Original Research: Historical Thought and Source Interpretation

The labourers in the vineyard, theory of value and agriculture

Mark Rathbone
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 79, No 2 | a8303 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v79i2.8303 | © 2023 Mark Rathbone | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 18 November 2022 | Published: 24 February 2023

About the author(s)

Mark Rathbone, Department of Management, Faculty of Economic and Management Science, North-West University, Potchefstroom, South Africa


The purpose of this article was to investigate the potential that the labour and subjective theory of value in the agricultural context may have for the interpretation of Matthew 20:1–16. This investigation highlighted the divergence in wages between workers, the exuberant remuneration strategy of the landowner, his generosity, the indignation of the labourers hired first and the landowner’s reluctance to reimburse them. I argued that the classic labour theory of value provides an explanation of why the indignant labourers were angry and felt unjustly treated. However, it fails to account for the divergence in remuneration more appropriately addressed by subjective theory of value that focuses on the use value of goods and marginal utility. Finally, the agrarian theory provides perspective on the unwillingness of the landowner to reimburse the indignant labourers and the mystery of meaningful labour in agriculture that serves as a metaphor for the kingdom of heaven.

Contribution: In the article, labour and subjective theory of value were introduced from an agrarian perspective to enlighten the hermeneutics of the parable.


Matthew 20:1–16; labour theory of value; subjective theory of value; agriculture; hermeneutics; Adam Smith; David Ricardo; Karl Marx.

Sustainable Development Goal

Goal 10: Reduced inequalities


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