Repentance And Salvation Part 3: New Testament Repentance: Lexical Considerations -- By: Robert N. Wilkin

Journal: Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society
Volume: JOTGES 02:2 (Autumn 1989)
Article: Repentance And Salvation Part 3: New Testament Repentance: Lexical Considerations
Author: Robert N. Wilkin


Repentance And Salvation
Part 3: New Testament Repentance:
Lexical Considerations

Robert N. Wilkin

Executive Director
Grace Evangelical Society
Roanoke, Texas

I. Introduction

There he was again. I’d seen him on telecasts of baseball and football games. Now here he was on a PGA golf tournament telecast somehow repeatedly getting on camera with his rainbow Afro wig and his evangelistic T-shirt.

What did he mean with his one word message, REPENT? What did he hope that some of the millions of TV viewers would do?

What does the term repent mean according to the NT? Does it refer to turning from one’s sins? If so, are all sins or only major sins in view? Or, does it mean a willingness to forsake one’s sins—or even something else again?

Sincere Christians are sharply divided on this question. However, surprisingly very little has been written about NT repentance. I wrote my doctoral dissertation on this subject partly because it is a crucial and rather overlooked issue.

The NT Words in Question

There are two NT Greek words which are translated repentance in modern English translations: metanoia (and its verbal counterpart metanoeō) and metamelomai. The former term is so translated fifty-eight times in the NT; the latter only six times. The much wider use of metanoia has led me to give it greater attention in this article.

The Pre-Christian Meaning of Metanoia

In Classical Greek metanoia meant changing one’s mind about someone or something. For example, Thucydides used the term when writing about the response of the Athenian council to a revolt. The council

decided that all of the men of the city of Mytilene were to be put to death—not merely those who participated in the revolt. However, on “the next day a change of heart came over them.”1 The Athenian council changed its mind. It decided that only those who participated in the rebellion should be put to death.

Another example is found in Xenophon’s use of our term. He wrote:

We were inclined to conclude that for man, as he is constituted, it is easier to rule over any and all other creatures than to rule over men. But when we reflected that there was one Cyrus, the Persian, who reduced to obedience a vast number of men and cities and nations, we were then compelled to change our opinions and decide that to rule men might be a task neither impossible nor even diffic...

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