Punishment and Grace

And in anger his master turned him over to the jailers for punishment until he paid back everything he owed.

Mat 18:34

We know the story in Matthew 18: There is a servant that owes his king something like 164’000 years worth of salary of an average worker.

The king wants to sell him and his family into slavery. In Israel, slaves are pardoned after 7 years tops, in each sabbath year. So nobody would pay more than 7 years pay for a worker, tops. Let’s say that guy had 8 kids and a wife, so the most the king would get is 70 years salaries.

Even if the king would not follow the rules and sell his servant for lifetime, the cumulated salaries would not nearly add up to the sum owed.

When the servant begged for mercy, he was forgiven his whole debt.

But upon meeting one of his debtors, he did not forgive and had the other thrown into prison for a debt of 3 months of salary.

When the king heard that the servant did not pass on the mercy he had received, he did what we read in the verse above. He turned him over to the tormentors.

And here my problems begin.

  • In prison, there is no possibility for the servant to pay back anything. If he is thrown into prison until he payed back his debt, that turns out to be a lifetime sentence, actually a never ending sentence.
  • The king takes back his word, is unfaithful to his word. The king is likened by Jesus to God. But God throws our sins into the deepest sea and does not remember them. If that is not true, and un-forgiveness can cancel God’s salvation, then salvation is not by faith only, and God does revoke his gifts.

Today, we have a legal system that is all about punishment. We just had a case here where several companies set prices, but instead of re-paying there customers, they have to pay a fine to the state. Punishment, not reparation.

The old covenant does not know a system of punishment, but of reparation. What we interpret as punishment is the natural effect of an action. But most of the time, a defendant has to compensate the loss of the crime victim.

It was Greece and the Romans that introduced a system of punishment in Israel. Thus, at Jesus’ time, both were in place.

What is true for sure is that in Luther’s time, when the first German translation was made, which in turn was the basis of the first English translations, there was a legal system of punishment in place.

Thus, this traditional (blue in term of Spiral Dynamics) worldview translated verse 34 the way it did:

The servant had to be punished, and somehow, such punishment was considered reparation. The only thing the victim got is the satisfaction of his thirst for revenge.

The Greek lends a totally different rendering that will only be accepted in other worldviews than blue, maybe green or second tier. The verb used (apodidomi) means to fulfil the expectations or obligations, and metaphorically, opheilo means to be bound by duty. Both can be used in pecuniary sense, but are not limited to that.

What if the only expectation left by the king is what he says in verse 33, just prior:

… shouldn’t you have mercy on others, just as I had mercy on you?

And in anger his master turned him over to the jailers for punishment until he met the expectation the king had of him, as was his duty?

Mat 18:33-34

The servant would be in a self-appointed prison due to his un-forgiveness of thirst for revenge, greed, bitterness, hurt, until forgiving the debt of his fellow servant.

For me, this aligns much better with scripture.

God forgives for good and forgets. He does not resurrect our past sins when we fail.

God gives us the key to free ourselves from prison when he gives us over to the tormentors we – out of free will – have chosen by not forgiving.

I know that no bible translation puts the verse this way. Maybe because translations were and are made in traditional blue mindsets?