How do you know what 'sattakkhattuparama' means?

How do you know what sattakkhattuparama means, how do you derive or verify the translation?

For example in AN 3.88

If they don’t penetrate so far, with the ending of three fetters, they have at most seven rebirths. They will transmigrate at most seven times among gods and humans and then make an end of suffering.

Taṃ vā pana anabhisambhavaṃ appaṭivijjhaṃ tiṇṇaṃ saṃyojanānaṃ parikkhayā sattakkhattuparamo hoti, sattakkhattuparamaṃ deve ca manusse ca sandhāvitvā saṃsaritvā dukkhassantaṃ karoti.

The translation (to “seven rebirths” or “seven lives”) doesn’t seem very clear or unambiguous from its etymology or components, is it, how then are you sure of what it means?

I’ve read someone suggest that it means seven more times – i.e. seven more fetters (with the ending of the first three of ten), not seven more lives – which looks like it could also fit that context.

What’s the basis or reasoning for translating that as “rebirths” or “lives” or “lifetimes”, as it’s commonly translated – how do you verify whether that’s the best or only translation?


Three considerations come immediately to mind…

Firstly, the absolutive “saṃsaritvā” in the sutta that you quoted.
Secondly a verse in the Ratana Sutta that speaks of the impossibility of a sotàpanna taking an eighth birth.
Thirdly it’s how the commentaries of multiple Indian Buddhist traditions (not just the Theravada) define it.