The title above refers to a figure of speech that is extremely common in the New Testament. It is a figure of speech in which a part is put for the whole or the whole for the part. It is the former, the part for the whole, that we’re interested in for the purposes of this study. Examples of everyday use of the part for the whole: (1) “Shall we break bread” for “shall we eat;” (2) “look at my new set of wheels” for “look at my new car;” (3) “He had 100 head of cattle” for “he had 100 cows;” (4) years ago some used to say “look at her threads” for “look at her clothes,” etc… Understanding this figure of speech is important to good Bible study. Let’s consider the following words:
Paul instructed Timothy “Take heed unto thyself and unto the doctrine; Continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself and them that hear thee” (1 Tim. 4:16).
Is Paul saying here that to be saved all one must do is hear (w/out belief, repentance or anything else)?
Certainly, this is not what Paul means (Ezek. 33:30-33; Matt. 7:24-27; James 1:22). This is just a case of a synecdoche. Hearing is being put for receiving the word and putting it into practice.
Acts 11:18, “When they heard these things, they held their peace and glorified God saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.”
Does this teach that spiritual life is accomplished by repentance (without belief or anything else)?
The context suggests that this is a synecdoche. Repentance stands for all that is involved in a man’s response to God. It includes faith (Acts 10:43) and baptism (Acts 11:13-14; cf. Acts 10:48). Repentance makes a good figure of speech for all that God requires. This is the case because if a man truly repents (changes his mind), then he’ll have no difficulty doing all that God requires of him.
If one can see that the two afore-mentioned words are sometimes used as a part standing for the whole, then one should be able to accept that this is the case with the term ‘believe,’ as well. It makes a good synecdoche for if one truly believes then one should have no difficulty doing whatever God requires of him.
1. Consider Acts 2: Those listening to Peter’s sermon want to know what they should do about their guilt of sin (Acts 2:37). They are instructed to repent and be baptized for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38). 3,000 individuals respond to this message (Acts 2:41). Then the record says, “And all that believed were together.” (Acts 2:44). Wayne Jackson, in his commentary writes, “’Believed’ sums up the obedience described previously” (The Acts of the Apostles, p. 416).
2. Consider Acts 4: In Acts 4:4 the number of believers is said to be 5,000 men. This clearly takes one back to Acts 2:41 where 3,000 are mentioned in connection with baptism.
3. Consider Acts 16: In Acts 16:31 a Philippian jailer is told by Paul and Silas, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved…” No doubt they started here for this man likely had little or no knowledge of Jesus. In Acts 16:33 the man and his household are baptized straightway. Then listen to Acts 16:34, he is described as “having believed in God” NASB. Wayne Jackson writes, “Luke describes the whole process, ‘…having believed in God’… the perfect participle depicts the state at which they arrived as a consequence of their obedience” (ibid, 417). Note, they weren’t described as believers until after baptism.
4. Consider Acts 19: In Acts 19:2, Paul asked some at Ephesus, “Have you received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?”, when they told him that they didn’t know of the Holy Ghost, he asked about their baptism (Acts 19:3). Wayne Jackson writes, “He was not framing a new question on an entirely different theme. Rather baptism was a part of the belief process, concerning which he had inquired.” (ibid, p. 417). He then taught them. They were baptized. Watch the fact that it was after their baptism, Paul laid his hands upon them and they received the Holy Ghost (Acts 19:2 cf. 19:3 cf. 19:5-6). Belief in Acts 19:2 must not refer to belief only.
5. Study John 3:36 ASV, “He that believeth on the Son hath eternal life; but he that obeyed not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on Him.” Also Acts 14:1-2 ASV, “…a great multitude both of Jews and of Greeks believed. But the Jews that were disobedient…” Do a word study and I think you’ll find that the ASV got it right. See how belief is put in contrast with disobedience.
Vines indicates that the term believe can mean “reliance upon not mere credence.” Thayer indicates that the term can mean “a conviction – conjoined with obedience.”
6. Consider Acts 10: Peter tells Cornelius, “Whosoever believeth in Him should have remission of sins.” (Acts 10:43).
Does this mean that belief alone is man’s required response for salvation (without anything else like repentance)?
No, this can’t be what is meant. I know this by looking at Acts 11:18, “God to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.”
Here’s a suggestion. Let’s take all that the Bible says is necessary for salvation. Let’s not insert the word ‘only’ before anything that God hasn’t. Let’s not pit scripture against scripture.