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This Sunday School Study Guide is provided free of cost for personal study and as an aid for Sunday School teachers.  It contains copyright material and may not be reproduced in any form for sale, without permission from the copyright holders.  

Bailey Sadler Class



Study Theme: Like Glue: Making Relationships Stick

What This Study Is About:

Week of:

Lesson Title:

The focus of this third study on Making Relationships Stick is on the importance forgiveness plays in the lives of those who seek to follow Him.


April 26

Stick With Love


May 3

Stick With Encouragement


May 10

Stick With Forgiveness


May 17

Stick With Service


May 24

Stick With Humility


May 31

 Stick With Acceptance



Relationships grow deeper with forgiveness.


Matthew 18:21-28,32-33





Forgive . . . And Keep Forgiving (Matt. 18:21-22)

Remember . . . God Forgave You (Matt. 18:23-27)

Forgive . . . Because God Forgave You (Matt. 18:28,32-33)


Jesus had begun preparing the disciples for His coming death and would soon begin His journey toward Jerusalem for that God-ordained appointment. In that process, He laid out for His followers the process for attempting reconciliation with one who sinned against them (18:15-17). Perhaps Jesus’ teaching sparked a question in Peter’s mind, or perhaps the discussion surfaced a question he had pondered for some time. In any event, Peter asked Jesus how many times one should forgive another.

SOURCE: The Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.


Matthew’s Gospel includes five major discourses (chaps. 5—7; 10; 13; 18; 23—25) in which Jesus instructed His disciples on what it means to follow Him and to live as citizens of the kingdom of heaven, meaning under the rule and reign of God.  Chapter 18 is concerned with relationships among disciples.  Thus, Jesus was speaking to those of us who are in the community of faith, the church!  The verses to be studied in this session focus on the spirit of forgiveness that ought to characterize those who have received such abundant forgiving grace from God.  Relationships that are marked by forgiveness have the potential to grow deeper and deeper.

SOURCE: The Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.


Forgive . . . And Keep Forgiving (Matt. 18:21-22)

21 Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how many times could my brother sin against me and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 “I tell you, not as many as seven,” Jesus said to him, “but 70 times seven.








1.   What does it mean to “forgive” someone?  (See Digging Deeper.)

2.   Do you think forgiveness has a cost?

3.   If so, what do you think it would be?

4.   How would you describe Peter’s attitude behind his question about forgiveness (v. 21)?

5.   Why do you think Peter offered seven as an upper limit for the number of times he should forgive his brother?

6.   How does Jesus’ reply challenge that attitude (v. 22)?

7.   Why do you think Jesus did not feel that seven was an acceptable number (v. 22)?

8.   How many times should we forgive a brother sins against us?

9.   How would you explain the meaning of this passage to a new believer?

10.   How important do you think forgiveness is in any relationship?

11.   How would you explain the role forgiveness plays in creating and maintaining relationships to a new believer?

12.   What do you think are some of the barriers that keeps one from forgiving another?

13.   How difficult do you think it is to overcome any one of these barriers?  Why?

14.   Why do you think it is sometimes difficult to forgive a “brother” who knows better and commits the transgression anyway, or when it’s a repeated blunder done again and again?

15.   How dependent is your forgiveness on someone else’s apology?

16.   How would describe what actually happens when you forgive someone?

17.   Do you think it is a tough chore to forgive and keep on forgiving?  Why, or why not?

18.   How would you describe an attitude of forgiveness?

19.   What do you think is needed of a believer to maintain an attitude of forgiveness?


Lasting Lessons in Matt. 18:21-22:

1.  It is our personal responsibility to forgive a brother who sins against us and asks for our forgiveness.

2.  We should not count the times a brother sins against us and we forgive him.

3.  There should be no limit to the number of times we forgive a brother.



Remember . . . God Forgave You (Matt. 18:23-27)

23 For this reason, the kingdom of heaven can be compared to a king who wanted to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 When he began to settle accounts, one who owed 10,000 talents was brought before him. 25 Since he had no way to pay it back, his master commanded that he, his wife, his children, and everything he had be sold to pay the debt. 26 “At this, the slave fell facedown before him and said, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you everything!’ 27 Then the master of that slave had compassion, released him, and forgave him the loan.

1.   What reason (v. 23)?

2.   What did Jesus mean by the kingdom of heaven (v. 23)?

3.   What is the significance of this parable being a parable of the kingdom?

4.   How severe is the indebtedness described in this parable? (v. 24)?

5.   Why would a slave own his king money (v. 24)?

6.   How could a slave amass a debt larger than he could repay within his lifetime?

7.   What hope did the debtor have?  (v. 25)?

8.   In what surprising way did the king respond (v. 27)?

9.   What does it mean to have compassion toward someone?

10.   What does the compassion of the king tell us about the compassion of God (v. 27)?

11.   How do the king’s actions in this parable mirror God’s actions toward us?

12.   How are grace and mercy connected to forgiveness?

13.   Based on this passage, how would you describe the debt we owe God?

14.   Do you think we could ever repay it?  Why, or why not?

15.   Since Jesus has forgiven us, what hinders us from forgiving others?

16.   Do you believe that forgiveness can be both costly and difficult?  Why, or why not?

17.   What do you think would make forgiveness both costly and difficult?


Lasting Lessons in Matt. 18:23-27:

1.  Our sin debt is more than we can possibly repay.

2.  When we understand the penalty of our sin debt, we can only fall down and beg God’s forgiveness.

3.  God is always willing to forgive us when we come to Him with a contrite heart.



Forgive . . . Because God Forgave You (Matt. 18:28,32-33)

28 “But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him 100 denarii. He grabbed him, started choking him, and said, ‘Pay what you owe!’

32 “Then, after he had summoned him, his master said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. 33 Shouldn’t you also have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’

1.   How was the first slave’s behavior not in keeping with his own experience before the king (v. 28)?

2.   Why do you think the forgiven slave demand payment from his fellow slave (v. 28)?

3.   What was the size of the debt of the second slave?

4.   Why do you think the first slave would not forgive his fellow slave’s debt of such a small debt?

5.   What was the king’s reaction when he heard of the first slave’s demand for immediate payment of the second slave’s debt?

6.   How did the king characterize the unforgiving slave (v. 32)?

7.   How did the king expect the forgiven slave to respond (v. 33)?

8.   Why do you think the king should/would expect this?

9.   What challenge does this passage have for believers today?

10.   Do you think there is a danger when we refuse to forgive as we have been forgiven?  Why, or why not?

11.   If so, what are some of the dangers a believer might face if he/she fails to forgive?

12.   What is the price we pay when we fail to make the connection between receiving mercy and giving mercy?

13.   How have you seen forgiveness deepen a relationship?

14.   Why is forgiving others an act of worship?

15.   What does the phrase, “Let Forgiveness Run Deep,” mean to you?

16.   How could a believer incorporate this phrase into his/her daily life?

17.   What impact do you think this would have on the life of a believer?  On your life?


Lasting Lessons in Matt. 18;28,32-33:

1.  Oftentimes we do not treat others with the same mercy with which God has treated us.

2.  To fail to treat others with the same mercy with which God has treated us is wicked.

3.  Those who have experienced a great mercy from God should be the first to show others mercy.



By its very nature, forgiveness is an acknowledgment that and act was wrong, an offense against someone.  People don’t ask for forgiveness for doing right.  Some people, even believers, shy away from practicing forgiveness because of a concern that it will be perceived as condoning or enabling inappropriate behavior, or that the person will feel free to repeat the behavior knowing that he or she will be forgiven again.  Jesus does not give any easement on this issue.  When a person confesses and repents of an offense, the believer is to respond with forgiveness.  Don’t look for a way out.

Only God, of course, by His unmatched love and grace can ultimately and completely forgive sins, set one completely free from guilt, and restore broken relationships.  However, by our willingness to forgive, to set free, and to reach out with compassion, we help a person on the journey.  We show that we understand what it is like to fail; we also show we know what it means to be forgiven.

So how do you stack up in the forgiveness department?  Does your life-style reflect that “Forgiveness Runs Deep” in your life?  Are you quick to extend forgiveness as you are to ask forgiveness?  On a scale of 1 (not at all) to 10 (to the bone) rate the depth that “Forgiveness Runs” in your daily life?  Will your rating please God?  If not, ask Him to help you expand the depth that a forgiving attitude runs in your life?  He will, if you seriously want to improve!

What are the implications of these truths for your life?  THE CHOICE IS YOURS, ISN’T IT!

REMEMBER, the safest place for a believer is in the center of God’s will.


Lesson Outline, Introduction, Discussion Questions, and Conclusion adapted from the following sources:

SOURCE: Life Ventures-Bible Studies for Life; Leader Guide; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN.

SOURCE: The Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.


FOCAL PASSAGE:  Matthew 18:21-28,32-33:

Focal Passage from three different translations of God’s Word:

King James Version: Matthew 18:21-28,32-33:

21 Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? 22 Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven. 23 Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants. 24 And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents. 25 But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26 The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. 27 Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt. 28 But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest. 29 And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. 30 And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt. 31 So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done. 32 Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: 33 Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee?  (KJV)

New International Version: Matthew 18:21-28,32-33:

21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he 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 talents£ 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 “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 denarii.£ 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 you 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 greatly distressed 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?’  (NIV)

New Living Translation: Matthew 18:21-28,32-33:

21 Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone£ who sins against me? Seven times?” 22 “No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven! 23 “Therefore, the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a king who decided to bring his accounts up to date with servants who had borrowed money from him. 24 In the process, one of his debtors was brought in who owed him millions of dollars. 25 He couldn’t pay, so his master ordered that he be sold—along with his wife, his children, and everything he owned—to pay the debt. 26 “But the man fell down before his master and begged him, ‘Please, be patient with me, and I will pay it all.’ 27 Then his master was filled with pity for him, and he released him and forgave his debt. 28 “But when the man left the king, he went to a fellow servant who owed him a few thousand dollars.£ He grabbed him by the throat and demanded instant payment. 29 “His fellow servant fell down before him and begged for a little more time. ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it,’ he pleaded. 30 But his creditor wouldn’t wait. He had the man arrested and put in prison until the debt could be paid in full. 31 “When some of the other servants saw this, they were very upset. They went to the king and told him everything that had happened. 32 Then the king called in the man he had forgiven and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’   (NLT)


Lesson Outline — “Stick With Forgiveness” — Matthew 18:21-28,32-33




Forgive . . . And Keep Forgiving (Matt. 18:21-22)

Remember . . . God Forgave You (Matt. 18:23-27)

Forgive . . . Because God Forgave You (Matt. 18:28,32-33)


(NOTE:  Commentary for the focal passage comes from four sources: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary Old Testament,Believer's Bible Commentary,The Complete Biblical Library Commentary,” andThe New American Commentary ,”and is provided for your study.)

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary New Testament; Matthew 18:21-28,32-33:

Forgiveness (18:21-35)

Repeated forgiveness (18:21-22)

18:21-22.  “Then” (v. 21) is probably to be taken strictly (see on 3:13). The issue is not the adjudication of the church, still less the absolute granting of forgiveness by the church (only God and Jesus can forgive sins in so absolute a fashion), but personal forgiveness (cf. 6:14-15). In rabbinic discussion the consensus was that a brother might be forgiven a repeated sin three times; on the fourth, there is no forgiveness. Peter, thinking himself big-hearted, volunteers “seven times” in answer to his own question—a larger figure often used, among other things, as a “round number” (cf. Lev 26:21Deut 28:25Ps 79:12Prov 24:16Luke 17:4).

Jesus’ response (v. 22) alludes to Genesis 4:24: Lamech’s revenge is transformed into a principle of forgiveness. In this context Jesus is not saying that seventy-seven times is the upper limit, nor that the forgiveness is so unqualified it vitiates the discipline and procedural steps just taught (vv. 15-20). Rather he teaches that forgiveness of fellow members in his community of “little ones” (brothers) cannot possibly be limited by frequency or quantity; for, as the ensuing parable shows (vv. 23-35), all of them have been forgiven far more than they will ever forgive.

The parable of the unmerciful servant (18:23-35)

18:23. “Therefore,” since Jesus requires his followers to forgive, the kingdom of heaven has become like (not “is like”; see on 13:24) a king who ... : the reference is to the kingdom already being inaugurated. The reign of God establishes certain kinds of personal relationships, portrayed by this parable, whose point is spelled out in v. 35. It quite misses the point to identify kingdom and church and argue that just as the king, though merciful, must be severe in judging the unforgiving, so the church must follow a similar pattern. “Kingdom” and “church” are distinct categories (see esp. on 13:37-39), and the immediate context has returned to the question of repeated, personal forgiveness (vv. 21-22) and the reasons for it. Those in the kingdom serve a great king who has invariably forgiven far more than they can ever forgive one another. Therefore failure to forgive excludes one from the kingdom, whose pattern is to forgive.

The “servants” (douloi, lit., “slaves”) may include high-ranking civil servants in a huge colonial empire, for the amount of indebtedness is astronomical (v. 24). Yet Jesus may simply be using hyperbole to make clear how much the heirs of the kingdom have really been forgiven.

18:24-27.  We glimpse some idea of the size of the indebtedness when we recall that David donated three thousand talents of gold and seven thousand talents of silver for the construction of the temple, and the princes provided five thousand talents of gold and ten thousand talents of silver (1 Chronicles 29:47). Some recent estimates suggest a dollar value of twelve million; but with inflation and fluctuating precious metal prices, this could be over a billion dollars in today’s currency.

Such indebtedness could not possibly be covered by selling the family into slavery (v. 25): top price for a slave fetched about one talent, and one-tenth that amount or less was more common. The practice of being sold for debt was sanctioned by the OT (Lev 25:392 Kings 4:1), but such slaves had to be freed in the year of Jubilee (every fiftieth year).

In this parable selling the slave and his family does not mean the debt is canceled but rather highlights the servant’s desperate plight. With neither resources nor hope, he begs for time and promises to pay everything back (v. 26)—an impossibility. So the master takes pity on him and cancels the indebtedness (v. 27). The word daneion (“loan,” a hapax legomenon) suggests that the king mercifully decides to look on the loss as a bad loan rather than embezzlement; but by v. 32 he abandons that terminology and calls it a “debt.”

18:28-31.  The servant’s attitude is appalling. The amount owed him is not insignificant: though worth but a few dollars in terms of metal currency, a hundred denarii (v. 28) represented a hundred days’ wages for a foot soldier or common laborer. Yet the amount is utterly trivial compared with what has already been forgiven him. The similarity of his fellow servant’s plea (v. 29) to his own (v. 26) does not move this unforgiving man. He has him thrown into a debtor’s prison (v. 30). Even an inexpensive slave sold for five hundred denarii, and it was illegal to sell a man for a sum greater than his debt. But the other servants (v. 31), deeply distressed by the inequity, tell the master everything (diesaphesan is a strong verb meaning “explained in detail,” not merely “told” [NIV]; it occurs in the NT only here and at 13:36).

18:32-34. When the servant owes ten thousand talents, the king forgives him; but when the servant shows himself unforgiving toward a fellow servant, the king calls him wicked (v. 32) and, foregoing selling him, turns him over to the “torturers” (basanistais, not merely “jailers,” NIV); the word reminds us of earlier warnings in this chapter (18:68-9). The servant is to be tortured till he pays back all he owes (v. 34), which he can never do.

18:35. Jesus sees no incongruity in the actions of a heavenly Father who forgives so bountifully and punishes so ruthlessly, and neither should we. Indeed, it is precisely because he is a God of such compassion and mercy that he cannot possibly accept as his those devoid of compassion and mercy. This is not to say that the king’s compassion can be earned: far from it, the servant is granted freedom only by virtue of the king’s forgiveness. As in 6:1214-15, those who are forgiven must forgive, lest they show themselves incapable of receiving forgiveness.

SOURCE: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary New Testament; Frank E. Gaebelein; General Editor; Zondervan Publishing House; A Division of Harper Collins Publishers


Believer's Bible Commentary – Matthew 18:21-28,32-33:

Concerning Unlimited Forgiveness (18:21-35)

18:21, 22.  At this point Peter raised the question of how often he should forgive a brother who sinned against him. He probably thought he was showing unusual grace by suggesting seven as an outside limit. Jesus answered "not... seven times but up to seventy times seven." He did not intend us to understand a literal 490 times; this was a figurative way of saying "Indefinitely."

Someone might then ask, "Why bother to go through the steps outlined above? Why go to an offender alone, then with one or two others, then take him to church? Why not just forgive, and let that be the end of it?"

The answer is that there are stages in the administration of forgiveness, as follows:

  1. When a brother wrongs me or sins against me, I should forgive him immediately in my heart (Eph. 4:32). That frees me from a bitter, unforgiving spirit, and leaves the matter on his shoulders.

  2. While I have forgiven him in my heart, I do not yet tell him that he is forgiven. It would not be righteous to administer forgiveness publicly until he has repented. So I am obligated to go to him and rebuke him in love, hoping to lead him to confession (Luke 17:3).

  3. As soon as he apologizes and confesses his sin, I tell him that he is forgiven (Luke 17:4).

18:23 Jesus then gives a parable of the kingdom of heaven to warn against the consequences of an unforgiving spirit by subjects who have been freely forgiven.

18:24-27.  The story concerns a certain king who wanted to clear his bad debts off his books. One servant, who owed him ten thousand talents, was insolvent, so his lord ordered that he and his family be sold into slavery in payment of the debt. The distraught servant begged for time, promising to pay him all if given the chance.

Like many debtors, he was incredibly optimistic about what he could do if only he had time (v. 26). Galilee's total revenue only amounted to 300 talents and this man owed 10,000! The detail about the vast amount is intentional. It is to shock the listeners and so capture their attention, and also to emphasize an immense debt to God. Martin Luther used to say that we are all beggars before Him. We cannot hope to pay (Daily Notes of the Scripture Union).

When the master saw the contrite attitude of his servant, he forgave him the entire 10,000 talents. It was an epic display of grace, not justice.

18:28-30.  Now that servant had a fellow servant who owed him one hundred denarii (a few hundred dollars). Rather than forgive him, he grabbed him by the throat and demanded payment in full. The hapless debtor pled for an extension, but it was no use. He was thrown into prison till he paid the debt—a difficult business at best, since his chance of earning money was gone as long as he was imprisoned.

18:31-34. The other servants, outraged by this inconsistent behavior, told their master. He was furious with the merciless lender. Having been forgiven a big debt, he was unwilling to forgive a pittance. So he was returned to the jailers' custody till his debt was paid.

18:35.  The application is clear. God is the King. All His servants had contracted a great debt of sin which they were unable to pay. In wonderful grace and compassion, the Lord paid the debt and granted full and free forgiveness. Now suppose some Christian wrongs another. When rebuked, he apologizes and asks forgiveness. But the offended believer refuses. He himself has been forgiven millions of dollars, but won't forgive a few hundred. Will the King allow such behavior to go unpunished? Certainly not! The culprit will be chastened in this life and will suffer loss at the Judgment Seat of Christ.

Believer's Bible Commentary: A Thorough, Yet Easy-to-Read Bible Commentary That Turns Complicated Theology Into Practical Understanding.

SOURCE: Believer's Bible Commentary; by William MacDonald; Copyright © 1995, 1992, 1990, 1989 by William McDonald. Database © 2014 WORDsearch.


The Complete Biblical Library Commentary: Matthew 18:21-28,32-33:

18:21.  Forgiving involves regarding something that happened as if it had never occurred. If someone asks for forgiveness, the believer must forgive him from the heart (Matthew 18:35; cf. Ephesians 4:32). Such an attitude brings freedom from bitterness and hardness. Forgiving is not simply an act; it is also an attitude. Counting how many times one has to forgive typifies the mind of the world. Peter thought seven times was generous, because the rabbis taught that three or four times was sufficient. This reasoning was based upon their interpretation of Amos 1:3, 6, 9, 11. But Peter still did not understand the value of gaining a brother. He thought only of himself and his own feelings.

18:22. When Jesus said "until seventy times seven," He was referring figuratively to an unlimited number of times. Some scholars believe the translation should be 77 instead of 490. In any event, Jesus was saying that the person doing the forgiving will do it as many times as are necessary. Limitless forgiveness contrasts with unlimited vengeance such as in Genesis 4:24 (NIV): "If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times." The unlimited vengeance of humanity under sin must make room for the unlimited forgiveness given by believers.

18:23. Undoubtedly the servants of this king were no ordinary servants, but high political officials in charge of large sums of money. It is quite possible that they were "governors" who supervised the taxation of entire provinces. It was common to refer to such individuals as douloi (see Ezra 4:7, 9, 17, 23, etc.). It was also true that slaves (like Joseph) were often made business managers or were even set up in business with their masters as partners.

The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant deals with judgment. The arrival of the Kingdom is compared to a financial settlement. The king in some ways represents God, while the debtor stands for humanity.

18:24. The man was brought before the king, apparently from prison. Note here that the foremost aspect was not good news, but judgment (cf. verse 27). The debt was inconceivably large. A "talent" equaled approximately 6,000 denarii, one of which equaled a laborer's wage for a day's work (20:2). The Greek expression muriōn was the largest number used in calculations, and the talent was the largest unit of currency in Asia. It is estimated that one talent was the equivalent of 15 years labor for this man. Today it would take a personal debt of at least a billion dollars to give one the feeling of just how deeply in debt this unhappy man was. There was absolutely no possibility of his paying that debt.

It is not important to the parable how or through what sort of unwise management the debtor had amassed such a huge debt. Jesus told the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant to emphasize how great is the sinner's debt to God and how hopeless are all the sinner's promises and attempts to pay by his own good works. Sin makes both the habitual sinner and the erring saint spiritually bankrupt as they stand before God (Ezekiel 33:12, 13; Romans 3:23; Job 42:5, 6; Psalm 51:16, 17).

18:25.  Slaves were sold as if they were animals or property. According to Jewish law it was forbidden to sell someone's wife. This suggests that the characters in this parable were pagans in a heathen kingdom. To sell the man's wife, children, and possessions would only have paid a fraction of the enormous debt. The king's actions, therefore, were first and foremost a response of wrath. They were like the first reaction of a brother or sister who has been sinned against. By his mismanagement the servant did not deserve a place in the king's service anymore.

18:26. The servant threw himself at the king's feet in total submission; he promised that he would repay everything. He did not ask for forgiveness, but for more time. If he had more time he could do the impossible! There was, in fact, only one hope for him: if his master had mercy.

18:27.  The servant only requested more time, but instead he was released from the entire debt. That was the only thing that could truly save him and his family. The master showed the servant more kindness than he deserved or expected. He received much more than he asked.

The king forgave this servant for only one reason. He had compassion on him. His heart reached out to him and overlooked both his debt and his foolish pleas. He felt not only pity, but a genuine love and affection that understood how the servant felt. He decided he wanted to keep the servant as one of his own instead of selling him and thus losing him. He was looking at the servant as a person, not just as a debtor.

What a picture of the free grace and unlimited forgiveness that is available through the blood of Jesus to every sinner who comes humbly to God with simple faith in Him! God looks at everyone with love and compassion, as persons for whom Christ died.

18:28. This same servant was owed about 100 days' pay by another servant (20:2). Compared to his own debt, it was nothing. Despite the fact that the first servant had received forgiveness for an unpayable debt, he was unforgiving toward another who could have paid the sum eventually. The man's external circumstances may have changed, but his internal condition was corrupt and unchanged.

What a picture of the Christian who refuses to take the initiative in forgiving his brother or sister even when the wrong or injury is not serious! What that brother owes the one he has offended is still nothing compared to what he owes God. Surely the least a believer can do is to give unlimited forgiveness to others, no matter what they may have done.

The servant, however, showed no compassion for his fellow servant. He looked at him, not as a part of the same establishment or the same community of service, but as an object to get back something for himself, even if he had to choke it out of him. This means he saw no value in his relationship with his fellow servant. Thus, he saw no value in the service of the king and no value in the kingdom. Therefore, he did not respect or value the king either. The king had shown the first servant love and compassion, but that love and compassion found no lodging in the servant's heart. His whole perspective should have been changed, but it was not.

18:29. The fellow servant used almost the same words as the one with the enormous debt had used with the master (verse 26). But the first servant was merciless and refused to grant his request (verse 30). Whereas his own request for more time to pay was unrealistic, this man could have repaid the sum in time.

18:30. The king was exceedingly gracious (verse 27) to the first servant. But the servant himself was hard and unmerciful. The contrast is unmistakable. Confinement in a foreign prison also suggests a foreign setting for the parable, for this would not occur in the Jewish legal system. The intent in such confinement was that the debt be paid through forced labor or that the family would pay a ransom for his release.

The brutality of this first servant did not come from the fact he was suffering loss because of the unpaid little debt. The debt was inconsequential. His real problem was that he saw no value in the second servant as a person. Neither did he see any value in the service of the king in which they were both involved. The king had forgiven the first servant and thus brought him back into that service. But the servant did not care whether or not the second servant would be able to continue serving the king. Thus the first servant did not really care about serving the king either.

18:31. The other servants were outraged; they knew that the first servant had received mercy from their master. Why had he not shown mercy?

Notice that Jesus called the other servants "fellow servants." In an oriental court this spoke not only of the servants' relationship to each other but of their relationship to the king. These fellow servants saw that the first servant had not only broken his relationship with the servant who owed him a small sum, but had broken his relationship with all the rest of the servants as well. Even worse, he had broken his relationship with the king. He himself had forfeited his privileged position.

In Colossians 1:7 Paul spoke of Epaphras as "our dear fellow servant, who is for you a faithful minister of Christ." Then in Colossians 4:7 he referred to Tychicus as "a beloved brother, and a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord." The last phrase, "in the Lord," draws attention to the fact that being a fellow servant speaks of the servant's relationship not only to Paul and the rest of the believers, but also of his relationship to the Lord.

This is important because, as Jesus said, "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (18:20). Jesus is part of the community of service. Paul also told the Corinthians that "we are laborers together with God" (1 Corinthians 3:9). Though he was dealing with his relationship with Apollos, in the preceding verse he spoke of "every man" or "every person." Thus, every believer has a ministry and is a fellow laborer with God. This should make believers feel that their relationship with their fellow believers is part of their relationship with God, and therefore they should have it in their hearts to forgive. Because of their love for God and His kingdom, Christians will find joy in forgiving.

18:32, 33. The man was called a "wicked servant," not because of his former great indebtedness, but because he was unforgiving. The obligation to forgive was not a natural response, but it should have resulted from his master's example to him ("even as," verse 33). Here lies the point of the parable: God is unimaginably merciful, but He shows no mercy to those who are themselves unmerciful (verse 35).

It is obvious that the servant's abuse of the mercy he received showed that at heart he was still the same person who had abused his trust and lost or squandered his master's 10,000 talents. The king could expect only more of the same from him. The slave's refusal to forgive proved that forgiveness had become no part of him. He deserved to be judged wicked and to be sentenced to a doom even worse than that pronounced upon him before he sought his master's mercy and forgiveness.

This lets believers know that the love of God is something active. When they receive it, they must allow it to go to work in their hearts and in their lives. If they do not, it cannot remain.

18:34. The king was initially merciful to the first servant (verse 27), but now he was incensed and handed the man over to torturers until his debt could be paid. Since this was impossible, the punishment was endless. When the servant was forgiven his debt, it was not because he had made great promises or had done something to deserve it; no, it was his begging and the king's mercy that resulted in his being freed from his debt. But such forgiveness was not without condition. There were two aspects to the settling of the debt; one in verses 24-27 and another in verses 32-34. This twofold nature of settlement accords with the reality in the kingdom of God: There is forgiveness now and in the future.

The servant here deserved the wrath of the king. Thus the king had him arrested and handed over to the "tormentors." In an oriental court they would first torture him, probably by means of a scourge or whip with pieces of bone and metal sewn into it. The same word was also used of avenging angels who brought judgment and death. The corresponding word torment was used of the torture and death of Christians during the great Roman persecutions. It was also used of the tortures of hell. The Bible has a great deal to say about the wrath of God. But here the emphasis is that by unforgiveness Christians block the channel of grace between themselves and God. The person who cuts himself off from God in this way shows by his conduct that he has fallen from grace and that he "is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins" (2 Peter 1:9).

18:35. Being forgiven by God must lead—indeed requires—one to have a forgiving attitude toward others. If such an attitude does not develop, the unmerciful servant incurs judgment once again (cf. 6:14, 15).

Forgiving must come from the heart. Forgiveness cannot be with the lips only (cf. 15:8) or with provisions. Forgiving a brother who has gone astray should be a genuine delight for the believer.

Forgiveness also means a complete pardon so that no longer is the person considered or treated as guilty. Unlimited forgiveness thus becomes one evidence that an individual actually has put his faith in Jesus, that he has really and truly accepted the forgiveness and salvation He purchased for us on Calvary. If a person is born again and old things have passed away and all things have become new (2 Corinthians 5:17), then there will be a new spirit of forgiveness. Ephesians 4:32 uses a form of the Greek word for "forgiving" that urges Christians to keep on forgiving one another graciously. Every time they pray the Lord's Prayer they ask God to forgive them as they forgive others (6:12). This does not mean their relationship to God depends on their own works. But forgiving one another does keep the channel of grace open.

SOURCE: The Complete Biblical Library Commentary – Matthew.  Database © 2009 WORDsearch Corp.; World Library Press, Inc.


The New American Commentary; Volume 22; Matthew 18:21-28,32-33:

Unlimited Forgiveness with Repentance (18:21–35).

Verses 15–20 seem harsh to modern ears but probably would not have seemed so in the first century. Verses 21–35 have lost their force in our age, following centuries of domestication and familiarity with these texts, but they would have been shockingly radical when first spoken.

Positive Illustration (18:21–22).

18:21.  Here appears the fifth and last of the uniquely Matthean insertions involving Peter in chaps. 14–18. As with 14:28–31 and 16:16–19, the account begins positively enough but ends with Peter still needing significant correction. Peter seems to have learned the lesson of Jesus’ teaching in vv. 10–14 and generously proposes to forgive fellow disciples seven times. Seven is a common biblical number for completeness and goes well beyond the rabbinic maxim of forgiving three times. “Against me” parallels “against you” in v. 15. Peter’s words likely allude to the sevenfold avenging of Cain; Jesus’ reply contrasts starkly with the seventy-sevenfold avenging of Lamech (Gen 4:24).

18:22.  Jesus no doubt stuns Peter with his reply. The famous “seventy times seven” (NIV marg.) is probably better translated “seventy-seven times,” based both on the most common rendering of the Greek hebdomēkontakis hepta and on the Genesis allusion noted above. But Jesus’ point remains equally dramatic. We dare not keep track of the number of times we grant forgiveness. Jesus takes Peter’s number of completeness and multiplies it considerably. Few people ever have to forgive the same person this often, at least not over a short period of time. But Jesus’ point is not to withhold forgiveness after the seventy-eighth (or 491st) offense. As with the principles in vv. 15–16, Jesus’ advice may work well with unbelievers too, but his primary focus remains on believers. And genuine repentance, which includes changed behavior, must occur, or the principles of vv. 15–18 come into play instead.  The subsequent parable (vv. 23–35) will illustrate both the incredible generosity believers should demonstrate in forgiving fellow believers who do beg for mercy and promise to change as well as the severe judgment awaiting those who refuse to forgive or respond properly to forgiveness.

Negative Illustration (18:23–35).

As in vv. 10–14, Jesus uses a parable to explain the rationale for his previous commands. In a nutshell his teaching is this: God eternally and unconditionally forgives those who repent of so immense a debt against him that it is unconscionable for believers to refuse to grant forgiveness to each other for sins that remain trivial in comparison.

18:23–27.  This parable mirrors the most common form of rabbinic parable—a story involving a king with servants or sons. The king almost always stands for God; the servants, for God’s people. Often obedient and disobedient servants provide a contrast between righteous and wicked behavior. Settling accounts is a natural metaphor for judgment. Ten thousand talents would have been an enormous debt, on the borderline of what the ancient mind-set could have conceived (cf. NIV marg.). Estimates in modern currency range from several million to one trillion dollars. The “talent” was the highest known denomination of currency in the ancient Roman Empire, and ten thousand was the highest number for which the Greek language had a particular word (myrias; cf. our myriad).  One might conceive of this first servant as an extremely wealthy governor or satrap, a very powerful official in his own right. Since he is unable to repay his debts, he and his family must be sold, along with all their assets, in order to raise at least some funds for the king. He will obviously recoup nothing anywhere close to the amount owed, but something is better than nothing. Selling people into slavery to pay their debts was extremely common in the ancient world. The man begs for mercy and makes a promise he almost certainly will not be able to keep. To the astonishment of Jesus’ original audience, the king pities the man and cancels his debt. Not only will he not sell him into slavery, but he will not require repayment of any kind. Sheer grace is at work here. “Took pity” is the same word for the compassion that characterizes Jesus’ emotions and behavior in 9:36; 14:14; 15:32; and 20:34.

18:28–31.  The second scene of the parable now ensues. The same scenario is reenacted, only now between the servant just forgiven and a fellow servant of his. The sum owed here is paltry in comparison to the previous sum, even if the NIV margin “a few dollars” is misleadingly small. A hundred denarii represented a hundred days’ wages. Still, estimates of the value of a talent range from sixty to ten thousand denarii, so that the ratio of one hundred denarii to ten thousand talents could be anywhere from six thousand to one to one million to one. The servant’s severity in choking his fellow servant and demanding repayment appears all the more despicable in light of this disparity of debts. In v. 29 the second servant pleads for mercy with almost the exact words the first servant had used with the king. But just as the sums owed sharply contrasted with each other, so also the first servant’s response proves entirely opposite to the king’s generosity (vv. 30–31). “He refused” is literally he was not willing, showing that the servant made a conscious choice to harden his heart. Needless to say, the other servants are outraged and report the matter to the king.

18:32–34. The two original characters reappear on stage for scene three. Furious that his lavish mercy was so spurned, the king vents his rage. He orders the servant to be imprisoned and tortured “until he should pay back all he owed.” Since the man has no way of earning this kind of money in jail, the king’s orders guarantee a life sentence.

18:35. Jesus’ conclusion reminds us of what v. 23 made clear—that the purpose of the story is to communicate a spiritual lesson about the kingdom of heaven. It also points out that, at least on this occasion, Jesus was not trying primarily to conceal truth from the crowds but to clarify it for his disciples. The reference to a “brother” ties Jesus’ conclusion in with Peter’s original question (v. 21). The following three themes emerge from the main characters and episodes of the parable: God’s boundless grace, the absurdity of spurning that grace, and the frightful fate awaiting the unforgiving. The law of end-stress highlights the third of these, but all are important. Carson correctly captures the balance of mercy and judgment reflected here: “Jesus sees no incongruity in the actions of a heavenly Father who forgives so bountifully and punishes so ruthlessly, and neither should we. Indeed, it is precisely because he is a God of such compassion and mercy that he cannot possibly accept as his those devoid of compassion and mercy.”

The subordinate details of the parable should not be pressed. Verse 34 does not promulgate any doctrine of purgatory. Even when one allegorizes the prison, torturers, and repayment, one winds up with a picture of hell, not purgatory, since this man could almost certainly never repay his debt or escape. Nor is it obvious that the retraction of forgiveness has a clear spiritual analogue. Jesus may be teaching that no true disciple could ever act as this servant did; those who do so show that they have not really received forgiveness. Alternately, he may be indicating that God makes forgiveness available for everyone, but only those who appropriate it by a life of forgiving others show that they have genuinely accepted his pardon. Similar teaching occurs in the Sermon on the Mount (6:14–15), in which Jesus makes clear that those who are lost were never previously saved (7:21–23). Frighteningly, many in Christian circles today seem in danger of this judgment because they refuse to forgive fellow believers, speak kindly to them, cooperate with them, or accept their apologies. Counselors often discover that a client’s unwillingness to forgive someone lies deep at the heart of all kinds of personal problems. Jesus declares that if people die without having resolved such problems, they may exclude themselves from eternal life with him.

SOURCE:  The New American Commentary; Volume 22; Matthew; Craig L. Blomberg; David S. Dockery, General Editor; © Copyright 1992; Broadman Press; Broadman Press; Nashville, TN.



FORGIVENESS: An act of God’s grace to forget forever and not hold people of faith accountable for sins they confess; to a lesser degree the gracious human act of not holding wrong acts against a person. Forgiveness has both divine and human dimensions. In the divine relationship, it is, first of all, the gracious act of God by which believers are put into a right relationship to God and transferred from spiritual death to spiritual life through the sacrifice of Jesus. It is also, in this divine dimension, the ongoing gift of God without which our lives as Christians would be “out of joint” and full of guilt. In terms of a human dimension, forgiveness is that act and attitude toward those who have wronged us which restores relationships and fellowship.

 Everyone Needs Forgiveness:  The basic facts of the Bible are God’s creative power and holiness, human rebellion, and the efforts of our merciful God to bring us back to an intended relationship of sonship and fellowship. The need of forgiveness is first seen in the third chapter of Genesis, as Adam and Eve willfully disobeyed God, choosing rather to satisfy their own self-will. The result was guilt (Gen. 3:8, 10), separation from God, loss of fellowship (Gen. 3:8, 23-24), and a life of hardship, anxiety, and death (Gen. 3:16-24) lived under the wrath of God. David expressed this terrible condition of the unforgiven sinner graphically in Psalm 51. He spoke of being unclean (v. 2, 7, 10), of being sinful by his very nature (v. 5), of his grief and sorrow at being separated from God (v. 8, 11, 12), and of his guilt (v. 14). Sinners cannot live rightly without God, and yet as a sinner a person is cut off from the holy God. Only through the mercy of God can one find peace and forgiveness.

Forgiveness in the Old Testament:  The primary means of obtaining forgiveness in the Old Testament is through the sacrificial system of the covenant relationship, which God established when He brought His people out of Egypt. The sacrificial system expressed the dynamics of the sinful human condition. The bringing of the sacrifice showed the sense of need; the laying of the hands on the living sacrifice symbolized identification of the person with the sacrifice, as did the releasing of the life of the animal through the sacrificial slaughter. Emphasis on an unblemished sacrifice stressed the holiness of God contrasted with human sinfulness. The forgiveness of God, channeled through the sacrificial offering, was an act of mercy freely bestowed by God, not purchased by the one bringing the offering.

An emphasis upon God’s demand for a repentant heart as the basis for forgiveness, while not totally absent earlier (see Ps. 51), gained its full expression in the prophets (Isa. 1:10-18; Jer. 7:21-26; Hos. 6:6; Amos 5:21-27). This element does not negate but rather deepens the understanding of the sacrifice. The Old Testament sacrificial system could never give once-for-all forgiveness. It had to be repeated over and over (Heb. 10:1-4).

Forgiveness in the New Testament:  Jesus is the perfect and final Sacrifice through which God’s forgiveness is mediated to every person (Rom. 3:25; Heb. 10:11-12). The connection of Jesus with forgiveness is seen in His own self-understanding. According to the Old Testament, only God could forgive sins; yet Jesus declared that He could do so, and He did (Mark 2:1-12; John 8:2-11). He saw His own death as the fulfillment of the Old Testament sacrificial system. At the Last Supper He spoke of His death as “my blood of the New Testament [covenant]” (Mark 14:24). Jesus Himself is the unblemished Sacrifice (Isa. 53:3-7), offered once for all (Heb. 9:28) not by a human being, but by God Himself in Christ Jesus for the sins of mankind (Heb. 9:14; Rom. 3:25; Acts 13:38). Forgiveness through the sacrifice of Christ is available for everyone who truly repents (Luke 23:39-43; John 8:2-11). This is the message of the early church. The promised new age has arrived; old things have passed away (Acts 2:36-39; 3:13-19, 26; 5:31).

The Sin Which is Unforgivable:  It is true that Jesus spoke of an unforgivable sin (Matt. 12:22-32; Mark 3:22-30; Luke 12:10). It is not a question of God’s ability or desire to forgive, but rather a matter of human willingness to meet the conditions for forgiveness. The background of the saying was the controversy between Jesus and the religious leaders of His time. The Pharisees refused to see the merciful hand of God in the work of Jesus, and rather attributed His miracles to the power of Satan. For such who deliberately closed their minds to the work and invitation of God in Christ to draw near, repent, and receive forgiveness, there is no hope. But the fault lies with them, rather than with God.

Human Forgiveness in the New Testament:  As a part of His teaching about human need for forgiveness and the means of receiving it, Jesus spoke of the human dimension of forgiveness. A firm condition for the receiving of God’s forgiveness is the willingness to forgive others. In the Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6:12; Luke 11:4) and the parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matt. 18:12-35) Jesus clearly indicated such is the case: “But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matt. 6:15). The forgiven life is the forgiving life. Human forgiveness reflects our experience and understanding of divine forgiveness. Love, not wooden rules, governs forgiveness (Matt. 18:21-22). Jesus powerfully demonstrated this teaching on the cross, as He asked for forgiveness for His executioners (Luke 23:34). Paul reminded the church at Ephesus of both the grounds of their forgiveness and the basis on which they must forgive one another (Eph. 4:32).

SOURCE: Holman Bible Dictionary; General Editor, David S. Dockery; Holman Bible Publishers; Nashville, Tennessee.


WEIGHTS AND MEASURES:  Systems of measurement in the Bible. In the Ancient Near East, weights and measure varied. The prophets spoke against merchants who used deceitful weights (Mic. 6:11).

See chart of weights and measures at the end of this article.

 Weights:  Considering first the Old Testament evidence, Hebrew weights were never an exact system. An abundance of archaeological evidence demonstrates that not even inscribed weights of the same inscription weighed the same. Weights were used in a balance to weigh out silver and gold, since there was no coinage until the Persian period after 500 B.C. This medium of exchange replaced bartering early in the biblical period.

The shekel is the basic unit of weight in the Hebrew as well as the Babylonian and Canaanite systems, though the exact weight varied from region to region and sometimes also according to the kind of goods for sale. The Mesopotamian system was sexagesimal, based on sixes and sixties. So, for example, the Babylonian system used a talent of sixty minas, a mina of sixty shekels, and a shekel of twenty-four gerahs.

The Hebrew system was decimal like the Egyptian, though the weights were not the same. Variations in the weights of the shekel may be attributed to several factors other than the dishonesty condemned in the law (Deut. 25:13-16) and the prophets (Amos 8:5; Mic. 6:11). There could have been variation between official and unofficial weights, including the setting of new standards by reform administrations such as that of good King Josiah. There might have been a depreciation of standards with passage of time, or a use of different standards to weigh different goods (a heavy standard was used at Ugarit to weigh purple linen), or the influence of foreign systems. There seems to have been three kinds of shekel current in Israel: (1) a temple shekel of about ten grams (.351 ounces) which depreciated to about 9.8 grams (.345 ounces); (2) the common shekel of about 11.7 grams (.408 ounces) which depreciated to about 11.4 grams (.401 ounces); and (3) the heavy (“royal”?) shekel of about thirteen grams (.457 ounces).

The smallest portion of the shekel was the gerah, which was 1/20 of a shekel (Ex. 30:13; Ezek. 45:12). The gerah has been estimated to weigh .571 grams. There were larger portions of the shekel, the most familiar of which was the beka or half shekel (Ex. 38:26), known also from Egypt. Inscribed examples recovered by archaeologists average over six grams and may have been half of the heavy shekel mentioned above. The pim, if it is two-thirds of a shekel as most scholars suppose, is also related to the heavy shekel and weighs about eight grams. It may have been a Philistine weight, since it is mentioned as the price the Philistines charged Israelite farmers to sharpen their agricultural tools when the Philistines enjoyed an iron monopoly over Israel (1 Sam. 13:19-21).

Multiples of the shekel were the mina and the talent. According to the account of the sanctuary tax (Ex. 38:25-26), three thousand shekels were in a talent, probably sixty minas of fifty shekels each. This talent may have been the same as the Assyrian weight, since both 2 Kings 18:14 and Sennacherib’s inscriptions mention the tribute of King Hezekiah as thirty talents of silver and of gold. This was 28.38 to 30.27 kilograms (about seventy pounds). The mina was probably fifty shekels (as the Canaanite system), though Ezekiel 45:12 calls for a mina of sixty shekels, and the early Greek translation reads, “fifty.” The mina has been estimated at 550 to 600 grams (1.213 to 1.323 lbs.). One table of Old Testament weights, estimated on a shekel of 11.424 grams is as follows:

1 talent (3000 shekels)

34.272 Kilograms

75.6 lbs.

1 mina (50 shekels)_

571.2 grams

1.26 lbs

1 shekel

11.424 grams 

.403 oz.

1 pim (2/3 shekel?)

7.616 grams

.258 oz.

1 beka (1/2 shekel)

5.712 grams

.201 oz.

1 gerah (1/20 shekel)

.571 grams

.02 oz.

We should remember however, that this is misleading, for Old Testament weights were never so precise as this. The Lord’s ideal was just weights and measures (Lev. 19:36; Prov. 16:11; Ezek. 45:10); but dishonest manipulations were all too common (Prov. 11:1; 20:23; Hos. 12:7), and archaeologists have discovered weights that have been altered by chiseling the bottom. Interesting things weighed in the Old Testament were Goliath’s armor (1 Sam. 17:5-7) and Absolom’s annual haircut (2 Sam. 14:26). In the New Testament, the talent and mina were large sums of money (Matt. 25:15-28; compare Luke 19:13-25), and the pound of precious ointment (John 12:3) is probably the Roman standard of twelve ounces.



Biblical Unit


Biblical Measu.

U.S. Equivalent

Metric Equiv.

Various Translations



1/20 shekel

1/50 ounce

.6 gram

gerah; oboli



1/2 shekel or 10 gerahs

1/5 ounce

5.7 grams

bekah; half a shekel; quarter ounce; fifty cents



2/3 shekel

1/3 ounce

7.6 grams

2/3 of a shekel; quarter



2 bekahs

2/5 ounce

11.5 grams

shekel; piece; dollar; fifty dollars

Litra (Pound)


30 Shekels

12 ounces

.4 kilogram

pound; pounds



50 shekels

1 1/4 pounds

.6 kilogram

mina; pound



3000 shekels or

60 minas

75 / 88 pounds

34 kilograms/

40 kilograms

talents/talent; 100 pounds


Biblical Unit


Biblical Measure

U.S. Equivalent

Metric Equivalent

Various Translations



1/6 cubit or 1/3 span

3 inches

8 centimeters

handbreadth;  three inches; four inches



1/2 cubit or 3 handbreadths

9 inches

23 centimeters




2 spans

18 inches

.5 meter

cubit(s); yard; half a yard; foot



4 cubits

2 yards

2 meters

fathom; six feet



6 cubits

3 yards

3 meters

rod; reed; measuring rod



1/8 milion or 400 cubits

1/8 mile

185 meters

miles; furlongs; race



8 stadia

1,620 yards

1.5 kilometer








Biblical Unit


Biblical Measure

U.S. Equivalent

Metric Equiv.

Various Translations



1/72 bath

1/3 quart

.3 liter

log; pint; cotulus



1/8 hin

1 1/6 pints

.5 liter

pots; pitchers; kettles; copper pots; copper bowls; vessels of bronze



1/6 bath

1 gallon or 4 quarts

4 liters

hin; pints

Bath/Batos [Ephah]


6 hins

6 gallons

22 liters

gallon(s); barrels; liquid measure/gallons; measures



10 hins

10 gallons

39 liters

firkins; gallons

Cor [Homer]/ Koros


10 baths

60 gallons

220 liters

cor; homer; sack; measures; bushels/sacks; bushels; containers


Biblical Unit


Biblical Measure

U.S. Equivalent

Metric Equiv.

Various Translations



1/72 bath

1/3 quart

.3 liter

log; pint; cotulus



1/8 hin

1 1/6 pints

.5 liter

pots; pitchers; kettles; copper pot copper bowls; bronze vessels



1/6 bath

1 gallon or 4 quarts

4 liters

hin; pints

Bath/Batos [Ephah]


6 hins

6 gallons

22 liters

gallon(s); barrels; liquid measure/gallons; measures



10 hins

10 gallons

39 liters

firkins; gallons

Cor [Homer]/ Koros


10 baths

60 gallons

220 liters

cor; homer; sack; measures; bushels/sacks; bushels; containers

















SOURCE: Holman Bible Dictionary; General Editor, David S. Dockery; Holman Bible Publishers; Nashville, Tennessee.

COMPASSION:  To feel passion with someone, to enter sympathetically into their sorrow and pain. Compassion in English translations represents at least five Hebrew and eight Greek terms. Chamal means “to regret,” “be sorry for,” “grieve over,” or “spare someone.” Thus the rich man “refrained” (NIV) from taking his own sheep and took the poor man’s (2 Sam. 12:4). Pharaoh’s daughter “had pity” on the baby Moses (Ex. 2:6). David spared Mephibosheth for Jonathan’s sake (2 Sam. 21:7). Often it expresses God’s anger and decision no longer to show mercy and pity (Zech. 11:6). Beyond this the Bible points to God’s plans to again have compassion for His people (Joel 2:18; compare Mal. 3:17; Gen. 19:16; 2 Chron. 36:15; Isa. 63:9).

Chen represents what is aesthetically beautiful. It means then to possess grace and charm and to be gracious. God looked to pour out a spirit of grace or “compassion” (Zech. 12:10 NRSV) on His people so they would mourn for the one they pierced. Bildad told Job to “implore the compassion of the Almighty” (Job 8:5 NASB).

Chus is an emotional expression of crying and feeling with someone who is hurting. With the emotion goes the intent to help. God could forbid Israel to have such pity (Deut. 7:16). God refuses to have pity on a disobedient people (Ezek. 5:11). God’s history had been a history of compassion in which He did not destroy His people (Ezek. 20:17). God’s people should pray for Him to “spare” them (Joel 2:17). Jonah had “compassion” (Jonah 4:10 NASB) on a plant but did not want God to have compassion on a city (Jonah 4:11). Nehemiah asked for “compassion” (Neh. 13:22). Chus most often appears in Hebrew in a formula which may be translated, “Do not let your eye cry over, or have regrets over” something.

Nichum or nocham means to “be sorry for,” “regret,” “comfort,” “console.” It is more than emotion. It includes a will to change the situation. Thus God “was sorry” He made people (Gen. 6:6 NASB). Still God acted to preserve human life (Gen. 8:21), for He identifies with human weakness. In His basic nature He does not “change His mind” (1 Sam. 15:29 NASB), translating Hebrew nicham.

Still Scripture describes times when Yahweh “repented” (Ex. 32:14; 2 Sam. 24:16; Jonah 3:10 as examples). In His freedom God can announce one set of plans, see the response and weakness of the people affected, and decide not to carry out the plans. Thus Hosea 11:8 concludes, “my repentings are kindled together” (KJV) or “all my compassion is aroused” (NASB). At another time God can say, “I will have no compassion” (Hos. 13:14 NASB).

Racham is related to the Hebrew word for “womb” and expresses a mother’s (Isa. 49:15) or father’s (Ps. 103:13) love and compassion, a feeling of pity and devotion to a helpless child. It is a deep emotional feeling seeking a concrete expression of love (Gen. 43:14; Deut. 13:17). This word always expresses the feeling of the superior or more powerful for the inferior or less powerful and thus never expresses human feeling for God. The word seeks to bring security to the life of the one for whom compassion is felt. The majority of Bible uses of racham have God as subject. Compare Hosea 2:4, 23; Zechariah 1:16; 10:6. God “has compassion on all he had made” (Ps. 145:9).

The New Testament builds on the Old Testament understanding of God’s compassion. The central New Testament words are eleeo and splagxnizomai. The first—eleeo—is used in the Greek Old Testament to translate most of the Hebrew words listed above. It represents the emotion aroused by another person’s undeserved suffering or pain. It is something an orator tries to kindle in an audience or a lawyer seeks to elicit from a judge. Jesus commanded the Pharisees to learn God’s desire for compassion (Matt. 9:13; 12:7). Jesus said even slaves should practice compassion as He taught Peter about forgiveness (Matt. 18:33). God showed compassion in healing the demoniac (Mark 5:19). Christians need to show compassion to those who waver or doubt (Jude 22). God’s commands for compassion from disciples finds its roots in the nature of God, who is full of compassion (Eph. 2:4; 1 Pet. 1:3).

Splagxnizomai is related to the Greek noun for inward parts much as Hebrew rachemim. Here is located the center of personal feelings and emotions. Before Christ’s appearance the Greeks apparently did not use this word to speak of compassion and mercy, it being more closely related to courage. It is not clear when the shift in meaning to compassion occurred. Some of the apocryphal Jewish writings before Christ do use the term to mean mercy. In the parable of the unforgiving servant, the master had compassion and forgave the servant’s debt (Matt. 18:27).

The prodigal son’s father had compassion on him (Luke 15:20). The Good Samaritan had compassion for the injured traveler (Luke 10:33). Jesus had compassion on the crowds (Mark 6:34). People needing help asked Jesus for compassion (Mark 9:22; compare Matt. 9:36; 20:34). Paul saw compassion as a quality expected of believers (Phil. 2:1; Col. 3:12). Paul said he related to his readers in the compassion of Christ (Phil. 1:8), that is, the quality is not an achievement by the believer but a result of being in Christ. The love of God dwells only in those who are compassionate to a person in need (1 John 3:17; compare Eph. 4:32; 1 Pet. 3:8). Compassion finds its source in God’s compassion (Jas. 5:11). In compassion He has provided salvation and forgiveness (Luke 1:78).

Oiktiro is related to lamentation and grief for the dead and came to mean sympathetic participation in grief. Such sympathy or compassion stands ready to help the one who has suffered loss. In the Greek Old Testament translation oiktiro translates words related to chen and racham. Paul taught that God is the Father and source of compassion (2 Cor. 1:3; compare Jas. 5:11). He has total freedom in exercising compassion (Rom. 9:15). Humans can sacrifice themselves for God’s causes only because God has sacrificed Himself in mercy (Rom. 12:1; compare Luke 6:36; Phil. 2:1; Col. 3:12).

Sumpatheo means to suffer what someone else suffers. It came to mean to suffer with, alongside, to sympathize. Peter listed it among the basic Christian virtues (1 Pet. 3:8). Having come to earth and endured all kinds of human temptations, Jesus exercises sympathy for our weaknesses (Heb. 4:15). The writer of Hebrews could recall his readers’ experience of having sympathy for and thus helping others imprisoned for their faith (Heb. 10:33-34). Metriopatheo refers to the ability to be moderate in emotions or passions. An Old Testament or human minister realizes personal weaknesses and thus moderates personal anger at another’s weaknesses (Heb. 5:2).

SOURCE: Holman Bible Dictionary; General Editor, David S. Dockery; Holman Bible Publishers; Nashville, Tennessee.

MERCY, MERCIFUL A personal characteristic of care for the needs of others. The biblical concept of mercy always involves help to those who are in need or distress. Such help covers a broad range, from assistance in finding a bride to God’s forgiveness of sin. A wide vocabulary is employed in the original languages to express these concepts, and an even wider vocabulary is found in English translations.

Mercy in the Old Testament: Three main Hebrew roots involve the idea of mercy.

1. Racham/rachamim This word family consistently has the meaning of showing mercy, compassion, or pity. Related to the word for womb, it may have the connotation of a mother’s affection or of the bond between siblings. This sense of a mother’s compassion for her child is found in 1 Kings 3:26, and a similar expression describes Joseph’s feelings for his brother in Genesis 43:30. Likewise, God’s mercy is often likened to family relationships: as a father to his children (Jer. 31:20; Ps. 103:13; Isa. 63:15-16), a husband to a wife (Isa. 54:6-8; Hos. 2:19), a brother to a brother (Amos 1:11), even as a mother toward a nursing child (Isa. 49:15). God’s mercy is bound up with His covenant with Israel. He is merciful to them because He chose them (Ex. 33:19; 2 Kings 13:23; Isa. 54:10, 63:7).

God’s mercy is never just a feeling but is expressed by His action: providing for Israel in the wilderness (Neh. 9:19; Isa. 49:10) and delivering her from enemies (Pss. 69:16-21; 79:8-11; Isa. 30:18; Jer. 42:11-12). When Israel turned from God, He showed no pity (Isa. 9:17; 27:11; Jer. 13:14; 16:5; Hos. 1:6-8; 2:4). On the other hand, He is a forgiving God and shows mercy to a penitent people (Pss. 25:4-7; 40:11-12; 51:1-4; Prov. 28:13-14; Isa. 54:7; 55:7; Lam. 3:31-33; Dan. 9:9; Mic. 7:19; Hab. 3:2). He is merciful in restoring the nation (Ps. 102:13; Isa. 14:1; 49:13; Jer. 12:15; 30:18; 33:26; Ezek. 39:25; Zech. 1:16; 10:6) and renewing His friendship with them (Hos. 2:19, 23). God’s mercy is the very source of His people’s life (Pss. 103:4; 119:77, 156).

Racham is also used to describe human mercy or lack of it. Israel’s enemies were merciless (Isa. 13:18, 47:6; Jer. 6:23; 21:7;  50:42). In legal contexts, Israel was to show no mercy to criminals (Deut. 13:8; 19:13, 21). On the other hand, God expected His people to be merciful to their neighbors (1 Kings 8:31-32; Prov. 3:29; 21:13). He especially expected their mercy toward the poor and needy (Zech. 7:9-10).

2. Chesed   Chesed occurs 245 times in the Old Testament, 127 in Psalms alone. The Septuagint translators regularly rendered it with the Greek word for mercy, eleos. Likewise, the King James version translates it regularly as mercy or kindness. Other English versions render it as “steadfast love” (NRSV), “lovingkindness” (NASB), “loyalty” or “constant love” (REB), “love” or “unfailing love” (NIV), “faithfulness” (TEV).

Like racham, chesed describes a variety of human relationships: husband and wife (Gen. 20:13), next-of-kin (Gen. 24:49), father and son (Gen. 47:29), host and guest (Rahab and the spies—Josh. 2:12-14), friends like David and Jonathan (1 Sam. 20:8, 14-17), king and subjects (2 Sam. 2:5). Also like racham, it expresses itself in action: Rahab delivered the spies; Jonathan protected David from Saul. The relationship is always reciprocal. One who experiences the chesed of another is to reciprocate when the opportunity presents itself. Thus, the spies promised protection for Rahab, and David pledged to protect the house of Jonathan. An element of covenantal fidelity was involved. An element of mercy was also involved. Each sought to meet the other’s need. Since one can scarcely meet a need of God, this covenantal aspect of mercy was expressed in God’s requirement to show mercy to others. This was often coupled with a command for justice (Mic. 6:8; compare Hos. 12:6; Zech. 7:9).

God expects His people to show chesed to one another because He shows chesed to them—to individuals such as Abraham (Gen. 24:12-14), Jacob (Gen. 32:10), David (2 Sam. 7:15), and Job (10:12). Above all, He was merciful to His chosen people Israel (Ex. 15:13; Ps. 107:8, 15, 21, 31; Isa. 63:7; Jer. 31:2-6). The linkage of God’s covenant and His chesed is explicit in such phrases as “keeping covenant and showing chesed” (1 Kings 8:23; Deut. 7:9; Neh. 1:5; 9:32; Dan. 9:4; compare Ps. 106:45; Isa. 54:10).

A final characteristic of God’s chesed is its permanence (Pss. 23:6; 25:6; 103:17; 117:2; Isa. 54:8). This is often expressed in the set phrase, “for the Lord is good, his mercy (chesed) is everlasting” or “his mercy endureth forever” (Pss. 100:5; 106:1; 107:1;  118:1; 1 Chron. 16:34; 2 Chron. 5:13; 7:3; Ezra 3:11; Jer. 33:11; compare Pss. 118:2-4; 136:1-26).

3. Chanan/chen This is the third Hebrew word family involving mercy and pity. Job used it in appealing for pity (19:21) and with it the psalmist described one who is generous to the poor (Pss. 37:21; 112:5; compare Prov. 14:21-23; 19:17; 28:8). The latter examples show how chanan involves not only pity but also being gracious. It is in this sense that the word is applied to God, referring to His gracious and generous nature.

4. Conclusion It is difficult to draw precise distinctions between the various words used in the Old Testament for God’s mercy and grace. Racham, chesed, and chanan all refer to the one gracious, forgiving, loving God who is forever faithful in reaching out to His people in their need. Nowhere is their interrelatedness more evident than in the following recurrent Old Testament liturgy which combines all three: “God is merciful (racham) and gracious (chana), slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love (chesed) and faithfulness” (Ex. 34:6; Num. 14:18; Neh. 9:17; Pss. 86:15; 103:8; 145:8; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2).

Mercy in the New Testament:  Three word families express the idea of mercy in the New Testament.

1. Splagchna   Splagchna literally refers to the upper human organs (heart, liver, lungs). This usage appears in the grim depiction of Judas’ death in Acts 1:18. Much like the Hebrew rachamim, splagchna developed the derived sense of strong emotional feelings, particularly of compassion and affection. The word is often used of Jesus’ compassion—for the multitudes (Matt. 9:36, 14:14, 15:32), for the blind (Matt. 20:34), for a leper (Mark 1:41), for a possessed child (Mark 9:20-27), for a widow’s plight (Luke 7:13). His parables use the term to describe the mercy of a master on his indebted servant (Matt. 18:27), the compassion of a father for his prodigal son (Luke 15:20), and a Samaritan’s pity for a wounded Jew (Luke 10:33). With this word Paul urged the Corinthians to renew their affection for him (2 Cor. 6:12; compare 7:15), exhorted the Philippians to mutual love and concern (Phil. 2:1-2), and played on the sympathy of Philemon (Philem. 7, 12, 20). With it, John reminded his readers that one who closes his heart to a brother’s need scarcely has God’s love (1 John 3:17).

2. Oiktirmos This word also means “pity, mercy, compassion” and is used together with splagchna in Colossians 3:12, Philippians 2:1, and James 5:11. It can be used negatively as in Hebrews 10:28 where it describes the merciless justice of the Law. Paul pointed to the positive side of God as “the father of mercies” (2 Cor. 1:3), and he urged the Romans to sacrificial service based on God’s mercy (12:1). Christian mercy is rooted in God’s mercy, a principle already given by Jesus (Luke 6:36).

3. Eleos  The most common words in the New Testament for mercy belong to the eleos family. In secular Greek, the word was often viewed as a sign of weakness, a sentimental inclination to be overly lenient. The New Testament does not share in this assessment, having more in common with the Old Testament perspective on God’s mercy.

To be sure, the negative aspect appears. Drawing on Exodus 33:19, Paul showed how God in His sovereign purposes can withdraw His mercies (Rom. 9:15-16, 18, 23). The total New Testament picture is much brighter. Jesus brought the good news of a merciful, forgiving God. He embodied that good news in Himself, and everywhere He was met by cries and expectations for mercy—from two blind men (Matt. 9:27), a woman with a possessed daughter (Matt. 15:22), the father of an epileptic boy (Matt. 17:15), and by ten lepers (Luke 17:13). His healings are themselves testimony to the divine mercy (Mark 5:19). Reminiscent of chesed, Jesus’ birth and that of John are testimonies that God is both merciful and faithful to His promises (Luke 1:58, 72, 78). Paul had a keen awareness of God’s mercy in his own life (1 Cor. 7:25; 2 Cor. 4:1; 1 Tim. 1:13, 16), and in restoring his co-worker Epaphroditus to health (Phil. 2:27).

God’s mercy was shown in His readiness to forgive the penitent sinner (Luke 8:13). Especially was it transparent in the atoning work of Christ (Heb. 2:17). Through Christ, God’s mercy delivers from the death of sin into life (Eph. 2:4-5) and includes the Gentiles as part of His people (Rom. 11:30-32). In Christ the mercy of God brings new life (1 Pet. 1:3) and undergirds the hope of life to come (Jude 21). In this life the mercy of God is always available for those who approach His throne (Heb. 4:16). The Christian life is lived under this assurance of God’s mercy. This is why mercy is often an element in New Testament greetings and benedictions (1 Tim. 1:2; 2 Tim. 1:2; Gal. 6:16; 2 John 3; Jude 2).

Those who experience God’s mercy are themselves to be merciful. God does not desire the external trappings of religiosity but deeds of mercy to others (Matt. 9:13; 12:7; 23:23). One who shows no mercy to others cannot expect God’s mercy (Matt. 18:33-34; Jas. 2:13). Mercy is a mark of discipleship (Matt. 5:7). Disciples show deeds of mercy to a neighbor (Luke 10:36-37) and perform them cheerfully (Rom. 12:8). God is mercy, and one who shares in God’s wisdom shares His mercy (Jas. 3:17).

4. Conclusion  As with the Old Testament, the New Testament treatment of God’s mercy cannot be separated from His love, His grace, and His faithfulness. They are all part of the same fabric. The difference, of course, is that the New Testament writers had come to see the mercy of God in a much brighter light in the face of Jesus Christ. He was the ultimate manifestation of God’s mercy, the assurance of that mercy for believers, and the basis of their own mercy in their relationships with others.

SOURCE: Holman Bible Dictionary; General Editor, David S. Dockery; Holman Bible Publishers; Nashville, Tennessee.




By Gary M. Poulton

Gary M. Poulton is president emeritus and professor of history, Virginia Intermont College, Bristol, Virginia.

THROUGHOUT RECORDED HISTORY man has enslaved his fellow man.  Even though this practice has been largely suppressed, indications are that it still exists in various people-groups today.  Although abhorred and thus rarely seen in most of modern civilization, slavery was common in ancient societies.  The institution was accepted as normal and as a crucial aspect of political, social, and economic life.

Greek and Roman civilizations were supported by widespread slavery.  The Romans in particular utilized slaves to a great degree.  The Empire’s numerous wars of conquest generated a plentiful supply of war captives, along with their families, which the Romans quickly turned into slaves.

A person’s fate after becoming a slave was somewhat dependent on his or her talents and abilities, or simply the “luck of the draw.”  An educated slave might become the tutor of the master’s children (many Greeks did this) or become a household servant.  Others might be consigned to work in the fields or the slow death of laboring in the mines.  Even less fortunate slaves might find themselves as unwitting participants in the bloody gladiatorial games.

Slavery extended throughout the Roman Empire, including the area we think of as first-century Israel, which was also under Roman control.  At various times in their history, the Jewish people had suffered enslavement under such peoples as the Egyptians and the Babylonians.  However, they has also been the enslavers of others.  We see a number of examples of slavery in the Old and New Testaments.  In fact, some of Jesus’ parables provided us the clearest snapshots of slavery in the first century that we have.  Matthew records, for instance, three parables that reveal a great deal about slavery in the first century (see Matt. 18:21-35; 22:1-14; and 25:14-30).

During the time of Jesus, Israel was under Roman dominance, so it did not have a supply of war captives as slaves.  Instead Jews primarily had other Jews for their slaves.  “If you had been a son or daughter of a well-to-do citizen of Jerusalem, your father might very well have had in his establishment one or more servants who were not hired in the way that we hire cooks . . . but who were actually the property of your father.”1

Contributing Factors

Several factors could contribute to a person’s becoming a slave.  In the first parable (Matt. 18:21-35), we see debt as a reason for enslavement.  In ancient societies, which offered no bankruptcy laws or other legal protections, debt-ridden people commonly because the slaves of those to whom they owed their debts.  In other cases, a father in debt might provide one of his children as payment.  As abhorrent as this practice seems to us today, such debtor-slaves were not bound for life but for a set period of time, usually six years.  If a child was used to satisfy a debt, the law permitted a parent or relative to work and save enough money to pay off the debt and release the child.  Debt slavery was common in the first century in large part due to the excessive taxes the Romans levied.

Debt slavery in the first century could be compared to indentured servitude of American colonials times.  Moreover, since debtor slaves were generally fellow Jews, they typically received better treatment than many slaves.  In many cases they were treated more like “day labourers rather than slaves; all slaves were granted a Sabbath day of rest.”2

Other Jews became slaves because they had broken the law.  Laws were especially strict for persons who stole from others.  Thieves had to repay their victims by becoming their slaves.  King Herod even decreed that a person who broke into another’s home should be sold into slavery.3 Whereas Jewish rabbis often spoke out against debt slavery, they seemed to accept slavery as a suitable punishment for robbery.

Still others in first-century Israel were slaves not because of financial debt or illegal activities but because they had been purchased as slaves and brought to the region.  Wealthy Jews and Jewish slave merchants traveled to slave markets such as on the island of Rhodes to buy foreign slaves.  The seller was responsible for pointing out the physical defects of slaves prior to the sale.  Failure to do so would void the sale.

Common Conditions

Most Jewish slaves worked as shepherds or farmers and usually served on the large estates of the wealthy.  Because of expenses related to the slave’s upkeep, having slaves make economic sense only when the owner could expect years of service from the slave.  This was easier to do on larger farms.  Still, ancient records offer numerous examples of small farms having one or two slaves.  In these cases slaves work alongside their owner in the field.  Many times such slaves were treated as part of the family.  Even on smaller farms, thought, not all slaves worked the fields.  Some worked as domestic or household servants. 

On large estates slaves usually lived in simple homes near their master’s home.  On a small farm a slave might actually have had a small room in his owner’s home or, when weather permitted, would have slept outside or on the level roof.

Slavery is slavery, and finding anything positive to say about it is difficult.  As hard as it can be for us to imagine today, thought, some slaves had more secure living conditions than some free people in ancient times.  A Jewish slave in first-century Israel was better off than slaves in other parts of the Empire.

In the Empire slaves were plentiful and their price was thus relatively low.  As a result, many Romans did not overly concern themselves with their slaves’ well-being.  They considered their slaves to be easily replaceable.  Roman slave owners also had the power of life and death over their human property.  Roman slaves had little protection from a cruel master other than escape.  Although slaves running away was not a major problem in the first-century, a captured runaway slave was dealt with harshly.  At the very least the slave would be beaten and branded as a runaway.  Other times a runaway might be executed to serve as an example to others.

The fewer slaves in first-century Israel made them more valuable and their cost high.  This is one reason why Jewish slaves were treated more humanely.  Jewish religious traditions also served to improve a slave’s condition.  “No ancient religion and jurisdiction was as much opposed to slavery as the Mosaic one.”4

As already stated, Jewish slaves were to be treated more like servants than slaves.  In the parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14-30), we see how the owner entrusted his slaves with a large sum of money.  He treated them more like loyal servants rather than slaves.  Further, some slaves were treated better than day laborers, as owners did not want to injure their property.  Thus to protect his investment, a slave owner would  occasionally hire a day laborer and give him the more difficult or dangerous tasks. 

Slaves were not to work on the Sabbath day and restrictions were placed on their punishment.  Rabbis were also involved in the buying and selling of slaves.  Rabbis also worked to prevent the sale of Jewish slaves to Gentiles.  They wanted to insure that they would not be placed in idolatrous homes.

Ending Slavery

Regardless of conditions of enslavement, persons looked forward to manumission (the legal freeing of a slave).  Although not always observed, Old Testament laws called for Jews who had become debtor slaves to be freed after six years of servitude.  Repayment of the debt by a family member or relative would also result in freedom.  Some exemplary act on the part of a slave might do the same.  Certainly the possibility of being freed motivated slaves to work harder and remain loyal to their masters.  On the other hand, rabbis “discouraged manumission [of non-Jews], since the freeing of slaves created an influx into the Jewish community.”5 

This moderate view of Jewish slavery changed dramatically after the Jewish revolt against Rome in AD 70.  Thousands of Jews became Roman slaves and suffered a fate far worse than that of earlier Jewish slaves.

Slavery gradually declined largely because the “enhanced status given by Christ to every individual soul, and also the teaching of the Stoic philosophers about the brotherhood of man . . . made it difficult for the institution of slavery to survive.”6 For that, we can all be thankful.                                                                                                                                                                           Bi

1.  A. C. Bouquet, Everyday Life in New Testament Times (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1953), 151.

2.  Catherine Hezser, Jewish Slavery in Antiquity (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005). 4.

3.  The Antiquities of the Jews in The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged, trans. William Whiston (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1987), 16:1.1 (p. 426).

4.  Hezser, 3.

5.  Bouquet, 154.

6.  Ibid.

SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Vol. 34, No. 5; Fall 2008.


Forgiveness and Jewish Tradition

By  C. Mack Roark

C. Mack Roark is Dickinson Professor of Bible, retired, Oklahoma Baptist University, Shawnee, Oklahoma.

WHEN JESUS TOLD PETER to forgive“ not . . . seven times, but seventy times seven,”1 Jesus was reflecting, even fulfilling, the rich traditions of His Jewish heritage. In fact, everything in this text (Matt. 18:21- 22) echoes themes found in the Old Testament and Jewish Apocrypha. This becomes clear when we look closely at  the immediate context, the Jewish background on forgiveness, and particularly the intent in the use of the numbers. 

As always in reading biblical texts, the near context is important. We should read verses 21-22 in light of verses 15-18. There the question is what to do if a brother sins “against you,” and Jesus’ response was that the situation should be addressed redemptively, and only if that fails, with discipline. In verse 21, Peter made the same question personal, asking this time “How forgiving should I be if a brother sins against me?” In the first instance, Jesus called for discipline; in the second, for forgiveness. These are not antithetical responses. One balances the other. The pairing of these texts makes clear that the disciple lives with the tension of discipline and forgiveness. Jesus’ teaching on forgiveness (vv. 21-22) precludes a judgmental abuse of discipline (vv. 15-18).

In this balanced teaching, Jesus was reflecting the Holiness Code of Leviticus 19, a text He would have known well. There in one sentence the text says to reprove a neighbor, and in the next it says to love the neighbor as you would love yourself (vv. 17-18). This juxtaposition of justice and mercy weaves throughout Scripture, with justice always tempered by mercy.

The more remote context for this text is the early Jewish traditions about forgiveness. Two  insights are pertinent. First, we see a clear warning against a repetitious, continual cycle of sin and repentance, a cycle implied in Peter’s question “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?” (v. 21). Repeated sin can exceed the limits of God’s patience, and His forgiveness (see Jer. 15:1; Ezek. 14:13- 20; Amos 4:6-12). The apocryphal Wisdom of Jesus ben Sirach makes this clear: “Do not be so confident of pardon that you sin again and again. Do not say, ‘His mercy is great, he will pardon my sins, however many.’ To him belong both mercy and wrath, and sinners feel the weight of his retribution” (Ecclesiasticus/Sirach 5:5-6; see also 16:11-12.)

Jewish literature, mostly from the period following the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 but reflecting traditions from Jesus’ time, carries similar warnings. In the Talmud, Rabbi Jose ben Hanina taught that people should not seek forgiveness but three times: “One who asks pardon of his neighbor need do so no more than three times.” Rabbi Jose ben Judah cited Amos 2:6 as a basis for limiting God’s forgiveness:  “Thus says the Lord: ‘For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment.’ ” Rabbi Jose ben Judah taught, “If a man commits a transgression, the first, second and third time he is forgiven, the fourth time he is not forgiven.”2 Peter, aware of this tradition that even divine forgiveness has its limits, asked Jesus about the limits of human forgiveness. 

Jesus’ response to Peter reflects another tradition, a precedent for mercy overcoming judgment. Woven like a thread through much of the Old Testament is the formula that first appears in Exodus 34:6: “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”  Repeated seven times more, it heralds the gracious forgiveness in the character of God.3  Abundant forgiveness is a divine attribute. So when Jesus addressed discipline and forgiveness side by side in Matthew 18, He was repeating traditions and tensions of long standing in the Jewish world.

Peter asked if sevenfold forgiveness would be enough. Jesus multiplied this exponentially—seventy times seven. What do we make of these numbers? Is there something special about seven, or seventy times seven? The number seven needs little explanation. It is perhaps the most prominent number in Scripture. In the ancient world the meaning of a number was often more important than its value in counting.  Seven meant completeness, perfection. So when Peter asked if he should forgive seven times, he was not limiting forgiveness. Quite the opposite. It was as if he said “How many times do I forgive? Is absolute forgiveness required?” And Jesus could well have simply said “Yes.” Instead He answered with a call for radical forgiveness.  Seventy times seven is not the multiplication of a number—it is the multiplication of completeness.  Complete forgiveness is without limit.

The careful Bible student will notice that translations vary here, some rendering Jesus’ number as seventy times seven, others as seventy-seven.4 The Greek terms translated “70 times 7” can as easily be rendered “77 times.” Whether 77 or 490 the meaning is the same—forgiveness is not to be counted, but rather given without counting. Seventy times seven (or seventy-seven) expresses the extreme, even lavish, abundance of God’s forgiveness. The point may be that if you are counting, you are not forgiving.

Some have postulated that the stories of Genesis 4 are behind this use of the number seven. The Lord decreed that anyone who would kill Cain for his crime would be punished seven fold (v. 15). Later in the same chapter Cain’s descendant Lamech used those very numbers of our text, but with reverse intent: “I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me. If Cain’s revenge is sevenfold, then Lamech’s is seventy-sevenfold” (vv. 23-24).5 In response to Peter, Jesus turned this on its head. Jesus’ use of the same numbers echoes, and at the same time radically reverses, the extreme vengeance of Lamech.

Then, under law, there was no limit to revenge; now, under Christ, there is no limit to forgiveness.  Praise the Lord!

1.  Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version; Copyright 2001 by Crossway  Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.

2.  Yoma in the Hebrew-English Edition of The Talmud, Rabbi Leo Jung, trans. (London: The Soncino Press  Ltd., 1974), 87a-b.

3.  For the seven see Numbers 14:18; Nehemiah 9:17; Psalm 86:15; 103:8; 145:8; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2.

4.  Seventy times seven in King James Version, Revised Standard Version, Holman Christian Standard Bible, New American Standard Bible, American Standard Version, and English Standard Version; seventy-seven in New   Revised Standard Version, The New Jerusalem Bible, and New International Version.

5.  The Hebrew in this text can only be 77. The Septuagint, the first translation of Genesis, used the exact same  Greek words as in Matthew, which as noted can be 77 or 70 times 7.

SOURCE:  Biblical Illustrator, LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN, 37234 Fall 2007.


Debtor’s Slavery

By Stuart Arnold

Stuart Arnold is retired pastor, Citadel Square Baptist Church, Charleston, South Carolina.

BAD CREDIT IS NOT peculiar to the 20th century!  Jesus told a story of a servant who owned an enormous sum of money—perhaps as much as several million dollars.  He, in turn, was owed just a few dollars by another servant.  In this parable of the Unmerciful Servant (Matt. 18:21-35), which emphasizes the importance of forgiveness, Jesus referred to a practice that would certainly not be used in modern-day America.  This was the practice of selling a free man who was a debtor into the bonds of slavery in order to recover the money owed (v. 25).  Sometimes a free man would see advantages in being owned and cared for by a rich, influential person and would sell himself into slavery.

The Slave in Judaism

This aspect of the parable would not have around bewilderment in Jesus’ audience.  The Old Testament laws regarding the poor carefully preserved respect for the Hebrew who might be sold into slavery (see Ex. 21-1-11; Lev. 25:35-55; Deut. 15:12-18).

Significantly, following the account of the Lord God of Israel’s giving the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20, the inspired writer immediately applied the commandments to the condition of a Hebrew sold into slavery.  In the Exodus 21 passage the law limited the length of the term of service to six years.  At the end of that period “he shall go free without paying anything” (v. 2, NIV).  If a man was already married when he was sold, his wife would also regain her liberty.  The protection given to a slave by law is further illustrated in Exodus 21:27, which says that if a master knocks a tooth out of a slave’s mouth, that slave must be freed!

The principles set down in Leviticus 25:39-43 permitted Israelites to buy a country man as a slave, but he was to be treated not as a “slave” but as a “hired worker” until he was released from his slavery in the Year of Jubilee.  Deuteronomy 15:12-18 states rules concerning a fellow Hebrew who had sold himself into slavery.  He was to be freed in the seventh year after six years of service.  To establish him in his regained freedom, the master was to give to him in liberal measure food, drink, and animals from the master’s flock.

The motivation for this generosity was to be found not only in the fact that the service of a slave was worth twice “the service of a hired hand” (v. 18), but because of the history of the people of Israel (v. 15).  They had known long and harsh enslavement by the Egyptians (compare Lev. 25:42-43; Deut. 15:15).  Their God had raised up the mighty leader, Moses, and had set them free from the pharaoh’s control.  It was His will that they should never be slaves again.

The Slave in the Roman Empire

Roman law had no such imperative.  In their large cities the number of slaves exceeded the number of free men.  Slavery was regarded as being a normal way of life.  In Rome this numerous workforce provided the power that machines provide for our society.  To meet the demand for cheap labor, the Empire needed a regular supply of slaves.  They found them in four ways.  Many slaves were captured in war, but the most productive source was the children borne by slaves themselves.  A minority were freemen who had been sold into slavery for failure to repay debts.  Fourthly, persons acting as slaves, who had worked for a master under the same conditions as a slave, could not regain their freedom.

The main difference between the Roman and the Jewish treatment of slaves was that Rome had no laws like those in the Old Testament.  Many slaves suffered from the cruelty of harsh owners who were not limited by law.  In fact, the few laws that they had were designed for the protection of the master, not the slave.  For instance, slaves were not allowed to marry.  Owners had the right to punish slaves in any way they chose.  Slave owners could have a slave put to death without having to satisfy any law.  He would simply hire the municipal executioner to carry out his wishes without any questions being raised.

The only possibility that a slave had of gaining freedom was through redemption.  A slave owner might decide to give a slave his freedom as a reward for some special service or for long years of service.  The Greek word apolutrosis was the term used for the act of redemption, the process of granting freedom to a slave.

Why Did People Sell Themselves Into Slavery?

The free man who sold himself entered into a lifestyle in which he lost his status as a free human being.  He had no will of his own but was under the absolute control of his owner.  He became a piece of property, a tool possessed by the master.  He was expected to behave morally and to this extent was treated like a normal human being.  Slaves were treated as if they were overgrown children.  They were called by the diminutive “little one” or “boy” even when they were old.

To balance these limitations, the free man could gain advantages by becoming a slave.  Slaves were owned by well-to-do citizens, and this meant that the slave might enjoy material security.  The slave was likely to have better living conditions than when he was free.  He was not likely to be fired from his job!  Often the slave’s life was more comfortable than a freeman’s.  He had to perform his duties without question, but in many houses the work was easier than that demanded by an employer.  If he satisfied his master, he would be regarded as part of the family, one who was “loved” as a dog might be loved in a modern household.

Slaves performed many different services for their masters.  A slave might be employed as a farmhand, a bookkeeper, or as a teacher of the master’s children.  Or he might be put in charge of a store—though the profits belonged to the master.  He could serve as an architect, a musician, or an actor.  As with Joseph in Egypt, he might rise through his service in an aristocratic family into a place of high responsibility in the community. 

Jesus’ Reference to This Custom

Clearly, the practice of selling a free man into slavery was so well-known in Israel that Jesus could make reference to it in His parables.  He obviously expected His hearers to understand what He was talking about in this parable.  Slavery was an evil institution, but there was another, perhaps less desirable, possibility.  When the unmerciful servant has shown such a terrible lack of compassion by committing his debtor to prison, Jesus pictured the king passing a more drastic sentence, “In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed” (Matt. 18:34, NIV).  Forgiveness of others is a priority of Christian behavior (Matt. 6:12-15).                                                                                                                                                                                              Bi

SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Winter 1998-99.




291.  What Is The Answer To & Where In The Bible Is This Week’s Trivia Question Found? (05/10/15) Who sang a song celebrating the downfall of Sisera?  Answer Next Week?

The answer to last week’s trivia question:  (05/03/15)  In the New Jerusalem where are the names of the twelve tribes written? Answer:  On the twelve gates; Rev. 21:12.