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essay: Repentance

January 14, 2016

 

Metanoia (theology)
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Metanoia, a transliteration of the Greek μετάνοια, is usually translated as repentance, for example in The King James Version of the Bible, and the verbal cognate metanoeo/μετανοέω is translated to repent.[1] Translating metanoia as repentance has been deemed “an utter mistranslation.”[2][3]
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Mistranslations

The meaning of the Greek metanoia/μετάνοια is very different from the meaning of the English repentance, and the meaning of the Greek metanoeō/μετανοέω is very different from the meaning of the English repent. Therefore, Walden describes the translation of metanoia as repentance as “an extraordinary mistranslation.”[19]

The translation of metanoia as repentance began in the 2nd century when the Greek metanoeō was translated into the Latin as poenitentiam agite.[20]

In biblical Greek, metanoeō/μετανοέω and metanoia/μετάνοια signify a “change of Mind, a change in the trend and action of the whole inner nature, intellectual, affectional and moral.” This meaning of metanoia as a “transmutation” of consciousness contrasts with classical Greek in which the word expressed a superficial change of mind.[21] It was in its use in the New Testament and in writings grounded in the New Testament that the depth of metanoia increased until, in the words of Archbishop Richard C. Trench, it came “to express that mighty change in mind, heart, and life wrought by the Spirit of God.”[22]

Reviewing translations of metanoeō/μετανοέω and metanoia/μετάνοια as repent or repentance, the biblical scholar J. Glentworth Butler noted that, in the Greek, there is none of the sorrow or regret contained in the words repentance and repent.[23] Repentance denotes “sorrow for what one has done or omitted to do; especially, contrition for sin.”[24] Repent primarily means “to review one’s actions and feel contrition or regret for something one has done or omitted to do”[25] Therefore, Butler asserts that translating metanoeō/μετανοέω and metanoia/μετάνοια as repent and repentance constitute “an utter mistranslation” that translators excuse by the fact that no English word can adequately convey the meaning of the Greek words.[26]

A. T. Robertson concurs with Butler. Regarding the translation of metanoia as repentance, Robertson calls it “a linguistic and theological tragedy.”[27] Regarding John the Baptist’s call to “repent” as a translation of the Greek metanoeite, Robertson quotes Broadus as saying that this is “the worst translation in the New Testament.” Repent means “to be sorry,” but John’s call was not to be sorry, but to change mental attitudes [metanoeite] and conduct.[28]

Other scholars have characterized the translation of metanoia/μετάνοια as “repentance” with similar negativity. Repentance is an “unsuitable” translation.[29] It is “totally inadequate” to carry the meaning of metanoia.[30]
More accurate translations

Of the top-ten versions of the Bible in the United States based on unit sales, seven read “baptism of repentance” in Mark 1:4 in which “repentance” translates metanoia.[31] Three of the ten top-selling versions and another in the top-ten based on dollar sales attempt to capture the meaning of metanoia. None of them transliterate the Greek μετἀνοια as metanoia.[32]

New Living Translation: “baptized to show that they had turned from their sins and turned to God”
Common English Bible: “baptized to show that they were changing their hearts and lives”
New International Readers Version: “baptized and turn away from their sins”
The Message: “a baptism of life-change”

In spite of these efforts, Wilkin forecasts that “repentance” as a translation for metanoia will likely continue in most English translations. He, therefore, advises readers to substitute “change of mind” for the words repentance and repent.[33]

Metanoia meaning

Tertullian protested the unsuitable translation of the Greek metanoeo into the Latin paenitentiam agite by arguing that “in Greek, metanoia is not a confession of sins but a change of mind.”[34] “Conversion” (from the Latin conversiōn-em turning round) with its “change in character” meaning is more nearly the equivalent of metanoia than repentance.[35] Synonyms for “conversion” include “change of heart” and “metanoia.”[36]

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Strong’s Concordance: 3341. metanoia

metanoia: change of mind, repentance
Original Word: μετάνοια, ας, ἡ
Part of Speech: Noun, Feminine
Transliteration: metanoia
Phonetic Spelling: (met-an’-oy-ah)
Short Definition: repentance, a change of mind
Definition: repentance, a change of mind, change in the inner man.
HELPS Word-studies

Cognate: 3341 metánoia – literally, “a change of mind” (“after-thought”); repentance. See 3340 /metanoeō (“repent”).

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