Original Research - Special Collection: Social-scientific perspectives

An unexpected patron: A social-scientific and realistic reading of the parable of the Vineyard Labourers (Mt 20:1–15)

Ernest van Eck, John S. Kloppenborg
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 71, No 1 | a2883 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v71i1.2883 | © 2015 Ernest van Eck, John S. Kloppenborg | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 03 January 2015 | Published: 08 May 2015

About the author(s)

Ernest van Eck, Department of New Testament Studies Faculty of Theology, University of Pretoria, South Africa
John S. Kloppenborg, Department for the Study of Religion, University of Toronto, Canada


Many readings of the Parable of the Labourers in the vineyard want to treat the owner as representing God. Knowledge of actual agricultural practices relating to the management of vineyards suggest, on the contrary, that the details of the parable obstruct an easy identification of the owner with God, and that he displays unusual behaviour not only by paying all the labourers the same wage, but by his very intervention in the hiring process. The conclusion reached is that the parable constructs the vineyard owner, typically one of the nouveau riche who lived in cities, not only as a ‘good employer’ but also, contrary to expectation, as a patron who intervened well beyond the strict norms of economic exchange.


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