In the days before people used money in buying and selling, they usually paid for goods by exchanging other goods, such as farm produce, animals or jewellery. Later they found it more convenient to use precious metals, particularly silver, which they usually measured by weight. Among the Israelites, the common unit of silver was the shekel, which was about sixteen grams (Gen 23:16; Lev 5:15; 1 Kings 10:29; Jer 32:9). Larger amounts were measured by the talent, which was about fifty kilograms (1 Kings 9:14; 16:24; 20:39). Merchants were sometimes dishonest and used extra heavy weights when weighing the buyer’s money (Lev 19:36; Prov 11:1; Amos 8:5; Micah 6:11; see WEIGHTS).

When coin money came into use, the practice of weighing money gradually died out (Ezra 2:69; 8:27). Some of the old names for weights now became names for coins (e.g. see SHEKEL). Coins were of gold, silver or copper, depending on their value (Matt 10:9). Money of various kinds was in use in Palestine during the New Testament era. There was official Roman money, local Jewish money, and old Greek money from the days of the former Greek Empire. The Jewish temple authorities accepted only certain kinds of money, which resulted in the practice of money-changers setting up business in the temple (Matt 21:12). It is not possible to give accurate present-day equivalents of the values of ancient coins, but New Testament references give an indication of the values of some coins in the first century. For example, the coin mentioned in Jesus’ story of the hired vineyard-workers, the Roman denarius, represented the wages of a labourer for one day (Matt 20:2). The denarius is mentioned also in Matt 22:19, Luke 10:35 and Rev 6:6. It was the approximate equivalent of the Greek drachma (mentioned in Luke 15:8).

The smallest coin in use was the Jewish lepton (referred to in the story of the poor widow; Mark 12:41-44), and more than a hundred of these were needed to equal one denarius. The Greek stater (referred to in Matt 17:27) was the approximate equal of the Jewish shekel, which paid the temple tax for two people (Exod 30:13; Matt 17:24-27). Originally the stater was a two-drachma coin, but when this coin went out of use, the name stater was given to the four-drachma coin. One hundred drachmas (or a hundred denarii) was equal to one mina, the gold coin that the nobleman in Jesus’ parable entrusted to each of his ten servants (Luke 19:13). Sixty minas equalled one talent. The talent was not a coin, but a unit used in counting large amounts of money. It is referred to in two other parables of Jesus (Matt 18:24; 25:15; see TALENT).

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