Degrees of Punishment: Interpreting the Parable of Faithful and Unfaithful Slaves (Luke 12:41-48), Part 2

hell2Luke 12:44

(Lk. 12:44 ESV)  44 Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions.

The faithful manager will be rewarded with greater responsibility. In an honor culture, this is a great reward. This is, of course, consistent with the Parable of Talents, in which the most profitable servants received the greatest reward.

I think the meaning of “all his possessions” is the inheritance all believers are promised. Several passages promise that the saved will reign over the New Heavens and New Earth (NHNE) in the afterlife — together with Jesus. For instance,

(Rev. 5:9-10 ESV)  9 And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation,  10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” 

Luke 12:45-46

(Lk. 12:45-46 ESV)  45 But if that servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and get drunk,  46 the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces and put him with the unfaithful.

We are not surprised that the parable now tells us what happens if the manager is unfaithful. Jesus actually covers this in cases, that is, he breaks the possible outcomes down based on the behavior and heart of the manager, as we’ll see.

Intentional violation of known standards

The first case is what happens if the manager beats the other indentured servants and eats and drinks the farm’s produce for himself, rather than feeding the master’s family. In such a case, the manager will “cut him in pieces” and put him with the “unfaithful.” Yeesh.

“Beat” can refer to slapping the face or whipping with a lash — and the lash was, of course, a particularly cruel form of punishment — especially when it was one indentured servant punishing another. This was surely beyond the authority given to a mere indentured servant.

The only other use of “cut him in pieces” is from the account of Samuel, Saul, and the king of the Amalekites, Agag. The story concludes with God’s prophet, Samuel, taking a sword and cutting Agag in pieces. God instructed the Israelites to utterly destroy the Amalekites, as they were a particularly cruel and barbaric people.

The only other reference in Scripture to such violent dismemberment is Samuel’s hacking to pieces of the Amalakeite chieftain Agag (1 Sam 15:33). Like dichotomein, the Hebrew word describing this deed, shasaph, is a hapax legomenon, occurring only once in Scripture. It therefore seems unlikely to me that Jesus’ reference to this extreme punishment is a coincidence.

James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Luke, Pillar NTC; Accordance electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015), 381.

It seems likely that Jesus chose this word carefully, intending to convey that a leader within the Kingdom who abuses his power for his own good or who is cruel toward his charges is no better than the worst of the pagan leaders. Being a part of the master’s household in an  honored position provides no protection. Indeed, it increases the penalties for a willful violation of the master’s will.

“Unfaithful” is often rendered “unbelievers” by other translations. The Greek is the same, because “faith” can refer both to simple belief and to faithfulness. Either way, Jesus is saying that this person is damned. There is a level of unfaithfulness that will cost a member of Jesus’ household his salvation.

Luke 12:47 — Knowing violation of known standards

(Lk. 12:47 ESV)  47 And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. 

In this case, the servant did not actively abuse the other servants or pilfer food and drink. Rather, he was simply a lazy manager, who didn’t do his job.

He is not cut to pieces, but he receives a “severe beating” — presumably something like 39 lashes.

Luke 12:48a — Violation of standards not known

(Lk. 12:48a ESV)  48 But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating.

Jesus is less concrete with these examples, as it’s hard to imagine a manager of a master’s household who doesn’t know what his duties are. But suppose the manager was only partly instructed, perhaps due to the fault of his predecessor in office. What happens if he breaks the master’s instructions not knowing about the instructions?

To our initial surprise, Jesus says he’ll get a beating, but only a light beating. Why any beating at all if he’s innocent? Well, anyone who takes on a job is responsible to learn what that job involves. The nature of the job and title and the needs of the family and estate define what needs to be done even if you’ve received not one word of instruction.

Luke 12:48b

(Lk. 12:48b ESV) Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.

Here’s the principle. The apostles (and other Kingdom leaders) will be entrusted with the care of the Kingdom. This is not a position of privilege, but of responsibility. And the apostles, who’ve been with Jesus three years, know the expectations better than anyone and so will be subject to severe penalties if they fail in their responsibilities.

That seems a rather harsh thing to tell your friends, but Judas was among the 12 at the time. And Peter was headed for a crisis of faith himself, when he would deny Jesus three times. The others would flee Jesus at the crucifixion. Sometimes it’s necessary to teach the hard lesson.



One tempting interpretation is that the cruel manager is the only one who is damned. After all, he is the only one that Jesus says will be counted among the unbelievers/unfaithful.

But if the managers in the second and third cases are saved, despite their culpability, what is the punishment? What are the “light beating” and “severe beating”? Well, if they wind up in heaven with God, it sure sounds like the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory. Augustine made this very argument in favor of Purgatory.

That can’t be right, for innumerable reasons. I mean, Purgatory didn’t enter the church’s teachings until centuries later.

Eternal conscious torment?

The traditional reading among Protestants is that the first manager, the cruel one, goes to hell to suffer eternal conscious torment. But the text says he’s cut to pieces in the same way that Samuel killed King Agag. This means dead, in a very painful way, not living forever to be tortured forever.

Protestants struggle with the next two cases. They aren’t said to be damned, but they are said to be punished and with differing severity. The traditional understanding of hell keeps all the damned in perpetual conscious torment, which doesn’t easily convert to varying degrees of punishment.

OT background

Under the Torah, intentional sin was unforgivable and resulted in being “cut off,” meaning either execution or exclusion from the camp — being left to fend for oneself in the wilderness as the Israelite camp was being led by God to the Promised Land. However, unintentional sin could be forgiven through the Levitical sacrificial system.

Therefore, it would seem that the sins of the second and third manager could be forgiven provided the proper sacrifice was made. But in Jesus’ parable, they aren’t forgiven. They are punished justly — exactly the opposite of forgiveness.

[to be continued]

Profile photo of Jay Guin

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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18 Responses to Degrees of Punishment: Interpreting the Parable of Faithful and Unfaithful Slaves (Luke 12:41-48), Part 2

  1. JohnF says:

    “and they shall reign on the earth.” And OVER whom are we to reign in the NHNE? Over each other? And so the saga is “to be continued….”

  2. Alabama John says:


    I appreciate your posting Rev 5:9-10 especially the part that says “by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.”

    That is what I believe and look forward to seeing them in heaven. That includes all of our kin from the beginning, all cleansed by Jesus blood. They will NOT all be burning in hell.

    Interesting that I had never read that as a proof text to remember in Revelations before Thank you!

  3. Larry Cheek says:

    Alabama John,
    In your statement above, you seem to be emphasizing the capitalized word NOT. Which leaves the impression that you believe that none of your kinsman will be in Hell, because the real phrase that I see you emphasizing is (ALL our kin from the beginning). But, that concept is not taught anywhere in scriptures. Christ’s blood did not save all of mankind, it only saves those who few in the world who have had the faith of Abraham or have faith in God/Christ. With the concept that is apparent in your expression then none of mankind would go to Hell, only the Devil and his angels. To teach anything about Hell to mankind would be directed to the wrong audience, teaching something to mankind which does not apply to him. I do not see that God would do that.

  4. Alabama John says:

    Those that worshiped God will not be in hell as Jesus blood cleansed them from the beginning of time until now. Like Abraham, they might of not gotten it just right as we hope we do, but my ancestors and yours did worship God in some way, as they all had the spirit of God from God in them. All mankind was born with that inward knowledge and awareness.
    Some worshiped God in many different ways but still were worshiping Him. Some used idols of many kinds to represent God but they knew that idol was not God, but simply represented what they did not know what he looked like, only His goodness, mercy, and grace.
    We do the same today by wearing crosses, and using other representative things and we in the coC do it even more than most by each week eating the body of Christ and drinking His blood.
    Is that really His body and blood, of course not, but those things are representative of it. Same as those things of the past. Remember Abraham.
    Same with our ancestors we do today as best we can. How we in the coC have changed so many things required to go to heaven over the years. 50 years ago, most coC of today would of been judged condemned to hell for things being done and not being done by them.
    God recognizes that trying to do right and please Him from our ancestors and thankfully from us as well and will judge us all according to His grace and mercy.

  5. Larry Cheek says:

    Alabama John,
    You have mentioned that, “Some used idols of many kinds to represent God but they knew that idol was not God, but simply represented what they did not know what he looked like, only His goodness, mercy, and grace.” A portion of this statement that I question is, (but they knew that the idol was not God), who told you that, where did you find documentation validating that? I searched [idol and idols] both in OT & NT and cannot find a message that supports that concept. Not only can I not find that concept I have not found where God ever accepted that an idol could be made and used to represent himself. In fact all idols are projected as a rejection of God.

    You offered, “but my ancestors and yours did worship God in some way, as they all had the spirit of God from God in them. All mankind was born with that inward knowledge and awareness.”
    That is not what God said,
    Gen 6:5-7 ESV The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. (6) And the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. (7) So the LORD said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” Does God not know that these men have been born with an inward knowledge and awareness or even that the Spirit of God is in them?
    This is the message from God just before Noah and the flood. How many did God say he preserved from the world prior to Noah?
    2Pe 2:5 ESV if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly;
    All men today are descendants of these.
    Gen 9:17-19 ESV God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.” (18) The sons of Noah who went forth from the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. (Ham was the father of Canaan.) (19) These three were the sons of Noah, and from these the people of the whole earth were dispersed. Can we find the name or identity of any man who was preserved (saved) from the creation until Noah? Noah being righteous was a deliverer of God’s identity to all mankind, he lived for another 350 years after the flood. It would be unbelievable to not understand that his influence to teach about God would have ceased prior to his death.
    You also said, “God recognizes that trying to do right and please Him from our ancestors and thankfully from us as well and will judge us all according to His grace and mercy.” This sounds like a works based salvation. You left all Faith, Belief and obedience out of this message, If we took what you have said literally in the phrase that you have written than God instructions are void. He just recognizes our good works and saves us for them.

  6. Alabama John says:

    The moon was an idol to Abraham as he looked to it as a representative of God.
    None have seen God and we today have in our Sunday school workbooks for our children, pictures of our concept of Jesus. Man will always try to have something to hold and touch that helps them worship God. At our church building, we have two big crosses in the auditorium and folks go there to kneel and pray. Why? Because it represents Jesus and God. WE know that prayer would be just as good out in a cow pasture but that symbol makes us feel closer. Same with drawings of Jesus on our homes walls. Not accurate but reminders we cherish.
    Even wonder why Lambs meat is not a popular item in stores as it was a delicacy in the OT? Because it represents Jesus as the lamb of God. Jews eat most of it.
    Why did we stop during the Lords Supper at church the old time prayer of praying that we were thankful for the body of Jesus before we ate it and then pray for Jesus blood before we drank it? Because some thought that was a prayer of cannibals. So now we pray for the bread and grape juice as representative of Jesus body and blood.
    That is not what Jesus asked us to do, but we adjusted for mans benefit.
    Jesus said to love God and your neighbor, also to search the scriptures. Those are works of some sort so some things are works that are asked we do. That distinction is not a works salvation, but common sense.

  7. Dwight says:

    AJ, The moon as an idol? I have to come across this concept in the scriptures of any of the children of God, except of the pagan cultures who worshipped everything. Can you validate this with scripture?
    There was a “New Moon” festival, but this had nothing to do with the moon as an idol, but as a point in time to worship God.
    You also made an allusion to “We do the same today by wearing crosses, and using other representative things and we in the coC do it even more than most by each week eating the body of Christ and drinking His blood”, but the difference is that most (who know better) don’t actually worship the cross. The cross is a reminder of Christ, not an idol or a stand-in for Christ. The Lord’s Supper is not to be worshipped, but is a reminder of who is to be lifted up in memory…Jesus.

  8. Dwight says:

    Deut.4:15-24 “Take careful heed to yourselves, for you saw no form when the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, lest you act corruptly and make for yourselves a carved image in the form of any figure: the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any animal that is on the earth or the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the air, the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground or the likeness of any fish that is in the water beneath the earth. And take heed, lest you lift your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun, the moon, and the stars, all the host of heaven, you feel driven to worship them and serve them, which the Lord your God has given to all the peoples under the whole heaven as a heritage….For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.”
    This is reminiscent of Lev.26:1 “‘You shall not make idols for yourselves; neither a carved image nor a sacred pillar shall you rear up for yourselves; nor shall you set up an engraved stone in your land, to bow down to it; for I am the Lord your God.”

  9. Alabama John says:

    Dwight, Abraham was born and lived in Ur of Chaldees which is modern iraq. Back then Abraham worshiped the moon Genesis 12:1 as did all those from there back then and that moon gods name was Nanna. Interesting that way back then they understood the moon controlled the seasons, planting times, and controlled so many things folks are learning about today. It was the most powerful thing they knew about so it must of been god to them.
    Joshua 24:2 and in the following verse 14 he was told to put that away. He couldn’t put it w away if he wasn’t doing it.
    There have always been folks worshiping in the wrong and sinful way and what they called it was an idol and worshiping.

  10. Dwight says:

    AJ, I went to Gen.12:1 and could not find anything that argues that Abraham worshipped the moon.
    Gen.12:1 “Now the Lord had said to Abram: “Get out of your country, From your family, And from your father’s house, To a land that I will show you.”
    While the moon/ moon deity might have been an thing in the area or Ur, this doesn’t mean that Abraham worshipped the moon/moon deity.
    Joshua 24:2 “And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the Lord God of Israel: ‘Your fathers, including Terah, the father of Abraham and the father of Nahor, dwelt on the other side of the River in old times; and they served other gods.” And while it might be true that Abraham worshipped the gods of his father, this not stated.
    What is stated is that the “father of Abraham and the father of Nahor…served other gods”
    According to Gen.12:1 from at least the age of 75 God spoke to Abraham and it cannot be discounted that this is probably true from before this age as well as we don’t have an account of God introducing himself to Abraham as we do with Moses or others.
    But it is impossible to argue that Abraham, himself, worshipped the gods of the Chaldeans at any point as we are not told this and this is not implied.

  11. Alabama John says:

    Its just history and how we see God in action with the people he chose. How we believe it is really not important.
    I have gotten off the studying that Jay has put forward. Lets get back, with my apologies for getting off.
    I’m a history buff and much of history is not in the bible. The bible has its great purpose and this knowledge it not it.
    These kind of discussions are best left to the Jews who counted every word of every line.
    My fault!!!
    PS I just found out there are 500 subscribers to Jays blog so its far more than us few I thought were reading each others post.
    Better to get back to how to reach the lost today.

  12. Larry Cheek says:

    Alabama John,
    I believe that I lead you into this discussion because I noticed that you consistently wrote about our forefathers worshiping God by means of objects which they could see or feel. I assumed an example such as many of the Indian tribes (witch doctor), a bird, a specific event out of the ordinary either on earth or in the sky being respected as a Spirit or a sign from God etc:. I believe that instructions such as Dwight has shown refutes that The God of creation accepts those as worshiping him. As I saw your comments you were attesting that God would accept these worshipers as equal to his chosen people or even the followers of Jesus. If I have assumed too much and that is not within your beliefs, I ask your forgiveness for my misunderstanding.

  13. Alabama John says:

    Larry, that is my belief. I expect to see far more people in heaven than many on here do.

  14. Dwight says:

    AJ, I also expect to see many more people in heaven than many anywhere do, but, but this doesn’t mean that we can dispel the way that God intended for us to get to heaven as much of it has to do with the fact that we don’t accept many people who God accepts. But people still have to go through Jesus “the way” to reach God the Father and no amount of worshipping someone other than God or an idol will do this. God called those who worshipped God and other gods adulterers and God would not accept worship to an earthly thing as a representative of Him as worshipping the God of heaven as we read out of the 10 commandments. The Jews had many traditions and myths, but these aren’t history.
    This is from Judaism 101 website: “According to Jewish tradition, Abraham was born under the name Abram in the city of Ur in Babylonia in the year 1948 from Creation (circa 1800 BCE). He was the son of Terach, an idol merchant, but from his early childhood, he questioned the faith of his father and sought the truth. He came to believe that the entire universe was the work of a single Creator, and he began to teach this belief to others.
    Abram tried to convince his father, Terach, of the folly of idol worship. One day, when Abram was left alone to mind the store, he took a hammer and smashed all of the idols except the largest one. He placed the hammer in the hand of the largest idol. When his father returned and asked what happened, Abram said, “The idols got into a fight, and the big one smashed all the other ones.” His father said, “Don’t be ridiculous. These idols have no life or power. They can’t do anything.” Abram replied, “Then why do you worship them?”
    Eventually, the one true Creator that Abram had worshipped called to him, and made him an offer: if Abram would leave his home and his family, then G-d would make him a great nation and bless him. Abram accepted this offer, and the b’rit (covenant) between G-d and the Jewish people was established. (Gen. 12).”
    Even this Jewish tradition has Abraham rejecting idols and accepting God.

  15. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:


    (Jos. 24:2 ESV) 2 And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Long ago, your fathers lived beyond the Euphrates, Terah, the father of Abraham and of Nahor; and they served other gods.”

    I was not aware of this passage. Thanks!

  16. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    John F,

    According to Gen 1:26-28 and Psalm 8, we rule over the Creation — not other people.

    (Gen. 1:26-28 ESV) 26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. 28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

    (Ps. 8:6-8 ESV) 6 You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, 7 all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, 8 the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

    And then there’s —

    (1 Cor. 6:3 ESV) 3 Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life!

    So I guess angels are in there, too — although I have no idea how that works.

    And I found —

    The answer is that he’s got it directly from the Old Testament, particularly from passages like Daniel 7, where ‘the holy ones of the most high’ are set in authority over the world. (The word I’ve translated as ‘God’s people’ in verses 1 and 2 is the same as ‘the holy ones’ or ‘the saints’). Paul will allow nothing to shake his basic faith: if Jesus rose from the dead, then he’s the Messiah; if he’s the Messiah, those who belong to him are God’s true people; and God’s true people will judge the world. If God’s true people at the moment look a very unlikely crew to be judging anyone or anything, well then, they must shape up and come into line. They must become, through moral reflection and discipline in the present time, the people they actually are ‘in the Messiah’ and in the purposes of God. That’s what a good deal of this letter is about.

    Tom Wright, Paul for Everyone: 1 Corinthians, (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2004), 64.

    (Dan. 7:27 ESV) 27 And the kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High; his kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him.’

    The juxtaposition of “saints” with the singular “him” suggests that the Christians and Jesus rule as one — which is taught in Ephesians 1-2 and Rev 22 (“with his saints to reign”). If the nations are either destroyed or saved and so ruling, all that’s left is to govern the community of heaven, to care for the Creation (as transformed), and to deal with those angels.

    So that’s enough to make the conclusions make some sense, although there are obviously some questions left unanswered. Personally, I just think of the four kids in the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe sitting on four thrones ruling Narnia — with Aslan powerfully present.

  17. Alabama John says:

    Jay, you are welcome. Maybe poking a little Alabama fun at me for posting above about those quoting scriptures and then quoting one!!!! LOL

    Elohim is a plural for god and its told me its used that way 216 times in the NT.only. Starts early in the OT, first with”Genesis “Let US make man in OUR image”.

    There is only one God, the God of Israel, but many others like RI and the Greeks Zeus could of been helpers somehow. Seems Elohim was thought of as angels, and many others we don’t know of as heaven has many spiritual beings that might of helped folks back then and who knows even today. All we know is there are a lot of Angels and they do Gods bidding.

    We sure pray for that help don’t we.

  18. laymond says:

    We all live on the other side, and worship other things, until we are baptized in to the name of Jesus.

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