Word Studies in the New Living Translation: τάλαντον (talanton)

By Mark D. Taylor, NLT Bible Translation Committee

Greek:      τάλαντον (talanton)
English:   a talent; a weight of 75 pounds; a large value of money

We are probably all familiar with Jesus’ parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30). The master of an estate gave three of his servants different amounts of money: five talents to one, two talents to another, and one talent to yet another. But what exactly did the master give his servants?

This was a story Jesus told in order to make a point: We should be careful to use the assets or gifts that have been entrusted to us. So Jesus does not give us any technical details about what exactly the master gave to his servants. He simply refers to these distributions as varying numbers of “talents.” In the ancient Near East, the talent was a measure of weight—about 75 pounds (34 kilograms). The master did not give his servants rocks of that weight. He gave them some kind of money. Let’s assume it was bags of silver or gold that weighed 75 pounds. That’s a large value, and the first two servants invested the master’s money wisely.

The challenge for translators is to translate this Greek term—talanton—in a way that will make sense to the modern reader. Numerous translations simply transliterate the Greek word and use the English word talent, including CSB, ESV, KJV, NASB, NKJV, NRSV, and RSV. But that leaves the reader with a question: What exactly did the master entrust to his servants?

Other translations give some hints as to the meaning and value of these talanta (plural of talanton). Here are some renderings of the five talanta:

CEV5,000 coins
Message$5,000
NIV (1984 edition)five talents of money
NIV (2011 edition)five bags of gold
NLTfive bags of silver
Phillips5,000 pounds (i.e., British money)
TLB$5,000

Again, the exact value is not the point of Jesus’ parable. Did the master give the servants large amounts of silver (NLT) or gold (NIV)? Those have very different values, but ultimately it doesn’t matter. Note that the 1984 edition of the NIV rendered talanta as “talents of money.” The translators were giving a clue that these “talents” related to money. The 2011 edition of the NIV abandons the term talents altogether, translating talanta as “bags of gold.”

In this parable, Jesus was talking about the importance of stewardship. So the master congratulated the first two servants for successfully investing the money that had been entrusted to them. But the third servant was not a good steward. He hid his one talent (or bag of silver or gold) in the ground, and he returned it without even having earned interest on it. The master was very angry, calling him a “wicked and lazy servant” (Matthew 25:16).

Interestingly, the meaning of talent in everyday English is a person’s natural or special ability. We might say, “He has a real talent for music,” or “She has a talent for investing in the stock market.” According to the Oxford English Dictionary, this contemporary meaning for talent comes directly from the word “talent” as used in this parable.

May we be good stewards of the “talents” that have been given to us. Whether they are monetary resources or natural abilities, God will hold us to account for our stewardship of these “talents.”

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