Repentance in Paul’s Letters

in Novum Testamentum
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Paul rarely uses the terms µετάνοια / µετανοεῖν (“repentance” / “repent”), but word statistics should not be accorded too much weight. Besides using these terms to describe the process of returning to God by regretting one’s transgressions, Paul uses other terms and phrases in order to express the need to, and the reality of, changing mind and heart, outlook and behavior. It can be demonstrated that Paul knows the Jewish doctrine of repentance, that his missionary preaching calls for repentance, that his theological discourse presupposes repentance, that his rhetorical discourse in his letters includes the discourse of repentance, and that his ethical discourse entails exhortations to repentance.

Repentance in Paul’s Letters

in Novum Testamentum




Cf. Helmut Merklein“µετάνοια, µετανοέω,” in Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament (ed. H. Balz and G. Schneider; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans 1990-93) 2:415-419 here 416.


A. Boyd Luter“Repentance B. New Testament,” in The Anchor Bible Dictionary (ed. D.N. Freedman; New York: Doubleday 1992) 5:672-674 673 with reference to tdnt 4:629.


Warren A. Quanbeck“Repentance,” in Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible (ed. G.A. Battrick et al.; Nashville: Abingdon 1962) 4:33-34.


Jürgen Goetzmann“µετάνοια,” in New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (ed. C. Brown; Grand Rapids: Zondervan 1986) 1:357-359 359.


Merklein“µετάνοια µετανοέω” 418.


Cf. Ceslas Spicq“µετανοέω, µετάνοια,” in Theological Lexicon of the New Testament (3 vols.; Peabody: Hendrickson 1996) 2:471-477 471.


Georg Fohrer“Umkehr und Erlösung beim Propheten Hosea [1955],” in Studien zur alttestamentlichen Prophetie (bzaw 99; Berlin: De Gruyter 1967) 222-241 225 n. 7. Cf. Merklein “µετάνοια µετανοέω” 416 who cites both Wolff and Fohrer.


Graupner in Graupner and Fabry“שׁוּב” 496.


Fabry in Graupner and Fabry“שׁוּב” 514; for the following comment see ibid.


Cf. Peter StuhlmacherBiblische Theologie des Neuen Testaments Band 1: Grundlegung. Von Jesus zu Paulus (3., neubearbeitete und ergänzte Auflage; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht2005) 258.


Cf. Klaus HaackerDer Brief des Paulus an die Römer (4., erneut verbesserte und erweiterte Auflage; ThHKNT 6; Leipzig: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt2012) 69 who emphasizes repentance as “Geschenk Gottes . . . das seine Zeit hat die erkannt und ergriffen werden will bevor sie unwiederbringlich vorbei ist” (with reference to Heb 12:17).


Simon J. GathercoleWhere is Boasting? Early Jewish Soteriology and Paul’s Response in Romans 1-5 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans2002) 206 who goes on to argue that “thus Paul would assume that the sacrificial system was not effective for him and the interlocutor himself would have a wrong attitude toward it.”


Cf. MichelRömer138; the following point ibid.


Cf. StuhlmacherRömer100-101; cf. 1QS XI; 4 Ezra 3:18-22; 9:36-37.


Cf. Georg Bertram“στρέφω κτλ,” in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (ed. G. Kittel and G. Friedrich; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans 1964-76) 7:714-729 728; Goetzmann “µετάνοια” 359; Simon Légasse “ἐπιστρέφω ἐπιστροφή” in Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament (ed. H. Balz and G. Schneider; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans 1990-93) 2:40; Traugott Holtz Der erste Brief an die Thessalonicher (ekk 13; Neukirchen-Vluyn/Zürich: Neukirchener/Benziger 1986) 59-61; Abraham J. Malherbe The Letters to the Thessalonians (ab 32B; New York: Doubleday 2000) 118-119 132. See Eckhard J. Schnabel Early Christian Mission(2 vols.; Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press2004) 1365.


Roy E. Ciampa and Brian S. RosnerThe First Letter to the Corinthians (Pillar New Testament Commentary; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans2010) 708 with reference to Don A. Carson Showing the Spirit: A Theological Exposition of 1 Corinthians 12-14 (Grand Rapids: Baker 1987) 116.


Richard B. HaysEchoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul (New Haven: Yale University Press1989) 132.


David E. AuneWestminster Dictionary of New Testament and Early Christian Literature and Rhetoric (Philadelphia: Westminster Knox2003) s.v. “Rhetorical Questions” 422; for the next point ibid. For rhetorical questions in the New Testament cf. Jaroslav Konopasek “Les ‘questions rhetoriques’ dans le Nouveau Testament” rhpr 12 (1932) 47-66 141-61; Wilhelm Wuellner “Paul as Pastor: The Function of Rhetorical Questions in First Corinthians” in L’apôtre Paul: Personnalité style et conception du ministère (ed. A.Vanhoye; betl 73; Leuven: University Press 1986) 49-77; Duane F. Watson “1 Corinthians 10:23-11:1 in the Light of Greco-Roman Rhetoric: The Role of Rhetorical Questions” jbl 108 (1989) 301-318.


Kenneth J. DoverThe Evolution of Greek Prose Style (Oxford: Clarendon1997) 66-67.


Donald A. RussellCriticism in Antiquity (Berkeley: University of California Press1981) 180 in a discussion of an anonymous late Neoplatonic text on the question “Why did Plato compose dialogues?”


Pseudo-LonginusDe sublimitate 18.1-2; 23.2; 26.1; 27.1.


AristotleTopica 8.1.156a.3-6: “Induction should proceed from individual cases to the universal and from the known to the unknown” (trans. W.A. Pickard). Topica 8 discusses “the problems of arrangement and method in putting questions” (8.1.155b.1).


Watson“Rhetorical Questions” 313-314.


CiceroDe partitione oratoria 13.47.


QuintilianInstitutio oratoria 5.11.5.


H. Richard Lemmer“Mnemonic Reference to the Spirit as a Persuasive Tool (Galatians 3.1-6 within the Argument, 3.1-4.11),” Neot 26 (1992) 359-388374; cf. D. Francois Tolmie Persuading the Galatians: A Text-Centred Rhetorical Analysis of a Pauline Letter (wunt 2/190; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck 2005) 102.


Cf. TolmiePersuading the Galatians106.


Hans Dieter BetzGalatians: A Commentary on Paul’s Letter to the Churches in Galatia (Hermeneia; Philadelphia: Fortress1979) 135 takes the last phrase in 3:4b as a “rhetorical exclamation” providing the answer to the rhetorical question: “if so it really was in vain!” It is more plausible to interpret the phase in terms of Paul expressing his hope that the catastrophe of apostasy can be prevented; cf. James D.G. Dunn A Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians (bntc; London: Black 1993) 157; Jürgen Becker Der Brief an die Galater (ntd 8.1; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 1998) 47 (“Man kann Gottes Geist nicht vergeblich erhalten”); Tolmie Persuading the Galatians 107-108.


Cf. Eckhard J. SchnabelDer erste Brief des Paulus an die Korinther (2., berichtigte und ergänzte Auflage; Historisch-Theologische Auslegung; Wuppertal: R. Brockhaus2010) 96; Dieter Zeller Der erste Brief an die Korinther (kek 5; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 2010) 93. Wolfgang Schrage Der erste Brief an die Korinther (4 vols.; ekk 7; Zürich/Neukirchen-Vluyn: Benziger/Neukirchener Verlag 1991-2001) 1:152-153 sees a reference to the church as Christ’s body and argues that if each of the groups in the Corinthian church claims a monopoly of “Christ” the unity of the church is destroyed when “Christ” is destroyed.


Cf. WindischDer Zweite Korintherbrief234. There is no reason to call this the “weakened sense of repentance” of the term as Merklein “µετάνοια µετανοέω” 418 does.


Margaret E. ThrallSecond Corinthians1:492.


HarrisSecond Corinthians538; the following point ibid. 539.


HarrisSecond Corinthians539. But cf. Margaret E. Thrall Second Corinthians 1:492: “In view of the contrasting θάνατος in 10b the word σωτηρία must carry the full weight of meaning that attaches to the idea in Paul’s letters i.e. final deliverance from divine wrath and final restoration to divine glory.” See already Philipp Bachmann Der zweite Brief des Paulus an die Korinther (4. Auflage; orig. 1909; repr. knt 8; Leipzig: Deichert 1922) 302-303; also Barnett Second Epistle to the Corinthians 377.


WindischDer Zweite Korintherbrief234. He argues that Paul found the emphasis in µετάνοια on human reason disagreeable (“unsympathisch”) and he argues that Paul’s view of the process of salvation must be seen in terms of a contrast to the call to repentance of the prophets and of John and Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels as well as in contrast to the intellectualism of philosophy: conversion is tied to a sacramental renewal connected to faith and it is caused by caused by God which means that the notion of a change of mind (“Sinnesänderung”) is marginalized (“eben nur mit einschließt”).


Dieter GeorgiThe Opponents of Paul in Second Corinthians (Philadelphia: Fortress1986) 237. Cf. Windisch Der Zweite Korintherbrief 410-411 for the point that µετανοεῖν is a mission term. See Margaret E. Thrall Second Corinthians 2:868-869 who finds Georgi’s linguistic argument unconvincing; she suggests that the sexual sins mentioned in 12:21 were “a prominent characteristic of the pagan habits renounced at conversion (1 Cor 6.9-11)” and allows that Georgi may be correct. Paul’s argument in 1 Cor 6:12-20 clearly indicates that some Corinthian believers continued their sexually promiscuous behavior.


HarrisSecond Corinthians902. Furnish II Corinthians 567 is less optimistic about the outcome: “their ruin is his defeat;” cf. Ralph P. Martin 2 Corinthians (wbc 40; Waco: Word 1986) 465: “Paul will be humiliated because he will feel that he failed in his mission.”


BarnettSecond Epistle to the Corinthians596-557; cf. Harris Second Corinthians 228; also Anthony C. Thiselton The First Epistle to the Corinthians (nigtc; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans 2000) 397 on 1 Cor 5:4-5: “in hope that the experience would cause him to repent and return to the fellowship of the church.”


Cf. Wuellner“Rhetorical Questions in First Corinthians” 67 71.


Ciampa and RosnerThe First Letter to the Corinthians265.


Cf. Peter David GoochDangerous Food: 1 Corinthians 8-10 in its Context (Studies in Christianity and Judaism; Waterloo, Ont.: Wilfrid Laurier University Press1993); Alex T.M. Cheung Idol Food in Corinth: Jewish Background and Pauline Legacy (JSNTSup 176; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press 1999); Bruce W. Winter After Paul Left Corinth: The Influence of Secular Ethics and Social Change (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans 2001) 269-301; John Fotopoulos Food Offered to Idols in Roman Corinth: A Social-rhetorical Reconsideration of 1 Corinthians 8:1-11:1 (wunt 2.151; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck 2003); David E. Garland 1 Corinthians (becnt; Grand Rapids: Baker 2003) 353-357; Schnabel Erster Korinther 428-432; Zeller Korinther 280-282 336-342.


Cf. Franz MußnerDer Galaterbrief (5. Auflage; orig. 1974; repr., HThK IX; Freiburg: Herder1988) 381.


Cf. DunnGalatians309.




Ceslas Spicq“δοκιµάζω,” in Theological Lexicon of the New Testament (3 vols.; Peabody: Hendrickson 1996) 1:353-361 356.


Cf. Matthew A. ElliottFaithful Feelings: Rethinking Emotion in the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Kregel2006) 209.


Johannes Behm“µετανοέω, µετάνοια,” in Theologische Wörterbuch zum Neuen Testament (ed. G. Kittel and G. Friedrich; Stuttgart: Kohlhammer 1933-79) 4:972-1004 1000: “Antipathie gegen das durch die jüdische Bußpraxis entwertete Wort”; the English translation omits the reference to Judaism: Johannes Behm “µετανοέω µετάνοια” in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (ed. G. Kittel and G. Friedrich; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans 1964-76) 4:975-1008 1005: “antipathy to a term devalued by penitential practices.” Behm’s view in twnt is taken up by Cranfield Romans 1:144-145 n. 2.


Francis T. Fallon2 Corinthians (New Testament Message 11; Wilmington: Glazier1980) 64 quoted approvingly by Martin 2 Corinthians 230.


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