In Protestantism, particularly Calvinistic circles that push the doctrine of “once saved always saved” or the “P” in the Calvinist TULIP, there is a particular teaching that is passed around that says that when Christ died and said “It is finished” (John 19:30) what He was really saying that now every ones sins were “paid in full.” By this they mean that the punishment of sinners were paid for by Christ and since this punishment was paid already by Christ it is impossible for those redeemed by Christ’s shed blood to lose salvation and enter into Hell, in other words it guarantees a person’s salvation—no matter what they do.
They will point to the word TETLESTAI in Greek and say it really means “paid in full” and they commonly will appeal to something they heard that says coins were found that carried the meaning “paid in full”. Others, they may substitute this with stamps, seals, or some other kind of legal document. I have found many reference of such items in Calvinistic writings, but I have never seen one point to a source that legitimately verifies such a claim. I have found one that claimed tetelestai was used by lenders to show a person had finished paying off the loan. Others will point to Strong’s Concordance, in which near the bottom of all the definitions includes “to pay” under tetelestai.
HOWEVER, it is dependent on these people to provide evidence for their interpretation of the meaning of the word found on these items, assuming this did occur as they said it did. And, even if they can verify these claims, they must then demonstrate that John 19:30 uses Tetelestai in this sense. Also, yes, Strong’s Concordance did list pay as one of the definitions of tetelestai, however, was Strong fluent in Greek?, what was the depth of his knowledge? Most are not aware Strong himself was not even fluent in the languages he made lexicons for. Regardless, the word is used to refer to paying, but in regards to taxes. (On the occurrence see below)
The true meaning of the word tetelestai is more likely to just simply mean “accomplished” or “it has been fulfilled.” This is because the word tetelestai is used only one other time in the New Testament, in fact in the Gospel of St John, Chapter 19, verse 28—only two verses before the time the Lord Jesus cried these words on the Cross. Tetelestai is in the 3rd person perfect passive indicative singular. This verse hints at the context of Tetelestai, also the root of it is used also in the verse, τέλος :
Μετὰ τοῦτο εἰδὼς ὁ Ἰησοῦς ὅτι ἤδη πάντα τετέλεσται, ἵνα τελειωθῇ ἡ γραφή, λέγει, Διψῶ.
After this Jesus, knowing that all was now finished [ τετέλεσται ], said to fulfil [τελειωθῇ] the scripture, "I thirst."—John 19:28
Now lets compare this this verse in question (30)
When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished [ Τετέλεσται ] : and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.--John 19:30 (KJV)
Since the verse 28 uses tetelestai, spelled in the same exact way as verse 30, is it unreasonable to say they are related? Now, considering the Scriptures here use tetelestai here to refer to the events that passed at the cross, it would seem odd to read the text here as;
After this Jesus, knowing that all was now PAID IN FULL [ Τετέλεσται ], said to fulfill the scripture, "I thirst”
Other than John 19:28,30, the word in conjugated differently in other verses e.g. Luke 2:39, Acts 13:29, Matthew 7:28, 11:1, 13:53, 19:1, 26:1, Revelation 10:7, 15:1, Matthew 17:24, 2 Corinthians 12:9, Romans 13:6, James 2:8 etc… Only two of the instances in the New Testament from which I have found telos simply means “to fulfill” a prophecy, or to “finish” something, or to accomplish an act, or to end something. There are two instances where it is used to apply to taxes:
When they came to Capernaum, those who collected the two-drachma tax came to Peter and said, "Does your teacher not pay the two-drachma tax?"—Matthew 17:24
For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing.—Romans 13:6
Other versions translate this as “paid tribute”.
These, however, are not literal translations, the sense telei is used in these verses is translated by my interlinear as “is-settling-tribute.” This does not in any way carry the meaning “paid in full” in the sense Calvinists will push, especially in John 19 where it would not make sense in verse 28:
After this Jesus, knowing that all was now PAID TRIBUTE, said to fulfill the scripture, "I thirst."—John 19:28
It would seem odd to say “all” if it referred simply to the event of being on the Cross, saying IT IS FINISHED refers to the EVENTS of the Cross especially in regards to the fulfillment of Prophecy Is far more reasonable.
One person on paltalk told me:
Berhane, John 19:30 Jesus said "Tetelasthei" IT IS FINISHED; He did not say that we must purge the rest of our sins in purgatory; how deceiving and inaccurate.
His anti purgatory interpretation is based on a false Calvinistic atonement where Christ paid the “penalty” or “punishment” for sins, in such a way as to take our ETERNAL punishment on Himself somehow. The problem with this is that the eternal penalty for sin is eternal damnation, and Christ certainly did not burn in Hell forever, in fact He never went to the Hell of the Damned. The Atonement was to appease the wrath of God, so that our sins could be forgiven and so the world could reconciled to God. His blood was necessary payment to APPEASE the wrath of God, upon this payment, the Mercy of God was made available to man. Just because Christ died does not automatically remit our sins, belief and repentance are necessary to benefit from the propitiation of Christ.
Essentially, purgatory only does damage to the cross if you presuppose a false concept of the Atonement, that is a Calvinist atonement, where Christ would have mysteriously paid several eternities in Hell for the elect only.
Addendum: Here are some early Greek commentaries on John 19:30