What role did stewards play in Bible times?
IN Bible times, a steward managed the household or property of another person. The Hebrew and Greek words translated “steward” sometimes refer to an overseer or a household manager.
When Joseph, a son of the patriarch Jacob, was a slave in Egypt, Joseph became the steward over the house of his master. In fact, his Egyptian master “left everything that was his in Joseph’s care.” (Gen. 39:2-6) Later, when Joseph himself became a powerful ruler in Egypt, he appointed a steward over his own house.—Gen. 44:4.
In Jesus’ day, landowners often lived in cities away from their agricultural estates. So the landowners appointed stewards to oversee the day-to-day activities of the laborers who tended the land of these estates.
Who was qualified for the position of steward? The first-century Roman writer Columella advised that a slave who was appointed as an overseer, or a steward, should be “one who [had] been tested by experience.” He would be an individual who had “such qualities of feeling that he [would] exercise authority without laxness and without cruelty.” He added: “This above all else is to be required of him—that he shall not think that he knows what he does not know, and that he shall always be eager to learn.”
God’s Word uses the figure of a steward to illustrate some of the activities that take place in the Christian congregation. For example, the apostle Peter encourages Christians to use their God-given abilities “in ministering to one another as fine stewards of God’s undeserved kindness.”—1 Pet. 4:10.
Jesus himself used the example of a steward in the illustration recorded at Luke 16:1-8. Moreover, in a prophecy about the sign of his presence as King, Jesus assured his followers that he would appoint a “faithful and discreet slave,” or “faithful steward.” The main assignment of that steward would be to provide a steady supply of spiritual food for Christ’s followers during the time of the end. (Matt. 24:45-47; Luke 12:42) We are grateful to be among the recipients of the faith-strengthening publications that the faithful steward prepares and makes available worldwide.