Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Rightly Handling the Word Repentance

I'm convinced that a great need exists in the evangelical church today to clearly explain exactly what Biblical repentance is (from the Greek!) and also clearly explain what it's not. This need exists because the word repentance in our English New Testament is really not the best translation of the original Greek word metanoia.

Many Bible teachers agree that the word repentance is really not the best word to translate the Greek word metanoia. For example, notice the following statements:

  • “The problem is not preaching repentance; it is giving a wrong definition to the word. Down through the centuries ‘repent’ has come to mean a far different thing than when it was spoken by John the Baptist, the Apostle Paul, the Apostle John, and Jesus Christ Himself.…If you look up the Greek word translated ‘repent’ in the King James Bible and used by Jesus, Paul, John and others in the New Testament, you will find that the [Greek] word metanoeo [which is simply the verb of the noun metanoia] means to think differently or afterwards, that is, to change the mind.” (Curtis Hutson, Repentance: What Does the Bible Teach? [Murfreesboro: Sword of the Lord Publishers, 1986], pp. 3-4.) 
  • “Modern [Bible] translators…generally translate metanoia as repentance. While this is an improvement over the Latin translation ‘penance,’ it is in most cases, as we shall now see, a poor reflection of its meaning in the NT.” (Bob Wilkin, “New Testament Repentance: Lexical Considerations,” http://bible.org/seriespage/new-testament-repentance-lexical-considerations.) 
  • “…the English word repentance derives from the Latin and does not express the exact meaning of  [the Greek word] metanoia.” (Wendell G. Johnston, “Repentance,” Don Campbell, Wendell Johnston, John Walvoord, John Witmer, The Theological Wordbook [Nashville: Word Publishing, 2000], p. 296.) 
  • “The word ‘repentance’ is not the best translation [of metanoia]. A better translation would have been ‘to change your mind.’” (James A. Scudder, Forever With God [Lake Zurich: Victory in Grace Ministries, 2010], p. 40.) 
  • "In the English Bible the word [metanoia] is translated ‘repentance,’ but this rendering hardly does justice to the original, since it gives undue prominence to the emotional element." (Louis Berkoff, Systematic Theology [Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996], p. 480.) 
  • "'Repentance' suggests primarily sorrow for sin; metanoia suggests a change of mind". (George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament [Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1993], p. 36.)
  • "…the rendering found in many of our [Bible] translations, namely, ‘Repent’ - thus A.V., A.R.V., R.S.V., etc. - is probably not the best.” (William Hendriksen, Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew [Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1973], p. 196.)
  • "It is evident that repentance is a mistranslation of Metanoia. This fact was never more apparent than during the English and American revisions of the King James version of our Bible. Frequent debate centered around this word and it was the opinion of many that a suitable English equivalent should be sought for the Greek expression. It was agreed, however, that no one English word was sufficient to convey all that lay in the Greek. And, although it was admitted that the translation was poor, it was felt that the common term should be retained in the hope that it would come to convey all that its Greek derivative expressed." (William Walden Howard, "Is Faith Enough to Save? Part 3," Bibliotheca Sacra, Vol. 99 [January 1942]: p. 96.)
  • “Repent (metanoeite). Broadus used to say that this is the worst translation in the New Testament. The trouble is that the English word ‘repent’ means ‘to be sorry again’ from the Latin repoenitet (impersonal). John [the Baptist] did not call on the people to be sorry, but to change (think afterwards) their mental attitudes (metanoeite) and conduct. The Vulgate has it ‘do penance’ and Wycliff has followed that. The Old Syriac has it better: ‘Turn ye.’ The French (Geneva) has it “Amendez vous.” This is John’s great word (Bruce) and it has been hopelessly mistranslated. The tragedy of it is that we have no one English word that reproduces exactly the meaning and atmosphere of the Greek word.” (A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures of the New Testament, commentary on Matthew 3:2.) 
  • “It is a linguistic and theological tragedy that we have to go on using ‘repentance’ for metanoia. But observe that the ‘sorrow’ has led to ‘repentance’ and was not itself the repentance.” (A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, commentary on 2 Corinthians 7:9.) 
  • “It is unfortunate that [the Greek word] metanoeo is translated ‘repent’ in the English Bible, for the English etymology denotes more the idea of penitence as sorrow, or worse, the [Roman] Catholic doctrine of penance, than it does the more accurate ‘change of mind.’” (Charlie Bing, Lordship Salvation [Xulon Press, 2010], p. 69.)
  • "Here, now, we come upon the practical and all-important point of this inquiry. For, putting these words, Metanoia and Repentance, side by side, is there not, on the contrary [to what some say], a most radical divergency between them?....At the best [the word Repentance] can only hang on the skirts of the great Greek expression [Metanoia]....How did such an extraordinary mistranslation get into our New Testament?...We feel prepared, at least, to say, with regard to the present subject, that the necessary employment of a paraphrase should not be an occasion for hesitation in making so important an alteration. We can leave it to the candid reader to judge which is the most [or least] objectionable; a resort to a paraphrase which really translates, or the preference for a technical word, to say nothing of an uncertain one, which is always in need of translation. Better, even, were the bald phrase 'change of mind,' with an explanation which would give it fullness and dignity, than the misleading rendering we have to put up with now." (Treadwell Walden, "THE GREAT MEANING OF THE WORD METANOIA: LOST IN THE OLD VERSION, UNRECOVERED IN THE NEW," The American Church Review, Vol. 35 [July 1881]: pp. 148, 149, 153, 155; cf. Walden, The Great Meaning of Metanoia [New York: Whittaker, 1896], pp. 14, 15, 24, 29.)

In conclusion, it can be said that the word repentance does not exactly express the meaning of metanoia. Therefore, in order to "accurately handle the word of truth" (2 Tim. 2:15) it's necessary to explain the meaning of repentance - much like Ezra and the Levitical priests explained the Pentateuch to Israel: "And they read from the book, from the law of God, translating to give the sense so that [the people] understood the reading." (Nehemiah 8:8, NASB)

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this wonderful page about Repentance. I have come back to it several times and have it as a Favourite Web Page.

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