jesus were handed down orally for at least thirty years before the Gospels were written. By this point in history distinct Christian people-groups existed as audiences to the life of Jesus, each with its own needs; Luke wrote his Gospel differently (under the guidance and influence of the Holy Spirit) to effectively reach his unique audiences.
Knowing this, let’s ask ourselves once again: Why would Luke, a Gentile convert writing to other Gentile converts, be the only person to include this parable in his recording of Jesus’ life? For a clue, let’s look at a list of the other parables which appear only in the Gospel of Luke:
- Moneylender (12:35-40)
- Good Samaritan (10:30-37)
- Friend in need (11:5-8)
- Rich fool (12:16-21)
- Unfruitful fig tree (13:6-9)
- Lower seat in the feast (14:7-14)
- Great banquet (14:16-24)
- Cost of discipleship (14:28-33)
- Lost coin (15:8-10)
- Prodigal son (15:11-32)
- Rich man and Lazarus (16:19-31)
- Master and his servant (17:7-10)
- Persistent widow (18:2-8)
- Pharisee and tax collector (18:10-14)
Well I don’t know about you, but that list doesn’t do anything for me. I don’t see anything that helps me understand the parable of the shrewd manager…but that doesn’t mean it’s not there, so let’s keep this in the back of our minds: Luke included this parable for a reason when no-one else did.
There’s one last point I’d like to consider. Fee and Stuart discuss the fact that many of Jesus’ sayings in the Gospels are not recorded in their original context. Rather, the authors (under the guidance of the Holy Spirit) created contextual storylines for the purpose of including the parables. In other words, the context of the shrewd manager was probably created by Luke to facilitate our understanding of the story. Obviously Luke (and the Holy Spirit) felt the created context was close enough to the original context to convey Jesus’ intended meaning. Our challenge is to delineate between the created context and the purpose for which the context was created. Yesterday one of our readers (Mary) noted that this parable follows on the heels of the Prodigal Son story, and that both parables shared similarities. It is very likely that Luke grouped these two parables because they do share topical similarities.
- Are there any important aspects of the Gospel genre that I missed?
- Do you see anything in the list of parables above that might help us understand the parable of the shrewd manager?
- Is there anything about the context of our parable that can help us understand its meaning? What similarities do the parables of the Prodigal Son and the Shrewd Manager share?