Repentance Part 4
This is my fourth, and probably last, post on the words translated repent in the New Testament (read Part 1 here, Part 2 here, and Part 3 here). In this post I have listed out all twenty-four New Testament occurrences of the Koine Greek word metanoia which is the third word translated into English as repent (the other two being metamelomai and metanoeo).
I feel that I have gotten to the point with this study that I am at an impasse. Metamelomai and metanoeō are both verbs while metanoia is a noun and I was hoping that maybe the change from verb to noun would throw a new light on the matter (why this would be I don’t know) but it hasn’t. It is true that in many of the passages I list at the end of this post urge a change in the audience’s behavior. However that doesn’t mean to me that repentance means a “turning from sin” rather than “changing one’s mind.” In fact the passages containing the three words for repentance don’t seem to be heavy theological treatises and it is unclear how these words became so heavily laden with meaning to some theologians.
I went back and looked over the “Repentance: fake and real” article by Dan Phillips one more time just to make sure I was understanding his thrust correctly. I think this quote is representative:
Perhaps it would be better to explain metanoein as to transform one’s mind. It envisions a root-to-branches paradigm-shift which always and necessarily issues in a change of behavior (Acts 26:20).
That pretty much sums up his take on the biblical topic of repentance and it just doesn’t hold water for me (Dan Phillips is a rather orthodox Calvinist when it comes to the topic of salvation). The New Testament usage of repent cannot bear the load that he, and many others, put on it.
I think that Earl Traut did a much better job defining metanoia (link here) than Dan Phillips does. Here is Mr. Traut’s definition again:
3341 METANOIA (22): meta = after + noema = thought; an after-thought, a change of mind, repentance. The idea of a change of of mind can be seen clearly in Heb.12.17, where Esau “found no place for a change of mind” in his father, Isaac.
In Act.20.21 metanoia is a change of mind or attitude towards God. In Act.26.20 “works worthy of a change of mind” are enjoined (c.f., Mt.3.8, Lk.3.8), showing that metanoia results in beneficial activity. Lk.15.7 (cf., Mt.5.32) states that wrongdoers need to change their mind, not those who are just, showing that metanoia includes a change for the better. God gave men a “change of mind unto life” in Act.11.18, evidently in the sense that the kindness of God leads humans thereto (Rom.2.4, cf. 2Pe.3.9) by allowing them an opportunity for a change of mind. In Heb.6.1 metanoia involves a change of life from dead works. “Grief or sorrow” (3077 lupe) is not the same thing as a change of mind but can lead one thereto if it is “according to God” (2Co.7.10). In 2Pe.3.9 metanoia is in a sense the opposite of perishing (0622 apollumi). More than a change of mind is suggested by the above contexts, showing that a change of heart or change of self is included. Ambiguous use of the word “repentance” precludes using it to translate metanoia. Used with “turn around” (1994 epistrepho) in Act.3.19 and 26.18.
CHANGE OF MIND Mt.3.8,11. Mk.1.4. Lk.3.3,8; 5.32; 15.7; 24.47. Act.5.31; 11.18; 13.24; 19.4; 20.21; 26.20. Rom.2.4. 2Co.7.9,10. 2Ti.2.25. Heb.6.1,6; 12.17. 2Pe.3.9.
I understand that this definition of repentance allows for a change of mind (or heart) which is life changing. However it is very different from Dan Phillips’ definition where repentance leads to a “paradigm-shift which always and necessarily issues in a change of behavior.” Look at the Romans 2:4 and 2 Corinthians 7:9-10 passages below which are written to believers. How many times do we believers need paradigm-shifting repentance in the way that Dan Phillips means?
I don’t want to appear to be picking an argument with Dan Phillips. The reason I keep going back to his article on repentance is that I consider him to be one of the most articulate proponents of this view. There are many teachers today that hold exactly the same view.
As a counterpoint I tracked down an article written by Bob Wilkin on repentance (Bob Wilkin’s view is fundamentally different from that of Dan Phillips). In his conclusion to the article (link to “New Testament Repentance: Repentance in the Gospels and Acts“) he writes a good, short summary of his findings:
It is my view that the Gospels and Acts primarily use the terms metanoia and metanoeo essentially as synonyms for faith in Christ. The call to change one’s mind about Christ, after the new evidence of the resurrection is brought forth (e.g., Acts 2:38), is parallel to calling one to place his or her faith in the Risen Christ in light of the proof of the resurrection (Acts 10:40-43).
Nevertheless, it is clear in some passages (e.g., Luke 17:3-4) that those terms are used to refer to changes of mind about one’s sinful behavior. In such cases what is at stake is fellowship, not eternal salvation.
The article I quoted from was written in 1989 and I believe that Bob Wilkin may have changed his view on some of what he wrote in the article since that time. None the less I think that what he wrote in 1989 is well thought out and worth your consideration. FYI, Wilkin wrote a follow-up article “New Testament Repentance: Repentance in the Epistles and Revelation” that I haven’t read through yet but looks like it is worth taking the time to understand.
I have been reading a book I just purchased and I found a quote that spoke to me on the topic of interpreting scripture. In the terms of the quote I am about to provide I believe that defining repentance is part of a larger puzzle.
The proper method of Bible study, then, is analogous to the putting together of a puzzle. For any given doctrinal subject, read the entire volume, selecting every verse that bears on the truth under study. Put all of the passages together, and the synthesis of the result is the true doctrine on the question with which you are concerned. A verse from Moses, and one from Ezekiel, and one from Paul, put side by side, each illuminating the others, fit into the perfect pattern of the whole design and give the whole light which God has been pleased to reveal on that one particular theme. Taken one by one, the verses may be no more than mere shapes, meaningless as far as the over-all purpose of the inspired revelation is concerned. This is why the Lord says that one of the first principles of Bible study is that no Scripture is of “private interpretation” (II Peter 1:20). The exegesis of the Greek shows that the verse should not be interpreted to restrict the right of the private individual to read and understand the Bible for himself.
The Invisible War
Donald Grey Barnhouse
I like that and hope it provides food for thought for anyone reading this article. To define any biblical doctrine requires a study of the breadth of scripture. I am sure that people who hold views like those of Dan Phillips have certainly studied the breadth of scripture but, from what I can understand from my own studies, the word repent does not have the depth of meaning that they give it. It just isn’t there.
Unfortunately there are many teachers out there who don’t study all relevant scriptures and yet confidently teach based on their limited studies. Beware of any teacher who quotes a single verse and then bases all of their interpretation on that one verse!
Twenty-four occurrences of metanoia in 24 verses:
8 Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance [metanoia],
9 and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones.
10 And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
11 I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance [metanoia], but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
Matthew 3:8-11 (New King James Version)
4 John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance [metanoia] for the remission of sins.
Mark 1:4 (New King James Version)
17 When Jesus heard it, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance [metanoia].”
Mark 2:17 (New King James Version)
3 And he went into all the region around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance [metanoia] for the remission of sins,
Luke 3:3 (New King James Version)
8 Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance [metanoia], and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones.
Luke 3:8 (New King James Version)
32 I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance [metanoia].”
Luke 5:32 (New King James Version)
7 I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance [metanoia].
Luke 15:7 (New King James Version)
47 and that repentance [metanoia] and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.
Luke 24:47 (New King James Version)
31 Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance [metanoia] to Israel and forgiveness of sins.
Acts 5:31 (New King James Version)
18 When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, “Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance [metanoia] to life.”
Acts 11:18 (New King James Version)
24 after John had first preached, before His coming, the baptism of repentance [metanoia] to all the people of Israel.
Acts 13:24 (New King James Version)
4 Then Paul said, “John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance [metanoia], saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.”
Acts 19:4 (New King James Version)
21 testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance [metanoia] toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.
Acts 20:21 (New King James Version)
20 but declared first to those in Damascus and in Jerusalem, and throughout all the region of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance [metanoia].
Acts 26:20 (New King James Version)
4 Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance [metanoia]?
Romans 2:4 (New King James Version)
9 Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance [metanoia]. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing.
10 For godly sorrow produces repentance [metanoia] leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.
2 Corinthians 7:9-10 (New King James Version)
25 in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance [metanoia], so that they may know the truth,
2 Timothy 2:25 (New King James Version)
1 Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance [metanoia] from dead works and of faith toward God,
2 of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.
3 And this we will do if God permits.
4 For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit,
5 and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come,
6 if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance [metanoia], since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.
Hebrews 6:1-6 (New King James Version)
17 For you know that afterward, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance [metanoia], though he sought it diligently with tears.
Hebrews 12:17 (New King James Version)
9 The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance [metanoia].
2 Peter 3:9 (New King James Version)