The unforgiving servant; which box do Calvinists put him in?

squirrelyguy

Well-known member
If you aren't familiar with the parable, read Matthew 18:21-35. Ask yourself this question: Is he elect or non-elect?

1. If he is elect, then what is the significance of the master revoking his previous extension of forgiveness and commanding that he be thrown into prison until his entire sin debt is repaid? Keep in mind that it doesn't just say "He offered him forgiveness." The text says: "...and forgave him the debt." The servant is in a state of forgiveness when he commits the deed that gets his sin debt reinstated in full.

2. The dilemma for the Calvinist is no less severe if we conclude that this man is non-elect. How was he forgiven to begin with? Calvinism teaches that the non-elect cannot have their sins forgiven because Christ didn't die for them. Furthermore, how does this man overcome his total depravity to the point that he can even seek the master's forgiveness?
 

ReverendRV

Well-known member
If you aren't familiar with the parable, read Matthew 18:21-35. Ask yourself this question: Is he elect or non-elect?

1. If he is elect, then what is the significance of the master revoking his previous extension of forgiveness and commanding that he be thrown into prison until his entire sin debt is repaid? Keep in mind that it doesn't just say "He offered him forgiveness." The text says: "...and forgave him the debt." The servant is in a state of forgiveness when he commits the deed that gets his sin debt reinstated in full.

2. The dilemma for the Calvinist is no less severe if we conclude that this man is non-elect. How was he forgiven to begin with? Calvinism teaches that the non-elect cannot have their sins forgiven because Christ didn't die for them. Furthermore, how does this man overcome his total depravity to the point that he can even seek the master's forgiveness?
Of course, it's a lesson teaching the Forgiven to be Forgiving...

But Jesus was teaching an Analogy according to the Adamic Covenant or Mosaic Covenant of Works. Adam, his wife, his children, and everything he owned as the King of the world was required to pay back God for his Sin. By making a Deal to pay God back, he would do this by Works. When the UNFAITHFUL Servant Sinned by not Forgiving those who were indebted to him; he accrued a brand new Sin Debt that needed to be Forgiven. If you break one Commandment, you are guilty of breaking them all. It's meant to show how impossible it is to pay back God with Works...

Many, many things Jesus taught were about keeping the Old Covenant. Of course, Jesus CANNOT be teaching about someone breaking the New Covenant of Grace here...

Remember; you can PM me to ask this stuff. You would not BELIEVE how awesome Covenant Theology is!
 
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ReverendRV

Well-known member
Several parts of the Bible didn't make sense before I learned Covenant Theology; and the Passage in your OP was a part of that...
 

squirrelyguy

Well-known member
Of course, it's a lesson teaching the Forgiven to be Forgiving...

But Jesus was teaching an Analogy according to the Adamic Covenant or Mosaic Covenant of Works. Adam, his wife, his children, and everything he owned as the King of the world was required to pay back God for his Sin. By making a Deal to pay God back, he would do this by Works. When the UNFAITHFUL Servant Sinned by not Forgiving those who were indebted to him; he accrued a brand new Sin Debt that needed to be Forgiven. If you break one Commandment, you are guilty of breaking them all. It's meant to show how impossible it is to pay back God with Works...

Many, many things Jesus taught were about keeping the Old Covenant. Of course, Jesus CANNOT be teaching about someone breaking the New Covenant of Grace here...

Remember; you can PM me to ask this stuff. You would not BELIEVE how awesome Covenant Theology is!
Dispensational theology also has a pat answer to problem passages like this, and it ends up being much the same as your answer. They simply don't believe that these words of Jesus apply to us today, and they have a sophisticated theological device through which they strain this passage and come out with a palatable answer on the other side. It's too convenient of an answer to be satisfying to my mind...much the same as every interpretation I've ever heard of the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25. It's all too convenient and doesn't take Jesus' words seriously, in my opinion.
 

ReverendRV

Well-known member
Dispensational theology also has a pat answer to problem passages like this, and it ends up being much the same as your answer. They simply don't believe that these words of Jesus apply to us today, and they have a sophisticated theological device through which they strain this passage and come out with a palatable answer on the other side. It's too convenient of an answer to be satisfying to my mind...much the same as every interpretation I've ever heard of the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25. It's all too convenient and doesn't take Jesus' words seriously, in my opinion.
So what would it take for you to accept a PreMill Dispensational, or a Covenantal POV; that Jesus didn't mean for you to believe this is a lesson as to how the New Covenant operates?
 

squirrelyguy

Well-known member
So what would it take for you to accept a PreMill Dispensational, or a Covenantal POV; that Jesus didn't mean for you to believe this is a lesson as to how the New Covenant operates?
What would it take? It would take this passage not being in the Bible.
 

ReverendRV

Well-known member
Because I want to make it my goal to interpret Paul through the eyes of Jesus rather than Jesus through the eyes of Paul, I don't believe that a literal application of this parable would break the new covenant.
Cool. But this is also written in red...

John 5:24; Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.

This must equally be understood as the teaching of the New Covenant then; right?
 

squirrelyguy

Well-known member
Cool. But this is also written in red...

John 5:24; Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.

This must equally be understood as the teaching of the New Covenant then; right?
Absolutely. But I would argue that the way in which one treats his neighbor can be reckoned by God as a form of proxy unbelief, and thus undo whatever belief one may have in Jesus.
 

ReverendRV

Well-known member
Absolutely. But I would argue that the way in which one treats his neighbor can be reckoned by God as a form of proxy unbelief, and thus undo whatever belief one may have in Jesus.
Why would you argue that; since Jesus said as a component of the New Covenant, you won't come under Condemnation? If you believe that you will come under Condemnation, is it ok with you if I believe that your OP is not a component of the New Covenant, but rather he's speaking about an Old Covenant of Works?
 
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squirrelyguy

Well-known member
Why would you argue that; since Jesus said as a component of the New Covenant, you won't come under Condemnation? If you believe that you will come under Condemnation, is it ok with you if I believe that your OP is not a component of the New Covenant, but rather he's speaking about an Old Covenant of Works?
I don't believe that forgiveness is a work in any meritorious sense, any more than faith is a work in any meritorious sense. It actually makes perfect sense in light of new covenant realities for God to insist that we not expect others to do good works in order to earn our favor, if we in turn are asking God to accept us without working for His acceptance.
 

ReverendRV

Well-known member
I don't believe that forgiveness is a work in any meritorious sense. It actually makes perfect sense in light of new covenant realities for God to insist that we not expect others to do good works in order to earn our favor, if we in turn are asking God to accept us without working for His acceptance.
But do you Mind if I teach that the Passage from your OP is Christ's view point of the Edenic Covenant of Works, since you teach that Jesus didn't really mean a New Covenant Saint will never be Condemned?
 

1Thess521

Well-known member
If you aren't familiar with the parable, read Matthew 18:21-35. Ask yourself this question: Is he elect or non-elect?

1. If he is elect, then what is the significance of the master revoking his previous extension of forgiveness and commanding that he be thrown into prison until his entire sin debt is repaid? Keep in mind that it doesn't just say "He offered him forgiveness." The text says: "...and forgave him the debt." The servant is in a state of forgiveness when he commits the deed that gets his sin debt reinstated in full.

2. The dilemma for the Calvinist is no less severe if we conclude that this man is non-elect. How was he forgiven to begin with? Calvinism teaches that the non-elect cannot have their sins forgiven because Christ didn't die for them. Furthermore, how does this man overcome his total depravity to the point that he can even seek the master's forgiveness?
parable interpretation 101

Parables are usually about ONE thing
 

squirrelyguy

Well-known member
But do you Mind if I teach that the Passage from your OP is Christ's view point of the Edenic Covenant of Works, since you teach that Jesus didn't really mean a New Covenant Saint will never be Condemned?
To be honest, you do raise a good point about John 5:24. But I have a standing "grievance" with Johannine style that makes me reluctant to rely on those books to settle theological questions. (I put the word "grievance" in quotes because I don't actually have a problem with the writings of John; they are the word of God after all.) But what I mean is this: John has a way of writing in absolutes that causes one who is honest to occasionally say "He has to be exaggerating to make a point." But to say that John is exaggerating is a very unsatisfying way to do hermeneutics; so I prefer to say that I don't know what he's saying and to just leave those passages alone.

The epistle of 1 John, among all the books of the Bible, is the one that I find the most perplexing. Calvin wrote a commentary on every book of the Bible except Revelation; but if it was me, I'd gladly write a commentary on Revelation before I'd write one on 1 John. It seems to me that the confusing aspects of the Johannine style are the most acute in that epistle. Case in point: 1 John 3:9 says "Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God." I remember sitting in Sunday School one morning in my early 20s contemplating this verse, and walking out of the building to my car and sitting there in the parking lot for the duration of the actual worship service trying to make sense of it in my mind because I was too frustrated to think about anything else at that moment.

But to actually attempt to respond to your point about John 5:24, I would simply suggest that the key to understanding what Jesus means might be found in 1 John 3:14. There, John says "We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death." The phrase "passed from death to life" is evidently a feature of the Johannine style since he uses it in both the Gospel (on the lips of Jesus), and in his first epistle. Here in the epistle he says that the key feature of someone who has passed from death to life is that they love the brethren. What if forgiving others is an essential component of passing from death to life, since it could be construed as a way of "loving the brethren?"
 

ReverendRV

Well-known member
To be honest, you do raise a good point about John 5:24. But I have a standing "grievance" with Johannine style that makes me reluctant to rely on those books to settle theological questions. (I put the word "grievance" in quotes because I don't actually have a problem with the writings of John; they are the word of God after all.) But what I mean is this: John has a way of writing in absolutes that causes one who is honest to occasionally say "He has to be exaggerating to make a point." But to say that John is exaggerating is a very unsatisfying way to do hermeneutics; so I prefer to say that I don't know what he's saying and to just leave those passages alone.

The epistle of 1 John, among all the books of the Bible, is the one that I find the most perplexing. Calvin wrote a commentary on every book of the Bible except Revelation; but if it was me, I'd gladly write a commentary on Revelation before I'd write one on 1 John. It seems to me that the confusing aspects of the Johannine style are the most acute in that epistle. Case in point: 1 John 3:9 says "Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God." I remember sitting in Sunday School one morning in my early 20s contemplating this verse, and walking out of the building to my car and sitting there in the parking lot for the duration of the actual worship service trying to make sense of it in my mind because I was too frustrated to think about anything else at that moment.

But to actually attempt to respond to your point about John 5:24, I would simply suggest that the key to understanding what Jesus means might be found in 1 John 3:14. There, John says "We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death." The phrase "passed from death to life" is evidently a feature of the Johannine style since he uses it in both the Gospel (on the lips of Jesus), and in his first epistle. Here in the epistle he says that the key feature of someone who has passed from death to life is that they love the brethren. What if forgiving others is an essential component of passing from death to life, since it could be construed as a way of "loving the brethren?"
Thanks; and it takes a lot of humility to admit we just don't know. Like I said, until I learned Covenant Theology, a lot of Doctrine and Verses didn't make sense to me. We have to keep growing and learning by Grace, and refuse to stay stagnant when we are at an impasse...

You said early on that you wanted to understand Paul through Jesus, instead of understanding Jesus through Paul; that can make things more difficult than they should be. That may sound counter intuitive; but like I said, Jesus said a lot of things that have absolutely nothing to do with keeping the New Covenant of Grace...
 

Theo1689

Well-known member
The epistle of 1 John, among all the books of the Bible, is the one that I find the most perplexing. Calvin wrote a commentary on every book of the Bible except Revelation; but if it was me, I'd gladly write a commentary on Revelation before I'd write one on 1 John. It seems to me that the confusing aspects of the Johannine style are the most acute in that epistle. Case in point: 1 John 3:9 says "Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God." I remember sitting in Sunday School one morning in my early 20s contemplating this verse, and walking out of the building to my car and sitting there in the parking lot for the duration of the actual worship service trying to make sense of it in my mind because I was too frustrated to think about anything else at that moment.

It's not really that difficult to understand. The thing that you have to realize is that in Greek, the "aspect" part of a verb is emphasized more than in English, and in many cases it is even emphasized more than the temporal aspect. Aspect refers to whether an action is continuous, punctiliar, iterative, undefined, etc. Present tense verbs in Greek have a continuous aspect. So what John is saying here is that someone who is born of God does not make a habit of sinning, he doesn't continue to sin.

That's why it's useful to compare different translations:

1John 3:9 No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. (ESV)

1John 3:9 No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God. (NIV)
 

Theophilos

Well-known member
I don't believe that forgiveness is a work in any meritorious sense, any more than faith is a work in any meritorious sense. It actually makes perfect sense in light of new covenant realities for God to insist that we not expect others to do good works in order to earn our favor, if we in turn are asking God to accept us without working for His acceptance.
Yes, living faith implies forgiving others.

The parable ends with this warning:
. . . his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses. Matthew 18:34-35

That agrees with what Jesus said earlier in Matthew:
. . . if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. Matthew 6:14-15

And it still applies to Christians today:
. . . make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you . . . Matthew 28:19-20
 

squirrelyguy

Well-known member
It's not really that difficult to understand. The thing that you have to realize is that in Greek, the "aspect" part of a verb is emphasized more than in English, and in many cases it is even emphasized more than the temporal aspect. Aspect refers to whether an action is continuous, punctiliar, iterative, undefined, etc. Present tense verbs in Greek have a continuous aspect. So what John is saying here is that someone who is born of God does not make a habit of sinning, he doesn't continue to sin.

That's why it's useful to compare different translations:

1John 3:9 No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. (ESV)

1John 3:9 No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God. (NIV)
I don't know Greek, so I find it helpful to consult those who do know Greek and are familiar with these arguments when responding to them. I have before me a copy of Zane Hodges' Absolutely Free! A Biblical Reply to Lordship Salvation in which he addresses this very argument about the tense of Greek verbs. Rather than trying to type out both pages of this I decided to just take pictures with my phone. For context, this endnote is in response to an argument that John MacArthur makes in The Gospel According to Jesus.

IMG_6060 (1).jpgIMG_6061 (1).jpg
 
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