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What is a talent in the Bible?


Public Domain

Philip Kosloski - published on 11/19/23

Jesus tells his disciples a story about a man giving his servants a "talent." What exactly does that mean?

When translating the Bible into English, sometimes there are words that are not precisely translated, or that have multiple meanings.

One such word appears in the Gospel of Matthew when Jesus relates a parable to his disciples about “talents.”

It will be as when a man who was going on a journey called in his servants and entrusted his possessions to them. To one he gave five talents; to another, two; to a third, one—to each according to his ability. 

Matthew 25:14-15

Typically in the English language, talents refer to particular abilities or skills that someone possesses. Talents in this sense have to be taught and not simply given.

Many priests will use this passage to talk about talents according to this definition. The meaning of the parable does support this interpretation, but it is not exactly what Jesus was referring to in the story.

What is Jesus talking about when he tells this story about talents?

Term of measurement

A talent in this sense was a Hebrew term for weighing metal, often used in reference to money.

This is further confirmed a few verses later in the Gospel of Matthew:

But the man who received one went off and dug a hole in the ground and buried his master’s money…Should you not then have put my money in the bank so that I could have got it back with interest on my return?

Matthew 25:18, 27

The Illustrated Bible Treasury explains that 3,600 shekels equal one talent.

Basically, a single talent was a large amount of money, which can help us understand Jesus’ parable and how the servants used their talents.

The master was very generous entrusting to his servants such a sum of money and it makes sense that he wanted to see how his money was used.

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