Robert N. Wilkin
Grace Evangelical Society
Over the past few years I have read articles and books by leading Evangelicals arguing that the concept of repentance is found in the Gospel of John. They have suggested it is a major error to conclude, as I and others have, that because the words repent and repentance (metanoeō and metanoia) do not appear in John’s Gospel, then repentance must not be a condition of everlasting life.1
In this article we will consider the examples which have been put forward of the concept of repentance in John’s Gospel. Is the concept of repentance indeed found in the Fourth Gospel? If so, does the Fourth Gospel teach that repentance is a condition of everlasting life?
II. WHY THIS IS AN IMPORTANT QUESTION
This is important for a number of reasons.
First, people’s eternal destinies depend upon whether they do what God requires in order to be born again. If repentance is a condition of everlasting life and we do not teach that it is, then we are misleading people on the single most important issue there is. That is bad for them, and it is bad for us as well (see Jas 3:1).
Second, Biblical doctrines build on one another. If we accurately understand the place of repentance in the Bible, then we have what Paul calls “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor 2:16) in that matter. If, however, we misunderstand the role of repentance, then our thinking is seriously out of line with Scripture on this issue. And since doctrines are interrelated, to be off on repentance would mean that we misunderstand the nature of saving faith as well as assurance of everlasting life.
Third, the issue of interpreting Scripture is a vital one. Since this question is fundamentally one involving principles of hermeneutics, it is a crucial question. We must have a sound hermeneutic if we are to understand God’s Word.
III. EXAMPLES WHEREIN A GIVEN WORD OR PHRASE DOES NOT APPEAR IN A BOOK, YET THE CONCEPT IS PRESENT
I heartily agree that a given word does not need to be used in a book in order for the concept conveyed by that word to be present. I will give a few simple and clear examples.
The expression great white throne is not mentioned in the Gospels. In fact, that expression is only found once in the Bible, in Rev 20:11. In Rev 20:11-15, the Great White Throne Judgment is foretold. While that expression is not found in the Gospels, the concept of the Great White Throne Judgment is found in all four Gospels (cf. Matt 7:21-23; 12:41-42; Mark 6:11; Luke 10:14; 11:31; John 5:24; 12:48).
The expression the Judgment Seat of Christ only occurs twice in the NT (Rom 14:10 in the Majority Text; 2 Cor 5:9-10). However, the concept of the Judgment Seat of Christ is found all throughout the NT (e.g., Matt 16:24-27; Luke 19:16-26; 1 Cor 3:5-15; 9:24-27; Gal 6:7-9; Col 1:21-23; 2 Tim 1:12; 2:12; 4:6-8; Heb 1:9; Jas 2:13; 3:1; 5:9; 1 Pet 5:4; 1 John 2:28; 4:17-19).
The word Trinity is not found anywhere in the Bible, yet the concept of the Trinity is present throughout the NT (e.g., Matt 28:19; Luke 3:22; John 1:33; 14:26; Acts 7:55; 1 John 5:6-13).
Many other examples could be given.2 Here is the point: The fact that the words repent and repentance do not occur in John’s Gospel does not necessarily prove that the concept is not present.3
We now turn to suggested examples of the concept of repentance in John’s Gospel.
IV. SUGGESTED EXAMPLES OF THE CONCEPT OF REPENTANCE IN THE FOURTH GOSPEL
Various Evangelicals have suggested repentance is found in the Gospel of John.
A. Wayne Grudem
Wayne Grudem suggests three examples of the concept of repentance in John:
1) [the promise that the Holy Spirit] “will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8)…2) when Jesus tells the woman [at the well], “Go, call your husband, and come here” (John 4:16), the narrative shows that he is calling her to repentance for her sexual immorality…and 3) [expressions of faith which imply repentance, like] “coming to Christ” (John 6:35, 37, 44; 7:37), “receiving” Christ (John 1:11-12), “believing in (or into)” Christ (John 3:16, and many other passages), drinking the water that Christ gives (John 4:14), and even eating his flesh and drinking his blood (John 6:53-56).4
John 16:8. That the Holy Spirit convicts people of sin does not in any way teach that people are called to turn from their sins. That is a stretch. Being convicted that you are a sinner is not at all the same as being called to turn from your sins.
I was unable to find a single commentator who suggested that John 16:8 referred to repentance.5 One would think that if the concept of repentance was in John 16:8, then most commentators, especially Calvinists, would see it. But they do not. Nor does Grudem cite a single commentator who agrees with him.
Of course, we do not interpret by polling the commentaries. However, if none or very few commentators suggest that repentance is present, that is quite telling.
John 4:16. There is no evidence that the Lord was calling upon the woman at the well to turn from her sins. He mentions her living in sin with a man, not to get her to repent, but in order to lead her to faith in Him. This is clear in that shortly after He revealed things about her past, she said, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When He comes, He will tell us all things” (John 4:25). Then, after He said, “I who speak to you am He,” she left her water pot (the old water, the old religion) and went to the men of the village and said, “Come, see a Man who told me all things that I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” (John 4:29). Note the repetition of telling all things.
It is possible, of course, that the woman turned from her sinful ways. However, John did not record that detail. Evidently it was not sufficiently important to indicate that. In any case, the Lord did not call her to turn from her sins.
I found only one commentator, Alfred Plummer (1882), who suggested that the concept of repentance is present in John 4:16, and his comment sounds as though he comes to that conclusion on theological grounds, not on textual ones. All the rest did not mention repentance and said that Jesus was moving her to faith.6 Grudem did not cite any who said that repentance is present.
John 6:35 and other expressions of faith in John. The very fact that Grudem calls all of these expressions (“coming to Christ,” “believing in Christ,” “drinking the [living] water that Christ gives,” and “eating his flesh and drinking his blood”) ways in which “John explains belief in Jesus,”7 shows that his third point is misdirected. Those are figures that speak of believing in Jesus, not figures that speak of turning from one’s sins.
I could not find a commentator who said that John 6:35 or these other expressions refer to repentance.8 As Grudem himself says, they refer to believing in Jesus.
B. John MacArthur
The list of occurrences of the concept of repentance in John’s Gospel which John MacArthur suggests is larger than Grudem’s. He includes the following:
To say that John called for a faith that excluded repentance is to grossly misconstrue the apostle’s concept of what it means to be a believer. Although John never uses repent as a verb, the verbs he does employ are even stronger. He teaches that all true believers love the light (3:19), come to the light (3:20-21), obey the Son (3:36), practice the truth (3:21), worship in spirit and truth (4:23-24), honor God (5:22-24), do good deeds (5:29), eat Jesus’ flesh and drink His blood (6:48-66), love God (8:42, cf. 1 John 2:15), follow Jesus (10:26-28), and keep Jesus’ commandments (14:15). Those ideas hardly concur with no-lordship salvation! All of them presuppose repentance, commitment, and a desire to obey.9
Much of what MacArthur covers here is also found in Grudem. We will consider the unique examples which MacArthur mentions.
Worshiping in spirit and truth (John 4:23-24). Worship is not repentance. In the context of John 4, this was not even a call for the woman at the well to worship. This is not an example of the concept of repentance in John’s Gospel.
I found no commentator who said that worshiping in spirit and truth is a call to repentance.10
Honoring God (John 5:22-24). Honoring God is not a synonym for repentance. Indeed, in this context it clearly refers to believing in the Son. Verse 24 makes this clear. To believe in the Father is to believe in the Son whom He sent.
I found no commentators who said that John 5:22-24 is discussing the concept of repentance.
Doing good deeds (John 5:29). Turning from sins is not a synonym for doing good deeds. Klink is typical of most commentators in that he does not mention repentance here—I did not find a commentator who did11—but instead he talks about “the significant role of works in contrast to faith.”12 He concludes with a reference to John 6:28-29 and Jesus’ statement, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.”13
Repentance is turning from sinful behavior. Doing good works is not repentance. Whatever John 5:29 means,14 the Lord Jesus there is not talking about the concept of repentance.
Loving God (John 8:42). Once again, loving God is not a synonym for repentance. I did not find a commentary that suggested it is.15
Following Jesus (John 10:26-28). While there is room for discussion about what the words “they follow Me” mean in John 10:27,16 it is clear that they do not mean, “they turn from their sins.” Following Jesus is not the same as turning from one’s sins. No commentator I consulted suggested that it is.17
Keeping Jesus’ commandments (John 14:15). Once again, keeping Jesus’ commandments is not the same as turning from sins. In John 14:15, the Lord Jesus was speaking to His disciples about being His friends by keeping His commandments. Repentance is nowhere in view.18
MacArthur seems to be identifying everything he can in John’s Gospel which refers to positive actions done for God. But repentance is turning from sins. Turning from negative actions is not the same as doing good deeds. Where in the Fourth Gospel is the concept of turning from sins?
To be fair, MacArthur does not specifically say that the concept of repentance is found in John’s Gospel, but he implies that when he says, “Although John never uses repent as a verb, the verbs he does employ are even stronger.”19 But at the end of the list which he gives, he says that all of the verbal actions which he cites “presuppose repentance, commitment, and a desire to obey” (emphasis added).20
Thus, in a sense, MacArthur is admitting that the concept of repentance is not found in the Fourth Gospel. In his way of looking at it, any good thing that a person is called to do, including believing in Jesus, presupposes that the person has first turned from his sins, committed his life to Christ, and has had a desire to obey. Of course, that is clearly not true in John 4. There is no indication that the woman at the well repented, committed her life, or had a desire to obey. Yet it is clear that she believed in Jesus and that she led others to faith in Him as well. In fact, there is not a single example in John in which anyone was said to turn from his sins or to commit his life or to indicate a desire to obey before or in conjunction with his coming to faith in Christ. The Gospel of John is called the Gospel of belief for a reason.
While MacArthur has good intentions, he fails to identify a single place in which John’s Gospel discusses the concept of repentance.
C. David Croteau
In a 2013 journal article,21 Croteau suggests that there are seven motifs in the Fourth Gospel which present the concept of repentance. He adds, “Not all of the arguments are equally convincing.” He then gives the list, saying, “Here is the list of arguments from the strongest to the weakest:
1. The Fourth Gospel’s Paraphrase of Isa 6:10: John 12:40
2. Stop Sinning: 5:14 (8:11)
3. Light and Darkness Motif: 3:19-21; 8:12; 9:5
4. The Snake in the Wilderness: John 3:14-15 and Num 21:4-9
5. Born Again or Born from Above: 3:3-5
6. Belief and Obedience: 3:36
7. Abiding in the Vine: John 15:1-5.”22
Points 3-7 will receive less attention from me since Croteau himself lists them as weaker, and since they have some conceptual overlap with the points made by Grudem and MacArthur.
Point 3: The Light and Darkness Motif (John 3:19-21; 8:12; 9:5). Jesus’ evangelism of Nicodemus ends in John 3:18. Verses 19-21 are a call for Nicodemus to come into the light, that is, to confess Christ publicly. John 3:22-36 gives the example of one who was very faithful in confessing Christ, John the Baptist. There is no suggestion of repentance in John 3:19-21. John 8:12 and 9:5 are statements regarding revelation and illumination, not repentance.23
Point 4: The Snake in the Wilderness (John 3:14-15 and Num 21:4-9). There is nothing in the uplifted serpent incident or in John 3:14-15 to suggest repentance. The issue is looking and living, and the Lord specifically says that looking at the uplifted bronze serpent was a type referring to believing in Him.24 These texts work against Croteau’s view.
Point 5: Born Again or Born from Above (John 3:3-5). The Lord gave as the condition of the new birth believing in Him, not repentance (John 3:14-18). The new birth itself in no way implies repentance. John 3:3-5 does not support Croteau’s argument.
Point 6: Belief and Obedience (John 3:36). Obedience is not mentioned. Disobedience is. John the Baptist is saying that failure to believe in Jesus is disobeying God who calls upon all to believe in His Son. Nothing in John 3:36 implies repentance.25 Only faith in Christ is in view.
Point 7: Abiding in the Vine (John 15:1-5). Abiding is a key discipleship concept in both the upper room discourse and 1 John. The issue is fellowship, not regeneration. The concept of repentance is not mentioned here.26
Let’s now turn to Croteau’s two strongest arguments.
Point 1: The Fourth Gospel’s Paraphrase of Isa 6:10 (John 12:40). This verse is indeed a paraphrase of Isa 6:10. The word repent is not found here, of course. But Croteau thinks that the word turn in the expression, “Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them” refers to the concept of repentance: “Another candidate for [the concept of] repentance in the Fourth Gospel occurs in John 12:40 with the Evangelist’s use of strephō.”27 While it is true that strephō is the verb found in a small number of manuscripts of John 12:40 (e.g., p66, aleph, B, psi, 33), the majority of manuscripts have the related verb epistrephō.
The problem for Croteau’s view is that turning here is not defined. Turning from what? Or turning to what? The context in John 12 is not about turning from sins.28 The context is about the fact that “although He had done so many signs before them, they did not believe in Him, that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled…” (John 12:37-38a, emphasis added). Then after citing Isa 53:1, John says, “Therefore they could not believe, because Isaiah said again…” (John 12:39, emphasis added). Even the verses which follow the paraphrase of Isa 6:10 are about believing in Jesus, not turning from sins (cf. John 12:42, 44ff.).
Failing to turn in John 12:40 clearly refers to failing to believe, not failing to turn from one’s sins. Turning is sometimes used in the NT in reference to turning to the Lord in faith (see also Acts 9:35; 11:21).29
Interestingly, Croteau in his discussion of John 12:40 does acknowledge that John 12:40 is being used to show why the Jewish people, for the most part (John 1:11), did not believe in Jesus.30
I was able to find three commentaries which mention repentance when discussing John 12:40.31 However, all three understand the failure of the Jewish people to turn as a failure to believe, not a failure to repent.32 They see repentance in Isaiah 6, but not in John 12:40.33
Most commentaries do not mention repentance at all, and instead say, as Thompson does, that the failure to turn in John 12:40 refers to “the unbelief of Jesus’ contemporaries.”34
Though Michaels is one of the three who do mention repentance, he says concerning Isa 6:10, “This was a quotation used elsewhere by early Christians to explain the unbelief they faced, especially from the Jewish people (see Matt 13:15; Acts 28:27).”35
Croteau’s first, and by his reckoning, best example of the concept of repentance in John’s Gospel is not persuasive. But what about his second example?
Point 2: Stop Sinning (John 5:14; 8:11). Here John recounts when Jesus healed a lame man at the Pool of Bethesda. When Jesus healed the man, He said, “Take up your bed and walk” (John 5:11). Jesus then withdrew, and the man did not know who healed him (John 5:13). “Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, ‘See, you have been made well. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you’” (John 5:14).
Is the concept of repentance found here?
No. There are several reasons why it is not.
First, the Lord has already forgiven this man. He did not need to repent to gain forgiveness. He already has it, unlike Luke 15:11-32 and other NT texts on repentance. Croteau does not discuss this fact.
Second, the Lord is not calling him to turn from his sins, plural. There is one particular sin that led to his paralysis in the first place. Croteau thinks that the best translation of what Jesus said is “stop sinning.”36 Yet the best translation of mēketi hamartane is “no longer sin” or “no longer commit [that] sin.”37
Third, the Lord is not specifically telling him to turn from that sin. The man last committed that sin thirty-eight years ago (John 5:5). It would be like someone with thirty-eight years of sobriety in AA who was paralyzed in a car crash and then miraculously healed being told, “Don’t get drunk again, lest a worse thing happen to you.”
Being told to avoid repeating a sin which you committed decades ago that led to calamity in your life is not at all the same as being called to turn from sins which are currently active in your life.
Carson mentions repentance when he discusses Luke 13:3, 5, which he thinks is a similar but different passage from John 5:14, saying, “But Luke 13:1-5 says nothing to the person who is suffering, and hence is irrelevant here.”38 In the rest of his discussion of this text, he stresses that the man’s suffering is “the outcome of specific sin.”39
Other commentaries either do not mention repentance,40 or, like Carson, mention it but see this passage as dealing with something different.41
John 8:11. Croteau puts this in parentheses because he does not think the woman caught in adultery is part of Scripture.42 However, the vast majority of manuscripts contain it. It is Scripture.
The same three points made about John 5:14 apply.
First, she was already forgiven. She did not need to repent to gain forgiveness (John 8:11).
Second, the issue here is one sin, not all her sins. Since repentance concerns all sins, not one sin, this is not a call to repentance.
Third, it is not clear here that the woman was a harlot or that she had repeatedly committed adultery. That is possible. But when Jesus says, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more from now on” (John 8:11), He is saying that if she repeats this sin, the next time she might not be given a reprieve from the death penalty. Being called not to repeat a specific sin is not the same as calling a person to repentance. It is a related idea. But where, for example, in the Synoptics (see below) do we see anything similar to this called repentance? We do not.
Notice, too, that the context of the command to sin no more is “Neither do I condemn you.” As we shall discuss below, even if the concept of repentance were found in John’s Gospel, it would also be required to show that the context is dealing with what one must do to have everlasting life. This passage fails on both counts.43
As with John 5:14, commentators typically do not mention repentance when discussing this text.44 Though Plummer does not use the word repentance, he does use related terms such as penitent and time to amend.45 Similarly, Morris says that Jesus “is calling the woman to amendment of life, the whole of life,” but that she “has given no signs of repentance or of faith.”46
There is only one text, John 5:14 (and the related text, John 8:11), which is even close to conveying the concept of repentance in John. But even there, it is evident that repentance is not in view.
John 5:14 does not say, “Turn from your sins, lest a worse thing come upon you.” It says, “Sin no more…” The former calls for a turning from a life of rebellion against God. The latter calls for a person not to repeat a particular sin (in this case one from nearly forty years earlier). Those two concepts are not the same.
V. COMPARING CALLS TO REPENT IN THE SYNOPTICS WITH SUGGESTED CALLS TO REPENT IN JOHN’S GOSPEL
A comparison between the calls to repentance in the Synoptics with the supposed occurrence of the concept of repentance in John shows dramatically that the concept of repentance is not in John.
I have selected five major texts on repentance in the Synoptics to see if the concepts found here are found in the Fourth Gospel.
A. Matthew 12:41
In Matt 12:41, Jesus says, “Nineveh…repented at the preaching of Jonah.” What does that mean? Does that mean that the Ninevites stopped sinning? Hardly. That they committed their lives to Yahweh? No. That they did good deeds? Certainly not.
Jonah 3:5-10 tells us what they did. They put on sackcloth and ashes. These were symbols of repentance. They fasted. “Everyone turn[ed] from his evil way” (Jonah 3:8, 10).
Do we see an example in John of someone who turned from his evil way? No.
B. Matthew 3:2; 4:17
Both John the Baptist and Jesus preached, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” This was a call for national repentance in order for the kingdom to come. Of course, there was a second condition which both John the Baptist and Jesus preached—national faith in Messiah.
Is the concept “repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” in John’s Gospel? No. Not once.
C. Luke 13:3, 5
The Lord said, “Repent or you will all likewise perish.” The context here concerns physical death. There is no general call like that in John. No national call to turn from sins, either for the kingdom to come, or to avoid the calamity of AD 70, which is what Luke 13:3, 5 are about.
The closest we find is John 5:14 and 8:11. But both of those contexts are individual, not corporate, and both concern not repeating a particular sin that led to temporal judgment instead of a general call to turn from one’s sins.
D. Luke 24:47
In this verse, the Lord said that the Apostles would preach “repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Do we see that anywhere in John? No. Not once in John’s Gospel is the forgiveness of sins linked to repentance. In fact, the idea of the forgiveness of sins is exceedingly rare in John. It is implied in John 5:14 and 8:11, though in both cases independent of any action on the part of the forgiven. Foot washing in John 13 illustrates the forgiveness of a believer, but not in any way linked with repentance. The only explicit reference to forgiveness in the Fourth Gospel is when the Lord says, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:23). That is the lone explicit reference to forgiveness in John. And it is contextually unrelated to repentance.
E. Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3 (John the Baptist’s Baptism of Repentance)
The Synoptics tell us that John the Baptist’s baptism was one “of repentance.” That is, he baptized people who were professing to have repented. People went out to him and heard him preach. Then they would commit to turn from their sinful ways, and they would be baptized.
Though John the Baptist plays a prominent role in John 1 and John 3, and John’s baptizing ministry is mentioned in John 4:1, there is no mention of John the Baptist’s baptism of repentance. None. When we consider that the Apostle John was likely one of the two disciples of John the Baptist who left him to become Jesus’ disciple (cf. John 1:35-37), this omission is even more telling.
The repentance preaching we see in the Synoptics is absent in the Fourth Gospel.
Those who suggest that the concept of repentance is present in John’s Gospel appear to do so because their theology demands it, not because they actually find the concept in John’s Gospel. They fail to compare the repentance preaching in the Synoptics with what they think might be repentance preaching in John.
Whether the concept of repentance is in John’s Gospel or not does not matter since the sole condition of everlasting life is said repeatedly in John’s Gospel to be belief in Jesus. In the Fourth Gospel, faith is the lone condition of eternal salvation. So even if there were a robust ministry of repentance in John, it would not undercut the promise of everlasting life to all who simply believe in Jesus. But there is no ministry of repentance in John. The concept is absent.
VI. EVIDENCE THAT REPENTANCE IS NOT A CONDITION OF EVERLASTING LIFE IN THE FOURTH GOSPEL EVEN IF THE CONCEPT IS PRESENT
Only two texts in John are even close to the concept of repentance: John 5:14 and John 8:11. While neither is a call for someone to turn from his sins to get into a harmonious relationship with God, even if we granted they were, neither context is salvific.
In John 5, the issue is physical healing. If the man returned to his former sin, then something worse (instant death, lingering suffering of a greater magnitude than before) would happen.
The issue in John 8:1-11 is escaping the death penalty. The woman was forgiven by Christ, and she escaped death. But if she returned to adultery, the next time she might well be stoned to death.
In neither passage does the Lord use the phrase He always uses when He evangelizes: everlasting life (or the equivalent).47 There is no mention of condemnation, everlasting life, or anything like that.
Over twenty times in John’s Gospel, everlasting life is conditioned solely upon faith in Christ (John 1:12-13; 3:15, 16, 18, 36; 4:14, 39, 41, 42; 5:24, 39-40; 6:35, 40, 47, 48, 51, 54; 8:24; 11:25, 26, 27, 45; 14:6; 20:31). If repentance is another condition of everlasting life, as many suggest, then there is a major problem. John’s Gospel is inaccurate. It tells people a way to be born again that is insufficient and ineffective. But that is impossible since the Fourth Gospel is Scripture, and all Scripture is God-breathed (2 Tim 3:16-17). Jesus’ evangelistic ministry as recorded in John is accurate. Since the sole condition is faith in Christ, repentance is not a condition.
VII. WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES IT MAKE?
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asked a good question. Theologians should ask this same question all the time.
If the concept of repentance is found in John’s Gospel, then our Biblical theology needs to reflect that. However, if the concept is not there and yet we say that it is, we confuse people. The study of Scripture is then moved from the realm of science into alchemy. Exegesis becomes inexplicable and mysterious.
How we interpret the Bible, indeed, whether we even attempt to or not, is impacted by this discussion.
Evangelism is at stake as well. The person who becomes convinced that the concept of repentance is in John and that it is one of the conditions of everlasting life likely will be unwilling to try to share about Christ because he will not know what to say. If the message of John 3:16 is inadequate, and if we must also call people to turn from their sins, what else is required? Maybe there are many hidden conditions in John’s Gospel which only the scholars can see and reveal.
If repentance is one of multiple conditions of everlasting life, then people will cease being sure of their eternal destiny. How can I know whether I am born again if the scholars convince me that the conditions include turning from sins, believing certain facts about Jesus, committing one’s life to Him, following Him, obeying Him, and persevering in all of that? Those who say the concept of repentance is found in John argue that all of those things are conditions of everlasting life and of assurance.
One’s motivation for serving God changes. Instead of serving Him out of love and gratitude and a desire for His approval, now one will serve Him in order to avoid eternal condemnation. He will view turning from sins, obedience, self-denial, cross-bearing, and perseverance as conditions of everlasting life. The result is that those motivations for service become an insult to the blood of Christ and the grace of God when they are viewed as requirements to receive everlasting life.
If you want to know whether this issue matters, read the writings of men like Wayne Grudem, John MacArthur, and David Croteau. They certainly are convinced that this is a vital issue. I agree. The difference is that we are on opposite sides of the issue. They see it as vital since, in their view, most people do not do enough to be born again. They think that false assurance is rampant because people believe the faith-alone message. I see this issue as vital since most people wrongly think that believing in Jesus is not enough to have everlasting life. People are unfortunately looking at their own works to see evidence that they are kingdom bound. But that is the wrong place to look. We are to look to Jesus, “the author and finisher of our faith” (Heb 12:2), not to ourselves.
Those who suggest that the concept of repentance is in John’s Gospel have good intentions. They want as many people as possible to be born again. They want believers to have assurance of everlasting life and to live godly lives.
I want those things as well.
The question is not intentions, but reality. The concept of repentance is not found in John’s Gospel. To suggest that it is present when it is not is developing our own man-made religion. God knows best what a person must do to be born again, and only if we adopt His thinking, do we have “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor 2:16).
1 See, for example, Zane C. Hodges, Absolutely Free, 2nd ed. (Corinth, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 1989, 2014), 130-31; Robert N. Wilkin, The Ten Most Misunderstood Words in the Bible (N.P.: Grace Evangelical Society, 2012), 110-11.
2 See David A. Croteau, “Repentance Found? The Concept of Repentance in the Fourth Gospel,” The Master’s Seminary Journal (Spring 2013): 108-109 (though some of the examples he gives are not very clear).
3 However, I am understating the case for the sake of argument. Since John’s Gospel has as its purpose leading unbelievers to faith in Christ and everlasting life (John 20:31), it is highly unlikely that John would leave out the words repent and repentance and yet include the concept if repentance were a condition of everlasting life. He’d want to be as clear as possible. Besides, John used those words a dozen times in Revelation, but not at all in his Gospel. As Hodges says, that is an argument about silence, not an argument from silence. See Zane Hodges, Harmony with God (Dallas, TX: Redencion Viva, 2001), 5-11 (see also 13-21).
4 Wayne Grudem, “Free Grace” Theology: 5 Ways It Diminishes the Gospel (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016), 52.
5 See, for example, D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity, 1991), 537; Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: MI: Eerdmans, 1971), 697-98; J. Ramsey Michaels, The Gospel of John, NICNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2010), 833-34 (on p. 833 he specifically says that convicting the world of sin “does not mean to bring…to repentance”); Alfred Plummer, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1882, 1981), 292; Marianne Meye Thompson, John: A Commentary (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015), 338; Edward W. Klink, III, John, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016), 678-79.
6 See, for example, Carson, John, 221; Morris, John, 264-66; Michaels, John, 245-48 (on p. 247 he specifically says that “This does not mean that Jesus’ words made her feel guilty, or even that he intended them to. She is not so much convicted of sin as merely amazed at his knowledge of her past and present,” italics his); Thompson, John, 103 (“Jesus calls attention to her problematic situation, but he does not condemn her. Subsequently, commentators and preachers have hastened to fill the void!”); Klink, John, 241 (“This tactic is not intended to shame the woman…but to draw her in and help her understand about that which he speaks”).
7 Grudem, 5 Ways, 52.
8 See, for example, Carson, John, 288-89, 296-97; Morris, John, 365-66, 378- 80; Michaels, John, 373-75, 394-99; Thompson, John, 149-51, 155-56; Klink, John, 331 (“To come to Jesus is to believe in him”), 339-40; Plummer, John, 156, 161.
9 John F. MacArthur, Jr., “Repentance in the Gospel of John,” Nov. 24, 2009, blog at the Grace to You website (https://www.gty.org/library/articles/A238/ repentance-in-the-gospel-of-john).
10 See, for example, Carson, John, 224-26; Morris, John, 270-72; Michaels, John, 253-55; Thompson, John, 104-105; Klink, John, 244-45; Plummer, John, 121-22.
11 Klink, John, 290. See also Thompson, John, 129-31; Plummer, John, 139-40; Edwin A. Blum, “John,” The Bible Knowledge Commentary, NT Edition, (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books), 291; Morris, John, 321-22.
12 Klink, John, 290.
13 So too does Michaels, John, 321-23. He says, “Believing in Jesus is what counts. Those who ‘do good things’ or ‘do the truth’ are those who believe. Those who ‘practice wicked things’ are those who do not” (p. 322).
14 For a discussion of John 5:29, see Zane C. Hodges, Faith in His Name: Listening to the Gospel of John (Corinth, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2015), 108-10; Robert N. Wilkin, “John,” The Grace New Testament Commentary, vol 1 (Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2010), 388-89.
15 See, for example, Blum, “John,” 305; Thompson, John, 192-93; Michaels, John, 516; Plummer, John, 196; Klink, John, 418; Morris, John, 462-63; Carson, John, 352-53.
16 Hodges argues that sheep following a shepherd illustrates faith, not discipleship. Additionally, the start of the chapter has this figure as well. See John 10:4. There it seems to refer literally to going where the shepherd goes. Might John 10:27 be a statement of eternal security? Jesus’ sheep will follow Jesus to wherever He is, that is, the third heaven now and the kingdom in the future.
17 See, for example, Klink, John, 477; Michaels, John, 598-99; Thompson, John, 232-33; Blum, “John,” 311; Morris, John, 520; Carson, John, 393.
18 Again, I could not find a commentator who mentioned repentance in his discussion of John 14:15. See Carson, John, 498-99; Morris, John, 648; Blum, “John,” 323; Thompson, John, 312; Michaels, John, 782-83; Plummer, John, 277; Klink, John, 631.
19 “Repentance in the Gospel of John,” Nov 24, 2009, blog at the Grace to You website.
21 Croteau, “Repentance Found? The Concept of Repentance in the Fourth Gospel,” 97-123.
22 Ibid., 121.
23 See my discussion of each of these texts in The Grace New Testament Commentary (Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2010), Vol. 2, 377, 406, 413.
24 Ibid., 376.
25 Ibid., 379.
26 Ibid., 448-49.
27 Ibid., 116.
28 Croteau believes he sees repentance in the context of Isa 6:10 (pp. 116-17). However, there are two problems with that suggestion. First, there is nothing in Isa 6:1-9 to suggest that Isaiah was out of fellowship with God and needed to repent. Second, the issue in John 12:40 is not the context of Isa 6:10, but the context of John 12:37-40.
29 All three of those verses use epistrephō. The parallel texts in John 12:40, Matt 13:15 and Mark 4:12 do as well.
30 Croteau, “Repentance Found,” 117, 119.
31 See Klink, John, 559; Michaels, John, 710; Carson, John, 448.
33 Michaels is a bit hard to follow. After saying that the issue in John 12:40 is unbelief, Michaels ended his discussion saying, “Not only has God not ‘drawn’ these people or ‘given’ them faith, but he has ‘blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts’ to make sure they would not repent and be healed!” (710). Klink does the opposite. He starts out talking about repentance in the context of Isaiah 6. But then when talking about John 12:40, he refers to “the failure to believe” and to “the unbelieving response to Jesus” (p. 560). Carson similarly sees repentance in Isaiah 6, but when he discusses John 12:40, he sees unbelief or “merely superficial faith” (p. 449).
34 See Thompson, John, 275. See also Morris, John, 604-605; Blum, “John,” 318-19; Plummer, John, 260. Carson (John, 448-49) mentions that Isaiah’s vision in Isaiah 6 “resulted in his profound repentance and cleansing” (448). However, when he then discusses John 12:40, he does not mention failing to repent, but he discusses failing to believe (or to believing with “merely superficial faith,” 449).
35 Michaels, John, 709.
36 Croteau, “Repentance Found,” 115.
37 This is the first reference in John’s Gospel to anyone sinning and the first reference to sin since John 1:29. Jesus did not refer to sin when talking with Nicodemus or the woman at the well. Why here? The reason is because the lame man’s illness had been linked to some sin in his life (and the fact that the context here is not evangelistic).
38 Carson, John, 246.
40 See Blum, “John,” 290 (though he does see the warning concerns “the doom of hell”); Michaels, John, 297-99; Klink, John, 274-75 (“The command to stop sinning is an admonition against the sin of unbelief,” p. 275); Morris, John, 307; Plummer, John, 134-35.
41 Thompson says “neither the man’s repentance nor faith [was] a precondition of his being healed” and adds that “sin is defined as unbelief” and that Jesus was “inviting him to confess faith in Jesus,” (John, p. 123).
42 Croteau, “Repentance Found,” 115, esp. note 112.
43 Croteau says that in John 5:14, “the context is salvific, not of progressive sanctification” (p. 115). He errs in thinking those are the only options. The context here concerns salvation from physical illness: “See, you have been made well” (John 5:14). Whether the man was a believer or an unbeliever is not the point in this passage. The point here is that he was a lame man who was healed by Jesus. Evidently his illness was due to a sin in his life many years before. Repeating that sin would lead to more temporal judgment.
44 Carson, John, 336-37; R. V. G. Tasker, John (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1960, 1997), 112-13; Thompson, John, 180-81; Klink, John, 396-97; Michaels, John, 500; Blum, “John,” 347.
45 Plummer, John, 186.
46 Morris, John, 891
47 Equivalent expressions found in John are “shall not perish,” “shall not come into judgment,” “shall never hunger,” “shall never thirst,” and “shall never die.”