Exegesis of Matthew 18:21-35
The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant
21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”
22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.
23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.
26 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.
28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.
29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’
30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.
32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to.
33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’
34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
Hermeneutics is the art of interpretation, closely taking apart a text, a discourse, or some other narrative in order to assess the underlying aspects to see what the Biblical author is really telling us, or what we can discover about his life and about the divine revelation of the Holy Spirit in the author’s word.
It is to truly understand the content of the author’s writing and to as well as possible understand the meaning that the author intends to convey. One therefore, has to know something about the author’s background, the culture, the historical epoch because all of these led to the author’s perspective and writings in his or her particular worldview.
Better understanding what he or she wants to tell us can emerge from knowledge of his background, the possible mental constructs and the inspired instruction of the Holy Spirit of God in forming the text.
All of this forms and informs the text and can provide us with a better understanding of both the outer and inner meaning of the text or passage before us.
In this paper, we are going to look at how hermeneutics is used to provide greater understanding of theological ideas. This will be accomplished by focusing on Matthew 18:21-35.
During this process, we will follow Dr.Jeff Weima’s guide to Biblical Hermeneutics and Exegesis, dividing the process into four main areas of study: the grammatical, the literary, the historical and the theological elements.
1. Grammatical Element
1.1 In Verse 18:21 on whether to forgive others “seventy times seven” or “seventy-seven times”. In NASB, NKJV, TEV translations it was mentioned “seventy times seven” whereas in NRSV, NJB it was quoted as “seventy-seven times”.
Peter was trying to be generous by using seven times (Luke 17:4)! The Babylonian Talmud had three times as the maximum (Amos 1:3, 6; 2:6). Jesus took forgiveness to the new metaphorical height of 7 x 70 (or possibly 77).
This does not mean on the 491st time believers do not forgive, but that covenant brothers must always be ready to forgive other covenant brothers (Luke 17:4) as God forgives them (Matt. 18:35). The new covenant has a radically new orientation to life (Matt. 18:15).
1.2 In verse 18:23 “a king”. This parable is unique to Matthew. In Aramaic (Jesus spoke Aramaic, not Hebrew) this term could have meant “a king’s official.”
1.3 In verse 18:24 “ten thousand talents”. This was a huge amount. Six hundred talents was the yearly Roman tax for southern Palestine. This parable is purposeful oriental exaggeration (hyperbole). Often Jesus used this literary technique to drive home the point of His parables.
1.4 In verse 18:25 People (and their families) could be sold into slavery for debts (Lev. 25:39; 2 Kings. 4:1; Neh. 5:5; Isa. 50:1). The king’s threat was a real threat!
1.5 In verses 18:26,29 – “have patience with me and I will repay you everything.” These are the exact words of Matthew 18:26 and 29. This is the heart of the parable. In Matt. 18:30 he has no mercy on another human who pleads for it!
1.6 In verse 18:34 “the torturers.” In Aramaic this was possibly “jailers”.
1.7 In verse 18:35, “My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.” This is a third class conditional sentence which meant potential future action. Forgiveness should/must result in forgiving (Matt. 5:7; 6:14-15; 7:1-2; 10:8; Luke 6:36; Col. 3:13; James 2:13; 5:9). Forgiveness is not the basis of our salvation but a sure evidence of being forgiven. However, Jesus leaves open the question about those who claim to know Him, but refuse to forgive other believers!
2. Literary Element
Genre : This text is a parable text, from the Gospels. It is used here to explain a detail about the need of forgiveness in Kingdom of God. It is about the inter-relationship of the hearers to the Kingdom of God.
The term gospel was used over 75 times in the New Testament. While it has various nuances of meaning, it’s most fundamental meaning from the Greek is “good news.” But what is the good news about?
According to the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology edited by Walter Elwell, “the gospel is the joyous proclamation of God’s redemptive activity in Christ Jesus on behalf of man enslaved by sin.”
3. Historical Element
Matthew’s main purpose is to prove to his Jewish readers that Jesus is their Messiah. He does this primarily by showing how Jesus in his life and ministry fulfilled the Old Testament (OT) Scriptures. Although all the Gospel writers quote the OT, Matthew includes nine proof texts unique to his Gospel (1:22–23; 2:15; 2:17–18; 2:23; 4:14–16; 8:17; 12:17–21; 13:35; 27:9–10) to drive home his basic theme: Jesus is the fulfillment of the OT predictions of the Messiah.
Matthew even finds the history of God’s people in the OT recapitulated in some aspects of Jesus’ life (e.g., his quotation of Hosea 11:1 in Matt 2:15). To accomplish his purpose Matthew also emphasizes Jesus’ Davidic lineage.
Matthew’s intended audience was his fellow Jews, many of whom—especially the Pharisees and Sadducees—stubbornly refused to accept Jesus as their Messiah.
In spite of centuries of reading and studying the Old Testament, their eyes were blinded to the truth of who Jesus was. Jesus rebuked them for their hard hearts and their refusal to recognize the One they had supposedly been waiting for (John 5:38-40). They wanted a Messiah on their own terms, one who would fulfill their own desires and do what they wanted Him to do.
How often do we seek God on our own terms? Don’t we reject Him by ascribing to Him only those attributes we find acceptable, the ones that make us feel good—His love, mercy, grace—while rejecting those we find objectionable—His wrath, justice, and holy anger?
We dare not make the mistake of the Pharisees, creating God in our own image and then expecting Him to live up to our standards. Such a god is nothing more than an idol. The Bible gives us more than enough information about the true nature and identity of God and Jesus Christ to warrant our worship and our obedience.
4. Theological Element
Matthew Chapter 18 begins with the disciples coming to Jesus and asking Him who is the greatest. He explains that to enter the Kingdom, one must have the faith like a child’s—he ought be humble, rather than seeking to be the greatest. Jesus then goes on to explain that anybody who offends such a child or prohibits that one from entering into the Kingdom is worthy of damnation.
Offensiveness is so serious that one is to cut off a member of his body, should it offend himself. But, the shepherd seeks those that are lost, willing that no one should perish.
Then Jesus goes on to explain how to bring back one who has strayed by offending another: Bind the impenitent sinner and forgive he who receives correction. Then, Peter comes and asks how many times he ought forgive.
Interpreting Scripture with Scripture
4.1 Luke 17:4 (Amplified Bible) is a one-verse summary of this whole account of forgiveness: “And even if he sins against you seven times in a day, and turns to you seven times and says, I repent [I am sorry], you must forgive him (give up resentment and consider the offense as recalled and annulled).” This is not a contradiction of the seventy times seven, but it means the same thing: forgive him as many times as he sins without limits.
4.2 The depth of our debt: Ephesians 2:1(KJV), “And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins.” The depth of our King’s mercy: Romans 5:8 (KJV), “ But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
Luke 7:41-42—God forgives all debts, though some maybe greater than others.
In James 2:13—God will show no mercy when He judges him who did not show mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment!
4.3 Psalm 103 shows us the greatness of God’s mercy and compassion towards us sinners. He forgives all our sins…redeems our life from the pit …is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy. His mercy is as great as the heaven is high above the earth, and He has removed our transgressions as far away as the east is from the west.
In the Old Testament lesson, Joseph’s brothers came to him, fearing that he will take vengeance upon them now that their father is dead. They say they will pay back their debt: “Behold, we are your servants” (Genesis 50:18 NKJV). But Joseph responded saying: “Now therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones” (Verse 21).
5. Sermon Outline
Title : No Limits to Forgiveness
Bible Passage : Matthew 18:21-35
SERMON INTRODUCTION :
At the heart of the Christian faith, there are some very difficult choices to make. The biggest one for most believers is Jesus’ teaching on forgiveness. In our Christian creed we say, ‘we believe in the forgiveness of sins.”
Every Sunday, we ask not only for forgiveness of our debts, but we pray that we will forgive our debtors. Do we really believe that? Or do we really put into practice the commandments of Christ in our lives daily? Or do we continue to wrestle with people who offended us?
The teaching of Christ on forgiveness can illuminate our hearts to let go of all offenses against us, both knowingly and unknowingly.
I. HOW FAR DOES ONE GO BEFORE SAYING “NO FORGIVENESS!”
1. Jesus Christ teaches that ALL offenses (70 times 7) are to be forgiven continually and without limits.
2. There is to be NO malice or resentment toward others.
3. The same teaching applies to one’s children as well as to adults.
4. Jesus taught us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer (Luke 11:4) for those who have offended and hurt one’s feelings.
5. People are to not talk about or broadcast to others what someone has done to hurt or offend them.
6. Those who have been hurt are the ones to take the first steps in reconciliation.
II. WHY DID JESUS TEACH SUCH A THING ABOUT FORGIVENESS?
1. One needs to stop and think about his/her debt and gratitude to God.
2. No one can ever owe to another person what he/she owes to God.
3. It is natural for a person to want and to ask for forgiveness from God.
4. Our forgiving doesn’t obligate God to forgive us, yet God won’t forgive us until we forgive others.
5. If WE don’t forgive others, neither does God forgive us.
6. We will be forgiven by God with the same degree we forgive others – some day!
III. HOW DOES ONE OBTAIN GOD’S FORGIVENESS?
1. One must acknowledge his/her own inability to repay God.
2. One must ask God for free and complete forgiveness.
3. One must not attempt to explain away his/her sins.
4. One must forgive others as he/she wants God to forgive him/her in return.
IV. HOW DOES ONE GO ABOUT FORGIVING AS GOD WANTS?
1. One must become aware of his/her own need of forgiveness from God.
2. One must be aware of the obligations laid on him/her by God.
3. Forgiving others is not difficult when:
– There is a daily taste of God’s forgiveness, mercies and compassion.
– One remembers his/her own need for being forgiven.
– One remembers judgment day when he/she will stand before God and answer for his/her life.
1. Everybody gets feelings hurt at one time or other and somebody needs to apologize and forgive.
2. Christians of all people need to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ and concerning forgiveness, Jesus teaches that there is NO limit to the number of times one is to forgive someone else.
3. The one hurt is not to wait for the one who did the hurting to ask for forgiveness.
4. Christians need to remember how much they owe the Lord Jesus Christ for after all they have been forgiven countless times.
5. Forgiving is something every one needs to do and in the same manner that he/she would want to be forgiven.
6. Lastly, how many times have YOU asked the Lord to “forgive” YOU?
Closing Prayer :
Prayer of Repentance and to seek God’s forgiveness for our sins and to forgive all those who have sinned against us. The Blood of Jesus cleanse us from all sins and all unforgiveness in our lives. FORGIVE!
Author’s Note : Hello Everyone, this reflection paper was my assignment submitted to CLI. It was great learning for me. It took many hours and tough work to study God’s Word. Not a perfect assignment but I am pleased that I completed it. This is for edifying the people of God. God Bless!! Bro. Chim. June 2013
Christian Leaders Institute (CLI)
Hermeneutics and Exegesis – Paper # 1
Works Cited :