In Matthew 18:21-22, Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered,” I tell you, not seven times, but seventy seven times.” Was that just and arbitrary number, or by using double sevens, was he trying to say, infinitely? Or, what about this possibility- was Jesus perhaps quoting the text so that Peter would recognize it?
Look at Genesis 4:13-24. Cain, the first murderer in the Bible, killed Abel, but God prevented anyone from taking revenge on Cain by promising to punish seven times over, anyone who killed Cain. Cain then had a son, Lamech, who was the father of wickedness. He vowed to revenge himself seventy seven times if anyone tried to kill him. Cain and Abel were viewed by the Jews as polar opposites-Cain as evil, Abel as good.
Jesus was saying to Peter, through the Hebrew Scriptures, if Cain’s side, being evil, would take revenge seventy seven times, then you musts take Abel’s side and forgive seventy seven times. If evil gets revenge seventy seven times, then you have to forgive seventy seven times.
There are a thousand examples in the New Testament where we think Jesus is coming up with these new sayings, and in reality, he is just quoting the text. Our problem is that we don’t know the text well enough to realize that that’s what Jesus is doing. He was the greatest teacher to have ever lived, not only in the spiritual sense, but as a fully human being that studied and memorized the word just like we have to. He knew his text inside and out and could quote it and use it better than anyone else who has ever lived. Everything in his life was taken out of the book. Start looking for these when you read Jesus speaking and see if you can find them in the Hebrew testament. Stories like these make you want to be a better student of the text.
About the author:
Bob is the creator of this site and a disciple of Ray Vander Laan. Along with his wife of 50 years, he teaches a Bible study at Christ’s Church in Roswell, NM. He is also an avid hunter and fisher.