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The title of this article is taken form the parable, that is most commonly known, as the parable of the unjust steward. To be exact it is found in Luke 16:9.

There are some passages in Holy Writ which are difficult to interpret. For instance, such a passage as Galatians 3:20 is purported to have around four hundred interpretations. The parable recorded in Luke 16:1-13 is also considered very difficult to interpret. It is in verse 9, in the very passage in which Jesus applies the parable to the life of the church, that the difficulty arises. The passage reads in full as follows: “And I say unto you, make yourselves friends of the Mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations.” (A.V.). This translation follows the reading that has the second person plural. The Revised Version translates “And I say unto you, make to yourselves friends by means of the Mammon of unrighteousness; that, when it shall fail, they may receive you into eternal tabernacles.” The Staten Vertaling follows more closely to the rendering of the Revised Version. It reads as follows: (DUTCH REMOVED).

Out of these various renderings we learn two matters. In the first place, that it makes some difference in the idea which rendering one chooses to follow in his interpretation of this passage. Secondly we learn, that there is quite a likelihood, that the title of this article is confusing. It is confusing as the rendering of the King James Version, which to my mind is more interpretation than translation. The Holland translation “vrienden uit den mammon” is an exact rendering of the Greek, and therefore helps us to ascertain the sense of the text. We therefore will follow the rendering as given in the Revised Version, which translation is the better rendering of the original into English.

If this matter of translation were the only difficulty in the text, we might consider our task as herewith finished.

However, such is not at all the case. The difficulty of this text is only reflected in the various translations, and particularly in that of the King James Version, which we characterized as “interpretation”.

The study of this parable, we believe, involves two matters. In the first place it necessitates an understanding of the proper relationship between the things of this present world, in its sinful aspect, and the future world in its perfected state, the eternal tabernacles. This is evident from the text itself (vs. 9), as well as from the sequence. Notice the contrast throughout between the “present” and the “future”. Secondly, and this is a very important point in the parable, attention must be called to the moral agency of man in this present world with a view to his place and position in the world to come, that is, in the eternal tabernacles.

Thus stated, the difficulty of interpreting the parable is not so much a question of grammar, sequence of clauses, but it is rather of a conceptual nature. As far as the relationship is concerned of the present things, “mammon”, “the lesser”, “that which is of another”, to the future world it is a problem of a dogmatic nature; while the question of the value and moral agency of the Christian is a matter of Ethics, the law of God.

To come to a clear understanding of this passage and of the teaching of Jesus in this parable, we must first of all understand the idea of mammon in the Scriptures. That the crux of the question lies in the correct understanding of the term “mammon” is clear. Firstly, because in the parable itself, an unscrupulous man is introduced who wastes his master’s goods, and who is an exemplification of the mammon worshippers. Secondly, this is clear from the predominant place that this concept has in Christ’s interpretation and application of the parable itself.

Let us investigate what the Scriptures teach us concerning mammon.

Although the etymology of this term does not teach us a great deal, it is nonetheless not without profit for our discussion to take notice of it. According to Thayer E. Robinson, the term “mammon” is derived in the Greek from the Chaldean “Mamona” which in turn is a derivative of the Hebrew “man”, meaning: to put trust in. Compare our “Amen”. Interesting is the observation by Thayer in his Lexicon that the Hebrew “Amunah” a kindred form from the root “amen”, in Is. 33:6 is translated in the Septuagint by “treasures” and in Ps. 37 by “riches”. From this we learn that “mammon” is etymologically associated with treasures and riches and that in which men place their confidence.

Turning to the New Testament we find that only Jesus employs the term. It is used in the passage under consideration, and in Matt. 6:24.

Concerning the term “mammon” as employed by Jesus we wish to make the following observations:

First of all, that the term “mammon” as employed by Christ always refers to treasures, riches, material resources of the earth. It belongs to the sphere of the present, where we are in need of clothing and shelter, food and drink. Thus it is employed in Matt. 6:24, 25. And that it has the same denotation in our passage is quite evident.

However, and this is our second observation, the term mammon refers to the riches of the earth only from a certain viewpoint. It should not escape our attention that the treasures of the earth, the cattle upon a thousand hills are not as such mammon. As creatures, pure and simple, they are the good creatures of God. This is the clear teaching of Scripture. Compare Genesis 1:31; I Tim. 4:4, 5; James 1:17. As such they are not mammon, but they are the creatures that must be received with thanksgiving and which is sanctified by the Word of God and prayer. But, from what viewpoint are these creatures mammon? They are indeed mammon, the direct antithesis of God, when they are employed by the “sons of this age”, who, thinking to be wise and not willing to keep God in remembrance, divorce this good creature from the worship and service of the Creator, who is most blessed forever! When the creature ordained by God to serve as a means to worship and trust Him, is made an end in itself, this apostate world, the steward in the parable is a most fittingly described example.

Having established the foregoing, we are in a position to explain some of the features of the parable that, have given rise to certain difficulties.

In passing, let it be observed, that Jesus does not say: Make mammon your friend; befriend mammon. This would militate against the axiom: “Ye cannot serve God and mammon”, vs. 13. Neither does Jesus say: “Make yourselves friends out of the good creature of God.”

But what does He say? He instructs His disciples, and that most emphatically, “Make yourselves friends out of the mammon of unrighteousness.”

And again we ask: Why out of “mammon” and not out of “the good creature”?

We are of the opinion that two reasons should be cited.

The first is, that Jesus, in this particular passage is contrasting the disciples, calling them “sons of light”, with the world, whom He calls the “sons of this age”. This is quite significant. When Christ calls the unbelievers “sons of this age” he does not merely describe them as belonging to the present time, the emphasis does not fall on the time element only; by so describing these worshippers of mammon He refers to the spiritual-ethical character of the life of these sons. This is evident from the fact that they are contrasted with the church, the sons of light. These sons of this “age” are therefore those whose life is characterized by the darkness of sin and of hatred for God and their neighbor. Indeed in their generation, in their sinful works they show a certain prudence, know how to gain their end, but in all this it is evident that the light that is in them is darkness. Matt. 6:22, 23. Yet, withal this, they are sons of this age. They have certain self-claimed and self-maintained rights. They enjoy a name, position, power and control in the world. They set the pace, determine the standards, Eph. 2:2, but, by the very nature of their life and endeavors, the world that they thus create is an evil one. Gal. 1:4. Everything is by them monopolized in the service of man and mammon. Estranged from the life of God their vision is limited to the earthly, and their prudence must be characterized as being natural, earthly, devilish.

But this is not all. They so have control of all things that God’s children come in contact with the “good creature of God” as it is in the service of mammon. God’s child is himself only liberated from this Mammon-life in principle. Hence he has a light-life, but this light-life he must live in this “world” created by the “sons of this age”! God’s sons do not receive these gifts of God “as such” but they receive them concretely in this present, mammon-stamped world; not abstractly from the business world of today, apart from the sinful world standards and practices, but as God’s good creature is pressed into the service of a world of greed and covetousness, in an “age” that is sold under sin! Oh, indeed, the gifts of God are good in themselves, but the children of light having all things in common with the sons of this “age” except light and grace, cannot receive them, except in the present world, where the black horse of Revelation 6:5, 6 races, upon which the rider is seated with the balance in his hand, and where the order of the day is: “A measure of wheat for a shilling, and three measures of barley for a shilling; and the oil and the wine hurt not.”

Thus the Savior places the disciples in the world yet so that they are not of her. And in this world the disciples exercise the wisdom which is “from above”. They employ the earth’s treasures, disengage it from the trammels of mammon, and place it in the service of God, visiting the poor and the widows in their affliction, working with their hands that they may have to give to those who lack. And thus they “make to themselves friends out of the mammon of unrighteousness.”

But the reader will ask: what about the “eternal habitations” of which the text speaks. Concerning this we would briefly call attention to three matters:

In the first place, that the phrase “when it shall fail” must refer to the hour of death in which all ties with the earthly are severed.

Secondly that the “eternal tabernacles” are the own and fitting dwelling places for the sons of light, who had the heavenly wisdom to make “friends out of mammon”.

Thirdly, that there is not uniformity among interpreters as to who must be understood by “they” in the purpose clause, “that they may receive you into eternal tabernacles”. There is, first of all the interpretation which would have “they” refer to the poor and needed children of God that were befriended in this world. These are then thought of, at least in part, as having preceded in death, and consequently when their benefactors die to receive them in heaven, welcoming them home. It may be argued in favor of this interpretation that formally it adheres most closely to the correlate situation in the parable. But while this is granted, we feel that it is equally true that the redeemed will not be able to assume that position in the eternal tabernacles. See Matt. 7:23. The second interpretation refers these “they” to the angel world. This interpretation rests upon the consideration of such scriptures as Luke 15:10; Matt. 18:10; 24:31; 25:31. It can hardly be denied that this has more in its favor. However, we feel that the element of Matt. 7:23 must not be excluded. If the angels welcome us home, carry us home, they do it upon God’s bidding and that of the Lamb.

This makes the matter of being “received into eternal tabernacles” more than a question of more or less welcome, it becomes a question of entering of not entering!

There is one more important matter to which we must call attention. It is the factor which we have designated as the moral agency. The following seems to be the clear and implicit teaching of Christ in this parable:

Firstly, that there is a reward connected with the befriending of the poor out of the Mammon of the sons of this age. And it is quite evident that this reward is not something plus a place in the eternal tabernacles, but that is consists of our own fit dwelling place and glory in the eternal city. We take this position in regard to this matter, because it is the point, emphasized by Christ to His disciples, and follows from the analogy of the prudence displayed by the unjust steward. And lastly, but not least, from what Jesus teaches concerning what will be entrusted to those who are faithful.

Secondly, we wish to observe that the foregoing contains these elements: 1. That a place in heaven is the reward of faithfulness. 2. That the present world, is the proving ground of the saints, God placing them here in the tension of the antithesis between Himself and mammon. That the moral agency of man standing thus between these two worlds is very really the deciding factor.

Just a remark about the last of these three elements. This does not at all mean to imply that salvation is by works, and that Jesus would place His disciples under the rule: he that doeth these things shall live by them. Gal. 3:12. When we bear in mind that Jesus is addressing His, disciples, the sons of light, and that he wished to bestir in them the conscious desire to live out this light-life it will be very evident that He does not teach salvation by works.

What does He teach? He teaches that in God’s kingdom of grace, where works of grace are performed, the moral life is not at all trammeled. We perform good works by grace and receive the reward of grace, yet so, that the moral-spiritual battle is real, and the entering into the eternal habitations is the goal of our entire life’s endeavors! Yea, even so that much of Christ’s, teaching is aimed at making this moral life acute!