Copyright © 1990 by Michigan Theological Seminary, cited with permission;
digitally prepared for use at
REPENTANCE IN ACTS IN LIGHT OF
Charles P. Baylis
In the debate about what is necessary for salvation,
repentance and its meaning have always been a focal point. At the
center of this controversy are verses in Actsl which link repentance
with salvation. Peter stated In Acts 2:38 to those gathered at
Pentecost, "Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of your
sins." Why did Peter call on them to repent? In Acts he
continued his second sermon by requesting that they "repent and
return." Return to what? Was it necessary that men return to
something before they could be saved?
The etymologies and the usages of these words have been
researched frequently,2 but few writers have ever examined the Old
Testament context from which these Acts usages are derived. It is
the purpose of this article to demonstrate that the word "repentance"
in Acts , and is based on the promise of the New
Covenant found in Deuteronomy 30:1-6.3 Any analysis of the
meaning of repentance must take place in that light. This study will
place this word in a proper historical theological context.
THE OLD TESTAMENT CALL FOR REPENTANCE
The Prophecy Deuteronomy
Moses stood on the edge of the promised land and gave four
sermons to the Israelites as they were about to enter the land.
Deuteronomy is the record of these exhortations. Even though
1 Acts , and will form the basis for this article. However,
repentance is mentioned elsewhere in Acts (, , , 19:4, ,
26:20). Some explanation of these other verses will be given at the end of this
article. However ,the explanation of the three main verses in this article should
provide clarification of the other uses.
2 Bibliographic references for some etymological studies of the particular words,
shuwb, metanoeo, and epistrepho are given throughout the article.
3 The examination of Deuteronomy 30:1-6 will also include its related
prophecies of the New Covenant in Ezekiel 36:22-38 and Jeremiah 31:31-34.
30:1; 31:16-21,29; 32:35). But Moses also prophesied that the
stated that when they returned God would circumcise their heart
(give them the New Covenant).
To what were they to return? Obviously, they were to return
to God, but more specifically they were to return to covenant
relationship.4 How were they to return? The Deuteronomy text
indicated this clearly. They were to believe from their hearts. Early
in Deuteronomy (6:5), Moses had stated that obedience and the
covenant relationship came from the heart, not from external acts.
In 30:10 he explained how they were to turn to Him, ". . . if you turn
to the LORD your God with all your heart and soul.”5
Unfortunately the Israelite had a heart no different from the
one he had received from Adam. He would surely disobey, because
he would fail to believe in his heart. God indicated that without a
new heart ("the Lord has not given you a heart to know, nor eyes to
see, nor ears to hear," 29:4)
relationship with Him.
In chapters 28 and 29, Moses had outlined the blessings and
the cursings which would fall on the nation for their obedience or
disobedience. Following the list of curses which would surely
afflict the unbelieving Israelites, Moses began the description of the
4 The term for "return" is the root shuwb. For a discussion on the covenant
implications of the word see R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, and Bruce K.
Waltke, eds., Theological
Wordbook of the Old Testament (
Press, 1980), S.v. "shuwb." While the term is used in the general sense of
"turn," "return," or "change direction," when used by the prophets in a
covenantal context it indicates a "return” to the covenant relationship. Also see
William L. Holladay, The Root Subh In the Old Testament (Lelden: E.J.Brill,
5 This was the problem with the Israelites (and the New Testament Pharisees).
If They concerned themselves with external acts and did not obey God from a
changed heart. External acts should have come from a love of God.
The nature of the word "return" is a general word. The specifics of "how" are
always to be gained from the context. The instructions on "how" are never far
away. It is a general term similar to our word "convert." One may convert in
many ways. He may convert to Judaism, Catholicism, Mormonism or he may
simply convert a car from gasoline to natural gas. The word itself does not
explain how. It must be gained from other passages.
Baylis: Repentance in Acts 21
So it shall become when all of these things have come upon you, the
blessing and the curse which I have set before you, and you call them to
mind in all nations where the LORD your God has banished you, and
you return to the LORD your God.
Then Moses continued with an explanation of means of the return.
and obey Him with all your heart and soul according to all that I
command you today.
Then God would bring
promised land (30:3-5), and would restore their fruitfulness. In
30:6 Moses spoke of a change that would insure their continued
Moreover the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart
of your seed, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with
all you r soul, in order that you may live . . . And you shall again obey
the LORD, and observe all His commandments which I command you
The phrase "the LORD your God will circumcise your heart"
introduced the New Covenant. The New Covenant was a change
which God would enact within man, as opposed to a change which
man would accomplish on his own.6 Ezekiel 36 and Jeremiah 31
expanded Deuteronomy 30:6 further.
Thus Moses' final sermon to the nation prophesied a time
change their hearts. It was one of the earliest, most specific
references to the New Covenant. It is this return that is called
6 The Old Covenant was a test of man's ability to change his own heart. He was
exhorted to "circumcise his heart" (Deut. ; Jer. 4:4), but he could not. The
Old Testament records that failure. It is only in the New Covenant that God
changes man's old heart (cf. Col. 2:11; Rom. ).
7 There is not space in this article to delve into the use of the words for
"repentance" in the Old Testament. The major word for repentance in the Old
Testament was yashuwb. Throughout the Old Testament the prophets would
refer to this passage and call
The reader is referred to the article by Gerhard Kittel, ed. Theological Dictionary
of the New Testament (Grand Rapids; Eerdmans, 1971), s.v "metanoeo." The
point is made that metanoeo became a synonym for the Hebrew yashuwb during
It is very important to take note of the people to whom this
message was spoken.
or a return. This message did not address any Gentile nations. In
the Deuteronomy passage, the new heart was promised only to a
future returning nation; that nation was
The Call of the Prophets
From the day that Joshua crossed the
instructed to remember Moses' words in Deuteronomy (Joshua
23:6). In the Book of Judges, the nation went through cycles of
failure, repentance and restoration as Moses had warned in
But, as the kings arose and led
a downward movement. Prophets arose to call the people back to
the promise of Deuteronomy. God had promised if the people
"turned to Him" that He would save them. Yet no one called on
Him, for the people felt they were "acting" according to covenant
relationship and did not need repentance.9
Isaiah. Isaiah is typical of the pre-exilic prophets. The
people were not about to repent ("return") for they were not aware
of their lack of relationship with God. They could no longer
recognize the differences between good and evil (Isaiah ). So
Isaiah's ministry was to harden them in their rebellion.10 In 6:10
the intertestamental period (p. 991), and thus in the New Testament became
One must be careful, however, not to insist that every use of the word metanoeo
or yashuwb was a reference to covenant return. The word may be used simply as
"to return" as Abraham's promise to "return" to his servants after sacrificing
(Genesis 22:5). Other references indicate a "change of mind." However, the
emphasis of this article is to note that the references in Acts (, , )
are speaking about a historical instruction, that of "returning" to covenant
8 In contrast, it is with a great sense of hope that one reads Ruth and finds a
faithful remnant in Boaz, who is an avid covenant keeper.
9 Malachi 1, following the return from exile, is an example of the people acting
out their covenant obligations, but not having their heart in it. They would
bring unhealthy animals for sacrifice. God stated: "Oh that there were one among
you who would shut the gates, that you might not uselessly kindle fire on My
altar!" (Mal. 1:10a).
10 It is noteworthy that Isaiah has the fewest calls for repentance among the pre-
exilic prophets. This is explained by "return" in 6:9-10. The people were beyond
Baylis: Repentance in Acts 23
God referred to the call of Deuteronomy 30.
Render the hearts of this people insensitive,
Their ears dull,
And their eyes dim,
Lest they see with their eyes,
Hear with their ears,
Understand with their hearts,
And repent and be healed.
Jeremiah. Jeremiah also expounded the New Covenant of
Deuteronomy 30:6 during the rebellious events at
Jeremiah spoke of the prophesied circumcision of heart in 31:33-34.
"But this is the covenant which I will make
with the house of
after those days," declares the LORD, "I will put My law within them,
and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they
shall be My people. And they shall not teach again, each man his
neighbor and each man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they
shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,"
declares the LORD, "for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I
will remember no more."11
Thus Jeremiah, in the midst of judgment, gave hope. He referred
back to Deuteronomy 30:6. The promise had not been withdrawn.
Ezekiel. Ezekiel ministered to a nation already in exile.12 In
the midst of this ministry of misery and judgment, God repeated His
promise of Deuteronomy 30:1-6 in Ezekiel 11:14-19. However, it
was in Ezekiel 36:22-31 that the circumcision of heart was
developed in its fullest.
For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands, and
the time of repentance. Now
ministry of Isaiah.
11 Here is the "forgiveness of sins." Forgiveness of sins was essential if man
was to have a relationship with God. In the Old Testament, men came to God
through the blood of bulls and goats, which could never take away sins (Hebrews
10:4). In the New Covenant, men's sins are permanently forgiven through the
blood of Jesus Christ (Hebrews ).
12 Another exilic prophet, Daniel, prayed for the return of his people to the land
based on the prophecy of Deuteronomy (Daniel 9:3-19).
bring you into your own land. . . then I will sprinkle clean water on you,
and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and
all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new
spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh
and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit within you and
cause you to walk in My statutes, and you shall be careful to observe
In the midst of exile, the Israelite was reminded of the
prophecy of Deuteronomy 30. The day was coming when he would
return to God and would gain a new heart. Related to that is the
cleansing (forgiveness of sins) and the indwelling Holy Spirit.
Nehemiah. Nehemiah led the rebuilding of the city
following the exile. But Nehemiah's return to rebuild the city was
necessarily preceded by repentance based on Deuteronomy 30:1-6
We have not kept the commandments. . . which Thou didst command Thy
servant Moses. Remember the word which Thou didst command Thy
servant Moses, saying, If you are unfaithful I will scatter you among
the peoples; but if you return to Me and keep My commandments and
do them. . . I will gather them from there and will bring them to the place
where I have chosen to cause My name to dwell.
Malachi. The call to return to the covenant relationship
continued during the post-exilic era as
facade of covenant obedience (cf. Malachi 1:6-14). Malachi
predicted that the prophet Elijah would come and call the people to
return to covenant relationship as he did in days of old (Malachi
At the close of the Old Testament,
changed. They were a people with a disobedient, rebellious heart.
On their return from exile, they did not sustain a change of heart, but
continued to pursue their own self-centered objectives.15
13 Ezekiel is similar to Jeremiah, especially in that under the New Covenant,
the Spirit would dwell within man.
14 The smiting of the land with a curse spoken of in Malachi 4:6 is based on
God's promise of Deuteronomy 28-29.
15 Nehemiah 13 and Ezra 10 record the failure of the returning exiles to keep the
covenant any better than their fathers. If
change their ways, the Old Testament ended without any hope.
Baylis: Repentance in Acts 25
Summary. The Old Testament prophet was guided by
and cursing based on its desire for a covenant relationship with
God. The prophets pleaded with
did not callout.
This is the sense of the Old Testament "repentance" (or
"return"), particularly where related to the covenant and covenant
restoration. The major thrust of the Old Testament is the story of
this call to "return" to covenant
From the prophecies of the New Covenant, the Old
Testament reader should have expected certain items.
would give the New Covenant. There was no
indication in the Old Testament that any Gentiles
2. Repentance: A national repentance would come
about when the nation desired to return to covenant
3. Cleansing or forgiveness of sins: The expected
cleansing from sin would be permanent and real,
instead of temporary and symbolic.
4. The Holy Spirit: The Holy Spirit would indwell all
believers regardless of rank instead of only coming
"on" men who were performing a special purpose for
The kingdom would come to
God had changed their hearts.
The Old Testament reader would have entered the New
Testament era with this expectation. Both John the Baptist and
Jesus offered its fulfillment.
THE NEW TESTAMENT CALL FOR REPENTANCE
The New Testament continued the Old Testament call for a
return to covenant relationship. The first prophet spoken of in the
New Testament was really the last of the Old Testament prophets.16
His message was the same. Only now the potential for the
16 Matthew 11:7-11.
John the Baptist and Jesus
Based on Deuteronomy 30:1-6, John the Baptist called out,
"Repent" (Matthew 3:2). However, there was something new. The
full potential of Deuteronomy 30 had come. Now if
return to covenant relationship they would, for the first time,
actually be able to receive the changed heart and the kingdom. The
call was extended to include the words "for the
is at hand." The words "
indicate that Jesus, the King, was present. They indicated that the
New Covenant and the changed heart were potentially available to
Kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew ) was exactly the
same as John's.
The Reaction of the Nation
The reaction of the nation to the call for a return to the
covenant is evident in Matthew 11:20-21, . The nation would
not call for a return to the covenant. Just as in Isaiah's day, they
thought they were in covenant relationship, and needed no
This is quite clear from the repentance calls in Luke. The
Pharisees were those who felt they "needed no repentance."18 Thus
the nation in their blindness refused to recognize their sinful state,
and did not cry out to God, that He might heal them.19
17 John 3:3 speaks directly to this issue. "Unless one is born again, he cannot
Jeremiah 31. (Notice that the terms "water and the Spirit" of John 3:5 are
references to Ezekiel 36:25-27, and the promise of cleansing from sin and the
indwelling Spirit.) The kingdom would not come to men who had the old heart.
It was only in fulfillment of Deuteronomy 30:1-6 that it would come. God must
change their hearts, and Jesus was the Prophet of this New Covenant.
18 Cf. Luke 15:7, 18:9-14. The fact that the Pharisees felt they were "righteous"
indicated their blind understanding of their covenant relationship.
19 In the current debate concerning "repentance," it is commonly stated that John
ignored the term. However, it is present in John , where he quoted the
strongest reference in Isaiah. In the John passage, Jesus saw Himself with the
same ministry as Isaiah, that of hardening the hearts of those who had rejected
Baylis: Repentance in Acts 27
The crucifixion of the Savior, however, was not the last
rejection by the nation
recorded in the Book of Acts. But, unlike the gospels, the offer of
the New Covenant was not "at hand," it was immediately available.
Also, unlike the offer in the gospels, the king was now absent.
While there was a New Covenant, there would be no kingdom until
REPENTANCE IN THE BOOK OF ACTS
John the Baptist and Jesus both had offered the New
to the nation
"repent." But they did not. In Acts the payment for the New
Covenant had been completed in Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection
The New Covenant Given
The apostles (Acts 1:4) were commanded to wait for "the
promise of the Father." What was the promise of the Father? It was
the Old Testament promises of the New Covenant in Ezekiel 36 and
Jeremiah 31, based on Deuteronomy 30:6. For when Jesus stated,
"but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from
now," He was speaking of the indwelling Spirit, who was
inseparably part of the New Covenant promise.21
20 This is clear in Matthew 12:39, 16:4, Luke 11:29-32. The nation crucified
the Savior, but Jesus made it plain that the sign of His resurrection would be the
final sign to the apostate nation,
This resurrection is fully revealed to the nation in the Book of Acts. There the
nation is continually confronted with the resurrection evidence and continually
rejects it. At the end of the Book of Acts (28: 17-28), following the rejection by
the Jews at
hardhearted and would not repent, just as prophesied.
21 This is why the apostles responded immediately with the question, "Lord, is
it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to
Testament prophecies of the New Covenant were always followed by the
kingdom. The apostles simply knew their Old Testament scriptures well.
Besides, the king was still present. After the departure of the king in Acts 1:9,
the angels remind the disciples of Zechariah 14:3-4 when the Lord will return to
rule and establish the kingdom. Thus the angels gave the apostles the answer to
their question of 1:6.
The Faithful Remnant of
Having told them of the soon-to-be-fulfilled promise, Jesus
left them. The next event in the book of Acts is the story of
choosing of the twelfth apostle to take the place of Judas. There had
always been considerable question over this event, and whether the
eleven apostles had acted correctly. Why was it important that the
eleven be made twelve? Because from the time that the original
twelve were chosen, these men were to be representatives of the
men were to be the remnant of
is these twelve men, the remnant of the nation
received the New Covenant on behalf of the apostate nation.22 Thus
it became important that this group be returned to twelve men so as
to precisely represent the nation, but as a remnant.23
The full nation would not receive the kingdom at the same
time the covenant was given. The covenant would be given to a
remnant who "returned" (repented), according to Deuteronomy 30.
But the kingdom would wait until the king reappeared and the total
nation repented (Zechariah ).
The Call to Repentance in Acts 2:38
Peter gave his sermon. The recipients of this speech were
only Israelites (2:5, 22). They were accused of killing their
nation's Messiah (), who was the One who was to bring them
the New Covenant and the Holy Spirit (). Having killed the
very One who was the King of the Kingdom and the Prophet of the
New Covenant, they reacted in panic, "Brethren, what shall we do?"
Peter responded to them with the instructions given in Deuteronomy
22 Luke records the initial cutting of the covenant in the Upper Room
with the eleven disciples.
23 It is important to note that this giving of the New Covenant in no way
negates the future: of the nation
nation, only the remnant. And this was not the kingdom. The ultimate
fulfillment of Deuteronomy 30:1-6 will come when the full nation does repent
(Romans 11:25-27). It is in Acts 3:19 that this is made very clear to the national
listeners. "Repent therefore and return, that your sins may be wiped away, in
order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that
He may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you, whom heaven must receive
until the period of restoration of all things." While the New Covenant had been
given to a remnant, the absent king and the unrepentant nation stood between
them and the kingdom.
Baylis: Repentance in Acts 29
30:1-6, "Repent" (return to covenant relationship).24
Repent. If individual Israelites would "return" to God, call
out to Him, then God would heal them as He had promised. But
this time He would add them to the remnant receiving the New
Covenant. So Peter was simply telling them to "return" to God to
restore their covenant relationship. They had recognized their part
with the nation in the Messiah's crucifixion (, 36). This alone
indicated that they were outside of covenant relationship, particularly
the New Covenant of which Jesus was the Prophet.25
Let each of you be baptized. This was the outward sign of
the New Covenant. It began with the baptism of John the Baptist.26
24 Notice that Peter's call was similar to John the Baptist's. John called on
them to repent and then baptized them. So did Peter. The difference was that
John anticipated the New Covenant forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy
Spirit (Luke ), and Peter preached that they were available right then (Acts
25 It is in Acts 3:22-26 that Peter speaks concerning the relationship of Jesus as
the Prophet of the New Covenant, while Moses was the prophet of the Old
Covenant. Jesus' words of the New Covenant were far superior to Moses' words
of the Old Covenant. For further details about the treatment of the Deuteronomy
prophecy of Jesus as the Greater Prophet of the New Covenant as dealt
with in the Gospel of John, see the article by this author, "The Woman Caught
in Adultery: A Test of Jesus as the Greater Prophet," Bibliotheca Sacra, 146
(April 1989): 171-184.
26 While baptism has been related to many things, it appears that the New
Covenant is its prime relationship. The evidence of this is found in John 1:19-
28. Ezekiel 36:25 had prophesied that God would "sprinkle clean water on
them." While this was speaking of spiritual cleanliness, the New Testament
audience looked for a corresponding physical sign, that of baptism or ritual
washing. Since this "washing" was a future prophecy, the Pharisees felt (John
-21) that it would be done by an eschatological character, the Christ, Elijah
(Mal. 4:5), or the Prophet (Deut.18:15). Thus the Pharisees sent out priests and
Levites (the experts in ritual washings) in John 1:19, 22. They asked him which
of the eschatological personalities he was (-22, 25). John replied that his
water baptism was only a sign (), to prepare people for the real cleansing of
the Holy Spirit (). Baptism then was a related outward sign of the real
cleansing taking place under the New Covenant. John's baptism was a baptism
of repentance. John was calling the nation to return in accordance with
Deuteronomy 30 so it could receive the long awaited New Covenant. The
baptism in Acts is an identification of a real spiritual cleansing which had taken
Ezekiel 36 had promised a washing with clean water (spiritual
cleansing) and baptism was the symbol of that inward washing.
Thus Peter calls on the repentant audience to be baptized
symbolizing their personal link with the New Covenant.
In the name of Jesus Christ. This was the focus of the
repentance and baptism. It was Jesus' person, death a
resurrection that brought about the New Covenant. It was by belief
in Him that it was accomplished. Baptism in His name public
indicated a separation from the apostate nation who had crucified
For the forgiveness of sins. Forgiveness of sins was an
integral part of the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:34). Thus reception
of the New Covenant by desiring to return (Deuteronomy 30
illustrated by baptism (belief in the cleansing ability of Jesus Christ
resulted in the reception of the New Covenant.27 This included the
27 Interpretations of this phrase have given problems from the earliest Christian
readers. The link between baptism and the forgiveness of sins seems to imply
baptismal regeneration. Thus a number of interpretations have been fostered to
avoid that interpretation.
However, when the reader understands that baptism is the sign of the New
Covenant, it only fits in that having demonstrated one's acceptance of it,
should receive the things promised by the New Covenant, namely, forgiveness
of sins (Jeremiah 31:34b) and the gift of the Holy Spirit (Ezekiel 36:27).
The proper translation of the word "for" in "for the forgiveness of sins" would be
"with a view to" or "in connection with" (A Greek-English Lexicon of the New
Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 2nd ed., s. v. "epi”). In essence
the baptism was not the cause but was a related outward demonstration of the
inward cleansing from sin.
Was baptism necessary for reception of the New Covenant? The answer is, a
course, "no." It was no more necessary in Peter's call to repentance than it was
in John the Baptist's. Note that Cornelius receives the New Covenant before
baptism is offered to him (Acts -48). But it was part of the imperative of
the Pentecost speech. The reason was that Peter was calling on them to do more
than secretly believe. The nation
publicly. And they, as members of that nation, were publicly part of a national
confession that Jesus was not the prophet of the New Covenant. They were
already publicly included in that national crime. Thus to escape that national
guilt required public repudiation of that nation and its decision to crucify Jesus
Christ. Baptism in the name of Jesus Christ made it clear that they were
identifying with Jesus against the nation
New Covenant reception? Technically, it was not. But Peter was calling for
Baylis: Repentance in Acts 31
forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The gift of the Holy Spirit. The indwelling Holy Spirit was
another integral part of the New Covenant given on that Pentecost
morning (Ezekiel 36:27).
Summary. Peter's sermon in Acts 2 had called individual
Israelites out of the apostate nation to receive the gift of the New
Covenant. They would become part of a faithful remnant of that
nation who had responded to the call of Deuteronomy 30 to "repent"
The Call to Repentance in Acts 3:19
If there is a verse in Acts which comes the closest to
referring precisely to Deuteronomy 30:1-6, it is Acts 3:19. It is
there that the nation (not just individuals) was addressed under that
The situation. Peter and John had healed a crippled man.
The purpose of this miracle was to demonstrate that Jesus was not a
dead man, but alive (3:6, 12, 16, ). Resurrection verified that
He was the God-approved Messiah. The resurrection of Jesus
the sign of Jonah, was presented to the nation of
The addressed. Here again, as in chapter 2, the addressed
group are only "Men of Israel" ().28
The message. Peter first pointed out that they and their
leaders had crucified their Messiah. He then gave them instructions
concerning their only hope for the salvation of the nation.
more than basic salvation. He was calling for identification with Jesus, against
the nation. Notice Peter's following comment in , "Be saved from this
perverse generation" (the present apostate
28 It is interesting that it is at the Portico of Solomon that the miracle takes
place. This literary color recalled the prayer of dedication which Solomon made
at the temple in 2 Chronicles -39. In that prayer Solomon used
30:1-6 to state that
He would hear and restore them. How significant was that Old Testament speech
in that Peter was calling on
Repent therefore and return, 29 that your sins may be wiped away,
order that the times of refreshing may come from the presence of the
Peter had invited them to return according to Deuteronomy
30:1-6. If they did, they would receive the New Covenant (the
circumcision of heart). The accompanying kingdom, however
would come only after a time of delay, when the King would return
The reaction of the nation. Following the message to the
people of the nation, Peter and John were taken before the rulers and
elders of the nation (4:1-22). He presented the evidence of the
former crippled man. Then he told them that the "repentance" of
Deuteronomy 30 was only accomplished by receiving Jesus Christ
as the messiah (Acts ).
Summary. Peter's sermon to individuals of the nation in
chapter 3, in the shadow of Solomon's speech so long ago, echoed
the same sentiments. The nation needed to "return" to God, and
Jesus Christ was the way. Deuteronomy 30:1-6 was still the basis
of repentance. Repentance was to take place, not through the
prophet of the Old Covenant, Moses, but through the Greater
Prophet, Jesus (Deuteronomy ).
The Call to Repentance for the Gentiles
The first several chapters of Acts explain the reception of the
New Covenant by a remnant of the nation
explains the inclusion of Gentiles into that promise. If "repentance"
was a return to covenant relationship, then how was it that Gentiles
might return according to Deuteronomy 30:1-6, when they never
29 The word for repent is metanoeo. The word for return is epistrepho. There
are differences between New Testament scholars on the different emphasis of
these words, since they are to some degree synonymous. According to The
Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, (s.v. "metanoeo"), metanoeo
became synonymous with yashuwb of the Old Testament during the
intertestamental period. Epistrepho, however, is the actual word used in the
Septuagint in Deuteronomy 30. It is this author's opinion that Peter was
insuring that they knew he was referring to Deuteronomy 30:1-6, by using
epistrepho of the LXX in addition to the common metanoeo. Refer to Acts
28:27 where Paul quotes Isaiah 6:10. There he uses the LXX epistrepho for the
Baylis: Repentance in Acts 33
had a covenant relationship to which to return? It is one of the major
purposes of Acts to explain the inclusion of Gentiles in the New
Acts 10-11. Peter received the revelation that Gentiles were
able to receive the New Covenant in the same manner as the Jews.
This was a great revelation, since there was nothing in the Old
Testament that indicated that the New Covenant promise was
directly for Gentiles. It had been only for Israelites who "returned"
The addressed. Peter had gone to the house of Cornelius to
preach to his family. Cornelius was a God-fearing Gentile (10:1-2).
The message. This message was absent of any accusations
of killing the Messiah, since it was the Jews that had done this. It is
also absent of any mention of the word "repentance" since
Deuteronomy 30 was addressed only to Israel, and would have
meant nothing to Cornelius as a Gentile. However, other than the
substitution of the word "believe" for "repent,"30 the elements are
the same. Belief brought forth forgiveness of sins and the gift of the
Holy Spirit (-45), the elements of the New Covenant. The
sign of the New Covenant, baptism, was then administered to these
Gentiles in 10:47.31
The response of the Jewish remnant. Until this point there
had been no one who was a full Gentile who had received the New
Covenant. Since the Old Testament had not mentioned Gentile
inclusion, the Jews who accompanied Peter were amazed to see that
Gentiles were accepted on the same basis as Jews ().
Peter returned to
who refused to believe that Gentiles were welcome on an equivalent
30 Note that the message to the Jews was to repent for the forgiveness of sins,
but Cornelius is told that "everyone who believes in Him has received
forgiveness of sins" (). This forgiveness of sins was the New Covenant.
31 The New Covenant was supposed to be only for Jews. Thus baptism, or the
sign of the New Covenant, was not to be administered to Gentiles. However,
after the Jews saw that Gentiles had received the New Covenant (witnessed by
the speaking in tongues), Jews could not refuse Gentiles the sign, for the
Gentiles already had the substance.
basis (11:3). Peter testified that these men had received the Holy
Spirit (the New Covenant) just as the Jews had (-17).
Gentiles and the repentance of Deuteronomy 30
Deuteronomy 30:6 had stated, ". . . the Lord your God will
circumcise your heart. . . in order that you may live." Thus, the
repentance brought about the New Covenant which brought new
Acts records the reaction of the Jerusalem Jews at
Peter's testimony about Cornelius. "Well then, God has granted
the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life." While a Jewish
remnant were repenting (returning) to covenant relationship
Gentiles had been mysteriously included in that remnant's return.
Deuteronomy 30:1-6 had prophesied that the Jews would
repent some day and God would give. them the New Covenant (new
heart, forgiveness of sins, Holy Spirit). While the prophets called
the nation to repent, it did not. John the Baptist and Jesus both
offered the New Covenant and the Kingdom, but
king. The kingdom was delayed but the New Covenant was offered
to a remnant. Following the Deuteronomy 30:1-6 instructions, Peter
called on Israelites to repent and receive the New Covenant
(forgiveness of sins and the Holy Spirit) in Acts . In Acts
Deuteronomy 30, it would receive its kingdom upon the return of
the king. Finally, Acts 10-11 confirmed the inclusion of Gentiles
demonstrating that the benefits of Jewish repentance spoken of in
Deuteronomy 30 had been expanded to Include Gentiles.
Repentance in these three passages in Acts is totally and
directly related to Deuteronomy 30:1-6.32 Jews were being called
on to return to covenant relationship by receiving the New
Covenant. Gentiles were mysteriously included in that promised
32 After understanding these particular uses of "repent" (metanoeo) in Acts
(, , ) it becomes much easier to categorize other usages in Act
Acts is also a direct reference to Deuteronomy 30 (call of repentance to the
nation and the forgiveness of sin of the New Covenant). Acts and 19:
declare that John's baptism was indeed the call of repentance to which
Deuteronomy 30 refers. Acts and 26:20 are similar to Acts 11:18 in that
both Jews and Gentiles have been included in the repentance of Deuteronomy 30.
Baylis: Repentance in Acts 35
Repentance cannot be interpreted apart from a knowledge of that
historical context. Repentance involved a return to covenant
relationship through belief in Jesus Christ as the Messiah, the
Prophet of the New Covenant.
This material is cited with gracious permission from:
Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at: firstname.lastname@example.org