Many things are lost in biblical translation, which cause words and concepts to obtain multiple meanings over time. Pastors and teachers must seek His help when researching the true meaning of idioms and words during the time the passage was written. For example in the English OT, repent actually comes from two different Hebrew words:
nacham: to be sorry, console oneself
Original Word: נָחַם
Part of Speech: Verb
Phonetic Spelling: (naw-kham’)
Short Definition: comfort
Word Origin: a prim. Root
Definition: to be sorry, console oneself
NASB Word Usage
am sorry (1), appeased (1), become a consolation (1), change mind (6), change minds (1), changed mind (4), comfort (30), comforted (18), comforter (2), comforters (4), comforts (2), console (3), consolers (1), consoling (1), give rest (1), have compassion (2), moved to pity (1), regret (1), regretted (1), relent (5), relented (4), relenting (3), relents (1), relieved (1), repent (3), repented (2), sorry (6), think better (1), when the time of mourning was ended (2).
shub: to turn back, return
Original Word: שׁוּב
Part of Speech: Verb
Phonetic Spelling: (shoob)
Short Definition: return
Word Origin: a prim. Root
Definition: to turn back, return
NASB Word Usage: Too many to list!
With these definitions as the backdrop, check out this piece of pointed prose for a thorough examination of its use in the NT.
Repent: What Does That Mean?
“Repent” is likely the most misunderstood word in the Bible today. A misunderstanding of this word can and does change the true Gospel of Christ. It is used many times in the Bible and a misunderstanding of it will alter the meaning of any passage of scripture where it is used.
First of all let’s understand what it does not mean so that we can grasp the true meaning.
1. It does not mean to turn away from sin.
2. It does not mean to quit sinning.
3. It does not mean to feel sorry for sin.
4. It does not mean to change your sinful ways before you can be saved.
5. It does not imply salvation.
6. It is not the means of forgiveness of sin.
7. It is not salvation nor does it imply that we should live a sinless life.
8. It does not imply sin.
To understand its true meaning lets do a bit of history of the Greek language.
There have been many types of Greek in the past most of which are obsolete now but in the days of Alexander the Great a number of Greek languages existed. After Alexander had conquered the known world around 300 BC he had a problem communicating with the many Greeks under his rule. Rather than learn all of the different types of Greek himself Alexander invented a Greek language called “Koine” (pronounced coin-ā) or common Greek. It was common in that all of the Greek speaking world would be required to learn it in order to resolve the communication problem.
This new Greek language was very precise and mathematical in its precision. Every word had a four fold navigational fix. A word could have only one meaning. It could have several applications but only one interpretation. In English, words can have several meanings but not in the Koine Greek. It was one word, one meaning. In other words, there was no doubt about what was being said in this language. Eventually, this language became the dominate language of the New Testament.
If you have looked up “repent” in your handy Bible dictionary you will likely discover that it gives a definition of everything that I said repent is not. Why is this? Dictionaries get their definitions of words from its common usage. Religions and denominations have distorted the gospel for many years and therefore what the word repent as well. In other words the writers of a dictionary get the meaning from different religious organizations and give several different meanings of the word in their publication without regards to the original language that it was translated from.
Compound words were very common in the Koine Greek and this brings us to our subject
In the New Testament there are two different Greek words which have been translated repent. The word repent is an English word. It is an obsolete old English word and means nothing to us today. It was not even used in the Bible until the King James Bible came along in 1611. It was translated from the compound Greek words metanoeo and metamellamai. These two words have completely different meanings and remember in the Koine Greek a word can have only one meaning so how can anyone give one definition or numerous definitions to the word repent? There must be two and only two definitions for repent.
1. Metanoeo. This is a compound word. “Meta” means change; “noeo” means thinking. This word is derived from “nous” which means mind. So, metanoeo means to “change your mind”
2. Metamellamai. This is also a compound word. “Meta” means change; “mellamai” means emotions [derived from melo – to care, to be concerned]. It means to have a “change of emotions”.
Some brilliant mind somewhere along the way added “of sin” to repent and came up with the moronic phrase “repent of your sins” and someone else added “and be saved” and came up with “repent of your sins and be saved.” This is a false gospel because it leaves out two things: faith and Jesus Christ. People who use the phrase “repent of your sins” as a condition preceding salvation or as forgiveness of sin are either ignorant or are intentionally teaching a false gospel. Anywhere metanoeo is translated repent you can substitute “change your mind” and the verse will make sense. If you are thinking “of sins” after you see repent the whole gospel message shifts from accepting the free gift of God to something you have to do as a condition of salvation.
Of course no one can turn away from sin completely. You can minimize sin in your life and you should but to turn away from sin in total is impossible. The Apostle Paul tells us:
“Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lust thereof” (Romans 6:12). Paul is not telling us here that we must quit sinning completely; he is saying that we should not let it rule our lives.
“If we say that we (Christians) have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). John here was speaking to Christians and included himself as having sin.
In the Bible there are verses which do say to repent or change your mind about sin but in every case this is speaking to Christians who are sinning. It is simply saying to us to quit letting sin rule our lives and turn our attention back to the things of God and to worship him.
In 2 Corinthians 7 the word metanoeo is used in verse 9 and 10. Read verse 10 carefully. “For Godly sorry WORKETH repentance (metanoeo – a change of mind) to salvation”…
Notice that “Godly sorry” is not repentance but rather it works to repentance. In other words a person can become sorrowful of his sinful ways and then repent (change his mind about Christ.) Jesus Christ is always the object of salvation not turning away, refraining, quitting or whatever of sin. In Mark 1:15 Jesus said speaking to unbelievers in Galilee “Repent (metanoeo – change your mind) and believe the Gospel.” It tells us right here what we are to change our mind about the Gospel, not our sins. He was speaking to unbelievers who did not believe the Gospel. We are condemned because of unbelief not because of our sins:
John 3:18 “He that believeth on him is not condemned, but he that believeth not is condemned already BECAUSE he has not believed in the name of the uniquely born Son of God.”
Since we are condemned because of unbelief does it not follow that we should turn from our unbelieving mind and not our sins? We are not condemned because of sin. Sins are forgiven when we believe in Christ. Repenting of sin prior to salvation is meaningless because God will not forgive an unbeliever of his sins until he believes. Changing your mind about Christ is repenting which is salvation.
In Rev 2:20-21 Jezebel is a false prophetess and an unbeliever. She seduced God’s servants (believers) to commit fornication (turn to false gods etc). God gave her time to change her mind (metanoeo) of her fornication (unbelief of the true God) and she refused to. In verse 22 God casts Jezebel into a (death) bed and causes great tribulation (trouble/Divine discipline) for the Christians gone astray. In other words he punishes them while they are on earth if they don’t change their mind about their following false gods. You could say that this is repenting of sin however; the Christians being punished are already saved. (Gods servants) This is not a salvation scripture. At best you could take this to mean change your mind about sinning which is a principal for the spiritual life of a Christian but not as a condition of salvation nor is it restoration to fellowship with God or forgiveness of sin.
In Matthew 3:2 John was preaching to unbelievers in the wilderness of Judaea and said “Repent ye: for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” If repent means turn from your sin or feel sorry for your sins John was remiss in his preaching because he failed to mention Jesus Christ and faith. We know from the above verse (John 3:1) that John teaches that believing is salvation and not believing is condemnation. So we can conclude that John was telling the people of Judaea to change their unbelieving mind and believe in Christ thus establishing his meaning of repenting. We have already seen that metanoeo does not indicate sin and sin is not found anywhere in this passage.
Repentance is the act of changing your mind about something. Not necessarily sin or not necessarily anything. So, how do we know what to change our mind about? What we change our mind about is determined by the subject of the passage. For example: We find in the next verse (Matthew 3:3) that the subject is the Lord. “Prepare ye the way of the Lord” In other words John was saying change your unbelieving mind because the Kingdom of Heaven is coming and be prepared for the Lord. John was preaching the gospel and not about sin. So, the subject is the Lord and not sin.
Whenever metamellamai (change emotions) is translated repent it is simply telling us that someone became sorrowful of something he had done. Judas became sorrowful about betraying Jesus in Matthew 27:3 to the extent that he hanged himself. It does not mean that we will be saved if we feel sorry for our sin.
“Then Judas, which had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself (metamellamai – changed emotions) and brought again (returned) the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, “I have sinned in that I have betrayed innocent blood.” And they said, “What is that to us? See thou to that (that is your own business).”
Judas was never saved (Acts 5:37) although he repented of his sin and confessed his sin. Judas was simply sorry that he was responsible for sending an innocent man to his death.
When someone tries to add “repenting of sin” or emotionalism to the free gift of God he is saying that what Jesus Christ did for us is not enough. We cannot do anything about our sin. This is why Jesus Christ had to die on the cross as a substitute for us:
“The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)
Repenting of sins is a human work as is becoming emotional. Works will not save us because the payment for sin is (spiritual) death. Works are not spiritual death therefore it is not salvation.
If all you have done is to repent of your sins you are not saved. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ and you expect to be forgiven of your personal sins by repenting you have not been and you are not living the spiritual life. For a believer to regain fellowship with God he must confess his sin to God the Father. We must search our souls and name each sin (1 John 1:9). Salvation comes by faith in Christ alone. Believing is a non-meritorious act and requires nothing of us except a change of mind.
“And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the Law of Moses” (Acts 13:39).
“For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: Yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commended his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died (as a substitute) for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood (sacrificial death) we shall be saved from wrath through him” (Romans 5:7-9).
“That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God has raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believes unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Romans 10:9-10).