22 August 2000

Draga Mihai

In miscarea evanghelica biblica, mantuirea este inteleasa ca un proces continuu prin care Dumnezeu il desprinde pe om de pacat si de consecintele lui devastatoare. Asa cum ai scris si tu, am fost mantuiti (iertati), suntem pe calea mantuirii (sfintirii) si asteptam sa fim mantuiti (proslaviti). Dumnezeu ne-a scapat de "pedeapsa" pentru pacat, ne scapa de sub "puterea" pacatului si va veni sa ne ia din "prezenta" pacatului si sa ne stramute intr-o lume in care va domni neprihanirea. 

"Mintuire" este un termen echivalent cu acela de "salvare". Dumnezeu ne salveaza de la pierzarea vesnica spre care ne indreptam prin alegerea nefasta a primilor nostri parinti, Adam si Eva. In ochii lui Dumnezeu, "lumea", ca sistem social si ca multime de oameni nu este recuperabila. Ea este destinata sa arda "in focul vesnic". Din mijlocul ei, Dumnezeu a hotarat sa-i "salveze", sa-i recupereze, doar pe aceia care raspund afirmativ la oferta pe care ne-a facut-o El prin Isus Christos: " ... cautati sa mantuiti pe unii, smulgandu-i din foc" (Iuda 23).  Ca sa fi "salvat" se cere un act personal de vointa, se cere trecerea printr-o criza a "pocaintei", se cere o intoarcere, o parasire a lumii si o venire la Dumnezeu.

In acest context, convertirea nu este echivalenta cu schimbarea "convingerilor religioase" (echivalenta perfect valabila in alt context), ci cu o intoarcere la Dumnezeu. Lumea este vazuta ca o dualitate de loialitate: fata de Satan sau fata de Dumnezeu. Satan este "Domnul lumii acesteia". Dumnezeu este "Dumnezeul cel viu si adevarat".  Cele doua loialitati ne plaseaza automat in doua sfere de existenta, in doua "imparatii" sau "cetati": imparatia lumii sau Imparatia lui Dumnezeu. Nimeni nu poate face parte concomitent din ambele imparatii si nimeni nu poate sluji in acelasi timp pe cei doi "stapani".

Iata de ce nu pot fi de acord cu tine in definirea "convertirii" :

<Convertirea se refera adesea la o schimbare a convingerilor religioase. Cineva se poate converti de la budism la crestinism, sau de la crestinism la iudaism (am vazut cazuri), sau de la protestantism la Ortodoxie. Convertirea poate avea diferite cauze, unele tinând de meritele intrinseci ale unei credinte, altele de circumstante exterioare. Steinhardt a devenit crestin ortodox pentru ca a fost convins de realitatea lui Hristos si a Bisericii Sale. Henri de Navarra a devenit catolic pentru ca sa poata fi acceptat ca rege al Frantei. Din cauza ambiguitatii motivatiilor interioare ale omului, as ezita sa declar ca oamenii au nevoie de convertire. Aceasta este o simpla preferinta semantica, si cred ca vei fi de acord cu mine.>

 Convertirea este deci parasirea lumii de pacat printr-un act constient si deliberat si transferarea celui credincios in Imparatia lui Dumnezeu. Iata citeva texte biblice:

"Pocaitiva dar, si intoarceti-va la Dumnezeu, pentru ca sa vi se stearga pacatele, ca sa vina de la Domnul vremurile de inviorare ..." (Fapte 3:19).

"Caci ei insisi istorisesc ce primire ne-ati facut si cum, de la idoli v-ati intors la Dumnezeu, ca sa slujiti Dumnezeului cel viu si adevarat" (1 Tes. 1:9).

 Nasterea din nou este sinonima cu "nasterea de sus" si este, nu un proces, ci un eveniment unic, care marcheaza "invierea credinciosului impreuna cu Christos la o viata noua".

Este periculos sa asociem nasterea din nou cu botezul. Acesta din urma este doar "marturia unui cuget curat":

" ... botezul, care nu este o curatie de intinaciunile trupesti ( o simpla baie as spune eu), ci marturia unui cuget curat inaintea lui Dumnezeu, prin invierea lui Isus Christos, ..." (1 Petru 3:21).

Este la fel de periculos si ilogic si nebiblic sa spunem: "Hristos ne-a învatat ca ea se aseamana vântului pe care nu-l putem localiza precis, despre care nu stim precis de unde începe si unde se sfârseste." In textul citat, Ioan 3:8, comparatia cu vintul se aplica, nu nasterii din nou, ci comportamentului celui ce este nascut din nou: "Tot la fel este cu oricine este nascut din Duhul." 
Nu ne putem naste continuu, pe tot parcursul vietii. Ca si in domeniul biologic, si in cel spiritual, nasterea se produce o singura data, printr-un eveniment specific. Dupa aceea urmeaza "cresterea".

Ca si nasterea biologica, si nasterea spirituala isi are durerile ei. Momentul nasterii din nou este clipa convertirii prin credinta, nu primirea botezului in apa. Iata citeva texte:

"Dar, tuturor celor ce L-au primit, adica tuturor celor ce cred in Numele Lui, le-a dat dreptul sa se faca copii ai lui Dumnezeu; nascuti nu din sange, nici din voia firii lor, nici din voia vreunui om, ci din Dumnezeu" (Ioan 1:12-13).

"Si voi n-ati primit un duh de robie, ... ci un duh de infiere, care ne face sa strigam: "Ava!" adica: "Tata!" (Rom. 8:15).

Biblia plaseaza evenimentul nasterii din nou in clipa convertirii, in momentul credintei personale in Domnul Isus:

"Caci toti suntem fii ai lui Dumnezeu, prin credinta in Christos Isus" (Gal. 3:25).

Apostolul Pavel i-a intrebat pe "pseudo-credinciosii" din Efes:

"Ati primit voi Duhul Sfant cand ati crezut?" Ei i-au raspuns: "Nici n-am auzit macar ca a fost dat un Duh Sfint." (Fapte 19:2).

Iata de ce nu pot fi de acord decit partial cu definitia propusa de tine:

<Nasterea din nou, sau nasterea de sus este o lucrare tainica facuta în om de Duhul Sfânt. Din cauza acestui aspect tainic, ea nu poate fi usor definita sau descrisa sau identificata. Într-adevar, Hristos ne-a învatat ca ea se aseamana vântului pe care nu-l putem localiza precis, despre care nu stim precis de unde începe si unde se sfârseste. Nasterea din nou poate fi însotita de semne exterioare, dar este mai întâi de toate ascunsa si cunoscuta lui Dumnezeu, nu omului. Pe baza cuvintelor Domnului din Ioan 3, "De nu se va naste cineva din apa si din Duh, nu va putea sa intre în împaratia lui Dumnezeu", ortodocsii cred ca nasterea din nou este asociata cu botezul. Dar lucrarea nasterii din nou nu este produsa de preotul care boteaza, ci de Duhul Sfânt.>

Ca nasterea din nou este un eveniment unic si nerepetabil, savirsit de Dumnezeu in momentul credintei personale in Christos se vede si din excelenta ta definitie pe care o dai pocaintei:

<Pocainta este o transformare a mintii omului, o îndepartare de pacat si conformare la viata divina. Spre deosebire de convertire sau nastere din nou, ea este necesara în mod repetat, în aceasta viata de pe pamânt. Toti oamenii au nevoie de pocainta: betivii la care articolul tau se refera, femeile pacatoase, dar si preotii, calugarii sau episcopii. De fapt, atunci când cineva creste într-o viata de sfintenie, devine tot mai constient de pacatele lui si de nevoia pocaintei. În timp ce nasterea din nou este o lucrare exclusiv divina, pocainta reprezinta o sinergie, o lucrare concomitenta a omului si a Duhului lui Dumnezeu.>

Pocainta este o schimbare de inima, nu de parere.

Ajungand la ultimul termen, mantuirea, tu scrii asa de frumos:

<Mântuirea este schimbarea directiei si a destinului omului, de la o separare prezenta si viitoare de Dumnezeu catre o partasie prezenta si vesnica cu El. Ea este o lucrare umana si divina, si nu se reduce la o stampila pe pasaportul catre cer. Un om se poate afla pe calea mântuirii si poate arata roadele acestei cai, dar destinul lui este cunoscut lui Dumnezeu, nu omului. Nasterea din nou si pocainta sunt necesare mântuirii.>

Nu inteleg insa de ce scrii ca numai pocainta si nasterea din nou sunt necesare mantuirii. Lipseste tocmai "CONVERTIREA" ! Dispare tocmai pragul pocaintei: INTOARCEREA la Dumnezeu! Lipseste trecerea dramatica "de la moarte la viata", "din intunerec la lumina Lui minunata". Nu poate fi vorba de o bucurie a mantuirii, fara o intristare pentru pacat, caci la mijloc este taina iertarii!

Cum s-ar putea INTOARCE la Dumnezeu un copil care nici nu-si da seama de ceea ce i se intampla in momentul botezului ? Cum s-ar putea "lepada de Satan" unul care nici macar nu stie sa vorbeasca? (Pina si aceasta institutie a "nasilor marturisitori" care se leapada de Satan la botez in locul pruncului dovedeste necesitatea unei "marturisiri" care este inlocuita cu un surogat de convertire. Cum ar putea primi Duhul Sfant o persoana care nici macar nu o doreste si cum ar fi "salvat" unul care nici nu-si da seama ca este pierdut si are nevoie de o astfel de interventie?

Din toata "soteriologia" expusa de tine lipseste (asa cum este caracteristic Ortodoxiei) tocmai "CONVERTIREA", acea pocainta initiala fara de care nu ne putem "lepada de pacat".

Cand vorbeste despre "pocainta", Noul Testament face distinctie intre o pocainta initiala, care duce la mantuire, si pocainta continua din viata crestinului care duce la sfintire. Amandoua sunt lepadari, desprinderi, deziceri de pacat si de urmarile lui in viata noastra. Convertirea este o minune de o clipa, dar sfintirea este o lucrare care dureaza toata viata.

Te asigur ca am cautat sa ma documentez pentru a-ti raspunde cit mai clar si mai corect posibil mie. Pentru ca exprimarea si posibilitatile mele sunt modeste, iti propun tie, ca si celorlalti care pot citi in limba engleza, sa urmarim impreuna doua din cele cinci studii dedicate "pocaintei" de  catre Robert N. Wilkin, Executive Director, Grace Evangelical Society, Roanoke, Texas, USA. Iata mai jos doua din capitolele lucrarii lui. Le-am ales pentru ca in primul se descrie foarte amanuntit "pocainta", iar in al doilea se arata care sunt diferentele de interpretare istorica intre diferite sectiuni ale Bisericii. Pentru cei care vor sa citeasca toata lucrarea, ii invit sa mearga la:

http://roboam/repentance/wilkin-toc.htm

Cu dragoste crestina

Daniel Branzai

 

 

New Testament Repentance:
Lexical Considerations

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 metanoeo„) 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."62 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 difficult, if one should only go about it in an intelligent manner.63

During the pre- and early Christian period of KoineÁ Greek (ca. 300 BC-100 AD) metanoia continued to carry the sense of a change of mind about someone or something. For example, Polybius (ca. 208-126 B.C.) used metanoia to refer to the Dardani, a people who had decided to attack Macedonia while Philip was away with his army. However, Philip caught wind of it and returned quickly. Even though the Dardani were close to Macedonia, when they heard that Philip was coming, they changed their minds. They broke off the attack before it even began.64

Similarly, Plutarch, who lived and wrote in the late first and early second century A.D., wrote:

Cypselus, the father of Periander . . . when he was a new-born babe, smiled at the men who had been sent to make away with him, and they turned away. And when again they changed their minds, they sought for him and found him not, for he had been put away in a chest by his mother.65

Notice that in all of the cases cited the individual or people in view had thought one thing or made one decision and then, based on further evidence or input, changed their minds.

Thompson suggests that two other nuances emerge during this period: change of purpose and regret.66 However, the evidence does nor substantiate her claim. On both counts she is guilty of "illegitimate totality transfer," that is, the unwarranted transfer of the meaning of a phrase containing a given word to that word when it stands alone. She fails to show any examples where either metanoia or its verbal counterpart was used absolutely in the senses which she suggests. Rather, it is other words in the context which indicate that the change of mind in question concerned sinful practices or was accompanied by grief or sorrow.

Metanoia and metanoeo„„ occur twenty times in the canonical books of the Greek OT (Septuagint) and seven times in the apocryphal books. They retain the meaning of a change of mind about someone or something in the LXX.67 The following examples are representative.

When the Lord decided to take the kingdom from King Saul He instructed Samuel to say, "He will not turn nor change His mind, for He is not as a man that He should change His mind" (I Sam [1 Kingdoms in the Septuagint] 15:29; translation mine).

Likewise, Prov 20:25 speaks of how foolish it is for a man to rashly promise to give something to the Lord, because after such a hasty vow the man may come to change his mind.

Similarly, the Ninevites believed in the Lord and turned from their sinful ways in the hopes that the Lord might change His mind and not destroy t hem and their city (Jonah 3:9-10). From a human perspective God did indeed change His mind and withhold the judgment He had planned.68

Behm disagrees. He argues that metanoeo„ in the Greek OT "approximates" shu‚b of the Hebrew OT.69 However, I believe he fails to prove his point. The term shu‚b was used 1,056 times in the Hebrew text. None of those occurrences is translated by metanoeo„ in the Greek OT. Not one. This is inexplicable if the translators of the LXX felt that metanoeo„ was a good translation of shu‚b. Rather, the translators routinely used strepho„ and its various compound forms to translate shu‚b.

In the OT pseudepigrapha metanoia and metanoeo„ nearly always occur in contexts dealing with the need to abandon sinful practices in order to escape God's judgment. Behm concludes from this that metanoia had thus come to refer to turning from sins. He too, however, is guilty of illegitimate totality transfer. Metanoia did not come, by itself, to refer to a turning from one's sins. Rather, words in the context inform the reader that the change of mind in view would include a resolution to cease the sinful practices mentioned.

In summary, the pre-Christian meaning of metanoia was a change of mind about someone or something. When the context specifically mentions sinful practices about which one was changing his or her mind, the translation "repentance" is acceptable.

The History of NT Translations of Metanoia

The Latin Fathers translated metanoia as paenitentia, which came to mean "penance" or "acts of penance." They felt that in order to obtain eternal salvation men had to perform righteous acts of penance as prescribed by one's confessor priest.

Jerome established this Old Latin translation as authoritative when he retained paenitentia as the translation of metanoia. The system of penance became an established pathway whereby one hoped to obtain grace.

John Wycliffe, "the Morning Star of the Reformation," pioneered the first complete English Bible in the late 1300's. Unfortunately his work was not based on the original Greek and Hebrew, but was a very literal translation of the Vulgate. Hence we should not be surprised that he translated the Latin agite paenitentiam as "do penance." This was adopted in 1609-1610 in the Roman Catholic Douay Version.

William Tyndale produced the first printed English NT in 1526. He used repent and repentance for me anoia and metanoeo„„, a great improvement over "do penance," but still misleading in many contexts.

Later English versions, including the Authorized or King James Version of 1611, were deeply indebted to Tyndale's phraseology, including his repent and repentance.

Repentance as a translation seems to keep the idea that one must turn from his sinful deeds to obtain God's favor. However, it eliminates the notion that, in addition, one must confess his sins to a priest and do prescribed good works before he can obtain (or regain) grace.

Modern translators also 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.

II. Meaning of Metanoia in the NT

Basic Sense: Change of Mind

The pre-Christian meaning of metanoia as a change of mind is its basic NT sense as well. This can readily be seen in Heb 12:17 which reads: "For you know that afterward, when he wanted to inherit a blessing, he [Esau] was rejected, for he found no place for metanoia, though he sought it diligently with tears." What was it that Esau could not find? It was not a turning from sinful behavior. It was not penance. What he could not find was a way to change his father's mind. The matter was settled. No matter how much he pleaded, he couldn't change Isaac's mind.

All NT uses include the sense of a change of mind present. However, if the context clearly indicates what one is changing his mind about, it could be that a more polished English translation can be found. For instance, if one is to change his mind about his sinful deeds, the term repentance conveys that thought nicely.

There are four specialized types of uses of metanoia in the NT. We will now consider these.

A Synonym for Eternal Salvation

In a few passages metanoia is used via metonymy as a synonym for eternal salvation. These cases involve a metonymy of cause for the effect. The cause is a change of mind about Christ and His Gospel. The effect is eternal salvation. Thus when we read in 2 Pet 3:9, "The Lord is . . . not willing that any should perish but that all should come to metanoia," the idea is the same as 1 Tim 2:4, "[God] desires all men to be saved."

Luke 5:32 illustrates this same usage: "I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to metanoia." That is, Jesus is affirming that He didn't come to call those who think that they are righteous, but those who know themselves to be sinners, to salvation. Metanoia is used as a synonym for eternal salvation.

A Change of Mind Regarding Sinful Behavior =Repentance

On some occasions metanoia is used in contexts where the change of mind in view is clearly indicated as having to do with one's sinful practices. For example, in Luke 17:3-4 Jesus taught the disciples that they were to forgive all who sinned against them if they came and indicated that they had changed their minds regarding their sin. In this case and others like it "repentance" would be a good translation choice. We are to forgive anyone who sins against us and then repents.

It is important to note, as shall be brought out further in future articles, that eternal salvation is never conditioned upon changing one's mind about (i.e., repenting concerning) his sinful practices.

A Change of Mind Regarding Self and Christ

Many NT passages use metanoia in contexts where what one is to change his mind about is himself and Christ. For example, in Acts 2:38, after having indicted his Jewish audience for crucifying their Messiah and in response to their question "What shall we do?" Peter called them to change their minds about Jesus Christ. They had rejected Him. Now they could accept Him. They were to believe that He is the Messiah, the Christ, the Savior of the world. Such a mindset includes a recognition that one is a sinner in need of the Savior. Self-righteousness is clearly antithetical to faith (cf. Luke 18:9-14).

In this use metanoia occurs as a virtual synonym for pistis (faith).

A Change of Mind Regarding Idols and God

In one passage the object of metanoia is stated as idols and God (Acts 17:29-31). Paul told the Athenian philosophers that God raised Jesus Christ from the dead and that He would be coming back to earth as Judge. He told his listeners that in order to escape eternal condemnation they had to change their minds about their idols and about God and the Man whom He had sent and would send again. They had to transfer their faith from their idols to God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Summary

Metanoia is used in the NT in a number of different ways, all of which have the idea of a change of mind at the root. In a few contexts it is used via metonymy as a synonym for eternal salvation. When it is used in contexts dealing with temporal salvation from life's difficulties, a change of mind about one's sinful ways (i.e., repentance) is given as the condition. However, when used in contexts dealing with eternal salvation from hell, a change of mind about oneself and Christ (or, in one passage, regarding idols and God) is given as the condition. In such contexts metanoia is used as a synonym for faith.

III. Meaning of Metamelomai

The basic meaning of metamelomai is "to feel regret." In 2 Cor 7:9 Paul indicates that he no longer regretted sending them a letter which made them sorry, though at first he did regret sending it.

Regret usually carries with it the idea of a change of mind. In Matt 21 :29 Jesus told the Parable of the Two Sons. Both were told to go work in the vineyard. One said he would not, but later changed his mind (or regretted his decision) and went. The other said that he would go, but did not.

After betraying Christ, Judas regretted what he had done, gave back his blood money, and hanged himself (Matt 27:3). Judas "repented" in this sense; or more precisely, he "was remorseful" (NKJV). Yet he did not come to faith in Christ. He never changed his mind about Christ being His Savior. He rejected Him to his death.

While it is commonly translated in that way, there are no uses of metamelomai in the NT where "repentance" is a good translation. It always refers to regret, remorse, or to a change of mind. It never refers to turning from one's sins.

IV. Meaning of Strepho Compounds

While they are never translated as "repentance," the compounds of strepho in some contexts carry the idea of turning from sins. The basic sense of these compounds is turning from or to someone or something. These compounds are the true corresponding terms to the OT word shu‚b.

"Turning to the Lord" is used in the NT, as it was in the OT, as an expression for faith and conversion.70 When Paul reported in Acts 15:3 that Gentiles were turning to the Lord, he was simply saying that Gentiles were coming to faith in Christ, were being saved.

Nowhere in the NT are these verbs used to indicate that one must turn from his sins to obtain eternal salvation.

V. Conclusion

I'm still not sure what the man at the athletic events meant by his one-word message on his T-shirt. The word repent has a well-defined meaning in English. However, not all who use it mean the normal dictionary definition. Some mean merely a recognition of one's sinfulness. Others mean a change of thinking about Jesus Christ. Still others mean turning from one's sins, a willingness to do so, or a sense of remorse over one's sins.

I wish we could retranslate the NT. It would make teaching and preaching passages using metanoia simpler. It would eliminate the confusion many have when they read their Bibles and see the word repent. However, this is not likely to happen. It seems that "repentance" as a translation for metanoia (and metamelomai) will probably be with us for a long time.

In most cases when the English word repent occurs in the NT it is translating metanoia. Metanoia is not the equivalent of the OT term shu‚b. It certainly does not mean "penance. n Nor does it normally mean "repentance." Rather, in the NT it retains its pre-Christian meaning of a change of mind. The English reader thus generally needs to read "change of mind "--not turn from sins--when he sees the word " repent" in the NT. The context must be consulted to determine the object of a person's change of mind.

The only times repent is actually a good English translation is when the object of metanoia is sinful deeds. A change of mind about sinful behavior is equivalent to repentance.

Nearly a century ago, in The Great Meaning of Metanoia, Treadwell Walden decried the Latin and English translations of metanoia as being "extraordinary mistranslations."71 I would agree.72

Used by permission:
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society
Volume 2, No. 2 -- Autumn 1989


62 Thucydides, Thurydides 3. 36. 4. Compare 3. 37. 1. Author's translation, emphasis supplied.

63 Xenophon, Cyropaedia 1. 1. 3. Translation by Walter Miller, Loeb Classical Library, emphasis supplied.

64 Polyblus The Histories 4. 66. 7.

65 Plutarch, Moralia 163 F. Translated by Frank Babbitt, Loeb Classical Library, emphasis supplied.

66 Effie Freeman Thompson, 'METANOEO' and 'ME TAMELEI' in Greek Literature Until 100 A.D., Including a Discussion of Their Hebrew Equivalents (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1972), p. 14.

67 Cf. 1 Sam 15:29; Prov 14:15; 20:25 (19); 24:24 (29:27), 47 (32); Isa 46:8; Jer 4:28; 8:6; 18:8; Joel 2:13, 14; Amos 7:3, 6; Jonah 3:9, 10; 4:2; Zech 8:14.

68 In a number of OT passages God is said to have changed His mind, relented, or repented of calamities which He had planned to send. The Hebrew word used is na„ham. In each of these cases God did not actually change His mind, relent, or repent. God is omniscient and thus nothing which happens ever takes Him by surprise. The so-called "repentance of God" is actually a figure of speech known as an antbropomorphism. At times the Scriptures speak to us as though God were a man. For example, we read of His strong arm (Exod 6:6; Ps 77: 15; Jer 21:5), His hand John 10:28-29), end the like, as figures of His might and ability to deliver us from difficulty and protect us. So, too, from a human perspective it appears at times that God has changed His mind. In reality, He knew all along what the final outcome would be. The change of mind is apparent, not actual. For further discussion of this subject see H. Van Parunak, 'The Repentance of God in the Old Testament," unpublished Th.M. thesis, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1975, and "A Semantic Survey of NHM," Biblica 56 (1975): 512-32.

69 Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, s.v. "metanoeo„, metanoia, " by J. Behm, 4 (1967): 989-90.

70 E.g., Matt 13:15; Mark 4:12; Luke 1:16; John 12:40; Acts 9:35; 1 5:3; 28:27; 1 Pet 2:25.

71 Walden, The Great Meaning of Metanoia (New York: Thomas Whittaker, 1896), p.24.

72 Upcoming articles in this series will deal with "Repentance in the Gospels and Acts," "Repentance in the Epistles and Revelation," and "Suggestions on the Practical Preaching of Repentance."


The Doctrine of
Repentance in Church History

Few issues are of more vital interest to those who believe in heaven and hell than the question of what one must do to gain entrance into heaven. Answers to this question nearly always include a reference to repentance. Throughout church history nearly every theologian has taught that repentance is essential for salvation from hell.1 However, several disparate understandings of repentance have been advocated. This article will delineate those understandings.2

I. The Pre-Reformation View

From the apostolic fathers until the Reformers, essentially one view of salvific repentance prevailed. Unhappily this view knew little or nothing of grace. A system of works salvation emerged very early in the Church. Amazingly, the first generation after the Apostles distorted the good news which the Apostles had entrusted to their care.3 On the theology of the apostolic fathers Torrance notes:

Salvation is wrought, they thought, certainly by divine pardon but on the ground of repentance [self-amendment before God],4 not apparently on the ground of the death of Christ alone. There is no doubt about the fact that the early Church felt it was willing to go all the way to martyrdom, but it felt that it was in that way the Christian made saving appropriation of the Cross, rather than by faith … It was not seen that the whole of salvation is centered in the person and the death of Christ .... Failure to apprehend the meaning of the Cross and to make it a saving article of faith Is surely the clearest indication that a genuine doctrine of grace is absent.5

Three main aspects of the pre-Reformation view of salvific repentance are apparent.

Initial Forgiveness of Pre-Baptismal Sins Only

The church fathers and their successors believed that salvation began at one's baptism. When someone was baptized the sins which he had committed until that point in life [plus his share of original sin through Adam] were forgiven.6 The fathers thus believed that a person would begin the Christian life with a clean slate. Of course, the slate would not remain clean for long. Since everyone continues to be plagued with sin after baptism (1 John 1:8, 10), the Church had to develop a plan whereby post-baptismal sins could be atoned for.

Forgiveness of Post-Baptismal Sins by Repentance/Penance

With such a view of baptism and the forgiveness of, sins it is no wonder that people began putting off baptism until they were near death. In that way they could be assured of total forgiveness. The church fathers and their successors dealt with this problem by proposing repentance (i.e., penance) as the cure for post-baptismal sins. At first the early fathers debated whether major post-baptismal sins could be forgiven at all. It was generally agreed that even "mortal" sins could be forgiven; however, there was some disagreement as to how many times a person could repent and be forgiven.7 A few leaders, such as Hermas, held that there could be only one opportunity for repentance after baptism.8 That view did not prevail, however. The prevailing view of the early fathers was that one could repent and be forgiven on several occasions.9 At first they did not specify exactly how many times someone could repent for fear of giving churchmen an implicit license to sin. This, of course, led some people to nut off penance until their deathbeds. the fifth century, in spite of the fear of giving people a license to sin, the Church uniformly specified that a person might repent and be forgiven an unlimited number of times.10

Repentance Defined as Contrition, Confession,
and Performing Prescribed Acts of Penance

The apostolic fathers taught that in order to retain salvation from eternal judgment one had to feel sorry for and confess his post-baptismal sins to a priest and then do whatever acts of penance were prescribed by the priest.11 The Latin Fathers translated, or rather mistranslated, the NT words metanoeo„ and metanoia to reflect their theological bias. They translated those terms as poenitenitam agite and poenitentia, "to do acts of penance" and "acts of penance," respectively.12 Those mistranslations unfortunately became part of the Old Latin and then the Latin Vulgate versions of the Bible. It was not until the Reformation that those translations were given a serious and widespread challenge.

Summary

Imagine that you were a member of the Church in the fifth century under such a system. Your parents firmly believed these things. You were baptized as an infant. As a young child you were taught the necessity of penance and confession to your confessor priest both by your parents and the priest. By the time you became a teenager you were convinced that salvation was only in the Church and that you had to strive hard against sin if you were going to get into heaven. Oh, how you hoped you would get in! You hoped you were good enough today and that you would stay good enough tomorrow. You hoped you wouldn't die right after committing a mortal sin such as adultery, idolatry, murder, or denying the faith while being tortured.

You wondered exactly which sins were mortal sins in God's eyes. What if you died after being jealous or envious or hateful and it turned out those sins were big enough to send you to hell? Sometimes you even feared that your confessor priest may not have been strict enough with you when he meted out your penance. After all, there was no set penalty for given sins. What if your priest made a mistake? What if you didn't do enough to atone for your sins? You were terribly frightened of hell and without any assurance of escaping its flames.

Robert Williams well summed up the view of the early Church on salvific repentance when he wrote:

By and large, it was far easier to gain admission to the Church than to re-enter it, once its ideals had in any way been renounced by its adherents. The initiated, through baptism, were given a clean sheet. Whatever evils had previously stained a man's life, it was forgiven and forgotten, as a new adventure in Christ began. It was when the Church had to deal with those who had soiled the sheet after their admission, that difficulties arose. Light offenders were met by different forms of censure, such as temporary exclusion from Holy Communion or varying degrees of penance. In dealing with the mortal sins of idolatry, murder, and adultery, not to mention apostasy, Church leaders differed concerning the form of punishment.13

Surely there has always been a remnant of people who knew and apprehended the grace of God in Christ, even in the years between the Apostles and the Reformation. However, the vast majority of people knew nothing of grace. They knew only legalism and pharisaism. There was a serious need for a mass reform of the Church. It was centuries in coming. Indeed, for more than a millennium terrible darkness covered the Church until the Reformation.

II. Reformation Views

The Reformers challenged all three pillars of the Church's view on salvific repentance.

Initial Forgiveness of all Sins, Pre- and Post-Baptismal

Calvin,14 and to a lesser extent Luther15 taught that all of one's sins, pre- and post-baptismal, were forgiven when a person became a Christian. Such teaching clearly marked a radical break from Romanism. What would become of the practice of confessing one's sins to his priest and performing the mandated acts of penance? Logically, it would cease in churches which adopted the thinking of the Reformers on forgiveness of sin. As we know, that is exactly what happened.

Penance Unnecessary for Forgiveness of Post-Baptismal Sins

Calvin completely rejected the idea that one must perform acts of penance to atone for post-baptismal sins in order to maintain one's salvation.16 He taught that Christ's death, once appropriated, finally and completely atoned for all the sins one would or ever could commit.

Luther, however, in light of his linear understanding of conversion,17 held that while penance itself was unnecessary, one who abandoned his faith in Christ and fell into sin would perish unless he returned to Christ again through renewed faith. Commenting on Jerome's view, the established position of the Church, that penance was "the second plank after shipwreck," Luther wrote:

You will likewise see how perilous, indeed, how false it is to suppose that penance is the "the second plank after shipwreck," and how pernicious an error it is to believe that the power of baptism is broken, and the ship dashed to pieces, because of sin. The ship remains one, solid, and invincible) it will never be broken up into separate "planks. In it are carried all those who are brought to the harbor of salvation, for it is the truth of God giving us its promise in the sacraments. Of course, it often happens that many rashly leap overboard into the sea and perish; these are those who abandon faith in the promise and plunge into sin. But the ship itself remains intact and holds its course unimpaired. If anyone is able somehow by grace to return to the ship, it is not on any plank, but in the solid ship itself that he is borne to life. Such a person is the one who returns through faith to the abiding and enduring promise of God.18

Luther rejected penance formally. He felt that penance "torture[d] poor consciences to death.19 However, practically speaking he still held to the necessity of something not unlike penance. In order to be saved in the end from eternal judgment, according to Luther, one must endeavor to continue in the faith, both morally and doctrinally.20

Repentance (Metanoia) Defined as a Change of Mind

In contrast to the Church's definition of metanoia as involving contrition, confession, and the performance of acts of penance, Calvin and Luther concluded that it retained its classical sense of "a change of mind."21 Salvific repentance according to Calvin and Luther was a change of mind whereby one recognized his own sinfulness and need of forgiveness and then turned in faith to God to provide that forgiveness in Christ.22 In essence, then, Luther and Calvin viewed salvific repentance as an essential part of saving faith.

Summary

The Reformation introduced a new view of salvific repentance. Calvin taught that all sins were forgiven at the point of conversion, that penance was unnecessary for the forgiveness of post-baptismal sins, and that the NT term metanoia referred to a change of mind whereby one recognizes his sinfulness and need of forgiveness in Christ. Luther agreed completely with the last of those points and somewhat with the first two. Those who are burdened for the purity of the Gospel of grace find it disappointing that Luther held to a linear view of salvation and the possibility of forfeiting it by departing from the faith.

The monolithic power of the Roman Church had been broken. No longer would the proponents of grace be limited to a few modern-day Elijahs. The Reformers looked back to Christ and the Apostles rather than the church fathers for their view of salvific repentance and the Gospel. Would their followers retain a high view of grace? Or would they, like the apostolic fathers, lose a proper understanding of grace and depart into a man-made, legalistic "Gospel"?

III. Post-Reformation Views

The post-Reformation period has seen the continuation of the previously held views and the emergence of new ones.

Contrition, Confession, and Performing Acts of Penance

The Roman view of salvific repentance has continued from the Reformation until the present. The views of Calvin and Luther have continued as well. However, their views have in some cases been modified so that today there are basically three Protestant views of salvific repentance.23

Turning Away from Sin

Those holding to this view consider salvific repentance to be the actual turning away from one's sins and not merely a willingness or intention to do so.24 They would tell an alcoholic, for example, that in order to become a Christian he would first have to stop getting drunk.

A Willingness or Resolution to Stop Sinning

Others argue that one needs to be willing turn from his sins.25 They would tell an alcoholic that in order to become a Christian he would first have to be willing to stop getting drunk. They would stop short of saying that he actually had to stop drinking before he could be saved.

People holding to these first two views might stress to varying degrees the need to be sorry about one's sins and to commit oneself to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

A Change of Thinking

Some Protestants suggest that salvific repentance does not involve turning from one's sins or even the willingness to do so. Rather, they argue that salvific repentance is a change of mind whereby a person recognizes his sinfulness and need of salvation and sees Jesus Christ as the sinless Substitute who died on the cross for his sins.26 They thus understand NT metanoia in its classical sense.

They would tell an alcoholic that he had to recognize his sinfulness and need of salvation and place his faith solely in Jesus Christ in order to be saved from eternal condemnation. They would avoid giving the impression that the individual had to change his lifestyle or be willing to do so in order to obtain salvation from eternal condemnation.

Variations of the Three Protestant Views

It should be noted that some persons who hold to the three Protestant views of salvific repentance do not necessarily believe the' salvation once obtained is secure and inviolable. Some Protestants reach that salvation can be lost due to unfaithfulness subsequent to one's conversion. Such teaching is actually inconsistent with the Reformers' view of depravity and Jesus' once and for all substitutionary death. Some Protestants have, in effect, a Roman Catholic view of salvific repentance--albeit one in which confession to a priest and formal penance are substituted with confession directly to God and an informal system of penance. However, we will call these variant views "Protestant" since those who hold them are members of Protestant and not Catholic or Orthodox churches. In reality, then, there are actually six Protestant views of salvific repentance: 1) turn from sins and keep on doing so to obtain and keep a salvation which can be lost.27 2) turn from sins to obtain an eternally secure salvation, 3) be willing to turn from sins and then, after conversion, actually turn from sins as a manner of life to gain and keep one's salvation, 4) be willing to turn from sins to obtain an eternally secure salvation, 5) change your mind about yourself and Christ to gain initial salvation and then turn from your sins as a manner of life thereafter to keep that salvation, and 6) change your mind about yourself and Christ to gain an inviolable salvation.

IV. Conclusion

From the early second century until the Reformation one view of salvific repentance prevailed, the Roman position.28 It held that at one's baptism only his prior sins are forgiven and that subsequent sins could only be forgiven by confessing one's sins to a priest and then carefully carrying out the acts of penance which he prescribed.

The Reformation introduced two new views. Calvin held that at conversion all of one's sins, pre- and post-conversion, were forgiven and that confessing one's sins to a priest and performing acts of penance were not needed. Luther held a position somewhere between that of Calvin and the Roman Catholic Church. He believed that confession to a priest and performing acts of penance were not needed to maintain one's salvation. However, while he rejected those formally, he continued to believe that one could fail to obtain final salvation by choosing to indulge in a life of sin.

Since the Reformation the Roman view has continued and six Protestant views have emerged. We must be very careful not to base our theology on a majority vote of our contemporaries or predecessors. The majority may be wrong--and in this fallen world it often is.

Why, then, should we study the history of interpretation? Because by so doing we are better able to come to and maintain our own conclusions and to interact with others, believers and unbelievers. If, for example, I understand the Roman position on salvific repentance, my witness to Catholics is strengthened considerably.

Which of the views stated is the one correct view of salvific repentance? Future articles in this series29 will demonstrate that the change-of-mind-secure-salvation view is the biblical one. If a person must give up something or even be willing to do so to obtain salvation, then it is not really a free gift. If one must live an obedient life to keep salvation, then it is conditioned upon faith plus works, and grace is nullified. Other views of salvific repentance fail to grasp the gravity of our plight as sinners in the hands of a holy God. Nothing which we can do to try and clean up our lives will impress God. Only the blood of Jesus Christ can atone for our sins. And, the only way to appropriate Jesus' blood is by faith alone in Christ alone. The only thing we need to give up is a self-righteous attitude. We must cease viewing ourselves as good enough to merit salvation and instead place all of our trust on what Jesus Christ did on the cross for us as our Substitute.

No one can work his or her way to God. Yet many try. The only thing people need to do is recognize their complete helplessness and need of a Savior and then put their faith in Jesus Christ and Him alone to save them from their sins. A change of thinking is needed. Once one becomes a believer in Jesus Christ, he can be assured, based on the promises of Scripture, that he is and always will be a part of God's eternal family. God has done everything for us except that we must receive the free gift. That is our part.

The Gospel presents the cure for sin and its consequence, hell. The message of the Gospel is extremely powerful as long as it is not distorted. Pure living water will forever quench the thirst of parched souls.

Used by permission:
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society
Volume 1, No. 1 -- Autumn 1988


1 Throughout this article the expression "salvific repentance" will be used to refer to that repentance which is necessary to escape eternal condemnation.

2 This paper draws heavily on my doctoral dissertation. Cf. Robert N. Wilkin, "Repentance as a Condition for Salvation in the New Testament" (Th. D. dissertation, Dallas Theological seminary, 1985).

3 See Thomas F. Torrance, The Doctrine of Grace in the Apostolic Fathers (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1959).

4 Ibid., 135.

5 Ibid., 138.

6 See, for example, Hermas, Mandate, 4. 3. 1, 6; Polycarp, Letter to the Philippians 2, 5; Justin Martyr, The First Apology, 15-16; Origen, Homilies on the Psalms, On Psalm 37 (38): 2, 6; Ambrose, Concerning Repentance, 2.11; Augustine, On Christian Doctrine, 1.17-18; Anselm, De Concordia III: Grace and Free Choice, 8; and Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, IV: 71-72.

7 For example, the two-volume work by Ambrose, Concerning Repentance, was his defense against the Novatianists' claim that the church could not forgive mortal sins such as apostasy. Ambrose upheld the established church position that it had the power to remit post-baptismal sins of any magnitude.

8 See Hermas, Mandate, 4. 3. 6. See also Ambrose, Concerning Repentance, 2.10, where he teaches that lesser sins could be repented of daily but not mortal ones. Ambrose held that there could be only one penance for mortal sins.

9 See, for example, Clement of Rome, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 7-9, 50-51; 56-57; Polycarp, Philippians, 2, 5; and Cyprian, Epistle 52 (56 Oxford Edition), Treatise on the Lapsed, and The Seventh Council of Carthage.

10 See, for example, Jerome, Letter 122: To Rusticus, 3; and Augustine, On the Creed, 15- 16.

11 See Hermas, Mandate, 4. 3. 6; Clement of Rome, First Epistle, 8-9; and Polycarp, Philippians, 2.

12 See William Douglas Chamberlain, The Meaning of Repentance (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1943), 27-28; Edgar R. Smothers, "The New Testament Concept of Metanoia,. Classical Bulletin 10 (1933): 7-8; Aloys Herman Dirksen, The New Testament Concept of Metanoia (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America, 1932), 66-67; and John Cecil Anderson, "Repentance in the Greek New Testament" (Th.D. dissertation, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1959), 14ff.

13 Robert Williams, A Guide to the Teaching of the Early Church Fathers (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1960), 142.

14 See Calvin Institutes of the Christian Religion, 4. 15. 3.

15 Luther held to a linear view of conversion. That is, he believed that a person s salvation was not finalized until he died. He taught that one could lose his salvation--or better, fail to realize it in the end--if he ceased believing in Jesus Christ and indulged in a life of sin. He viewed Christ's death as covering all of ones sins, pre- and post-baptismal, as long as one strove to remain in the faith. Of course, such a disclaimer effectively contradicted his claim about the sufficiency of Christ's death and eliminated the possibility of assurance. See Luther's Works, vol. 36, The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, 1520, 60-61, Marilyn Jean Harran, The Concept of Conversio in the Early Exegetical and Reform Writings of Martin Luther" (Ph.D. dissertation, Stanford University, 1978), and Fred J. Prudek, "Luther's Linear Concept of Conversion" (Th.M. thesis, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1979).

16 See Calvin, Institutes, 3. 24. 6, 4. 19. 14-17

17 See footnote 15 above.

18 Luther's Works, vol. 36, The Babylonian Captivity, 61

19 Ibid., 89.

20 Ibid., 59-61, 89, 123-24. One should also note that the study by the Lutheran scholar Lowell Green (How Melanchthon Helped Luther Discover the Gospel: The Doctrine of Justification in the Reformation [Fallbrook, CA: Verdict Publications, 1980]) indicates that Luther held to the necessity of a believer persevering in a walk of faith in order to receive final salvation (see, e.g., 260).

21 See Luther, Luther's Works, Vol. 48, Letters (May 30, 1518 Letter to John von Staupitz), 65-70; Calvin, Institutes' 3. 3. 1-16; and Dirksen, Metanoia, 79-80 and "Metanoeite," The Bible Today 19 (1965):1262, 1266.

22 See Calvin, Institutes, 3. 3. 5, 18; 3. 4. 1-39; and Luther, Luther's Works, vol. 48, Letters, 66-67.

23 However, each of these views has two forms. Thus, as we shall soon see, in actuality there are six Protestant views of salvific repentance. It should be noted as well that all of these views teach that salvific repentance must be combined with faith in Jesus Christ for a person to gain salvation from eternal judgment.

24 See, for example, James Montgomery Boice, Christ's Call to Discipleship (Chicago: Moody Press, 1986), 105-lU; James Graham, "Repentance," Evangelical Quarterly 25 (1953): 233; George Peters, "The Meaning of Conversion," Bibliotheca Sacra 120 (1963): 236, 239; Rudolph Schnackenburg, The Moral Teaching of the New Testament (Freiburg: Herder and Herder, 1965), 25-33; Charles Scobie, John the Baptist (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1964), 80, 112, 148; A. H. Strong, Systematic Theology (Philadelphia: Judson Press, 1912), 832-35; and Eugene La Verdiere, The Need for Salvation: A New Testament Perspective," Chicago Studies 21 (1982): 234.

25 See, for example, William Barclay, Great Themes of the New Testament (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1979), 72-73; Lewis Bookwalter, Repentance (Dayton, OH: United Brethren Publishing House, 1902), 30, 43, 53-55; William Douglas Chamberlain, The Meaning of Repentance (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1943), 47, 143-44, 216, 222-23; Daniel Fuller, Gospel and Law: Contrast or Continuum? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980), 151-52; Kenneth Gentry, "The Great Option: A Study of the Lordship Controversy," Baptist Reformation Review 5 (1976): 57-62, 77; Billy Graham, The Meaning of Repentance (Minneapolis: The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, 1967), 5-11; George Ladd, The Gospel of the Kingdom (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1959), 95-106; 1. Howard Marshall, Kept by the Power of God (London: Epworth Press, 1969), 37-38; J. 1. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1961), 70-73; Kazimierz Romanink, "Repentez-vous, car le Royaume des Cieux est tout proche (Matt. iv. 17 par.)," New Testament Studies 12 (1966): 264; Robert Shank, Life in the Son (Springfield, MO: Wescott Publishers, 1960), 324; Bob Stokes, Repentance, Revival, and the Holy Spirit (Chicago: Moody Press, 1975), 10-16, 24, John R. W. Stott, Basic Christianity (London: InterVarsity Fellowship, 1958), 111-32, and "Must Christ be Lord to be Savior?," Eternity 10 (1959): 15, 17; Lehman Strauss, Repentance (Findley, OH: Dunham Publishing Co., 1959), 13-19; and Effie Freeman Thompson, METANOEO and METAMELEI in Greek Literature Until 100 A. D., Including a Discussion of Their Cognates and of Their Hebrew Equivalents (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1908), 24-25.

26 See, for example, Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, 8 vols. (Dallas, TX: Dallas Seminary Press, 1947-48), 3: 372-78; G. Michael Cocoris, Lordship Salvation--Is It Biblical? (Dallas, TX: Redencion Viva, 1983), 11-12; Milton Crum, "Preaching and Worship: Dynamics of Metanoia, n in Preaching and Worship (N. R: Academy of Homiletics, n.d.), 88-89; H. A. Ironside, Except Ye Repent (New York: American Tract Society, 1937), 34, 53, 171-76; Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Biblical Theology of the New Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1959), 116-17; Richard A. Seymour, All About Repentance (Fayetteville, GA: Clarity Publications, 1974), 33, 46, 62; and Treadwell Walden, The Great Meaning of Metanoia (New York: Thomas Whittaker, 1896), 4-9, 79-81,125,151.

27 A few years ago I saw the following message on the marquee of a church that teaches this view of salvific repentance: "The Way to Heaven is 'Turn Right and Keep Straight.'"

28 While the Eastern Church's position on repentance was (and is) not identical to the Roman position, it was essentially the same in its major details. The Eastern Church taught that penance was a sacrament designed to provide forgiveness for post-baptismal sins and that penance involves contrition and confession to a priest. For further information on the Eastern Orthodox view of salvific repentance see Frank Gavin, Some Aspects of Contemporary Greek Orthodox Thought (Milwaukee: Morehouse Publishing Co., 1923), 358-70, and Sergius Bulgakov, The Orthodox Church (London: Centenary Press, 1935), 133-34.

29 Future articles will include: "The Doctrine of Repentance in the Old Testament n "The Doctrine of Repentance in the New Testament," and "How to Communicate the Doctrine of Repentance Clearly."