The Money of the Bible - Part 1

The Bible Monthly vol. 1


Many interesting and important truths are associated in currency Scripture of with the period. references It is made (D. V.) in proposed the text to in the a series of short papers to examine some of these references with the intention of ascertaining what special instruction they afford.


In the second of the three parables recorded in Luke xv., the Lord introduces the figure of a great search which a woman made for a lost piece of money. He said, " Either what woman, having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a candle, and seek diligently until she find it? " On turning to the margin of the Revised Version, it will be seen that the word translated " piece of silver " is drachma, which is different from the word used by Matthew for the blood-money of Judas (Matt. xxvi. 15). The term, drachma or drams only occurs in the New Testament in this place (Luke xv. 8, 9).

The drachma was a Greek thin, and therefore not properly a legal tender in Palestine, though it corresponded very closely in value with the Roman penny (denarius) which was at that time the authorised unit of currency in Jewish territory under Roman rule. On account of this correspondence, it has been supposed by some that, although the native Greek word, drachma, occurs in the parable, the Roman penny was meant by the speaker, just as some British persons now speak of a dollar when they mean a five-shilling niece.

There is no substantial ground, however, for this surmise. We find, on the contrary, that Luke was quite familiar with the Roman penny, and that he uses the term three times in his, Gospel (Luke vii. 41 ; x. 35 ; xx. 24). There must, therefore, be some special reason for the occurrence of the Greek term in this parable.

On consideration, it appears as might be expected, that pieces of the Roman silver currency would not be equally suitable to the purpose of the parable. As Greek coins the pieces would not be legally current for dealings in trade, and for that reason they would be the more likely to be formed into some article of personal adornment for the head, neck, or arms. This ornament the woman would highly prize, and would Naturally wish to preserve it intact for its sentimental rather than for its intrinsic value.

Hence the loss of one of the ten coins would occasion the diligent search by the owner, and its recovery the summons to her friends and neighbours to rejoice with her. Clearly, the lost drachma had in the woman's eyes some special value beyond its potential power to purchase goods in the market. So we can understand that most persons to-day would prize ten Tudor shillings, for instance, more than ten shillings dated 1920; and the loss of one, spoiling the complete set, particularly if made into a necklace or what not, would be greatly deplored, because of the difficulty of replacement.

It will be found that this feature, which supposes a special personal value in the lost coin to its owner, enables us to detect more readily the structural resemblance between the three parables of Luke xv. In each case the personal interest of the active agent is strongly marked. We see it at once in the interest of the shepherd for the sheep, straying to its destruction, and also in that of the father for the younger son, wandering in the paths of sin to his peril. But what caused the special interest in the second parable? Only if she were very poor, or if she were a destitute widow, can we quite understand her feverish anxiety over the loss of a tenth part of the contents of her purse, which, after all, a day's wages would replace. But when we know that the pieces were Greek coins, constituting her own special treasure, we readily recognise the faithfulness of the picture and the appropriateness of her diligent sweeping by the light of her candle for the lost piece, and of her exuberant j oy at her successful search.

By the recovery of the lost piece, the completeness of the collection of ten coins was restored. Whether the ten pieces were the woman's heirloom or a marriage portion is uncertain, but we must not miss that salient feature of the parable which is quite certain, viz., that the lost drachma had an exceptional value in the eyes of the woman. So much so that when she found it she called together her friends and neighbours, saying, " Rejoice with me, for I have found the piece which I had lost."

Expositors have had some difficulty in arriving at the interpretation of this parable, and they vary considerably in their final conclusions. Perhaps the most general opinion is that the woman represents the church, or -The Lord working through the ministrations of the church. But this view is out of harmony with the unity .we might expect to find in three parables spoken by our Lord on the same occasion and spoken for the particular purpose of vindicating His reception of publicans and sinners, which was called in question by the Pharisees (Luke xv. 2). The Lord's defence, if we may use the term, was the divine joy in heaven that resulted from the repentance and recovery of the sinful. In a threefold way He showed that God rejoiced in saving sinners, and that fact was in itself a complete answer to all human cavil.

In the three associated parables the Lord Jesus set forth that the three Persons in the Godhead were Agents in the work of man's rescue. Can we doubt that in the first parable we have God the Son shown us as the Shepherd seeking the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matt. xv. 24)? Or that in the third we have God the Father, Who is kind to the unthankful and evil (Luke vi. 35), welcoming home the returning prodigal son? The harmony is complete when we see that in the second parable, not the church, but. God the Holy Spirit is pictured by the woman, zealously active to discover and to deliver the lost.

Thus by grouping the three parables under this common purpose we discern that the stupendous truth of revelation is therein displayed that God the Son, God the Spirit and God the Father are equally energetic in Their love for sinful man, and in rejoicing over his salvation. Further, as we also find elsewhere, the redeemed constitute God's own peculiar possession (Eph. i. 14; 1 Pet. ii. 9), being of special interest and value to Him.

It is clear the gospel is preached to men by the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven (1 Pet. i. 12), and the woman of the second parable prosecuting her search in the house apart from the public gaze is an apt emblem of the Holy Spirit, Who carries out His invisible service in the world (John xvi. 8), and whose secret actions are likened by the Lord Himself to those of the wind that bloweth where it listeth (John iii. 8).

The coin, too, we observe, is inanimate, and in this respect unlike either the lost sheep or the prodigal son. And it is the function of the Spirit to give life to these He finds, all of whom are said to be "born of the Spirit," though formerly " dead in trespasses and sins."

Many instances of the searches of the Spirit of God are chronicled in that book, which perhaps would be more fitly designated the Acts of the Holy Ghost than the Acts of the Apostles. To refer to only one case out of the many, who but He called away Philip the evangelist from the gospel activities of Samaria to find and deliver the inquiring eunuch, who was returning to Ethiopia without the knowledge of Jesus, the suffering Servant of Jehovah, of Whom Isaiah had spoken?

Ethiopia was indeed a dark corner into which the light of grace and truth had not as yet shone. But the light shone, the lost one was found, and the end of the search was joyous triumph. For we read that the treasurer of Candace went on his way rejoicing, even as there had also been great joy in that city of Samaria where many other lost ones had been found (Acts viii. 8, 39).

Just as the woman conducted her search for the missing treasure with a lighted lamp, so the Spirit of God in His search for lost souls, sitting in darkness and the shadow of death, uses the word of God, which is the medium of spiritual light for man (Ps. cxix. 105; Prov. xx. 27). Those who go out into all the world to preach the gospel to every creature go and preach as they are led by the Holy Spirit.

The interior of the Eastern house was gloomy, being built with a view to exclude the light and heat of the sun. The stray coin, lying in some dark corner, hidden among the rushes, which strewed the earthen floor, is neither of use nor an ornament. But when the owner's light shines upon it, revealing its whereabouts, it is reclaimed. The owner knows its worth, and when found, can use it as she will.

So in the ministry of the gospel to men, the light of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, shines into dark and blinded hearts (2 Con iv. 4-6). Sinners are thereby or ought out of darkness into light. Those who come short of the glory of God are made to rejoice in hope of the glory of God (Rom. iii. 23; v. Eph. v. 8).

The work of salvation is the work of God, in which the Spirit has an equal part. He has no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezek. xxxiii. II), but He rejoiceth when " He raiseth up the poor out of the dust; He lifteth up the needy from the dunghill, to make them sit with princes and inherit the throne of glory " (I Sam. ii. 8, R.V.).