Repentance Part 3

This is my third post on the topic of repentance (see part 1 here and part 2 here). This all started because I wanted to see for myself whether or not the common definitions for the word repentance would hold up when I look at all of the uses of the word rather than a few hand picked examples. Just as a reminder, a debate has raged for many years over two possible definitions of repent:

  1. Repent means to change one’s mind.
  2. Repent means to turn away from. Those who use this definition usually include an emotional content to the word. The way I have seen many people use definition it is probably more accurate to use “turn away from!” or “turn strongly away from.”

As I have been looking through the list of New Testament verses that have the Koine Greek word metanoeō (the most common word translated repent – Strong’s G3340) and I cannot see that it has one and only one translation. What I basically did was go through the list of verses below and insert “change one’s mind” for repent and read the verse again. Then I would substitute “turn away from!“ in the same verse and read it again. Here is an example I will use Matthew 3:1-2:

Original

1In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea
2and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”

Using “change of mind”

1In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea
2and saying, “[Change your minds], for the kingdom of heaven is near.”

Using “turn away from”

1In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea
2and saying, “[Turn from your current path!], for the kingdom of heaven is near.”

You can do the same thing using the list at the bottom of this post and see what you think.

What I thought as I went along was that changing the way metanoeō is translated can certainly change the tone of a verse (but not necessarily the meaning) but in most cases I don’t think that the context wouldn’t allow for either translation.

The one passage in particular where I think the use of the more emotional “turn away from!” seems inconsistent is Luke 16:30-31:

30″ ‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’
31″He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’ “

Notice that in verse 30 the Rich Man uses the word repent and then Abraham uses the word convince (peithō – Strong’s G3982) in verse 31 as if they have the same meaning. In this case I do think that a translation of “change their minds” would be the better translation.

Based on this do I think that every occurrence of metanoeō should be translated as “change of mind?” I suppose that the short answer is no. I really think that a word can have a range of meanings (I believe this is called the “semantic range”) and that only rarely does a word have a single meaning.

In my first post I linked to a word study by Earl Traut on the words translated repent (link here). I think he did a very good job of reviewing the uses of metanoeō and I encourage you to follow the link and read the whole thing. Here is how he defined metanoeō:

3340 METANOEO (34): meta = after, later (implying change) + noeo = to perceive, understand; to understand afterwards, to change one’s mind to the extent that one changes his life, to repent.

Notice that his definition is very much like the “change of mind” definition I have been considering with the exception of the underlined part. Why did he include the possibility of metanoeō causing a life changing change of mind? It is solely because of Revelation 9:20-21 (see below). Would this definition be appropriate in all contexts where metanoeō is used? No. Is Earl Traut’s interpretation of the use of metanoeō  in Revelation 9:20-21 the only one I can think of? No, but it is a possible translation given the context.

Here is what I am thinking at this point in my study:

  1. A word’s origin must be taken into consideration when translating any passage. The fact that metanoeō is a compound word combining the Koine Greek words “meta” and “noeō” should not be forgotten about. However I know that word’s meaning(s) can change over time (I can provide examples of this happening in English) so this is not always reliable.
  2. Context is important! No one word occurs in isolation and needs to be evaluated in the context of a thought or passage in which it occurs.
  3. Since most words, metanoeō included, can have a range of meanings I don’t think that it is wise to settle on a “one size fits all” definition like so many pastor-teachers seem to do.

I haven’t settled this in my own mind but I think that some of the strong assertions made by many teachers are very difficult to justify given what I have seen so far. In the past I have wondered why certain ideas are repeated over and over again from so many different angles in scripture. As I read and learn more I believe that it is because no one passage can really fully define an idea. Maybe God had multiple authors cover certain concepts from different angles so we could begin to understand. I don’t see where repentance is really explained in the New Testament, maybe God didn’t think it needs to be. Maybe we are making way more out of this than we should.

I have a lot to think about.

————————————————

The following is a list of the 32 verses in which the 36 occurrences of metanoeō occur:

1In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea
2and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”

Matthew 3:1-2 (New International Version)

17From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”

Matthew 4:17 (New International Version)

20Then Jesus began to denounce the cities in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent.
21″Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.

Matthew 11:20-21 (New International Version)

41The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here.

Matthew 12:41 (New International Version)

15″The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”

Mark 1:15 (New International Version)

12They went out and preached that people should repent.

Mark 6:12 (New International Version)

13″Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes.

Luke 10:13 (New International Version)

32The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here.

Luke 11:32 (New International Version)

3I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.
4Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?
5I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

Luke 13:3-5 (New International Version)

7I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

The Parable of the Lost Coin

8″Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it?
9And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’
10In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Luke 15:7-10 (New International Version)

30″ ‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’
31″He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’ ”

Luke 16:30-31 (New International Version)

3So watch yourselves. “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.
4If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”

Luke 17:3-4 (New International Version)

38Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Acts 2:38 (New International Version)

19Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord,

Acts 3:19 (New International Version)

22Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart.

Acts 8:22 (New International Version)

29″Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by man’s design and skill.
30In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.

Acts 17:29-30 (New International Version)

20First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.

Acts 26:20 (New International Version)

21I am afraid that when I come again my God will humble me before you, and I will be grieved over many who have sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual sin and debauchery in which they have indulged.

2 Corinthians 12:21 (New International Version)

5Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.

Revelation 2:5 (New International Version)

15Likewise you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.
16Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.

Revelation 2:15-16 (New International Version)

20Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols.
21I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling.
22So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways.

Revelation 2:20-22 (New International Version)

3Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.

Revelation 3:3 (New International Version)

19Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent.

Revelation 3:19 (New International Version)

20The rest of mankind that were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands; they did not stop worshiping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood—idols that cannot see or hear or walk.
21Nor did they repent of their murders, their magic arts, their sexual immorality or their thefts.

Revelation 9:20-21 (New International Version)

9They were seared by the intense heat and they cursed the name of God, who had control over these plagues, but they refused to repent and glorify him.
10The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom was plunged into darkness. Men gnawed their tongues in agony
11and cursed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, but they refused to repent of what they had done.

Revelation 16:9-11 (New International Version)

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9 Comments on “Repentance Part 3”


  1. I would say that It’s hard to cut re and pent and try to understand what PENT come to mean,or come from where or wich word, like other words,I dissect to realy capture the real meaning, but with the..RE.. it’s easy,
    like return or reload or so many more,
    I know the french word for repent is REPENTIR,
    and again there is no clue. on pentir.
    thank you for such good information on your posts

    • Glenn Says:

      Hello I Love Bees!

      I’m glad you stopped by again! I had begun to think my posts were boring you.

      You are right, it is a hard question but an important one. I am glad you liked what I wrote. It frustrates me that Christians can fight so bitterly over such things.

      If nothing else it helps me just to read all of the passages that contain the word repent. I don’t think these things are as clear cut as many people want us to think.

      I know you like the posts about angels. I just received a new book I ordered titled “The Invisible War” and it has some very interesting material on angels. I might quote some of it in a couple of weeks. You will have to stop by and check it out.

      Glenn

  2. heavenbound Says:

    Repentance in a word is Jewish. John the Baptist in his announcement was not announcing it to the Gentiles. In the short account system used in the covenant provided to the Jews by God, the remission of sin was brought on thru the Priests in the temple. When Jesus walked the earth the law was still in force. Hence what he said to the rich young ruler. When Paul was preaching he used it to Jews to turn from the law and look to the Savior as the point of the forgiveness of sin and away from the law. In my line of thinking I asked forgiveness once. Christ died for all my sin past, present and future. I repented and was saved. End of story about repenting for me.

    • Glenn Says:

      Hi Heavenbound,

      I won’t disagree with you that repentance is a Jewish concept. The Old Testament spoke often of repentance. If I remember correctly both the Northern and Southern Kingdoms of Israel would have been spared from destruction if they had repented of their evil.

      I also agree that parts of the Jewish sacrificial system were designed for personal forgiveness of sin before Jehovah (or Yahweh if you prefer). I even believe that church age believers are still required to ask forgiveness of sins by confessing them to God the Father. This is also a form of repentance.

      All of the Christians I know would agree with most of these statements and still disagree over what repentance actually is. When you repented and were saved do you believe that you had a change of mind regarding the work of Jesus Christ on the cross or do you believe that you turned away from your sins?

      Glenn

  3. heavenbound Says:

    Glenn: quite simply the sinners prayer. Unlike the Billy Graham sinners prayer and a change and turn. I simply accepted his death as mine in regards to sin. Belief in what he did was complete in my eyes, a propitiation, sin debt paid. I sin everyday, we all do. That is why grace is so perfect. It allows us to be perfect in God’s eyes.
    This is why grace sets us free. Free from guilt, free from self doubt. It allows us to be in a stated of grace free from sin. A complete freedom

  4. Kent Says:

    heavenbound:

    I agree that we have freedom *from* sin, including that which we commit as we go about our normal day, but I wish to caution against thinking this gives us license *to* sin, which it does not:

    HCSB Gal 5:13 For you were called to be free, brothers; only don’t use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh…

    and

    HCSB Rom 6:1 … Should we continue in sin so that grace may multiply? 2 Absolutely not!…

    and

    HCSB Heb 10:26 For if we deliberately sin after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire about to consume the adversaries.

    I think the key here is the meaning of the word “repent”: I believe it basically means (within a semantic range, as Glenn has pointed out), a “mental change of direction toward God”. If we have the mindset of striving to do the right thing, I believe God will honor us with his grace and apply the rightness of Jesus to us, even when we’re weak or ignorant or even a little rebellious on occasion. If, on the other hand, we have the mindset of “we’re forgiven and covered so anything goes”, I believe God condemns that type of thinking and its associated actions.


    Kent

  5. Kent Says:

    Glenn:

    I really appreciate this series on repentance. I formerly held to the notion that it means “change your mind, to the extent that it affects your actions”, but in working through this series, I realize that whereas that definition broadly fits the New Testament usage, it’s overly restrictive, and the context gives additional range to the word’s meaning. You’ve given me a bit of maturity, in helping me to realize that words tend to exist within a range of meaning rather than being hard-coded to some specific exact meaning. (I know this in “real life”, but it somehow didn’t translate into looking at the meaning of ancient Biblical words in a foreign language.)

    Here’s my own thinking now on the word:

    * most common Greek word translated as “repent” in NT is metanoeo (other common word is metamelomai). From “meta” (change, alter) and “noeo” (perceive, understand). Etymologically, the word means “change your mind”. But word meanings can change (think “football” (as in American football), which refers to a non-ball shaped “ball” that is mostly handled by hand rather than by foot). (Extra credit: Where in the Bible is discussed the throwing of a ball?)

    * does not simply mean “change of mind” in all contexts. Contextually, it might mean:

    – CHANGE YOUR MIND
    ` Luke 16:30-31 repent = convince
    ` Luke 17:3-4 repent = a claim of change without the actual change of action
    ` Acts 8:22 repent = thought in heart
    ` Acts 17:29-30 repent = turning from ignorance, from thinking divinity is like gold, silver, stone, man-made image
    ` Rev 2:15-16 repent = letting go of a certain teaching

    – CHANGE YOUR MIND TO SUCH AN EXTENT THAT YOU CHANGE YOUR LIFE
    ` Matt 3:8 & Luke 3:8 & Acts 26:20 repentance demonstrated by deeds

    – CHANGE YOUR ACTIONS
    ` 2 Cor 12:21 repent from evil works
    ` Rev 2:20-22 repent of her immoral ways
    ` Rev 9:20-21 repent of murders, etc
    ` Rev 16:9-11 repent of what they had done)

    – OTHER SIMILAR MEANINGS within the word’s semantic range of meaning?


    Kent

    • Glenn Says:

      Hi Kent,

      I am very pleased to hear that you found my posts on repentance of use. Understanding what repentance actually means is critical when it comes to living the Christian life. Since I have witnessed so much arguing over this I decided to do some studying and see what I could find.

      Thank you for stopping by and commenting.

      Glenn

    • Glenn Says:

      Oh, and by the way, I stopped by your blog and tried to leave a comment. I just couldn’t get past the security words. At any rate I am glad you found the posts on repentance useful.

      Glenn


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