John MacArthur's Purgatory

Much as John MacArthur coined the term "Lordship Salvation" in his battle against Free Grace Theology, his purgatorial interpretation of the parable of the unforgiving servant of Matthew 18 ironically embraces Free Grace Theology, In his 1983 "Learning to Forgive Part 3" sermon.

In the parable which is covered from Mt 18:23-35 a servant owed his master 10,000 talents, which represents sin. After acknowledging his debt, which is acknowledging of his sin, and expressing his intention to pay back the debt, the master graciously canceled the debt. Here's the actual rhetoric:

 ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’
The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

However later the servant was unwilling to do likewise to a fellow servant who owed him vastly less than he had owed the master. Here's what it says he did: "he went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt."

But upon finding out that the servant was unwilling to do the same for a vastly smaller quantity owed him, it is written, "In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed."

Now here's the question:   IF HIS DEBT WAS CANCELLED, THEN WHAT DEBT DID HE OWE? While the answer alludes MacArthur. It should be obvious to anyone reading the parable that the master uncancelled his 10,000 talent debt. For if his debt was considered canceled, then he would have spent no time in jail, not being in debt.

On the one hand MacArthur claims that the man has to partially pay back that original debt, which is to say that Christ paid for part of our sins, the rest we pay back by being tortured in some sort of Protestant Purgatory scenario. On the other hand he goes on to contradict himself claiming that the lack of forgiveness incurred some new debt, so that the 10,000 talents was completely cancelled but that some new imaginary debt of some unspoken amount the man had to pay back through being tortured. In either case MacArthur opts for the old Free Grace Protestant purgatory scenario.

While he claims the torture is a matter of discipline, the rhetoric used doesn't support that theory. For it's using the rhetoric of wrath. For what would have happened if master wasn't gracious to begin with required a repayment of the 10,000 talents? The same thing would have happened as what the servant did to his fellow servant, and indeed what happened to him in the end, namely to be thrown into prison to be tortured. Does MacArthur believe there's some place in heaven which can be described as a "prison" where allegedly "forgiven" Christians are tortured to "pay back" the sins they committed? "Pay back" is not the rhetoric of disciple but of justice, a justice for Bible believing Christians that only Christ atoned in full to satisfy God's judicial nature.

But let's consider the "discipline" idea. MacArthur references Heb 12:6 "the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son" If that's the sense in which the master casts his servant into prison to be tortured, then why would the master find any problem with the servant doing the same to his fellow servant? If the master is lovingly disciplining his servant, then couldn't it be said that the servant is likewise lovingly disciplining his fellow servant in having him put into prison? Would John MacArthur characterize his own disciplining of his children as torturing them, and teaching his fellow Christians to torture on another?

Indeed the history of Churchianity embraces such an idea. Both Catholics and Protestant church leaders have used torture - even burning people slowly to death - to invoke repentance and confession. Such atrocities are a result of misconstrued interpretations of scripture, such as that of MacArthur's take on Matt 18.

This is one of MacArthur's worst mishandling of scriptures I'm aware of and in my mind it calls into question whether John MacArthur even understands the gospel, let alone believes it.

The Berean Christian Bible Study Resources