Matthew 18:23-35


Matthew 18:23-35
The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant
23 “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he began the reckoning, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents;[a] 25 and as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26 So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him the lord of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But that same servant, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii;** and seizing him by the throat he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 So his fellow servant fell down and besought him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 He refused and went and put him in prison till he should pay the debt. 31 When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 32 Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you besought me; 33 and should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his lord delivered him to the jailers,[c] 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 am currently in a dialogue with a former Catholic, now evangelical, who threw this verse at me as proof against Purgatory. Just to point out I do realize he has been mislead by his current pastor into believing that the Catholic church taught him that Purgatory is a place we go after death, to pay for our sins and work our way into heaven. I will get their with him but am trying a baby step approach of making a logical case for Purgatory first.

Anyway onto my question. He interpreted this as Jesus teaching about God’s infinite forgiveness. Not that I disagree that God has infinite mercy but isn’t Jesus teaching us about human participation in forgiving others in order to be worthy of God’s forgiveness? I can understand why he wouldn’t want to see this, because forgiving someone else would be considered a work. Also, can we pull his interpretation out of the parable as well? I find it sometimes works better to agree with the persons interpretation as not being wrong, but want to be able to kindly and lovingly show him the main point of Jesus’ parable. Any suggestions?

I think he only sees this passage in this direction because he states his bible says one talent is equal to $5,760,000.00 in today’s currency. Therefore, 10,000 talents is an immeasurable debt that he could never pay. From my calculations based on John 6 and Revelations 6, I found a talent to average anywhere from $420.00 to $12,840 so he seems a little high. Does anyone know if I’m a little closer to the current value of a talent? I want to be able to point this out to him because the immeasurable debt is the only reasoning he has behind his interpretation of this verse.

Either way the verse 24 is what really caught my eye: “And in anger his lord delivered him to the jailers, till he should pay all his debt.” Didn’t he actually throw a verse at me that alludes towards Purgatory? Because it sure sounds a lot like Jesus words in Matthew 5:26 - truly, I say to you, you will never get out till you have paid the last penny. In my mind if Jesus was referring to Hell wouldn’t he have said "because you could never pay the last penny"? Also, why Jail? Why didn’t the King put him to death? Wouldn’t that be more synonymous to Hell? Also, just the fact that Jesus says there is a debt to be paid doesn’t this automatically exclude Hell sins it is impossible to get out of Hell?

Sorry for all the questions. He just got me revved up and I need you guys to focus me before I get back in touch with him.


Why on Earth would you friend try to convert it to modern currency?..

Anyways, using the Roman numeral system, 10,000 was the highest number that could be directly represented. To put it simply, it was the highest “known” number. A “talent” was equivalent to one day’s wages. What the parable is trying to illustrate with these numbers is that the servant owed an amount that was impossible for them to pay back. (That’s 27.40 years of work without a single day off, and with no additional expenses being incurred during that period of time). (Note, it might be one year’s wages, I can’t remember offhand. Either way, it remains impossible for the servant to pay it off)

The main purpose of this parable was to illustrated the necessity of forgiving others after you yourself have already received forgiveness. Yes, there is a subtext of God’s infinite mercy; but there is also a significant importance placed on God’s wrath against those who do not share God’s forgiveness with others.

As for verse 24, I think it’s historically been understood as referring to Hell. Keep in mind that this is a parable. a form of allegory, so it can never be a completely accurate reflection of what it’s attempting to describe. The reason the king didn’t put the servant to death is that if he were dead he couldn’t repay the debt that was forgiven. It wouldn’t have made sense in the greater context of the parable, and would have probably caused confusion and muddled up the point.


The NAB revised edition says, “torturers”, not “jailers”, in verse 34. And the notation for verse 34 says the punishment will be endless because the debt is unpayable. The notation for verse 35 says the forgiveness God gave will be withdrawn for those who have not imitated His forgiveness.

Mt 18, the whole chapter, is a discourse on how Christians should treat one another. It has to be looked at in that light. I don’t think Mt 18 has anything to do as an argument for or against purgatory.

Mt 18:23-35 (The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant) seems to expand on this:

Mt 7:1-5 Judging Others.

  • a “Stop judging,* that you may not be judged.b
    For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you.c
    Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye?
    How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’ while the wooden beam is in your eye?
    You hypocrite,* remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye.

Notations from Mt 18:24-35 NAB revised edition

  • [18:24] A huge amount: literally, “ten thousand talents.” The talent was a unit of coinage of high but varying value depending on its metal (gold, silver, copper) and its place of origin. It is mentioned in the New Testament only here and in Mt 25:14–30.

  • [18:26] Pay you back in full: an empty promise, given the size of the debt.

  • [18:28] A much smaller amount: literally, “a hundred denarii.” A denarius was the normal daily wage of a laborer. The difference between the two debts is enormous and brings out the absurdity of the conduct of the Christian who has received the great forgiveness of God and yet refuses to forgive the relatively minor offenses done to him.

  • [18:34] Since the debt is so great as to be unpayable, the punishment will be endless.

  • [18:35] The Father’s forgiveness, already given, will be withdrawn at the final judgment for those who have not imitated his forgiveness by their own.


…yeah, there will be many acrobats speculating/teaching about the Church’s Teachings… sadly, their main concern is to place the Church in a bad light in order to exalt their group’s doctrinal teachings and Scriptural interpretations…

Forgetting about the monetary conversion, this passage reflects the clause found in Our Father (“forgive us as we forgive…”); the mercy shown to us by God as He forgives our sins is the same mercy that we must show those who sin against us. Since we can never merit God’s Mercy, there’s nothing we can do to merit His Forgiveness; yet, as He willingly and lovingly forgive us our trespasses against Him, He expects us to do the same for those who trespass against us!

No. Nothing to do with Purgatory!

…as for the debt… How could it be paid off if the person is in prison/jail? Anyone who had any type of dealing with him will disassociate themselves from him–some will even hope to see him die in prison so that he would not be able to collect any outstanding debt that they may owe. :whistle::whistle::whistle:

Maran atha!



Thanks for the answers everyone. I will take your advice and drop it. Like I said he gets me so revved up sometimes with how easily he can twist a passage to totally overlook the point of the story. It just makes me want to so badly prove him wrong.

I am going to just go with this advice and move onto what the Catholic Church teaches Purgatory is and isn’t.

Thanks again for the help.



I think these verses regarding Matthew 18:23-35 on “The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant” have layered meanings.

I’ve seen people say these verses are a civics lesson.

I’ve seen people say these verses concern Purgatory

I’ve seen people say these verses point to Hell.

Meditative aspect of these verses . . .***

I think there is relevance for all three of these layers.

Now someone will read what I said and object saying: "How can these verses have to do with Purgatory AND Hell?

There is an objective dimension to Bible verses and a subjective dimesion.

Remember all people have differing levels of culpability.

So if a guy wasn’t forgiving of a debt owed to him in a small manner, for him this points to Purgatory possibly.

For another guy who wasn’t forgiving of a more demanding level of forgiveness (say this guy disowns his own son), it MAY be talking about a loss of the state of grace (and if unrepented of, condemnation).

I think the verses are somewhat nebulous on this point on purpose (it broadens the relevance).

Usually when I see that phenomenon in Scripture, I have come to just accept ALL the possibilities when this is reasonable.

Separate Fathers took all three vaying positions (I’ll try to find the quotes for you later, but if I remember correctly, I think I saw all three positions in the Catena Aurea).

But you are not looking specifically for “meditative aspects” but rather “apologetic aspects” I think.

Apologetic aspect of these verses . . .***

First of all, if your non-Catholic friend is a once saved always saved guy, emphasize how the servant had his “debt cancelled” by the Master.

("What’s the problem here? This guy was a “servant of the Master” AND he had his “DEBT CANCELLED” and now you’re telling me this guy is going to Hell?

What about “Eternal Security” and “assurance” and all of that?

You mean to tell me we CAN have our debt cancelled yet STILL wind up in Hell!?

You mean to tell me the Catholic Church is RIGHT about this and Pastor Jones (or whoever) down at Bible Baptist Church (or wherever) is WRONG about this?")

So insted of putting the focus on Purgatorial dimensions of this passage, focus on the “Once Saved Always Saved” rebuttal within these verses.

Of course if the guy is a Lutheran or some other tradition that affirms the Catholic teachings on falling from Grace, this will not help him or your argument.

But if he’s a “Once Saved, Always Saved” guy, this will either get him thinking, or more likely, he’ll just try to change the subject.

I’ll try to get some more depth for you but first I’ll have to do “a little homework”.

In the meantime I hope this helps.

God bless.



Thanks for the response. I haven’t finished my conversation with him yet. I am waiting on a response to another question I had for him. This is the direction I was thinking of approaching this verse. Thanks for the confirmation that this is a good way to go.


Please understand that I am not suggesting that you limit yourself or others. A friendly exchange is always welcomed as you can more readily immerse yourself in study of Sacred Writings and Church History when there is a challenge to your knowledge/understanding of your Faith. The exchange can also lend itself to plant a seed (Holy Spirit awakening) in the heart and mind of the other people. My only concern is that you understand that (specially because it is not our job) we cannot convert others… I am well aware of your frustration (I’ve dealt with several Jehovah Witnesses), twisting and acrobatics are tools that lend themselves to those that refuse to allow the Holy Spirit’s Guidance.

Maran atha!



Sorry MT1926.

I checked my sources (our local men’s Catholic Bible study) and I don’t have much more of apologetic value.

Mostly it is “meditative” value.

(I can think of apologetics value here, but it would have to be used in conjunction with other verses but your friend may not have the patience for that. Especially if he is seeking to harpoon Catholicism instead of really wanting questions answered).

So here is the “meditative” aspect mostly quoted from our Bible study on this section.

(I MAY do the “apologetics” aspects with OTHER verses later in this thread too, but I’ll have to see. Long story and I won’t bore you or anyone else with it here.)


Jesus warns us in Luke’s Gospel to settle our accounts before we go to the judge.
If not, we may be put in prison!

LUKE 12:57-59 57 “And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?
58 As you go with your accuser before the magistrate, make an effort to settle with him on the way, lest he drag you to the judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer put you in prison. 59 I tell you, you will never get out till you have paid the very last copper.”

Incidentally, some translations say something like: “I tell you, you will never get out till you have paid the very last farthing.”

A “farthing” was the smallest monetary coin in the Roman Empire during the New Testament timeframe. It was about a half a penny’s worth of copper (we used to mint U.S. pennies from copper). A very small amount.

Is Jesus giving us a meager civics lesson here?

This teaching of Jesus’ can certainly apply to civics but don’t reduce this teaching down to mere civics alone.

Think not in terms of money and money lenders, but in terms of sin and debt due to sin.

Someone who denies Purgatory might object concerning these verses and say:

Objection: “This guy in Luke 12:57 is going to Hell. He will “get out” when he pays the last farthing but since he can’t pay this account, he will never get out of this prison.”

Answer: I think there is truth in this objection but don’t reduce it down to that interpretation only. Recall that Jesus in Matthew 12, says even the “justified” must “render account for every careless word they utter”.

Collectively the Early Church Fathers took this set of verses with multiple layers of meanings.

I think they all have merit.

St. John Chrysostom back in the 300’s A.D. for example did discuss these verses in terms of civic aspects that we can take to heart (but mere civics of course would NOT have eternal connotations because nobody is in the county jail for all eternity so we know there should be more “layers” to interpreting this set of verses).

And even though St. John Chrysostom discusses Luke 12:57 in terms of civics, he does not deny Purgatory—far from it. St. John Chrysostom asserts the teaching of Purgatory elsewhere and we will look at that shortly.

St. Bede the Venerable references eternal punishment (Hell) concerning Luke 12:57 and following.

St. Ambrose discusses these verses in the context of purgation. Origen explicitly sees layers alluding to Hell for the mortal sinner AND Purgatory for the lesser sinner in these verses. St. Cyprian of Carthage also takes this to be purgatorial in the 200’s A.D. and we will look at that quote later toward the end of our study.

Since we are studying Purgatory let’s look at St. Ambrose and Origen’s statements in a moment.

But remember Jesus seems to leave open the possibility that after we paid the price, we will get out of prison so I think it is licit to see multiple layers of meaning for these verses.

LUKE 12:59 59 I tell you, you will never get out till you have paid the very last copper.”

Let’s look at Origen’s statement concerning these verses.

Origen Or else, He here introduces four characters, the adversary, the magistrate the officer, and the judge. But with Matthew the character of the magistrate is left out, and instead of the officer a servant is introduced. They differ also in that the one has written a farthing, the other a mite, but each has called it the last. . . . . But if I am a debtor, the officer will cast me into prison, nor will he suffer me to go out from thence until I have paid every debt. For the officer has no power to let me off even a farthing. He who forgave one debtor five hundred pence and another fifty, was the Lord, but the exactor is not the master, but one appointed by the master to demand the debts. But the last mite he calls slight and small, for our sins are either heavy or slight. Happy then is he who sin not, and next in happiness he who has sinned slightly. Even among slight sins there is diversity, otherwise he would not say until he has paid the last mite. For if he owes a little, he shall not come out till he pays the last mite. But he who has been guilty of a great debt, will have endless ages for his payment.

  • Origen died in 253 A.D. This quote of his is from the Catena Aurea

Now let’s go to St. Ambrose. The context here is in both this world AND the next so this is a particularly enlightening quote.

***Continued . . . . ***


***Continued from last post (with slight overlap) . . . ***

Now let’s go to St. Ambrose. The context here is in both this world AND the next so this is a particularly enlightening quote.

St. Ambrose Or our adversary is the devil, who lays his baits for sin, that he may have those his partners in punishment who were his accomplices in crime; our adversary is also every vicious practice. Lastly, our adversary is an evil conscience, which affects us both in this world, and will accuse and betray us in the next. Let us then give heed, while we are in this life’s course, that we may be delivered from every bad act as from an evil enemy. Nay, while we are going with our adversary to the magistrate, as we are in the way, we should condemn our fault. But who is the magistrate, but He in whose hands is all power? But the Magistrate delivers the guilty to the Judge, that is, to Him, to whom He gives the power over the quick and dead, namely, Jesus Christ, through Whom the secrets are made manifest, and the punishment of wicked works awarded. He delivers to the officer, and the officer casts into prison, for He says, Bind him hand and foot, and cast him into outer darkness. And he shows that His officers are the angels, of whom he says, The angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire; but it is added, I tell you, you shall not depart thence till you have paid the very last mite. For as they who pay money on interest do not get rid of the debt of interest before that the amount of the whole principal is paid even up to the least sum in every kind of payment, so by the compensation of love and the other acts, or by each particular kind of satisfaction the punishment of sin is canceled.

  • St. Ambrose was the Catholic Bishop of Milan Italy and died in 397 A.D. This quote of his is from the Catena Aurea

We must repay back to the very last farthing or mite (small amount). This entails the duty of reparation for these offenses. The Church talked about this in ancient times, and the Church talks about this duty now.

Let’s look at CCC 2487 to see this illustrated.

CCC 2487 Every offense committed against justice and truth entails the duty of reparation, even if its author has been forgiven. When it is impossible publicly to make reparation for a wrong, it must be made secretly. If someone who has suffered harm cannot be directly compensated, he must be given moral satisfaction in the name of charity. This duty of reparation also concerns offenses against another’s reputation. This reparation, moral and sometimes material, must be evaluated in terms of the extent of the damage inflicted. It obliges in conscience.

And notice Luke 12:59 DOESN’T say . . . .

?? LUKE 12:59?? (phantom verse) 59 I tell you, you will never get out till ONLY Jesus has paid the very last copper.”

(We live, suffer [see Romans 8:17], and die with Jesus so that we may be glorified with Him!)

ROMANS 6:3-6 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin.

ROMANS 8:16-17 16 it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

ROMANS 8:17 (NIV) Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

COLOSSIANS 1:24 24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church . . .

COLOSSIANS 1:24 (NIV) Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.

LUKE 12:59 suggests that there is suffering for these people.

A lot of times people want to get to the “glory with Jesus” and forget about all the other verses.

So when you see Luke 12:57-59, meditate on various layers of meanings.

LUKE 12:57-59 57 “And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right? 58 As you go with your accuser before the magistrate, make an effort to settle with him on the way, lest he drag you to the judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer put you in prison. 59 I tell you, you will never get out till you have paid the very last copper.”

See all the dimensions of these verses that the Fathers and others matter-of-factly discuss.

*]Civics Lesson
*]Purgatorial Admonitions
*]Eternal Punishment (Hell) Warnings

All of these possibilities, though quite different, have value for us to meditate on.


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