Biblical Theology & The Sacrament of Penance

By Rev. Dimitriy Yurevitch

1. Essential aspects of the Biblical doctrine of repentance

The doctrine of Repentance is represented in different books of the Old and New Testament. There it is set out with different degrees of fullness depending on historical conditions as well as on the sacred authors? purposes and objectives. Philologically it is not restricted to any one term; and while the biblical teaching about salvation was evolving, repentance terminology was also acquiring fullness and accuracy in meaning.

That is why in setting out the biblical doctrine of repentance there arises a difficulty of a technical character. The abundant material and the wholeness of the scene call for the carrying out of a scrupulous and consistent analysis of repentance in all biblical books, and only after that, can we put the different parts and features of this doctrine together and suggest a certain system as a synthesis. However, while relevant to a comprehensive monograph, such an approach is unacceptable in a short report, not pretending to fullness. So the author suggests that a “mathematical” method should be used in summary of the material: first, a “theorem” will be formulated, i.e. the total scheme of the biblical doctrine of repentance will be presented, followed by it?s “proof”— illustrations of different aspects of the biblical doctrine in certain texts and examples.

Bearing in mind the historical genesis of the biblical doctrine, the final outline will be presented on the basis of the idea that there is a mutual harmony in matters of the doctrine in the books of Scripture.

Briefly the Biblical repentance doctrine can be represented in the following way. From the Scriptural point of view, repentance is an overall change in human life, a fundamental shift of life courses, a person?s conversion from sin to the Lord and confirming him upon a new way of life. In the process of repentance a number of aspects can be marked out, that can be described both logically and formally. With regard to form we are required to distinguish internal and external, as well as private and public repentance. The types mentioned are closely interconnected and may serve as the external terms of the different stages of repentance, and that reflect the logical process.

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The first logical stage of repentance is contrition, i.e., when a person (or even a group of people) realizes the viciousness of his way of life, understands sins as definite transgressions of the commandment, and apprehends the bitterness drawn to the soul and to all the human essence by sin.

The second stage of repentance — turning — brings change in the sinner?s life, his appeal to the Lord begging for pardon and forgiveness.

The third stage — confession — when the penitent uses different ways to express his repentance by oral declamation, offerings in the Old Testament, or the Sacrament in the New Testament Church. Confession is needed not only to express feelings of repentance but to present the sinner with the belief that he is forgiven by the Lord. The stage of purification has also to be attributed to the logic of repentance. That is the mysterious effect of God?s Grace on the penitent, in the course of which, the Lord heals the nature struck down by sin, forgives sins and gives power to do good deeds.

And the last stage — remaining in virtue — is the penitent’s conversion from all former evil deeds in favor of striving for the good. We will bear in mind this general plan of the biblical doctrine of repentance while studying the following examples, and we will recall that the authors of the sacred books were not restricted to any strict scheme given in advance when setting out the doctrine of repentance. That is why in the examples from the Bible the stages of the repentance process may differ from the above logical plan both in their sequence and number.

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About Fr. John A. Peck

Director of the Preachers Institute, priest in the Orthodox Church in America, award-winning graphic designer and media consultant, and non-profit administrator.
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