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Matthew 18 Study Notes

18:1-5 These verses are commonly said to promote childlike innocence or naïveté, but Jesus’s statement actually urged disciples to adopt childlike humility. The desire to be the greatest in the kingdom displayed a pride that was inconsistent with genuine discipleship. Humility is the path to true greatness. Jesus urged kind and gracious treatment of children by teaching that anyone welcoming a child in his name would be rewarded as if having received Messiah himself.

18:6-7 Jesus shifted the topic from literal children to spiritual little ones who believe in him, meaning his disciples. The heavy millstone was a large round stone turned by a donkey rather than the much smaller stone used to pound grain by hand. Drowning was a particularly horrifying way to die in the mind-set of first-century Jews, for Israel was not a seafaring nation.

18:8-9 Those who cause Jesus’s disciples to sin will face severe punishment. Nevertheless, disciples are responsible for their own actions and must commit to purity (see note at 5:29-30).

18:10 Daniel 10:10-14 teaches that angels are assigned to represent and protect the nations. In similar fashion, Jesus appears to teach that angels are assigned to represent believers to God. Jesus said that these angels continually view the face of my Father, meaning they have access to the heavenly throne and constantly present the needs of believers to God.

18:12-14 Sinful believers who are restored to church fellowship should not be received begrudgingly or hesitantly but with the jubilation of a shepherd who finds a sheep that goes astray. The heavenly Shepherd cannot accept the loss of even a single believer. Like the shepherd of this parable, he will rescue his stray sheep.

18:15-17 These verses outline the process by which disciples demonstrate the Great Shepherd’s concern for stray sheep. The words against you do not appear in the earliest and best manuscripts of v. 15. Thus the process is not intended merely for dealing with personal grievances but rather for any sinful conduct on the part of a Christian brother (or sister) that indicates such a person is straying from Christ. The purpose of the process is not to punish, but to restore the sinful disciple (you have won your brother). If, at the final step of the process, the professing disciple refuses to heed the church’s call to repentance, the church must assume that such a person is not a true believer and must exclude them from fellowship (see 1Co 5:1-13).

18:18 On binding and loosing, see note at 16:19. The decisions made by the church about what behavior is permissible or unacceptable reflect decisions already made by God in heaven.

18:19-20 A common but mistaken interpretation holds that these verses promise that God will do whatever two or more believers ask. This violates the context. There is a clear connection with the immediately preceding discussion about restoring a sinning disciple. Verses 18-19 relate the restoration/disciplinary actions of Jesus’s disciples on earth to the decisions of the Father in heaven. The word again at the beginning of v. 19 suggests that this verse restates the principle of v. 18. The two or three mentioned in v. 20 are thus the two or three witnesses that were first mentioned in v. 16. Christ is present with his disciples when they gather and seek his leadership about troubling behavior among disciples. He will answer their prayer for the sinning believer’s restoration.

18:21-22 Although forgiving someone only seven times seems stingy, this standard was generous considering the fact that some rabbis required their students to forgive offenders only three times. Interpreters dispute whether Jesus demanded forgiving one’s brother or sister seventy-seven times or 490 times (seventy times seven), but Jesus’s point was that forgiveness should be unlimited when true repentance is present.

18:23-27 In Jewish parables, a king symbolizes God and to settle accounts symbolizes divine judgment. The ten thousand talents was equivalent to a billion days’ worth of peasant wages. This was more money than was circulating in all of Palestine. The talent was the largest unit of currency (equivalent to approximately six thousand days’ worth of wages), and ten thousand is the highest single number that can be expressed in Greek. Thus we see that in this allegory the sum represents the sinner’s hopeless debt to God. Selling the debtor, his family, and possessions would hardly begin to recoup this debt. Forgiving such a loan is an astounding act of grace.


Greek pronunciation [ah FEE ay mee]
CSB translation forgive
Uses in Matthew 47 (Mk, 34; Lk, 31; Jn, 15)
Uses in the NT 143
Focus passage Matthew 18:27

AphiÄ“mi exhibits a broad range of nuances in the NT. It can mean to send away/dismiss (Mt 13:36) and in a legal sense to leave/divorce (1Co 7:11-13). It may also mean to leave/depart (Mk 1:20,31) or to tolerate (Rv 2:20). Another important meaning is to pardon/forgive. In this sense, aphiÄ“mi may describe the cancellation of a loan or debt (Mt 18:27,32), but it more commonly means to forgive sins (Mt 6:12,14-15; Mk 2:5,7,9-10; 3:28; Lk 7:47-49; Jn 20:23; Rm 4:7). The related noun aphesis almost always refers to God’s forgiveness of human sins. The resurrected Lord told the disciples that this forgiveness would be preached in his name, and the apostles were the first to do exactly that (Ac 2:38; 5:31; 10:43; 13:38; 26:18). Paul employed aphiÄ“mi and aphesis to describe the cancellation of sin’s infinite debt to God (Rm 4:7; Eph 1:7; Col 1:14).

18:28-31 A hundred denarii (about a hundred day’s wages) was negligible compared to the first servant’s debt to the king. The contrast shows that the sins of others against us are trivial in comparison to the enormity of our own sins against God. The fellow servant begged the servant to be patient just as the servant had begged before the king, but the fellow servant was more honest in his pleas and promises since his debt was actually manageable.

18:32-35 The parable’s point is now revealed. Since God has shown believers such great mercy by pardoning their sins, they should in turn forgive the sins of others from their heart. The word jailers literally means “torturers.” The debtor’s torture would continue until the debt was paid in full. Since the debt could not possibly be repaid, the torture symbolizes eternal punishment.

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