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The Cooley Center Articles - Jesus as a Preacher of Repentance

The Cooley Center Articles - Jesus as a Preacher of Repentance

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Dr. Roy Ciampa tackles Jesus' difficult statement that "if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."

This article is one of a series of articles published by The Cooley Center dealing with research around Early Christianity, the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the relationships therein.



The Cooley Center seeks to uncover the historical foundations of the Christian faith by collecting research tools as assets for researchers, sponsoring lecture series on the topics of the Old Testament, New Testament and the Patristics, promoting research projects, disseminating research for a larger audience, and finally, sponsoring trips to the Holy Land.
Dr. Roy Ciampa tackles Jesus' difficult statement that "if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."

This article is one of a series of articles published by The Cooley Center dealing with research around Early Christianity, the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the relationships therein.



The Cooley Center seeks to uncover the historical foundations of the Christian faith by collecting research tools as assets for researchers, sponsoring lecture series on the topics of the Old Testament, New Testament and the Patristics, promoting research projects, disseminating research for a larger audience, and finally, sponsoring trips to the Holy Land.

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Categories:Types, Research, History
Published by: Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary on May 17, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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1
Jesus as a Preacher of Repentance
Dr. Roy E. Ciampa,Associate Professor of New Testament,Director of the Th.M. program in Biblical Studies, Chair of the Division of Biblical Studies 
In one of the most extensive and important studies of the
historical Jesus,
John Meiermakes a revealing comment regarding Jesus
statement about forgiveness in the Lord
sPrayer (Matt. 6:12; Luke 11:4):It is most significant that Jesus makes the disciples
forgiveness of others in thepresent the condition of God
s definitive forgiveness of them at the last day
 Making God
s final forgiveness of individual believers depend on theirforgiveness of others in the present moment may create problems for Christiantheology. But, since Jesus was not a Christian theologian, he seems sublimelyunconcerned about the problem.
i
 It is a shame that Meier does not give more attention to the place of repentance in themessage of Jesus (even doubting, it seems, that repentance played any significantrole)
ii
since that is probably the key to explaining why Jesus
statement was not aproblem for him or for the Christian gospel writers, and should not be a problem for anyother Christian theologian either. Recent research into the meaning and significance ofrepentance for the Judaism of Jesus
day may shed important light on aspects of histeaching that have caused Christians to scratch their heads from time totime.
iii
 The Synoptic Gospels all agree that repentance was an important part of Jesus
 message (see Matt. 4:17; 11:20-21; 12:41; Mark 1:15; 6:12; Luke 5:32; 10:13; 11:32;13:3, 5; 15:7, 10; 16:30; 17:3-4; 24:47), as it was for John the Baptist (see Matt. 3:2, 8,11; Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3, 8). The Old Testament background to the idea of repentance isfound, e.g., in Leviticus 26:40-42; Deuteronomy 4:29-31; 30:1-6; 1 Kings 8:46-50(paralleled in 2 Chronicles 6:36-39); Joel 2:12-14; Jeremiah 29:10-14; and what isknown as the penitential prayer tradition, including the prayers of Ezra 9, Nehemiah 9,Daniel 9 and several other prayers of the Second Temple Period.
iv
In these texts,repentance is understood to be a prerequisite to forgiveness for the sins which led Israelinto captivity, and the ongoing state of oppression by foreign powers.As for meaning, key terms or concepts that came to be associated with repentance, dueto their presence in the Old Testament texts listed above, include turning to God and/orfrom sin, confession of sins and seeking God. Thus, repentance must be reflected inchanged living, just as new life reflects itself in those very same changes, and, if there isno change of life, there is no real repentance (or new life). But that does not mean thebiblical teaching of repentance amounts to salvation by works or by moral effort or rigor.In the context of a call for repentance, one
s obedience to God and rejection of sin arenot understood as means of meriting, earning or being worthy of salvation. Rather, it is
 
2
a reflection of one
s understanding that God
s righteous judgment stands over againstus and that we are utterly dependent upon God
s grace and mercy if we are to survivehis coming judgment. The confession of sins and/or request for forgiveness, the turningfrom sin and seeking after God may all be understood as interrelated manners ofexpressing one
s recognition of guilt. While a penitential prayer expresses one
sculpability and need for forgiveness verbally,
fruit in keeping with repentance
(Matt.3:8; Luke 3:8) are non-verbal means of expressing the same ideas.With this in mind, the Gospel of Matthew suggests that virtually all of Jesus
teachingmight be considered under the umbrella of the theme of repentance. Matthew 4:17 saysthat
From that time Jesus began to preach, saying,
Repent, for the kingdom of heavenis at hand
‟”
(ESV). Both
from that time
and
began
suggest the message ofrepentance was a continuous and/ or primary theme of Jesus
teaching from that pointon, despite the fact that the explicit language of repentance does not often appear inthe rest of the Gospel of Matthew, or in the other gospels, for that matter. Matthewexpects us to understand that virtually all of Jesus
teaching is to be understood withinthat framework.This is the framework within which we are to understand the Beatitudes, including, mostobviously, Jesus
references to being
poor in spirit
and
those who mourn,
andthe rest of the Sermon on the Mount.
v
The petition for the forgiveness of sins in themiddle of the Lord
s Prayer may well relate it to the penitential prayer tradition.
vi
While itdoes not contain a separate confession of sins, the very request that God would forgiveus
our sins/debts
entails an acknowledgement of sinfulness and need for forgiveness.And that takes place in the midst of a prayer that is clearly focused on the coming ofGod
s eschatological kingdom. The reference to fruits by which God
s people can berecognized at the end of the Sermon (Matt. 7:16-20) is the first reference to fruit sinceJohn the Baptist spoke of the need to produce fruit in keeping with repentance(Matt. 3:8-10).Furthermore, in the Beatitudes, Jesus promises that the merciful will receive mercy(Matt. 5:7). This presumably presupposes the idea that the merciful are those who, in arepentant spirit, already recognized their own need for divine mercy and who extendsimilar mercy to others as a reflection of their own repentant attitude. This brings usback to the suggestion that
Jesus makes the disciples
forgiveness of others in thepresent the condition of God
s definitive forgiveness of them at the last day.
 Understood in the context of a theology of repentance, this hardly means people willgain forgiveness through their own merit or that they will be thought deserving of itbecause they happen to extend forgiveness to others. Rather, it means the person hascome to realize their own culpability before God and their desperate need for his mercyand forgiveness, and has thus begun to live a life consistent with such a repentantattitude.The Old Testament indicates that the change in the lives of God
s people will come as aresult of the heart surgery he will do in the eschatological time of salvation.Deuteronomy 30:6 says God will circumcise the hearts of his people so that they will
 
3
love him. Jeremiah 31:33-34 says God will write his law on the hearts of his people sothat they will all know him. Ezekiel 36:26-27 says God will give his people a new heartand put his Spirit within them so that they will obey him. So, the changed life of therepentant believer is not a human achievement but a divine work. It is the work that Godhimself has begun and that he will bring to completion (Phil. 1:6). The Gospel of Lukemakes it clear that repentance is something granted by God to both Jews and Gentiles(cf. Acts 11:18).In summary, it is important that we not
explain away
Jesus
teaching about thenecessity of forgiving others (e.g., Matt. 6:12, 14-15), showing mercy (Matt. 5:7), etc., inorder to make him say what we wish he had said. However, it is also important tounderstand how it fits into a broader biblical-theological framework (in this case, theframework relating to repentance granted by God at the threshold of eschatological judgment) which helps explain its coherence with the rest of biblical teaching aboutsalvation. ____________________________________ 
i
John P. Meier,
A Marginal Jew 
: Volume 2:
Mentor, Message, and Miracles 
(New York:Doubleday, 1994), p. 301.
ii
While admitting that the imperative
Repent!
is
hardly impossible in the mouth ofJesus,
he agrees with other scholars that
sayings that mention repentance and thatcan be seriously attributed to Jesus are relatively few, if any
(
A Marginal Jew 
: Volume2, p. 431). In a footnote, he suggests that E. P. Sanders
may be too skeptical about thematter
(p. 485 n. 152, see Sanders,
Jesus and Judaism 
[Philadelphia: Fortress, 1985],pp. 106-13). For more optimistic appraisals and fuller discussion of this topic, see, e.g.,Joachim Gnilka,
Jesus of Nazareth: Message and History 
(Trans. Siegfried S.Schatzmann; Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1997), pp. 204-8; N. T. Wright,
Jesus and the Victory of God 
(Christian Origins and the Question of God, 2; Minneapolis, Minn.:Fortress, 1996), pp. 246-58; Steven M. Bryan,
Jesus and Israel 
’  
s Traditions of Judgement and Restoration 
(Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2002), pp.68-72.
iii
See
repentance
in the subject indexes of Mark J. Boda, Daniel K. Falk, and RodneyA. Werline, eds.,
Seeking the Favor of God 
: Volume 1:
The Origins of Penitential Prayer in Second Temple Judaism 
(Early Judaism and its literature, 21; Atlanta: Society ofBiblical Literature, 2006) and idem,
Seeking the Favor of God 
: Volume 2:
The Development of Penitential Prayer in Second Temple Judaism 
(Early Judaism and itsliterature, 22; Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2007), especially Boda
s discussionof the theology of repentance on pp. 27-34 of the first volume. See also Bryan,
Jesus and Israel 
’  
s Traditions of Judgment and Restoration 
, pp. 57-72.
IV
See the texts discussed in the volumes edited by Boda, Falk and Werline.
V
See Gnilka,
Jesus of Nazareth 
, p. 207.

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