This is not the question 'What does the Parable of the Talents mean according to Protestantism,' but a question specifically regarding the nature of the 'wicked' servant, and how it corresponds to his justification.

Here is the Parable:

Matthew 25:14-30 (DRB)

14 For even as a man going into a far country, called his servants, and delivered to them his goods; 15 And to one he gave five talents, and to another two, and to another one, to every one according to his proper ability: and immediately he took his journey. 16 And he that had received the five talents, went his way, and traded with the same, and gained other five. 17 And in like manner he that had received the two, gained other two. 18 But he that had received the one, going his way digged into the earth, and hid his lord's money. 19 But after a long time the lord of those servants came, and reckoned with them. 20 And he that had received the five talents coming, brought other five talents, saying: Lord, thou didst deliver to me five talents, behold I have gained other five over and above. 21 His lord said to him: Well done, good and faithful servant, because thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will place thee over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord. 22 And he also that had received the two talents came and said: Lord, thou deliveredst two talents to me: behold I have gained other two. 23 His lord said to him: Well done, good and faithful servant: because thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will place thee over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord. 24 But he that had received the one talent, came and said: Lord, I know that thou art a hard man; thou reapest where thou hast not sown, and gatherest where thou hast not strewed. 25 And being afraid I went and hid thy talent in the earth: behold here thou hast that which is thine. 26 And his lord answering, said to him: Wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sow not, and gather where I have not strewed: 27 Thou oughtest therefore to have committed my money to the bankers, and at my coming I should have received my own with usury. 28 Take ye away therefore the talent from him, and give it to him that hath ten talents. 29 For to every one that hath shall be given, and he shall abound: but from him that hath not, that also which he seemeth to have shall be taken away. 30 And the unprofitable servant cast ye out into the exterior darkness. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

I'm going to assume at least a few things are not disputed:

  • A talent was an enormous sum of money at that time (cf. NIV, "bag of gold"). According to the Encyclopedia Judaica, a talent was equivalent of 3000 shekels, or $6000.

  • Entering into the joy of the Lord refers to Heaven.

  • Entering the exterior darkness where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth is Hell.

Given this background, how do Protestants explain the fact that the Lord entrusted an abundance of his goods, which I'm going to assert is grace (and I don't think Protestants dispute this, but correct me if I'm wrong; cf. Eph 4:7-8; Mt 25:14-15), to his "servant" (not someone 'unsaved'),1 and depending on how he makes good with what is entrusted to him, he is judged to either heaven or hell.


That is, how isn't the justification of Jesus' servants spoken of in this Parable? And if it is about justification (again, which I believe heaven and hell as the respective outcomes necessitate), how, on the basis of negligence can you "receive the grace of God in vain," and go to hell, if justification is not contingent at all upon our works done by Jesus' grace?

Thanks in advance.

1 There are only two categories in this parable: both kinds of servants: those who go to hell for ill conduct, and those go to heaven. The servant who is "assigned" a place in hell was beforehand just a servant, and his conduct seems to determine which kind of servant he is. The word "assigned" necessitates this.

  • Take all the time you need, no hurry. God bless. Commented Nov 22, 2018 at 17:14
  • I took a stab at making your question title more descriptive, but feel free to revert/edit further if you think I've done too much. Commented Nov 23, 2018 at 0:55
  • @SolaGratia Answer done, as promised. Regards.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Nov 23, 2018 at 5:28

5 Answers 5


For the sake of brevity, I have placed a single page regarding the parables of the kingdom here on google docs.

A number of the parables of the kingdom, as described in the page, convey that what is 'likened' to the kingdom is not actually the kingdom. The parable itself reveals that the essence of the kingdom resides within something that is 'like' the kingdom but is not - actually - the kingdom.

For that is what the kingdom of heaven is like. One thinks it is all around one (in the company of whomever) and one discovers, to one's horror, that the reality is not as the appearance.

As the psalmist complains :

Yea, mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his heel against me. Psalm 41:9 KJV.

The net is cast wide (into the world) by those called 'fishers of men' and they drag the net into the boat. "The kingdom of heaven." But, no, it is not quite. It is only 'like' the kingdom of heaven.

For there is - now - a sifting. And some are cast back into the sea. The bad. And some are put into vessels. They, as it were, become vessels. Full of the Holy Spirit, are they. The good.

For justification by faith is a matter of a relationship with Jesus Christ - the King of the Kingdom.

Many are there, milling about, busy, important even, sitting - perhaps - in the very chief seats. But what matters is what happens in the last parable - or, rather, in the reality which fulfils all parables - the coming of the Son of man.

If one has had a close relationship with Jesus Christ - the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me - and if one has been a sheep (my sheep hear my voice and they follow me) then it shall not be said by him :

Depart from me ye workers of iniquity. I never knew you. Matthew 7:23 KJV.

If one is truly justified by faith, one will - in response to such unutterable love - be glad to serve the Lord and to take whatever talent he gives, be it two or five or ten, and to trade with it, bravely and in faith, to please him who hath called one and saved one.

But the churlish and the mean-spirited and the fearful and the unbelieving (Revelation 21:8) have no real part in the kingdom of heaven.

But they may well sneak in to the 'likeness' of the kingdom.

They may get caught up in the net along with some others. And they may not be long in the boat.

Or they may last a lifetime, sitting in a pew. And be buried in the communal place set aside for believers.

But all will be made plain :

When the Son of man shall come in his glory. Matthew 25:31 KJV.


As to justification by faith itself, I have again - for brevity's sake - put a single page on google docs here.

Justification by faith does not pertain to legal righteousness, or human righteousness or arbitrary righteousness or assumed righteousness.

Justification by faith is when faith is associated with the Righteousness of God Himself.

Those who truly and genuinely are - by God himself - associated with God's own righteousness, are those of whom it is said :

Whom he did predestinate, them he also called : and whom he called, then he also justified : and whom he justified, then he also glorified. Romans 8:30 KJV.

And there is nothing whatsoever in the parable of the talents which contradicts Paul's doctrine in that verse.

The parable of the talents simply narrates the fact of the sifting during life as the kingdom progresses towards a finality.

And, in the words of Jesus regarding the parable of the net :

So shall it be at the end of the world : the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just. Matthew 13:49 KJV.

. . . or, as one might say - sever the wicked from among the justified.

  • I'll admit this was a hard one to parse, but +1 for effort. I'm not sure it answers the question: it simply says what I keep hearing 'it's just a parable.' When Jesus says forgive or the Father will not forgive you, people say it's a parable or something. But it's clearly not. And even when smth is a parable, I keep hearing 'that part doesn't apply.' Except, isn't the wicked servant being assigned a place with the wicked the whole point of the parable? The servant to fails to act as His master expects ("finds him so doing")? I don't feel this response is robust enough to be 'the Protestant.' Commented Nov 23, 2018 at 15:41
  • @SolaGratia If you must argue against justification by faith - and use as an argument that the justified are warned to be just - then the parables is not a great place to argue from, especially if you insist on a certain interpretation as a starting point for the conflict. I look forward to further clarification of Justification by Faith. Regards, Nigel.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Nov 23, 2018 at 16:05
  • "not a great place to argue from" I fundamentally disagree. I guess I can't sympathize with the position which says that "the kingdom of heaven is likened to" actually means it is really not like that specifically described scenario. In the scenario, a servant must do things to enter into the joy of his master, but was given and so cannot be said to have earned it himself. In the 'kingdom of heaven' of Protestantism, the reality it's meant to describe, this kind of servant can't exist—'he was never truly a servant and was never justified.' I'm looking for something 'a little more something.' Commented Nov 23, 2018 at 16:20
  • @SolaGratia "I refer the honourable member to the reply I made earlier" (as they say in the House of Commons).
    – Nigel J
    Commented Nov 23, 2018 at 18:59

Justification through grace alone and faith alone doesn't mean that one can act in an evil or negligent manner and still be saved. One can lose one's salvation through failing to act in accordance with Christ's teachings. True faith always results in a person wanting to act in a beneficial manner towards others and to do them good. If a person's faith doesn't lead them to act in this way then such faith is dead and therefore they will lose their salvation because of possessing a false faith. So the conclusion that faith and works justify isn't true. Faith in Christ, who atoned for our sins, alone makes us righteous in God's sight, but true faith is never alone but always results in doing good works.

Relating this to the parable, the talents refer to the God given gifts and abilities one has which one should use to further God's kingdom. If one is negligent in using them in service to God and one's neighbour then one will lose one's faith and therefore also one's justification and salvation.

  • You say that you cannot be saved without works (faith must needs produce its fruit = works necessary), but then say, "So the conclusion that faith and works justify isn't true." What you describe is the Catholic position, not the Protestant. Works entering into whether you are justified or not (even negligences) violates justification by faith alone completely. Catholics don't believe works 'earn' the justification, but they do enter into the equation as you have described. As such, fundamentally agreeing with Catholicism, I'm not sure you've defended the Protestant position in your answer.. Commented Nov 22, 2018 at 22:23
  • In other words, saying works 'will' follow faith as if to ignore your role in actively doing them, is pure semantics ('will?' who will? robot you, or Christian you?). Either you have to do good works, or you don't, in order to go to heaven. If you do, then faith alone is simply false. That's kind of the point the whole point of my question. Commented Nov 22, 2018 at 22:28
  • Sola Gratia my answer is in conformity with the position taken by Luther. Luther accepted that good works must result from faith otherwise faith isn't genuine saving faith. This doesn't mean however that works also justify or render us righteous before God. Justification is simply the forgiveness of sins, earned for us by Christ, and this can only be received through faith alone. Salvation is a gift and can't be earned through works. Works merely testify that one has true saving faith which alone justifies.
    – Eddie
    Commented Nov 22, 2018 at 22:48
  • You say Catholics don't believe that works earn justification, but since faith alone is regarded by Catholics as insufficient to be regarded as righteous by God, and that works are necessary in order to become truly righteous, it follows that in reality works contribute to one's status before God and therefore can be said to earn at least partially one's salvation.
    – Eddie
    Commented Nov 22, 2018 at 23:25
  • I simply don't understand how if you lose justification by neglecting good works as you've conceded, and retain it by doing them, that works don't enter into justification, how they don't 'justify.' Catholics never meant by justify that works produce or earn what they procure/retain/forfeit. Commented Nov 22, 2018 at 23:34

I may be looking at this parable completely wrong but as a Christian, I believe OSAS (once saved always saved). We do not work or do good deeds for our salvation and once we have been "born again or regenerated" our standing as a child of Gods is secure. Justification does not come from our works or what we do for God but once we have been justified we are eager to please Him and to the best of our abilities be obedient to His word.

Because the master represents the Lord Himself when He returns in glory and power to establish His kingdom, it is remarkable to contemplate that the holy, just perfect Lord of the universe will deign to praise His true disciples for their faithfulness, imperfect as it will have been. Yet that is the glorious prospect of every child of God who loves like Paul, the appearing of Christ. (2 Tiomothy 4:8)

It is my thought that the first two slaves were true followers of Christ, eager to do His work,obey and follow Him before His return. Our Lord commended their attitudes more than their accomplishments as they did not know when their master would return.

The 3rd slave produced and presented his master with nothing more than he had been given charge of, infact he said,

  1. "master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you scattered no seed. And I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground; see you have what is yours.

like the other two, that slave was identified as belonging to the master (v. 14) representative of his belonging to Christ's church before the second coming. But in two distinct ways he proved that his identification with Christ was superficial and did not involve genuine faith or regeneration.

This slave did not misuse his talent on immoral and selfish pursuits like the prodigal son, he simply disregarded the stewardship and abilities he had been given that our Lord gives to each and every one of us that are His.

In much the same way, unbelieving church members live in the environment of God's redeemed community and enjoy exposure to the teachings of His word and the fellowship of His people. But inspite of their spiritual privilege, they make no positive response to the gospel and therefore can render no fruitful service.

  1. This slave demonstrates his counterfeit allegiance by depreciating his masters character, accusing him of being "a hard man, reaping where he did not sow, and gathering where he had sowed no seed". He charged his owner with being unmerciful and dishonest.

This slave represents a professing Christian whose limited knowledge of God leads him to conclude that God is unjust, uncaring and undependable. He professes his relationship and allegiance to God but he has never rendered his heart to our Lord. He confesses Christianity but in name only. The master did not take away the slaves justification or his regenerated heart. This slave never belonged to the "Master" to begin with..

I hope this is in order of your question and this makes clear that our Lord does not take away the gift of salvation or we must work and do good deeds to be justified. Our good works come only after our salvation in reading, studying and being obedient to His word. He gifts us accordingly to our own abilities. When we carry forth He will reward us and our Master will say; "Well done, good and faithful servant".

This parable has nothing to do with the slaves conduct, works or lack of works but of a repentive heart and the saving grace of our Lord. Gods true children will always produce good fruits and obedience to God after true salvation.

Thank you for you time, I hope I have a answered and understood your question adequately.

Ref: John MacArthur and NKJV Bible

  • "like the other two, that slave was identified as belonging to the master (v. 14) representative of his belonging to Christ's church" Isn't a member of Christ's body a Christian? Didn't you say you believe the Once Saved Always Saved doctrine? +1 for effort btw. Commented Nov 23, 2018 at 0:22
  • Yes, OSAS but this slave or self proclaimed slave was never saved to begin with. He was a slave to a unregenerated heart. Many claim Christianity but have never repented and humble themselves or give their life over to Jesus but still make the false claim of Christianity. Do I need to change something above to give better clarification.? Commented Nov 23, 2018 at 0:39
  • But in two distinct ways he proved he was not within the body of Christ or the Church of Christ. Commented Nov 23, 2018 at 0:47
  • This is question begging—Jesus doesn't say 'but they were never servants.' They were. Commented Nov 23, 2018 at 15:33
  • 1
    The questionnaire, as I, understand ther are two different servants here. One fit for destruction ( due to conduct which I disagree) and the other two for heaven. My point was that if all 3 where truly born again, all 3 would have been recognized as a "good and faiithful" servant , not for their works but heart had been changed and were true followers of Christ. Good works or fruitfulnes follows salvation. The 3rd slave had no good works and even accused the master of unmercy and dishonesty. My point: many claim Christianity but true saving faith in Jesus has never filled their heart Commented Nov 23, 2018 at 16:09

OP: "Given this background, how do Protestants explain the fact that the Lord entrusted an abundance of his goods, which I'm going to assert is grace (and I don't think Protestants dispute this, but correct me if I'm wrong; cf. Eph 4:7-8; Mt 25:14-15), to his "servant" (not someone 'unsaved'),1 and depending on how he makes good with what is entrusted to him, he is judged to either heaven or hell."

In the first place, if the talents, his goods, is grace, then it is asserting that grace fails. One had 5 graces and made 5 more and went to heaven. One had 2 graces and made 2 more and went to heaven. One had 1 grace and made zero and went to hell. That is to say, that Christ's grace was insufficient. While some religions teach that the grace of God fails, this cannot be true. So, since the parable is not about the failure of grace, what is the parable about?

The context is about what Israel was supposed to do, but had failed to do. This is about the Old Testament, not the New Testament.

For the LORD thy God blesseth thee, as he promised thee: and thou shalt lend unto many nations, but thou shalt not borrow; and thou shalt reign over many nations, but they shall not reign over thee. Deut 15:6

God gave them a charge. When Christ returned, what did He find? Rome after the Persians after the Babylonians had reigned. What did Christ say?

Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof. Mat 21:34

Given this is the context, rather than misdefining "talent" as "grace", what then is it saying about the 5 and 2 and 1? He's saying even the minimum expectation for fruit had failed. Was there anyone who's righteousness exceeded the Pharisees (Mat 5:20)? No.

We believe the alternative who is Christ Jesus.

  • "In the first place, if the talents, his goods, is grace, then it is asserting that grace fails" Absolutely ridiculous. He gives them (i.e. grace). Then they fail to make use of what was given them. A gift can most definitely be spurned. Commented Nov 24, 2018 at 22:51
  • 1
    Of course a gift can be spurned, but that's not the point. What you're saying is grace will fail. But you know that.
    – SLM
    Commented Nov 25, 2018 at 14:36
  • Grace is the gift. That's what I'm saying. It can be appropriated to good effect, or spurned to damnation. But as Augustine said, "If, however, being already regenerate and justified, he relapses of his own will into an evil life, assuredly he cannot say, "I have not received," because of his own free choice to evil he has lost the grace of God, that he had received." Commented Nov 25, 2018 at 14:48
  • 1
    Again, I understand you believe that grace can fail. I disagree.
    – SLM
    Commented Nov 25, 2018 at 15:00
  • 1
    Maybe you could change your OP to suit your new understanding apart from your assertion that the goods (talents) are grace to what you believe now. 5 hours ago you said "Grace is the gift. That's what I'm saying. It can be appropriated to good effect, or spurned to damnation. " Grace appropriated to damnation. What do you think now? If you can't redefine what you're saying, then we simply need to go with what you said. It's clear you do not believe in once saved always saved (His grace is sufficient) to His grace can fail if the recipient fails to perform properly via your works.
    – SLM
    Commented Nov 25, 2018 at 19:58

I have come back to this question continuously today and could not figure out exactly what the question was or how this parable relates to justification. Sola Gratia has also ask for answers that I found no revelence to the question, so let's take another look at your question.

You ask; how isn't the justification of Jesus' servants spoken of in this Parable. (Key word here is isn't)

For the life of me, I can find nowhere this parable speaks of justification. This parable is speaking of being ready for the kingdom and the return of Jesus. The visible kingdom (His church) and the outward Kingdom, (the external kingdom). The idea here is the visible earthly kingdom opposed to the inward heavenly invisible real kingdom of the truly redeemed.

As expressed above, ( in my first answer)as God's children we are given great responsibility while serving here on earth. Our fruits or our works are a outward sign of a regenerated heart. Outside of a regenerated heart there will be no fruit or work that can or will be pleasing to God.

James tells us if a person says he has faith, but gives no outward evidence of that faith thru righteous work his faith will not justify him. Luther and Calvin agreed. We are not saved or justified by a professing or a claim of faith but faith must be genuine before the merit of Christ will be imputed to anybody.

Luther said "that those works do not add to justification at the judgement seat of God but they do justify his claim to faith before the eyes of man".

James is saying, not that a man is justified before God by his works but his claims show to be genuine as he demonstrates the evidence of the claim made thru his work. You can see the agreement here.

Justification is a one time work by God and God alone.

I have looked at this question every which-a-way I know to look and find nothing about justification in it but our preparedness of the kingdom to come and the assuredness of God's children as we become fruitful and obedient to the calling He has bestowed and blessed us with.

If we look back to chapter 24 we find that our Lord has been answering the question that His Disciples had ask about his coming. He has already said five times in chapter 24 verse 36, 42,44 and 50 and then again in 25:13

"No one knows the day nor hour."

This is my reasoning for seeing this as speaking of His Kingdom and not justication.

Please accept my answer as not being a correction to your question but a understanding of what this parable relates to me as being ready for Gods kingdom to come.

Thank you for your time.

  • "how isn't the justification of Jesus' servants spoken of in this Parable? " Did you by chance read the next sentence? Commented Nov 23, 2018 at 22:00
  • Yes I did Sola and your statement was "and if it is about justification." In this parable I do not think it is about justification. It would seem that you are even questioning whether or not this is about justification. We can not take a parable and apply a hyperbolic answer to it. I think we are both on different meanings of this parable. I had hoped we could come to a mutual agreement and you would see that I do not see the meaning of this parable as justification but it is quite apparent that we see much difference in this lesson that Jesus was teaching His disciples. Commented Nov 23, 2018 at 22:50
  • I agree, we are fundamentally failing to communicate (e.g. " if it is about justification (again, which I believe heaven and hell as the respective outcomes necessitate)" = " It would seem that you are even questioning whether or not this is about justification"?). Commented Nov 23, 2018 at 22:52
  • Correct, I do not see Jesus teaching justification in this parable Commented Nov 23, 2018 at 22:53
  • You don't see why going to heaven or hell is specifically justification? Commented Nov 23, 2018 at 22:57

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