I wrote my dissertation at DTS on repentance in 1985. I recently wrote a book on repentance called Turn and Live. But I’ve never been asked the question that M. G. asked via email:
“Is it accurate to say that the use of repent and repentance found in the Old and New Testaments always refers to the Jewish people? Are there any passages that specifically call Gentiles to repentance?”
That is a great question. I’ve never addressed it.
There are some repentance verses that specifically call Gentiles to repentance. But M. G. is correct that the vast majority of references to repentance concern the Nation of Israel.
The OT calls Israel to “turn from its wicked ways” (the normal OT expression for repentance) hundreds of times (e.g., 2 Chron 7:14).i There are only a few times when Gentile nations are called to repent (e.g., Jonah 3ii; Amos 1:3–2:3iii). (Sometimes the future turning of the Gentiles to the Lord is prophesied, as in Ps 22:27; Isa 42:6-7.)
In the New Testament, the calls to repentance vary, depending on the book in question.
Every use of the words repent and repentance in the Synoptic Gospels (26 total) is directed to Israel, with the exception of the Great Commission in Luke. There, the apostles are told “that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47).
There are no references to repentance in John’s Gospel.
In the eleven uses of these words in Acts, only five refer to the repentance of Samaritans or Gentiles (Acts 8:22; 11:18; 17:30; 20:21; 26:20).
The dozen references to repentance in Revelation all concern Gentiles. Seven are calls for believing Gentilesiv to repent (Rev 2:5 twice, 16, 21 twice; 3:3, 19). In the rest of the book there are four references to the fact that the Gentiles will not repent of their evil deeds during the Tribulation (9:20, 21; 16:9, 11).
There are only five references to repentance in Paul’s thirteen letters. Four of those refer to the repentance of believing Gentiles (2 Cor 7:9, 10; 12:21; 2 Tim 2:25). Only one refers to the possible repentance of unbelieving Gentiles (Rom 2:4).
Hebrews has three references to repentance, all directed to Jewish believers (Heb 6:1, 6; 12:17).
Peter speaks of repentance only once, saying that as long as there is enough repentance worldwide, God is delaying Christ’s return and the billions of deaths that will precede it during the Tribulation (2 Pet 3:9).
In the OT, calls to repentance are almost exclusively to the Jewish people.
In the NT, calls to repentance are mostly to believers, but sometimes to unbelievers.
Never is repentance presented in the OT or NT as a condition of everlasting life.
Israel was called to repentance during the ministries of John the Baptist and the Lord Jesus. In the Book of Acts, those calls continued as the apostles offered the kingdom to that generation of Jews.
I urge you to do the study for yourself. There are only fifty-five uses of repent and repentance in the NT. Study them and you will see that repentance is a physical-life-and-blessing issue, not an eternal-destiny issue. You’ll also see that the Jewish people are most often those called to repentance.
i See this article by me on repentance in the OT: https://bible.org/seriespage/2-doctrine-repentance-old-testament.
ii While Jonah mentions coming judgment, but not repentance, the Lord knew–and Jonah suspected–that the Ninevites would repent and be spared as a result of Jonah’s pronouncement.
iii While Amos does not call the Gentile nations to repent, his statement about coming judgment should have led to their repenting.
iv These are calls for believers in primarily Gentile churches to repent. While there were likely some believing Jews in these congregations, the churches would have been comprised mostly of Gentiles.