Part 7: Three & Out is Out!

Many will point to this passage in the book of Matthew claiming it shows Christ expected us to seek reconciliation without teshuvah:

“The Peter came to him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?  Up to seven times?”  Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”  Matthew 18:21-22

It is stated that the Jewish Rabbins held that forgiveness must be extended to one who confessed his fault, but this was limited to three repetitions of the offense [remember the passages in Amos and Job?]. Peter had an idea that the Savior’s rule would insist on still greater forbearance.  Commentary in People’s New Testament, 1891.

Clearly Christ in verse 22 is making an express statement.  It is:  We should forget the three instance rule (discussed in Part 3) and forgive one who has harmed us many, if not countless times.  But nowhere in this passage or any other does he expressly state for the Jewish people to do away with the time honored teshuvah ingredient that has its beginning in the Old Testament.

Peter, in verse 21, was simply wondering just how many times in excess of seven [the number seven represented completeness, as in the seven days of creation, to the Hebrews] should forgiveness occur since the Rabbinic teaching (based on Amos 1:3; Job 33:29, 30) demanded only three.  Jesus, however, lifted the matter beyond the realm of practical computation by requiring seventy times seven.  Rather than seek a numerical standard, the believer must follow the example of his Lord (Col. 3:13).  Wycliff Bible Commentary, 1968, p. 962.

Now, what Jesus is pointing out basically is that forgiveness is not a matter of mathematics, it’s a matter of spirit, that you should have the spirit of forgiveness. And I am certain that He is certain that if you take the four hundred and ninety, that you’ll lose count before you’ll ever get there. And you’ll just realize, hey, it isn’t a matter of numbers, it’s a matter of spirit. I am to have the spirit of forgiveness.  Chuck Smith, Senior Pastor of Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa, founder of Calvary Chapel worldwide fellowship, graduate of Life Bible College, prolific author, on the subject of Job 33:29-30.

However, one cannot ignore just a few verses before in Matthew 18:15-17, where he directs how his believers should reconcile their differences.

“Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between and him alone.  If he hears you, you have gained your brother.  “But if he will not hear you, take with you one or two more, that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.” “And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church.  But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.” Matthew 18:15-17

Clearly in vss. 21-22, he says to forgive as often as one is asked for it.

Forgiveness is a command (Mt. 6:14, 18:21-35); one is to forgive from one’s heart, overruling one’s feelings if necessary – since this too goes against the grain.   David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary, Jewish New Testament Publications, Inc., © 1992, p.135.

Given his other statements that referred to teshuvah isn’t it logical that when he spoke in verses 15-17, his statement to “forgive” implied that “teshuvah” would be exhibited by an offender for reconciliation to be achieved?  One thing is certain: Christ is not teaching that the victim should just blindly forgive his violator, but he is overruling the three instance provision of the Council.

So naturally the Jews during the time of Christ understood that sins against another person were not forgiven until the injured party has forgiven the perpetrator.  For that to happen the guilty party not only sought forgiveness but made restitution to repair the damage and reconcile the relationship.  When this is done (forgiveness is asked & restitution is made) then it is a duty of the wronged party to forgive.  This is reflected in a saying found in the Talmud:  “Humans should be pliant as a reed, not hard like a cedar in granting forgiveness.”

This is completely foreign to some Christians who have been lead to believe that all an offender need do after harming someone is to pray and they are forgiven (assuming they have accepted Christ as their personal savior).  The injured person is left totally out of the formula.   Basically, it’s “say a prayer and all is forgiven.”

For instance, in Matthew 5:23-24, one finds another example of the Jewish concept of reconciliation via teshuvah.

Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way.  First be reconciled to our brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Mat 5:23-24).

This passage demonstrates that what Christ taught was in harmony with the concept that God would not accept a sacrifice from a wrong doer until he approached and was forgiven by the one he injured.

Now, unless someone is going to imply that Christ simply contradicted himself (which he never did) I think it’s pretty clear he wants us to forgive as often as the offender demonstrates teshuvah, i.e. remorse in his words and actions.

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