Tuesday, January 1, 2013

An ambiguous instance of “repentance” before the Ephesian elders, Acts 20:21

The next use of a “repentance” word is found in Acts 20:21, when Paul addressed the elders of the church in Ephesus on his brief second visit to that city. In context, Paul was defending his ministry to them as part of a larger explanation that he was going to Jerusalem, where he would be arrested and would never see the Ephesians again:

18 When they had come to him, he said to them, “You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, how I was with you all the time, 19 serving the Lord with all humility, with many tears, and with trials which happened to me by the plots of the Jews; 20 how I didn’t shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, teaching you publicly and from house to house, 21 testifying both to Jews and to Greeks repentance (metanoian) toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus. Acts 20:18-21 (WEB)

Once again in this passage, Paul’s emphasis is not repentance. He simply reminds his listeners that “repentance toward God”—without any further explanation—was always a major emphasis of his teaching. Paul’s first contact with believers in Ephesus was discussed in the previous post, "The Ephesian believers in Acts 19 and repentance." That use of the word was ambiguous except for its clear reference to John the Baptist’s message of lifestyle “repentance.” The usage of “repentance” in Acts 20 is likewise ambiguous, except for its reference to Paul’s earlier preaching in Ephesus. Paul preached in Ephesus about God’s Kingdom: “He entered into the synagogue, and spoke boldly for a period of three months, reasoning and persuading about the things concerning God’s Kingdom.” Acts 19:8. God’s Kingdom, in this world, is the community in which God is obeyed as King (see the web page linked above). This implies a change in behavior.