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Novum Testamentum 57 (2015) 159-186


Repentance in Paul’s Letters

Eckhard J. Schnabel
Hamilton, MA


Paul rarely uses the terms μετάνοια / μετανοεῖν (“repentance” / “repent”), but word sta-
tistics should not be accorded too much weight. Besides using these terms to describe
the process of returning to God by regretting one’s transgressions, Paul uses other
terms and phrases in order to express the need to, and the reality of, changing mind
and heart, outlook and behavior. It can be demonstrated that Paul knows the Jewish
doctrine of repentance, that his missionary preaching calls for repentance, that his
theological discourse presupposes repentance, that his rhetorical discourse in his let-
ters includes the discourse of repentance, and that his ethical discourse entails exhor-
tations to repentance.


Paul – repentance – metanoia – penitence – missionary preaching – theology –

church – paraenesis – sin – ethics – rhetorical questions

The importance of the concept of μετανοεῖν / μετάνοια, usually translated “to

repent” and “repentance,” for the earliest Christian movement is easily ascer-
tained from the fact that it occurs in the summaries of the ministry of John the
Baptist, Jesus, and the disciples. John is described as appearing in the wilder-
ness, “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (κηρύσσων
βάπτισμα μετανοίας εἰς ἄφεσιν ἁμαρτιῶν; Mark 1:4). According to Luke 5:32, Jesus
said: “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (οὐκ
ἐλήλυθα καλέσαι δικαίους ἀλλὰ ἁμαρτωλοὺς εἰς μετάνοιαν.1 As regards the Twelve,

1 For studies on μετανοεῖν / μετάνοια in the ministries of John and Jesus see Helmut Merklein,
“Die Umkehrpredigt bei Johannes dem Täufer und Jesus von Nazareth [1981],” in Studien

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, ���4 | doi 10.1163/15685365-12341484

160 Schnabel

Mark relates that “they went out and preached that people should repent” (καὶ
ἐξελθόντες ἐκήρυξαν ἵνα μετανοῶσιν; Mark 6:12). The terms μετανοεῖν / μετάνοια
occur 3x in Mark, 7x in Matthew, 14 times in Luke, 11x in Acts. Scholars regu-
larly point out that the two term are infrequent in Paul’s letters:2 the noun
occurs four times in the Pauline corpus (Rom 2:4; 2 Cor 7:9, 10;3 2 Tim 2:25),
and the verb is used once (2 Cor 12:21). In Acts, Luke narrates Paul’s preach-
ing as using the noun four times: twice in references to John the Baptist’s
preaching (Acts 13:24; 19:4) and twice regarding his own preaching (Acts 20:21;
26:20); the verb occurs twice (Acts 17:30; 26:20), summarizing Paul’s missionary
There is no monograph on repentance in Paul’s letters, and as far as I can
see there is no essay on this subject either, with the exception of an essay by
Daniel Moessner who investigates Luke’s portrayal of Paul as “Preacher of
Eschatological Repentance to Israel.”4 A. Boyd Luter’s essay on “repentance” in
the Anchor Bible Dictionary asserts in a brief paragraph, “The Pauline literature
rarely uses the terms for repentance, and the Johannine epistles not at all. For
Paul, like John, repentance is included in faith (IDB 4: 34). Besides several stan-
dard uses (Rom 2:4; 2 Cor 12:21; 2 Tim 2:25), Paul strongly contrasts metanoeō
and metamelomai in 2 Cor 7:8-10.”5 The assertion that “repentance is included in
faith” is taken from Warren A. Quanbeck’s entry in the Interpreter’s Dictionary

zu Jesus und Paulus (WUNT 43; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1987) 109-126; Jae Duk Choi, Jesus’
Teaching on Repentance (International Studies in Formative Christianity and Judaism;
Binghampton: Global Publications, 2000); Guy D. Nave, The Role and Function of Repentance
in Luke-Acts (Academia 4; Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2002); James G. Crossley,
“The Semitic Background to Repentance in the Teaching of John the Baptist and Jesus,” JSHJ
2 (2004) 138-157; Tobias Hägerland, “Jesus and the Rites of Repentance,” NTS 52 (2006) 166-
187; Mihamm Kim-Rauchholz, Umkehr bei Lukas: Zu Wesen und Bedeutung der Metanoia in
the Theologie des dritten Evangelisten (Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 2008); Hanna
Roose, “Umkehr und Ausgleich bei Lukas: Die Gleichnisse vom verlorenen Sohn (Lk 15.11-32)
und vom reichen Mann und armen Lazarus (Lk 16.19-31) als Schwestergeschichten,” NTS 56
(2010) 1-21.
2 Cf. Helmut Merklein, “μετάνοια, μετανοέω,” in Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament (ed.
H. Balz and G. Schneider; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990-93) 2:415-419, here 416.
3 Note the excursus on μετάνοια / μετανοεῖν in Hans Windisch, Der Zweite Korintherbrief
(orig. 1924; repr., KEK 6; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1970) 231-232.
4 David P. Moessner, “Paul in Acts: Preacher of Eschatological Repentance to Israel,” NTS 34
(1988) 96-104.
5 A. Boyd Luter, “Repentance B. New Testament,” in The Anchor Bible Dictionary (ed.
D.N. Freedman; New York: Doubleday, 1992) 5:672-674, 673, with reference to TDNT 4:629.

Novum Testamentum 57 (2015) 159-186

Repentance in Paul ’ s Letters 161

of the Bible.6 Frances Taylor Gench has not advanced Quanbeck’s essay in the
New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, when she writes, “While the language
of repentance is an important aspect of the apostle Paul’s missionary preach-
ing in Acts, it is rarely found in his own letters. Paul’s understanding of the
newness of life occasioned by the revelation of God in Christ is embraced by
his concept of ‘faith’ and conveyed with specialized vocabulary (e.g., in terms
of baptism into Christ’s death or new creation).”7 Jürgen Goetzmann writes,
equally briefly, in the New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology,
“The fact that this group of words does not occur often in the Pauline writings
(only 6 times) and not at all in the Johannine (apart from Rev.), does not mean
that the idea of conversion is not present there but only that in the meantime
a more specialized terminology had developed. Both Paul and John convey the
idea of conversion by that of faith. Paul speaks of faith as ‘being in Christ’, as
the ‘dying and rising of a man with Christ’, as the ‘new creation’, as ‘putting
on the new man.’ ”8 Helmut Merklein, after comments on Rom 2:4 and 2 Cor
7:9-10; 12:21, similarly asserts in the Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament,
“The infrequent occurrence of μετάνοια in Paul can be explained by the fact
that the event intended has been subsumed under the concept of πίστις.”9 The
Dictionary of Paul and His Letters10 does not have an entry on “repentance.” The
most relevant recent study is Stephan Hagenow who examines post-conver-
sion sins of Christians in Paul’s letters and other New Testament texts;11 while
he repeatedly refers to “Umkehr” and “Buße,” he focuses on relevant perspec-
tives for understanding the enduring reality of sin in the lives of the Christian

6 Warren A. Quanbeck, “Repentance,” in Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible (ed. G.A.

Battrick et al.; Nashville: Abingdon, 1962) 4:33-34.
7 Frances Taylor Gench, “Repentance in the NT,” in New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible,
(ed. K.D. Sakenfeld; Nashville: Abingdon, 2009) 4:762-764, 763.
8 Jürgen Goetzmann, “μετάνοια,” in New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology
(ed. C. Brown; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986) 1:357-359, 359.
9 Merklein, “μετάνοια, μετανοέω,” 418.
10 Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid, eds., Dictionary of Paul and his
Letters (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1993).
11 Stephan Hagenow, Heilige Gemeinde—Sündige Christen: Zum Umgang mit postkonver-
sionaler Sünde bei Paulus und in weiteren Texten des Urchristentums (TANZ 54; Tübingen:
Francke, 2011), on Paul pp. 67-246.
12 See the discussion of Old Testament and early Jewish texts under the heading “Die Sünde
und deren Ende,” Hagenow, Heilige Gemeinde—Sündige Christen, 27-66. In the summary
of his discussion of 1 Cor 3:16-17; 5:1-13; 6:1-11; 2 Cor 6:14-7:1; 1 Cor 8:12; 11:17-34 (ibid. 79-149),
he mentions the following possibilities of dealing with sin according to Paul: mutual

Novum Testamentum 57 (2015) 159-186

162 Schnabel

1 The Meaning of the Greek Terms μετάνοια / μετανοεῖν

Ceslas Spicq suggests that the Greek term μετανοεῖν means, if we take the par-
ticle μετα literally, “know after” in the sense of proximity of concomitance.13
This is the meaning of the word in its earliest attested use: Epicharmus writes
ca. 460 B.C., οὐ μετανοεῖν ἀλλὰ προνοεῖν χρὴ τὸν ἄνδρα τὸν σοφόν (Fragmenta
Pseudepicharmea 280). Thus, to “repent” is first of all to change one’s mind.
Diodorus Siculus writes, in the context of his description of the military cam-
paigns of Psamtik I, Pharaoh in the 7th century B.C., who chased two-hundred
thousand rebelling Egyptian soldiers from Syria to Egypt: προαγόντων δ’ αὐτῶν
παρὰ τὸν Νεῖλον καὶ τοὺς ὅρους ὑπερβαλλόντων τῆς Αἰγύπτου, ἐδεῖτο μετανοῆσαι
καὶ τῶν τε ἱερῶν καὶ τῶν πατρίδων, ἔτι δὲ καὶ γυναικῶν καὶ τέκνων ὑπεμίμνησκεν
(“but they marched on and entered Egypt near the river Nile, where he ear-
nestly entreated them to change their mind and to remember their gods, their
country, their wives, and their children”; Hist. 1.67.5).
Changing one’s mind can mean changing intentions and plans, or to recon-
sider an earlier opinion; it often involves changed feelings resulting from this
after-knowledge. Philo writes that kidnappers, “being aware of the former
prosperous condition of those whom they have carried off, might perhaps
repent (μετανοήσαιεν ὀψὲ λαβόντες οἶκτον τῶν ἐπταικότων), feeling a tardy and
late compassion for those who are thus fallen, having a proper awe of the
uncertainty of fortune eluding all conjectures” (Spec. Leg. 4.18). Thus μετάνοια
is often accompanied by regret, sorrow, or shame concerning the former atti-
tude, opinion, or action. Plutarch writes: καὶ γὰρ ἡ νουθεσία καὶ ὁ ψόγος ἐμποιεῖ
μετάνοιαν καὶ αἰσχύνην, ὧν τὸ μὲν λύπη τῷ γένει τὸ δὲ φόβος ἐστί (“admonition
and rebuke engender repentance and shame, of which the first is a kind
of pain, the second a kind of fear”; De virtute morali 12 [Mor. 452C]; trans.
W.C. Helmbold). In Timoleon, Plutarch writes: αἰσχρὸν γὰρ ἡ μετάνοια ποιεῖ
καὶ τὸ καλῶς πεπραγμένον, ἡ δ’ ἐξ ἐπιστήμης ὡρμημένη καὶ λογισμοῦ προαίρεσις
οὐδ’ ἂν πταίσωσιν αἱ πράξεις μεταβάλλεται (“Repentance makes even the noble
action base; whereas the choice which springs from a wise and understanding

exhortation among brothers, apostolic instruction (letter, messenger), making public

in the assembly of the church, prayer/execration, intervention of the Kyrios, exclusion
(ibid. 163). In his only comment on μετανοεῖν / μετάνοια in Paul’s letters, Hagenow merely
states the occurrence of the term(s) in 2Cor 12:19-13:10; Rom 2:4; 2Cor 7:9-10 (ibid. 288 with
n. 839).
13 Cf. Ceslas Spicq, “μετανοέω, μετάνοια,” in Theological Lexicon of the New Testament (3 vols.;
Peabody: Hendrickson, 1996) 2:471-477, 471.

Novum Testamentum 57 (2015) 159-186

Repentance in Paul ’ s Letters 163

calculation does not change, even though its results are unsuccessful;” Tim. 6.4;
trans. B. Perrin).
Decisive for the meaning of the term μετανοεῖν in the NT is the OT term ‫שׁוב‬
(“turn around”) as used in the prophets. The Hebrew term has been defined
as “having moved in a particular direction, to move thereupon in the opposite
direction, the implication being (unless there is evidence to the contrary)
that one will arrive again at the initial point of departure.”14 Since the latter
is not always fulfilled, it is more plausible to describe the basic meaning as
“turn around, turn” without any explication of direction.15 In the prophets the
term ‫ שׁוב‬describes “the return to the original relation with Yahweh”16 and often
includes the idea of “a totally new beginning.”17 Isaiah uses ‫ שׁוב‬to describe
the individual’s (and the nation’s) return to Yahweh, representing an act that
impacts one’s entire existence. In Isa 30:15 we read: ‫ֹה־א ַמר ֲאד ֹנָ י יְ הוִ ה ְקדוֹשׁ‬ ָ ‫ִכּי כ‬
‫יתם‬ ֶ ‫בוּר ְת ֶכם וְ לֹא ֲא ִב‬
ַ ְ‫וּב ִב ְט ָחה ִתּ ְהיֶ ה גּ‬ ָ ‫“( יִ ְשׂ ָר ֵאל ְבּ‬this is what
ְ ‫שׁוּבה וָ נַ ַחת ִתּוָּ ֵשׁעוּן ְבּ ַה ְשׁ ֵקט‬
the Sovereign, the Holy One of Israel, says: In repentance and rest is your salva-
tion, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it”). In
Jeremiah and Ezekiel the term is often used in the sense of turning away from
(individual) sins. Jeremiah writes: ‫ם־תּשׁוּב וַ ֲא ִשׁ ְיבָך ְל ָפנַ י ַתּ ֲעמֹד‬ ָ ‫ֹה־א ַמר יְ הוָ ה ִא‬ ָ ‫ָל ֵכן כּ‬
‫יהם‬ֶ ‫א־תשׁוּב ֲא ֵל‬ ָ ֹ ‫אַתּה ל‬ ָ ְ‫זּוֹלל ְכּ ִפי ִת ְהיֶ ה יָ ֻשׁבוּ ֵה ָמּה ֵא ֶליָך ו‬
ֵ ‫ם־תּוֹציא יָ ָקר ִמ‬
ִ ‫“( וְ ִא‬therefore
this is what the Lord says: ‘If you repent, I will restore you that you may serve
me; if you utter worthy, not worthless, words, you will be my spokesman. Let
this people turn to you, but you must not turn to them”; Jer 15:19). In Ezekiel
18:32, God says: ‫“( ִכּי לֹא ֶא ְחפֹּץ ְבּמוֹת ַה ֵמּת נְ ֻאם ֲאד ֹנָ י יְ הוִ ה וְ ָה ִשׁיבוּ וִ ְחיוּ‬For I have no
pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord God. Turn, then, and live”). This
text “emphasizes the personal responsibility of each individual and offers the
opportunity for return and for new life.”18
The LXX translates ‫ שׁוב‬in about 70 percent of all occurrences with forms of
στρέφειν, never with μετανοεῖν / μετάνοια, terms with are mostly used to trans-
late ‫“( נִ ַחם‬to be sorry for something”). Heinz-Josef Fabry suggests two reasons

14 William L. Holladay, The Root šȗbh in the OT with Particular Reference to Its Usages in
Covenantal Contexts (Leiden: Brill, 1958) 53.
15 Heinz-Josef Fabry, in M. Graupner and Heinz-Josef Fabry, “‫שׁוּב‬,” in Theological Dictionary
of the Old Testament (ed. G.J. Botterweck, H. Ringgren, and H.J. Fabry; Grand Rapids:
Eerdmans, 2004) 14:461-522, 464.
16 Hans Walter Wolff, “Das Thema ‘Umkehr’ in der alttestamentlichen Prophetie,” ZTK 48
(1951) 129-148, 134.
17 Georg Fohrer, “Umkehr und Erlösung beim Propheten Hosea [1955],” in Studien zur
alttestamentlichen Prophetie (BZAW 99; Berlin: De Gruyter, 1967) 222-241, 225 n. 7. Cf.
Merklein, “μετάνοια, μετανοέω,” 416, who cites both Wolff and Fohrer.
18 Graupner, in Graupner and Fabry, “‫שׁוּב‬,” 496.

Novum Testamentum 57 (2015) 159-186

164 Schnabel

why the LXX does not render ‫ שׁוב‬with μετανοεῖν / μετάνοια: the terms are rarely
used in Classical and Hellenistic Greek, and since these Greek words are noetic
terms, they run contrary to ‫ שׁוב‬as a verb of motion.19 It should be noted that
in Symmachus’ Greek translation, ‫ שׁוב‬is translated with μετανοεῖν / μετάνοια
when the text speaks about “return to God” or “turning away from iniquity.”
In the Second Temple period, repentance was a fundamental concept. The
fifth of the Eighteen Benedictions says: ‫שׁוּבה‬ ָ ‫בת‬ְ ‫ וְ ַה ֲחזִ ֵירנוּ‬. . . ‫לתוֹרקתָך‬
ֶ ‫ֲה ִשׁיבנוּ ָא ִבינוּ‬
ָ ‫רוֹצה ִב ְת‬ ָ ‫“( ְשׁ ֵל ָמה ְל ָפנֶ יָך ָבּרוְּך‬Lead us back, our Father, to your Torah;
ֶ ‫אַתּה יי ָה‬
and bring us, our King, to your service, and cause us to return in perfect repen-
tance to your presence. Blessed art Thou, Lord, who delightest in repentance”).
For the Jewish people, assurance of salvation was grounded in repentance
which God demands and which God grants, in the works which result from
repentance, and in God who grants his grace to the person who repents. Some
authors emphasize the notion that it is God who leads the human heart and
mind to repentance. The author of the Wisdom of Solomon writes regarding
God’s dealings with the Canaanites, “But judging them little by little you gave
them an opportunity to repent (ἐδίδους τόπον μετανοίας), though you were not
unaware that their origin was evil and their wickedness inborn, and that their
way of thinking would never change . . . Through such works you have taught
your people that the righteous must be kind, and you have filled your children
with good hope, because you give repentance for sins (ὅτι διδοῖς ἐπὶ ἁμαρτήμασιν
μετάνοιαν)” (Wisd 12:10, 19).” Philo writes that “There are many souls that God
has not granted repentance even though they desired it” (πολλαῖς γὰρ ψυχαῖς
μετανοίᾳ χρῆσθαι βουληθείσαις οὐκ ἐπέτρεψεν ὁ θεός; Legum Allegoriae 3.213).
There is thus a twofold movement in the process of repentance: first, admis-
sion of one’s personal sin and failings and weakness, asking God for forgive-
ness, and second, praising God for his grace and forgiveness and commitment
to a new and better obedience (cf. 1QS XI, 11-17).
In sum, repentance is a change of mind, intentions, or plans resulting from
a reconsideration of a first opinion, sometimes accompanied by regret, sorrow,
or shame on account of the earlier opinion or action, and resulting in changed
behavior. Particularly in Old Testament and Jewish traditions, repentance is
a return to Yahweh that relates to one’s entire existence, and it is an act that
involves turning away from individual sins. Here the standard for right opin-
ions and correct behavior is God and his just requirements revealed in the Law.
It is God himself who leads people to repentance, forgiving only those who are

19 Fabry, in Graupner and Fabry, “‫שׁוּב‬,” 514; for the following comment see ibid.

Novum Testamentum 57 (2015) 159-186

Repentance in Paul ’ s Letters 165

2 Paul and the Jewish Doctrine of Repentance

Paul’s knowledge of the Jewish understanding of repentance is obvious in

Rom 2:3-4:20 “Do you imagine, whoever you are, that when you judge those
who do such things and yet do them yourself, you will escape the judgment
of God? Or do you despise the riches of his kindness and forbearance and
patience? Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repen-
tance?” In Rom 2:1 Paul suggested that the persons who condemn the Gentile
behavior described in 1:18-32 commit the same sins. In 2:3 Paul asks a rhetori-
cal question which his Jewish dialogue partner21 can easily recognize as the
typical argument a Jew would advance: when a Jew commits the same sins
a pagan commits, he cannot hope to escape God’s judgment.22 The second
rhetorical question in 2:4 points to the fact that the delay of judgment results
from the kindness and patience of God who gives the sinner an opportunity
for repentance. In other words: the sinner must recognize his wrong behavior,
confess his sinful actions before God, and change his behavior.23 The accusa-
tion of having a “hard and impenitent heart” which stores up wrath for “the day
of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed” (2:5) is reminiscent
of the prophets’ indictment of Israel.24 Repentance is understood as a neces-
sity in view of the coming judgment of God who will judge people without

20 Cf. Peter Stuhlmacher, Biblische Theologie des Neuen Testaments, Band 1: Grundlegung.
Von Jesus zu Paulus (3., neubearbeitete und ergänzte Auflage; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck &
Ruprecht, 2005) 258.
21 For the use of diatribe in Rom 2:1-6 cf. Stanley K. Stowers, The Diatribe and Paul’s
Letter to the Romans (SBL Dissertations 57; Chico: Scholars Press, 1981); Klaus Berger,
Formgeschichte des Neuen Testaments (Heidelberg: Quelle & Meyer, 1984) 110-111; also
Thomas Schmeller, Paulus und die “Diatribe”: Eine vergleichende Stilinterpretation (NTA 19;
Münster: Aschendorff, 1987).
22 Cf. Peter Stuhlmacher, Der Brief an die Römer (NTD 6; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck &
Ruprecht, 1989) 40.
23 It is difficult to see how Oda Wischmeyer, “Römer 2.1-24 als Teil der Gerichtsrede des Paulus
gegen die Menschheit,” NTS 52 (2006) 356-376, here 370, can claim that the pragmatics of
Rom 2 does not show the path to repentance (“während der Paulustext keinen Weg zu
Buße und Umkehr eröffnet”). Wischmeyer does not discuss 2:3-4, a text, interpreted in the
light of 3:21-31, that indeed challenges Paul’s Jewish interlocutor to recognize and repent
of his sins.
24 Cf. Otto Michel, Der Brief an die Römer (5., bearbeitete Auflage; KEK IV; Göttingen:
Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1978) 114. Ian W. Scott, Implicit Epistemology in the Letters of
Paul: Story, Experience and the Spirit (WUNT 2.205; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2006) 106,
comments: “The repentance of Romans 2:4 is a present possibility, but one which will
not last forever. The present of Paul’s audience is thus in many ways the fulcrum around

Novum Testamentum 57 (2015) 159-186

166 Schnabel

partiality (2:5-11), it is related to human behavior which violates the standards

of the revealed will of God (1:32; 2:17-24), and it is a divine gift resulting from
God’s kindness (2:4).25 Paul sees his Jewish dialogue partner as unrepentant.26
In Rom 3:4 Paul quotes Psalm 51:6[4]: “Although everyone is a liar, let God
be proved true, as it is written, ‘So that you may be justified in your words, and
prevail in your judging.’ ” Psalm 51 asserts that the recognition of one’s guilt and
the confession of one’s sin serve to prove that God is just when he passes sen-
tence and blameless when he judges the sinner. Paul argues that Jews need to
rediscover the desperate confessions of sin of the psalm.27 The style of prayer
in the context of the dialectical discussion of Rom 3:1-8 is important: the sin-
ner ponders God’s judgment of sinful actions and admits that God is justified
in judging those who sin. To grant that God is justified in judging sin belongs
to the Jewish language of repentance, often found in prayers and confessions.28
In Rom 7:13-25 Paul writes about human existence being subject to sin and
about the discrepancy between wanting to do good and in reality doing evil.
While this topic can also be found in Greek and Roman literature, it is only in
Jewish texts on repentance that this reality is radically linked with the conun-
drum of basic human existence where human beings are in bondage to sinful
action and unable to fully do the will of God.29

which the whole story moves, the pivotal point at which one’s future place in the story is
25 Cf. Klaus Haacker, Der Brief des Paulus an die Römer (4., erneut verbesserte und erweiterte
Auflage; ThHKNT 6; Leipzig: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 2012) 69, who emphasizes
repentance as “Geschenk Gottes . . . das seine Zeit hat, die erkannt und ergriffen werden
will, bevor sie unwiederbringlich vorbei ist” (with reference to Heb 12:17).
26 Simon J. Gathercole, Where is Boasting? Early Jewish Soteriology and Paul’s Response in
Romans 1-5 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002) 206, who goes on to argue that “thus, Paul
would assume that the sacrificial system was not effective for him, and the interlocutor
himself would have a wrong attitude toward it.”
27 Cf. Michel, Römer, 138; the following point ibid.
28 PsSol 2:16; 3:5; 4:9; 8:7; 1QS X, 11.13. Note PsSol 2:15-18: “I shall prove you right, O God, in
uprightness of heart; for your judgments are right, O God. 16For you have rewarded the
sinners according to their actions, and according to their extremely wicked sins. 17You
have exposed their sins, that your judgment might be evident; you have obliterated
their memory from the earth. 18God is a righteous judge and he will not be impressed by
29 Cf. Stuhlmacher, Römer, 100-101; cf. 1QS XI; 4 Ezra 3:18-22; 9:36-37.

Novum Testamentum 57 (2015) 159-186

Repentance in Paul ’ s Letters 167

3 Paul’s Missionary Preaching Calls for Repentance

The use of the noun μετάνοια in Rom 2:4 demonstrates that Paul used the con-
cept of repentance in his missionary preaching. In Rom 2:1-3:20 Paul presents
his case that Jews are sinners just like the Gentiles, a reality that exists since
Jesus’ resurrection from the dead (Rom 1:4) which inaugurated a new era of
salvation in which Jews and Greeks are saved by the good news concerning
Jesus, God’s messianic Son, which is the power of God for salvation (1:8-9,
16-17). In 2:4b, Paul asserts: ἀγνοῶν ὅτι τὸ χρηστὸν τοῦ θεοῦ εἰς μετάνοιάν σε ἄγει;
(“Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?”).
The reference to God’s judgment in 2:3 links repentance with the reality of the
divine judgment of all human beings. The use of the verb ἀγνοεῖν indicates that
repentance is linked here to a change of mind: the Jews must see not only the
sins of the Greeks, but realize that God’s kindness, forbearance, and patience
(2:4a) are meant to bring them to the recognition of their real status.30 Turning
away from ignorance and turning to God is the essence of repentance.31 Paul
presents repentance as a necessity in view of the coming day of judgment on
which God will judge people without partiality (2:5-11); repentance is related
to behavior which violates the standards of the revealed will of God (2:17-24);
and repentance it is God’s gift resulting from his kindness (2:4). The context of
God’s judgment underlines the necessity of repentance for the Jewish people.
In his address to unbelieving Jews, Paul speaks like an Old Testament prophet,
calling the people to repentance.32
Paul reminds the Christian believers in Thessalonica what happened during
his first visit to the city: they welcomed him and “turned to God from idols to
serve a living and true God (ἐπεστρέψατε πρὸς τὸν θεὸν ἀπὸ τῶν εἰδώλων δουλεύειν
θεῷ ζῶντι καὶ ἀληθινῷ) and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from
the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming” (1 Thess 1:9b-
10). Paul uses the verb ἐπιστρέφειν, which the LXX uses most often as the term
translating the Hebrew term ‫שׁוב‬. It is generally acknowledged that ἐπιστρέφειν

30 Cf. Joseph A. Fitzmyer, Romans (AB 33; New York: Doubleday, 1993) 301.
31 Cf. Merklein, “μετάνοια, μετανοέω,” 418, with respect to Acts 3:17, 19; 23:30 and Acts 20:21;
26:18, 20; cf. 19:4, respectively.
32 Cf. Ulrich Wilckens, Der Brief an die Römer (EKK 6/1-3; Neukirchen-Vluyn/Einsiedeln:
Neukirchener Verlag/Benzinger, 1978-82) 1:125. There is no hint in the text that would
warrant Wilckens’ assertion that Paul’s reference to the last judgment is not meant to
increase the urgency of repentance (ibid.). Simon Légasse, L’épître de Paul aux Romains
(LD 10; Paris: Cerf, 2002) 165, comments: “Paul s’exprime en Juif, ce qui n’implique pas
qui’il vise les seuls Juifs.”

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represents the language of conversion, which Paul here describes.33 The mean-
ing of ἐπιστρέφειν here corresponds in many ways to μετανοεῖν: former Gentiles
changed their mind about the relevance of the traditional deities which they
had worshiped, they changed their allegiance from the local gods to the God of
Israel and pledged faith in Jesus as the crucified and risen Savior on account of
the influence of the Holy Spirit (1:6), and they changed their behavior as they
began to imitate the Lord (1:6) and the churches in Judea (2:14), living in love
for one another and in holiness (3:12-13) and doing the will of God (4:1) which
includes abstinence from sexual immorality and from exploiting others (4:3, 6)
and suffering persecution (1:6; 2:14; 3:3-4, 7).
In his discussion of the benefits of the words of Christian prophets, Paul
asserts, “if an unbeliever or an inquirer comes in while everyone is prophesy-
ing, they are convicted of sin and are brought under judgment by all, as the
secrets of their hearts are laid bare. So they will fall down and worship God,
exclaiming, ‘God is really among you!’” (1 Cor 14:24-25; niv). Whether or not the
“secrets of their hearts” are the particular and private sins of unbelieving Jews
and Greeks, the result of prophetic speech in the assembly is the acknowledg-
ment of the presence of the one true God, and thus repentance and worship.34
In a comment on the inability of the Jewish people to understand the
Sinaitic covenant as temporary and to recognize the glory of the new covenant
which became a reality with Jesus (2 Cor 3:14), Paul states in an allusive hom-
ily35 based on Exod 34:29-35, “Indeed, to this very day whenever Moses is read,
a veil lies over their minds; but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed
(ἡνίκα δὲ ἐὰν ἐπιστρέψῃ πρὸς κύριον, περιαιρεῖται τὸ κάλυμμα)” (2 Cor 3:15-16). The
verb ἐπιστρέφειν is generally understood here as designating the conversion

33 Cf. Georg Bertram, “στρέφω κτλ,” in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (ed.
G. Kittel and G. Friedrich; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964-76) 7:714-729, 728; Goetzmann,
“μετάνοια,” 359; Simon Légasse, “ἐπιστρέφω, ἐπιστροφή,” in Exegetical Dictionary of the
New Testament (ed. H. Balz and G. Schneider; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990-93) 2:40;
Traugott Holtz, Der erste Brief an die Thessalonicher (EKK 13; Neukirchen-Vluyn/Zürich:
Neukirchener/Benziger, 1986) 59-61; Abraham J. Malherbe, The Letters to the Thessalonians
(AB 32B; New York: Doubleday, 2000) 118-119, 132. See Eckhard J. Schnabel, Early Christian
Mission (2 vols.; Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004) 1365.
34 Roy E. Ciampa and Brian S. Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians (Pillar New
Testament Commentary; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010) 708, with reference to Don A.
Carson, Showing the Spirit: A Theological Exposition of 1 Corinthians 12-14 (Grand Rapids:
Baker, 1987) 116.
35 Richard B. Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul (New Haven: Yale University
Press, 1989) 132.

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of Jews36 to understand Jesus as Israel’s prophesied savior.37 The reference to

hardened or darkened minds (3:14; also 4:4) implies that the removal of the veil
produces illumination, specifically the ability to understand the connection
between God’s revelation in Scripture and God’s revelation in Jesus as Israel’s
Savior, and thus to understand the gospel and become a follower of Jesus. The
term ἐπιστρέφειν is here close in meaning to μετανοεῖν: the Jews need to have a
change of mind when they read the Hebrew Scriptures and they must abandon
their initial views about Jesus; if they do, they will have a correct understand-
ing of the Scriptures and of Jesus. If we understand the verb περιαιρεῖται not as
middle (with either Moses, the believer, or the Lord removing the veil) but as a
divine passive,38 Paul underlines the necessity of divine agency in the process
of repentance and conversion, a regular feature in Jewish repentance texts.

4 Paul’s Theological Discourse Presupposes Repentance

Paul believes that believers in Jesus Christ are in a fundamentally different

position from unbelievers.39 Neither sin nor death, which is the punishment
for sin, have power over believers: “We know that Christ, being raised from the

36 For a discussion of the subject of ἐπιστρέψῃ, see, besides the commentaries, Dietrich-Alex
Koch, Die Schrift als Zeuge des Evangeliums: Untersuchungen zur Verwendung und zum
Verständnis der Schrift bei Paulus (BHTh 69; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1986) 126; Linda
L. Belleville, Reflections of Glory: Paul’s Polemical Use of the Moses-Doxa Tradition in 2
Corinthians 3.1-18 (JSNTSup 52; Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1991) 248-250.
37 Cf. Paul W. Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,
1997) 199; Murray J. Harris, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (NIGTC; Grand Rapids:
Eerdmans, 2005) 308-309; Thomas Schmeller, Der Zweite Brief an die Korinther (EKK
VIII/1; Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Theologie/Patmos, 2010) 221; Margaret E. Thrall,
The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (2 vols.; ICC; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1994-2000)
1:273; also Scott Hafemann, Paul, Moses and the History of Israel: The Letter/Spirit Contrast
and the Argument from Scripture in 2 Corinthians 3 (WUNT 81; Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck,
1995) 390.
38 Note the last phrase in 3:18: “And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the
Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from
one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit (καθάπερ ἀπὸ
κυρίου πνεύματος)”; cf. Harris, Second Corinthians, 309. This interpretation removes the
“gewisse Hilflosigkeit” that Schmeller attests for Paul (Schmeller, Der Zweite Brief an die
Korinther, 221).
39 Cf. Stuhlmacher, Theologie I, 281-282, whose basic references are Gal 3:26-28; 4:4-6; 1 Cor
6:11; 12:13; 2 Cor 5:17; Rom 8:3-4; now also Hagenow, Heilige Gemeinde—Sündige Christen,

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dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him . . . For sin
will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace”
(Rom 6:9, 14). On the day of judgment, unbelievers will be helplessly subject
to the wrath of God (Rom 1:18-32). Believers will stand before God the Judge
as his adopted children (Rom 8:15-17) who accepts them as righteous (8:33) on
account of Jesus’ death, resurrection, exaltation, and intercession (8:34) and
Christ’s love (8:35, 37). Nobody and nothing will ever be able to separate believ-
ers in Jesus “from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (8:39).
Paul does not minimize the reality of sin, which was the reason why the
prophets called Israel to repentance. On the contrary, he vividly describes the
power of sin in Rom 7:7-25, using the first person singular of the Jewish litur-
gical tradition, climaxing in the subsequent description. He argues that the
pernicious power of sin that is a reality since Adam’s sin has been overcome
by Jesus’ death and resurrection (Rom 3:21-5:21), with the result that “there is
therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1).
Jesus’ victory over sin and death is God’s own victory who accomplished what
the Law could not accomplish: “For what the law was powerless to do because
it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the
likeness of sinful humanity to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in
human flesh, 4in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully
met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the
Spirit” (Rom 8:3-4; niv). This is perhaps the reason why Paul does not use more
consistently the language of “repentance” in his letters to Christian believers:
the primary categories of discourse, when he speaks with Christians, are theo-
logical and christological, not ethical. While Paul begins the exposition of his
theology in his letter to the Romans with an explication of the sinfulness of
Greeks and Jews (Rom 1:18-3:20), the horizon of his exhortation to Christians is
Jesus’ atoning death on the cross which liberates believers from the power of
sin (Rom 3:21-5:21).
Paul’s argument that Jesus’ death has removed the sin that entered the world
through Adam (cf. the summary in Rom 5:12-21) leads his critics to suggest that
in Paul’s theology sin has become completely irrelevant, with the result that
one might as well continue to sin: “What then are we to say? Should we con-
tinue in sin in order that grace may abound?” (Rom 6:1). Paul vehemently pro-
tests, but he does not give up his premise that Christian believers who have
been united with Jesus’ death have been put beyond the power of sin: “By no
means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it?” (6:2).40 A few sentences

40 Cf. James D.G. Dunn, Romans (2 vols.; WBC 38; Dallas: Word, 1988) 307: “what Paul had in
mind is a death which puts the individual beyond the power of sin.”

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later he states even more explicitly: “whoever has died is freed from sin” (6:7).
Paul’s subsequent assertion, “The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but
the life he lives, he lives to God” (6:10), underlines a twofold truth. First, Jesus’
death is a death “once for all” (ἐφάπαξ): it marks the end point of the history
since Adam through whom sin and death entered the world,41 and it intro-
duces the new messianic era of the new covenant (cf. Rom 11:27; 1 Cor 11:25;
2 Cor 3:6). Second, the circumstances of the life of the believer are “wholly
new, with reversion to the old condition no longer possible” since God is the
only effective power for those who have identified with Jesus Christ. This fac-
tual reality implies at the same time an obligation: “Therefore, do not let sin
exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. 13No
longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but pres-
ent yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and
present your members to God as instruments of righteousness” (Rom 6:12-13).
These imperatives imply the need for repentance if and when Christians fall
into sin and obey the passions. In Rom 8:12-13, Paul writes, “So then, brothers
and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh—for if
you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death
the deeds of the body, you will live.”
Paul knows that Christians continue to engage in sinful actions and must
repent of their sins. Thus Paul does not hesitate to confront Christians with
ethical imperatives. While the necessity to obey the will of God, and acknowl-
edgement of failure in sinful behavior, are by no means ignored let alone
denied, the focus of Paul’s theological discourse is on God’s saving action in the
death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, to which sinners can and must respond
by faith, with the result that sin and death as sin’s consequence are removed.
As we have seen, Paul is not shy to challenge Christians with imperatives and
to call Christians to repent. But his theological and christological focus leads
more naturally to praise, as Rom 11:32-36 demonstrates.

5 Paul’s Rhetorical Discourse in His Letters Includes the Discourse

of Repentance

Rhetorical questions are “clauses in the form of questions that do not normally
expect an answer.”42 Rhetorical questions often reflect the conviction of the

41 Cf. Dunn, Romans, 323, the following quotation ibid.

42 David E. Aune, Westminster Dictionary of New Testament and Early Christian Literature and
Rhetoric (Philadelphia: Westminster Knox, 2003) s.v. “Rhetorical Questions,” 422; for the

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speaker or writer that the audience is in agreement. Greek authors used rhe-
torical questions to draw the listener into the narrative.43 Philosophers use
rhetorical questions to arouse the interest of the listeners.44 Orators use rhe-
torical questions as recapitulation of their argument,45 as anticipation of the
objections against their arguments,46 as ornament adding vigor, imagination,
or emotional impact,47 and in argumentation for induction, arguing from the
particular to the universal.48 Rhetorical questions in argumentation have two
important features.49 First, the question posed by the orator may or may not
receive a reply. Cicero asserts, “we put a question to ourselves or cross-examine
ourselves (cum interrogamus nosmet ipsi aut percunctamur) or make an appeal
or express a desire . . . but we shall be able to avoid monotony by not always
starting from the point we are making . . . and do not always hold it necessary
formally to draw the conclusion that will follow from them, if it is obvious.”50
Second, if the orator provides a reply to a question that he raises, the reply
need not be a formal conclusion. Quintilian states that in a set speech “the ora-
tor either answers his own questions (sibi ipse respondet orator) or makes an
assumption of that which in dialogue takes the form of a question.”51
The multiple functions of rhetorical questions in Greco-Roman rhetoric
suggest that Paul’s use of rhetorical questions serves more than one purpose.

next point ibid. For rhetorical questions in the New Testament cf. Jaroslav Konopasek, “Les
‘questions rhetoriques’ dans le Nouveau Testament,” RHPR 12 (1932) 47-66, 141-61; Wilhelm
Wuellner, “Paul as Pastor: The Function of Rhetorical Questions in First Corinthians,”
in L’apôtre Paul: Personnalité, style et conception du ministère (ed. A.Vanhoye; BETL 73;
Leuven: University Press, 1986) 49-77; Duane F. Watson, “1 Corinthians 10:23-11:1 in the
Light of Greco-Roman Rhetoric: The Role of Rhetorical Questions,” JBL 108 (1989) 301-318.
43 Kenneth J. Dover, The Evolution of Greek Prose Style (Oxford: Clarendon, 1997) 66-67.
44 Donald A. Russell, Criticism in Antiquity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981) 180,
in a discussion of an anonymous late Neoplatonic text on the question, “Why did Plato
compose dialogues?”
45 Cf. Rhetorica ad Alexandrum 36.1444b.30-34: “by asking additional questions which will
bring the most credit on yourself and the most discredit on your opponents, or, if you like,
you can use the form of a simple question” (trans. E.S. Forster).
46 Cf. Rhetorica ad Alexandrum 33.1439b.1-3: “Anticipation is the method by which you
anticipate and demolish the objections which can be brought against your speech.”
47 Pseudo-Longinus, De sublimitate 18.1-2; 23.2; 26.1; 27.1.
48 Aristotle, Topica 8.1.156a.3-6: “Induction should proceed from individual cases to the
universal and from the known to the unknown” (trans. W.A. Pickard). Topica 8 discusses
“the problems of arrangement and method in putting questions” (8.1.155b.1).
49 Watson, “Rhetorical Questions,” 313-314.
50 Cicero, De partitione oratoria 13.47.
51 Quintilian, Institutio oratoria 5.11.5.

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This is obviously not the place to review all rhetorical questions in Paul’s let-
ters. I am arguing that more often than not Paul uses rhetorical questions to
bring his readers and listeners to a point where they have to agree with him,
changing their mind about the position they were holding and changing their
behavior which had resulted from the convictions against which Paul argues.
Rhetorical questions that pursue the aim of changing particular convictions
and behavioral patterns of the listeners can be understood as the rhetoric of
a prophet’s—or missionary/pastor’s—call to repentance. Two examples must
suffice to demonstrate this point.
In Gal 3:1-5, which introduces the first main argumentative section of Paul’s
letter to the churches in the province of Galatia who were about to demand
circumcision and full obedience to the Mosaic Law, Paul formulates six rhe-
torical questions. The goal of theses rhetorical questions is not to suppress
all cognitive resistance of the Galatian Christians, shifting the blame to the
opponents, placing the burden of proof to those who disagree with him,
and thus gaining a psychological advantage.52 Rather, in line with his goal
to bring the Gentile believers, who had been “turning to a different gospel”
(μετατίθεσθε . . . εἰς ἕτερον εὐαγγέλιον), back to God who had called them by the
grace of Jesus Christ (Gal 1:6), he wants to change their mind regarding their
plans to undergo circumcision and become Jews. He wants them to feel regret
about their impending commitment to a different gospel which is a false gos-
pel. He wants them to return to contentment in having received God’s Spirit
when they came to faith in the crucified and risen Jesus as Israel’s Messiah and
Savior of the world. In other words, he wants to lead them to repentance. By
calling them “foolish” (ἀνόητοι; 3:1a), he challenges them to draw the correct
theological consequences from the fact that they know God (4:8-9). The six
rhetorical questions are posed in rapid succession. The first question (“who
has bewitched you?”) in 3:1, followed by a reminder of Paul’s proclamation53
of Jesus as Israel’s crucified Messiah, challenges the Galatians to withstand

52 H. Richard Lemmer, “Mnemonic Reference to the Spirit as a Persuasive Tool (Galatians

3.1-6 within the Argument, 3.1-4.11),” Neot 26 (1992) 359-388, 374; cf. D. Francois Tolmie,
Persuading the Galatians: A Text-Centred Rhetorical Analysis of a Pauline Letter (WUNT
2/190; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2005) 102.
53 The term προεγράφη is generally interpreted in terms of “portray or proclaim publicly”
(LSJ, BDAG, H. Balz in EDNT 3:154), understood as a purely verbal depiction of Jesus’ death
on the cross. Basil S. Davis, “The Meaning of προεγράφη in the Context of Galatians 3.1,”
NTS 45 (1999) 194-212, interprets the expression in the context of Gal 2:19-21 in terms of
Paul’s display of the crucified Christ in the persecution that he suffered for the gospel.

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the disingenuous tactics of the false teachers54 and to recognize the signifi-
cance of Jesus’ death on the cross for the validity of the Mosaic law. The sec-
ond question (“did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by
believing what you heard?”) in 3:2 forces the Gentile Christians in Galatia to
go back to their first experience as Christians: God accepted them by giving
them his Spirit, and thus conveyed his presence and his holiness upon them,
without requiring them to become Jews. Paul calls on the Galatians to repent
and return to the reality of their first experience of the truth of the gospel: liv-
ing by faith in Jesus Christ is quite sufficient for the experience of God’s pres-
ence. The third question (“are you so foolish?”) in 3:3a asks the Galatians to
confront their inconsistency:55 if they do not want to be foolish, they should
regret the influence of the false teachers, give up the plans to undergo circum-
cision, and rest content with the gift of God’s transforming presence that they
have already received. The fourth question (“having started with the Spirit, are
you now ending with the flesh?”) in 3:3 confronts the Galatians with the con-
tradiction between their experience of God’s Spirit since their conversion and
their present willingness to rely on weak human efforts.56 The fifth question
(“did you experience so much for nothing?”) in 3:4 warns the Galatians that
their experiences as Christians will have been in vain if they follow the false
teachers; the subsequent comment57 “if it really was for nothing” indicates that
Paul is confident that the situation is not hopeless, and that they will repent
of their proposed course of action.58 If this brief comment implies the confi-

54 The verb βασκαίνειν, defined in BDAG as “to exert an evil influence through the eye, bewitch,
as with the ‘evil eye,’ ” should be understood in a metaphorical sense: “the Teachers must
indeed have been virtual magicians to have made the Galatians long to come under the
Law” (J. Louis Martyn, Galatians [AB 33A; New York: Doubleday, 1997], 282-283). Susan
Eastman, “The Evil Eye and the Curse of the Law: Galatians 3.1 Revisited,” JSNT 83 (2001)
69-87, argues that the verb echoes Deut 28:53-57 and the covenantal curses of Deut 27-28.
55 Cf. Tolmie, Persuading the Galatians, 106.
56 Cf. Richard N. Longenecker, Galatians (WBC 31; Dallas: Word, 1990) 103.
57 Hans Dieter Betz, Galatians: A Commentary on Paul’s Letter to the Churches in Galatia
(Hermeneia; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1979) 135, takes the last phrase in 3:4b as a “rhetorical
exclamation,” providing the answer to the rhetorical question: “if so, it really was in vain!”
It is more plausible to interpret the phase in terms of Paul expressing his hope that the
catastrophe of apostasy can be prevented; cf. James D.G. Dunn, A Commentary on the
Epistle to the Galatians (BNTC; London: Black, 1993) 157; Jürgen Becker, Der Brief an die
Galater (NTD 8.1; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1998) 47 (“Man kann Gottes Geist
nicht vergeblich erhalten”); Tolmie, Persuading the Galatians, 107-108.
58 Thomas R. Schreiner, Galatians (ZECNT 9; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010) 185: “Paul
hopes that his warning here will provoke them to reconsider and repent, so that they will
obtain the full reward.”

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dence that God will bring them back to the gospel,59 the statement highlights
an important aspect of the Old Testament and Jewish concept of repentance: it
is God himself who leads people to regret and abandon wrong ideas and wrong
behavior. The sixth question (“does God supply you with the Spirit and work
miracles among you by your doing the works of the law, or by your believing
what you heard?”) in 3:5 forces the Galatians to acknowledge that God contin-
ues to be active among them as they still believe what they heard when Paul
proclaimed the gospel to them, quite independent of the false teachers’ claim
that they should submit to works of the Law. The call to acknowledge the work
of God and to live in the presence of God is tantamount to the prophets’ call
to repentance.
In 1 Cor 1:10 Paul urges (παρακαλῶ) the Corinthian Christians to come to an
agreement and to abandon the divisions in the church which are caused by
quarrels concerning who the superior teacher of the church is: Paul, Apollos,
or Cephas/Peter (1:11-12). In 1:13 Paul asks three rhetorical questions: “Has Christ
been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name
of Paul?” These questions aim at prompting the believers in Corinth to recon-
sider and abandon their harmful evaluation of these three men as competi-
tors and to return to the unity of faith in the gospel.60 The question whether
Christ is divided (μεμέρισται ὁ Χριστός;) is easily answered: of course not—and

59 Martyn, Galatians, 285: “Why does miscarriage scarcely lie within the realm of possibility?
Certainly not because of a steadfast character on the part of the Galatians. The steadfast
one is the God who does not commence his liberating work in order to carry it partway
through (Phil 1:6; Gal 5:10). It is God’s faithfulness, then, that provides the foundation of
Paul’s confidence.” Cf. also Heinrich Schlier, Der Brief an die Galater (1949; repr., KEK 7;
Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1989) 124.
60 Wuellner, “Rhetorical Questions in First Corinthians,” 60, argues that the rhetorical
question (sic) in 1 Cor 1:13, as all rhetorical questions and other rhetorical figures in
1 Corinthians, functions as marking the status of Paul’s discourse, specifically “the
mandate facing all believers, leaders and led alike, to adhere, and to increase adherence,
to ‘what is already accepted.’” He explains this observation, with reference to Chaim
Perelman and Lucie Olbrechts-Tyteca, The New Rhetoric: A Treatise on Argumentation
(Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame, 1969) 47-54, as characteristic of epideictic
rhetoric “as well as all education” (ibid., 60), suggesting that Paul as pastor “functions as
educator; as educator he functions as politician (i.e. moving people not as individuals,
but as social entities within social structures); as politician he functions as rhetorician”
(ibid. 61). Given the status of Paul as an itinerant missionary, and his focus on the message
of a crucified Messiah which is nonsense for Greeks and a stumbling block for Jews (1
Cor 1:18-2:5), Paul would take issue at least with the last two of Wuellner’s descriptions. It
seems preferable to say that Paul as pastor and educator functions as prophet who calls
the people—both the community and individuals—to repentance.

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since there is only one messiah, there is only one church. The division of the
church in Corinth into competing factions with loyalties to human beings is
as grotesque as the notion that the messiah can be divided into a messiah of
Paul, a messiah of Apollos, and a messiah of Peter.61 The answer to the question
whether Paul was crucified for them (μὴ Παῦλος ἐσταυρώθη ὑπὲρ ὑμῶν;) is even
more obvious: Paul was of course not crucified for the believers in Corinth. The
foundational reality is not Paul’s missionary preaching in Corinth but Jesus’
atoning death on the cross. The grotesque notion that Paul died for their sins
should elicit regret for their quarrels about the superiority of Paul, Apollos,
or Cephas, and a recommitment to faith in Jesus and his atoning death. The
question whether they were baptized in the name of Paul (εἰς τὸ ὄνομα Παύλου
ἐβαπτίσθητε;) also has a negative answer: the early Christian missionaries
immersed new converts in the name of Jesus (εἰς τὸ ὄνομα Ἰησοῦ),62 not in the
name of the apostle or the missionary. Paul emphasizes in 1:14-16 that he per-
sonally baptized only a few converts when he preached in Corinth. Relevant is
not who baptizes, not even the event of baptism per se, but the gospel of the
cross of Christ (1:17). Paul calls the Corinthians to reconsider their divisions
in the light of their Christian faith. He urges them to abandon the divisions
caused by their quarrels about who is the superior teacher; he challenges them
to quit focusing on the teachers of the church; he calls on them to return to
faith in Christ. In other words, he calls them to repentance.

6 Paul’s Ethical Discourse Entails Exhortations to Repentance

The two references to μετάνοια in 2 Cor 7:9, 10 and 12:21 demonstrate that Paul
used the term in his theological-ethical exhortation. In the conclusion of his
discussion of the incident which had caused him to write the “severe letter”
(2 Cor 2:1-4), Paul expresses his confidence that the Corinthian believers are
doing the right thing. His letter had caused pain, but it was pain which resulted

61 Cf. Eckhard J. Schnabel, Der erste Brief des Paulus an die Korinther (2., berichtigte und
ergänzte Auflage; Historisch-Theologische Auslegung; Wuppertal: R. Brockhaus, 2010) 96;
Dieter Zeller, Der erste Brief an die Korinther (KEK 5; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht,
2010) 93. Wolfgang Schrage, Der erste Brief an die Korinther (4 vols.; EKK 7; Zürich/
Neukirchen-Vluyn: Benziger/Neukirchener Verlag, 1991-2001) 1:152-153, sees a reference
to the church as Christ’s body, and argues that if each of the groups in the Corinthian
church claims a monopoly of “Christ,” the unity of the church is destroyed when “Christ”
is destroyed.
62 Cf. Acts 8:16; 19:5; see also 12:38 (ἐπὶ τῷ ὄνοματι Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ).

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in repentance. He asserts that the fact that their grief caused their repentance
demonstrates the quality of their grief: it was “godly grief” that leads to salva-
tion. The connection between a re-evaluation of earlier actions, grief, and a
new disposition corresponds to the Greek understanding of μετάνοια.63 At the
same time, the Jewish understanding of repentance is evident. Repentance is
a stage between grief and salvation or its alternative, i.e. death; repentance
entails “a deeply significant change of attitude”64 regarding their recent action
and inaction and at the same time “a radical change of behavior” (cf. 7:11).65
Repentance is linked with the will of God: it ensues from the “sorrow” trig-
gered by Paul’s earlier letter, a sorrow which is κατὰ θεόν (7:9, 11), “according
to the will of God” (nasb).66 Repentance is related to salvation (μετάνοιαν εἰς
σωτηρίαν) “not as cause and effect but as antecedent and result.”67 Salvation
probably refers both to “present spiritual vitality and future eternal life.”68 In
7:11 Paul lists seven items as the “fruit of repentance”:69 σπουδή, seriousness
of purpose in obeying Paul’s directives (cf. 2:9) and dealing with the evildoer;
ἀπολογία, eagerness to clear themselves from blame; ἀγανάκτησις, indigna-
tion at the evildoer who had challenged Paul’s authority and indignation at
themselves and their failure to defend Paul; φόβος, apprehension concern-
ing the effect of their disloyalty on Paul and on the future of their struggling
church; ἐπιπόθησις, the yearning to see Paul in person (cf. 7:7); ζῆλος, eager-
ness to accept Paul’s admonition and thus be reconciled with the apostle; and
ἐκδίκησις, the determination to punish the evildoer. The tangible repentance

63 Cf. Windisch, Der Zweite Korintherbrief, 234. There is no reason to call this the “weakened
sense of repentance” of the term, as Merklein, “μετάνοια, μετανοέω,” 418, does.
64 Margaret E. Thrall, Second Corinthians, 1:492.
65 Cf. Harris, Second Corinthians, 537, who goes on to comment that sorrow “can precede or
follow μετάνοια, but cannot be identified with that change of mind or heart.”
66 Cf. NET: “sadness as intended by God.” Most English translations render the prepositional
phrase κατὰ θεόν as an adjective: “godly grief” (RSV, NRSV), “godly sorrow” (AV, KJV, NKJV,
67 Harris, Second Corinthians, 538; the following point, ibid., 539.
68 Harris, Second Corinthians, 539. But cf. Margaret E. Thrall, Second Corinthians, 1:492: “In
view of the contrasting θάνατος in 10b, the word σωτηρία must carry the full weight of
meaning that attaches to the idea in Paul’s letters, i.e. final deliverance from divine wrath
and final restoration to divine glory.” See already Philipp Bachmann, Der zweite Brief des
Paulus an die Korinther (4. Auflage; orig. 1909; repr., KNT 8; Leipzig: Deichert, 1922) 302-
303; also Barnett, Second Epistle to the Corinthians, 377.
69 For the following descriptions see Harris, Second Corinthians, 542.

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178 Schnabel

of the Corinthian Christians involves grief, a change of mind, salvation, and a

positive transformation of behavior.70
The fact that Paul twice uses the term μετάνοια in 2 Cor 7:9, 10 suggests that
the two reasons that Hans Windisch advances in his explanation of the infre-
quence of the term in Paul’s letters71 are not very convincing. First, while Paul
certainly emphasizes God’s initiative and power, alluded to here with the prep-
ositional phrase κατὰ θεόν, and while he indeed regards the human mind as
debased (Rom 1:28), he does not downplay the relevance of human reason: the
appeals to the Corinthians in the “severe letter” which caused them to grieve
and to repent—if the extant letters of Paul are any guide—surely consisted
of theological, christological, and ecclesiological arguments as well as per-
sonal and emotional appeals designed to cause them to think differently about
his apostolic ministry and message. Paul does not despise human reason,
although he emphasizes the necessity that the faculty of intellectual percep-
tion of Christians and their way of thinking as Christians must not follow the
traditional secular standards and values but be renewed (Rom 12:2). Second,
Paul’s view of the process of conversion, while certainly emphasizing faith in
Jesus Christ, does not marginalize the change of mind that μετάνοια connotes.
In 2 Cor 7:9, 10 μετάνοια and σωτηρία are closely connected.
Expressing his concern about the moral state of the Corinthian believers in
2 Cor 12:20-21, Paul highlights three fears that he hopes would not materialize
when he visits them in the near future: he fears that the Corinthians might not
be the kind of people he wishes them to be (12:20a); he fears specifically that
there continues to be internal strife and factionalism in the church (12:20b);72
and he fears he may be humiliated when he visits the Corinthian believers,
leading to grief over the unrepentant sinners in the church who persist in

70 The comment of Hagenow, Heilige Gemeinde—Sündige Christen, 179, n. 531, that the
specific meaning of μετάνοια in 2 Cor 7:9-10 remains unrecognizable is curious.
71 Windisch, Der Zweite Korintherbrief, 234. He argues that Paul found the emphasis in
μετάνοια on human reason disagreeable (“unsympathisch”), and he argues that Paul’s view
of the process of salvation must be seen in terms of a contrast to the call to repentance
of the prophets and of John and Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels as well as in contrast to the
intellectualism of philosophy: conversion is tied to a sacramental renewal connected to
faith and it is caused by caused by God, which means that the notion of a change of mind
(“Sinnesänderung”) is marginalized (“eben nur mit einschließt”).
72 The list of 12:19b contains eight items: quarreling, jealousy, anger, selfishness, slander,
gossip, conceit, disorder. The first four items occur in Gal 5:20. For a discussion of the
Greek terms see the commentaries, especially M. Thrall, The First and Second Letters of
Paul to the Corinthians (Cambridge Bible; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1965)

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dissolute sexual behavior: “I fear that when I come again, my God may hum-
ble me before you, and that I may have to mourn over many who previously
sinned and have not repented of the impurity, sexual immorality, and licen-
tiousness that they have practiced” (12:21). Paul describes these sinners with
two verbs.73 They have persisted in their former sins (τῶν προημαρτηκότων),
perhaps since his last visit, if not since their conversion (cf. 1 Cor 6:9-11). They
have not repented (μὴ μετανοησάντων) of these sins,74 which are specified as
ἀκαθαρσία, “impurity,” i.e. moral corruption, especially involving sexual sins,
πορνεία, “immorality,” i.e. illicit sexual intercourse such as prostitution and
extra-marital sex, and ἀσέλγεια, “licentiousness,” i.e. lack of moral contraint
and shameless sexual activity.75 Some have suggested that since μετανοεῖν is a
term of missionary proclamation, these unrepentant sinners had never been
really converted to the Christian faith.76 While μετανοεῖν is certainly a mission
term in Acts,77 it is used in Paul’s letters only here, a fact that does not allow
us to establish the semantic connotation of the verb for Paul. As the noun
μετάνοια is concerned, Paul uses it in 2 Cor 7:9, 10 to describe the repentance
of Christian believers, specifically their re-evaluation of and grief about ear-
lier actions, a new disposition, and transformed behavior. When Paul thinks

73 The two verbs are best interpreted as epexegetical genitives after πολλούς, not as partitive
genitives; cf. Victor P. Furnish, II Corinthians (AB 32A; Garden City: Doubleday, 1984) 557;
Jan Lambrecht, Second Corinthians (Sacra Pagina; Liturgical Press: Collegeville, 1989) 215;
Harris, Second Corinthians, 902-903.
74 In the New Testament, μετανοεῖν is usually construed with the prepositions ἀπό (Acts
8:22; cf. Heb 6:1) or ἐκ (Rev 2:21, 22; 9:20, 21; 16:11); in the LXX, the preposition ἐπί is not
uncommon (Joel 2:13; Amos 7:3, 6l; Jonah 3:10; 4:2). Cf. Alfred Plummer, A Critical and
Exegetical Commentary on the Second Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians (orig. 1915; repr.,
ICC; Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1956) 218; Harris, Second Corinthians, 903.
75 The three terms are also listed in Gal 5:19.
76 Dieter Georgi, The Opponents of Paul in Second Corinthians (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1986)
237. Cf. Windisch, Der Zweite Korintherbrief, 410-411, for the point that μετανοεῖν is a
mission term. See Margaret E. Thrall, Second Corinthians, 2:868-869, who finds Georgi’s
linguistic argument unconvincing; she suggests that the sexual sins mentioned in 12:21
were “a prominent characteristic of the pagan habits renounced at conversion (1 Cor
6.9-11),” and allows that Georgi may be correct. Paul’s argument in 1 Cor 6:12-20 clearly
indicates that some Corinthian believers continued their sexually promiscuous behavior.
77 Cf. Acts 2:38; 3:19; 17:30; 26:20. Windisch, Der Zweite Korintherbrief, 411, uses the term
“Taufbekehrung,” a term that diverts attention from faith in Jesus as the Savior who forgives
sins, which is central for Luke, to the occasion in which faith is confessed by immersion
in water. Cf. Kim-Rauchholz, Umkehr bei Lukas; Hans Jörg Sellner, Das Heil Gottes: Studien
zur Soteriologie des lukanischen Doppelwerks (BZNW 152; Berlin: De Gruyter, 2007).

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of his upcoming visit to Corinth, he fears that the continued quarrels and dis-
solute sexual behavior will compel him to take formal, public action against
these unrepentant sinners—a humiliating experience which Paul, however,
attributes to God “because God could turn Paul’s painful discovery of those
sins among his own converts into spiritual benefit if Paul himself was thereby
brought low before God and if his subsequent action of ‘not sparing’ them
punishment (13:2) brought about their repentance and thus their οἰκοδομή
(v. 19; cf. 10:8; 13:10).”78
The humbling experience that Paul fears he will have to face during his
upcoming visit to Corinth would probably involve unrepentant sinners from
the congregation. In 2 Cor 2:5-8, 10; 7:11; 13:1-2 and 1 Cor 5:3-13 Paul provides
hints about a congregational procedure for disciplining unrepentant sinners
in the church. The congregation would hear evidence about the sinful behav-
ior of the church member, given by at least two or three witnesses (2 Cor 13:1);
the church expresses sadness about the sin of the church member (1 Cor 5:2);79
the majority of the church passes a judgment (1 Cor 5:3), followed by a pen-
alty if the church member persists in sinning (2 Cor 2:5-6); the penalty may
be exclusion from all social contact with other church members (1 Cor 5:11;
cf. 2 Thess 3:14) or excommunication (1 Cor 5:3-5, 13); the penalty was not
irreversible: if the punishment led to sorrow and repentance, the penalty
should be discontinued (2 Cor 2:7). The purpose of such a procedure “was to
provoke the sinner’s repentance with a view to his restoration to the commu-
nity of faith.”80
While Paul does not use μετανοεῖν or μετάνοια in 1 Corinthians, it is quite
obvious that he calls upon the Corinthian believers to change their mind about
various convictions and modes of behavior, to feel regret or shame about their
present behavior, to turn away from specific sins, and to change their behavior.
In other words, he wants them to repent. The Old Testament and Jewish con-
nection between repentance and a return to Yahweh is present in that Paul
bases his ethical exhortation on references to God or to Jesus Christ. A few

78 Harris, Second Corinthians, 902. Furnish, II Corinthians, 567, is less optimistic about the
outcome: “their ruin is his defeat;” cf. Ralph P. Martin, 2 Corinthians (WBC 40; Waco: Word,
1986) 465: “Paul will be humiliated because he will feel that he failed in his mission.”
79 Note Ciampa and Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians, 201, who state with reference
to 2 Cor 12:21 that “mourning” “closely parallels the concept of godly sorrow or repentance.”
80 Barnett, Second Epistle to the Corinthians, 596-557; cf. Harris, Second Corinthians, 228;
also Anthony C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (NIGTC; Grand Rapids:
Eerdmans, 2000) 397 on 1 Cor 5:4-5: “in hope that the experience would cause him to
repent and return to the fellowship of the church.”

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examples must suffice. As regards quarrels about loyalties to a particular apos-

tle or teacher (1 Cor 1:18-4:21), Paul argues with the gospel of Jesus, the crucified
Messiah, with the composition of the church, with the missionary proclama-
tion which led to the establishment of the church, with the wisdom and the
Spirit of God, with the function of missionaries and church leaders, and with
the proper evaluation of church leaders (1 Cor 1:18-25, 26-31; 2:1-5, 6-16; 3:1-23;
4:1-21) to change the Corinthians’ mind, to change their behavior, and to get
them to acknowledge the centrality of the cross (1:18-2:5; 3:11) and the pres-
ence of God in the church who is God’s temple (3:16). The rhetorical appeal
to knowledge that they should have about their identity as God’s temple (οὐκ
οἴδατε, “do you not know”; 3:16)81 is meant to cause shame,82 an implementa-
tion of knowledge that they already have,83 a reorientation of basic priorities,
and changed behavior. In the discussion of the case of incest (1 Cor 5:1-13), Paul
shames them for tolerating such behavior by pointing out the fact that even
pagans do not tolerate incestuous relationships, challenging them to mourn,
to change their thinking about this matter and to deal with the sinner. As
regards lawsuits among believers (1 Cor 6:1-11), he shames84 them by pointing
out their willingness to have disputes about ordinary matters be decided by
pagan judges. He points them to the kingdom of God and to the power of the
Lord Jesus Christ and of God’s Spirit that provided them with a new identity
of people who have been washed, sanctified, and justified, as the basis and the
motivation for a change of attitude and a change of behavior when it comes to
dealing with other believers who may have caused harm. Paul’s warning against
prostitution includes the argument that the body of believers belongs to the
Lord (1 Cor 6:19-20). Read on the background of Hos 3:2-3, one may conclude,
“Calling God’s people to repentance on the grounds that he is their husband
and master places Paul in the tradition of the best of Israel’s prophets.”85 When
Paul admonishes the Corinthians not to participate in banquets in pagan

81 The phrase οὐκ οἴδατε occurs quite often in Paul: cf. 1 Cor 5:6; 6:2, 3, 9, 15, 16, 19; 9:13, 24;
Rom 6:16; 11:2; without negation in 1 Cor 12:2; 16:15; Gal 4:13; Phil 4:15; 1 Thess 1:5; 2:1, 2, 5, 11;
3:3, 4; 4:2; 5:2; 2 Thess 2:6; 3:7.
82 Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 316, comments that the phrase οὐκ οἴδατε
“indicates both Paul’s intensity of feeling . . . and his belief that the principle at issue is
axiomatic for the Christian and should not have escaped attention as a cardinal element
in the community’s thinking.”
83 Cf. Wuellner, “Rhetorical Questions in First Corinthians,” 67, 71.
84 Note 6:5: πρὸς ἐντροπὴν ὑμῖν λέγω; BDAG defines ἐντροπή as “the state of being ashamed.”
85 Ciampa and Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians, 265.

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temples,86 he exhorts them, “flee from idolatry” (φεύγετε ἀπὸ τῆς εἰδωλολατρίας;
1 Cor 10:14), appealing to their cognitive faculties (ὡς φρονίμοις λέγω; 10:15), to
Jesus death (10:16), to fellowship with Jesus in the Lord’s supper (10:16-17), and
warning them of the Lord’s “jealousy” and power and thus implicitly of divine
judgment (10:22). This is the language of repentance: the Corinthian Christians
must abandon their visits to pagan temples, they must change their mind about
their behavior on the basis of knowledge that they already have, they must
return to the exclusivity of their commitment to Jesus, and they must take the
reality of God’s judgment seriously. When Paul censures the Corinthians for
the dynamics of the communal meals and the celebration of the Lord’s Supper
in the meetings of the assembly, he accuses some of the Corinthian believers
of causing harm (11:17) and of enjoying their rich meals while neglecting the
needs of the poorer believers who are hungry (11:21-22). He reminds them of
Jesus’ death and the institution of the Lord’s supper (11:23-26)9. He warns them
of persisting in sinning (11:27). He calls them to examine their behavior on the
basis of the knowledge they have about the Lord’s Supper (11:28), surely with
a view to changing their outlook and their behavior. He warns them of God’s
judgment (11:29) which has already started to become a reality, demonstrated
by illnesses and premature deaths in the church (11:30). And he reminds them
that such judgment is not meant to condemn them but to lead them to proper
discernment (διεκρίνομεν), i.e. a proper evaluation of what constitutes proper
behavior of well-to-do Christians (11:31), and to “discipline” (παιδευόμεθα) them
(11:32), a term that can be defined as “to assist in the development of a person’s
ability to make appropriate choices.”87 In other words, Paul wants the affluent
Corinthian believers who ignore the needs of the poorer believers to change
their worldview and their behavior in the light of convictions that they already
have, genuinely appropriating their faith in Jesus Christ. He wants them to

86 Cf. Peter David Gooch, Dangerous Food: 1 Corinthians 8-10 in its Context (Studies in
Christianity and Judaism; Waterloo, Ont.: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1993); Alex
T.M. Cheung, Idol Food in Corinth: Jewish Background and Pauline Legacy (JSNTSup 176;
Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999); Bruce W. Winter, After Paul Left Corinth: The
Influence of Secular Ethics and Social Change (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001) 269-301; John
Fotopoulos, Food Offered to Idols in Roman Corinth: A Social-rhetorical Reconsideration
of 1 Corinthians 8:1-11:1 (WUNT 2.151; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2003); David E. Garland,
1 Corinthians (BECNT; Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003) 353-357; Schnabel, Erster Korinther, 428-
432; Zeller, Korinther, 280-282, 336-342.
87 BDAG s.v. παιδεύω 2.
88 Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 898, comments that Paul’s concern “anticipates
Bonhoeffer’s declarations about ‘cheap grace.’ Cheap grace is ‘the preaching of

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In Gal 5:16 Paul admonishes the Galatian believers to “live by the Spirit”
(πνεύματι περιπατεῖτε) and not to “gratify the desires of the flesh” and then
enumerates a list of “works of the flesh” (τὰ ἔργα τῆς σαρκός) that cannot
and must not characterize the behavior of Christians (5:19-21). The first five
items describe Gentile behavior (fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idola-
try, sorcery),89 the following eight items depict problems of life in community
(enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy), and the
last two items (drunkenness, carousing) could go with the previous two groups.90
While some see the list as a “random collection of items,”91 others have argued
that “by ‘topping and tailing’ his list with items which he could be sure his
Galatian audiences would echo warmly, his hope no doubt was that the items
in the heart of the list directed more at them themselves would strike home
with greater impact,”92 in particular the reference to dissensions (διχοστασίαι)
and factions (αἵρεσις). The nine items in the list of the “fruit of the Spirit” (ὁ
καρπὸς τοῦ πνεύματος) in 5:22-23 describe the quality of character caused by
the prompting of the Spirit without which the community of believers cannot
be sustained.93 The exhortation εἰ ζῶμεν πνεύματι, πνεύματι καὶ στοιχῶμεν (“if
we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit”; 5:25) initiates in 5:25-
6:10 a series of imperative and hortatory verbs after the essentially descriptive
paragraph 5:13-24, emphasizing the responsibility of the Galatian believers for
Christian living. Paul can build on his description of “the activity by which
God has graciously created an addressable community, a church that, led by
the Spirit, is able to hear the imperative and to be thankful to God for it.”94 It
is in this context, explicitly addressing the Galatian Christians for the penulti-
mate time in 6:1,95 that Paul admonishes: “My friends, if anyone is detected in
a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in
a spirit of gentleness.” The brief description of what the believers in the assem-
blies should do when a fellow-believer is entrapped by a particular sin (ἔν τινι

forgiveness without repentance . . . Communion without confession, grace without

discipleship . . . Christianity without Christ’” (quoting Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of
Discipleship [6th ed.; London: SCM, 1959] 38, 39, also quoted ibid., 157, 356, 1009).
89 Note that πορνεία, ἀκαθαρσία, ἀσέλγεια, εἰδωλολατρία, φαρμακεία, although viewed as vices
by some Greek philosophers, describe traditional pagan behavior.
90 Cf. Franz Mußner, Der Galaterbrief (5. Auflage; orig. 1974; repr., HThK IX; Freiburg: Herder,
1988) 381.
91 Betz, Galatians, 283, quoted by Longenecker, Galatians, 254.
92 Dunn, Galatians, 306.
93 Cf. Dunn, Galatians, 309.
94 Martyn, Galatians, 536.
95 Cf. Gal 1:11; 3:15; 4:12, 28, 31; 5:11, 13, and the benediction 6:18.

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παραπτώματι) focuses on “you who have received the Spirit” rather than on the
attitudes and actions of those who have sinned.96 The believers who have all
received the Spirit (3:2-3, 5; 4:6; 5:18) are exhorted to restore a fellow-Christian
whose unacceptable conduct has come to light. The verb καταρτίζειν describes
an action that causes something or someone to be in a condition which allows
it or him to function well, specifically the restoration to a former condition,
which is put to rights.97 The present tense of the imperative (καταρτίζετε) sug-
gests a process that may take some time.98 Challenging the sinner and restor-
ing him to proper Christian behavior is to be done “in a spirit of gentleness,” i.e.
with spiritual maturity that embodies the fruit of the Spirit. As regards the sin-
ner, who is not the focus of Paul’s directive, Paul would certainly imply that he
acknowledges his transgression, abandons his behavior which belonged to the
“works of the flesh,” and commits himself to changed behavior controlled by
the Spirit and informed by the “fruit of the Spirit.” In other words, Paul expects
that the sinner repents, and that the congregation helps the sinner in the pro-
cess of recognizing, confessing, and abandoning sin and returning to behav-
ior that corresponds to the new life that believers in Jesus have been given by
the Spirit. The comment “take care that you yourselves are not tempted” (6:1b)
directs all Christians to self-scrutiny, to an acknowledgment of their own pro-
pensity to temptation and sin. The need to repent remains a constant reality in
the Christian community.
A final example must suffice. The first two imperatives of Paul’s ethical dis-
course in Rom 12-15 appear in 12:2: καὶ μὴ συσχηματίζεσθε τῷ αἰῶνι τούτῳ, ἀλλὰ
μεταμορφοῦσθε τῇ ἀνακαινώσει τοῦ νοός, εἰς τὸ δοκιμάζειν ὑμᾶς τί τὸ θέλημα τοῦ
θεοῦ, τὸ ἀγαθὸν καὶ εὐάρεστον καὶ τέλειον (“Do not be conformed to this world,
but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern
what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect”).99 Since
the present world is passing and imperfect (1 Cor 7:31; 10:11) because it is con-
trolled by Satan (2 Cor 4:4) and thus evil (Gal 1:4), Paul exhorts Christians
not to conform to the pattern of the present world, i.e. of the social, cultural,
and ethical traditions of secular society. The present tense of the imperative
συσχηματίζεσθε indicates that the resistance of the Christian believer to secu-

96 Longenecker, Galatians, 274.

97 BDAG s.v. καταρτίζω 1a.
98 Dunn, Galatians, 321, overinterprets when he states that “the tense implies that it might be
a lengthy task.” Schreiner, Galatians, 357, suggests that what Paul describes corresponds to
the first step of church discipline in Matt 18:15-20.
99 Hagenow, Heilige Gemeinde—Sündige Christen, does not discuss Rom 12:2 in his treatment
of synchronic and diachronic aspects of sin in Romans (165-212).

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lar accommodation and adaptation100 is an ongoing process, which implies

that the patterns and the actions of secular behavior continue to be a temp-
tation for Christians, which they must refuse. The second imperative exhorts
Christians to let God’s grace and the power of the Spirit transform their think-
ing and their behavior. The verb μεταμορφοῦν describes here an inward change
in fundamental character or condition,101 a change that consists in the renewal
(ἀνακαίνωσις) of the cognitive and moral perception regarding the temptations
of the works of the flesh that characterize the present world (cf. 8:1-17) on the
one hand, and of the will of God that believers are called upon to exhibit on
the other hand. The purpose and result of this transformation is the discern-
ment of “what it is important to do, the best course to follow, the decision to
make, and especially to discern what is pleasing to the Lord (Eph 5:10), which
presupposes spiritual renewal and the possession of love, which consequently
gives a religious sense, a kind of spiritual instinct that allows a person to recog-
nize true values (Rom 12:2).”102 The will of God (τὸ θέλημα τοῦ θεοῦ) is described
as ἀγαθός, i.e. of high standard of worth and merit; as εὐάρεστον, i.e. a good-
ness that is determined not by human standards but by the revelation of God’s
will;103 and τέλειον, i.e. perfect, complete, and absolute. The present tense of
the imperative μεταμορφοῦσθε indicates, again, that the active, deliberate com-
mitment to do the will of God, to changed thinking about ethical values, and
to changed behavior that is in line with the will of God, is an ongoing process.
Since spiritual renewal is accompanied by godly grief leading to repentance
according to 2 Cor 7:9,104 remorse for sin is most likely implied as well. The pas-
sive voice of the imperative points to the power of the “mercies of God” (12:1)
and the work of the Spirit (8:4-5, 9-11) in the process of cognitive and moral
transformation, while the imperative as such highlights the personal responsi-
bility of the believer to actually do the will of God. This process of refusing to
accommodate secular values, of transformation according to the norms of the
will of God, and of discerning what to think and what to do, corresponds to the
basic definition of repentance.

100 Cf. Ernst Käsemann, An die Römer (4. Auflage; HNT 8a; Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 1980)
101 BDAG s.v. μεταμορφόω 2; the first meaning is “to change in a manner visible to others, be
102 Ceslas Spicq, “δοκιμάζω,” in Theological Lexicon of the New Testament (3 vols.; Peabody:
Hendrickson, 1996) 1:353-361, 356.
103 C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans (ICC; Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1975-79) 2:610.
104 Cf. Matthew A. Elliott, Faithful Feelings: Rethinking Emotion in the New Testament (Grand
Rapids: Kregel, 2006) 209.

Novum Testamentum 57 (2015) 159-186

186 Schnabel

7 Conclusion

There is no basis for the argument that Paul avoids the terms μετάνοια /
μετανοεῖν because of antipathy to the term devalued by the penitential prac-
tices in contemporary Judaism, as Johannes Behm alleges,105 or merely because
for Paul “μετάνοια is comprised in πίστις, the central concept in his doctrine of
salvation,”106 or because this term “did not stress sufficiently God’s action in
salvation.”107 The relative scarcity of the terms μετάνοια / μετανοεῖν in Paul’s
letters should not be accorded too much weight. Inferences from word sta-
tistics are, at least in this case, not helpful. Paul does use the terms μετάνοια /
μετανοεῖν. He also uses other terms and phrases in order to express the need
to, and the reality of, changing mind and heart, outlook and behavior. We have
seen that Paul knows the Jewish doctrine of repentance, that his missionary
preaching calls for repentance, that his theological discourse presupposes
repentance, that his rhetorical discourse in his letters includes the discourse of
repentance, and that his ethical discourse entails exhortations to repentance.
Christians are people who have repented of their sins and who have commit-
ted themselves to living for God, and they are people who continue to repent of
sins they find themselves doing, continuously committing themselves to doing
the will of God. While emphasizing that all sins are forgiven, once and for all,
by God’s grace on account of Jesus’ atoning death on the cross, for all who
believe in Jesus Christ, he also emphasizes the continued necessity of exchang-
ing secular standards for the standards of the will of God, changing the pat-
terns of perception concerning what is acceptable behavior, regretting false
thinking and wrong behavior, returning to faith in God and in Jesus as the basis
for proper Christian behavior, all the while relying on the power of God and his
Spirit who continues the transformation of the justified sinner

105 Johannes Behm, “μετανοέω, μετάνοια,” in Theologische Wörterbuch zum Neuen Testament
(ed. G. Kittel and G. Friedrich; Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1933-79) 4:972-1004, 1000: “Antipathie
gegen das durch die jüdische Bußpraxis entwertete Wort”; the English translation omits
the reference to Judaism: Johannes Behm, “μετανοέω, μετάνοια,” in Theological Dictionary
of the New Testament (ed. G. Kittel and G. Friedrich; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964-76)
4:975-1008, 1005: “antipathy to a term devalued by penitential practices.” Behm’s view in
TWNT is taken up by Cranfield, Romans, 1:144-145 n. 2.
106 Behm, “μετανοέω, μετάνοια,” 1005, with reference to Adolf Schlatter, Die Theologie der
Apostel (2. Auflage; orig. 1910; repr., Stuttgart: Calwer, 1922) 334: “daß er aus dem Glauben
und der Buße eine vollkommene Einheit macht.” Schlatter does not specifically comment
on the use of μετάνοια in Paul’s letters.
107 Francis T. Fallon, 2 Corinthians (New Testament Message 11; Wilmington: Glazier, 1980) 64,
quoted approvingly by Martin, 2 Corinthians, 230.

Novum Testamentum 57 (2015) 159-186

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