Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

Friday is for Friends

We begin a lengthy series today: the parables of Jesus. Our guide will be Klyne Snodgrass and his book, Stories with Intent.
The first parable is The Unforgiving Servant, Matt 18:21-35.
First, a brief on the chp: it is a “two-stage double indirect narrative parable.” (Dang, Klyne, that one confused me.); there are a variety of issues; he gives important evidence to filter through in interpretation, including canonical, Greco-Roman, and later Jewish — and this stuff is excerpted enough that the reader gets what is needed. He sorts through the options. Here are some good points:
1. Parables often contain hyperbole and tend to be pseudo-realistic.
2. The problem — a pseudo-problem for me — is that the king is both attractive in grace and yet problematic in reneging on forgiveness.
3. “The problem is with reading parables as if they were equations, as if every part of the parable was to be a mirror of reality” (71). More problems are created by readers by making them equations than anything else. Let the story be what it is; and no more. They show pieces of reality, not all of it.
4. “The instruction of this kingdom parable — as elsewhere in Scripture — is ‘Do unto others as God has done to you’.”
5. Here’s a good one for what this parable is all about: “The kingdom comes with limitless grace in the midst of an evil world, but with it comes limitless demand” (73).
6. God does not have torturers, and the story cannot be pushed to yield information about the nature of judgment. “Here the principle that the teaching of the parables must be verified from nonparabolic material is of obvious relevance” (73). Very good point.
7. “When you get the gift, you get the Giver, who will not let you go your way” (74). And: “Forgiveness not shown is forgiveness not known” (75).
Here’s the parable itself:
21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ?Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times??
22 Jesus answered, ?I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. [fn6]
23 ?Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents [fn7] was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.
26 ?The servant fell on his knees before him. ?Be patient with me,? he begged, ?and I will pay back everything.? 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.
28 ?But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. [fn8] He grabbed him and began to choke him. ?Pay back what you owe me!? he demanded.
29 ?His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ?Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.?
30 ?But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened.
32 ?Then the master called the servant in. ?You wicked servant,? he said, ?I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?? 34 In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
35 ?This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.?

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posted February 22, 2008 at 12:42 am

Some of us are not as familiar with scripture as we should be – and I admit to being one of them. What book, what chapter?
The “problem” here (#2) is the same as the problem that many have with MT 6:14-15. But this theme is not limited to one passage or situation. It must be wrestled with. It seems quite obvious that entrance into the kingdom requires commitment to the kingdom life.

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Ted M. Gossard

posted February 22, 2008 at 5:56 am

Great material here, Scot.
RJS, sorry, I’m not Scot, but here’s the passage in Mt 18, not that you have to see it again:
I especially like his points about not reading more out of a parable than the intent for which it was given. Yes. To press it like some ends up being very selective, because no one, for example, is going to make the unjust judge in Luke 18, a picture of God.

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posted February 22, 2008 at 7:52 am

Thanks Ted – I wanted to look at the surrounding context, and short of thumbing through my Bible had no easy way of finding the passage.

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Michelle Van Loon

posted February 22, 2008 at 8:59 am

Right after you’d mentioned this book a few weeks ago, Scot, I made a note to get a copy the next time I headed to work. (I work part-time at a sem bookstore.)
Guess what? They already had it waiting for me on my desk! I bought it right away.
Though the book is definitely an academic volume, Klyne’s wrestling with the texts nets the reader gems like the ones you quote above, sprinkled liberally throughout this impressive book.
Points 5, 6, 7 of your list – especially good points. True, hard stuff – stuff we need to wrestle with in our lives, again and again. Just like the parables!

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posted February 22, 2008 at 9:39 am

Let?s assume that the Kingdom of God is not a physical place at all. Rather it is a dynamic, organic, relational community that collaborates with the King in the adventure of abundant life because they acknowledge the King?s right to rule and fully trust in His good graces in His rule. I don?t know if that is a fair description or not, but that is currently where I am at in my thinking about this marvelous Kingdom.
If this is even close to correct, then it stands to reason that the King has decreed that there is to be no debt in the operation of His Kingdom. We are reminded that He had to pay off an unimaginable debt just so He could restore humanity into the Kingdom, and He demands no less of His royal subjects. Un-canceled debt taints and disfigures the dynamics within the relationships in the Kingdom ? it would never work. This being said, then any who desire to be in the Kingdom, but are unwilling to cancel debt toward others who are either already in the Kingdom, or for whom the King has already canceled their debt and is desiring their entrance into the Kingdom ? by his own attitude that person chose not to be a part of the great work of God?s grace through the Kingdom.
I believe Jesus uses a shocking illustration to convey a very ?natural? consequence of pride and ingratitude. ?Do you really want to partake of the abundant life of the Kingdom? Then you need to extend the same grace and mercy that was extended to you through the goodness of the King. It?s the only way the Kingdom will work.?

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posted February 22, 2008 at 10:48 am

I am really looking forward to this series. My sortof small group just got into a huge conversation about parables so it’s quite timely.

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posted February 22, 2008 at 11:46 am

#4-Michelle, I’m envious. After Scot raved about this book as the only one needed for parables, I checked it out and decided to order it, only to find out it would take 2-3 weeks on backorder! So, I’m waiting. :-)
Snodgrass’ points in 1 and 3 seem to really trip up people. We tend to get caught in the weeds of the parables and make more of them than what they should be. I’m really looking forward to this series.

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Bob Brague

posted February 22, 2008 at 2:57 pm

Not intending to be unnecessarily pedantic, but in Matthew 18:22 is it 77 times (seventy plus seven) or 490 times (seventy times seven)? Different Bibles have different numbers. Exactly what do the Greek words hebdomekontakis hepta mean? If we take the spirit instead of the letter, is a better rendering perhaps “countless times”? Still, I’m wondering what it actually says.

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posted February 22, 2008 at 5:58 pm

Bob #8
If we take the spirit instead of the letter, is a better rendering perhaps ?countless times??
I think so. Definitely one of those times we’re not meant to be literal. Of course “countless” in the sense, that we’re not counting. Imagine keeping track of forgiving someone 490 times. That was Jesus’ point I think – using a bit of hyperbole to take to task those who want to quantify forgiveness.

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Bob Brague

posted February 22, 2008 at 8:28 pm

Looked it up. Seems it’s a translation issue. Could mean “70X +7 ” (77) or “70X7″. So yes, it could be both, although probably not meant to be, unless it is an extension of Jesus’ joke. (Here’s a harmless issue to keep the theologians busy for centuries). Of course, here we are adding to the final toll:)
Mariam (#9), I agree with you completely. But I still am wondering what the text actually says. It can’t say both 77 and 490. Can it? We have the same sort of problem in English with a word like “bi-monthly”. Dictionaries say 1. twice a month, 2. every two months. Can’t be both. Can it? My personal view is that bi-monthly means every two months and semi-monthly means twice a month. Somebody help us out here on Greek numbers.

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tripp fuller

posted February 23, 2008 at 9:51 am

I just got Klyne’s book in the mail today and this is good stuff.

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posted February 24, 2008 at 7:54 am

I’ve struggled mightily with the harshness of the king in this parable. He demands that the servant forgive and goes so far as to threaten the servant when he doesn’t. I finally concluded that my negative response to the parable is evidence of my underestimation of the spiritual impact of an unforgiving heart. The king is so severe because the consequences of the servant’s unforgiving heart is bitterness, which will potentially destroy both the servant and the kingdom. But, would Klyne label my conclusion an equation or an understanding of a piece of reality? I am reading along in Klyne’s book, but am a bit confused from the start.

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posted February 25, 2008 at 3:58 am

The king is so severe because the consequences of the servant?s unforgiving heart is bitterness, which will potentially destroy both the servant and the kingdom.
I think you have it here. I think that in Scot’s summary above he mentions that Snodgrass believes that there is a problem with trying to make parables mirror reality. We shouldn’t think, “So if the King represents God, then if the King reneges on the promise to forgive, that means God will withdrawn his forgiveness.” I think the parables are meant to represent a reality of the heart or spirit, not a physical or even eschatalogical (is that the word?) reality. My own personal experience is that when we have been terribly hurt and betrayed by somebody, our own misdeeds come back to haunt us. It is isn’t so much that God will not forgive but that we cannot allow ourselves to be forgiven when we hold hatred and vengeance in our heart. Not only our own misdeeds but our inability to forgive torment us. We are captive and held in chains by a cycle of anger and self-reproach. This cycle is a fundamental evil in our world. “The king” in this parable is not necessarily God but our own conscience. That is how I’ve read it for myself anyway.

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