Is the unforgiving servant sent to hell? Matthew 18


In Matthew 18:21-35, Jesus tells us the parable of the unforgiving servant. The king forgives him his debt because the servant is unable to pay it back. That same servant does not forgive the debt of a fellow servant. The kings discovers this deed. The king hands over the unforgiving servant to the torturers until he can pay it back.

Since the servant is unable to pay back the debt. Therefore, the servant will be forever tortured. Jesus relates the command to forgive others to our eternal salvation. We can never pay back our debt to God for our sins. Therefore, unforgiveness means hell, I think.

Is Jesus talking about the eternal consequences for us if we obstinately refuse to forgive another or any group?

I am not writing about having difficulty forgiving.


The unforgiving servant “going to the torturers” most likely means to hell because of his unforgiving nature. However, the addition of the phrase “until he paid all the debt” might change the meaning of the line to be Purgatory due to its temporary nature. Hopefully, though, someone more learned than I will be able to respond!

May God bless you abundantly and forever! :slight_smile:


I am not a priest , just a sinner, but here are my thoughts:

Originally , the debtor was to be enslaved with his children (generational= forever).

At the end, he alone is punished (lifelong only).

So possibly Purgatory?



Many apologists (including ones from CAL) have stated that since the passage states “until he should have paid off his debt”, then it means Purgatory. I’m not so sure. Purgatory is the entrance to Heaven - if the passage is talking about Purgatory, the way we understand Purgatory, the debt would remain forgiven, but the servant would need to do something to help his Master so that his full devotion would be to his Master.

No, I think it’s talking about Hell. The debt is so large that it can never be paid off. The Master knows this, which is why, after the servant initially begs for mercy, the Master forgives the whole debt. But being unmerciful to others can be, in and of itself, a mortal sin. And, it’s a mortal sin that nixes even prior mercy given. In the parable, the servant does not imitate the mercy of his Master - he is unmerciful, forcing his fellow servant to pay him at once. As such, the punishment that the master originally had planned for this servant is reinstated - and made worse, as the servant was originally only to be enslaved until the debt was paid, but now he is to be jailed and tortured. And as a person in jail certainly had no way to pay any of the debt, as he would have no income, the servant will be tortured forever.

In fact, I would think that the enslavement would be Purgatory (almost like an indentured servitude that would last an extrmely long time, where the work given by the unpaid labor is credited to the debt), while the final punishment due to withholding mercy would be Hell.


When Jesus spent his time on Earth, he would have lived by the greatest commandments. But how did our Lord love all his neighbours as he loved himself? Those who condemned him to death and nailed him to the cross, we know he prayed, forgive them Father.

But was this prayer to include the unmerciful and unrepentant too?


IMO- It means purgatory. Everywhere else in the bible that hell is described- they say “where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth” (don’t quote me on exact wording… haha)

The passage here says “until the last cent is paid”- that to me means his sentence is temporary… so I understood it to mean purgatory


This is my understanding, except I have to add, it is an allegory.


Just want to point out, until his debt is paid requires him to pay back ten thousand talents. A single talent is $1.25 million dollars. That means he’d be in prison till he paid back twelve billion, five hundred million dollars. It’s not just an enormous sum, but shows that it’s an impossible one. That does not disclude purgatory, for with God all things are possible. It does show though that this person had an impossible debt… one he could never repay. Whereas the other servant only had a minor one, 1/3 of a years wages. Difficult to pay back the smaller debt, but possible. I think that is the true value of the parable to say, look how much God has forgiven you… he has forgiven you for everything, even the impossible debts that you cannot repay… and you look for specks in others eyes? You hold small injuries toward you as grudges instead of forgiving like I do?


Matthew 18

…And in anger his lord delivered him to the jailers, till he should pay all his debt. 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.

I believe the parable refers to Purgatory (the state of suffering God’s penetrating “fire” when we meet Him)

The king, in the parable, is sent to prison until his debt is paid. However, a Christian can never “pay the debt of sin”. What happens is the “face to face” conviction of God of our sinfulness and the need to fully turn or convert our hearts to His goodness.

In this sense, we do “pay for our sins” because we are suffering sins consequences. Yet we can’t “pay for them” in the sense of satisfying them before God. This is from Christ. What we can do is have full contrition and accept the heart of Jesus.

So also, the subsequent works which our sinfullness lead to will be revealed and do not go with us into everlasting life.

But there is also sin which leads to death (hell). It doesn’t seem that Jesus is refering to this, but venial sinfulness.


The players in the story are fictional - no one went to hell - its what the parable is teaching that is important.


If we refuse to forgive and remain unmerciful, is it possible to ever enter heaven? This is the crux of the question I am asking regarding a proper understanding of this parable. Therefore, what does the parable mean, heaven or hell for the unmerciful?

the op


The parable, as you can see from above posts will be interpreted differently by everyone. Choose to focus on what you know for sure: clearly this parable (as well as the gospels) tell you that you MUST forgive thy neighbor. Strive for that- and you can’t go wrong. If you always try to forgive, God will see that and if you die without having forgiven someone, I believe He’ll have mercy on your soul and you’ll be lucky to wind up in purgatory instead of hell. Don’t get hung up on the what if’s- just do what’s right.

If you want a more conclusive answer, why not ask your confessor?


Just to answer your question- if you remain unforgiving and unmerciful until death- that is a choice you have made. Those are stains upon your soul. No stain will enter Heaven- so I guess, unless you CHOOSE to cleanse yourself in pugatory’s fires- you’ll be choosing hell as the alternative.


close enough


Purgatory is not “luck”… it’s unfortunate on our part that we were hard of heart to not overcome unfaithfulness in this life, and it is God’s gracious chastisement as a result.

Purgatory is a punishment in the sense that it is paimful, chastisement for god to root out our imperfections. It is not punishment in the sense that our suffering is the reason for being perfected. Suffering is the nature of sin. We either do it now, through faith and conviction in His Spirit, or if He has judged our life after Baptism as able to be salvaged despite our faults, we will suffer the fire of this exposure.

I agree that the point of the parable is to forgive, as we have been forgiven. But there is an implication that if we do not, there is a period of inprisonment to deal with grudges and hypocrisy which has not lead to complete separation with Jesus, but caused harm to the mystical body.


My apology- the word “lucky” wasn’t the right word. The souls in purgatory are suffering greatly for having offended God. But it is is by His Infinite Mercy that they are saved. Most of us will die with the stain of our sins upon us and require to spend some time there to atone for our sins. Most of us, even though we try as hard as we can to be good- won’t attain Heaven as soon as we die.

It’s not luck that gets us to purgatory, I simply meant to say that we will be grateful to wind up there instead of in hell.


That’s the rub Joelle M. Is it imprisonment or has the unforgiving servant self-banished himself to the eternal darkness?



From what I have read and understood- it’s self banishment. A person who dies in mortal sin has rejected God in life and can’t face Him… they thus cast themselves into hell. But if a person dies in God’s grace, they see the stains of their sins left upon themselves and throw themselves willingly into the fires of purgatory to cleanse themselves so that they can attain the purity required to join Him in Heaven.


Please state whether or not the unforgiving servant is in hell or another place. Which is it?


:thumbsup: I figured you meant it that way, but I guess it’s one of those things that bothers me… :stuck_out_tongue:

We use the word “lucky” when we shouldn’t.

Another thing about Purgatory, is that we can actually go through Purgatory pains in this life. It’s different in ways, but the essense is that the Holy Spirit grieves within us over our sinfulness. And we react differently to it. Some push Him aside, and others carry shame. But in Purgatory, we will not be able to turn away… It will be fully upon us!

So it is much “better” and “easier” to face and deal with sinfulness here and now. Also, if we presume we will be able to just “deal with it” in Purgatory, then we risk elevating to mortal sin.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit