Meet “METANOIA”, a concept that leads to new life in Christ, renewal, and revival.
Repent/METANOEITE [change your inner self—your old way of thinking, regret past sins, live your life in a way that proves repentance; seek God’s purpose for your life], for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matt 3:2 AMP
Over the years, one of my prayers has been, “if I’m being deceived Lord, please show me!” God answers that prayer a lot (maybe because He warns us not to be deceived 20+ times in the NT., ie 2 Thess 2:3)! It’s a painful but profound journey, and “METANOIA” has been one of the more recent answers to that prayer, to help change (meta) my mind (noia) with a much more profound understanding of what God intended for us, His sons and daughters, called by His Name.
I’ve been praying for repentance in the Church for a while now. I've grieved over the state of the Church for most of the last decade. However, I did not realize until recently, that the Greek word translated into English as “repentance” was limited in ways that were not intended when the Holy Spirit inspired using forms of “METANOIA” in the New Testament. I believe God wants us to expect greater things (John 10:10, 14:12) when we repent.
Why We Translate "Metanoia" The Way We Do
Traditionally, variations of the Greek “METANOIA” have been translated as some form of “repentance” generally understood as sorrow and regret over our sins. How did this happen? How did “repentance” become the common English translation of “METANOIA?”
Back around 400 AD, when Jerome translated the Greek biblical text into Latin, he translated “METANOIA” as “to do penance”, which implies a works-based righteousness to atone for one’s sin and satisfy one's debt with God. It was a word of condemnation and punishment about changing one’s bad behavior, rather than changing one’s mind about pursuing righteousness instead of sin. Penance has a punitive connotation to it. It's inherently transactional, implying that one must do something (such as pay a monetary offering or go to a confessional session) in order to receive one's salvation. This latinate interpretation of "metanoia," as interpreted from Jerome’s Latin Vulgate, infused the Church's understanding of repentance for centuries.
In 1504, a Catholic scholar named Erasmus experienced his own profound turning point/METANOIA, when it just so happened that he discovered an old manuscript with notes about Paul’s Epistles based on the Greek and was inspired to publish a Greek edition alongside a rewrite of Jerome’s Latin Vulgate with around 600 corrections. This wasn’t an easy task in the pre-internet age -- Erasmus had to physically travel to universities and monasteries to collect and collate manuscripts (and travel in sixteenth-century Europe was no easy feat). Erasmus published his work in 1516, one year before Luther nailed his thesis to the Wittenberg.
Repentance vs Penance
One of the 600 corrections Erasmus made was the translation of “METANOITE”. Erasmus especially wrestled with translating this word as he chose a different Latin phrase/word for each of his editions in 1516, 1519 and 1522. “METANOIA” is that deep and rich! He had uncovered that the Greek word was “a change of heart, a conversion of life” and “not just an act you do, a good work you perform”. The 1516 & 1522 editions focused on the idea of repenting, while the 1519 edition used the Latin “resipiscite” meaning “recover our senses” or “revive”.
Erasmus’ 1516 translation was intensely studied by a certain monk, and Erasmus’ translation meaning “repent” instead of “do penance” especially resonated deeply with this monk. This monk’s name is Martin Luther! Pretty much every one of Luther’s 95 Theses that launched the reformation, had to do with his new understanding of “METANOIA”, dealing with “pardons” of sin, and refuting the traditional right of the priests to require “penance” through such means as penalties, punishment and payments! Luther helped launch a significantly different understanding to repentance and penance based on Erasmus’ insights and work. It is said that Erasmus laid the egg that Luther hatched! The priests in power were not happy with either of them!
Repenting is definitely one of God’s key principles and a powerful part of the “METANOIA” process, so we cannot skip the godly sorrow which leads to significant change (2 Cor 7:9-10)! If we skip doing the hard work of dealing with our sin, we short “change” God’s process and are more likely to revert back to our sinful practices. It’s tempting to just make the change, without confessing and repenting, but being open and honest, confessing to one another is part of the humbling process that helps solidify the change of mind we are wrestling with, not only for ourselves, but to help others confess with clarity and heal (James 5:16)! This helps recognize our pride as well as confusion. It’s important to know where we came from to better understand and appreciate what God has done for us.
Even though Erasmus' translation of “repent” was a turning point in understanding and the impact to our beliefs, our translations of “METANOIA” are still incomplete. For some reason, the understanding got stuck with “repent”, even though Erasmus and Luther both understood the greater meaning of “METANOIA”. Many translations still are stuck there as translators have revisited the meaning over the last 500 years and decided to keep “repent”. “METANOIA” is not meant to only focus on repenting of our sin in the past, but is also forward looking in a positive life changing way! It embraces multiple principles we find in God’s word!
· For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death. 2 Cor 7:10 NKJV
· Expanded version of 2 Cor 7:10a based on Greek: The SORROW (emotional and/or physical pain of body or mind, grief, distress, vexation, heavy hearted sorrow, contrition, rendering of the heart) that comes from God (prompted by His Spirit; Romans 8, I Cor 2), PRODUCES (actively works in us) REPENTANCE/ METANOIAN (change of mind/inner man/purpose) to SALVATION (including deliverance, preservation, rescue, safety!) NOT TO BE REGRETTED/ aMETAmele’tos (this is irrevocable, you will not change your mind back, this is done from deep conviction)
So what does this amazing word, “METANOIA”, actually mean for us as believers? There is not one word to describe it, because it is so profound! It includes a transforming change of mind, change in the inner man, and a change in purpose - a turning from the negative and harmful, to the positive and healing, that is often life giving as we go in a different direction, a deep conviction to pursue righteousness instead of just dealing with the deception and/or sin in our lives. This new direction can be anywhere on the spectrum from multiple, slight but yet significant, course corrections, to a complete 180 degree turn around from darkness to light, from death to life – it’s far greater than simply repent/change. I believe this is meant to be the primary meaning of “METANOIA”.
“METANOIA” includes repentance, renewal, and revival. It brings new life through a changing of our minds away from sin and toward righteousness. By the grace of God, the blood of Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit, we can start with repentance and end with renewal and revival as our minds are transformed and our lives renewed.
“METANOIA” is what I am now praying for. For His Kingdom, for His glory. May it be so, Lord Jesus.
SOURCES for further reading if interested (disclaimer that I do not necessarily agree with everything in all of these):
FYI: Uses of words in 95 Theses:
Pardon(s) x33; indulgence(s) x15; penalty(ies) x19; form of penance x5; repent(ance) x6
This helps gives an indication of the general gist of what Luther was addressing!
Bev’s compilation of scriptures warning us to “do not be deceived”; available upon request