Wednesday, June 29, 2005

A Few Thoughts on Repentance vis-a-vis Baptism

In his parting shots toward me, the hyper-sacramentalist included a quotation from the Anchor Bible Dictionary:

I noted in a previous post that in the Bible, repentance is more than a state of mind; it is necessarily expressed and embodied in certain actions (like John the Baptist’s baptism of repentance). The point I was making is captured nicely in the Anchor Bible Dictionary entry on Repentance (ABD, 5:672): “Repentance in the prophets, then, is an act of the heart. It is more than mere words. It is defined by clear actions that lead to justice, mercy, and fidelity. But repentance was also a cultic act. It is a liturgical function in Israel. There are a number of passages which point to the liturgical act of repentance (Isa 63:7-64:12; Hos 6:1-3; 7:14; 14:1-3; Joel 2:15-18). These cultic expressions apparently included acts such as rending garments, throwing ashes, wearing course garments, and as in the liturgy of the yom hakkippurim, symbolic acts (Lev 16).”
He wrote this as a follow-up to his prior statement that "repentance is not simply a state of mind; it is an embodied action which is formally enacted through a physical ritual," and as a "rebuttal" of my observation that he has resurrected the "metanoia = penance, not repentance" error from the lexical grave.

Three observations about his supposed support from the ABD. First, the "cultic expressions" cited by the author are not so much "liturgical rituals," as they are cultural expressions of remorse. Tearing one's garment was not a means to religious "conversion" as the hyper-sacramentalist contends baptism is. Nor was throwing dust and ashes on one's head, or wearing course garments. They were signs of remorse.

Second, bear in mind that the hyper-sacramentalist contends that baptism is the means of repentance, not the fruit. Yet in each of the OT cases cited by his source, the opposite is true. No one threw dust on his head so that he could feel remorse and repent.

Third, here's a thought. When using a source to advance your case, it always helps to quote from the right section of that source. The heading "Repentance" in the ABD is divided into two sections: A. Old Testament (Usage), and B. New Testament (Usage). Apparently, the hyper-sacramentalist couldn't find the "evidence" he needed to prove his case under the New Testament section of the dictionary (which is the era in question, after all), and so produced his "neat quote on repentance" from the Old Testament section. The reasons for this are fairly obvious. Here is what he found under the subheading "New Testament":

The generally recognized core idea of these words ["repentance" and its cognates] is a "change of mind" . . . although metamelomai also carries the nuance of "regret" or "remorse." . . . Here the basic flavor of of intellectual change in metanoia is evident. It is also clear that behavioral "fruit" (i.e., a changed life) is expected to flow from repentance [not to be confused with the hyper-sacramentalist's "formally enacted physical ritual" which instead produces repentance].
The article goes on to say that true repentance is "wedded" to faith, "includes" faith (when faith is not expressly stated in the text), and that repentance and faith are "two sides of the same coin" (which is why external rites like baptism do not fall into the same category as faith). The article also notes that "the basic idea of a change of mind is demonstrated in the epistles." Even in Jesus' letters to the churches in Revelation, "All these sinful churches needed to change their minds and bring forth the fruit of repentance," again, in strong contrast to the view of the hyper-sacramentalist which sees repentance as the fruit of baptism! The article concludes by noting, "In conclusion it can be said that repentance in the NT is always anchored in a change of thinking. . . . repentance must not be separated from its flip side of faith . . . or from the realization that it sometimes stands for the package of human response to the good news of Jesus Christ."

Recall, this is just how I had defined repentance in an earlier entry; to which the hyper-sacramentalist responded:

For him, repentance is a disembodied state of mind. I “repent” by thinking the words in my head “I’m sorry for my sins,” and by feeling regret inwardly for those sins, and desiring to change. This is not the case in the historical context of John the Baptist’s call for repentance.
The hyper-sacramentalist, it seems, has unfortunately allowed himself to be informed not by scholarship, but by his "Baptist Equals Sectarian Gnostics Beaming Propositional Thoughts Back And Forth From Mind To Mind"-obsessed undergraduate colleague. That's too bad. College professors should be instructing undergraduate students--not vice versa.

By the way, if you're wondering about the Old Testament teaching on "Repentance," look it up in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (ISBE), and you'll find something that differs from the "liturgical" emphasis found in the Anchor Bible Dictionary. But you will find that the New Testament sections of ISBE mirrors that of the ABD: "to change the mind."