Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Teshuvah the Same for Jews and Non-Jews: Examining the Parallel Usage of Epistrepho in Acts 3 and Acts 15

"For as long as life is in me, And the breath of God is in my nostrils" (Job 27:3)

In Hebrew, teshuvah can be read as "return to the letter hey" (see Tanya, Igeret Hateshuvah, ch. 4).  Since the letter hey is part of the Tetragrammaton (the four letters comprising the Divine Name), we can read teshuvah (conversion) as returning to HaShem.  It's a great mystery but there you have it.

The genius of the Jerusalem Council was that they recognized that the non-Jews "returning" to G-d could not be excluded on the basis of physical conversion standards--that conversion was a spiritual dynamic occurring between a soul and its Source.  C.K. Barrett observes something interesting about the language of conversion in the Apostolic Writings:

" [tois apo ton ethnon epistrephousin epi ton theon] [those among the Gentiles who are turning to God--Acts 15:19] could be said by a Jew of Gentile converts to Judaism; to a Jewish Christian the Christian conversion of Gentiles must have had to a considerable extent the same appearance.  Gentiles were turning from whatever heathen gods they had previously worshipped to the God of the OT, the God of the Jews.  It was this fact that gave strength to the requirement that they should behave like converts to Judaism, that is, should be circumcised and thereafter keep the Law.  [epistrephousin--which is teshuvah or turning] could be used to describe what was required of Jews (3.19). [Acts 3:19 says "Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord"]" pg. 728 of A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles by C.K. Barrett
This whole business of judging a convert based on his conversion papers is ridiculous.  The thing that makes a convert is the pull of the Ruach.  This is why the Council required only that the non-Jewish converts demonstrate their conversion by abstaining from "pollutions" of idols.

Teshuvah is simply turning from idolatry towards the One True G-d.



  1. Well said, when we analyze the massive number of gentile conversions in Biblical history, such as the Mount Sinai event or during Solomon's day, there is no way, they(Israel) followed the process we see during the 1st Century as a rite of entry, converts were far and few between in the 1st century time and no wonder, it was a very tedious process which had the opposite effect of Biblical conversion, instead it shunned conversions, and thankfully that is where the Gospel comes in, restoring the proper model as we see in the days of Biblical Judaism.

  2. Psalm 19:7
    The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.

  3. My take on the, "heh," is that it represents a window, and means, "what is revealed." A window opens to let in light of revelation and the breeze of inspiration. When one returns, then what is hidden is revealed and one receives the life-giving power to understand and walk according to the way.

    I was just having a discussion with some ladies about the Hebrew in Psalm 16. He will make us know (in the inward being, intimately) the walk; before your face is fullness (completeness) of joys.

    It should be obvious that the reason the gentiles were told to turn to the living God, and not told to, "make teshuva," or return, because they had nothing to return to. The Jewish people had the torah, prophets, and writings to return to; the ways of our fathers.

  4. "It should be obvious that the reason the gentiles were told to turn to the living God, and not told to, "make teshuva," or return, because they had nothing to return to. "


    The same words for repentance and return are used for both Israel and the Nations. Both are granted repentance unto life but only in Yeshua.

  5. I don't know Greek. My understanding is that there is a difference between the Hebrew, "teshuva," and the Greek, "metanoia," in that, "return," and, "change your mind," are quite different. The Greeks could not return to a past history of holiness because they had none. They could certainly turn to the living God.

  6. Actually, "return" and "change your mind" "conversion" etc. are the same thing - repentance unto life.

  7. According to Luke Johnson, "The term metanoeo is used in the LXX for God's 'repenting' (=changing his mind), as in Amos 7:3, 6; Joel 2:13-14; Jer 4:28. In the NT the verb and noun (metanoia) appear frequently for human conversion…" (pg. 57 of The Acts of the Apostles). "The LXX uses epistrepho ('turn back') more frequently to translate the Hebrew [teshuvah] for human repentance and conversion (e.g., Hos 3:5; 5:4; Amos 4:6, 9; Joel 2:13; Zech 1:3; Mal 3:7; Isa 9:13; 19:22; 55:7; Jer 3:10; Ezek 18:32)," (pg. 68 of The Acts of the Apostles).

    So it's interesting that Acts 15 applies epistrepho (the LXX equivalent to "teshuvah") to non-Jews.

    This is profound!