31 Jan 2016


Religious 8 Comments

Peter asked Jesus if people should forgive a brother who transgresses up to seven times? Jesus famously answered, “Seventy times seven.”

The traditional point with this story is NOT, of course, to say that you should forgive someone up to 490 times, but then be merciless on the 491st offense.

However, I am pretty sure that I heard an authoritative commentator on the Bible say (in an unrelated context) that the Old Testament describes God as being “angry” with humanity / children of Israel 490 times.

Can anybody confirm that? I can’t find it with a Google search, because everything keeps pointing to Peter and Jesus’ discussion.

Incidentally, note how the wisdom of the Bible anticipates advice from modern psychologists.

8 Responses to “Forgiveness”

  1. OFelixCulpa says:


    That’s an interesting claim. I have no doubt that someone made it, but I’m not sure how seriously it should be taken. One problem is determining what gets counted? For example, God’s statement to Moses in Exodus 32:10 (“Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you.”) would probably count, but what about Moses’ response in v11 (“O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people?”)? Would that be the same mention of God’s anger, or would it count as a separate one?

    Even if it could be shown that there are exactly 490 such declarations, it would still not be clear that Jesus is saying that we should forgive one another the same number of times God said he was angry with Israel. Perhaps the assumption is that every time God said he was angry, he forgave his people. That seems impossible, though, because in many of those instances (like the 40 years in the wilderness), God punished Israel for its offenses.

    Jesus’ “seventy times seven” remark is given as the context for his telling the parable of the unforgiving servant. The standard interpretation is that the kind of record-keeping assumed by Peter’s question is incompatible with “forgiveness “from your heart”(v35). I think that fits the context best.

  2. Craw says:

    Depends on what the 491st sin is.
    ” whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness,”

  3. Guest says:

    Only Jews stand around and count sins.

    • OFelixCulpa says:

      Are you seriously counting the “sin” of counting sins?

    • Grane Peer says:

      Wrong! Not all wives and mother in laws are Jewish.

  4. knoxharrington says:

    The author of the Psychology Today piece quotes Confucious as saying, “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.” Maybe the the Bible was anticipating the wisdom of Confucius?

  5. Grane Peer says:

    Daniel 9:24 mentions seventy sevens.

  6. Khodge says:

    Not speaking with any special knowledge but, as is common in languages without a strong math history, is 491 (or for that matter 490) even a number in Aramaic?

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