“Seventy times seven times” = Divine Forgiveness: Matthew 18:21-22 in the Context of Jubilee

In a fallen world, forgiveness is a part of what it means to be human. Any longstanding relationship between people requires all parties to, at least in some degree, give and receive forgiveness. However, Scripture indicates that Christian forgiveness goes beyond convenience, calling believers to forgive others just as the Lord has forgiven them (cf. Col 3:12-13). Matt 18:21-22 speaks to the nature of this kind of forgiveness: “Then Peter came up and said to [Jesus], ‘Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times’” (ESV). This final phrase, ἑβδομηκοντάκις ἑπτά, is translated as “seventy-seven times” in several English translations including the ESV, NIV, and NASB. But the phrase can also be translated “seventy times seven times” (BDAG, 269), which is closer reflected in the CSB, NLT, and KJV. Does the interpretation make a difference in understanding? Many scholars, authors and preachers interpret this passage to mean that Jesus’s encouragement to Peter is to forgive others “a lot,” simply interpreting “seventy-seven times” or “seventy times seven times” as a far more hyperbolic number than “seven” times. But this paper will argue that Jesus is not using this phrase flippantly or purely hyperbolically. Rather, this paper will show that Matthew’s inclusion of the phrase Jesus is theological, intentionally alluding to the concept of Jubilee. By analyzing Matt 18:21-22 with a variety of Jubilee texts (e.g., Lv 25:8-55; Isa 61, 58; Dan 9:24-27; 2 Chr 36:20-23) and Jesus’s fulfillment of those texts (Lk 4:16-21), this paper will argue that Jesus’s encouragement to Peter is not to simply forgive “a lot,” but to forgive others in a way that exemplifies his coming as the consummate Jubilee.

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