What Is a Talent?

A Talent Was an Ancient Unit of Measurement for Weighing Gold and Silver

Talent weight
Ancient talent weight. Library of Congress

A talent was an ancient unit of weight and value in Greece, Rome, and the Middle East. In the Old Testament, a talent was a unit of measurement for weighing precious metals, usually gold and silver. In the New Testament, a talent was a value of money or coin.

The talent was first mentioned in the book of Exodus within the inventory of materials used for the construction of the tabernacle:

"All the gold that was used for the work, in all the construction of the sanctuary, the gold from the offering, was twenty-nine talents ..." (Exodus 38:24, ESV)

The Meaning of Talent

The Hebrew term for "talent" was kikkār, meaning a round gold or silver disk, or disk-shaped loaf. In the Greek language the word comes from tálanton, a large monetary measurement equal to 6,000 drachmas or denarii, the Greek and Roman silver coins.

How Heavy Was a Talent?

The talent was the heaviest or largest biblical unit of measurement for weight, equal to about 75 pounds or 35 kilograms. Now, imagine the opulence of this enemy king's crown when it was placed on King David's head:

"David took the crown from their king's head, and it was placed on his own head. It weighed a talent of gold, and it was set with precious stones." (2 Samuel 12:30, NIV)

In Revelation 16:21, we read that "great hail from heaven fell upon men, each hailstone about the weight of a talent." (NKJV) We get a better picture of the crushing fierceness of God's wrath when we realize these hailstones weighed about 75 pounds.

The Talent of Money

In the New Testament, the term "talent" meant something very different than it does today. The talents Jesus Christ spoke of in the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matthew 18:21-35) and the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30) referred to the largest unit of currency at the time.

Thus, a talent represented a rather large sum of money. According to New Nave's Topical Bible, one who possessed five talents of gold or silver was a multimillionaire by today's standards. Some calculate the talent in the parables to be equivalent to 20 years of wages for the common worker. Other scholars estimate more conservatively, valuing the New Testament talent somewhere between $1,000 to $30,000 dollars today.

Needless to say (but I'll say it anyway), knowing the actual meaning, weight, and value of a term like talent can help give context, deeper understanding, and better perspective when studying the Scriptures.

Dividing the Talent

Other smaller weight measurements in Scripture are the mina, shekel, pim, beka, and gerah.

One talent equaled about 60 minas or 3,000 shekels. A mina weighed approximately 1.25 pounds or .6 kilograms, and a shekel weighed about .4 ounces or 11 grams. The shekel was the most common standard used among the Hebrew people for both weight and value. The term meant simply "weight." In New Testament times, a shekel was a silver coin weighing one shekel.

The mina equaled about 50 shekels, whereas the beka was exactly one-half a shekel. The pim was about two-thirds of a shekel, and a gerah was one-twentieth of a shekel:

Dividing the Talent
Talent = 60 minas75 pounds35 kilograms
Mina = 50 shekels1.25 pounds.6 kilograms
Shekel = 2 bekas.4 ounces11.3 grams
Pim = .66 shekel.33 ounces9.4 grams
Beka = 10 gerahs.2 ounces5.7 grams
Gerah.02 ounces.6 grams