Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The Meaning of Repentance: Part 1

Over the next few posts, a few passages that contain the Greek words for repentance will be examined to aid in coming to an idea of what the underlying Greek words referred to ...

The beginning cry of John the Baptist's ministry, as found in Matthew 3, was: “Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is near.” Similarly, in Mark 1:15, Jesus’ first words in the Gospel are: “The time has been fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Jesus’ first words include the idea of repenting and believing, and his first command is to repent. The call to repent is prominent in both Jesus' and John the Baptist's ministry.

One significant passage for determining the meaning of repentance in the New Testament is Matthew 3:7–9. The Pharisees and Sadducees came to where John was baptizing and upon seeing them, John scolds them saying: “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath about to come? Therefore, bear fruit worthy of repentance.” This final phrase, “bear fruit worthy of repentance,” is significant enough to take a closer look at.

First of all, John is not actually declaring that they in fact are fleeing from the wrath to come; it is sarcasm. This can be seen in that he just referred to them as the “offspring” or brood of vipers, a negative reference to their character. By first pointing out their poor character and then calling for fruit worthy of repentance before they would be allowed to be baptized, John is essentially asking for “concrete evidence of repentance” (Hagner, 50). What does concrete evidence of repentance look like? When someone has repented, it will be demonstrated in their life-style and behavior; it will flow from a heart that has been changed.

Is there a specific referent to “fruit” or is it a general term? Newman and Stine correctly note that fruit is a general term, referring to what grows out of a heart that has been changed. K├╝mmel said, “Only he who produces such fruit shows thereby that he is converted.” In order to escape the coming wrath the repentance needs to be genuine; it will be reflected by a persons entire lifestyle being “in harmony with our oral repentance” (Carson). Blomberg said, “(W)ithout the evidence of a changed life and perseverance in belief, all such grounds of trust prove futile.”

In 3:9, John the Baptist warns them not to rely upon their ancestry; they must produce good works (fruit) to demonstrate that they have repented. Therefore, a connection between repenting and that repentance having some evidence, good fruit, is present. While this passage definitely connects the concepts of "repentance" and the results, "good fruit," it also separates them. If the term "repentance" itself includes the concept of good fruit, then the phrase becomes redundant. Therefore, there is a strong connection between repentance and fruit, but there is also a separation.

1 comment:

Alan S. Bandy said...

Great Stuff!