The Old and New Testaments use terms such as "restore" and "renew" to image God's control of history and the believer's spiritual life. Both terms, represented by a variety of Hebrew and Greek words, are used in literal and figurative contexts. It is the extension of the literal meaning into a figure for explaining God's program or the nature of spiritual living that presents challenges for interpretation.
The literal meaning of these terms is clear and needs little comment. The usage pattern for the words translated "restore" is mostly a literal meaning. Life, land, property, health, and other tangible items are the subject of restoration ( Gen 42:25 ; 1 Kings 20:34 ; Job 20:10 ; Ezek 18:7 ; Mark 3:5 ; Luke 19:8 ). On the other hand, the "renew" pattern is predominantly figurative. Passages on literal renewal (to take something up again), such as kingdom renewal at Gilgal ( 1 Sam 11:14 ), are rare (cf. 2 Chron 15:8 ; Job 10:17 ; 29:20 ; Psalm 103:5 ). The New Testament usage is exclusively figurative.
The figurative usage of "restore" falls into three areas with only about six passages to consider. First, there is personal spiritual restoration. In Psalm 23:3 the psalmist pleads for strength in trials. In Psalm 51:12 David is seeking a sense of restoration in light of grievous sin against God. Second, Galatians 6:1 calls for mature believers to identify their areas of strength and to mentor back to spiritual health another ailing believer. Third, there are references ( Matt 17:11 ; = Mark 9:12 ; Matt 19:28 ; Acts 1:6 ; 3:21 ) to an eschatological restoration. This latter category is the focus of much theological discussion and will be examined below.
The figurative usage of "renew" occurs in over two-thirds of the passages. There is a renewal that is the regaining of inner strength and resolve in our pursuit of God ( Isa 40:31 ; 41:1 ; Lam 5:21 ; 2 Cor 4:16 ). Some contexts stress the acquisition of knowledge as a means of providing mental renewal ( Rom 12:2 ; Eph 4:23 ; Col 3:10 ). This mental alignment to God's truth is the foundation of the value clarification the believer begins to pursue at conversion ( Rom 12:2 ). Two references view renewal from the perspective of repentance ( Psalm 51:10 ; Heb 6:6 ). The use of palingenesia [paliggenesiva] and anakainosis [ajnakaivnwsi"] in Titus 3:5 provides metaphors for rebirth (NIV; "regeneration" KJV) and renewal. Paul finishes the sentence of 3:5 in 3:7 with the crescendo of justification.
Passages on renewal and restoration illustrate two important issues for the Bible student: (1) no theological concept can be treated by merely looking up a key word or two (i.e., theological concepts are often conveyed by a variety of terms); (2) the reader of English versions should beware. The King James Version translated palingenesia [paliggenesiva] as "regeneration" while more recent versions translate this term as "renewal" ( Matt 19:28 ; NIV ). But compare the New International Version on Titus 3:5, where the same Greek term is translated "rebirth, " a translational necessity since a more direct term for "renew" follows in this verse. The older popular concordances (e.g., Strong's, Young's) use the King James Version as a database and the important Matthew passage for the subject of renewal would be missed. The Bible student now needs several concordances for careful study due to the proliferation of English versions (e.g., NASB, NIV).
The eschatological concept of renewal and restoration occurs in a few key passages ( Matt 19:28 ; Matt 17:11 ; par. Mark 9:12 ; Acts 1:6 ; 3:21 ; cf. Eph 1:10 ). Two Greek words highlight restoration in these texts, palingenesia [paliggenesiva] and apokathistemi [ajpokaqivsthmi] (verb and noun forms). Palingenesia [paliggenesiva] is used only two times in the New Testament ( Matt 19:28 ; Titus 3:5 ; for personal salvific regeneration ). It literally means "rebirth" and was used in both Greek (there is a reference in the Greek mystery religions to being "born again/anew") and Jewish literature for the beginning of something new, especially renewal after some catastrophe. Philo used it to describe the renewal of the world after the flood (On the Life of Moses 2.12; 2.65) and of the restoration of the world after a judgment of fire (On the Creation). Josephus talks about the rebirth of the nation of Israel after the exile (Antiq. 11.66). There was a widespread belief among the Jews that the messianic era would be accompanied by a new age (e.g., new heaven and new earth Isa 65:17 ; 66:22 ; Rev 21:1-5 ; 2 Baruch 32:6; 44:12). Jesus identifies the time of Matthew 19:28 with Daniel 7:13-14 when he refers to the throne of his glory, an event that ushers in the eternal kingdom of God. Some interpreters view 19:28 as a reference to the millennial kingdom, based upon the reference to the apostles judging Israel. Most, however, view 19:28 in reference to the ultimate consummation of the world and understand Jesus' reference to judgment either as part of the transition that ushers in the new era or as a statement that demonstrates the importance of the disciples among the Jewish people (cf. 19:27 ).
Apokathistemi [ajpokaqivsthmi] is the term that forms the rest of the passages that refer to the consummation as a restoration ( Matt 17:11 ; with Mark 9:12 ; Acts 1:6 ; 3:21 ). The parallel references in Matthew and Mark focus on the disciples' question about the coming of Elijah before the day of the Lord and the scribal tradition on this subject. Some view Jesus as correcting the scribal tradition by observing that John the Baptist, who came in the spirit and power of Elijah (cf. Luke 1:17 ), fulfilled Malachi's prediction and that no future coming was in view. Others contend that John fulfilled the spirit of Malachi's statement about Elijah for the first advent. Yet John was not the final Elijah of Malachi (cf. John 1:21 ). Malachi's Elijah is related to the second advent (cf. Rev 11:1-13 ) and is yet to come. Jesus has a point to score in these texts that goes beyond the historical nature of Elijah's coming. The greater contexts of Matthew and Mark place some of the disciples with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration where Elijah appears and discusses the exodus (death) of the Messiah. The disciples were probably struggling to understand the seeming incompatibility of kingdom restoration and messianic death. When they raised this issue to Jesus, he notes that the rejection of John was equivalent to rejecting the spirit of Malachi's Elijah and thus implies an analogy for Jesus' own rejection and death. Therefore, while the spirit and power of Elijah in John were rejected, there remains a still future restoration. This is the very point of Acts 1:6 and 3:21. In 1:6 the disciples are still confused about the issue of restoration and hope that now is the time. But in 3:21 Peter has progressed to understand that the restoration belongs to the eschaton.
Gary T. Meadors
Bibliography. W. C. Allen, The Gospel According to S. Matthew; F. F. Bruce, The Acts of the Apostles; D. A. Carson, "Matthew, " in Expositor's Bible Commentary; W. D. Davies and D. C. Allison, The Gospel According to Saint Matthew; G. D. Fee, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus; D. J. Harrington, The Gospel of Matthew; E. F. Harrison, Interpreting Acts; L. T. Johnson, The Acts of the Apostles; H. G. Liddell and R. Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon; L. Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew; R. V. G. Tasker, The Gospel According to St. Matthew; S. Toussaint, Behold the King; J. Walvoord, Matthew: Thy Kingdom Come.
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
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Bibliography InformationElwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Restore, Renew'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology".