Repentance And Faith In Acts 20:21 -- By: Kenneth W. Yates

Journal: Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society
Volume: JOTGES 31:60 (Spring 2018)
Article: Repentance And Faith In Acts 20:21
Author: Kenneth W. Yates

Repentance And Faith In Acts 20:21

Kenneth W. Yates


I. Introduction

On his third missionary journey, Paul spent over two years in the city of Ephesus (Acts 19:8–10). He then went to Macedonia and Greece, before passing back through Ephesus on his way to Jerusalem, as that third journey came to an end.

On his way to Jerusalem, Paul spoke to the elders in Ephesus (Acts 20:18–35), reminding them of a major part of his ministry when he was with them. He said that his ministry involved, “Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (emphasis added).

This verse is significant because it combines the words repentance and faith. What is the relationship between the two? First, this article will look at how some scholars understand the relationship, based on this verse. Second, it will evaluate the grammatical issues involved. Third, it will look at the context of the passage. And finally, it will offer a Biblical interpretation of the role of repentance and faith in Paul’s ministry in Ephesus.

II. Different Scholarly Views

When NT scholars look at Paul’s statement concerning repentance and faith in Acts 20:21, they take different views of the relationship between the two terms.

A. A Chiastic Structure

Some scholars see a chiastic structure to this verse.

A chiasm is a “stylistic literary figure which consists of a series of two or more elements followed by a presentation of corresponding

elements in reverse order.”1 An example is ABB’A’. Some see a chiasm in Acts 20:21. The A represents the word Jews, the B represents Greeks, the B’ represents repentance, and the A’ represents faith. If there is a chiastic structure here, Paul is saying he testified to the Jews that they needed to have faith (AA’) and that the Greeks (Gentiles) needed repentance (BB’).

The point here would be that the Jew simply needs to believe in Jesus, while the Gentile would need to repent, either of his idolatry or his pagan lifestyle.

A problem with this view is that it makes unbelieving Gentiles worse sinners than unbelieving Jews. It could even be argued that it demands from different kinds of people different requirements fo...

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