The parable of the debtor


What do you all think about the parable of the debtor and the ‘come to terms with your opponent on the way to court’ stories? Both of these hint at the prison sentence ending when the debt has been fully paid off. How does conventional ‘everlasting hell’ theology deal with these verses?



There are various general strategies for a non-universalistic (or non-purgatorial, let us say) rendering of those sayings. (I distinguish because the RCCs might understand those to apply to purgatory while keeping open the hopelessness of hell.)

Three that occur to me offhand are:

1.) the detail is interpreted, based on superceding scriptural testimony elsewhere, as being part of the “color” of the analogy or metaphor, not meant to be taken doctrinally. (I think this is the weakest explanation, as the “rule of end stress” tends to make the final farthing part of the doctrinal point–not an incidental detail. It’s a popular explanation, though.)

2.) the detail is interpreted literally; but based on superceding scriptural testimony elsewhere, it is in fact impossible in principle to ever pay off the “debt”. (This is probably the most popular non-purgatorial interpretation.)

3.) the detail is interpreted literally, and means several million years in “prison” (based on estimates of how long it would take back to pay back 10,000 talantons of day-wages in a “prison” situation), after which the person is set free without having to repent or anything since he has “earned” his “salvation”. (Obviously not a popular theory :wink: ; but it’s sometimes combined with theory (2), the idea being that it then becomes a poetic way of meaning “impossible to ever pay off”. Also, this interpretation doesn’t work very well with the saying about settling things your brother has against you before you both arrive at the judge.)

I usually quip, in talking about the parable of the unmerciful debtor, that anyone who thinks the King of Kings believes the unmerciful steward owes mere money, hasn’t been paying much attention to what Jesus is saying about mercy (including in this parable). Obviously, the “final farthing” is mercy from the steward to those who have done him wrong. “You… wicked… slave!! Was it not required of you to be having mercy!!?”

This has the advantage of synching up nicely with the saying about making peace with one’s brother before arriving at court, although there the matter is turned around the other way: whatever you may think your brother owes you, you had better danged well make sure that your brother has nothing against you before you arrive at the judge!–our attitude had better be that of ensuring that we are doing justice for our enemy, rather than insisting on justice being done for us. God will take care of both claims; but our responsibility is to act in fairness to our enemies, who are our brothers. Either way, we are the ones being called to account–which ought to utterly kill any primary notion about “us vs. them”.


I just wanted to say, nice forum. I’m learning quite a bit.


I love your photo-avatar, btw, Aquila! :smiley: Is that near where you live; or do you just like it, too?