Metanoia (theology)

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Metanoia, a transliteration of the Greek μετἀνοια, has been reckoned the greatest word in the New Testament.[1] The King James Version and many other versions of the New Testament translate metanoia/μετἀνοια as repentance. Metanoia's verbal cognate metanoeo/μετανοἐω is translated by the word repent.[2] Translating metanoia as repentance has been deemed "an utter mistranslation."[3]

Uses in the New Testament[edit]

The noun metanoia/μετἀνοια, is translated "repentance," and its cognate verb metanoeō/μετανοἐω is translated "repent" in the King James Version of the New Testament.

  • In 22 of 23 uses, repentance translates the Greek noun metanoia/μετἀνοια. The other use of repentance translates the Greek ametamelētos/ἀμεταμἐλητος, meaning "not repentant of or unregretted".[4]]
  • In 35 occurrences, repent (repented, repenteth) translates metanoia's verbal cognate metanoeō/μετανοἐω. In six occurrences, repent translates the Greek metamellomai/μεταμελλομαι, a word whose meaning fundamentally differs from the meaning of metanoia.[5] Thus, two Greek words with very different meanings are translated by the same word: repent.[6] These two words are (a) metamellomai/μεταμελλομαι or (b) metanoeō/μετανοἐω and its cognate metanoia/μετἀνοια.
  • Metamellomai/μεταμελλομαι is, for example, the Greek verb translated in Matthew 27:3 as Judas "repented himself" after he saw Jesus being led away. Metamelomai denotes "painful sorrow" or "remorseful regret." Metamelomai is the equivalent of the words Repent or Repentance."[7] The biblical scholar A. T. Robertson adds the comments that Judas had only sorrow and regret and "mere sorrow avails nothing unless it leads to change of mind and life [metanoia]."[8]
  • Thus, the verb metanoeō/μετανοἐω and the noun metanoia/μετἀνοια are the Greek words most often translated as repent or repentance.

Importance of metanoia[edit]

In his study The Great Meaning of the Word Metanoia, Treadwell Walden asserts that metanoia conveys the essence of the Christian gospel. Therefore, Walden holds that no word in the New Testament can be greater than metanoia.[9]

  • Metanoia represents the message of John the Baptist who proclaimed a "baptism of repentance (metanoia)" in Mark 1:4.[10]
  • Metanoia represents the first preaching of Jesus when he called on people to "repent (metanoeō): for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" in Matthew 4:17.[11]
  • Metanoia represents the message of Jesus' disciples when they "proclaimed that people should repent (metanoeō)" in Mark 6:12.[12]
  • Metanoia represents St. Paul's assertion that God commands "all men every where to repent (metanoeō)” in Acts 17:30.[13]

Mistranslations[edit]

The meaning of the Greek metanoia/μετἀνοια is very different from the meaning of the English repentance, and the meaning of the Greek metanoeō/μετανοἐω is very different from the meaning of the English repent. Therefore, Walden describes the translation of metanoia as repentance as "an extraordinary mistranslation."[14]

The translation of metanoia as repentance began in the 2nd century when the Greek metanoeō was translated into the Latin as poenitentiam agite.[15]

In biblical Greek, metanoeō/μετανοἐω and metanoia/μετἀνοια 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.[16] It was in its use in the New Testament and in writings grounded in the New Testament that the depth of metanoia increased until it came "to express that mighty change in mind, heart, and life wrought by the Spirit of God."[17]

Reviewing translations of metanoeō/μετανοἐω and metanoia/μετἀνοια 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.[18] Repentance denotes "sorrow for what one has done or omitted to do; especially, contrition for sin."[19] Repent primarily means "to review one's actions and feel contrition or regret for something one has done or omitted to do"[20] Therefore, Butler asserts that translating metanoeō/μετανοἐω and metanoia/μετἀνοια 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.[21]

A. T. Robertson concurs with Butler. Regarding the translation of metanoia as repentance, Robertson calls it "a linguistic and theological tragedy."[22] 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.[23]

Other scholars have characterized the translation of metanoia/μετἀνοια as "repentance" with similar negativity. Repentance is an "unsuitable" translation.[24] It is "totally inadequate" to carry the meaning of metanoia.[25]

More accurate translations[edit]

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.[26] 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.[27]

  • 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.[28]

Metanoia meaning[edit]

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."[29] "Conversion" (from the Latin conversiōn-em turning round) with its "change in character" meaning is more nearly the equivalent of metanoia than repentance.[30] Synonyms for "conversion" include "change of heart" and "metanoia."[31]

Two key Protestant Reformation figures took up Tertullian's protest. In opposition to the Church's interpretation of metanoia as comprising contrition, confession, and penances, Martin Luther objected that it retained its classical sense of "a change of mind."[32] John Calvin pointed to the double derivation of "repentance": from the Hebrew meaning conversion, or turning again and the Greek [metanoia] meaning a change of mind and purpose. The meaning of the word, for Calvin, is appropriate to both derivations because repentance (a) involves "withdrawing from ourselves," (b) turning to God, (c) "laying aside the old," and (d) putting on "a new mind."[33]

In his classic word study, Treadwell Walden sought to promote the proper meaning of metanoia as "change of Mind, a change in the trend and action of the whole inner nature, intellectual, affectional and moral." over against its translation as repentance.[34] In the present day, other writers continue Walden's effort.

Edward J. Anton refers back to Walden's effort and makes a similar effort in his Repentance: A Cosmic Shift of Mind and Heart. Anton observes that in most dictionaries and in the minds of most Christians the primary meaning of "repent" is to look back on past behavior with sorrow, self-reproach, or contrition, sometimes with an amendment of life. But neither Jesus nor John the Baptist says to look back in sorrow. For St Paul, "metanoia is a transfiguration for your brain" that opens a new future.[35]

Charles Taylor defines metanoia as "to change one's mind of attitude" and builds his pastoral counseling method on the "metanoia model." In doing so, Taylor recalls that the center of Jesus' ministry was a call to metanoia.[36]

For Milton Crum, metanoia means "a change of perception with its behavioral fruit." Thus, metanoia constitutes the central thing that needs to happen in preaching.[37]

Peter Senge observes that what happens in a "learning organization" that experiences the "deeper meaning of 'learning'" is "metanoia" which means "a shift of mind." Therefore, concludes Senge, "to grasp the meaning of 'metanoia' is to grasp the deeper meaning of 'learning.'"[38]

In 2006, an ecumenical group of scholars published a study of repentance in the Bible and the Church. After "a thorough examination of Hellenistic Jewish writings," the study found that for Jews living at the time of Jesus, "repentance" meant "a fundamental change in thinking and living." For the New Testament, this change is a necessary ingredient in accomplishing God’s plan for salvation and community for everyone.[39]

Robertson lamented the fact that in his time there was no English word that signified the meaning of the Greek μετἀνοια (metanoia).[40] Merriam-Webster has remedied this deficiency by transliterating the Greek μετἀνοια into metanoia and borrowing it as an English word with a definition that matches the Greek: "a transformative change of heart; especially: a spiritual conversion," augmented by an explanation of metanoia’s Greek source: "from metanoiein to change one's mind, repent, from meta- + noein to think, from nous mind."[41]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Treadwell Walden, The Great Meaning of the Word Metanoia: Lost in the Old Version, Unrecovered in the New (Thomas Whittaker, 1896) 3. Available online in Google Books.
  2. ^ James Strong, The Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (Eaton & Mains, 1890)
  3. ^ J. Glentworth Butler, Topical Analysis of the Bible (Butler Bible Work Co, 1897) 443. Available in Google Books.
  4. ^ Strong's Concordance and http://www.biblestudytools.com/kjv/
  5. ^ James Strong, The Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (Eaton & Mains, 1890) and http://www.biblestudytools.com/kjv/
  6. ^ J. Glentworth Butler, Topical Analysis of the Bible (Butler Bible Work Co, 1897), 443. Available in Google Books. The Rev. Dr. James Glentworth Butler (1821-1916) was the author of The Bible Work, a series of eleven volumes, Topical Analysis of the Bible, Vital Truths Respecting God and Man, and The Fourfold Gospel. from Butler's obituary in The New York Times, December 30, 1916.
  7. ^ J. Glentworth Butler, Topical Analysis of the Bible (Butler Bible Work Co, 1897), 443. Available in Google Books.
  8. ^ A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament - Matthew (Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library), 53. Online at http://www.ccel.org/ccel/robertson_at/wp_matt.pdf.
  9. ^ Treadwell Walden, The Great Meaning of the Word Metanoia: Lost in the Old Version, Unrecovered in the New. (Thomas Whittaker, 1896), 1, 3. Available online in Google Books.
  10. ^ http://www.blueletterbible.org/Bible.cfm?b=Mar&c=1&v=4&t=KJV#conc/4
  11. ^ http://www.blueletterbible.org/Bible.cfm?b=Mat&c=4&v=17&t=KJV#conc/17
  12. ^ http://www.blueletterbible.org/Bible.cfm?b=Mar&c=6&t=KJV#s=t_conc_963012
  13. ^ http://www.blueletterbible.org/Bible.cfm?b=Act&c=17&t=KJV#s=t_conc_1035030
  14. ^ Treadwell Walden, The Great Meaning of the Word Metanoia: Lost in the Old Version, Unrecovered in the New (Thomas Whittaker, 1896), 24. Available online in Google Books.
  15. ^ Edward J. Anton, Repentance: A Cosmic Shift of Mind and Heart (Discipleship Publications, 2005) 32.
  16. ^ Treadwell Walden, The Great Meaning of the Word Metanoia: Lost in the Old Version, Unrecovered in the New. (Thomas Whittaker, 1896) 4, 9. Available online in Google Books.
  17. ^ Richard C. Trench, Synonyms of the New Testament (Macmillan, 1880, 9th edition) 255-261. Available online in Google Books.
  18. ^ J. Glentworth Butler, Topical Analysis of the Bible (Butler Bible Work Co, 1897), 443. Available in Google Books.
  19. ^ Webster's Unabridged, 1913, http://machaut.uchicago.edu/websters
  20. ^ "repent, v.". OED Online. June 2013. Oxford University Press. http://0-www.oed.com.librarycatalog.vts.edu/view/Entry/162742?rskey=ghBlmx&result=4 (accessed August 27, 2013).
  21. ^ J. Glentworth Butler, Topical Analysis of the Bible (Butler Bible Work Co, 1897), 443. Available in Google Books.
  22. ^ A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament - 2 Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library), 29. Online at http://www.ccel.org/ccel/robertson_at/wp_2cor.pdf
  23. ^ A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament - Matthew (Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library), 18. Online at http://www.ccel.org/ccel/robertson_at/wp_matt.pdf
  24. ^ Herbert George Marsh, The Origin and Significance of the New Testament Baptism (Manchester University Press, 1941), 43.
  25. ^ James Hastings and others, Encyclopædia of Religion and Ethics: Vol 10 (Scribner's, 1919), s.v. "Repentance," 733.
  26. ^ "CBA Best Sellers". CBAonline.org. Feb 2013. Retrieved 2013-02-24. 
  27. ^ http://www.biblestudytools.com/mark/1-4-compare.html
  28. ^ Robert N. Wilkin, "Repentance and Salvation Part 3: New Testament Repentance: Lexical Considerations." Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society, Autumn 1989-Volume 2:2. Online at http://www.faithalone.org/journal/1989ii/Wilkin.html
  29. ^ Edward J Anton, Repentance: A Cosmic Shift of Mind and Heart (Discipleship Publications, 2005) 32-33.
  30. ^ "conversion, n.". OED Online. September 2013. Oxford University Press. http://0-www.oed.com.librarycatalog.vts.edu/view/Entry/40773?redirectedFrom=conversion (accessed November 24, 2013).
  31. ^ http://thesaurus.com/browse/conversion
  32. ^ Luther's Works, Vol. 48, Letters (May 30, 1518 Letter to John von Staupitz), 65-70.
  33. ^ John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion 3. 3. 1-16.
  34. ^ Treadwell Walden, The Great Meaning of the Word Metanoia: Lost in the Old Version, Unrecovered in the New. (Thomas Whittaker, 1896), 1, 3-4, 8-9. Available online in Google Books.
  35. ^ Edward J. Anton, Repentance: A Cosmic Shift of Mind and Heart (Discipleship Publications, 2005) 31-32.
  36. ^ Charles Taylor The Skilled Pastor (Augsburg Fortress, 1991), 8, 64.
  37. ^ Milton Crum, Manual on Preaching (Judson, 1977 and Morehouse, 1988) 101
  38. ^ Peter M. Senge, The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization (Doubleday, 2006), 13. Also Peter M. Senge, "Metanoia—A Shift of Mind" in The Jossey-Bass Reader on Educational Leadership (Jossey-Bass, 2nd ed, 2006)
  39. ^ Mark J. Boda and Gordon T. Smith, eds., Repentance in Christian Theology (Michael Glazier, 2006), 90, 95.
  40. ^ A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament - Matthew (Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library), 18. Online at http://www.ccel.org/ccel/robertson_at/wp_matt.pdf
  41. ^ "Metanoia". Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 23 Aug. 2013. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/metanoia.