WHY FORGIVE “SEVENTY TIMES SEVEN?”
by Shawn Brasseaux
“Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:21-22). Is there any importance to this “seventy times seven” here? “For what saith the Scriptures?”
Of course, the context is how to handle conflicts within the Little Flock, Israel’s believing remnant, the Messianic Church (see verses 15-20). Peter and the 11 other Apostles have been given authority to act in Christ’s absence. (For more information on their apostolic power, see our Matthew 18:19-20 article linked at the end of this study.) In light of Jesus’ prior comments about brethren trespassing against brethren, the Apostle Peter asked a question, and that is precisely the inquiry and its response with which we concern ourselves now.
The Berean Bible student can easily see the shallowness in Christendom (denominationalism). Jesus did not randomly pick a number, as some might conclude. Also, unlike others, never should we interpret His words as “forgive thy brother countless times.” He chose “seventy times seven” because the number 490 had tremendous prophetic significance. As we will see shortly, it concerned the restoration of Israel and the rebuilding of her holy city Jerusalem.
When Peter asked, “Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?” (Matthew 18:21), he assumed he was being quite generous. The rabbis of that day taught someone should be forgiven only three times (based on Amos 1:3,6,9,11,13; Amos 2:1,4,6). Peter doubled that number and added one, but it still was not enough. Yet, since seven in the Bible is the number of completion or perfection, Peter assumed nothing could be better than forgiving someone seven times. Christ corrected his erroneous idea. Again, the Bible student should always be mindful of every word in the King James Bible. When God’s Word is specific, it is for a reason. Matthew 18:22 is such an instance where Bible specifics, not just “general fundamentals,” are important. Jesus answered, “Until seventy times seven.” It is our firm conviction that Jesus did not randomly select this number; He was teaching a doctrine about a special completion.
In Daniel 9:24, the Angel Gabriel explained to the Prophet: “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.” The Hebrew word rendered “week” here signifies seven, like our English word dozen means 12. (For more information on dating this, read our “What about a six-year Tribulation?” study linked at the end of this article.)
As per Daniel 9:24, it would take seventy weeks of years—or 490 years—to cleanse the nation Israel. For 490 years, God would patiently deal with Israel’s sins and purge her of all wickedness (to be followed by Jesus Christ’s earthly kingdom and the New Covenant, the latter part of the verse). Verses 25 and 26 explain that 69 weeks of years (or 483 years) were fulfilled before Calvary, and the final seven years (verse 27) are still awaiting fulfillment (the future seven-year Tribulation). The 70 weeks began with Nehemiah chapter 2, the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s wall circa 445 B.C., and they will terminate at Christ’s Second Coming. Obviously, our 2,000-year-long Dispensation of Grace is not included in those 490 years. Just as it took 70 years to cleanse Israel’s land of her idolatry—the Babylonian Captivity (Jeremiah 25:11-12; Jeremiah 29:10-11; Daniel 9:2)—it will take 70 weeks of years to cleanse her people of idolatry.
What Jesus was saying in Matthew 18:22 was (paraphrased), “Peter, you are to forgive your Jewish neighbor to the extent I forgive your Jewish nation.” According to the foregoing verses, the schedule of Daniel 9:24 was operating when Jesus spoke those words to Peter! Amazing! (By the way, if you want more information about forgiveness in this the Dispensation of Grace, read our “true forgiveness” article below.)
Let us close by making a highly significant textual note. Very few people know the impact of this matter, and even fewer are aware of the “seventy times seven” (490) reading anyway. Why? The more popular modern English versions* read “seventy-seven times” in Matthew 18:22. (*Contemporary English Version, English Standard Version, New American [Catholic] Bible, New American Standard Bible, New English Translation, New International Version, New Revised Standard Version, New World [Jehovah’s Witness] Translation) Who would be able to see any connection between the 77 of Matthew and the 490 of Daniel? The cross-reference has been embarrassingly destroyed! This is clearly a case of modern versions affecting doctrine—and inhibiting spiritual light and growth. If modern version readers are unaware of a reading other than what they have, then they are unable to ask a question based on that reading unavailable to them.
Having evaluated the evidence, we have chosen to retain our King James Bible reading of Matthew 18:22. As we demonstrated, the correct translation of the Greek “hebdomekontakis hepta” is “seventy times seven” (and not “seventy-seven times”). Even if we have multiple theological degrees, if we cannot see these simple truths, we have no business whatsoever sitting on a Bible translation committee and choosing “seventy-seven times” as the appropriate reading of Matthew 18:22! To say “seventy-seven times” is to show our complete incompetence, our total ignorance of Daniel 9:24!
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» What is true forgiveness?
» “Remission” and “forgiveness”—same or different?
» What does Matthew 18:19-20 really mean?
» What about a six-year Tribulation?