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Hermeneutics and Exegesis Paper 1 Exegesis of Matthew 18:21-35: The Parable of the Unforgiving Debtor

Name: Monquer Jacobs Mobile: +27 82 342 6490 Fax: +27 86 630 0438 monquer@idtc.co.za Date: 29 April 2012

Exegesis of Matthew 18:21-35: The Parable of the Unforgiving Debtor by Monquer Jacobs 1

Contents
1. Grammatical Analysis of Matthew 18:21-35..3 2. Literary Analysis of Matthew 18:21-35.3-4 3. Historical Analysis of Matthew 18:21-35.4 4. Theological Analysis of Matthew 18:21-35.4-5 5. Sermon Outline..5

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1. Grammatical Analysis of Matthew 18:21-35 1.1 The meaning of the word (forgive)(verb) is always the same wherever it is used in the bible and that is to treat as though the offense was not committed. Peter, having knowledge of Jesuss(radical) nature, more than doubles the Jewish norm of forgiving three times and also uses the number which God uses in many old testament accounts. This is probably indicative of his Jewish (legal) mind-set having previously (before knowing Jesus) sought to be justified by the law. 1.2 Another interesting observation is made here, Peter asks and answers his own question with a question, indicating that he is uncertain of his answer and thus expects a different answer, which he does get, perhaps an indication of the extent to which Jesus fulfils the law. 1.3 In looking at the answer Jesus gives, the first thing to note is that the limit to forgiveness is not literally 70 times 7 which would be 490, but that the meaning of the illustration teaches that we should continue forgiving without end. The number that Peter suggests is already in a theological sense complete or perfect, however, Jesus explains that our forgiveness should go beyond that. 1.3 The Kingdom of Heaven (which is a metaphor for the church) is compared to a king (which is a metaphor for God). The servants are metaphors for the brothers and sisters in the church. The parable uses the relationship between a king and his subjects as a metaphor for the relationship between God and the church. The debts are used as metaphors for sin. 1.4 In verse 28, not only did he not show mercy, he seized his fellow servant by the throat. The Greek word used here indicates that it was done violently, since it is a strengthened form of the word used to indicate difficult breathing. This man displays malice, not only did he demand payment, he did so maliciously. We also see that he was on equal footing with the man, since he was a fellow servant, co-slave; they had the same master (from the Greek). 1.5 The prison and torture in verse 34 is used as a metaphor for hell, where those who do not forgive would go. 1.6 The last verse again reveals the metaphorical relationship between the king in the parable and God. Jesus says that God will do the same in reality as the king will do in the parable to those who dont forgive. 1.7 The word heart (noun) speaks of the thoughts or feelings of the individual who is forgiving his brother and true forgiveness would be reflected in the treatment shown to the forgiven. So therefore, mere words just wont do!

2. Literary Analysis of Matthew 18:21-35 2.1 This portion of scripture is known as a parable, which is a fictitious depicting a religious principle or moral attitude. 2.2 The words; Then Peter came to marks the beginning of this passage. This is clear since the passage prior to this one deals with correcting another believer and this new question from Peter, relates to a different
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subject. Similarly, the passage ends after Jesus explains the Fathers position with regard to unforgiveness and the punishment that he would mead out as a result of same. More evidence of this is that He leaves for Jerusalem and on the way there instructs on a different subject, namely divorce. 2.3 The first important thing that can be noted form verse 21 is that Peter asks Jesus the question of how many times you should forgive. 2.4 In verse 23, Therefore connects 21 and 22 to the rest of the passage, with the former being the cause of the parable given in the verses that follow. 2.5 Therefore also signals the end to Jesuss answer to Peters question and the beginning of the parable. 2.6 The parable opens with a comparison after which the backdrop of the drama soon to develop is given. 2.7 Jesus then outlines the characters and also gives their relationships to one another. 2.8 Finally, He tells the disciples the two contrasting responses, the kind and merciful actions of the king (God metaphorically) versus the merciless unjust actions of the servant who has just been forgiven much more. 2.9 Jesus concludes the parable by telling the disciples how God would respond to such actions. 3 Historical Analysis of Matthew 18:21-35

3.1 The passage forms part of a greater teaching on community life given by Jesus to his disciples, all of whom were Jews and so familiar with most aspects of Old Testament law. Jesus teaches in the midst of a strong legal mind-set, hence Peter who is a Jew probably still seeking justification by law asks the question. 3.2 Jesus then answers in a way unexpected by Peter, possibly even shocking him just a bit, since forgiveness in the Jewish sense is not entirely without limits or as straight forward. 3.3 The entire comparison between the Kingdom of Heaven and a king was fitting for that time since Jews were extremely familiar with the earthly kings and systems as described by Jesus and they were still under the rule of Herod when Jesus spoke this parable. 3.4 Jesus uses an amount that was so high that, though the servant promises to pay, the king knows he cannot and so pardons him. 3.4 By the laws of the Hebrews (Leviticus 25:39-46) creditors were permitted to sell debtors, with their wives and children, into servitude for a time sufficient to pay a debt. 3.5 In verse 26, the servant prostrated himself in a reverent manner as was customary in all eastern nations when subjects were in the presence of their king. 4. Theological Analysis of Matthew 18:21-35 4.1 In verse 21 22. God sets the standard higher than Peter would ever have imagined and in this way again shows us that our own ideas of goodness, mercy, grace are not even close to Gods. The value of the debt, representing the debt we owe in respect of our sins, which we will never be able to pay versus the relatively small debts owed to us, which can be repaid, is again and indication of Gods goodness in forgiving our sins

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through Christ. It would have been just to let us perish, since the wages of sin is death (eternal separation from God). 4.2 The reckoning in verse 24 could be a reference to the day of judgement. We would certainly stand before God on that day and will have to answer for our sins. The sum is used to show that the debt was immensely large, and that our sins are so great that they cannot be estimated or numbered nor can we be redeemed, except by the unmerited forgiveness we receive from God. 4.3 Jesus teaches us forgiveness in the light that we, who cannot repay are forgiven without merit but unbelievably we still dont forgive minor offences. The reality is, we have all at some time been the wicked unforgiving servant, and so this text applies to all of us. 4.4 A further observation made in verse 26 is that the servant fell down and worshipped the king prior to the king having mercy on him, so the mercy is in response to an act of the servant but in contrast to this, God had mercy on us without merit. (Deut. 7:7 and Job 7:17) 4.5 God will surely ask us on the day of Judgement, why we never forgave our brothers, when He forgave us, even without merit, a debt we could never pay. Perhaps the illustration serves to show that there is no end to his mercy and no beginning to ours outside of Christ. 4.6 Those who do not forgive their brothers will be handed over for torture until they can pay their entire debt, thus indicating a sense of permanency since we are not able to redeem ourselves.

Sermon Outline Sermon Title: The necessity of true forgiveness Introduction: The concept of forgiveness and why we need it. 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. Our sins are great and without number We are unable to pay for them The trespasses committed against us by our brothers and sister are comparatively small That we should freely forgive them That should we not, we will stand under the punishment of God.

Conclusion: God loves us in a way that we will never understand, and the grace and mercy He shows us should cause us to do the same for our brothers.

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