Luke 16:6

ESV He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’
NIV 'Nine hundred gallons of olive oil,' he replied. 'The manager told him, 'Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty.'
NASB And he said, ‘A hundred jugs of oil.’ And he said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’
CSB " 'A hundred measures of olive oil,' he said." 'Take your invoice,' he told him, 'sit down quickly, and write fifty.'
NLT The man replied, ‘I owe him 800 gallons of olive oil.’ So the manager told him, ‘Take the bill and quickly change it to 400 gallons. ’
KJV And he said, An hundred measures of oil. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and sit down quickly, and write fifty.

What does Luke 16:6 mean?

The shrewd manager knows he is about to be fired. In that era, this would mean being destitute and homeless. He has been misusing his employer's property. To put himself in the good graces of his master's debtors, he produces a cunning plan (Luke 16:1–4).

A "measure" is the Jewish "bath;" scholars and archaeologists disagree considerably about its precise size. Average estimates would make each "measure" roughly 7.5 gallons, or about 30 liters. This debtor still owes hundreds of gallons of olive oil, but suddenly finds his debt reduced by half. The difference would be roughly the same value earned by a laborer in eighteen months.

How can the steward afford to make this change without being charged with theft? Scholars suggest he is either cutting the interest or the fee on the loan. In the Old Testament law charging interest was strictly forbidden when lending to another Jew (Exodus 22:25; Deuteronomy 23:19). If the master and his borrower were both Jewish, then the manager's choice to forego interest would be difficult for the master to complain about publicly. Scripture doesn't explicitly say that both parties are Jewish, but it's a reasonable assumption in Jesus' parables.

Dr. Mark Bailey of Dallas Theological Seminary gives a different option. He notes that in the New Testament era, Jewish lenders didn't charge interest but did add a "fee." In this case, that would require fees of the loan of oil to be as much as the original amount borrowed. It may have been standard operating procedures for the owner to add such a fee, steep as it may seem. In the modern world, long-term loans or those with high interest often require payments which total twice the original debt.

Another possibility is that the manager was allowed to include his own surcharge, much like tax collectors did.

Given that the manager is complimented for his craftiness, whatever he did must have been either legal or impossible to stop. If the manager forgave a fee or interest charged by the owner, he couldn't be accused of theft without the owner admitting to breaking the law of Moses—at least in spirit if not explicitly. If the manager forgave his own fee, that was equally smart: since he's about to be fired, he wouldn't be able to collect it, anyway.

Jesus uses this convoluted situation to illustrate a simple truth: unbelievers are unashamedly clever at using resources in the world, because this world holds all they can ever hope to enjoy. Believers should be equally shrewd when thinking about their place in the kingdom of God. Knowing we will receive our reward at the resurrection, we should wisely use God's resources to build our treasure in heaven (Luke 16:10–13). Also, we should make wise—yet ethical—choices about earthly wealth so we don't waste opportunities to further the kingdom of God.
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