The Meaning of Matthew 18:32-34

This post is part of an ongoing series on Forgiveness in the Gospel of Matthew.

This final section of the parable describes the king’s reaction to the wickedness of his δοῦλος. Indeed, the lord calls the δοῦλος to accounts without even hearing an explanation. Luz indicates that ancient hearers and readers would not have been bothered by the king’s recension of his previous mercy or having his δοῦλος tortured; rather, they would have expected and encouraged his punishment of his δοῦλος’s injustice against the second δοῦλος.[1] Behind the king’s statement stands the idea that the δοῦλος should have imitated his king in granting mercy.[2] This begins to point hearers and readers to the final message of the parable, that “God’s forgiveness of a person must be reflected in that person’s forgiveness of others…. As the disciple judges others, so will God judge the disciple; and by the same measure in which the disciple gives to others, by the same measure will God give to the disciple.”[3]

Verse 34 brings the parable proper to a close, including the sentence of the unforgiving δοῦλος. Given the enormity of 10,000 talents and the fact that his imprisonment will last until full repayment was made, the punishment of the δοῦλος would have been understood as perpetual.[4] The very nature of unending punishment would have raised the eschatological awareness of Jesus’ and Matthew’s audiences, giving this parable undertones warning of final judgment.[5] The final message of the parable thus calls hearers to recognize the nature of ethics, that human actions have lasting implications, perhaps even into the ages.

[1] Luz, 474. Mbabazi notes connections between the Sermon on the Mount (specifically 5.7, 6.12-14) and vv. 32b-33. See Mbabazi, “Jewish Background,” 18-19.

[2] Davies and Allison, 802. “Theologically the imitatio Dei stands in the background here.” (Luz, 474.)

[3] Hagner, 540. Cx. Matt. 6.12, 14-15, 7.2.

[4] Thompson, 221. Davies and Allison, 803. Hagner, 540. Interestingly, no mention is made of the servant’s wife, family, and possessions, leaving open the question of whether or not his family was punished in like manner.

[5] Davies and Allison, 803.


Published by Jacob J. Prahlow

Husband of Hayley. Dad of Bree and Judah. Lead pastor at Arise Church. MATS from Saint Louis University, MA from Wake Forest University, BA from Valparaiso University. Theologian and writer here and at Conciliar Post. Find me on social at @pastorjakestl

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