Does David Barton Understand How Biblical Parables Work?

There is a fundamental irony at the heart of David Barton’s pseudo-historical presentations in that he constantly laments the lack of biblical literacy among Americans, and especially Christians, despite the fact that biblical illiteracy on the part of his audience is absolutely crucial to his success. After all, if his easily persuaded audiences knew enough about the Bible to realize that Barton’s claims about what it supposedly says are total nonsense, he’d be out of a job.

Nothing illustrates this point better than the way in which Barton intentionally misrepresents parables from the New Testament in order to make them appear as if Jesus shares his right-wing political agenda. While speaking at Harvest New Beginnings church in Illinois last weekend, Barton cited the Parable of the Ten Minas from Luke 19 to argue that Jesus supports profit making and opposes government bailouts.

In the parable, Jesus tells a story about “a man of noble birth” who was leaving for an extended period and gave ten minas apiece to ten of his servants with instructions to “put this money to work until I come back.” When the man returned, he asked his servants what they had done with the money, and while some had successfully invested it, one servant had done nothing with it and was harshly rebuked.

The point of the parable is that the Kingdom of Heaven can arrive at any time, but since nobody knows when it will come, Christians should carry on spreading the Gospel on the expectation that the return of Christ in imminent. Jesus tells a similar parable in Matthew 25 and the context there makes it unmistakably clear that the message is that Christians are to “keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come” and therefore they “must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

But in Barton’s version, the message is entirely different, as he falsely claims that it was Jesus who gave the servants money to invest to teach a lesson about profit making.

“Jesus says I’m giving you each about $10,000, I’ll check with you later to see how your investments did,” Barton claimed. “What Jesus did is he said you reward profit makers. If you can make something productive, because I told you to be fruitful and multiply, if you can be productive, we’re going to keep pouring it to you. Now what we do in America today is if you’re productive, we take it away from you and give it to the non-productive and if you’re so incompetent that you run your company into the ground, we will bail you out … Exactly opposite to the laws of nature and of nature’s God.”

Those in Barton’s audience with even a modicum of biblical literacy surely must would know that his interpretation of this parable cannot possibly be accurate, especially since the parable ends with the master ordering his disobedient subjects to be killed in front of him:

He replied, ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what they have will be taken away. But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me.’

Presumably, even the most biblically illiterate Christian ought to know that Jesus never ordered his enemies to be killed at his feet.