The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant Detraditionalized

A picture of the unmerciful servant being released

Most traditional teachings of this parable have one thing in common: they ignore or excuse away the main point and the moral of the story.

Read through this parable and see if you can get the main point. Do you have a problem with it? Why?

There is a good resolution to it, but traditional Bible teaching misses it. I will explain it at the end.

The Bible text below is from the Breakthrough Version (BV) - a detraditionalized, more literal, more accurate, and more modern translation (

Matthew 18:21-35 (BV)

At that time, when Peter came forward, he said to Him, "Master, how many times will my brother sin in reference to me and I will forgive him, until seven times?"

Jesus says to him, "I do not say to you, until seven times, but until seventy times multiplied by seven.

[Greek Notes - "seventy times multiplied by seven" is two words in Greek: "seventy times" (as in seventy occasions) and "seven." Either "multiplied by" or "added to" is implied between these two Greek words. I favor "multiplied by" because the form of "seven" in Greek is not the same as "seventy times." Jesus was most likely repeating what Lamech said in Genesis 4:24.]

Because of this, the empire of the heavenly regions is like a man, a king, who wanted to collect on an account with his slaves.

[Greek Notes - slave is doulos in Greek. The KJV and other Bible versions translate doulos as servant. But the KJV translates nine different Greek words as servant. Each has a specific meaning that the KJV does not show. The Breakthrough Version does: pais G3816 (servant boy), doulos G1401 (slave), diakonos G1249 (servant), huperretes G5257 (rower), misthotos G3411 (hired worker), misthios G3407 (paid worker), oiketes G3610 (domestic servant), and therapon G2324 (attending servant).]

After he began to be collecting, one was brought to him who owed ten thousand talents (ten million dollars).

[Greek Notes - "ten thousand" is one word in Greek (murias). In this story, it sounds like an exaggeration, but as a picture of how much each person owes God, it is not.]

Since he did not have a way to give it back, the master gave the order for him, his wife, his children, and everything (as much as he has) to be liquidated and for it to be given back.

So after the slave got down on the ground, he was bowing to him, saying, 'Be patient over me for a long time, and I will give everything back to you.'

After the master of that slave had sympathy, he dismissed him and forgave the loan to him.

But after that slave went out, he found one of his fellow slaves who owed him one hundred denarii ($5000), and when he took hold of him, he was choking him, saying, 'Give me back if you owe anything.'

So when his fellow slave got down at his feet, he was encouraging him, saying, 'Be patient over me for a long time, and I will give it back to you.'

The slave was not wanting to. But when he went away, he threw him into jail until he would give back what was owed.

So when his fellow slaves saw what happened, they were terribly sad. And they went and clarified to their master all the things that happened.

At that time, after his master called for him, he says to him, 'Evil slave, I forgave you every bit of that owed amount since you encouraged me to.

Wasn't it necessary for you to also show forgiving kindness to your fellow slave as I also showed forgiving kindness to you?'

[Greek Notes - "show forgiving kindness" is eleeo in Greek. Eleeo is used twice in this verse. The KJV usually translates eleeo as mercy, but not in this verse. In this verse it translates eleeo as "have compassion" the first time and as "have pity" the second time. This shows a flaw of the KJV that the average person does not see. The KJV does not translate the Greek consistently. It could have and should have translated eleeo as "have mercy" here (the ESV does) as it does in other verses. Why didn't it? I don't know. Human error?]

And after being enraged, his master turned him over to the torturers until the time that he will give back every bit of what was owed.

This is also what My heavenly Father will do to you if each of you do not forgive his brother from your hearts."

The Main Point

Do you see what the main point is? The king took back his forgiveness. If this point is taken out of the story, there is no reason for Jesus to tell it, the story is ruined.

It doesn't seem fair that the king would take back his forgiveness. He forgave him. But don't forget that he is the king (he can do whatever he wants in his kingdom) and this man is his slave (he is allowed to punish his slave however he wants).

The biggest injustice in this story is not that the king took back his forgiveness. It is that the slave who was forgiven a huge debt did not forgive a small debt or work with the person who owed it.

The Moral

And what is the moral of the story? -- "This is also what My heavenly Father will do to you...."

This is what people want to explain away or ignore. It is why Jesus told the story. You must forgive your brother because if you don't, the Father will take back His forgiveness of you.

The thought that immediately comes to mind is that if God takes back His forgiveness, this person will go to hell when he dies. Jesus did not say that. Don't add to Jesus' words. It is possible for God to take back His forgiveness but still take that person to heaven.

He takes back His forgiveness so that He can call in the torturers.

What happens when you do not forgive someone? Doesn't it stick with you? Don't you keep bringing it up in your mind? Don't you become sore and bitter? Doesn't it torture you? That is because God has taken back His forgiveness.

Not New

This is not a new concept with Jesus. Jesus said in Matthew 6:15 (KJV), "But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."

He also said in Matthew 5:23-24 (BV), "So if you are offering up your contribution on the altar and there you remember that your brother has something against you, leave your contribution there in front of the altar, and go out. First, settle the problem with your brother, and then when you come, offer up your contribution."

Has someone wronged you? It is important that you forgive.

When those thoughts of past hurts come up in your mind, forgive.

Forgive, forgive, forgive. Always forgive. If you don't, God will take back His forgiveness and send in the torturers.

Do not forget what the Lord's Prayer says. Repeat it often. "Forgive us our debts, AS WE FORGIVE OUR DEBTORS" (Matthew 6:12 KJV).