What “Seventy Times Seven” Means

Forgiveness is hard. To willingly and willfully give up your claim on another person because of a wrong done by them is trying.

One of the most famous and most quoted passages on forgiveness is Matthew 18:21 & 22 where Peter asks if he must forgive someone who sins against him even as much as seven times and Jesus gives the famous response: “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.”

The obvious and correct interpretation of this passage is that there must be immense forgiveness for wrongs committed against us, many times more than our human nature is comfortable with. We are to be rich in grace toward those who wrong us over and over again and thus forgive them over and over again for their various offenses. For, if we have been forgiven thousands of times over for our wrong doings by Christ, how can we not also forgive others?

But there is a second interpretation, complimentary to the first, which I think is also true and equally as important. And that is this: we are to forgive the wrong doer seventy times seven for the same single sin against us.

When someone hurts us deeply it is not as simple as to forgive them and be done with it. It’s not that simple because the hurt runs deep and keeps hurting days, months, years after the initial offense. It’s not that easy because certain words, places, circumstances, or conversations remind us of the hurt over and over again. And it’s not that simple because we’re sinners. When we forgive, it is eroded by our own heart’s bitterness and undermined by our own self-righteousness. It is forgotten in fits of self-pity or anger. Our forgiveness is not a finished or eternal offering.

So we must forgive that single person for that single hurt not just once, or seven times, but seventy times seven. Every time we face those certain words, places, circumstances, or conversations that bring the hurt back we must choose to forgive again.

This kind of forgiveness is, in my experience, the hardest to do, and that’s because the kinds of offenses that require it are the most hurtful. It’s one thing to forgive a brash, loud-mouthed co-worker over and over again because they manage to be offensive with every other sentence. It’s another thing entirely to forgive, daily, the spouse or parent or friend who has undermined your credibility or betrayed your trust. But it is good.

Seventy times seven means far more – but never less – than forgive each time you are wronged. It means forgive offenses to completion even if that means a daily, or even hourly, decision to let the debt go.

I live in the Nashville area and spend my days helping churches with leadership development. My nights are spent writing and rooting for Minnesota sports teams. I also podcast a bit. I'm the author of The Pastor's Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity, Help My Unbelief: Why Doubt is Not the Enemy of Faith, and The Curious Christian: How Discovering Wonder Enriches Every Part of Life