Thursday, May 19, 2011


We translated Matthew 18 for Greek class tonight, and an issue arose that I was previously unaware of. In Matthew 18 Peter asks Jesus how many times he is to forgive his brother. Peter seems to suggest that forgiving his brother, 7 times at the most, would be adequate. Jesus responds by saying in verse 22: "I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven." (ESV)

The most common interpretation of this verse is that Christians are to forgive those who wrong them 490 times before they hold a brother's offense against them. The point that Jesus is making is that Christians are to forgive their brothers always. He uses a big number to communicate the fact that forgiveness is supposed to be the standard, not holding a grudge or taking revenge. Jesus was most definitely not saying that Christians should have a checklist and count the number of times that Christians forgive their brothers and sisters until they've reached 490. He's being overly dramatic. Because if you're counting the number of times you've forgiven someone, you haven't really forgiven.

The trick is that, in Greek, there is no way of expressing multiplication. The Greek in verse 22 literally reads "hebdom├ękontakis hepta." The first word means "seventy times" and the second word means "seven." In all other places where numbers are communicated in New Testament Greek, numbers in multiples of ten are communicated by saying "seventy and seven," which seems to be the case here. So the translation, "seventy times seven" (as in multiplication) is most likely not accurate. Rather, Jesus probably meant "seventy and (plus) seven" giving us a total of 77 times that a Christian should forgive his brothers.

Here's how some modern translations render the verse:

NIV: Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

NASB: Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.

ESV: Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.

KJV: Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.

TNIV: Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

77 is a lot less than 490, but Jesus' point is the same: how many times should I forgive my brother? Answer: a lot of times. In fact, don't stop. Always forgive.


Newbn7 said...

70 times 7 is representative of the (490 days) 70 weeks of tribulation in Daniel 9:24. So in Matthew 18:21-22, when Jesus was asked, "Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?" and he responded "Until seventy times seven" Jesus was saying, until ["Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy."]

Joel said...

Newbn -

I've never heard that interpretation, and frankly, I think it's a little far-fetched. What makes you think Jesus was referring to Daniel 9.24? I see nothing in the text or context that would lead one to that conclusion, other than the numbers are the same. But the point of my post is that probably the better interpretation of this verse is that Jesus meant that we should forgive a total of 77 times - not 490. If I'm write about that, then this verse definitely has nothing to do with Daniel 9.24 because the numbers don't match up at all.